Top 10 Stories of Last Week! 09/05/2022

The week’s news included; EU scraps plans for Russian oil ban, FIFA and EA to end joint football game series, Musk puts Twitter deal on hold, Goldman steps back from SPACs.

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 – Could solar power solve Puerto Rico’s energy nightmare?
  • City A.M. – Capital gains tax receipts increase £5bn in two years: Is its future aligned with income tax?
  • Sports Pro Media – Why aren’t more brands sponsoring WNBA teams?
  • City A.M. – The Queen’s Speech failed to turn our financial regulators into a public asset

1. EU SCRAPS PLANS FOR RUSSIAN OIL BAN

The EU has scrapped its plans to ban imports of Russian oil. The bloc failed to reach an agreement after these plans were announced last week. Hungary was particularly opposed to the measures as Russia supplies 85% of its gas and 60% of its oil. Malta and Greece were also opposed to the plans. They argued that unless the US and UK agreed to undertake similar plans then the EU measures would be ineffective. Other measures were agreed which will see the sixth round of sanctions on Russia implemented since the outset of the war in Ukraine. For example, the provision of services such as insurance to Russian firms will be prohibited. Dependence on Russian energy will need to dwindle as tensions increase. Russia announced it would cut Finland’s electricity supply while it has already turned off gas supplies for Poland and Bulgaria. 

2. FIFA AND EA SPLIT

After collaborating for 30 years, FIFA and EA Sports are parting ways, bringing an end to the popular FIFA game series.  EA Sports will rename its annual title “EA Sports FC”. FIFA and EA failed to reach an agreement to renew the licensing deal. The world football body was seeking up to $1 billion over four years to renew the licence, a significant increase from the previous deal. This is partly why talks broke down but it was also due to certain proposed licensing restrictions on content. EA was seeking to introduce new content, features and gameplay which was not permitted under the last deal. As gaming has developed into a more interactive and interconnected experience, EA sought to keep up with these developments. The parties could not agree on the content restrictions and talks ultimately broke down. EA will now lose access to use of the FIFA name and also to World Cup content every four years. The company has, however, secured rights to use the names of 19,000 athletes, 700 teams and 100 stadiums. EA will still host real league, team and player names in the game. We explored in our article why it makes commercial sense for EA to ditch FIFA.

3. MUSK PUTS TWITTER DEAL ON HOLD 

Elon Musk has put his $44 billion acquisition of Twitter on hold as he seeks to calculate the amount of spam/fake bot accounts on the site. Twitter had claimed that fewer than 5% of its users were fake bot accounts. Musk has said he will now undertake a random sample of 100 users to verify Twitter’s claim and would put the deal on hold until then. He did, however, claim he was still committed to the acquisition. Twitter has around 229 million daily average users. Musk is still looking for additional investors to support his $44 billion purchase and has only secured $7 billion from a number of investors. 

In a separate announcement, Musk has said that he would reverse Donald Trump’s ban from Twitter if his deal goes through.  Trump however, has said that he would not return to Twitter if or when his account is reinstated. Trump has said that he will stick with his own social media platform, Truth Social, which he created in protest of his ban across various social media platforms. Truth Social has an estimated 1.4 million downloads. Check out our article exploring Musk’s deal in more detail.

4. UK CLASS ACTION OVER ENERGY PRICES

A class action lawsuit has been filed at the Competition Appeal Tribunal which could see  millions of pounds paid out to domestic energy consumers. The former head of energy regulator Ofgas, Clare Spottiswode, has joined forces with Scott + Scott law firm to file the claim. They allege that manufacturers of high-voltage power cables unlawfully inflated costs of electricity to consumers supplied after 2001. A number of power cable companies from across Europe were named including Nexans France SAS, NKT Verwaltungs GMBH, and Prysmian Cavi e Sistemi. UK energy suppliers bought power cables from these companies at artificially high prices and these costs were largely passed onto consumers. Consumers therefore paid higher prices than they would have done in the absence of the cartel. The EU Commission had previously found that these companies ran a cartel for almost 10 years in the high voltage and submarine power cable market. This ruling establishes the existence of an unlawful cartel so now the claimants must show that this cartel caused artificially higher costs and that these were passed onto consumers.

5. GOLDMAN SACHS STEPS BACK FROM SPACS

Investment bank Goldman Sachs has announced that it will reduce its SPAC business after enjoying a period of exponential growth. SPACs were a buzzword for much of 2021 as businesses scrambled to raise cash via this method. Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs) are publicly listed shell companies that are designed solely to buy and invest in other companies. When SPACs list on an exchange, the entity itself typically has no track record or operations. Investors buy into SPACs primarily based on the calibre of the team running the SPAC. Once money has been raised, the SPAC will scout companies to merge with or invest in to generate returns for investors. SPAC listings usually cost a fraction of a conventional IPO listing and have fewer regulatory requirements and are subject to less scrutiny. 

In 2022 however, the Securities and Exchange Commission introduced new regulations to crackdown on SPACs. The rules saw safe harbour rules amended meaning that SPAC firms could face legal action for unreasonably bullish financial forecasts. The lack of legal accountability was one of the main appeals of SPAC listings as opposed to traditional IPOs. SPACs are now struggling to find acquisition targets, with over 600 firms currently searching. The regulatory changes along with a wider market downturn has left many SPAC firms in the mud. Goldman says it is due to this changed environment that it will reduce its involvement in the sector. 

6. CRYPTOCURRENCY MELTDOWN

Last week saw a bloodbath for cryptocurrencies as major coins plunged. Bitcoin fell below $30,000 for the first time since December 2020, while Ethereum plunged below $2,000. Investors have been pulling out of tech and cryptocurrencies to take shelter in less risky investments. This led to a huge downward trend last week. Prices have since recovered slightly from the lows of last week but there are concerns of a further decline. The volatility and struggles of cryptocurrency markets also hit exchanges. Shares in Coinbase tanked 15.6% as losses grew to $430 million. 

The biggest story in cryptocurrency was the dramatic collapse of Terra’s Luna cryptocurrency and its terraUSD (UST) stablecoin. Terra was designed to be a peer-to-peer electronic payments system. The stablecoin in the system, UST, was pegged to the US dollar. This pegging is achieved through algorithms minting and burning the Luna cryptocurrency tokens to stabilise the price of the UST stablecoin. Reportedly, major investors pulled huge sums out of the systems, ultimately disrupting the ability of the algorithm to maintain the peg to the US dollar. Stablecoins are used solely as a store of value. Unlike typical cryptocurrencies, stablecoins maintain a “stable” price and investors use them as a form of savings or as shelter from market volatility. UST however, sank to $0.12 last week, 88% lower than its $1 peg. This sent the Luna cryptocurrency into a downward spiral as investors panicked. In April, Luna reached its all-time high of $116. As of last week, Luna had become worthless, hovering at $0.0002.  

This scenario is highly unlikely to happen to other major stablecoins. UST was kept stable solely by its algorithms and link to Luna. Other stablecoins like Tether and USDC are backed by standard financial assets like bonds. Despite this, the saga has rocked confidence in crypto markets and has left many investors bearing heavy losses. 

7. KPMG FINED FOR MISLEADING REGULATOR

Auditor KPMG is set to receive a huge £14.4 million fine for misleading it’s regulator regarding audits for a number of firms including Carillion. KPMG made false representations to the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) about the integrity of audits between 2014 and 2016. KPMG misled the FRC over audits for two companies in this period, Carillion and Regenesis. The auditor created false meeting minutes, falsified spreadsheet data and shared this information with the FRC. The FRC said KPMG would face severe reprimand as well as a £14.4 million fine. KPMG’s fine would have been £20 million but this was reduced due to their cooperation and acceptance of guilt. Four of KPMG’s staff could face severe penalties with one partner facing a 15 year ban from accounting and auditing as well as a £400,000 fine. Carillion was an outsourcing company that collapsed in 2018 under a £7 billion debt pile. KPMG had given the firm a clean bill of health in its audit despite severe financial problems.

8. NIKE SUES STOCKX (AGAIN)

Nike is suing StockX for allegedly selling counterfeit products. The sportswear giant had investigated the matter itself and bought a number of items from StockX. Nike bought four pairs of fake Nike shoes from StockX which had all been labelled as authentic. Some of these trainers were sold for over $300. StockX however, argues that Nike’s claim is baseless. It argues that Nike had communicated confidence in its authentication program. StockX believes that this claim is Nike’s attempt to “resuscitate” its lawsuit against StockX over the sale of NFTs. Earlier this year, Nike sued StockX for infringing upon its trademark with regards to non-fungible tokens. Check out our previous top 10 exploring the issue. StockX is a resale platform and sells shoes and apparel from a range of brands. The company recently reached a $3.8 billion valuation.

9. APPLE LOSES CROWN 

Apple has been usurped by Saudi Aramco as the world’s most valuable company. The smartphone maker saw its value dip to $2.37 trillion after a wider market sell off. Apple’s shares have plunged 20% since the start of 2022 as fears over the Ukraine war and an impending recession have spooked markets. As discussed below, Saudi Arabian oil and gas giant Aramco is enjoying a bumper period due to soaring energy prices. The company’s valuation soared to $2.42 trillion, beating Apple to the top spot for the first time since 2020. Investors are shifting their focus away from tech firms and towards more stable assets. Apple was the first company to hit a $3 trillion valuation in January but it has since tumbled. With rising energy costs, interest rates and reduced consumer demand, tech firms, including Apple, are likely to see a bumpy remainder of 2022. 

10. SAUDI ARAMCO ENJOYS BUMPER PERIOD

Oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco has posted its highest quarterly profits since 2019. Aramco saw an 82% spike in profits to $39.5 billion for the first quarter of 2022. This has been fuelled by the rapid rise in oil and gas prices since the outset of the war in Ukraine. The cost of energy had already been rising but this was compounded by the war and Western efforts to reduce reliance on Russian energy. Aramco has said it will increase its output significantly by 2030, which will hopefully cause global prices to stabilise. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producer in the OPEC cartel. Its state-owned oil company, Aramco, launched a blockbuster IPO in December 2019, raising $25.6 billion and reaching a $1.7 trillion valuation. 

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