24th December 2019
Written by Adam Shaw, Associate Partner
Edited by Laura Hamilton, Managing Partner
Not to be too cliché about it, but as the year – and decade – draws to a close, it’s a good time to look back on all that has happened, take stock, and consider what the future holds, for ourselves personally and wider society.
It’s easy to look back on (particularly the latter half of) the 2010s with a disdain and disappointment – Brexit paralysis, the travails of President Trump, the continued underperformance of the Scottish rugby team etc.
However, in many ways, it has also been a decade of progress. The proliferation of smartphones and improved communication methods, making it easier to source information, conduct business, and keep in touch with loved ones.
Big steps forward on gender equality, even if we’re still too far from the final destination.
And, science continued to break new ground, including discoveries regarding the solar system, advances in our understanding of the origins of the human race, and the development of new disease therapies.
What does the 2020s have in store? People far smarter than I have been forced to eat their words after making predictions, so I won’t do so here.
However, I do believe that, despite the current state of politics, and continuing poverty and strife in various parts of the globe, the overall trajectory of the world is a positive one, even if it does not always feel like it.
On that note, and on behalf of everyone at Charlotte Street Partners, let me wish you a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year.
The daily briefing will return on 3rd January.
Police in New Zealand have suspended the search for the final two victims of the Whakaari volcano disaster. The authorities had been undertaking water searches for the bodies of Australian Winona Langford and Hayden Marshall-Inman, a New Zealand tour guide. In a statement, Superintendent Andy McGregor, Bay of Plenty’s district commander, said: “This decision follows extensive shoreline and substantial aerial searches from east of White Island to north of Cape Runaway. Sadly, no further items of significance have been located.”
Saudi Arabia has been accused of engaging in a “mockery of justice” after a court effectively exonerated the inner circle of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, contradicting the conclusion of the CIA and other western intelligence agencies. Khashoggi’s killing in October 2018 sparked Saudi Arabi’s worst diplomatic crisis since the 9/11 attacks. Five of the 11 officially unidentified men on trial were sentenced to death and three more were handed a combined 24 years in prison.
The Queen will acknowledge that 2019 has been “quite bumpy” in her Christmas Day message. In addition to political debate over Brexit, it has been a difficult year for the royal family: the Duke of Edinburgh (who is spending a fourth night in King Edwards VII’s hospital, where he is being treated for a pre-existing condition) was involved in a car crash back in January; the Duke and Duchess of Sussex publicly revealed their struggles in September; and last month, the Duke of York withdrew from public life, following a BBC interview about his ties to sex offender Jeffery Epstein.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has used his first Christmas message as prime minister to urge the country to “celebrate the good that is to come” and to “try not to have too many arguments with the in-laws, or anyone else”. He also paid tribute to the armed forces deployed overseas and public servants that will be working over the festive period, and vowed to tackle the “persecution” of Christians around the world.
Business and economy
Boeing has replaced its chief executive as it attempts to restore its reputation, following the fatal crashes of two of its 737 Max jets. Dennis Muilenburg, an engineer who has spent his entire career with the aircraft manufacturer, was removed by the board of directors and will be succeeded by David Calhoun, a board director for the past decade who replaced Muilenburg as chairman two months ago. Lawrence Kellner, a former chief executive of Continental Airlines who has been a Boeing director since 2011, will take on the role of chairman. (£)
It has emerged that the whistleblowing hotline at Lloyd’s of London was out of service for almost a year and a half, prompting the Bank of England to begin monitoring the insurance market. This outage meant about 1,000 staff had no way to anonymously report issues such as sexual harassment or bullying. The company had been attempting to clean up its image after a wave of complaints from female staff regarding harassment. It said it was “disappointed” by the failure in its controls.
The spying scandal at Credit Suisse has deepened after the bank admitted that a second senior employee was followed by private detectives. Peter Goerke, the bank’s former head of human resources, was followed for several days by private detectives hired on behalf of the bank in February. It previously emerged that Iqbal Khan, the former head of the bank’s wealth management division, had been chased by investigators in September. Credit Suisse said at the time that the Khan incident was a one-off and that its chief executive, Tidjane Thiam, had no knowledge of it.
Columns of note
Rachel Sylvester uses her column in The Times to highlight the homelessness crisis, which she asserts should be as much of a priority as Brexit. Sylvester points to various shameful figures – 47,000 rough sleepers, 135,000 children waking up in temporary accommodation on Christmas Day, 92,000 child sofa surfers – and calls for the government to live up to its manifesto commitment to end rough sleeping by 2024. She suggests following Tony Blair’s example of setting up a Whitehall unit dedicated to eradicating homelessness, and concludes that the only way that Boris Johnson can genuinely govern as a One Nation prime minister is by helping the Tories regain its sense of social justice. (£)
In the Financial Times, Bronwen Maddox examines the battle Boris Johnson faces to save the union following the general election. Maddox anticipates that the prime minister can deflect the constitutional question for at least a year, but that the 2021 Holyrood elections will be crucial. Although Johnson could potentially avoid the clamour for years, she advocates mounting a counter campaign which demonstrates the value of the union and goes far beyond the economic case. Maddox also suggests exploring further devolution in order to move the UK towards a federal model. However, she concludes by saying that any campaign on the union should be careful to include Northern Ireland and Wales, not just Scotland. (£)
What happened yesterday?
Global stocks hovered close to record highs as trading slowed ahead of the Christmas holidays and investors digested news that China is to cut import tariffs on 859 products, including consumer goods, smart phone components, and food.
Although that decision was not linked directly to the US-China trade war, it did support China’s claim to be opening its economy, and follows President Trump’s announcement over the weekend that the formal signing of a “phase one” trade agreement was “being arranged”.
In London, there was little corporate news but optimism about a US-China deal and a further tumble in the value of the pound helped drive gains. The FTSE 100 ended the final full day of trading before Christmas up 0.54% to 7,623.59 and the FTSE 250 rose 0.78% to 21,843.35.
NMC Health was comfortably the day’s best performer, soaring 36.83% as it bounced back from the 17 December report from Muddy Waters relating to its debt and liquidity position. The private healthcare provider announced the establishment independent review designed to reassure investors. The review will be undertaken by a “leading accounting firm” and the company expressed confidence that the conclusion would be “entirely confirmatory of the disclosures provided by the company to date”.
Aviva was also the focus of attention following a report in The Times, which said activist investors are turning their attention to a potential break-up of the company’s life and general insurance business (£).
In the US, the S&P 500 rose 0.09% to 3,224.01, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.34% to 28,551.53 and the Nasdaq was up 0.23% to 8,945.56.
What's happening today?
Int. Economic Announcements
(13:30) Durable Goods Orders (US)
Did you know?
The names of IKEA products may seem random, but there is actually a very consistent system. Products are named after a specific Swedish word chosen based on the type of product. For example, outdoor furniture is named after Scandinavian Islands, shelves are named after occupations or boys’ names, and bed and bath accessories are named after flowers and plants.
House of Commons In recess until 7 January House of Lords In recess until 7 January Scottish Parliament In recess until 6 January