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Investment, fairness, prosperity

13 october 2021

Trump treasure hunt
The US State Department is looking into whether Trump officials made off with gifts meant for foreign dignitaries, including pewter trays and marble boxes bearing the name of the former president. The gifts were meant to go to world leaders at a 2020 G7 summit that ended up being cancelled due to Covid. For decades US presidents have received presents from foreign dignitaries, even though most now go directly to the National Archives (Trump’s haul included a ceramic dragon head from Vietnam’s president, an Ottoman Empire rifle from the Bulgarian prime minister and a hardwood bench carved in the shape of a jaguar from Jair Bolsonaro). Presidents give gifts too in a process that’s typically well-regulated, but it appears that the system fell apart under Trump.

12 october 2021

Asos struggles
As the Asos fast fashion giant faces the consequences of global supply chain struggles and increasing shipping costs, its chief executive Nick Beighton has quit, saying it was “the right time” to go. The announcement was part of a board shake-up as the company said that despite a 20 per cent growth in revenue to £3.9 billion, its pre-tax profit in 2022 is expected to fall from over £190 million to £110–£140 million. Shares fell by 14 per cent on the news. Although Asos did benefit from consumers switching to buying online during the pandemic, especially goods like loungewear and tracksuit bottoms that were less likely to be returned, old buying patterns are already returning. On top of that there is increasing scrutiny of fast-fashion brands’ sustainability and ethics – something that Asos’ competitor Boohoo knows all too well

11 october 2021

Gas up
A useful number for anyone wanting to understand the situation the UK and Europe’s energy-intensive industries find themselves in is five. Gas is five times more expensive than it was this time last year, and the spike is especially painful for British businesses because they’re not protected by a price cap as retail consumers are; and nor has government ridden to their rescue. Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, spent the weekend being asked if he was going to bail out industries like steel with suddenly exorbitant energy bills, and saying no. Awkwardly, he added that he had been in close contact with the Treasury on the matter, only for a Treasury official to tell Sky’s Sam Coates this wasn’t true. Coates’ source said his department wasn’t involved in talks with Kwarteng, and it wasn’t the first time he “has made things up in interviews”. What business leaders want the government to make up is the shortfall between what they can afford to pay and what gas suppliers, chief among them Russia, are demanding as the northern hemisphere heads into winter. Something will have to give, and on present evidence it will be the taxpayer. 

8 october 2021

British business
Remember Blair? He knew Labour couldn’t win or govern without business backing, so he went to the City and won its leaders round. Even John McDonnell understood this as Corbyn’s shadow chancellor. He tried the same trick and failed. Now it’s Keir Starmer’s turn with Rachel Reeves, and Boris Johnson seems to have given them a heaven-sent opportunity by treating business leaders at his Manchester conference like unwanted guests. Paul Waugh reports in the i paper (h/t Politico) that on Monday, when ministers were supposed to make CEOs feel like rock stars, Johnson gave a perfunctory 20-minute speech that turned out to be a rehearsal for his main one on Wednesday, then left without taking questions. Waugh quotes a senior shadow minister referring to a famously dismissive Johnson remark from the 2018 Brexit maelstrom: “He’s turned ‘fuck business’ from a throwaway line into actual government policy.” 

7 october 2021

Newcastle bought
A Saudi-backed consortium is poised to buy Newcastle United, currently 19th in the English Premier League. The takeover has been a year and a half in the making. It was held up by delays first from the Premier League, which said the consortium, which includes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, found to be ultimately responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s murder, failed its owners’ and directors’ suitability test. The club’s owner, retail billionaire Mike Ashley, then hired lawyers to prevent the Premier League blocking the sale. While the arbitration proceedings were ongoing, bin Salman wrote to Boris Johnson asking him to intervene, saying any further delays would damage relations between their countries. Ashley then filed an anti-competition case against the Premier League. The deal, worth around £300 million, will likely close by the end of the day, giving the de facto leader of a state that conducts capital punishment by public beheadings and treats women as second-class citizens a nice chunk of English culture.