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 BIG PICTURE NEWS...
This week saw America stepping up a bit more amid the Russia/Ukraine madness, Germany continued to fret about cutting off Russian gas and BoJo is having a major rethink about power generation in the UK!
- Fed chief Jay Powell signalled more aggressive interest rate moves (Tuesday), floating the possibility of a full 0.5% interest rate rise in May. Biden also cut tariffs on steel and aluminium imports (Wednesday) that had been introduced in the Trump era and he came over to Europe to meet leaders at NATO HQ (Thursday) to bring more unity towards Russia/Ukraine as Germany in particular has wobbled (Thursday) because of its reliance on Russian gas. Germany did actually manage to negotiate alternative supplies of LNG from Qatar (Monday) and the US (Friday).
- Energy in the UK seems to be going through a huge period of change at the moment regarding power generation. BoJo is looking at the North Sea with renewed interest (Monday) and Shell is reconsidering its involvement after previously going off in a huff (Friday) and committing more investment to the UK (interesting timing given that oil companies managed to withstand ongoing pressure to pay a windfall tax!). He’s also trying to increase nuclear’s part in the power mix (Tuesday) by making it easier for insurers and pensions to invest and altering planning laws to make it more difficult for locals to derail them. He’s also keen to push both offshore and onshore windfarms (Thursday) and is expected to push through related proposals next week. Sunak announced the Spring Statement (Thursday) which was criticised for not doing enough to fight fuel poverty (and other things) and even BoJo couldn’t resist having a bit of a dig (Friday).
- OIL featured prominently this week. On the one hand, Saudi Aramco announced plans to increase oil production (Monday), but then on the other, Russia decided that now would be a good time to carry out “repairs” on the Caspian Pipeline Consortium’s pipeline (Wednesday) that will squeeze oil supplies further. Vitol, the world’s biggest oil trader, says that diesel might have to be rationed (Wednesday) because we used to get a lot of diesel from the Russians, but the government has dismissed this concern (so far).
THERE WERE SOME MAJOR DEVELOPMENTS IN THE AUTOMOTIVE SECTOR...
- Elon Musk opened his Germany gigafactory (Wednesday), while in the UK it turns out that the cost of on-street charging has reached new highs (Tuesday). It probably doesn’t help that the UK is behind target on the number of chargers (Thursday) to meet the government’s EV target but BP may ride to the rescue on this (Thursday) with a new commitment to triple the current number of chargers by 2030. Interestingly, Americans are getting increasingly interested in EVs (Thursday) but it’ll be interesting to see whether this interest converts as car loan momentum looks like it might slow down (Wednesday). They are getting increasingly concerned by expensive petrol prices but I guess if interest rates keep going up, they may be more worried about how much their loans will cost them.
- The shortage of chips may be prolonged (Tuesday) as ASML, which makes the machines that makes chips, says that supply chain problems are going to limit their capacity – so I guess even if the likes of Intel, Samsung etc. say that they are building new production capacity, if they don’t have the machinery, they’re not going to be able to make anything! Meanwhile, Nvidia announced plans to broaden its offering within the automotive space (Wednesday) from infotainment stuff currently to more complex driver-assistance systems.
CONSEQUENCES FROM THE RUSSIA/UKRAINE WAR CONTINUE...
- Rising wheat prices are hitting bread prices hard in places like Lebanon (Tuesday) and the WTO warned that there could be food riots (Friday) as a result in badly affected countries while milk prices are rising (Monday) due to the disruption in supplies of feed.
- Various companies have reconsidered their Russia ties (Friday) including Renault, which had been dragging its feet, and Chinese companies like Geely are looking very carefully at their options (Friday) because although they could benefit from rivals quitting Russia, in doing so they could themselves become target of sanctions.
- In Russia, steelmaker Evraz has been blocked from making an interest payment on one of its bonds (Tuesday) due to sanctions. Moscow’s main airport furloughed 7,000 staff (Tuesday) probably because it expects sanctions to persist, and it seems that a raft of insurance claims is looming on the horizon (Tuesday) from the aircraft leasing companies that have planes trapped in the country. In the meantime, the country’s main stock exchange, MOEX reopened (Friday), but for only a few hours, a limited amount of stocks being traded, not shorting and no foreign investor selling.
- Other countries may be rethinking their foreign policies as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Many think that what’s happening to Russia now could happen to China (Thursday) if it gets punchy in Asia (particularly Taiwan) and Japan’s long-term courting of Russia is looking ill-advised (Thursday), which means that they are going to have to rely on closer co-operation of their regional allies.
THERE WERE SOME INTERESTING DEVELOPMENTS IN EMPLOYMENT THIS WEEK...
- P&O’s dodgy way of sacking 800 people last week was called into question by insurers (Monday), and even BoJo got in on the act by speculating about its legality, but then it turned out that P&O’s chief exec knew what he was doing and didn’t care (Friday) and anyway, more than 500 of the 800 affected had taken the payoff, denying unions and MPs the opportunity to get properly aggressive. Whether this will become a precedent to be followed by companies in a similar bind is a moot point, however.
- In employment trends, more retirees are returning to the workplace in the US (Monday) and ESG investors are in big demand (Monday) as everyone is jumping on the bandwagon and realising that there aren’t enough qualified people on it.
IN REAL ESTATE...
- In COMMERCIAL PROPERTY, embattled Chinese developer Evergrande had its shares suspended from trading (Tuesday) as worries intensified about its restructuring, but in the US it seems that Big Tech companies continue to expand their physical footprint (Thursday) as they continue to buy up property. Warehousing continues to be a major theme as Prologis is wanting to buy Blackstone’s warehouse portfolio (Tuesday) for a lot of money while Asia’s biggest warehouse operator, GLP, has just raised €1.2bn in new funds to invest in European warehouse assets (Thursday). Just a thought but when you consider the increased demand for space for warehouses, gigafactories, nuclear power stations and warehousing (not to mention more warehousing in central areas for all those rapid delivery services!) it would seem that commercial property is going to be very active for quite some time yet!
- In RESIDENTIAL REAL ESTATE, Rightmove says that the average UK house price has breached £350,000 for the first time (Monday) and February saw the biggest monthly rise for 18 years! This hot market seems to be retaining its heat despite increasing pressures on household budgets!
THERE WAS SOME DECENT M&A...
- Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway offered $12bn for Alleghany (Tuesday), putting a small dent in Berkshire’s $147bn cash pile.
- Private equity firm Thoma Bravo bought enterprise software company Anaplan for $10.7bn (Tuesday), which fits into its general strategy of buying software companies.
- It was quite interesting to hear that the owner of Butlin’s is considering buying Parkdean (Monday). Butlin’s is owned by Bourne Leisure, which itself is owned by Blackstone. Parkdean has been put up for sale by its owner, Onex Corporation.
AND IN OTHER NEWS...
- Facebook is now facing a £2.3bn claim for a 44m users (Monday) for using its market dominance to “strike an unfair bargain with users” that helped it harvest huge amounts of data to generate income.
- The first lab-grown meat is going to be available on British supermarket shelves in about 18 months’ time (Monday) via a JV between Agronomics and Roslin Technologies. It’ll be the first cultivated meat to be sold in the UK and will be in pet food.
- There was some mildly good news for Chinese tech companies as China’s top economic official, Liu He, implied that Beijing was nearing the end of its “rectification” crackdown (Wednesday). Mind you, Tencent’s revenue growth still took a knock (Thursday).
- Kingfisher (owner of B&Q) breached the £1bn profits barrier this week (Wednesday), becoming only the third British retailer in history to reach the milestone after Tesco and M&S.
AND IN UPDATES FOR WATSON'S YEARLY...
- Watson’s Yearly updates 2021/22: there have been updates in the G20 statistics (some inflation and unemployment rate changes) as well as country updates. Please click HERE to see Watson’s Yearly and the changes. Changes have been highlighted in this purple colour 👍 You will be able to see how themes and countries develop throughout the year by reading this document!