It’s that time of year: Brexit is back up the business (and political) agenda once again. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is due to warn business leaders “time is running out” to prepare for the end of the transition period. The government is increasingly worried there will be chaos at the border come the new year.
British business groups don’t disagree: they’re sounding an alarm of their own. More than 70 groups representing more than 7m workers called on the government to return to the negotiating table to strike a trade deal with Brussels after Mr Johnson moved to end talks with the EU on Friday. A poll by the Institute of Directors last week showed almost a quarter of companies might not be ready for the transition period; close to half said they weren’t fully prepared.
There are those who are readying their Brexit contingency plans, though: London’s biggest share trading venues are preparing for a potential radical reshuffle of where investors can buy and sell European shares. One exchange chief executive said “people are living in a pipe dream” if they thought share trading arrangements would be sorted with less than 90 days to go.
Competition and Markets Authority boss Andrea Coscelli is talking tough on tech. He has told the government to set up a digital regulator within a year or his agency will mount investigations into internet giants Facebook and Google. The CMA came in for criticism after it backed away from launching market investigations or antitrust cases after concluding a year-long study into the online ad sector in July, saying that new laws were needed. But now Mr Coscelli has said if the government fails to take action, he will.
WPP is back on the acquisition trail, according to its chief executive Mark Read. Martin Sorrell built the ad business through deal after deal. But since Sir Martin left two years ago, Mr Read has been rebuilding the group’s finances as part of a three-year turnround plan. Now he is on the hunt for “acquisitions we can make that bring us scale”. Full interview with Mr Read is here.
Landlord Land Securities sets out its strategy today at a capital markets day for analysts and investors. It is sticking by both London — despite the challenges the pandemic poses for the capital and its offices — and its regional retail assets, which face their own problems.
Beyond the Square Mile
Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America have warned staff their bonuses will not keep pace with blowout performances in areas such as fixed-income trading and debt and equity underwriting. Senior investment bank executives at two of the banks told the Financial Times they were trying to “manage expectations” for 2020 bonuses by reminding staff that the wider businesses have booked huge loan loss charges to prepare for a surge in defaults as the pandemic ravages global economies. At the third, a senior executive said the bonuses were a “huge issue that we are grappling with”, as the bank tries to balance paying people for results with their need to be “good citizens”.
Ant Group has received approval from Chinese regulators to list its shares in Hong Kong, said three people with direct knowledge of the matter, clearing one of the last hurdles to the group’s $30bn initial public offering. The Chinese payments group controlled by billionaire Jack Ma is planning a dual listing in Shanghai and Hong Kong, in what could be the world’s biggest IPO. Shares in Ant, which some analysts have valued at as much as $318bn, could price ahead of the US presidential election on November 3, according to one of the people.
Carlsberg is to expand its range of non-alcoholic drinks and flavoured alcoholic sparkling waters, as the Danish brewer looks beyond beer for growth and taps consumers’ renewed focus on health in the pandemic. Cees ‘t Hart, chief executive of the world’s third-largest brewer, told the FT annual sales of alcohol-free beer was increasing by 20-25 per cent in most countries. He said Carlsberg was also developing fermented beverages — a new category in between soft drinks and beer.
Essential comment before you go
One reason why consultancies are such fertile territory for armchair critics is that the overlap between consultant-speak and marketing-speak is where the English language goes to die. I was relieved, then, to receive a press release last week from Accenture, heralding its “biggest brand move in a decade”.
The longer this pandemic goes on, the clearer it is that much of what was deemed to be normal life should have been binned years earlier.
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