Unilever: Update on its 2020 market performance

Last year in June, Unilever, consumer goods giant home to brands like Dove, Persil, Marmite, Ben & Jerry’s, Domestos, Hellman’s and 1000 more had decided to unify its legal structure under a single parent company.

The business which was divided between two parent holding companies: Unilever plc with shares listed in London and New York and Unilever NV with shares listed in Amsterdam and New York – had now merged into one company, Unilever plc based in London – transforming it into the biggest company in the FTSE 100. The decision which was finalised in November would offer the company more flexibility in case it wanted to do more mergers or acquisitions. 

Updating the market on its 2020 performance, Unilever announced its underlying sales grew by 1.9%, with 1.6% volume and 0.3% price. However, its total sales decreased by 2.4%, primarily driven by a negative impact of 5.4% from currency-related items, while underlying operating profit decreased 5.8%, but increased by 0.7% at constant exchange rates.

Alan Jope, the chief executive said that 60% of the business had enjoyed growth. “2020…I think it’s stating the obvious to say it was far from business as usual. Typically, we would start this presentation by sharing our underlying sales growth, underlying operating margin earnings and cash. But in this year of incredible volatility and uncertainty, we prioritized three things: that was volume-led competitive growth, absolute profit and cash delivery.”

Overall, in 2020 Unilever has reported a 3.5% loss bringing it to €8bn, which had subsequently been brought back up to 3.9% profit after the currency movements came into place. The political unification is hoped to serve as a tool for higher growth and “to prove incontrovertibly that sustainable business does drive superior financial performance.”

At the beginning of this month, Unilever brought in something called “Strategy refresh” – lose on the roundabouts, win on the swings as a result of their products being used by 2.5 billion people around the world. PG Tips and Lipton brands will be sold or demerged together with several other smaller beauty brands in Europe and North America. Due to COVID-19 their products involving hygiene and laundry products, as well as their plant-based food and “foods consumed at home” had seen a rise in sales, while grooming products declined as people are spending more time in their homes.

There have also been big swings in sales of individual brands. Domestos sales had risen by 25%, while Lifebuoy – their star soap product grew by more than 50% – bringing revenues of more than €1bn. Ben & Jerry’s had to change its strategy to cater for eating at home, which led to a growth of 17% in comparison to the 20% loss for ‘out of home’ products.

The strategy refresh is based on three core strengths. First, its brand leadership in several categories. The top two brands, Dove and Knorr generated more than €4bn each, with another 13 other brands which generated more than €1bn.

Secondly, there are strong positions in the fast-growing markets. In a chart for analysts and investors showing 10 countries: US, UK, Brazil, the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, China, and Turkey, the figures are expected to add up to more than 67% of the global GDP growth during the following decade.

Lastly, its global leadership regarding sustainability. Mr Jope told investors higher growth is targeted by prioritising categories like hygiene, skincare, and plant-based foods which seem to appeal to millennials and Gen Z “There is clear growing and compelling evidence that sustainable business drives superior growth. Measurable brand purpose grows measurable brand power and that in turn drives market share and growth. We see this in our own brands”. 

As one of the most significant companies regarding marketing, Unilever increased its marketing spend by €160m with campaigns like Ben & Jerry’s refugee rights and Dove’s ‘self-esteem. There is a particular focus on the environment. All the company’s plastic will be recyclable by 2025. Its supply chain is targeted to drop to zero net emissions by 2039 and they also want to ensure all their employees will receive a living wage by 2030. US, India, and China account for 35% of Unilever’s current sales – Mr Jope said this will be made a priority for future growth. This led to shares dropping by more than 4%. The business strategy focused on reinstating financial targets and faster growing in areas like high-end beauty and plant-based foods brought the company’s shares to drop to a nine-month low as shareholders became concerned by profitability.

Unilever is aiming to reach an annual sales growth of 3% to 5%, in comparison with 1.9% achieved in 2020 and 2.9% the previous year. Experts see it as a slow-moving, bureaucratic business when compared to more hard-driving rivals like Reckitt Benckiser.

Wall Street is Hot: Whitney Wolfe Herd Became the World’s Youngest Self-Made Female Billionaire

Wall Street just keeps on giving. Once it went public on February 11th, Bumble, the feminist dating app training on Nasdaq stock exchange under “BMBL” had seen its company’s shares soar by more than 76%, reaching a market cap of $8.3 bn. By the time the stock market closed on its debut day, the company which last year was evaluated at about $3bn had its stock shares estimated at more than $13 bn (£9.4bn“Today, @Bumble becomes a public company. This is only possible thanks to more than 1.7 billion first moves made by brave women on our app — and the pioneering women who paved the way for us in the business world. To everyone who made today possible: Thank you. #BumbleIPO,”  Whitney Wolfe Herd, its CEO, tweeted.

Founded and launched in December 2014 by Whitney Wolfe Herd, former co-founder of Tinder, and Andrey Andreev, the founder of Badoo dating app, Bumble was designed to offer women a safer and more protected online space to socialize and possibly find a partner. “I founded Bumble to empower women to build healthier and more equitable connections to improve relationships for everyone,” Herd said in the IPO filing.

Wolfe Herd’s departure from Tinder had not been a quiet one – she accused her cofounders of subjecting her to sexual harassment, and her then-partner and direct manager, Justin Mateen of becoming “verbally controlling and abusive.” She sued both, Tinder and its parent company, IAC, which denied all allegations but later paid her more than $1m plus stocks in Tinder to settle the dispute. Her initial plan was to build a competitor for Instagram where people could only post positive comments but was convinced by Andreev to launch the online dating app for women. Andreev initially invested $10m making him the majority owner – 79% stake, while Wolfe Herd had 20%. 

The strategy behind the app was the same as Tinder’s: targeting college campuses, and the way it would work would be to swipe right if you like the person and left if you don’t. One key difference compared to other dating apps – in heterosexual relationships women have to make the first move, having a 24h window to act before the matches disappeared.

The app became successful at Auburn University and the University of Texas at Austin – where the company is based.By the end of 2017, it gained 22 million users. Match Group, the same company that owns Tinder offered to buy out the company for $450 million but it got turned down. In return, Match Group had filed a lawsuit against Bumble, claiming intellectual property infringement. That backfired and Bumble counter-sued two weeks later, accusing Match of fraud and trade secrets theft. Both lawsuits were later dropped.

Bumble has been known to act as an advocate against misogyny. In July 2019 a Forbes investigation revealed that Badoo, Bumble’s sister company had a history of drug-fuelled parties and sexist behaviour. That caused Andreev to sell his entire stake in MagicLab, the parent company of Bumble and Badoo to the Blackstone Group, the private equity firm backing Bumble. Wolfe Herd became the CEO. The company’s feminist approach seems to be consistent throughout the years. An announcement read: “Dear Connor, it has been brought to our attention that you lost your cool on one of our female users, Ashley,” the company wrote, adding: “Consider yourself blocked from Bumble.” 

In March 2019, Wolfe Herd had lobbied for a bill which would make lustful photos illegal. She was successful and as a result, Bumble introduced its own technology to remove those types of images. On January 27th, 2021 she tweeted: We at @bumble are pleased to be supporting the call to amend the UK’s Domestic Abuse Bill, which would make the threat to share intimate images and videos a crime. Thank you to @RefugeCharity for leading the campaign to stop #TheNakedThreat.

In 2019 revenues soared more than 35% with a profit of $68.6m. In 2020 the company suffered a $116m loss with a decline of 15% year-on-year. Nevertheless, since 2015 the company grew up to 100 million users and Magic Lab changed its name to Bumble. As of 2021, Bumble’s figures show 42 million active monthly users, including more than 2.4 million paying users. In addition to the dating feature, Bumble had also set up networks for professional and friendship interests. Celebrities like Priyanka Chopra and Serena Williams invested in the app.

According to a Business Insider’s report, the major findings from Bumble’s pre-IPO filings were based on four key considerations: saturated and competitive dating market, a rise both in revenues and costs, the need to increase paid subscribers, and that Bumble will be a “controlled company” under Blackstone. Bumble’s IPOs opened much higher than predicted: the initial target was $43 per share and opening started at $76 per share. The app is offering 45 million shares. Insider reported that Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan, Jefferies, RBC Capital, and Evercore ISI are underwriting the offering.

At 31, Wolfe Herd became the youngest female CEO to take a company public in the US and to ever lead an IPO, making her the world’s youngest self-made female billionaire, with a stake valued at $1.6 billion (£1.1bn). According to Bumble’s prospectus, Wolfe Herd owns a total of 21.54 million shares, which is the equivalent to 11.6 per cent of the company.

Let The Games Begin: Sony’s PS Console Is Still A Gamers’ Favourite!

When the global pandemic hit businesses at the beginning of last year, Sony, the Japanese tech giant, predicted its operating profit may be hit by more than 30 per cent. “Based on its best assumptions now, operating income for the fiscal year ending March 31st, 2021 is currently estimated to be at least 30 per cent lower than the level achieved in the previous fiscal year.” At that moment, it would have been hard to imagine that music and indoor entertainment will cover all their losses and some more. A lot more.

By August, the wider corporation had seen an increase of 53 per cent in net income, reaching the amount of $2.19 billion (233bn yen) within the first quarter. Two of their divisions did suffer losses: the imaging division, and the electronic products and solutions division. Motion Pictures saw an overall decrease which cut their revenues in half due to the closure of cinemas.

The final quarter of the year revealed that Sony music revenues increased by 19.5 per cent (+467m) in 2020 bringing it to a total $4.5bn. That same report, Quarterly Financial Statements for the Third Quarter Ended December 31, 2020, And Outlook for the Fiscal Year Ending March 31, 2021disclosed that all of Sony’s division’s revenues are expected to see an increase from the October forecast. “Sales and operating revenue +3.5 per cent Operating income +34.3 per cent Income before income taxes +46.4 per cent Net income attributable to Sony Corporation’s stockholders +35.6 per cent. For all segments excluding the Financial Services segment * Net cash provided by operating activities +34.9 per cent.”

The video-gaming industry was expected to boom in the current scene, and it did. It exceeded all expectations. After Sony released their quarterly results on October 28th, figures showed an increase of 11.5 per cent year-on-year, and operating profits soared by 61 per cent. In comparison, its biggest competitor, Xbox One console revenues soared by 30 per cent. PlayStation sold 100m of their PS4s consoles in the first release, with an additional 14.8 million in the second year of the launch and more than 1bn games. “We would like to exceed that level of PS4 when it comes to PS5,” a spokesperson said during a briefing following Sony’s Q3 earnings call. Microsoft does not offer any official figures, but analysts estimate that sales of Xbox One were half as high. Other console providers have followed a similar rising path.

The scale of the surge has caught the industry by surprise. In a year marked by lockdowns and working from home, the demand for gaming consoles became so high that some consumers might have to go without. Or at least for now. 

PlayStation 5 launched on November 12th and each release sold out the minute it reached the shelves, with each restock facing a similar outcome. Last Wednesday, Sony CFO Hiroki Totoki announced that they are unable to meet demand in the near future as the global shortage of semiconductors – used in AMD processing chips in the PS5 and Xbox X/S – will constitute their biggest impediment. “It is difficult for us to increase the production of the PS5 amid the shortage of semiconductors and other components. We have not been able to fully meet the high level of demand from customers [but] we continue to do everything in our power to ship as many units as possible to customers who are waiting for a PS5.” There have been speculations that these delays should be met by summer.

Typing Laptop GIF - Typing Laptop Cat GIFs

The new console’s entire design was sketched out by hand and it promises a touch sensation never experienced before. But the competition is high and the industry’s titans are trying to come with innovative ways to impress its customers. It appears that brand loyalty plays a decisive factor when choosing. Sony’s strategy is focusing on committed customers and exclusive games. Recently, Microsoft decided to do the opposite – offer hire-purchase deals for its new Xbox for $15 month. The deal called “Game Pass” gives access to an online library of hundreds of games and there is no need for a console. This would be available through a service called xCloud and it could be streamed to any smart screen. Sony also has its version called PSNow, though it is more limited in terms of the games available. 

Over the past decade, streaming has revolutionised music, television, and films. Names like Google, Facebook and Amazon are considering entering the gaming industry. Google launched “Stadia”, Amazon “Luna”, and Facebook “Facebook Gaming”. 

The shortage of PlayStation 5 consoles continues. According to a new update, in the UK, retailers (Game, Argos, Amazon, Smyths, Currys and Box) will be re-stocking in the coming days. Game announced on their website that money will start being taken starting with February 10th. PS5 Instant Twitter account suggests that pre-orders will be available between 9 am and 12 pm GMT. As usual, monitoring social media channels is a good way to get to the front of the queue.

What does the AstraZeneca/EU contract entail?

It has been a rough start. The British government’s refusal to grant João Vale de Almeida, the new EU ambassador to London full diplomatic status was seen as an insult. The External Action Service signed by the UK in 2010 as a result of the Lisbon treaty states that EU diplomats should be granted the “privileges and immunities equivalent to those referred to in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 18 April 1961”. The EU responded by cancelling meetings between officials and the UK’s ambassador. And then, it escalated.

On January 29th, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for use in the EU. The British-Swedish pharmaceutical manufacturer announced it would need to reduce deliveries to the EU by 60% to 31 million doses in the first quarter of the year – out of the 100 million promised by March as part of the 300 million doses signed for in August. The UK’s 100 million doses deal would not be affected as it was signed in May and approved on December 30th. In response, the European Commission said it would introduce export controls on vaccines produced within the bloc: “The protection and safety of our citizens is a priority and the challenges we now face left us with no choice but to act.”

But this also included triggering Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, which would prevent the exports of vaccines from the Republic to Northern Ireland. The mistake was quickly corrected, but the fallout was instant. Julian Smith, former Northern Ireland secretary said the EU had “pulled the emergency cord” without following procedures, adding “I’m very pleased that they changed their mind.”

The European Commission has since republished its vaccine distribution control measures without Article 16 but said it would not accept AstraZeneca’s argument for the delay of the vaccine on the first come, first served basis. Pascal Soriot, the British-Swedish company’s CEO said: “We are basically two months behind where we wanted to be. We’ve had also teething issues like this in the UK supply chain. But the UK contract was signed three months before the European vaccine deal. So with the UK we have had an extra three months to fix all the glitches we experienced. As for Europe, we are three months behind in fixing those glitches.” One of the main issues that seems to play as a decisive factor in the delay of the vaccine to Europe and not the UK is that production problems are encountered in Europe and the sites in the UK should keep their promise to the UK.

As heavily mishandled and criticised the EU’s position might have been, the redacted AZ/EU contract states that the company had committed to deliver a set of Initial Europe Dozes in the first quarter of the year (Section 5.1) and that “AstraZeneca shall use its Best Reasonable Efforts to manufacture the Vaccine at manufacturing sites located within the EU(which, for the purpose of this Section 5.4 shall include the United Kingdom)…If AstraZeneca is unable to deliver on its intention to manufacture the Initial Europe Dozes and/or Optional Dozes under this agreement in the EU, the Commission or the Participating Member States may present to AstraZeneca, CMOs within the EU capable of manufacturing the Vaccine Dozes” and use it to increase the available manufacturing capacity (Section 5.4).

Furthermore, Section 13.e states that the initial dozes committed and paid for in advance by the EU are free from any other commitments “it is not under any obligation, contractual or otherwise, to any Person or third party in respect of the Initial Europe Doses or that conflicts with or is inconsistent in any material respect with the terms of this Agreement or that would impede the complete fulfilment of its obligations under this Agreement;” However, it seems that the UK is refusing to allow the export of vaccines produced here until the UK’s population is vaccinated, despite its early use of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

German MEP Peter Liese said: “For five weeks now the BioNTech vaccine that is only produced in Europe, that has been developed with the aid of the German state and European Union money, is shipped to the United Kingdom, so people in the United Kingdom are vaccinated with a very good vaccine that is produced in Europe, supported by European money. If there is anyone thinking that European citizens would accept that we give this high-quality vaccine to the UK and would accept to be treated as second class by UK based company. I think the only consequence can be to immediately stop the export of the BioNTech vaccine and then we are in the middle of a trade war. So, the company and the UK better think twice.”

The European Commission insists its controls are a temporary scheme, not an export ban and said it had reached an agreement with five pharmaceutical companies: AstraZeneca: 400 million doses; Sanofi-GSK: 300 million doses; Johnson & Johnson: 400 million doses; CureVac: 405 million doses; Moderna: 160 million doses. There have also been talks with Novavax, for up to 200 million doses. This could ensure almost two billion doses for European citizens. The UK and the EU face the same threats and their geographically proximate position implies that one is not safe without the other being safe.

Battle Of The Stock Market- The GameStop Fiasco

Last week was about challenging economic power. A war between amateur private investors and giant hedge funds emerged in the world of stock markets as a result of an online Reddit forum called r/wallstreetbets. The story had many twists and turns, and attracted the attention of the public, politicians, regulators, the media, and Wall Street titans all at once, but what had happened?

GameStop – an American video games retailer on the verge of crashing, saw an increase in its shares value from $20 on January 12th, to almost $400 on January 28th, transforming a company that was valued at less than $2bn at the start of the year into a $24bn fortune within days. This meteoric surge in value was seemingly created when r/wallstreetbets noticed that hedge funds had taken a short-selling position in GameStop. The online forum then decided to trap the Wall Street big boys at their own game and launched a co-ordinated buying spree which caused hedge fund titans to lose billions to Reddit traders.

Hedge funds business plan is essential to bet that a certain company will lose a lot of value and the way it does that is through something called shorting or short-selling. This is essentially when traders borrow shares in a company, sell them, and then buy them back at a lower price. They then return them to the owner and pocket the profit. Late last year, a few hedge fund managers have betted against GameStop, hoping to drop its value in shares and then capitalise on the losses. But huge numbers of small investors from the wallstreetbets Reddit forum started buying the stock, raising its share price massively, and these hedge funds managers who had banked on its dropping in value had to buy their shares back.

Surprisingly, this has caused a lot of distress in the untouchable Wall Street world, and as a result, US regulators interfered and decided to review the activity. The Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) warned market participants to be careful not to manipulate the share trading: “extreme stock price volatility has the potential to expose investors to rapid and severe losses and undermine market confidence. We will act to protect retail investors when the facts demonstrate abusive or manipulative trading activity that is prohibited by the federal securities laws.” This caused many companies to restrict stock sales, and the trading app Robinhood stopped users from trading GameStop stocks entirely, which infuriated customers and raised concerns about whom does the free market belong to.

In the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said they are monitoring the situation and warned the British public to be cautious. “We’re warning the UK investors in certain US-listed shares which are being discussed online to use extreme caution. Volatile markets are unpredictable and mean you can quickly lose money. Losses are unlikely to be covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme #wallstreetbets.”

Amateur traders were not the only ones outraged by the move to stop trades. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congresswoman from New York called the restrictions “unacceptable”. Elon Musk tweeted: “u can’t sell houses u don’t own u can’t sell cars u don’t own but u *can* sell stock u don’t own!? this is bs – shorting is a scam legal only for vestigial reasons.” 

Doug Henwood, the host of Behind the News wrote: “The online pranksters behind the great GameStop bubble of 2021 are probably going to lose a lot of money. But they’ve done the world a service by reminding us of the utter uselessness of the stock market, an institution that serves no purpose besides making a small number of undeserving people rich.” According to him, IPOs – initial public offerings in the last 20 years have added to $657bn (£479bn), while the companies in S&P 500 stock index have spent $8.3tn (£6tn) buying their stock to increase its priceMany fear that the GameStop affair revealed the fragility of the financial market.

The Horror Of A Collapsed Health System: Inside Amazon’s Covid-19 Catastrophe

Last year in April it was the first Brazilian city to dig mass graves. By June, the number of deaths has returned to pre-pandemic levels and it took no longer than autumn for the leaders of Brazil to celebrate the so-called herd immunity acquired by 76 per cent of the people of Manaus – a city of two million people in the Amazon’s state. A paper entitled “Covid-19 herd immunity in the Brazilian Amazon,” initially published online and later, in December, under a more cautious name in Science, estimated that 76 per cent of Manaus’s residents have been infected and that meant that the city reached herd immunity. “We didn’t think there would be a second wave,” Ester Sabino, one of the authors said. Indeed, there were no signs of it.

Corruption, a collapsed health system, and the mishandling in containing the virus and preparing for the future made Brazil the second hardest-hit country in the world. Nicolás Maduro, the President of Venezuela described it as “Jair Bolsonaro’s public health disaster.” Ten months and more than 220,000 Brazilian deaths – later, Manaus is in a more precarious situation than ever before. A devastating second wave caused by a new and more contagious variant left many without the most basic supplies, while hospitals ran out of oxygen. A catastrophic government failure which many hope, it will act as a warning on what could happen in other parts of Brazil unless more drastic measures are being taken.

“Manaus is lost,” said epidemiologist Jesem Orellana from Fiocruz Amazonia public health research centre. Mr Orellana compared the hospital beds in the Amazonian capital with “asphyxiation chambers” and described the city as “an open-air laboratory where all types of negligence and inhumanity are possible. On January 15th, anti-lockdown President Jair Bolsonaro said the government had done everything it could in Manaus. “The problem is terrible here. Now, we have done our part.” It was the same day when hospitals ran out of oxygen and doctors were praying for divine intervention.

But Orellana said: “We gave 13 alerts, and a very alarming one in mid-December, saying that the situation was getting very serious. Everyone was making fun of the studies and warnings, especially the President Jair Bolsonaro.” He called on the World Health Organisation to act as observers in Manaus, “because it is no longer possible to trust the different levels of management leading the pandemic”.

Stories about the heart-breaking settings of the people of Manaus are being reported in every corner of the world. Venezuela, South America’s most unstable country, began sending oxygen supplies across the border. Celebrities and social media influencers chartered private jets full of tanks. The families and friends of those in need are queuing for hours on end to find enough oxygen to keep their loved ones alive, and doctors are struggling to control the rising number of cases. According to the National Council of Health Secretaries, the Covid-19 infections in Manaus surged by 125 per cent between January 7 and January 22.

Helmo Quieroz, a 40-year-old resident from Manaus waited in line 18 hours to refill his sister’s oxygen tank, which would last her five hours. He said the price of one tank had increased six times within a week and that he feared his sister would die in the hospital’s precarious conditions. “I’ll be back in the morning,” he said. One staff member at the Alvorada health clinic described the atmosphere as one of “disgust, abandonment, despair and impunity. What we’re watching is a complete massacre, a desperate situation, a horror film.” 

In December as cases spiked, the governor of Manaus ordered a lockdown but revoked it as protests began. Officials in Amazonas faced pressure, both from the public, as well as from Bolsonaro’s statements, who in November told his people to not fear the virus “like a country of fags.” 

The rollout of the vaccine is predicted to be extremely difficult. Brazil, which has 212 million citizens, has so far secured six million doses of China’s CoronaVac shot and two million of the AstraZeneca/Oxford shot. On January 21st, the federal health ministry said the vaccine is going to be distributed to state and municipal governments “in a proportional and egalitarian way,” and within hours after the first vaccines were administered on live TV to government officials, the children of a few wealthy Manaus families posted on social media that they had received shots as well. Amazonas will get only 70,000 of the six million secured.

Angela Merkel’s CDU centre-right party appoints its new candidate for the September 26 elections

Think of the Bundestag as the UK House of Commons or the US House of Representatives. The German elections are considered to be some of the fairest in the world due to their complexities, but how do they work?

The German Federal Government consists of three main parts: the judiciary, the executive branch, and the legislative branch. The legislative branch is made up of two chambers of parliament,the Bundesrat and the Bundestag. The Bundestag is the one where Germans get to cast their vote every four years, both for members of parliament of their own constituency, as well as for a political party.

Out of the 598 seats set for election in the Bundestag, 299 belong to directly-elected representatives, each of their own district. The other half is decided by the vote on the political party. This vote determines how the remaining 299 seats will be divided up between Germany’s political parties. To qualify for a seat, a party must receive at least 5 per cent of the votes in a state, so evidently, states like North Rhine-Westphalia, which has a population of 18 million people will get to fill the largest number of seats left in the Bundestag. To form a government, the chancellor needs to receive over 50 per cent of the votes of the members in parliament. To reach that threshold, coalitions between parties are being formed. Subsequently, members of the Bundestag vote to elect the most powerful person in the country, the federal chancellor, who then chooses the members of his or her cabinet.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, now 66, has steered Germany and dominated European and international politics since she took office in 2005. But in 2018, when she stepped down as the political leader of her party, the CDU, Christian Democratic Union, Mrs Merkel said she will not pursue a fifth term. Her then replacement, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced her resignation last February after failing to impose her authority on the party, leaving the most powerful party in Germany without a clear candidate just eight months before the election. A decision on her successor was also delayed several times by the coronavirus pandemic.

Last Saturday, after 11 months of uncertainty, the CDU chose Armin Laschet as their new political leader through an online convention. This does not necessarily mean that Mr Laschet will be the one running as the CDU’s candidate for Germany’s chancellor, but he will either run or have a strong say in who does run.

Who is Armin Laschet?

Laschet, 59, is the governor of Germany’s most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia – a centre-left stronghold. For some time, he was considered to be Merkel’s favourite candidate and viewed by many as likely to continue Merkel’s centrist approach. He is known for his liberal politics, advocating for immigrants, and defending Mrs Merkel back in 2015 during the refugee crisis, but his response to loosening restrictions after the pandemic’s first phase surprised many and reportedly infuriated Mrs Merkel. He has since changed his stance, but he has had to work to repair the damage to his political credibility.

Mr Laschet defeated conservative businessman, Friedrich Merz in a run-off vote by 521 to 466. The third candidate, Norbert Roettgen, was eliminated with 224 votes. During the debate last week, Mr Laschet said: “What I bring is government experience, the leadership of a big state, balancing different interests and – this perhaps doesn’t hurt for a CDU leader – having won an election.” In his victory speech, he said: “I want to do everything so that we can stick together through this year… and then make sure that the next chancellor in the federal elections will be from the [CDU/CSU] union.”

The CDU is part of the Union bloc along with its sister Bavaria-only, the CSU – Christian Social Union, and its leader, Markus Soeder, seems to be widely considered a candidate at the chancellor’s position, particularly after his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Health minister, Jens Spahn, who is running to become deputy leader under Laschet, is also known to aspire to the position. Whoever runs will face Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, the candidate for Social Democrats, currently Merkel’s junior coalition partner, as well as a candidate from the Greens, who will run the first time for the chancellery.

The post-Brexit trade deal does not favour the financial services sector

One last big trade-off left and the quota on fish got the spotlight. It had to be some sort of trade-off – the British accepted smaller reductions in the European quota for fish, in exchange for something called rules of origin for the car park – and so it came to pass. On Christmas Eve, in the middle of a global pandemic, a trade and security agreement, on what has been a long and tense journey between the United Kingdom and the European Union has been reached. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Britain’s prime minister, Boris Johnson said he had secured “free trade with the EU without being drawn into their regulatory or legislative orbit”. The 1,255- page document published on December 26th does offer a deal, but people are still wondering about the details.

One of the overlooked areas was services. Critics say that Mr Johnson has wrongly prioritized fisheries and goods over the biggest export sector, services. The services economy makes up for about 80% of the British economy, with far more services to the EU than import and conversely, import far more goods from the EU than export. Described by many as thin, the deal on services will mainly affect how businesses are conducted, but the ramifications are much wider. For example, the qualifications earned in the UK as an accountant, doctor, architect, etc will no longer be recognized in the EU. But the one hit the hardest, it is without a doubt the financial sector and more precisely, the city of London.

For four years, Brexiteers have promised that London will flourish once it left the financial regulations of the EU, but the political uncertainty made almost every major company consider relocating and open offices in different parts of the continent. After the referendum result, the city regulators got all the firms in the city to prepare for the worst and a lot of work was spent ensuring they will be able to continue trading.

What does the deal essentially mean for London and the financial sector?

The City UK lobby group argues that the financial services sector is, in fact, the biggest taxpayer in the country and their report revealed financial services made up 10% of GDP, with 2.3 million people employed across Britain. In 2019, financial services exports amounted to 60 billion – almost as much as the US and Switzerland, the next two big exporters combined. Two and a half times as many US dollars are traded in London as they are in the US, and 75% of all Euro trading goes through the city.

Some things that happened in London can no longer happen. If you traded shares in London in one of the EU27 countries, after January 1st, that had to move back to the EU. The EU brought in something called share trade obligation, and what it basically means is that people in the EU, trading in EU shares securities are legally obliged to trade them in the EU. As a result, 6 billion of EU share trading has moved away from London into other sites overnight. London’s success as the financial centre for the trading of European equities has partly been attributed to passporting, which is the right to operate around the EU27 nations. That passport is now gone.

There has already been seen the trading of some EU companies moving from London to Europe. The European Banking authority moved its headquarters from London. The European Central Bank estimated that about 1.1 trillion of assets have moved back in the EU. A report by think tank New Financial revealed that about 300 firms have set up new legal entities or moved staff in the EU.

In an interview with Stories of our times, founder and CEO of Aquis Exchange, Alastair Haynes, who in preparation for Brexit opened an office in Paris one year ago, said he was shocked at how things changed overnight: “Dramatic shift of liquidity from one place to another overnight. Up till now 75-80% of our businesses was European share trading done in London, and what happened yesterday is that that 75-80 %, 95% of it moved over to our Paris office overnight and that meant 1.4 billion Euros of business moved out of the UK into the EU. Suddenly 80% of our revenues are being derived in France. That means that that will get taxed in France and that is a tax that is lost to the UK.”

Crucial to the future of financial services sector is whether or not, the UK will be granted equivalence and for that to happen, Britain needs to convince the EU, that it will operate under the same rigorous regulations as the EU. The government is yet to decide on where it stands on the issue, but many experts agree that will probably not work in London’s best interest. In an overregulated jurisdiction, the city will struggle. London needs to find ways to be innovative, to reduce the cost of regulations while maintaining high standards that allow for a low tax environment. Major players like the US, China or Japan, are also the ones who set the rules. Where they decide to do business is essential. Also, additional terms might be negotiated in the agreement. And there is always the question of how technology will change the ways in which businesses are being done.

Airbnb cancels and blocks all reservations in the Washington D.C. area during inauguration week

Amid increased risk of violence and concerns that the mob riots incited by President Donald Trump, which stormed the Capitol last week were only a glimpse of what might be coming next, Airbnb is said to be cancelling and blocking all reservations in the Washington DC area during the presidential inauguration week.

“Today, in response to various local, state, and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C., we are announcing that Airbnb will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. metro area during the inauguration week,” Airbnb said in a statement.

The decision came on Wednesday, after state and federal officials warned people not to travel to Washington, D.C, as plans for new armed protests and calls for violence started circulating on social media forums. The tragic events which took place on 6 January, and left five people dead, made Airbnb rethink its policies and cancel all reservations during the week of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration.

This is not the first time Airbnb removed guests who are identified as members of hate groups. In 2017, it blocked guests who were planning to take part in a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Airbnb said they wanted to make sure “hate groups are not part of the Airbnb community.”

The company said that after the names of the individuals responsible for the attack on the Capitol were revealed through media and from law enforcements sources, it started its own investigation into identifying whether these individuals have an account with them.

“We have identified numerous individuals who are either associated with known hate groups or otherwise involved in the criminal activity at the Capitol Building, and they have been banned from Airbnb’s platform,” Airbnb said.

The short-term rental site said they will refund in full guests whose reservations were cancelled and their hosts will be reimbursed the money they would have earned from the cancelled reservations. Its subsidiary, Hotel Tonight took the same stance.

Airbnb refused to say how many reservations were cancelled. For those renting long-term or for medical reason there are exceptions.

The FBI has warned that armed protests are being planned in the capitals of all 50 states.

According to Open Secrets, the Center for Responsive Politics which tracks money in politics, Airbnb donated $866,519 to political parties and candidates in the 2020 elections, with President-elect Joe Biden being the biggest beneficiary.

The company – together with Marriot, AT&T, and Walmart – are determined against any future donations to the Republicans who voted against the legitimacy of the elections.

Last week saw Mr. Trump banned from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit. 70,000 accounts related to QAnon were removed from Twitter, and Facebook has banned almost entirely the hashtag “Stop the Steal”, a phrase used to overturn the 2020 presidential election results. Facebook said it had tracked online material inciting to protest and some of it included calls to arms or the insignia of militias.

Taking A Step Into The Big Wide World Of All Things Legal

Becoming a lawyer is a lengthy process and applying for legal work experience can be extremely daunting. But fear not, a traditional law degree is far from your only option. However, whichever path you choose to take, there is one thing you need to keep in mind: gaining work experience!

The term lawyer is the general description given to anyone who is qualified to give legal advice as a licensed legal practitioner. This includes solicitors and barristers and the process for each differ depending on where you reside.

In UK and Wales, qualifying as a solicitor through the conventional ways, full-time study, usually takes six years – including a three-year law degree (LLB), a one-year Legal Practice Course (LPC), and finally a two-year training contract with a law firm or in-house in a large organization. If your background is a non-law degree, you will need to add another year to take your GDL (Graduate Diploma in Law) conversion before your LPC bringing the total to seven years. To become a barrister takes five years: a three-year law degree, a one-year Bar course and a one-year pupillage. Same as before, an extra year if your degree was not in law. Other legal roles include paralegals and chartered legal executives, and these usually take four years of part-time study at Level 3 (A-level) and Level 6 (Undergraduate Degree), followed by a three-year work placement.

No matter which direction you choose to go into, it is vital to get your work experience as soon in the process as possible. If you are considering a career as a solicitor and this is the one we will be focusing on today, there are a few options you might take into account. Do not forget, the more experience, the better.

A good start would be to take advantage of the Law Firm Open Days and spend a day in a law firm. This will allow you to get a sense of the work they do, as well as network with the recruitment team.

Both law internships and vacation schemes can play an important role in your future employment as this is a great way to show recruiters you are committed to a legal career. Lasting between one to four weeks, these apprenticeship schemes will give you the opportunity to perform tasks usually done by trainee solicitors. Application deadlines for spring/summer vacation schemes usually tend to be around January time, and for winter vacation schemes around October/November time. But make no mistake, securing your two-year training contract will most likely be the biggest challenge you will face.

What is a law training contract?

A law training contract is the two-year training period in a law firm, and it represents the final step when qualifying as a solicitor. It is also the place where trainee solicitors put into practice the theoretical studies learned at university. The best time to apply for your training contract is either in the penultimate year of your undergraduate degree (May/June) if you are studying law, or the last year if your qualification is something different. This period of recognised training is regulated by the Solicitor’s Regulatory Authority (SRA).

You will be given a supervisor who will assign you tasks and assess your work at the end. As a trainee solicitor, you will be involved in administrative work such as proofreading documents, preparing for and attending court proceedings, interviews and meetings with clients, as well as drafting and negotiating legal documents and contracts. This is a great opportunity to prove to the law firm and the SRA you have the skills required to practice law. Legal trainees do this through completing a number of ‘seats’, and depending on where you train, they will either consist of six-month stints in four different departments or a larger number of shorter seats.

There has also been an increase in the demand for training contract secondments, which is the ‘seat’ spent with one of your firm’s clients. The last part of your training contract is to pass the compulsory Professional Skills Course, which generally takes 12 days to complete and is paid by your firm. This covers three core sections: financial and business skills, advocacy and communication skills, and client care and professional standards. In addition to this, you will also have to complete 24 hours of elective training. From September 2021, the SRA is set to introduce a new system for aspiring solicitors called the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) which will no longer be restricted to traditional training contracts.

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