Watson’s Weekly 13-03-2021

This is an amalgamation of the “best bits” of the daily weekday newsletter/blog woven together to form a concise and coherent view on the things that matter in the commercial and economic news of the week. 

THE DAY IN BRACKETS REFERS TO THE EDITION WHERE THE STORY APPEARED IN WATSON’S DAILY. Clicking on the day will take you to the appropriate edition of Watson’s Daily.


  • In the US, after jumping through all the hoops, Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus bill is now law (Friday) and so the race will be on to save the economy. The main objective here will be to do enough to stimulate the economy, but not so much that inflation runs rampant – which would necessitate a hike in interest rates, which the Fed won’t want to do at the moment (it has committed to keep them unchanged until next year). Whatever happens here will send ripples around the world.
  • Europe continued with their campaign to blame everyone but themselves for poor vaccine distribution as they started the week by accusing the UK of banning exports of vaccines and vaccine ingredients (Wednesday) which they then backtracked on (Thursday), saying that they had only wanted to highlight that Europe exports a lot and the UK doesn’t when it comes to vaccines. Unfortunately, a Danish lady died after getting the vaccine and that led to some countries suspending the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine or at least suspending certain batches. Talking about vaccines, Russia is in talks to manufacture its Sputnik V vaccine in Italy (Thursday), which should help the situation somewhat, although that’s not going to be an overnight solution.
  • In the UK, there was some good news in the form of a BDO survey on business confidence for the services sector which reached a twelve-month high (Monday). Given that the services sector makes up about 80% of UK GDP, this is an important development – and one that is needed, considering that a study at Aston University showed that Britain had one of the biggest falls in exports for a major economy in 2020 (Monday). Hopefully, confidence will translate sooner rather than later into actual economic activity!


  • In M&A, Apollo merged with Athene creating a major financial conglomerate in a $29bn deal (Tuesday), the Agnelli family bought 24% of Christian Louboutin (Tuesday) and GE sold its aircraft leasing business to AerCap (Thursday) in a deal worth $30bn, but given the size and the power the combined entity would have in the space I would have thought that this is not a done deal and loads of disposals will have to be made in order to allow this deal to go through.
  • In IPOs, Roblox had a great debut (Thursday) as did South Korean e-tailer Coupang (Friday)
  • In SPACs, it seems that hedge funds have done well by shorting SPACs such as Churchill Capital IV and CIIG Merger Group (Monday) and made about $360m in profits so far this year from such trades. It turns out that Singaporean ride-hailer Grab is considering an IPO via the SPAC route (Friday). The frenzy continues!


  • China car sales increased significantly versus the previous year (Tuesday) in contrast to the rather weaker sales in the UK, as evidenced by Direct Line (Tuesday). It’s not really surprising considering dealerships have been mothballed for most of the last twelve months!
  • In electric vehicle news, Aston Martin committed to making EVs in the UK from 2025 (Monday), but I have to say I’m sceptical about how this will go down with Aston fans (and potential fans) given that part of the pleasure must be in the noise the car makes when you’re driving it! Meanwhile, US car dealerships are making changes to sell EVs (Monday) and are getting understandably nervous about the whole thing given how much it costs to convert and the fact that EVs currently only make up about 2% of overall car sales in the US. I have to say I think EVs will be fighting an uphill battle in pickup-truck gas-guzzling-loving America.


  • In news on office property, it was interesting to see that planning permission was given for loads more office space in the Square Mile (Tuesday) despite the ongoing trend of remote working. IWG signed up its biggest ever client (Tuesday) to give NTT staff access to IWG offices globally and Deutsche said it would allow its bankers to work between one and three days from home (Wednesday), but I maintain that, over time, people will tire of hot-desking and working at home and end up working the majority of time in the office (although that is a massive generalisation – it will obviously depend on your company and your job) with the odd day working from home. I do wonder, though, whether over time this may help more women to stay engaged in the workforce for longer because employers could be more flexible than they have been in the past about remote working. It is just a personal opinion, but I think many women face a difficult choice when they start families because childcare in this country is so expensive that they are often feel that they have to stop working because the costs are so great that you are effectively working net-net for nothing and not being able to see your kids into the bargain. It is a very tough choice. Once they fall out, it can be very difficult to get back on track in your pre-child career.
  • It was an eventful week for Marks & Spencer as it announced that it would demolish its Marble Arch flagship (Wednesday), build a ten-storey replacement but only have retail on three floors leaving the rest for offices. This sounds a lot like what John Lewis is doing with its flagship store down the road and I wonder whether this will become a trend in big department stores across the country. If so, this could be bad news for the likes of IWG etc. because there will be even more office space available than there is at the moment! M&S also announced the availability of more different brands (Thursday) which seems to me to be another step in the right direction for its ailing clothing business. Could this be symptomatic of the turnaround that everyone is hoping for??


  • Watson’s Yearly updates: These will be left until the next edition of Watson’s Yearly that will be published shortly


Without a shadow of a doubt THIS was my favourite story of the week hands-down: COVID-19: Teachers perform Take That’s Back For Good in parody video as they await students’ return to school (Sky News). What a great bunch of teachers!