The first line of my Twitter biog reads: “Politics, rugby and other general musings”.
A bit pretentious, I know. But it's a genuine reflection of my interests and what I tweet about. So at least those who choose to follow me and put up with my ramblings can't say they weren't warned.
Of course, politics, despite its depressing and repetitive nature of late, is a regular fixture of this briefing. Rugby features less often. There are good reasons for this.
But this week has been an eventful one in the rugby world, it’s Friday, and I can’t bring myself to write about Brexit again. So I’ll hope you’ll indulge me.
A little over a week ago, a leaked plan for a new “World League” – a revamp of rugby’s international tests – was published in the New Zealand Herald. Under the proposal, pitched as the biggest change to the game in modern history, the Six Nations and Rugby Championship would come together, along with the USA and Japan, to form a 12-team competition. The carrot for such an overhaul? A broadcast deal said to be worth $10-14 million for each union.
However, it prompted an immediate backlash due to allegations of greed and that it was intended to preserve the dominance of the tier one nations, with improving and passionate rugby teams like Georgia, Tonga and Samoa excluded from a pathway to improvement. Players from the Pacific Island teams have even threatened to boycott this year’s World Cup.
Concerns were also voiced by the players’ union regarding the potential impact on player welfare of such a heavy schedule.
World Rugby was slow to respond, eventually releasing a statement to clarify its position, along with a video explaining its complex and convoluted proposal.
I understand the rationale behind the move. It’s worth remembering that rugby only went professional in 1995. World Rugby has big ambitions for the sport but, at the moment, it does not generate the same commercial revenue as the likes of football or motor racing. Rugby across the board needs to generate more money.
However, it cannot be done at all costs.
As a sport, rugby regularly champions its values of integrity, passion, solidarity, discipline and respect, which I would suggest its officials have not lived up to this week.
The situation offers a lesson which can be applied across the board. Don’t chase the money at the expense of your values.
Theresa May is being pressed by some members of her cabinet to hold a series of votes on alternatives to her Brexit deal if, as expected, she is defeated for a second time on Tuesday. The prime minister will make her case once again in a speech in Grimbsy, where 71% of residents voted to leave, later today. However, the government has thus far failed to win any further concessions from Brussels on the Irish backstop. As a result, free votes on whether to leave without a deal on 29 March and delaying Brexit are likely to be held on Wednesday in order to limit political instability.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the British-Iranian women who has spent nearly three years in an Iranian prison on espionage charges, will be given diplomatic protection as the government seeks to secure her release. This escalates her case, which will now be treated as a formal, legal dispute between the UK and Iran. Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, said the move was unlikely to be a "magic wand that leads to an overnight result" but described it as an "important diplomatic step".
Paul Manafort, former chairman of Donald Trump’s campaign, has been jailed for 47 months for bank and tax fraud by a US district judge. He was convicted after prosecutors accused him of hiding millions of dollars he earned as a consultant for Ukraine’s former pro-Russia government from US authorities. Manafort’s crimes were uncovered by Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
Business & Economy
Mike Ashley has announced plans to leave Sports Direct and assume the helm at Debenhams. In a statement released yesterday evening after close of trading, Sports Direct said it had called for a general meeting of Debenhams in order to remove all bar one of the current board and install Ashley, who currently has a 30% shareholding in the department store, in an executive role. If this did come to pass, Ashley would hand over the reins of Sports Direct to Chris Wootton, currently deputy chief financial officer. Debenhams, which issued a fresh profit warning this week, said it was “disappointed that Sports Direct has taken this action”.
Official data has down that Chinese exports in February were down 20.7% on the year before – the steepest fall in three years – adding to concerns about growth in the world’s second largest economy. Imports were also down. One analyst said that the figures were “downbeat” even accounting for seasonal distortions arising from the Lunar New Year, and highlighted the impact of tariffs on shipments to the US.
Tom Enders, chief executive of Airbus, has all but ruled out paying back hundreds of millions of euros in outstanding state loans which supported the development of the A380 superjumbo. The company has said production of the jet will stop in 2021, just 14 years into service, after it failed to win further orders. The UK, Germany, France and Spain all provided funding as part of a “repayable launch investment”. However, Enders said governments had signed up to back the programme as part of a “risk partnership”.
What happened yesterday?
Global stocks were buffeted yesterday due to unexpected fresh stimulus from the European Central Bank and news that interest rates will not rise until next year at the earliest, reinforcing fears of an economic slowdown.
The FTSE 100 was down 38.45, or 0.53%, to 7,157.55. Healthcare provider NMC Health led the losers despite posting a record set of full-year results, dropping 11.47%, after the company revived concerns about weak cash conversion.
Suggestions of gambling restrictions in next week’s Spring Statement also sent bookmakers tumbling. Paddy Power Betfair slid 7.01%, GVC Holdings (parent company of Ladbrokes Coral) fell 4.6% and William Hill – a FTSE 250 constituent – was down 5.52%.
At the other end of the spectrum, Unilever was amongst the day’s winners, rising 1.85% on the back of rumours about a large transaction, reported by Reuters to be a potential takeover of Kraft. This would be quite the turning of the tables were it to materialise, considering just two years ago it was Kraft that launched a failed hostile takeover bid for Unilever.
Across the Atlantic, the S&P 500 was down 0.81% to 2,748.93, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.78% to 25,473.23, and the Nasdaq tumbled 1.13% to 7,421.46. Meanwhile, in Europe, the DAX was down 0.6% to 11,517.80 and the CAC 40 slid 0.39% to 5,267.92.
On the currency markets, the pound was up 0.03% against the euro to €1.169 and flat against the dollar at $1.3084.
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UK Economic Announcements
(09:30) Industrial Production
International Economic Announcements
(07:00) Factory Orders (GER)
(12:30) Building Permits (US)
(12:30) Housing Starts (US)
(13:30) Non-Farm Payrolls (US)
(13:30) Unemployment Rate (US)
(15:00) Wholesale Inventories (US)
Columns of Note
In The Financial Times, Tim Harford highlights the “black holes” in our data gathering and its effects. Referencing the book Invisible Women just published by Caroline Criado Perez, he notes the gender data gap which has led to male-focussed outcomes e.g. the height of a shelf and the functionality of an iPhone being predicated on the assumption the user will be male. He also points out the that fluent speakers are more likely to fill in the UK census form to support his argument that we can gain better data and make more informed choices by getting more women and minority groups into economics and statistics.
Writing in The Telegraph, Fraser Nelson examines what he considers to be Philip Hammond’s failure to allow the Treasury to prepare properly for no-deal scenario, thereby removing the leverage the UK had in negotiations and the possibility of a good, mutually beneficial agreement. He underlines that it isn’t too late for the chancellor to articulate what a no-deal scenario could look like but accepts this is unlikely considering Hammond’s belief that no-deal would be a calamity that should never seriously be considered.
Did you know?
An adult blue whale heart can pump 220 litres of blood with every beat.
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