The week’s news included; UBS rescues Credit Suisse for £2.6bn, TikTok fights for survival in the US, CMA softens stance on Microsoft Activision deal, White & Case sues SPAC for unpaid fees.
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 – Banks: Is this a banking crisis – how worried should I be?
- City A.M. – Let’s be honest, the financial sector needs to learn to get the basics right
- The Fashion Law – What Can Fashion Take Away from the Silicon Valley Bank Collapse?
- The Guardian – Greedflation: are large firms using crises as cover to push up their profits?
- BBC News – How a TikTok ban would – or wouldn’t – work in practice
1. UBS RESCUES CREDIT SUISSE
Swiss banking giant UBS has bought Credit Suisse for 3 billion Swiss francs (£2.6 billion) to prevent a global financial crisis. Switzerland’s largest bank was the only suitable buyer for its nearest competitor, Credit Suisse, in a deal brokered by the Swiss government. Credit Suisse has been in trouble for the past few years, facing scandal after scandal. It recently posted its largest loss since the 2008 financial crisis as it saw $119 billion in customer outflows in Q4 alone.
The nail in Credit Suisse’s coffin was the revelation in its annual report that it had “material weaknesses” in its financial controls and scrapped bonuses for the board. This news was compounded by jitters caused by recent the collapses of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank. Credit Suisse’s share price plummeted 24% and customers were withdrawing $10 billion per day from Credit Suisse. This reduced its liquid cash to unsustainably low levels. Even a 50 billion Swiss Franc (£44 billion) lifeline from the Swiss National Bank could not stop the bleed.
Ultimately, the Swiss government brokered a deal for UBS to buy Credit Suisse at a 60% discount on its valuation just two weeks ago. Had UBS not stepped in, Credit Suisse may have collapsed, potentially causing another financial crisis. Credit Suisse holds over $500 billion in deposits which may have been lost. Bondholders, shareholders and counterparties would have collectively lost hundreds of billions causing further collapses around the world.
Prior to recent events, Credit Suisse has been plagued by issues. CEO Tidjane Thiam was ousted in 2020 after the company was found to have spied on former employees. In 2021, it lost $15 billion from the collapse of Greensill and Archegos (see previous top 10). Later in the year, it was fined $475 million for bribery in Mozambique. In 2022 it was then fined for failing to prevent money laundering by a Bulgarian cocaine trafficking ring it held as a client.
2. TIKTOK FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL
TikTok is fighting for its survival in the US as lawmakers consider banning the app. Last week, TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew faced a four-and-a-half hour congressional hearing. Mr Chew was grilled on the app and its security. The US considers TikTok a risk to US security as there is concern it could be utilised by the Chinese government to gather data from US individuals. Furthermore, there is staunch criticism of TikTok’s addictive nature and potentially harmful impact on children.
In the hearing, Mr Chew and TikTok faced attack from both Republican and Democrats, in a rare instance of unity between US lawmakers. Although not all Congress members want a full ban on TikTok, none of them were satisfied by its current corporate structure. Employees in TikTok’s parent, ByteDance, have some access to US users’ data. China’s foreign ministry rejects claims that it requests data collected in foreign locations from Chinese companies. Furthermore, TikTok says it is taking action to move all US-based data to the US in a plan dubbed Project Texas.
Understandably, the government’s concerns are not assuaged by these assurances nor by Mr Chew’s answers in the hearing. Lawmakers made it clear that they still consider TikTok a huge risk to US security due to its links to the Chinese government. There will certainly be some new legislation that could see TikTok’s US arm sold to a US entity or banned altogether in the US.
In the UK, organisations are also cracking down on TikTok. Last week, both London City Hall and the BBC banned TikTok on work devices over security concerns. This follows the UK government ban on ministers from using the app on their work phones. Similar action has already been taken by governments across the globe, including in the US, the EU and New Zealand. India banned TikTok entirely in 2020.
3. CMA SOFTENS STANCE ON MICROSOFT-ACTIVISION BLIZZARD DEAL
The UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has narrowed the scope of its investigation into Microsoft’s takeover of Activision Blizzard. In its initial findings the CMA found that the deal could harm competition in the console games sector. Activision Blizzard produces huge titles such as Call of Duty. There was concern that Microsoft could limit access of such titles to competitors such as Sony, ultimately harming consumers. Following feedback and new evidence from industry participants however, the CMA backtracked and no longer believes the deal will substantially lessen competition.
One of the primary reasons for this decision is because of the lack of commercial incentive for Microsoft to limit competitor access. Sony sells up to 25 million copies of Call of Duty on PlayStation every year. Microsoft would lose out millions in revenue by restricting Sony’s access. Microsoft has already signed a 10 year deal to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo. Another deal has also been agreed with Nvidia to bring Call of Duty to their GeForce Now platform. All of these factors helped assure the CMA that the deal would not harm competition.
This provides a huge boost for Microsoft and could be the turning point for the deal. The CMA will make its final decision on April 26. Microsoft and Activision Blizzard are still facing huge hurdles in other jurisdictions, namely the US and EU.
Last week, Microsoft also revealed that it would look to set up its own mobile app store to challenge Apple’s App Store and Google’s Play Store. It hopes the EU’s Digital Market Act (DMA) will help even the playing field. The Financial Times explores the matter in more detail.
4. SIGNATURE BANK COLLAPSE
Signature Bank has been snapped up by New York Community Bank for $2.7 billion (£2.2 billion) after its collapse. The New York based Signature Bank was shut down by regulators 2 weeks ago after customers withdrew funds at rapid speed. It held significant amounts of uninsured deposits and heavy exposure to high risk cryptocurrencies and tech firms. Its collapse marked the third-largest commercial bank failure in US history after Washington Mutual in 2008 and Silicon Valley Bank which failed 48 hours prior to Signature. Now, all 40 of Signature Bank’s branches have become Flagstar Bank. Flagstar is a subsidiary of New York Community Bank.
5. GOOGLE LAUNCHES AI CHATBOT
Google has launched its “Bard” chatbot in the UK and US as the AI race heats up. The system is being trialled to help Google catch up with Microsoft and its Bing Chat and ChatGPT. Like its competitors, Bard can answer complex questions posed in a conversational format and write essays, articles and even code.
So far in demos however, Bard has failed to impress. Google’s product lead for Bard, Jack Krawczyk, asked Bard in a demonstration about activities to do in Tokyo. Bard gave a suggestion to visit a fish market but most of the market had moved to a new venue in 2018. Chatbots are far from perfect and are still in a nascent stage. This is still a significant step forward for Google as it tries to retain its dominance in the search engine space. Check out our article exploring the AI chatbot race and the potential disruption for the sector.
6. WHITE & CASE SUES SPAC
White & Case has sued its former client Colonnade Acquisition Corp II, a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), for $8.2 million over unpaid fees. The law firm claims that the SPAC failed to complete a $480 million merger and then decided to dissolve the company without paying owed fees. White & Case says Colonnade has “ignored or rebuffed” its demands for payment for three years worth of work totalling $8,289,100.
In August 2022, Colonnade was set to merge with payments provider Plastiq and the deadline for completion was March 12 2023. On March 9 however, the SPAC announced that it would cease operations and dissolve, and the merger deadline lapsed without the deal completed. Colonnade said that the action was “mutually agreed upon” with White & Case and rejects the claim that it owes money. It argues that the most recent engagement letter only required payment if the deal was successfully completed. Since the deal was abandoned, payment was not due. The case is being heard in the State of New York.
SPACs were the fad of 2021 but the boom is over. In 2021 there were 610 SPAC deals. In 2022, this plunged to just 86 according to S&P. The value of deals also plunged by 90% from $160 billion in 2021 to just $13 billion in 2022. For investors, SPACs are not as attractive as they were. The global economic slowdown and concerns about stricter SPAC regulation has reduced their appeal. Without the investors, SPACs cannot raise the funds to merge with companies. In December 2022 alone, 85 SPACs liquidated. Furthermore, with a global economic slowdown SPACs are finding fewer suitable targets to merge with as businesses struggle with the impending recession.
7. INTEREST RATES RISE AGAIN
The Bank of England has raised interest rates again for the eleventh time in a row. Interest rates now sit at 4.25%, up from 4%. The rise is designed to stem inflation which remains high. Inflation jumped to 10.4% in February, despite experts predictions of a decline. The Bank of England’s inflation target is 2%, so there is a long way to go. Following the crisis in the banking world however, central banks are stepping on the brakes with interest rate rises. Although the UK banking system is currently in a strong position, there is still a risk of contagion from the crises at major banks globally.
8. AMIGO LOANS COLLAPSE
Payday lender Amigo Loans is set to be wound down after its latest emergency funding round failed. Amigo Loans accepted that there was no “viable route forward” and its shares plummeted 80%. Amigo Loans was suspended from lending in 2020 by the UK Financial Conduct Authority. The lender was found to have issued unaffordable loans without proper affordability checks. It secured approval to restart trading in October 2022 as part of a court approved redress scheme.
Earlier this year however, it was publicly reprimanded by the FCA. Amigo did not receive the £72.9 million it would have got, given that consumers would not have been compensated had the fine been issued. Creditors of Amigo Loans will now be offered £97 million. Trading is now halting and the business is to be wound down within the next 12 months.
9. JUST EAT JOB CUTS
Food delivery giant Just Eat has announced it will cut 1700 jobs. Just Eat will no longer employ its workers in the UK and will instead use gig economy workers. Delivery employees have been given six weeks’ notice. 170 operational staff are also affected and will be made redundant with potential opportunities to move to other parts of the business. These cuts are designed to simplify its delivery operations and improve efficiency. This follows a 9% decline in customer demand. Overall, Just Eat Takeaway.com reported €5.32 billion loss for 2022, nearly 70% higher than its loss for 2021.
The decision to adopt the gig economy model is a massive U-turn for the company as Just Eat’s leadership had staunchly criticised the model. In 2021, CEO Jitse Groen said that the gig economy created “precarious working conditions” that were “the worst seen in a hundred years”. Now, barely two years later, Just Eat is adopting this very model. Just Eat Takeaway.com workers elsewhere in Europe will continue to be employed and the changes shall apply only to the UK.
10. AMAZON JOB CUTS
Amazon has announced that it will cut a further 9000 jobs in addition to the 18000 jobs cut in January. The tech giant will target cloud computing and advertising with the latest rounds of cuts. These cuts are designed to save costs amid a bleak global economic outlook. Like many of its tech competitors Amazon its streamlining its operations as demand for tech wanes. The boom in sales during the pandemic has long gone and tech firms, including Amazon, are now axing chunks of their overinflated headcounts. Amazon employs 1.5 million people across the globe.