From the repeated lies of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce during trial, to the sub storyline of Huhne’s fractured relationship with his son, this car crash of a soap opera-like story has been played out in full fanfare under the media spotlight. No one likes to air their dirty laundry in public. Perhaps the eight months sentence the pair faces, will draw an end to this thoroughly modern-day Shakespearean saga. Alternatively perhaps they will use the publicity to secure book deals.
The fizz has officially fallen flat as Champagne has been cut from the basket of goods, alongside Freeview boxes and round lettuces. According to Mintel figures, sales of the bubbly have fallen by more than 30% since the hey-days of 2007, from £1billion to an estimated £690million. Trading in bottles of Champagne, typically around £40, are bottles of white rum which can be bought for a fraction of the price.
On Wednesday, for the first time in 1,300 years, a non-European Pope was elected as head of the Roman Catholic Church. A sea of faces welcomed Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as he stepped onto the balcony to rapturous applause. Bergoglio will now live as Pope Francis and take up residence in the Vatican. A far cry from his one bedroom flat in Buenos Aires…
5. Can women have it all?
An interesting commentary piece in the New York Times written by former CFO of Lehman Brothers, Erin Callan on wanting to “have it all” and failing. This was in response to a heated debate sparked by the launch of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean in” – and much of our conversations here in the team as well.
Can women strike the perfect work/life balance and really “have it all” or is it simply about “having enough” and being happy with it? What do you think? Leave us a comment below.
Thanks to @goldtorpedo for contributing to this week’s Friday Fiver
This feels like a bold step from HMRC. Will ramp up pressure on the Govt to disclose big business’ tax evasion – as demonstrated by Margaret Hodge’s intervention.
3. Trial by media or trial by jury?
Judging by the number of online mentions of the tragic incident of Reeva Steenkamp’s death, which was close to 1,000,000 on the day of the shooting, it’s hard to detract from the two trials Oscar Pistorius is facing. One in front of the Magistrate’s court and the other in front of the world’s media and the court of public opinion. Nicely summarised in this piece by Daniel Howden and Ian Burrell at The Independent:
“…in many ways his trial began as soon as news of his lover’s death reached the media. The only difference here is that the facts of the case carry a much lower burden of proof. The slow grind of South Africa’s justice system, which barely recognises contempt of court, has been unable to keep pace in the era of social media and rolling TV news. As a consequence, the first disabled global sports superstar has found himself deluged with accusations and insinuations masquerading as facts.”
4. Harry Styles Backs Ed Miliband for PM
This is BIG NEWS! Really big, but begs the question ‘Who do the other members support?’ Perhaps they’re all lefties! Harry is the lead singer afterall. Ok. What about One Direction’s big rivals - The Wanted? They must be true blues. Mumford and Sons? Lib Dems. Definitely. Their love of string instruments, country folk and their urban upbringing must surely indicate a yellow streak.
5. FPS FATTIES
And a lighter story to end this week’s Friday Fiver, especially for the snack-loving FPS team, and for the myth of the “H+K stone” to be confirmed by a story in the papers this week. Research by The Village Bakery found that office workers are amongst the worst offenders for piling on the pounds – over 6lbs in fact – with cakes and biscuits brought into work by colleagues. This week already, we’ve had homemade cupcakes brought in by the lovely Clare M and the week before, a deliciously moist lemon drizzle cake made lovingly by Liz, Syrian delights and Jersey fudge from the islands. Temptation is just too hard to resist. Pass the biscuit please.
Thanks to @liyywln for contributing to this week’s Friday Fiver
Another week, another Friday and that means another edition of our team’s Friday Fiver. This week, we have money-printing banks, Twitter-banning broadcasters, Newsnight-debriefing and Good week/Bad week. Thanks to our contributors DC, EJ, Hendog, and Josh-ua. Enjoy!
RUNNING OUT OF PAPER… It’s becoming increasingly hard for the Bank of England to convince people of the value of QE. As Fraser Nelson argued in the Telegraph, the Bank has gone a little quiet on their original reasons for launching QE which isn’t helping – nor is the fact that the links between QE and growth aren’t being articulated clearly, if it all. Yet at the same time, IHS’ Howard Archer is already predicting QE4 for May.
There's more of this in the games room
Source: Creative Commons/mtsofan
What the bank faces then is a PR challenge (as well as the frankly odd problem that they may run out of govt bonds to buy). If they believe QE4 is needed, then they’ve got 3 months to convince a sceptical media and public why it’s needed – expect Mervyn King’s quarterly inflation report next week to begin that process.
In the meantime, hats off to Stephanie Flanders last night for managing to explain what QE actually is and does – that may well be a first
SKY’S SOCIAL MEDIA COMMANDMENTS…
Thou shalt not repost non-company tweets
Thou shalt not re-tweet rival journalist or people on Twitter
Thou shalt not tweet someone else’ beat other than your own
Thou shalt pass breaking news lines to the news desk before posting them on social media networks…
The Guardian reported that the greater powers at the broadcast station stamped down their feet, and banned journalists from reposting tweets not relating to the company. Contentious guidelines even include the warning to Sky News employees not to retweet rival reporters.
The latest development raises once again, the debate on ownership of Twitter accounts, corporate or otherwise and how a brand can be represented and equally, mis-represented on social media through its employees.
The interesting question here is whether the guidelines will be applied to other parts of News Corp’s network, and more importantly Murdoch’s own account.
NEWSNIGHT DE-BRIEF…On Wednesday, members of the FPS team attended a Gorkana event with Newsnight’s deputy editor Shaminder Nahal and planning producer Samantha McAlister to hear how the show is put together and what the team are looking for when it comes to content and guests.
For those of you with a Gorkana PR log-in, there’s a detailed summary of the event here.
Looking through our notes from the event, a number of points jump out:
The show has an average audience of 800,000 but this can jump significantly in a big news week. For example, at the height of the phone hacking scandal, 1.7 million people were tuning in
Those involved in the production of the show, are incredibly passionate about their work
Jeremy Paxman is apparently a joy to work with, although perhaps unsurprisingly, he is very challenging and demands a lot from those he works with
Source: Creative Commons/Ric_James
It’s a trend we have noted before, but was one that was reiterated at the event – business and economics news has become “sexy”. Newsnight’s producers are always on the lookout for people from the City who can explain the world of finance and its wider importance to the viewer.
The show’s producers left us with the thought that Newsnight is an opportunity to set the record straight or to put across a new or important view to the nation’s opinion formers. It’s not for everyone, but for those willing to take on a challenge, there are a few more prominent slots.
On the subject of setting the record straight and BBC flagships… The embattled chief executive of RBS, Stephen Hester, addressed his critics this week and the interview is a must listen.
GOOD WEEK/BAD WEEK…Credit where credit’s due, Ed Miliband has had a very good week. To be precise, Ed Miliband had an excellent PMQs. Yes, David Cameron had a very bad PMQs. His aggressive, impatient responses to Miliband’s patient line of questioning confirmed the accuracy of his likeness to Flashman ‘literature’s most famous bully’. Public bullies don’t tend to make popular Prime Minister’s. Just look at what happened to Gordon Brown:
Miliband on the other had a bit of an open goal when it came to the NHS. Even the influential ConHome has urged Cameron to #dropthebill, so to speak. The softly, softly approach worked well for Miliband though and importantly, his line of inquiry on the NHS was consistent. Cameron’s increasing frustration at having to give the same weak lines and limp backing to his struggling Health Secretary, amplified Miliband’s taunt of ‘calm down dear.’ It was typical of the bad luck Mili E has suffered with broadcasters that the news of Harry Redknapp’s court case emerged at the same time as PMQs, therefore minimising the impact of this little victory. Cameron’s an incredibly savvy dispatch box performer and will be increasingly wise to it, but if Miliband can continue to draw out Flashman Cameron he may enjoy more success in the opinion polls.
MORE BAD NEWS…Headlines have been dominated by the arrest and trial of ‘rogue’ trader Kweku Adoboli who is accused of unauthorised trading which cost his employer – Swiss bank UBS – about £1.5bn. However, a potentially more interesting story that has come to light in recent days is the sheer scale international investigation into manipulation of Libor – the interest rate used for inter-bank lending. Regulators in Japan, the UK, the US and Europe have been investigating the scheme since at least March 2011, and have now implicated employees at a number of major financial institutions. Analysts had long been suspicious that financial institutions were covering up the size of their borrowing costs during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.
The increase in intranational prosecutions and international regulatory collaboration has also highlighted differing standards about what constitutes corporate crime. Many American investors were surprised at the British Financial Service’s Authority decision to fine hedge fund manager David Einhorn for insider trading because his actions would not have been considered unlawful in the US. British authorities generally cast a much wider net when investigating white-collar crime but are perceived to have a miserable record when it comes to prosecutions. By contrast, their American counterparts have a narrower definition but pursue cases with vigour, even if that means crossing international boundaries to do so.
It seems likely that more cases of this nature will emerge in the coming months, especially if Eurozone crisis continues to destabilise international markets.
Welcome to our Friday Fiver. This week we look at Nick Clegg’s proposals for public ownership of bailed out banks, the ever growing tech bubble and cybercrime, whilst we shift effortlessly from speaking to ourselves in the first person to a collective, as our minds wonder what the weekend might hold. With a few nuggets of information at the very end – so worth reading all the way through!
Thanks to Ben, Dave and Jo for contributions.
The People’s Bank…
It’s not often that ‘I agree with Nick’. But despite the naysayers who say that it’s pie in the sky, the administration of such a project would be impossible, or that Nick Clegg is only mentioning it now to get himself some press attention while he travels in Brazil, I have to say I like the idea of those who bailed out the banks getting something back. I also like the idea of reintroducing share ownership to the public at large because it goes some way to bridging the gap between what people perceive of financial services and equity ownership and reality.
It also helps with the financial education theme which is so popular amongst politicians and financial services companies, but rarely actually really delivers change because at the end of the day it is a one way message. Repeated surveys show the public never really engage or feel comfortable with finance, however well intentioned the various programmes are that exist. If they owned shares, they would pay attention, they would engage, they would also probably make some money in this instance, and get something back for the tax revenue they provided to the banks.
Surely that is worth further investigation?
The bubble keeps growing…
We’ve written before about the soaring valuations of tech companies, and in particular, social media companies. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Foursquare have seen their potential values skyrocket as investors queue up to get a piece of any potential IPO. We (or to be blunt, Dave) have been somewhat sceptical about the value being placed on these businesses, chiefly because the profits most of them are making are barely correlated to the huge valuations put on them.
The threat of ‘cybercrime’ loomed large this week after news of the arrest of a 19 year-old hacker suspected of carrying out attacks on the C.I.A and the UK’s serious organised crime agency. After the WikiLeaks saga and arrest of NASA hacker Gary McKinnon it would seem that security agencies are struggling to keep a handle on…well, security. But this isn’t just any security, the issue of ‘cyberspace’ is a particularly tricky one as currently there is no transnational law to define what happens next.
But the question remains, how do we control this vast and intangible area? In the FT this week former British cabinet minister John Reid says innovation is the key to cracking the cyber crisis. What is needed, says Reid, is an ‘elite cadre of innovators able to lead a workforce with a different, entrepreneurial ethos’. We’d like to think they might look like this.
Anyone up for the job..?
June 21 saw the longest day and shortest night of the year and despite this marking the official beginning of the summer season it also means that from now on our days will be getting shorter and our nights longer and we might as well all be starting to get ready for Christmas.
But for those of us who haven’t yet embraced the summer months you might want to have a look at Visa Europe’s (client) Third Annual Travel Report which revealed that holidaymaking Britons are increasingly venturing out of the eurozone. Visa Europe analysed international spend trends of 105 million UK cardholders to reveal the countries with the highest annual increase in consumer spend in 2010. While Zimbabwe tops the list, fellow African countries, Gambia (4th), Nigeria (5th) and Morocco (10th) all featured in the top ten.
Definitely food for thought if you haven’t yet planned your summer getaway, but if you would like to keep your feet on home turf, you might want to try and find some at Glastonbury this weekend, which despite its muddy start, festival goers are expected to enjoy the hottest day of the year on Sunday! Excellent.
On the theme of live music…
And fitting for a Friday afternoon, we’ve noticed recently an upward trend in people singing out loud on trains along to their ipods, regardless of the fact that their fellow commuters are either staring at them and tutting, or sniggering quietly behind their copy of the Evening Standard. It’s not surprising given the tendency of City workers to drown their sorrows before boarding the train back to the home counties and with more mobile music, it was bound to happen.
Last night’s performance was a classic though, not only the odd word being sung, but the full nine yards. Eyes shut, belting out a rambling drunken version of what sounds something like a combination between Blur, The Streets and Bob Dylan but with one of the most awful voices ever heard. The whole carriage falling about laughing, the commuter/singer totally oblivious, eyes still shut, finger pointing in the air and occasionally tapping on the table in front of him. Never mind karaoke, this is surely a new national sport. Is this is continuing influence of reality TV? Dave, we think you might know the answer, but can anyone think of a name for it?
Hello again all. It’s been a frantically busy week here in the Financial & Professional Services team, but as ever we bring you the Friday Fiver which rounds up this week’s events. Thanks to contributors Mel, Nick, Jo and Jonathan this week.
Freedommmmmm…Braveheart bonds, kilt edged bonds, Connery bonds and Jonathan’s own personal suggestion of shortbread bond are just some of the names being used to describe new powers that will allow Scotland’s government to issue debt.
Mel's adopted country is about to issue its' own bonds
The Scotland Bill makes provision for the country to raise up to £2.2bn from markets to fund infrastructure projects. There had been calls to permit up to £5bn of borrowing but this idea has been dismissed and Treasury ministers are at pains to emphasise that this does not amount to writing a blank cheque. It remains to be seen what ratings agencies will make of Scotland’s credit worthiness.
Hello All, and apologies for a slightly late Financial & Professional Services Friday Fiver this week, but we’ve all been a little hectic. To round out the week we bring you banking, more banking, an Archbishop and Blackpool football club. Happy weekend all!
The Big Four Banks feel the heat….The big four revealed deep divisions on restructuring at Wednesday’s treasury select committee appearance as their CEOs jockeyed for position with the powers that be. Stark divisions were revealed on the Independent Banking Commission proposed scope for ring fencing core retail banking functions. RBS’ Stephen Hester alluded to the “moral hazard” problem if government effectively insulated the market, which could perversely encourage excessive risk taking, a view supported by Barclays.
In contrast, HSBC and Lloyds support a broader separation and more diverse mix to encourage the much needed supply of credit to the market – note the Q1 figures which reveal banks failed to stay on track with “Project Merlin” pledges.
Vince Cable - back on the banker bashing trail this week (image from Telegraph.co.uk)
Finally, Vince Cable rattled the sabre again, unveiling a not so “veiled threat” to link bank bonuses to SME lending! Will this create the required traction on this fragile detente between the City and the Government? Watch this space, but maybe don’t hold your breath.
In case you missed it, President Obama was in the UK this week to talk essential relationships, cyber crime and have a barbeque in the Number 10 Rose Garden. In honour, of his visit this weeks’ fiver looks at the visit and the UK’s special essential relationship with the US. Thanks to Dave, Clare, Rachel and Melanie for contributions.
Whilst Foreign Policy and the six point plan, were the main items on the agenda, surely the most interesting aspect of Obama’s visit was the upgrading of the UK’s ‘Special Relationship’ with America to an ‘Essential Relationship.’ Essential. Never mind our credit rating, we have an essential relationship with America! As Matthew D’Ancona pointed out earlier this week, it has a certain ring of indispensability to it. I’m less sure Obama’s deficit reduction plan can be described as Osbornian, as D’Ancona suggested, but you have to hand it to Cameron he pulled the rabbit out of the hat with that one.
Governments should “live within their means” but also sustain growth by investing in education, and the pace of deficit reduction “may end up being different”. Uncritical certainly from the President, but hardly the ringing endorsement David Cameron and George Osborne were hoping for with regards to their economic strategy.
They were probably also hoping for better revised Q1 GDP figures from the ONS than the ones that materialised this week at roughly the same time as the meat was cooking on the barbie. Traditionally, the revised figures show an increase in GDP for the quarter over the first, partial set of figures released. That didn’t happen this time, with growth remaining at 0.5%. More worryingly, household spending contracted 0.6% and business investment practically hid in the corner shivering, as it shrank 7.1%.
The Government remains committed to cutting hard and fast in order to shrink the deficit and get the country back on track without a large credit card bill hanging over it. Judging by the economic data and reaction to it, the jury is still out on whether this will work or not – which is perhaps why the President hedged his words to such effect.
Michelle Obama re-affirmed her own ‘essential relationship’ with old friends during the visit when she was re-acquainted with girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School. The EGA girls were visiting Oxford University as part of a programme to encourage them to aim high. Mrs Obama, herself a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, encouraged them to not “be afraid to take risks, ask questions, ask stupid questions, don’t be afraid to trip, fall and don’t be afraid to get back up.”
Wise words indeed from the First Lady and something all of us can take heart from. Media coverage of the meeting praised her as an inspiring role model for these young girls. But do our young people need to wait for a visit from a foreign leader’s wife to feel inspired? It strikes me that inspiration comes in all sorts of guises from dignitaries to teachers, to a school system and society that encourages successes achieved on merit. I cannot help thinking that more of our young girls would be inspired if the education system were fairer and society willed them on.
However, today’s announcement that under radical changes to admissions, some secondary schools will be able to select pupils on the basis of family income fills me with dread. If we want to inspire our young people, there has to be a better way than judging them on their parents’ finances.
Right all along?
Photo: Jacob Whittaker
There was a time when being British was all about keeping a stiff upper lip through adversity. We were a bit stuffy, grumpy, and proud of it (with the exception of Ken Dodd). But if this week’s stats from the OECD are to be believed the old stereotype has been blown out of the water – we’re actually much happier than most of our European neighbours, including those where the weather is supposedly much nicer.
Of course our BFFs across the pond are way ahead, with the ‘pursuit of happiness’ in their constitution, but recent events have given them a run for their money (Will & Kate, less than a year to go to the Olympics, plus some cracking Aviva (client) sponsored ITV dramas on the telly). Even Obama seemed to be using his visit to the UK to give a PR boost to the start of his election campaign, after all the yanks did seem to love the Royal Wedding more than we did.
Cheeriness is starting to look like part of a new national character, even a driver of government policy with the government launch of a new way of measuring it earlier this year. Yet whilst the OECD’s figures do seem to suggest that money doesn’t necessarily make you happy, it will be interesting to see whether the next GDP figures show it can work the other way around.
Obama and the ostrich generation
When all the fanfare and noise from the military 41 gun salute to welcome Obama’s visit abates, we hope that the two leading western premiers might spare a thought for the lot of their respective domestic pensioners. They don’t need to look hard or delve deeply to find incontrovertible evidence of the pensions malaise and bleak future that faces many prospective pensioners in the UK and US and indeed across most Western economies.
The worrying statistics roll in on an almost daily basis. According to an international survey released by HSBC this week six in ten Britons have no financial plan for their retirement – due to a “cycle of dependency” and suffer from an equally self-deluded belief that they will enjoy a comfortable retirement.
Across the Atlantic, prospects are equally stark in the US. New findings from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) latest public policy institute report reveals that many older Americans, employed and unemployed, may never recover financially from this latest recession, although here, half of them do actually realise that they won’t have enough money to live on in retirement.
This dearth of planning contrasts with upcoming economies in the East, where a class of “prosperous pensioners” is merging. The respective expectations on annual growth showing further downward revision for the UK economy (now a paltry 1.4%, with the US at only 2.6), is in stark contrast to buoyant growth rates in Asia’s flagship economies – China 9.2%, India 8.5%.
Sir David Walker - charged with reviewing the demise of RBS (image from guardian.co.uk)
Walker’s unique attributes of being both a credible City figure plus a trusted Government adviser make him an obvious choice for the role. His track record helps too – he has headed Government enquiries, such as in 2009 when he examined governance at the big UK banks.
Just as well then, as he’s going to have his work cut out. However “complex” the issues were, as the FSA cites somewhat reluctantly, there will be strong media interest and expectation for answers as to the causes of RBS’ demise; the excessive cost to the public purse from bailout; and the wider malaise that played out across the banking sector as the financial crisis ensued. Whilst Walker and Knight tread through a minefield to avoid the legal conflicts to RBS employees, they’ll be mindful of the need to show teeth and forensic review on both sides of the regulatory fence.
So what’s going on? Well, the fall in unemployment was definitely welcome, but it may be shortlived. The reason for this is the continued fear that new jobs created in the private sector may not be able to keep up with the large redundancies likely being made in the public sector as the government trims spending – it’s a bit like pouring water into a bucket at the top, and it flowing out through holes in the bottom; the problem is, we can’t pour water in fast enough.
And on inflation? Well, it turns out that we can thank retailers, and especially supermarkets, for the slight fall in inflation. According to the ONS, the level of discounting by shops is at an all time high as they try to maintain the flow of customers in through their doors (this might explain why my local Co-op has been running a 50% off wine promotion almost non-stop since Christmas). The question is, how long will these promotions continue to entice consumers? Especially when growth in wages continues to lag behind inflation, reducing the amount of disposable income we have to spend on the high street.
Hello All and welcome to a very sunny Friday afternoon. Before you all rush out of the door to enjoy a much earned drink, here’s our recap of five of the top financial and political stories of the week. Thanks to Jonathan, Ed, Daisy and Ross for their contributions this week.
National destiny…Two weeks ago, Portugal’s outgoing prime minister ruled out the possibility of asking the European Union for financial assistance. On Wednesday, under mounting pressure, a bailout of €80 billion was however requested. What is telling about the run of events is that to a large extent it is not governments that have the ultimate say over their financial destiny but international debt markets, a feeling reflected by Portuguese media, with the newspaper Jornal de Noticias declaring “Yesterday our country succumbed not only to the pressure of the hated markets but to itself”.