Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 25/04/2022

The week’s news included; Elon Musk agrees to buy Twitter for $44bn, Russia’s energy export revenue doubles since Ukraine war began, EY facing $2.5bn audit negligence claim.

Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page, Facebook page and Instagram Page, for regular posts of important headlines. Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.

Opinion articles of the week: 

  • BBC News – Are we now in a ‘golden age’ for trade unions?
  • City A.M. – Elon Musk’s Twitter deal will spur on efforts to censor online speech – not halt them
  • Legal Cheek – The overseas secondment: what trainee solicitors need to know.
  • Sports Pro Media – Why sport could be the next battleground in the US streaming wars.

1. ELON MUSK BUYS TWITTER

Last week, Twitter accepted a $44 billion takeover bid from Tesla founder Elon Musk which will take the platform into private ownership. The eccentric billionaire agreed to pay $54.20 per share, a 38% premium on its current value. Twitter’s board had initially fought against Musk’s bid because the initial bid undervalued the firm and Musk’s source of funds for the deal were unclear. Musk subsequently put forward a clear plan which satisfied the board. 

Elon Musk is expected to fund the purchase through $21 billion of equity and a $12.5 billion loan secured against his Tesla stake. Records show that Musk sold 4.4 million Tesla shares raising around $4 billion in cash. Musk is worth roughly $273 billion. Musk has said he seeks to unlock the full potential of Twitter and sees Twitter as a “digital town square” where free speech must be protected. He has expressed a strong desire to reduce moderation on the platform.

The deal still needs formal approval from Twitter shareholders and regulators. Musk did however, secure a $1 billion break clause in the deal. If Musk seeks to pull out of the deal or cannot raise the funds, he can pay just $1 billion in damages to exit the deal. Typically, break clauses require a damages fee equivalent to 6% of the value of the deal. Musk would pay just over 2%, meaning the deal could still fall through. Given Musk is a newcomer to the social media space and the deal is solely a share purchase, not a merger, he is unlikely to face any significant regulatory hurdles. Check out our article exploring Musk’s deal with Twitter in more detail.

2. RUSSIAN ENERGY REVENUE DOUBLES

Despite global sanctions, Russia’s revenues from oil and gas exports to the EU have doubled since the start of the war in Ukraine. Due to soaring prices, Russia received €62 billion from oil, gas and coal exports in the two months since the invasion began. €44 billion worth of this figure derived from exports to the EU. By comparison, the EU typically spends just €12 billion a month on Russian energy imports, so these past two months have provided a significant boost for Russia. Russia accounts for 41% of the EU’s natural gas imports and therefore, wields significant economic leverage as demonstrated last week. 

Russia has now demanded that countries make payment for energy in Roubles. Two countries, Poland and Bulgaria, refused this demand. Russia’s state-owned gas company, Gazprom, then cut off supplies to both countries.  There are now concerns that Europe could sink into a deep recession if Russia cuts off the gas supply to other countries in the continent. Although most EU countries have begun plans to phase out Russian energy, these are long term plans which will take years to fully implement. In the short term, any squeeze on supplies amid soaring global energy prices will give a huge shock to the EU economy. 

Despite its leverage, the Russian economy has also taken a significant hit. It has anticipated that inflation could hit 23% by December 2022. To mitigate the impact of sanctions, the Central Bank of Russia cut its key interest rate to 14%. This comes just 2 months after it raised rates to 20% to support its faltering currency at the outset of the war. The Rouble has now largely recovered to pre-war levels but the wider economy is still in tatters. The Central Bank predicts the Russian economy to contract by over 10% in 2022 alone.

3. EY FACING $2.5 BILLION LAWSUIT

Auditor EY, has been hit with a $2.5 billion legal claim over alleged negligence in its audit of now collapsed NMC Health. NMC Health was a FTSE 100 hospital operator that collapsed in 2020. Billions of dollars of debt was concealed in its accounts due to fraud, and this ultimately led to its collapse. EY audited the company between 2012 and 2018 and administrators say EY was negligent in its professional duties. Administrators have now filed a lawsuit in London against the auditor and are seeking at least $2.5 billion in damages. If successful, this would be one of the largest professional negligence claims in English legal history. By comparison, the lawsuit for damages over KPMG’s audit of collapsed contractor Carillion only amounted to £1 billion. EY has said it will defend the lawsuit “vigorously”. 

4. META APPEALS GIPHY FINE

Meta has begun an appeal process against the Competition and Markets Authority’s decision to block its acquisition of Giphy. The tech giant sought to buy GIF platform Giphy for $315 million but the CMA felt that it could harm Facebook competitors who use Giphy and also reduce competition in the ad space market, ultimately harming consumers. The deal was required to be unwound and a £1.5 million fine was issued as Meta broke regulatory rules. Meta disagrees with the decision and is now formally appealing. The CMA has said it will defend its position.

5. APPLE TO FACE ANTITRUST CHARGES

The EU has accused Apple of restricting rivals from accessing its mobile payment systems, in breach of EU antitrust law. Third party apps are allegedly restricted from using the digital Apple wallet and require approval to use it. The EU is set to slap Apple with a hefty fine as a result. Apple was also fined €5 million by the Dutch regulator earlier this year due to similar antitrust breaches. The EU is keen to clampdown on the dominance of big tech and is frequently bringing action against the top firms. The incoming Digital Markets Act (DMA) and Digital Services Act (DSA) will both introduce significant regulatory changes for big tech. See our previous top 10 for more details.

6. ENGLISH FOOTBALL REGULATOR 

The UK government has announced that it will establish an independent football regulator to oversee adherence to rules and regulations. Football clubs who break financial rules or other laws could be sanctioned by the regulator. The regulator will have powers to investigate and punish clubs. Furthermore, the government will introduce a new owners’ test that will give fans more input into the process, replacing the Premier League’s current test. The test will be run before a change of ownership but also on an ongoing basis.

These new proposals are in response to the crisis at Chelsea FC where owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned and forced to sell the club. Many questioned why Abramovich was allowed to buy the club from the outset given his opaque and questionable source of funds. It is hoped these rules should help prevent issues like this. The timeline for the changes has not been disclosed but more details are expected in the coming months.

The Premier League body said it believed a regulator was not necessary. These new rules appear to be shifting power and responsibility from the Premier League to this independent regulator.

7. AMAZON POSTS LOSS 

Amazon has posted its first quarterly loss since 2015 as sales at the tech giant slumped. The company posted a $3.8 billion loss in Q1 2022. This is way off its Q1 2021 profit of $8.9 billion. Rising fuel prices and a cost of living crisis damaged Amazon’s sales figures on its e-commerce platform and made deliveries more costly. Despite this, Amazon’s cloud computing AWS service offset the poor performance in e-commerce, bringing in $18.4 billion, up 37% from last year. News of Amazon’s quarterly loss saw its share price tumble 9%.

8. BOEHLY LEADING TALKS TO BUY CHELSEA

A consortium run by LA Dodgers part-owner, Todd Boehly, has secured preferred bidder status in the race to buy Chelsea. The consortium will consist of Mr Boehly and Californian private equity firm, Clearlake Capital. This consortium will now enter exclusive talks. 

There are a number of conditions required as part of any final deal. All bidders have committed that if successful, they would not sell a controlling stake in the club for at least 10 years. A minimum of £1 billion of investment in Chelsea’s stadium, academy and women’s team would be required. Another unusual but relevant requirement is a £500 million donation to a foundation for the benefit of victims of the war in Ukraine. This was requested by Roman Abramovich. Mr Boehly beat both Steve Pagliuca and Sir Martin Broughton to enter these exclusive talks. A deal is certainly near and will formally close 19 years of Roman Abramovich at the helm. 

9. VIRGIN MEDIA O2 LAUNCH STREAMING SERVICE

Virgin Media O2 have officially launched their own entertainment streaming service, Stream. Stream will offer TV channels, movies, streaming subscriptions and on-demand apps through a new plug and play box. Subscriptions available on the box include Disney+, Netflix, Prime Video, Starzplay and others. Subscriptions will be paid for individually but Stream provides access to all these applications without needing a smart TV. The service will have no monthly costs and will only need a one-off £35 activation fee.

This is a bold move given the current downturn in the streaming sector. Netflix posted its first drop in subscriptions in over a decade as users tighten their belts and cut back on non-essentials. Whether Stream will attain a significant uptake in this climate remains to be seen.

10. HEATHROW EXPECTS ZERO PROFITS

Heathrow Airport has said it expects to make no profits this year amid ongoing disruption in the travel industry. Airlines have been cancelling hundreds of flights over the past few months with more disruption anticipated through to autumn. Passenger demand is predicted to remain low as inflation soars  and the war in Ukraine have dampened appetites for travel. Despite all restrictions being lifted in the UK, 80% of travel destinations have vaccination and COVID testing requirements, further limiting demand. Heathrow lost £4 billion during the pandemic and it does not foresee an immediate turnaround. Although Heathrow doesn’t expect to make a profit, passenger numbers are predicted to hit 65% of pre-pandemic levels this year. Both airlines and airports are hopeful that a full return to normality will happen soon. 

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