The week’s news included; Shell posts record $39bn profit, Musk cleared of defrauding investors, Paperchase brand bought by Tesco, Twitter seeking US payments license.

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Opinion articles of the week: 

  • City A.M. – We need to fill the gap left by the demise of Tech Nation and quickly
  • BBC News – Can Sri Lanka trade its way back to prosperity?
  • Retail Gazette – Paperchase: What went wrong and why did Tesco buy it?
  • BBC News – Adani: How the billionaire’s empire lost $100bn in days

1. SHELL POSTS RECORD PROFIT

Oil and gas giant Shell reported its largest annual profit in its 115 year history. Shell posted a $39.9 billion profit for 2022, due almost entirely to the war in Ukraine. Jeremy Hunt’s extended windfall tax introduced a 35% additional tax on oil and gas extractors to ensure they pay a fairer share of tax. This brings their total tax burden to 75%. Shell now expects to pay $134 million in windfall tax on its UK profits for 2022 and $500 million for 2023.

It must be noted that UK activities account for just 5% of Shell’s global revenue, despite it being headquartered in the UK. Oil and gas giants such as Shell have historically paid little to no tax in the UK. They receive tax breaks by making UK investments and decommissioning old oil fields.  For example, Shell and BP both paid no corporation tax or production levies on North Sea oil operations between 2018 and 2020.

2. MUSK CLEARED OF FRAUD

Elon Musk has been cleared of fraud for his 2018 tweet about taking Tesla private. The Tesla founder tweeted that he had secured funding to take Tesla private when its share price reached $420. The share price surged but Musk backtracked three weeks later as the funding had not formally been secured. Musk was fined and reprimanded by the Securities and Exchange Commission for misleading investors and was forced to have his tweets vetted by a lawyer. Tesla investors sued Musk for fraud as many bought or sold shares based on the information Musk tweeted and ultimately lost $12 billion. Jurors found last week however,  that Musk was not guilty of fraud. Musk’s lawyer recognised that it was a bad tweet but noted that this did not constitute fraud. With this judgement, Musk avoids paying out billions in damages. Investors are currently exploring their options.

3. PAPERCHASE COLLAPSE

Paperchase collapsed into administration last week but shortly was snapped up by Tesco. Tesco bought the brand and intellectual property of Paperchase and will now introduce the brand into its own supermarkets. Unfortunately for Paperchase and its staff, all 106 UK stores are expected to close. No suitable buyer could be found before its collapse and Tesco’s pre Pack administration deal did not include the business or assets.

Paperchase had been on the brink of collapse for two years as the pandemic forced the company into administration in January 2021. A rescue deal was reached in 2021 and the firm was bought in August 2022 by Steve Curtis. These stop gaps didn’t solve the underlying issues with the business that ultimately led to its demise. The stationery and greetings cards market is highly saturated by large retailers and discount shops which offer cheaper, more accessible products.  Online players like Moonpig also further crowded the market. Reduced footfall during the pandemic compounded problems and ultimately set off Paperchase’s rapid decline.

4. TWITTER SEEKING PAYMENTS LICENCE

Twitter is reportedly seeking regulatory licences to accept and process payments. According to the Financial Times, the social media giant is developing infrastructure that would allow payments on Twitter. Twitter has already filed with the US Treasury as a payments processor and is reportedly seeking to obtain regulatory approval by 2024.

Such a pivot into fintech could prove to be a game changer for Twitter. Musk has been exploring new ways to monetize the platform and include it in a wider all-in-one app such as Chinese We-Chat. Gaining the trust of users will prove a huge challenge. Established players such as PayPal, Venmo and CashApp will be watching closely.

5. JD CYBER ATTACK

JD has been hit by a cyber attack and customer data has been compromised. 10 million customers who placed orders at JD and its group companies between November 2018 and October 2020 have been affected. This includes customers of Size, Millets, Blacks, Scotts and MilletSport. Names, emails, billing addresses, phone numbers and the last four digits of bank cards have been compromised. It is not believed however, that customer passwords have been accessed by hackers. JD has warned customers to look out for scam or phishing emails. The UK’s data watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, has been notified. Data protection is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today. Private data is a valuable asset and companies must invest more resources than ever to keep it secure.

6. INTEREST RATES UP AGAIN 

The Bank of England has raised interest rates again, now up to 4%. There are indications from the Bank that rates will not rise much further, if at all. The Bank said rates will only rise if there was “evidence of more persistent [inflationary] pressures”. Inflation in the UK appears to have peaked and is steadily decreasing. Analysts predict that inflation could drop to 2% by 2024. This is promising news for the future but for now, increased interest rates will apply greater pressure on borrowers.

7. WOMBLE & BDB SCRAP MERGER PLANS

Law firms Womble Bond Dickinson & BDB Pitmans have scrapped plans for a merger. The firms had been in discussions since October 2022 but last week jointly announced they would not proceed with the plans. In their joint statement they said “Both firms have decided that the best path forward is to remain independent of each other,”.  No further details on why the merger talks broke down were provided. Womble Bond Dickinson was formed by the merger of US Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice and U.K.-based law firm Bond Dickinson. The transatlantic giant boasts 1000 lawyers globally and turned over $520.5 million last year. BDB Pitmans is a smaller outfit with roughly 200 lawyers on its books.

8. RECORD YEAR OF CRYPTO HACKS

Cryptocurrency hackers stole a record £3.2 billion in 2022. Sophisticated attacks and phishing scams saw businesses and individuals lose large sums of their digital assets throughout the year. October alone saw £629 million stolen. Blockchain analysis firm ChainAnalysis published the above findings and believes North Korean hackers have been responsible for the majority of these thefts. While cryptocurrency blockchains are typically impregnable, exchanges where users buy, sell and sometimes store their currencies are highly susceptible to attacks. These latest figures show the growing importance of cyber security at cryptocurrency firms and financial services firms alike.

9. PAYPAL JOB CUTS

PayPal is set to slash 2000 jobs amid a wider downturn in the tech sector. The online payment giant said the cuts were in response to the challenging macroeconomic environment. These cuts will see roughly 7% of PayPal’s workforce lose their jobs. This comes despite an 11% increase in revenue to $6.85 billion in Q3 2022. Net income also rose 22% to $1.3 billion. PayPal however, slashed its revenue growth forecast due to the wider economic backdrop and is bracing itself for a slowdown. The tech sector has slashed tens of thousands of jobs in the past few months. The bloodbath looks set to continue as a global recession looms.

10. MORTGAGE APPROVALS SINK

Mortgage approval rates have sunk to their lowest level since the pandemic due to rising interest rates. Only 35600 mortgages were approved in December, the lowest since May 2020. Outside of the pandemic, these numbers are the lowest since January 2009, during the financial crisis. With interest rates rising to 4%, the housing market is bracing for a prolonged decline. For the past few years first time buyers have enjoyed record low interest rates and even stamp duty holidays during the pandemic. With mortgage rates now rising to highs not seen in a generation, mortgages will become more inaccessible and there will undoubtedly be a dip in house prices as the market cools.