The week’s news included; EU agrees new crypto regulations, Walgreens shelves $5bn Boots auction, Grant Thornton settles £200m Patisserie Valerie case, Barcelona sells 10% of TV rights for €200m.
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:
- Legal Cheek– What is commercial awareness and how do you show law firms you’ve got it?
- The Athletic – “Concerns, Complaints and a Suicide Shake Chelsea Football Club”
- The Guardian – Why are criminal barristers in England and Wales striking and what will be the impact?
- Sports Pro Media – Why women’s sport is the real opportunity for broadcasters and sponsors.
- City A.M – UK more likely than US and Europe to tip into recession, Goldman Sachs warns
1. EU AGREES NEW CRYPTO RULES
The European Union has agreed new rules to regulate cryptocurrency markets. The Markets in Crypto-Assets, MiCA, will set new standards for crypto markets participants, particularly stablecoin issuers. Under the rules, stablecoins such as tether and USDC which are pegged to the US dollar must maintain sufficient reserves to cope with mass withdrawals. Furthermore, they may face transaction limits of €200 million per day. These firms will come under the oversight of the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA). ESMA will have the power to ban or restrict crypto platforms or participants that threaten market integrity or fail to protect investors. Coins like Bitcoin and Ethereum won’t be caught under the new rules but further regulations are still being considered.
These rules come during a torrid time in cryptocurrency markets. The market has entered a “crypto-winter” with Bitcoin falling beneath $20,000 and altcoins facing similar downturns in prices. These downturns are however, historically common so crypto investors are still confident of a bounce back in the long term.
2. WALGREENS SHELVES BOOTS SALE
Walgreens Boots Alliance (WBA) has abandoned plans to sell its British subsidiary Boots. Boots was valued at roughly £5.5 billion and an auction for the company has been in progress for many months. WBA has now ditched the plans due to the declining market conditions and increased volatility. No buyers were able to meet the valuation set by WBA and it appeared increasingly unlikely to be met as interest rates rose and financing options for buyers dwindled. Only Apollo Global Management and a consortium of other buyers had put in a firm offer for the company. WBA has said it is committed to investing in Boots but its clear that a sale when markets recover is not off the table. Although WBA considers Boots a successful business it has not been without its trouble. In 2019, 200 stores were closed and a further 4000 jobs were cut in 2020 as part of a pandemic driven restructuring.
3. EY NEWS
EY has agreed to pay $100 million to US regulators to settle a claim that employees cheated on an ethics exam. The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) claims that the Big Four auditor allowed 49 staff to cheat on exams between 2017 and 2019. These staff cheated by using answer keys and sharing them with colleagues. Those who didn’t cheat also failed to report the cheating, breaching SEC rules. EY was previously punished for employees cheating between 2012 and 2015. The SEC deemed EY to have placed inadequate safeguards to prevent this reoccurring. The exams in question are required for auditors to secure Certified Public Accountant (CPA) licences. EY said that it had now taken steps to address the issues. This settlement marks the largest payout by an auditor to US regulators, dwarfing KPMG’s $50 million payout in 2019.
This news comes as EY in the UK is exploring its huge £66 billion breakup. Auditors have been ordered to separate their audit and consultancy businesses by 2024. The reported plan would see EY’s audit business stay in ownership of the partners while the consultancy business will be floated on a stock exchange. Partners at the firm will be briefed and votes will be held over the plans.
4. GRANT THORNTON SETTLES PATISSERIE VALERIE CASE
Grant Thornton has settled a £200 million lawsuit over its alleged negligence with regards to its audit of Patisserie Valerie. Patisserie Valerie collapsed in 2019 after a £20 million black hole was found in its books and it was unable to service its debts. It transpired that there was potential fraud by senior officials and the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched an investigation. Administrators of Patisserie Valerie filed a £200 million lawsuit against Grant Thornton over its failure to identify fraudulent activity in its audits. The auditor had already been fined £2.34 million by the regulator for demonstrating a lack of competence. The lawsuit with administrators has now been settled but specific details have not been disclosed.
5. SRA CRACKS DOWN ON SLAPPS
The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) has launched over 20 investigations into UK law firms over their involvement in strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). These lawsuits are used to deter critics from expressing views by threatening them with libel claims and huge legal costs. The SRA issued guidance in March warning firms against the practice. There is concern that UK law firms have been enabling Russian oligarchs to use SLAPPs to stifle criticism of Putin and his allies. New guidance will also be issued in the next few weeks to crack down on the practice and prevent this abuse of the legal system.
6. CREDIT SUISSE FOUND GUILTY OF MONEY LAUNDERING
Credit Suisse has been found guilty for its involvement in a money laundering scheme relating to a Bulgarian drug syndicate. Switzerland’s largest bank was found to have accepted millions of Euros in deposits between 2004 and 2008 from gang members. A manager at the bank even collected bags of cash worth £400,000. The court held that Credit Suisse had severe failing in its client relationship processes which enabled the gang to launder criminal proceeds through the bank. Credit Suisse was ordered to pay a £1.7 million fine and £15 million to the Swiss government. One of the bankers involved was given a 20 month suspended prison sentence and a £1.7 million suspended fine. The bank denies any wrongdoing and has said it will appeal the judgement.
7. BARCELONA SELL BROADCASTING RIGHTS
Barcelona have agreed to sell 10% of their TV broadcasting rights to investment firm Sixth Street for 25 years. The deal will rake in €207.5 million for the club as it faces severe financial hardship. Barcelona’s domestic league, LaLiga, imposed a -€144 million spending cap last year. This meant that the club effectively had a transfer ban and had to sell many big players such as Lionel Messi. Even with this deal, Barcelona’s cost cutting and fund raising isn’t done yet. The club has permission to sell up to a total of 25% of their domestic TV rights for 25 years. This could rake in a further €300 million. It is not expected that the deal with Sixth Street will bring a flurry of new player transfers but rather just bolster the club’s faltering balance sheet.
8. BT WORKER STRIKE
Nearly 40,000 BT workers have voted to go on strike over a pay dispute. This is the first national strike at BT since its privatisation in 1984. Around 30,000 engineers and 9,000 call centre workers backed strike action. Staff received an £1500 annual pay increase but the Communication Workers Union (CWU) described this as a “dramatic real-terms pay cut”. Inflation has soared to 9.1% and things are expected to get worse. CWU also noted that the company made £1.3 billion in profit and gave the CEO, Philip Jansen, a 32% pay increase to £3.5 million.
9. KLARNA VALUATION CRUMBLES
Klarna’s valuation has plummeted by a staggering $40 billion in just the past year alone. The buy now pay later (BNPL) giant took the crown of Europe’s most valuable fintech firm last year, valued at $46 billion. The company is now worth an estimated $6 billion as it seeks to raise fresh capital.
BNPL firms have taken a hit as rising household bills have caused a decline in consumer spending. Furthermore, many investors have shifted their interest away from budding but unprofitable tech firms in favour of more stable and secure investments. Klarna competitor Affirm has lost 80% of its value in 2022 alone. Whether the industry can bounce back in the second half of the year remains to be seen.
10. AIRBNB BANS PARTIES
Airbnb has announced that it will permanently ban parties for hosts and guests on the platform. This sees the continuation of its ban on parties which started in August 2020 due to the pandemic. The rental platform set a 16-person occupancy cap and enforced it strictly. 6600 guests were suspended in 2021 for hosting or attempting to host parties. Airbnb says that the policy is no longer just about public health but has proved beneficial for hosts and their neighbours. Many houses were listed as party houses so Airbnb’s departure from the market will leave a gap for those seeking to host parties and party-goers alike.