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Daily News Roundup: Tuesday, 23rd November 2021

Posted: 23rd November 2021

BANKING

Atom Bank moves to four-day week

The Times’ Patrick Hosking considers the move by Atom Bank to shift to a four-day week and questions whether the required up tick in productivity to make up for the fewer hours worked will materialise. CEO Mark Mullen insists the move will make for a more effective business and ultimately will boost returns for shareholders. Hosking says that although it is “dangerous to extrapolate too much from a single company, […] this does feel like the beginning of a wider trend, though only in those industries where supply and demand so favours employees.”

Cunliffe backs digital pound as cash use wanes

The deputy governor of the Bank of England, Jon Cunliffe, told a podcast that cash is disappearing from the UK economy and that a central bank-issued digital currency would need to be issued to ensure there was always a prominent state-backed financial system in the future. With the rise of decentralised cryptocurrencies and the popularity of credit and debit cards and online payments, central bank state-issued money is disappearing, Cunliffe said. There would be downsides to a CBDC, however: “If people move their deposits into CBDC there will be a hit to banks, and banks will have to adjust. People will use it, but you don’t want them to use it in such a disruptive way that we can’t adjust.”

Bank network shrinks by 4.55% in three months

Major High Street banks have axed over 1,000 branches since pandemic began with the branch network shrinking by 4.55% between April and June this year. Between April and June, 267 branches closed, according to FCA data, leaving only 5,599 remaining.

Santander outage fixed

Over 1,000 Santander customers could not access their accounts yesterday with online banking and mobile app services down from early in the morning. The issue was fixed  but a spokesperson warned that there may be delays to some card payments showing on customers’ accounts.

INTERNATIONAL

Eurozone banks told to do more to tackle climate change risks

The ECB has completed its first assessment of banks’ preparedness to deal with increased climate and environmental risks and found that none was close to meeting “all supervisory” expectations. "Only one-third of banks have plans in place that are at least broadly adequate, and half won't have completed implementation of their plans by the end of 2022," it added.

Bank stocks poised for best year since global financial crisis

Global bank stocks are on track to record their best year since 2009, an MSCI benchmark suggests, benefiting from expectations of higher borrowing costs as rate-setters battle widespread inflation. Separately, shares in US banks rose on Monday after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell was nominated for a second four-year term by President Joe Biden.

JP Morgan offers to cover hotel quarantine costs for staff in Hong Kong

JPMorgan is offering to pay some of its Hong Kong-based staff up to US$5,000 (£3,720) each if they want to visit their families abroad, in compensation for the city's strict quarantine rules. The move comes after Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan chief executive, said last week that the quarantine requirement in Hong Kong "does make it harder" to retain talent in the territory.

UN warns of Afghan banking system collapse

The United Nations has warned that if the rise in non-performing loans and the lack of cash in circulation is putting Afghanistan's banking system at risk of total failure. A report from the UN Development Programme said the economic cost of a banking system collapse - and consequent negative social impact - “would be colossal.”

Julius Baer: private bank can keep investors dancing to its tune

Weakness in emerging markets was the most likely cause for a cautionary note over client asset growth from Julius Baer on Monday, sending its share price 5% lower in response.

AVIATION

IAG faces UK competition inquiry over Air Europa deal

The UK's Competition and Markets Authority is examining the proposed €500m (£420m) takeover of Air Europa by British Airways owner International Airlines Group. The takeover is already the object of an in-depth investigation by the European Commission.

FINANCIAL SERVICES

EU competitiveness at risk from regulatory demands

TheCityUK has said the European Commission’s attempts to force financial services companies to have branches and subsidiaries within the EU risks raising costs for customers and businesses across the economy. The lobby group’s Emma Reynolds said: “There are concerns about what this could mean about the EU’s competitiveness, if they are putting up what could be seen as artificial barriers [to trade].” Conor Lawlor from UK Finance added that it is vital the rules do not get in the way of financial services firms serving their customers. “Market access regimes should enable international firms to allocate resource and capital efficiently to meet the needs of their clients irrespective of borders,” he said. “Therefore, any regulatory initiatives that reduce the ability for businesses to serve their customers should be assessed very carefully.” The comments follow proposals from Brussels to stop almost all cross-border selling from non-EU countries into the bloc’s single market, including ‘reverse solicitation’, where a client approaches a bank without any marketing by the institution.

Interactive Investor seeks to attract younger investors

Interactive Investor is looking to lure in more novice investors by launching a new offer for members wishing to introduce friends and family to the world of investing. For £5 extra a month, existing Interactive Investor customers can each gift up to five people a free monthly subscription to the investing platform that would otherwise cost them £9.99 a month.

HEALTHCARE

US private equity firms acquire Athenahealth

US private equity firms Bain Capital and Hellman & Friedman have agreed to buy Athenahealth in a $17bn (£12.6bn) deal. The health IT group was bought for a third of the price by Veritas Capital and Elliott Investment Management in 2018.

LEISURE & HOSPITALITY

Rank to get tax rebate of over £80m from HMRC

The owner of Mecca Bingo and Grosvenor Casinos says it is due a £77.5m refund after winning a legal battle with HMRC over VAT on fixed-odds betting terminals. Rank Group said it had reached agreement with HMRC on the details of its claim, which dates back to tax paid from April 2006 to January 2013. It will also receive compensation for interest lost, which it expects to be around £5.5m.

Sales higher at Everyman cinemas

Shares in Everyman were up 2.8% after the upmarket cinema chain posted stronger admissions than expected since September, helped by blockbusters such as the latest James Bond film No Time To Die and Dune.

MEDIA & ENTERTAINMENT

Ericsson to pay $6bn for cloud-base services group Vonage

Ericsson is paying $6.2bn in cash for cloud-based services group Vonage as the Swedish telecoms equipment maker looks to move into the enterprise business.

RETAIL

Footfall rises in London

New figures reveal that shopping destinations in Central London, including Oxford Street and Regent Street, reported a 8.3% rise in footfall in the week beginning 14 November. Footfall has risen after Christmas lights were turned on across the West End and ahead of Black Friday, with many retailers launching deals in the run up to the discount day. Despite this, in comparison to pre-pandemic levels, footfall in central London remained down 15.9% compared to the same week in 2019.

Private equity interest in M&S doubtful

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Ben Marlow questions rumours of a potential takeover of Marks & Spencer by private equity giant Apollo. He acknowledges there is a “semi-plausible case” for a buyout of M&S due to its property portfolio and successful tie-up with Ocado, but adds that any talk of turnaround at the retailer is premature. However, Marlow says that private equity interest in Tesco, one of the few major retailers that is firing on all cylinders, should be taken seriously despite the £22bn market cap.

SPORT

Private equity deals for sports teams hit record high

A record £3.2bn of sports team acquisitions by private equity funds were made in the last 12 months, almost treble last year's total. In all, eleven private equity purchases of sports teams were made last year, including football teams Inter Milan, Atletico Madrid and Burnley as well as Formula 1 teams Williams and McLaren.

ECONOMY

UK consumer spending continues to rise despite surging inflation

Pressure on the Bank of England to raise interest rates has increased as consumer spending remains positive, driven by eating out and entertainment along with early Christmas shopping.

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