‘Tis the season to be jolly (plus of course to fight with elves…)

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Christmas is fast approaching and for a number of companies this is their busiest time of the year.

It is also a time of opportunity. Or at least that’s what brothers Henry and Victor Mears thought was the case. In terms of legality and ethics though their business plan left a lot to be desired.

Two years after their ill fated Christmas business collapsed within days of opening they are currently in court facing a number of charges.

The background to the case is that they established a Lapland-style theme park in the New Forest region of the UK.

Their business plan indicated that they would make in excess of £1 million. With thoughts no doubt of the success of other theme parks around the world such as Disneyland and Lego Land they got hard to work on the Lapland-style park.

Promotional materials for the park advertised Christmas festivities including a bustling Christmas market, real log cabins and a variety of real “Christmas animals”.

All in all it promised to be a true Christmas spectacle for the parents and their excited children that planned to visit the park.

The promotional materials were so successful that nearly 10,000 advance bookings were made online.

Unfortunately for the crowds that turned up the reality of the park left a lot to be desired.

The ice rink didn’t have any ice in it. Instead of ice skaters gliding over the ice there was a muddy puddle. The real Christmas animals were pet husky dogs that were in such a bad condition that they were reported to the RSPCA (Britain’s animal welfare charity).

The other “real animal” on show was a plastic toy polar bear which had been placed a distance away in amongst the trees.

All in all it was a spectacular failure.

Businesses fail for a variety of reasons but this one never really got off the ground.

There’s a big difference between having a couple of pet dogs, a puddle and a plastic Polar bear compared with a Christmas extravaganza Lapland theme park.

The park was only open for 6 days before closing. The company behind it was subsequently liquidated with creditors owed £850,000.

Some people may feel that the only real highlight of the 6 days that the park was open was the far from traditional Christmas scene where some of the parents started fighting with a number of Father Christmas’s elves.

The end result is that the brothers have been charged with 8 counts of misleading customers. The brothers deny all charges against them.

The ExP authors will be taking a break from this blog for the festive season but we all hope that you have a fantastic holiday break and we’ll be back blogging in January!

If you’re overweight, lazy and have a tattoo then maybe this is the perfect job?

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During the Icelandic volcano eruption earlier this year when air traffic was severely disrupted I travelled on a Stena Lines ferry. The staff were great – polite and very helpful.

There are certain things that employees look for in a leader.

Inspirational, empathetic and knowledgeable are just 3 of the characteristics that successful leaders often exhibit.

Mr Pim de Lange, the director of Stena Lines North Sea route which travels between ports in the UK and the Netherlands recently made comments in a Dutch newspaper where he referred to some of his team in less than inspirational ways.

The majority of workers on the North Sea route come from the UK, the Netherlands and the Philippines.

Mr de Lange was quoted as saying the workers from the UK were fat and covered in tattoos. He also said that it was difficult to find UK workers who were both young enough or fit enough for the physical demands that the job entails.

He did however rush to apologise for the comments later and stated that the comments were taken out of context.

In summary though, it’s probably not the best way of motivating your team and I guess he may not receive a lot of Christmas cards from his UK workers whatever shape or size they are.

They’ll know what pizza you ordered but what about that illegal activity…

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If you give investment advice in the UK and your employer provides you with a mobile phone the chances are that from next year all your calls will be monitored and recorded.

Fixed phone line calls involving financial business such as share purchases are already recorded but the UK’s financial watchdog, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), recently announced that the recording of calls would be extended to recording conversations held on company provided mobiles.

In an attempt to crackdown on insider trading activities all calls on fixed line and company issued mobiles will be recorded and kept for 6 months.

Insider trading is the illegal activity of using information which isn’t in the public domain to make a personal gain or avoid a personal loss.

For example, if you’re working with a client that is about to make a takeover bid for another company and you purchase shares in the target company before the takeover attempt becomes public knowledge, the chances are that the share price will increase and you’ll make a nice but illegal profit.

By recording mobile phone calls the FSA feel that that the incidence of insider trading will decrease.

Some of the banks have a number of concerns about the new scheme.

One global investment bank has estimated that it will cost £2.6 million per annum to record all the calls made per year on company issued BlackBerry devices.

The interesting thing is that the recording requirement only refers to company issued mobile phones.

Therefore, if you order a take away pizza from your company mobile your menu chioce will be recorded.

My guess is though that any financial advisor currently considering undertaking illegal insider dealing activities has no doubt worked out that they could buy a personal anonymous pay-as-you-go phone from one of the mobile phone providers for as little as £4.95.

The sound of the tills ringing was music to their ears even though there was no music in the shop…

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Christmas shopping for me is normally a last minute rush before the shops close on 24 December.

This year though I was determined to be organised and last weekend headed off to hit the shops in London’s West End.

It was a pleasant surprise to find that arguably the two most famous shopping streets in London (Oxford Street and Regent Street) were car free as they had been shut to traffic to encourage early Christmas shopping.

Although the streets were closed to traffic the number of shoppers made up for it. It also seemed as though every other shopper walking along Oxford Street was carrying a Primark shopping bag.

For those of you that haven’t heard of Primark, they are a very successful budget clothing brand with 145 shops in the UK together with an additional 62 shops in 6 other countries.

They compete via a classic cost leadership strategy whereby they keep their costs low by way of a variety of business techniques including for example:

•    Purchasing  stock in huge quantities so as to benefit from economies of scale;

•    Only stocking items in popular sizes so as to avoid “using up” valuable shop space with items that don’t sell so well;

•    Minimising advertising spend (why pay models and magazines when they can let their prices do the advertising for them?);

•    Not playing any music in its stores (why pay licence or royalty fees to artists?).

As well as focusing on cost leadership they are masters at “fast fashion”. In other words, they manage the supply chain to get the fashionable styles into the shops as quickly as possible so that they match the very latest designs that are seen on the catwalks and in the fashion magazines.

Gone are the days of fashion having 4 distinct seasons as far as Primark is concerned.

With so many people carrying Primark bags last week then my suspicion was that they were doing very well with their sales.

Press reports yesterday did indeed indicate that Primark did very well at the weekend.

It was reported that they had their most successful one day single shop performance in their 41 year history on Saturday.

The tills at their Oxford Street branch rang up to the tune of £820,000 in the one day.

Whichever way you look at it that’s a pretty good figure for one day’s worth of sales at a single shop.

Their cost leadership approach to strategy seems to be working. As well as their success on Saturday, their reported profits for the 53 weeks to 18 September 2010 showed profits increasing by 35% to £341 million on sales up 18% to £2,730 million.

ACCA exam tips released today and I hope you’ll be better prepared than this person…

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To put it bluntly, in order to pass the ACCA exams and qualify as an accountant you have to be intelligent.

You will have needed to have put in a significant amount of work over the last few months to cover all of the main areas of the syllabus.

Now whilst no training company knows for sure what will actually be in the exams next month our ACCA exam tips identify areas which we believe you should have covered particularly well.

Being properly prepared though isn’t just applicable for people who are trying to pass their professional exams.

If your chosen method of progressing in life is to be a getaway driver for a gang of jewellery shop raiders then I guess there should also be an element of preparation.

A shop raiding gang in Essex in the UK put 19 year old Mohammed Alasow in charge of being their getaway driver.

It took his colleagues a mere 20 seconds to break open the shop window with a pickaxe and sledgehammer. They managed to grab £9,000 of jewellery and jumped into the getaway car where Mr Alasow put his foot down and the car shot off at speed.

Alas for the poor driver and his friends the car didn’t get very far as it ran out of petrol and stopped in the middle of the road a few miles away.

Things got even worse for the gang as a kindly policeman stopped to see if they needed some help and spotted a sledgehammer, masks and jewellery on the back seat of the car. Fast forward a few months and they were recently jailed for 8 years.

Now being a getaway driver and forgetting to fill the car with petrol doesn’t really indicate a thorough preparation for the role.

Back to a more respectable profession and in terms of last minute preparation for the ACCA exams then we advise that if you haven’t done so already to print off a copy of our free ExPress notes from www.theexpgroup.com and review them in the run up to the exam. These notes cover the key areas of the syllabus and are a perfect last minute revision aid.

Also, don’t forget that the exam papers will be marked using scanning technology. The scripts will be completed as normal by students but will be marked on screen by the markers.

It’s important therefore that you use a black pen in the exams. If you use anything else such as coloured pens or pencils there is a risk that the scanning technology may not pick up your writing.

Good luck with your final revision and click here for the links to the our ACCA exam tips.

Is it a phone or a computer and what on earth does that button do exactly!?

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A few years ago things were fairly simple when it came to deciding what was a computer and what was a phone.

A computer tended to fill a room and a phone was attached by a wire to the wall.

Then along came mobile phones and laptop computers.

It was still possible to tell the difference though. You held the phone to your ear to make calls and you used your fingers to type on the computer keyboard.

In April of this year the Apple iPad was released. This was a tablet PC and although if you were clever you could make internet based phone calls it wasn’t possible to make calls via a mobile network.

Samsung have just released their 7-inch Android-powered tablet here in the UK. This is slightly different to the iPad in that it is designed to make calls and is now available on all the major mobile networks.

So, is it a phone or a computer?

In fact do we care anyway?

Well, if you’re a lucky person that has been provided with a Samsung galaxy tab by your employer then yes, you probably will care whether it’s a phone or a computer.

For UK tax purposes, a phone provided by an employer is a tax free benefit (i.e. you will not be charged income tax on it). A computer on the other hand is a taxable benefit and generally the value on which tax will be applied will be equal to 20% of the cost of the computer.

So, in summary, if you were provided with a Samsung Galaxy Tab phone by your employer it’s tax free.

If however you’re provided with a Samsung Galaxy Tab computer by your employer you will be taxed on it.

Unfortunately for any individuals in such a position this guidance by the UK tax authorities indicates that it is likely to be taxed on the employee.

As well as a tax discussion, the Samsung Galaxy Tab also provides an interesting example of some of the challenges companies can face when launching products in different countries.

The photo to the left shows the Galaxy Tab when it was first launched in the European country of Romania.

There is a button marked “Porn” clearly visible on the screenshot.

This isn’t what you may think though and doesn’t provide a short cut to adult related content.

It is in fact an abbreviation that Samsung initially used for the “home button”. “Porn” was used as an abbreviation of the word “Pornire” which means “start” in the Romanian language.

Samsung quickly changed the abbreviation following its launch.

How many sandwiches can a stockbroker in Hong Kong eat in 2 hours?

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What did you have for lunch today? Did you manage to get out of the office or did you grab a quick sandwich at your desk?

If you’re a stockbroker working at the Hong Kong stock exchange then the chances are you had a rather nice long lunch.

The Hong Kong stock exchange has one of the shortest “opening hours” out of the major stock exchanges.

It is open for business 4 hours a day and also enjoys a rather pleasant 2 hour lunch break.

It also does fairly well when looking at the opening hours of the other major stock exchanges around the world:

  • London, Paris and Frankfurt – 8.5 hours
  • New York – 6.5 hours
  • Australia – 6 hours
  • Tokyo – 4.5 hours

For anyone that has lived or worked in Hong Kong this may come as a bit of a surprise as it’s one of the busiest most frenetic cities in the world.

Alas, it seems that their 2 hour lunch break is now under threat.

A consultation paper has recently been issued and it is raises the proposal of:

  1. Starting half an hour earlier at 9.30am (surely it’s virtually impossible to have a nice breakfast if you have to be in the office at 9.30?)
  2. Reducing the lunch break from 2 hours to an almost impossible to fit in a 3 course meal and a bottle of wine timescale of 1 hour.
  3. Luckily there are no plans to change the closing time of 4pm so the brokers will at least have a reasonable time to get ready for dinner.

The arguments in favour of adjusting the opening hours are to enable it to tie in with the mainland Shanghai exchange opening hours.

In what can only be described as “hardly the surprise of the century” it was reported that 70% of the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association members that were asked their opinion on the proposals felt that the 2 hour lunch break should remain.

Closing for lunch isn’t something that you find in the majority of stock exchanges elsewhere around the world.

If for example you wanted to get the views of somebody from London who had actually experienced the London stock exchange closing for lunch you’d have to find a very elderly broker. The London Stock exchange last closed for lunch 60 years ago in 1950.

Out of the pwc girls and the Deloitte guys who do you think are the most attractive?

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When I was younger I was given some good advice.

“Never write something about somebody else in an email that you would feel embarrassed about if that message ended up pinned to the office noticeboard”.

The thought behind this was that it’s easy to fire off an email but once it’s sent it can quickly be forwarded by other people and isn’t always guaranteed to remain confidential.

A certain male member of staff at the pwc Dublin office will no doubt from now on be thinking twice before he hits the send button on any of his messages.

A couple of weeks ago on what must have been a quiet afternoon in the office he sent an email to 14 male colleagues.

Sending emails to colleagues isn’t in itself a bad thing but the message was in fact asking his friends to rate the attractiveness of some recent female new joiners to the firm.

It also included staff photos of the ladies in question, all of whom were trainee accountants.

The subject line of the email was “this would be my shortlist for the Top 10”.

A colleague replied an hour later after obviously undertaking a detailed peer review and came up with a somewhat un-gentlemanly comment about whether one of the ladies justified being in the top 10.

Such is the ease with which emails are sent that within a few days the message had been forwarded to thousands of people and had “gone viral” around the globe.

My guess is that over the years the majority of employees in most companies have at one stage or another got together over a drink after work and debated the attractiveness of their colleagues.

Taking photos from the staff directory and emailing them though is probably on a different level. pwc are understandably taking this matter seriously and have reportedly launched an investigation.

Now before any ladies out there start accusing this of being purely a male problem it’s worth reminding people about former Deloitte employee, Ms. Holly Leam-Taylor.

In an email sent last December Ms Leam-Taylor’s message entitled “Deloitte first year analysts Christmas awards” asked her female colleagues to vote on which men in the office they considered to be the most attractive.

This message also “went viral” and became a global internet hit.

The conclusion to this article?

Well I guess it’s not to preach about whether or not you should make top 10 lists but rather if you do then don’t put it in an email as it may well end up being pinned on a global noticeboard.

A bank run? Don’t worry, it’s only a bit of fun…

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It hardly seems possible that the bank run on the UK bank Northern Rock happened over 3 years ago but last week some people thought that there was a similar run on the Spanish bank BBVA.

A bank run occurs when a large number of people with deposits at a particular bank head to branches of the bank to get their money out as quick as possible.

It often follows a rumour about problems with the bank and can lead to a self fulfilling prophecy.

Large numbers of people withdraw money. This can cause liquidity problems at the bank which in turn causes more concern which leads to more people rushing to withdraw their money which leads to liquidity problems with leads to….. and so on until a vicious circle develops.

A bank makes its money from lending.

If it just keeps depositors money without using the deposits to generate revenue by for example lending to borrowers then the bank is in effect just a safe deposit box for the deposits.

In the great depression of the 1930s sudden withdrawals by panicky depositors caused liquidity problems to such an extent that a number of healthy banks were forced to close.

Nowadays, as long as the bank is solvent, any short term liquidity problems should be resolved by borrowing cash from its central bank as a “lender of last resort”.

Bank runs can still happen though and last week the queues of people outside of BBVA bank in Madrid caused rumours that resulted in the share price falling sharply.

It took a while for the markets to identify what was going on and it wasn’t so much a bank run that was causing the queues but rather a “fun run”

There was a 10km fun run sponsored by BBVA and joggers were queuing up to get their race numbers and t-shirts from the bank for the run on the Sunday.

Unfortunately rumours quickly spread around the financial markets that there were large queues outside the bank and in the jittery post financial crisis atmosphere the share price plummeted by nearly 4%.

Luckily a hour or so later the markets realised that the bank withdrawals were race t-shirts rather than cash and the share price recovered.

Finally, to test your knowledge of the financial markets there are two pictures in this blog entry. One shows a bank run whilst the other shows a fun run. Can you tell the difference…

What’s the link between George Bush and the ACCA exams next month?

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George W Bush is a controversial figure.  Two years after leaving office, his policies during his presidency of the United States still stir controversy, both within the USA and around the world.

He has just published his autobiography.  Perhaps surprisingly, he appears to be rather frank in his admission that he personally authorised the use of “water boarding” techniques, in which the subject believes themselves to be drowning.

Although no permanent physical damage occurs in this process, it’s designed to be traumatic. The current US president, Barak Obama has banned its use.

The justification given by the former president for authorising the use of torture was that he believed that the information extracted from the subjects of this process saved lives elsewhere.

We’re not commenting on whether we agree with this or not as an ethical standpoint.

For people taking an ethics exam, such as ACCA paper P1, this could be an interesting example of ethical stances and especially the difference between deontological and teleological (consequentialist ethics).

President Bush’s viewpoint is an example of utilitarian teleological ethics.

In teleological ethics, the rightness or wrongness of the action is assessed by investigating its consequences.  Utilitarianism looks at the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people.  So if great, but non-lethal, suffering of one person saves the life of another, it’s justifiable, even if the act itself may be repugnant to some people.

Compare that with deontological ethics and particularly the three maxims of Emmanuel Kant.

In deontological ethics, water boarding is probably never justifiable.

Deontology looks at the rightness or wrongness of the action itself, regardless of its consequences.  It would be possible to express a duty (“imperative”) if it passes the three maxims of Kant:

Consistency: Would it be possible for everybody to follow the rule of “no waterboarding”?  The answer here seems to be yes.

Respect for human dignity: Does the rule respect the dignity of others.  A no torture rule easily passes this test.

Universality: Would it be possible for somebody to understand that breaking the rule would bring the disapproval of society as a whole?  Again, the answer here is yes.  If torture were universally accepted as wrong, it would be possible for a violator of that rule to anticipate society’s disapproval.

There are no conclusions to this article.  It’s just pointing out an example of the two different ethical approaches and how we are each prone to prefer one over the other in different circumstances.

It could be a good example for people taking the P1 exam to use if asked to explain the differences in the deontological and teleological approaches to ethics.

It’s a Relentless exercise to choose the name of your business…

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When small businesses choose their business name, the reasons are often personal.  Business names are often a homage to somebody or something special to the business owner.

A fish restaurant, for example, could well be named after a boat that the owner is sentimentally attached to.

This all seems reasonable, but it’s best to choose a boat that isn’t called something like “TGI Friday”, or “McDonald”.

Scott Matthews, aged 24 and from the south coast of England, recently learned this.  His restaurant is called “Relentless”, apparently after his father’s sturdy fishing boat.

He says that the logo was simply made up by typing “Relentless” into his word processing software, using an old English script.  He chose a black background because he likes black backgrounds.

Recently, he heard from the Coca-Cola company, who have an energy drink with a similar brand name and similar logo.

Mr Matthews claims that his first contact from Coca-Cola came in the less than cosy form of a seventeen page legal document demanding that he change the name and signage of his business.

His reaction appears to have been rather assertive and rather shorter than 17 pages.  He’s not saying entirely what he said, but we’re guessing it could pithily be summarised in two words.

This is an example of the civil wrong of “passing off”.  If a product has a similar name to another product and is likely to imply endorsement or some other form of customer confusion, then it’s possible to petition a court for an order to mandate the party who got the name second to change their name.

Of course, the court does not necessarily grant such an order.  There has to be some evidence of customers being likely to be confused by the similarity.

It’s hard to imagine somebody opening a can of energy drink and being crestfallen at the non-emergence therefrom of a steak and lobster dinner, for example.

However, it’s possible to imagine somebody being attracted to a restaurant because of an apparent association with a better known product, such as an energy drink.

It seems that both Mr Matthews and the Coca-Cola company intend being somewhat relentless in this case.  We will let you know what happens if we’re able to find out.

Is it a historical drama? Is it a romantic novel? No, it’s a never ending story of…

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Classic Russian novels are famous for being somewhat large.

My copy of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” weighs in at 1,024 pages.  That is a big book.

Some day, I will get beyond page 20.

Dostoyevski’s “Crime and Punishment” is 448 pages.  I’m up to page 25 on that one.

According to a recent survey by Deloitte of UK listed companies, the size of IFRS accounts grew from an average size of 44 pages in 1996 to 101 pages in 2010.  That’s an annual growth rate of 6%, with a 7% rate of growth in the years from 2005.  The rate of growth itself appears to be growing.

So, just for fun, if you’re of a mathematical bent, and assuming that the rate of growth in volume in IFRS accounts continues at its current pace, answer this question:

How many years will it be before the page count in a set of IFRS accounts exceeds the page count for “War and Peace” and for “Crime and Punishment”?  The answer is at the bottom of this item.

Within all this bulk (which Deloitte criticises as being “swimming in words”), there is some notably useful information, such as 90% of companies clearly identified an average of 7 key performance indicators, up from 84% in 2009.

4% of companies (2009: 7%) received a modified audit opinion relating to going concern.

Surprisingly, only 35% of companies fully complied with the UK’s Combined Code on corporate governance.  That leaves a fair bit of explaining to do, on the “comply or explain” approach.

If you’re interested in the answer to the question of how many years will it be before the page count in a set of IFRS accounts exceeds the page count for “War and Peace” and for “Crime and Punishment” then IFRS accounts, at their current rate of paper busting growth, will be longer than “War and Peace” in 35 years and “Crime and Punishment” in a mere 22 years.

Who can really be trusted to keep a secret? Accountants or lawyers?

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When you speak with your lawyer, you can say almost anything and be confident in the knowledge that the lawyer will be able to preserve the confidentiality of your discussion.

Most people probably assume the same thing when having discussions with their accountant, especially in the context of discussing tax planning opportunities with a tax advisor.

Unfortunately, English readers should pay careful attention to the decision in a recent case, R (on the application of Prudential PLC) v HMRC, EWCA Civ 1094 if you would like the full legal citation.

This Court of Appeal decision stated that client privilege only extends between a lawyer and a client.  This means that any discussion between a client and an accountant cannot be guaranteed to be confidential.

This is an English legal case, which is binding in England and Wales only, but the judgment is based on common law, so is likely to be highly influential in jurisdictions based on the English system globally.

As the accountancy and legal professions increasingly compete, especially in the area of tax advice, this gives a significant advantage to the legal profession over the accountancy profession.

Who would you rather seek advice from: a lawyer who you are confident cannot be compelled to reveal the content of your discussion, or an expert accountant who is unable to promise confidentiality?

If you talk to a lawyer about this then they may well say they were pleased that they had this advantage over accountants.

Note of course though that if they felt like it they wouldn’t have to disclose what was said in your conversation…

Don’t worry about the £117 million you can’t find. Instead, just go on a nice long holiday…

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Paul Bowtell, the CFO of Europe’s largest travel company TUI Travel will soon be able to go on a very long holiday.

TUI recently announced that Mr Bowtell will leave the company at the end of the year.

Why is this I hear you ask?

Put bluntly, the reason is that he messed things up in a big way when he was in charge of the finances of the company.

TUI stated that they would be writing off £117 million of “irrecoverable balances” and restating their prior year financial results.

£117 million is a significant write off in anyone’s books. The share price of TUI fell by over 10% as a result.

It also highlights one of the challenges faced by organisations that merge.

The write down originates from “failures to reconcile balances adequately in legacy systems in the retail and tour operator businesses in TUI UK”. In other words, back in 2007 when TUI merged with First Choice Holidays they had to integrate different systems and simply didn’t manage it.

Questions have got to be asked as to why they couldn’t reconcile the systems. After all, given there’s been a recession on for a few years there must have been a few IT consultants available to work on the reconciliation of the systems and who would have charged a lot less than £117 million.

Mergers often have problems with integrating areas such as the culture of the companies but it’s clear now that the integration of these IT systems has also been far from easy. Being unable to reconcile £117 million makes for a spectacular suspense account.

Publicity around mergers tend to focus on their advantages, real or perceived, but the behind-the-scenes work that has to be done can be substantial.

It no doubt proved to be a real headache for Mr Bowtell. For his sake we hope that this will prove to be the biggest write off he has to oversee in his career.

Was it a good bet or not? 10 years and £1.4 billion later and the answer seems to be…

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Although people have been gambling for a long time, the profile of the betting industry has changed dramatically over recent years.

The bookmakers that were seen on many a high street seem to be gradually disappearing.

People are still gambling though but the delivery method of the industry is switching to internet based gambling rather than placing bets at a physical bookmakers.

Ten years ago former professional gambler Andrew Black and former JP Morgan trader Edward Wray started up a betting business that addressed matters in a new novel way.

For years the typical approach to gambling had been where a bookmaker set the odds and it was up to the individual gambler whether or not he or she accepted these odds and placed the bet.

Betfair pioneered the concept of person to person betting whereby individuals bet against each other rather than the bookmaker. Betfair provide the platform for the betting and take a commission on each transaction.

A gambler will say that they want to bet on a certain event happening (or not happening) and if another gambler wants to accept the bet then the transaction goes ahead. Betfair provide the mechanism for this to happen.

This is known as a betting exchange and is a great example of where first mover advantage really counts.

In order for the business model to work there has to be a critical mass of gamblers that are willing to offer and accept bets. Without this critical mass the business simply would not work.

Another example of where first mover advantage has been critical to business success is in online auctions. After all, who are the main competitors to eBay?

Back to Betfair though and it certainly is a good business model. Risk for example, is nicely reduced as the company is not standing to lose on the bet but instead takes a nice commission on each transaction.

So how well has it done over the last 10 years?

The answer to this can be found last Friday when 15% of the company was floated on the London stock market and the company was valued at £1.4bn.

Betfair’s advisors were some of the biggest names in the business and included Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital to name a few.

Amongst other things their job was to identify the price range of the proposed offer. Initial indications were that it would be between £11 to £14. The final initial public offering (IPO) price was set at £13.

With some of the top investment bankers involved and Betfair being in the gambling industry (which is not necessarily renowned for being generous to gamblers) it was something of a surprise to some people to see the share price rise by nearly 20% in the first day of initial trading after the IPO. After all, this could imply that the IPO was undervalued if there was such an initial jump in price.

I wonder what odds you would have got from Betfair that the IPO share price would rise by 20% on the first day of trading?

Forget who’s in charge of the TV remote control, who’s in control of the TV channels?

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BSkyB is the largest broadcaster in the UK, reporting a profit of £11.7 million on revenues of £5.9 billion in its most recent financial statements.

Its ownership structure is dominated by News Corporation, the transnational media conglomerate owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose other ventures include numerous newspapers and Fox studios in the USA.

It’s fair to say that Rupert Murdoch is a controversial figure.

A review of the most recent financial statements shows that News Corporation presently owns approximately 39.1% of the shares of BSkyB.  The next two largest shareholders own 5.02% and 3.01% of the votes in the company.

In other words, resisting the might of News Corporation to impose its will on BSkyB would require something more akin to a peasants’ revolt than a more standard company vote in the AGM.

IFRS 3 defines a subsidiary as an entity that is controlled by another entity.

Looking at the evidence, it would appear that the 39.1% ownership would be enough to give control of BSkyB to News Corporation, on grounds that it would be almost impossible to resist decisions favoured by such a dominant investor.

One such decision was appointing James Murdoch, son of Rupert Murdoch as chairman of BSkyB.  Lots of investors didn’t like this, but Murdoch took the helm of the company.

News Corporation produces its financial statements under US GAAP and has always consolidated BSkyB using the equity method, as an associate.

Under IFRS, it would have been arguable that full consolidation as a subsidiary would have presented a more true and fair view, as IFRS uses more principles based recognition of control than US GAAP.

However, a shock recently came to News Corporation, when it tried to increase its holding from 39.1% to a clearly controlling 61%.

The board of BSkyB refused to agree with the chairman that an offer of 700p per share should be accepted.  The board defied its biggest investor and said that they would recommend refusal of any offer less than 800p.  This appears to have come rather as a surprise to the dominant Murdoch family, who show signs of thinking of BSkyB as their fiefdom.

It’s just a nice example of when apparent control is not control and thus how to be cautious in deciding when to consolidate a company as a subsidiary, even if it generally does everything you tell it to.  If there appears to be a chance of the other investors saying “enough” and refusing to give into your will, it’s not a subsidiary.

According to Apple there’s an App for…something that I shouldn’t say…

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Apple is an extremely successful company. Earlier this week they released their latest set of results.

For the first time their quarterly sales exceeded $20 billion. In my opinion though the really impressive thing about the published figures was their cash balance.

They have total cash and marketable securities (stocks and shares, etc that can be readily converted to cash) amounting to a staggering $51 billion.

To put this amount of money in perspective, if they took their cash and put it in an empty company and then listed this “cash only company” on the London Stock Exchange, it would not only make it into the FTSE 100 but the “Apple cash company” would in fact be the 18th largest company quoted on the London Stock Exchange!

The blog entry here provides some thoughts on what else Apple could do with their cash if they decided to go on a shopping trip.

One of the growth areas of Apple can be found within their Apps business. Apps are “applications” (in effect software to use on their devices). 3 billion apps were downloaded in the first 18 months after their launch.

Apple has a very slick and professional marketing strategy.

Apple’s iPhone adverts such as the one below famously state “There’s an app for that” and finish with “There’s an app for just about anything”.

As well as having a very creative approach to their advertising Apple has also taken a very commercial and sensible approach to matters.

Last week the phrase “There’s an app for that” was officially classified as a trademark of Apple.

This means they will be able to prevent competitors benefiting from the phrase.

It will probably result in adverts such as the one below by US network carrier Verizon being prohibited. Verizon parodied it’s competitor  A&T (a carrier for the iPhone in the US) with this “There’s a map for that” advert.

The waiting is over. Say goodbye to David Tweedie and hello to Hans Hoogervorst.

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Photo by Seb ter Burg

After a long wait and a fair bit of speculation, rumour and expectation, we accountants now know who the next chairman of the International Accounting Standards Board is going to be.

Now, this might not sound quite as exciting as we’d like to make it sound, but this really is very significant.  When a new pope is elected, crowds throng the Vatican, there is black smoke, followed by white smoke and a general excitement and drama.  Our own global leader was announced by a modest press release from Cannon Street in London (home to the IASB) with a type of modesty that may be typical of our profession.

The successor to Sir David Tweedie will be Hans Hoogervorst, with effect from 1 July 2011.

Mr Hoogervost is a Dutch national, with an interesting background in both academia, politics and business.

Between 1998 and 2007, he held a number of positions in the Dutch Government, including minister of finance, minister of health, welfare and sport, and secretary for social affairs. Prior to this, he served both as a member and senior policy advisor to the Dutch parliament and the ministry of finance. He also spent three years as a banking officer for the National Bank of Washington in Washington, DC.

Mr Hoogervorst holds a Masters degree in modern history (University of Amsterdam, 1981) and a Master of Arts degree in international relations (Johns Hopkins University school of advanced international relations, majoring in international economics and Latin American studies).

This is a varied profile of experience and one that is probably very suited to the man that will take IFRS to the next level of development with the (hopeful) convergence of IFRS and US GAAP.  We think that considerable assertiveness and diplomacy will be required in that task!

Whoever takes over from David Tweedie has a considerable job on his hands.  Under Tweedie’s leadership, IFRS has moved from peripheral relevance to near global domination.  Standards, on the whole, have become much better.  David Tweedie is a tough act to follow.

We wish Mr Hoogervorst every success.  We are pleased that we have the best part of a year to learn how to pronounce his name properly.

We all make mistakes at work and I know you shouldn’t laugh but…

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On Tuesday, Microsoft were due to launch their much anticipated Windows 7 phone system. The launch event was scheduled to take place in New York with a start time of 3.30pm.

“Joe O” works for the electronics firm LG who were one of a number of phone companies that were expected to launch Windows 7 phones to coincide with the Microsoft event.

The phone companies however were under strict instructions not to announce anything until after Microsoft’s big launch.

Alas, poor Joe who is based in the UK made a slight mistake when he thought the launch time was 3.30pm UK time rather than 3.30pm New York time. The end result was that LG’s official UK blog revealed details of the phone and what it was capable of doing under the new Microsoft system some 5 hours before Microsoft started the official event.

The error was spotted by LG pretty quickly and the post was withdrawn but it was too late as it had already been picked up by a number of other websites.

Now, picture the scene. You’re part of a project team that has been working on a major project for some time. The “partner” to your company on this project is none other than the mighty Microsoft. The world’s press are anxiously awaiting the launch event and then you press a button which releases the news to the world some 5 hours early.

What would you do?

No, honestly, what would you do?

Deny it? Blame it on somebody else? Say it was a technical error?

Joe did the honourable thing and posted the following on the LG blog:

Yes, that early slip may have been my fault, I may have failed to notice the time zone was EDT, not BST, but let’s not kick a man when he’s down. And I was down, literally hiding under my desk ignoring my constantly ringing phone.

Please consider this my public confession… And remember “to err is human; to forgive divine”.

Showing that Joe has a good sense of humour he also posted the following animated GIF on the blog.

In today’s ever increasing global business environment this is a useful reminder that it’s important to remember the more simple areas of international business.

We all make mistakes though and well done to Joe for his excellent recovery!

Should you do a u-turn if you see a GAP in the market and it’s out of the blue?

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According to dictionary.com the definition of a U-turn is

1. a U -shaped turn made by a vehicle so as to head in the opposite direction from its original course.

2. a reversal of policy, tactics, or the like, resembling such a maneuver.

For anyone that’s looking for a current example of a branding u-turn then I’d recommend looking at what has happened since the US clothing and accessories retailer GAP introduced their new logo last week.

GAP Inc, which was founded in 1969 in San Francisco, is home to a number of brands including Old Navy and Banana Republic. Their most famous brand though is that of GAP itself.

GAP has approximately 3,100 stores around the world and last year had revenue of nearly $15 billion.

They are a great brand and their “blue box logo” (shown above on the GAP shopping bag) is one of the best known logos in the fashion world.

They decided however to change the logo and introduced the new logo shown below. Now, what do you think of the new logo? Which one do you prefer – the original one or the new one?

Personally I think that the new one looks as though it would be more suited to a high tech or consultancy company. The original one seems to better match their concept of clothing being laid back and traditional.

Following the launch of the new logo last week there was uproar on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook with people demanding that the old logo be brought back.

The upshot is that on Monday GAP released a press release where they announced that the new logo would be withdrawn and the previous one reinstated.

In the words of the President of GAP Brand North America there was “an outpouring of comments from customers and the online community in support of the iconic blue box logo.”

A decision was therefore made not to use the new logo but to revert back to the previous one.

Was this a company listening to its customers and giving them what they wanted or was it a company that didn’t speak to their customers enough before making the change? There will be arguments both ways.

We shouldn’t forget the cost of this u-turn.

There would have course have been the fee GAP paid to their branding agency (probably ex-branding agency now). A quick straw poll in the office felt that the fee paid for this particular design should have been in the region of £10.

There would also have been the costs of redesigned packaging and signage with the new (now old) logo on it plus of course all the management time.

They say that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. I’m not sure GAP’s Branding agency would agree with this.

Get out your sketch pad if you want to overcome a barrier…

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If an organisation can create a successful barrier to entry then it will have a great competitive advantage.

In simple terms, a barrier to entry can prevent competitors entering the market.

We’ve blogged before about a good example of a barrier in the Indian telecommunication market but a recent attempt to create a barrier by Southampton Football Club in the UK was met by a truly artistic response.

Southampton FC decided that they would try to boost their income by preventing any non Southampton FC photographers from taking photos of their match with Plymouth Argyle.

This barrier meant that the only photographers present were official Southampton FC photographers and hence any photos of the match would have to be purchased from the official agency. A nice revenue source for the club.

Ignoring the rights and wrongs of this in terms of impact on other clubs and setting a precedent, this is indeed a pretty tough barrier to overcome.

Understandably upset at having to pay for photos of their local team, the Plymouth Herald newspaper approached well known local artist Chris Robinson.

Chris watched the match on television and then drew “comic strip style” pictures of the football action which were then published in the paper instead of photos.

As you can see, the results were pretty impressive.

It also resulted in a pretty unusual answer to the question of “How do you overcome a barrier to entry”.

The answer now includes, “Draw some cartoons”.

Marks & Spencer – the figures weren’t padded out but what about…

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Marks & Spencer (M&S) are one of the best known retailers in the UK. First established back in 1884 they have been a mainstay of British fashion for as long as anyone can remember.

They have however had a turbulent journey over the last few years but yesterday they announced their results for the quarter ended 2 October and a number of things were quite impressive.

First of all, the ability to release their figures within 3 working days of the end of the quarter was in itself no mean feat.

The figures themselves were also very good with group sales up by 6.5% and all the major divisions showing impressive growth. So, how have they managed this? After all, although we’re coming to the end of the recession people are still being careful about money.

According to Marc Bolland, the Chief Executive of M&S, “Customers are returning to quality. In Food they are responding well to our better value and innovation, and in Clothing are increasingly choosing M&S’s great fashions and quality that lasts.”

They were also successful in introducing “innovative new products” (classic Ansoff’s Product Development). For example, they have just announced that they will be the first to launch men’s “enhancing underpants” on the UK high street.

On the ladies side of things the success of the “Wonderbra phenomenon” has been well documented since they were introduced in the 1990s but in the words of M&S the Bodymax enhancement pants for men have a number of advantages.

The “frontal enhancement pants” are “specifically designed to visibly enhance your shape” and the “bum lift pants” are said to “lift and shape your buttocks for a visibly sculpted look”.

Mr Bolland also said that there had been “a positive response to increased investment in marketing”. It will be interesting to see how they market the enhancement pants.

Now, you’re possibly thinking what sort of person would buy these enhancement pants? You may also be wondering how comfortable they are to wear.

In answer to this final point I’ll let you know as soon as my pair are delivered.

That’s some obligation – it will take 180,000 years to repay it…

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Yesterday, the so called “Rogue Trader”, Jerome Kerviel, whose unauthorised trades cost his former employer Societe Generale vast losses was sentenced.

Whilst this has got a serious element to it (he was jailed for 5 years) it also has a certain element of farce. As well as the jail sentence he was ordered to pay compensation to his former employer.

Now, this wasn’t any “normal” compensation we’re talking about here. It was the princely sum of €4.9 billion. Yes, Mr Kerviel was told that he has to pay nearly €5,000,000,000 to his former employer.

Based on his annual earnings before going to jail it would take him nearly 180,000 years to pay that amount! Societe Generale have sensibly announced that they will not be pursuing the money.

Control environments don’t generally strike students as the most scintillating area of their studies.  A number of ACCA and CIMA Papers however place considerable emphasis on controls, using Sarbanes-Oxley and the COSO frameworks.

Respecting controls might slow down an employee’s daily work routine and may feel sometimes like a constraint on innovation and enterprise.  Sometimes, it may be tempting to circumvent controls, especially if it generally appears to result in making quicker profits.

Anybody tempted to do this might be interested to note the Paris court’s decision to sentence Mr Kervie.  Although the hapless gentleman alleged that the bank had been complicit in allowing him to trade beyond his authority limits, this seemed to be little defence in either showing innocence or getting a more lenient sentence.

The lesson seems to be fairly clear.  Even if the tone appears to be one of disregarding controls because management don’t take them seriously, if anything then goes wrong, management will most probably not agree that controls were considered to be unimportant!

The safest thing to do is to assume that any controls are meant to be respected, even if it doesn’t feel that way.

It could literally be your “get out of jail” card.

£2.5 billion but can you have your cake and eat it?

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On Monday it was reported that China’s Bright Food Group was investigating the potential purchase of Britain’s United Biscuits for up to £2.5 billion.

Whilst on the face of it one food company buying another food company isn’t that exciting it does raise some interesting points.

Importantly, it also makes you think of whether Jaffa Cakes are in fact biscuits rather than cakes…

First of all though in classic Michael Porter’s Competitive Advantage of Nations terms then particular countries are considered to be strong in certain industries.

Germany for example is renowned for the production of high powered cars such as Audi, BMW and Porsche. Japan is a world leader in high tech cameras such as Canon, Nikon and Pentax.

Britain on the other hand is a powerhouse in the production of biscuits. After all, who needs luxury cars and high tech cameras when you can have a lovely cup of tea with a nice biscuit or two?

Secondly, the fact that another company from a so called emerging market is now potentially making a significant acquisition of a company in a more developed market sends an interesting signal about the current trend of globalisation.

Both these points are all very well and good but what’s this all about a biscuit or cake discussion?

United Biscuits produce some household name products including McVitie’s biscuits, Hula Hoops and Twiglets. They also produce Jaffa Cakes.

Jaffa Cakes were the subject of an infamous tax case a few years ago. To cut a long story short the debate was whether a Jaffa Cake was a cake (considered to be a basic foodstuff and hence not liable to VAT) or a chocolate covered biscuit (considered to be a luxury food product and hence liable for lots of VAT).

So, how on earth can you decide whether a food product is a cake or a biscuit?

The deciding factor was that when a cake is left to go stale it gets hard whereas when a biscuit is left to go stale it goes soft.

The argument went to a VAT tribunal (which is in effect a type of Court) and as part of the evidence put forward a 30cm Jaffa Cake was baked and left to go stale (and hard) so as to convince the tribunal that it was in fact a cake.

The final result was that Jaffa Cakes are indeed cakes so you can now have your cake and eat it (VAT free).

How much does it cost to buy your loyalty?

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Last week one of the top policemen in the UK admitted to getting discounted flights for his family by using air miles obtained on tax payer funded flights.

John Yates, who is the Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police (i.e. the  Greater London Police), is entitled to fly business class on official trips abroad. This enables him to amass significant amounts of air miles which can then be used for free flights in the future.

With a nice corporate governance angle the rules of the Metropolitan Police say that these air miles must be used for future work related flights and not personal ones. In what he claimed was an oversight, Mr Yates however used these air miles for a number of personal flights.

I’m sure it was the last thing on Mr Yates mind but from the Airline’s point of view, the provision of air miles can involve big figures.

The IFRS Interpretation Committee (formerly known as IFRIC) didn’t make many friends when they wrote IFRIC 13: Loyalty Programmes.

Broadly, IFRIC 13 says that when you are given loyalty programme points by a business, they have to recognise a proportion of the total sale to you as a sale of loyalty points.  In other words, they are buying your loyalty, rather than rewarding it.

This means that each sale has to be unbundled into two components – a sale of loyalty points at the value to the customer (which is likely to be very much higher than the cost of delivering the promised service) and the underlying sale itself.

As the loyalty points are used up or expire, the deferred revenue from loyalty points sold is recognised as revenue.

Previously, the accounting policy of most companies had been to recognise loyalty costs as a provision at the expected marginal cost of delivering the service.

This can be a fairly significant figure.  By “fairly significant”, we naturally mean “completely massive”.  Have a guess what the effect was on shareholders’ equity in the restated 2008 accounts of British Airways for implementation of IFRIC 13.

The answer is £206 million.  Nope, that’s not a typo; getting towards a quarter of a billion British Pounds.  Ouch.

We at ExP travel fairly a lot for work and we’ve noticed that airline loyalty programmes have become a little less generous of late.  Maybe the new accounting rules are something to do with this?

Do you own a iPhone or is it a Hiphone, an Ephone or a Ciphone?

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On Saturday Apple officially launched the iPhone 4 in China. They also opened up two new flagship stores in Shanghai and Beijing.

China is the world’s largest mobile market with more than 800 million subscribers so it would seem to make sense that Apple sell their products there.

Why has is taken them so long to launch the iPhone 4 in China though? After all, the iPhone 4 was originally launched in the US back in June and in countries such as Australia, Netherlands and Singapore in July.

The handsets themselves are manufactured in China so it’s not as though they haven’t had any experience of doing business in the country.

There are various reasons why companies have phased product roll outs in different countries. The sheer scale of a “global launch” for a company like Apple would be extremely challenging. Having sufficient inventory in stock on global launch day would not only be a logistical nightmare but would probably be physically impossible.

An additional challenge for Apple is that they need to agree matters with their strategic communication service providers in each territory (in other words, the mobile phone operator they will be partnering with in each particular country). This also takes time.

Anyway, from now onwards we’ll be seeing the iPhone 4 in China but anyone that has been to China recently though could be forgiven for thinking that the iPhone 4 has already been in the country for a while.

A significant issue for Apple is the increase in the number of iPhone clone companies.

As well as clone companies that produce illegal fake copies of the phone there are also businesses that produce reasonable quality phones which are very similar to the iPhone. They are designed so that they try not to break any patent protection that Apple has set up. I’m sure though that Apple’s patent lawyers are monitoring these products very closely!

A quick search on the internet for example shows websites selling products such as the HiPhone, the Ephone and the Ciphone. With prices starting at less than $100 there will be a significant number of people opting for these items.

Oh, and in case you were wondering the photo above is of the Hiphone.

Is this your shopping list: bread, milk, eggs and Viagra?

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Monday could be a big day for a lot of people.

Tesco, one of the leading UK supermarkets, will commence selling the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra.

Viagra has been a huge success for Pfizer. It’s one of their blockbuster drugs and millions of the little blue tablets have been sold over the last 10 years.

One of the drawbacks though for a lot of men that want the drug is where to get hold of it from. In the UK you generally need either a doctors prescription or to risk buying it from potentially suspect internet sites.

Tesco are one of the most successful supermarket chains in the world. In strategic Ansoff’s Matrix terminology they have done very well with market development (4,811 stores in 14 countries with an amazing 2,482 stores in the UK alone) together with product development (an estimated 40,000 product lines ranging from pizza to petrol to perfume).

Tesco are about to add another product line to their offerings and from next Monday shoppers will be able to pick up Viagra from over 300 Tesco stores.

As finance people we know all about the challenge of getting pricing decisions right.

Tesco are not the first mainstream chain of stores to stock Viagra. Last year, the high street chemist Boots became the first store in the UK to sell Viagra without a prescription. You can currently buy 4 of the blue pills from Boots for £55.

A price skimming or premium pricing strategy for Tesco wouldn’t really work as the Viagra market is a mature market. Tesco has instead undertaken a classic penetration pricing strategy whereby they price the product at an attractive price with the aim of growing its market share.

From Monday, you will be able to buy 8 of the blue pills at Tesco for £52.

Whilst the per tablet charge at Tesco is a lot lower than what can be found at Boots, £52 is still a significant amount of money. There’s a recession on and times are hard for a lot of people. Only time will tell whether Tesco made the correct pricing decision.

Has the Big 4 become the Big 3?

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Things have changed. You won’t be hearing much about PricewaterhouseCoopers any more.

Is this breaking news? Does this mean that we will be talking about the Big 3 rather than the Big 4?

Should PricewaterhouseCoopers partners and staff be rushing to recruitment consultants to get another job?

There’s no need to panic as all is well with the company. What they have done though is undertaken a rebranding exercise.

The company has commonly been referred to as PwC since it was established via a merger back in 1998 between Price Waterhouse and Coopers & Lybrand. With effect from Monday though they will now officially go by the name of pwc.

As part of a multi-million pound make over not only will the company be known as pwc but the corporate logo and corporate colours have changed.

The new logo incorporates the letters “pwc” in lower case along with a 6 rectangle symbol in shades of orange and red.

According to pwc, the brand was refreshed “in order to strengthen, and modernise how it represents its worldwide network to its clients, its people and the communities in which it operates.”

Global brand consultants Wolff Olins designed the logo in collaboration with PwC employees and clients. The complete rebranding process reportedly took two years.

From a personal point of view, I like the new logo and orange/red spectrum colours which I think are nice fresh, clean colours.

What about people from some of the other accounting firms? My guess is that they must be relieved. With KPMG having blue/white, Ernst & Young black/yellow and Deloitte navy/green it must have been a relief all round that pwc went for orange/red.

Auditing the auditors – in a rather public way!

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In the UK, the Professional Oversight Board is one of the bodies that works towards improving the quality of audit work and audit firms.

They have just published their 2010 inspection reports into the Big Four audit firms.  If you feel so inspired, you can read these reports free here.

Obviously, not only the Big Four know how to audit.  However, it’s probably fair to assume that if there is a pattern in perceived weakness in audit within the biggest firms, it’s probably a pattern within the profession as a whole.

The good news is that in almost all cases, the POB found that audit work was done well or acceptably, though with room for improvement.  There’s something very healthy about a profession that scrutinises its own commanding heights and then publishes its findings in a wholly public way.

The general public are all stakeholders in our profession and they deserve to see the results of our own introspection.  Partners in big audit firms whose work has just been the subject of constructive criticism may feel somewhat differently about this of course!

A pattern within the reports is that nobody seems to be especially strong at conducting goodwill impairments.  Three of the Big Four were specifically criticised by the POB for failing to obtain sufficient, appropriate evidence to support the clients’ assertions that goodwill had not been impaired.

In the frank but diplomatic language of these reports, it sounds like the audit teams in certain particular audits didn’t really know how to approach deciding whether purchased goodwill had actually been impaired.

Is this the fault of the auditor, or is it the fault of accounting standards that require goodwill impairments to be recorded but aren’t entirely specific about how to do it?  We think it might well be a bit of both.

Criticisms such as audit reports being issued on a date before the audit working papers had been signed are somewhat harder to justify, however.

We imagine that the partner responsible for that one might have a table to himself or herself at the office Christmas party.

It’s 2010 so should a Witch pay income tax or not? Well, according to the Romanian government…

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“Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn, and cauldron bubble” so goes the famous Witch’s chant from Act 4, scene 1 of Macbeth but was a similar chant taking place last week when a potential Witch Tax was rejected by the Romanian Senate?

Like many countries around the world Romania suffered badly during the recession. In an attempt to balance the books the government has undertaken cuts in public sector wages as well as raising the VAT rate.

In a somewhat unusual move last week though, Alin Popoviciu and Cristi Dugulescu, two members of the ruling Democratic Liberal Party drafted a law whereby Witches would have had to produce receipts for the services they performed and hence be taxed on them.

Now whilst the image of Witches queuing up to submit their tax returns may cast an unlikely picture there are a number of interesting issues.

First of all then surely they are just self employed individuals? From a tax point of view they are no different from for example a self employed builder or a self employed accountant who both have to pay income taxes.

Admittedly, from a non tax point of view it probably elicits some interesting expressions on the face of the person who asks them what they do for a living but back to tax and there would be some questions that needed to be answered:

What about Witches training courses? Surely they would be a tax deductible expense?

Would the costs of keeping a black cat be considered a personal expense or an expense of the business?

What about the purchase of a new broom. Would it be a capital or revenue expense?

In another move which no doubt came as a complete surprise for all concerned, fortune tellers were told that they were to be held liable for any incorrect predictions that they made.

The Witches and fortune tellers needn’t have worried too much though as Romania’s Senate voted down the proposal on Tuesday.

Popoviciu allegedly claimed that the lawmakers didn’t implement the law as they were frightened of a Witches’ curse being made on them.

Benjamin Franklin once famously said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Maybe the Senators that voted down the Witches tax in Romania were concerned that the two would be combined.

If you go to the bank today be careful in case you Kop some abuse for being a toxic asset.

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On Saturday Wayne Rooney the England and Manchester United footballer was dropped for the game against Everton.

According to the Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson, he was dropped so that he wouldn’t have to endure excessive abuse from the Everton fans (whilst the married Mr Rooney has recently gone through a barren patch of scoring on the pitch he was reported in the press last week as having scored off the pitch with a number of prostitutes).

So, the Everton supporters didn’t have the opportunity to direct their witty chants towards Mr Rooney.

The Accountants amongst the Everton supporters though must now be looking forward to when they play their neighbours and fierce rivals, Liverpool.

Last week it was reported that Liverpool FC’s loan with the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) had been reclassified and moved to RBS’s toxic debt division. In other words the £260 million loan is now within the “bad bank” part of RBS which was created to put all their toxic assets from the recent worldwide financial crisis.

Even though RBS were reportedly getting £1million interest per week on the loan it is now considered clear that they have severe doubts over whether they will get their money back.

We blogged a couple of months ago about the going concern risk with Liverpool FC and this latest news can only add to the excitement.

One thing’s for sure though and the toxic debt division of RBS won’t be very sympathetic with Liverpool and will be looking to recover their money as soon as possible. A quick sale of the football club at a knock down price is expected.

Now, all you accountants in the Everton crowd get your singing voice ready and altogether “You’re toxic and you know you are, you’re toxic and you know you are….”

Forget the great Polish and Russian vodkas, the best vodka in the world is officially English. Now, go and open a packet of crisps to celebrate.

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At this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition the best Vodka in the world award was won by a small distillery based in rural England in Herefordshire. Chase Vodka beat off 115 other entries to win.

This is a superb achievement by them.

I’ve been lucky enough to try some of the vodka. It’s certainly very nice and I have to say I think their award was thoroughly deserved. I hasten to add though that I haven’t tasted the other 115 vodkas so can’t really give an unbiased view!

Chase vodka has got a rather unusual background. It was founded by local potato farmer William Chase. Now William certainly knows a thing or two about potatos. He was the person that founded the upmarket potato crisp company Tyrrells.

Tyrrell’s crisps were only launched 8 years ago in 2002. In classic strategy terminology they were very much promoted on the differentiated manner as being of a better class of crisp, being hand crafted and a top quality product. His passion for potatos paid off and in 2008 he sold 75% of the crisp brand for a rather tasty £40 million.

Not content with sailing the world on his personal yacht or buying a private island to retire to he built on his core competencies and developed his love of potatos into another upmarket brand but this time to be enjoyed by adults only.

Again, using strategy speak the chase vodka business is nicely vertically integrated with the potatos being grown on the farm as well as the distillery and the bottling process being in the same location.

It’s not cheap – retailing at £32.95 it is over 3 times as expensive as the supermarket own brands but it’s hand crafted by a small team of workers and each bottle is reportedly made out of 250 top quality potatos. Comparing this with the mass market vodkas made out of left over grain then you can see why the pricing is different.

Using Ansoff’s matrix terminology they have also undertaken rather nice product development and launched a limited edition Marmalade Vodka.

Now, for me a lovely breakfast is a fresh pot of tea with some nice toast and marmalade. Should I be rethinking things though so that I opt for Marmalade Vodka instead?

PwC in the UK have just released their results. So how much did each partner make?

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PricewaterhouseCoopers is a great company. It’s one of the top companies in the world and it’s also a truly global company. The latest reported figures show over 160,000 PwC people working around the world including 8,500 partners.

On Monday PwC released their UK results for the year ended June 2010.

So, how did they do?

First of all the good news. Their turnover in the UK rose 4% to £2.33 billion.

Their profit before tax in the UK however fell 3% to £665 million.

This fall in profit was put down to some significant investment during the year including recruiting 1,750 staff, appointing 57 new partners and moving into a new environmentally friendly office in London (incidentally, there’s a previous blog entry on the proximity of a PwC office to a Ernst & Young office here).

As maybe a positive sign on their view as to which direction the economy is heading they also stated that they were planning on creating 800 new jobs in the UK over the next year as well as continuing with their significant graduate recruitment by taking on 1,200 new graduate level joiners.

Now onto the exciting bit that I’m sure lots of people are interested in and that is what is the average payout for each of the 820 PwC UK partners?

Although it was down by 2% on the previous year it was still a healthy average figure of £759,000 per partner.

PwC’s UK chairman, Ian Powell, was reported as receiving £3.6 million.

Look out for two prostitutes, £3.7 million of stolen cash and a 58 year old accountant at your local Toys R Us store.

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Toys R Us is one of the largest toy store chains in the world.

It’s very successful and has nearly 1,300 stores around the world. What it didn’t have though was a strong internal control system in their UK purchase ledger department.

Between 2006 and 2008, married father of two and accounts payable manager Paul Hopes made over 20 illegal payments ranging from £100,000 to £300,000 to bank accounts of fictitious toy suppliers in the Far East which he had set up himself.

The £3.7 million of illicit money was then spent on various items. One of Mr Hopes favourite methods of spending the money was on Wednesday nights when he would regularly entertain 2 prostitutes at luxury hotel suites.

As well as paying for their time and energy he also bought them a string of luxury cars including a Bentley, Toyota Land Cruiser and a BMW M3 (incidentally, his wife was at the time driving the family Ford Mondeo).

In total he spent nearly £2.5 million on the two prostitutes.

It all came to a sticky ending for Mr Hopes though as he was sentenced to 7 years in jail.

What is interesting about the sentencing is that under the Proceeds of Crime Act the Judge ordered Mr Hopes to repay £3.4 million of the £3.7 million stolen. If he fails to repay the £3.4 million then an additional 10 years will be added to his 7 year sentence. At the end of the 17 year sentence he will still be obliged to repay the £3.4 million.

Now, remember that Mr Hopes is an Accountant so I’m sure he’s an expert in double entry but even the best bookkeeping skills won’t be able to make “income” of £3.7 million minus “expenses” of £2.5 million equal a balance of £3.4 million.

I guess he’s hoping that these two particular ladies are now desperately trying to find him every Wednesday evening to give him the money back.

Hair today, gone tomorrow? It’s certainly a risk for Procter & Gamble.

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As one of the best known and most successful companies in the world Proctor & Gamble certainly know a thing or two about branding. It also seems that they are pretty switched on when it comes to risk.

Over in the States, American Football is huge. One of the most well known players is Pittsburgh Steelers player Troy Polamalu.

Anyone that has watched a game that he has played in will instantly recognise him. He has very distinctive hair.

He is of Samoan descent and has not cut his hair for 7 years. Far from being in bad condition though his hair is in excellent condition and his flowing locks would no doubt make many a woman jealous.

P&G make the famous Head & Shoulders shampoo and when deciding on a suitable person to promote the product settled on Polamalu. If you’re interested you can even play a Polamalinator game here.

No details have been disclosed of how much he’s been paid for the sponsorship deal but it’s no doubt a significant amount.

Successful, healthy, sporty and a sex symbol to a lot of women in America meant that he was the ideal person for promoting Head & Shoulders and the return was no doubt there.

“Risk and Return” is an issue that is involved in all major decisions within business. Whilst the return is there with Polamalu what about the risk?

P&G seem to think that one of the risks is in the loss or damage to his famous hair. They announced earlier this week that they had just insured his hair for $1 million. Apparently if Polamalu loses 66% or more of his hair during the next 7 months then Lloyds of London insurance will pay out $1 million.

So, the branding works well. Risk seems to be covered but what about the legal aspects? Did anyone check the small print to the contract as to whether a haircut is allowed during the next 7 months? I hope so otherwise it could very well be the most expensive haircut in history.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch” but will there be such a thing as a free drink or cheap drink in the future?

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Binge drinking in the UK is a major problem. City centres at the weekend can be full of people that are literally trying to drink as much as possible in as short a period of time. Violence and health issues often ensue.

As well as the disturbances to local residents there are also the costs both health-wise to the drinkers and financially to police forces, hospitals and society at large arising as a result of this binge drinking.

As a potential solution to this problem, the government is currently investigating whether to ban free or cheap drink promotions. One of the ideas being discussed is whether to make it illegal to sell alcohol below cost price. In other words to prevent businesses offering “loss leaders” on drinks so as to encourage higher spending at a later date.

If you’re an accountant, and assuming you’re not reading this in the middle of an actual binge drinking session yourself, this raises an interesting discussion on what exactly is meant by “below cost” and in particular the term “cost”.

The major alcoholic drinks manufacturers produce a range of drinks. Diageo for example produce drinks as varied as Smirnoff vodka, Johnnie Walker whisky and the famous Irish stout Guinness.

Identifying the cost of each particular drink would be challenging exercise. Whilst they no doubt have sophisticated management accounts which allocate overheads and indirect costs in certain ways, there would be a clear debate as to which was the “correct” allocation of these costs.

Apportioning overheads such as head office costs, R&D and marketing to individual products would result in a certain amount of flexibility in terms of identifying the cost figure to use for “below cost” purposes.

One solution to this inherent problem of identifying the cost of individual products has been proposed and that is setting the minimum cost of the drinks as equivalent to the duty and VAT that needs to be paid on the particular drinks.

So, the next time you’re out having a quiet drink with some non finance friends feel free to start a discussion about how much each of your drinks cost to make. You can then explain about the various possible methods of allocating indirect costs. Then again, talking about management accounting cost allocation whilst out with your friends may result in your  non finance friends starting a binge drinking session themselves…

I take my hat off to Bethany Hare, Charlie Chaplin and Mendelow’s Matrix but should I be smiling?

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Bethany Hare is a remarkable young lady. She’s only 10 years old and wanted to raise money for a local children’s hospice.

She came up with the idea of dressing up as Charlie Chaplin, singing the song “Smile” (the theme from Chaplin’s 1936 film “Modern Times”) and then posting it on a charity website.

She was aiming to raise £5,500 and it all started well with people appreciating the effort she had put in and making donations.

She was then contacted by New York based Bourne Music Publishers, who own the rights to the song. Several discussions between Bethany’s mum and the Publishers later and the end result was that Bethany was told that she must either remove the song or pay a license fee of $2,000 to keep it online for one year plus a further $250 every time she performs it in public.

This is a lot of money for a little girl of 10 years old to pay to a big music publisher especially when she’s trying to raise £5,500 for terminally ill children. Bethany removed the song from her video and in true Chaplin style ran it as a “silent movie”.

A lot of people will question the approach taken by Bourne Music.

Mendelow’s Matrix is a method of analysing stakeholders in a business. According to this model the stakeholders that management should really look after are the “key players” (high interest / high power). Bethany falls within the low interest / low power quadrant of Bourne Music’s matrix and hence the theory goes that they can employ “minimal effort” to this category.

Some would argue that they had a duty to protect the song and obtain all the royalties they could from it but it seemed obvious that Bethany was never going to pay that sort of money.

This story has however got a happy ending. Ben Model from Silent Clowns in New York wrote a piano score especially for Bethany to use and she has now reached her money raising target. Bethany’s performance can be seen here.

I’ll leave it up to you to decide who you think are the good guys and the bad guys in this story. My view is that the title of the song in debate was “Smile” and I’m pretty certain that not a lot of people were smiling when they heard the approach taken by the Publishers.

The ACCA exam results are out today. If you’ve been successful then maybe head to the vending machine.

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It’s ACCA exam results day today and congratulations to those of you that have passed. All your hard work has paid off and it’s now time to celebrate.

I’ve often wondered whether the results day should be a Friday so you can celebrate on Friday night and Saturday night or whether it’s a good excuse to annoy everyone else in the office on the Monday with your shouts of happiness all day.

If by any chance you’re in Pennsylvania in America and want to have a little drink to celebrate your success then there is now a novel way of doing so.

We blogged last year about the use of vending machines in Germany for selling local fruit and vegetables but in Pennsylvania they are now piloting a new type of “outbound logistics” (using Porter’s Value Chain Analysis terminology).

You can now buy bottles of wine from vending machines. In order to buy the wine customers have to firstly prove they are old enough by swiping their ID and a credit card. They then have to prove they are sober enough to buy the wine by using a breathalyzer.

Wine aficionados may well be aghast at the thought of buying wine from a vending machine but if you’re the type of person that just doesn’t want to stand in a queue and talk to the shop assistant when you’re buying the wine then this could be for you.

Then again, if you’re buying it to celebrate passing your exams I would recommend that you buy it from the shop assistant so that you can tell them and the rest of the people in the queue the reason you’re buying it.

Things are getting more expensive in China but is this good news for McDonalds?

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A report issued by Credit Suisse this week highlighted the fact that costs of manufacturing in China are on the increase.

Average salaries for example have increased from $1,000 per annum in 2000 to nearly $4,000 in 2010. This increase, together with the cost of transporting goods to Europe and America, means that the cost base has increased significantly and importantly is likely to continue to increase.

A number of companies have invested in China principally on the basis of their low cost base.  The rising cost base though is causing concern for a number of companies.

Will they be able to switch production to other low cost locations such as Bangladesh or Vietnam? They probably will be able to but it could be costly.

Will they be able to pass on these cost increases to the end consumer by way of price increases? Given that we are only just starting to come out of recession my guess is that this will be challenging to say the least.

But does all of this really come as a surprise? With the explosion of globalisation over the last couple of decades and companies manufacturing in cheaper location or “off shoring” services then surely it’s simply a case of supply and demand.

If companies set up offshore operations in a certain territory which is renowned for having, for example, good quality cheap IT skills then when other companies join them there will be a surge in demand for these individuals and wages will increase.

It will take a number of years or even generations but some people’s view is that eventually there will be very similar wage levels wherever you are in the world.

Back to the increase in wages in China though and whilst this will be bad news for a number of companies there will also be companies that will benefit from the increase in local spending power. McDonalds for example are no doubt licking their lips in anticipation at all the Big Macs that could well be sold in China in the near future.

A previous Ernst & Young award winner (allegedly) held meetings in his underwear, Deloitte resigned and there’s no sign of the cash anywhere…

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Two weeks ago we blogged about Deloitte’s decision to resign as auditors of American Apparel due to amongst other things, problems with stock valuation.

Yesterday, the investor relations department of American Apparel released a press release which included the disclosure that “the Company believes that it is probable that as of September 30, 2010, the Company will not be in compliance with the minimum Consolidated EBITDA covenant under the second lien credit agreement”.

In simple terms this means that it may default on some of its loan payments. This is obviously bad news for all stakeholders of the business as the company may simply not have enough cash to stay in business. Their share price fell by 22% in late trading yesterday.

This is quite a fall from grace for the company and its charismatic founder and CEO, Dov Charney. Back in 2004 at the height of the company’s success Mr Charney won the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the year award.

Mr Charney is one of the real characters of the fashion industry in America and in the past has faced sexual harassment claims as well as allegedly attended interviews and company meetings in his underwear (no doubt American Apparel underwear).

The situation today though is that the company is in negotiations with its creditors to amend the loan agreement to ensure they can stay in business.

It’s looking like the decision by Deloitte to resign was indeed a sound decision. The new auditors, Marcum, will no doubt have some challenges ahead but one thing’s for sure and that is they should issue their invoice to American Apparel now and start chasing up payment straight away.

If you’re going to buy shares in Skype then watch out as the Sky could be the limit.

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The internet telephone company Skype is planning on raising $100 million via an IPO (Initial Public Offering) on New York’s NASDAQ later this year.

Skype is probably the best known “internet telephone company” and users can make free Skype-to-Skype calls. Paid for calls to mobiles or landlines can also be made.

$100 million however is a significant figure and the filing documents submitted on Monday show that in 4 of the last 5 years the company lost money. In addition, the proportion of Skype’s customers that use the paid for services is also relatively small (8 million out of total registered Skype accounts of 560 million) so arguably there’s a real risk that it may be a significant time before the company is well into profit making territory.

The IPO submission documents must also show any identified risks and there is an interesting one present with Skype.

If you look at page 30 of the IPO submission document it was revealed that BSkyB, the owner of Sky TV in the UK, is in a long running dispute with Skype over the use of various trademarks. There is a view that Sky and Skype could be confusing for certain individuals especially given that BSkyB are promoting their telephone services alongside their Sky TV services.

It’s a case of watch this space to see what happens next.

Of course, free phone calls are one thing but if Skype ever started showing free television programmes then that’s when things would get really exciting.

Forget the sunshine, the beaches and the fantastic food – if you live in Australia sell your house and move to America…

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Asset valuation is a tricky business.  It is, however, a skill that accountants are often commissioned to use.  It’s also a useful one to have when making personal decisions, such as whether to buy a home or not.

Some people would argue that a major driver of the current economic slump in many countries is the collapse of house prices.

In a number of countries, house price bubbles were enormous.  There are lots of motivations for buying a home; principally as a place to live, a store of value for the future; certainty come retirement (when the mortgage is paid off so housing costs drop only to be maintenance).

Another motive has been speculation.  In my opinion, speculation in house prices is a bad thing, since it drives up house prices.  This means that new houses are not affordable for the young.  The more that house prices go up, the greater the transfer of wealth from the economically active young to the less economically active old.

Unsustainably high house prices cause uncertainty in an economy and when a crash eventually happens, it can cause people to be locked into homes with loans greater than the value of the asset (negative equity).  As well as a source of human misery, negative equity reduces labour mobility, which is bad for the economy as whole.

The Economist newspaper tracks house prices in different countries, using a method based on rental yields.  The assumption here is that rental markets react more readily to underlying supply and demand conditions.  If one had $500,000 to invest, would one use it to buy a house which could then be rented out, or buy other investments such as bonds?  If the rental yield (rent / initial value x 100) is less than the yield on bonds, then the house price is overvalued.  It’s a simple enough methodology that can give some revealing results.

A couple of years ago, this analysis suggested that UK property prices were 35% overvalued.  A crash followed.  There have been property crashes and recession in many countries where speculation is a big motive to buy property.  The alarming thing is that a recent analysis (Economist 10 July, page 75) revealed that properties are under and overvalued in certain countries:

UK: 33.8% overvalued (following a hard-to-explain recovery in house prices)
USA: 6.5% undervalued
Spain: 50.4% overvalued
Australia: 61.1% overvalued
Germany: 14.5% undervalued
Ireland: 15.7% overvalued.

This may be poor news indeed for the economy of countries with very overvalued property.  With these sorts of valuations, mortgages may become unaffordable the moment that interest rates rise to above the rock bottom levels we have at the moment.  This could release very big downward forces in the economy and dampen out any economic recovery.

On the plus side, the USA looks to have reacted quickly, albeit brutally, to the changed economic circumstances and it might be a good time to sell your home in Australia (cash out your investment while it’s arguably overvalued) and buy somewhere in America.  If you can get a visa.  Oh, and a mortgage!

If it’s “Dress Down Friday” today at Deloitte would you look good in American Apparel clothes?

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It was announced recently that Deloitte has resigned as auditor of American Apparel.

American Apparel is the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States.  The company has expanded substantially outside the USA in recent years, meaning that a material proportion of their sales and inventory happen in territories where US GAAP is not the local requirement.

This appears to have created some problems.  The company was previously audited by Marcum LLP, but it changed auditor to Deloitte on 3 April 2009.  Deloitte had reported an audit opinion and opinion on corporate governance compliance.  These gave an opinion that the company did not have staff outside the USA who were adequately trained in inventory valuation (presumably in inventory valuation in accordance with US GAAP rather than IFRS) and that controls over inventory outside the USA were below the standard that Deloitte considered to be fit for purpose.

Marcum, the previous auditors, had expressed an adverse opinion on the corporate governance report in the financial statements for 2008.  Some saw this as a critical event in the replacement of auditor with Deloitte.

Resigning as auditor is a drastic step that is likely to have an adverse impact on the company’s share price.  American Apparel’s share price nose dived by 25% when the stock market heard of the news of Deloitte’s decision to resign.  Presumably this is because investors have new doubts about the reliability of the company’s historical financial information and future prospects.

As for the name of the proposed replacement for Deloitte?  Apparently, the company’s favoured option is a firm called Marcum LLP…

It’s all very well buying a shop for £1,500,000,000 but there’s just nowhere to park your car when you arrive for work.

Harrods, arguably the most famous shop in the world, was recently purchased by the Qatar Holding Group from Mohamed al Fayad. The price paid was £1.5billion which is a pretty large amount of money in anyone’s books.

The Qatari ruling family are behind the Qatar Holding Group and have interests in a number of businesses around the world. They also have a fleet of super cars including a Lamborghini Murcielago worth £350,000 and a Koenigsegg CCXR worth slightly more at £1.2 million.

No doubt there was a comprehensive due diligence exercise undertaken before the purchase of Harrods with accountants and financial advisers going through the business and the accounts in fine detail but did anyone ask where the parking spaces were? Harrods is in Knightsbridge in central London and is renowned for being short of parking spaces.

The Lamborghini is capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds whilst the extra £850,000 it costs to buy the Koenigsegg enables you to get to 60mph 0.3 seconds quicker at 2.9 seconds. Recently however, they went from 0 to 60 mph in approximately 3 hours.

The cars were illegally parked outside Harrods and after initially being given parking tickets were then clamped and a passerby filmed the results.

The parking fines were £120 for each car but by paying them within 14 days they were reduced to £70 each.

Vodafone and their involvement with CFC (no, not Chelsea Football Club)

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There’s a pretty good chance that either you or somebody you know has used a Vodafone network.

Vodafone are the world’s largest mobile telecommunication network company and last week they announced better than expected results for the quarter ended 30 June 2010 with revenue rising for the first time since the recession began (rising by 4.8% to £11.3 billion for the 3 months).

Also announced was an agreement with the UK tax authorities over a Controlled Foreign Company (CFC) investigation that dates back to 2001.

In simple terms, CFC is a set of rules which prevent UK companies from avoiding tax by the use of subsidiaries in tax havens around the world. If for example a company pushes profits into a subsidiary in a low tax jurisdiction it would avoid paying the higher rate of tax on these profits in the UK. The UK tax authorities can counter this by applying CFC legislation.

The Vodafone case was a complicated one involving a holding company in Luxembourg. It had made a provision of £2.2 billion for settlement of the dispute but has now agreed to pay £1.25 billion to settle all outstanding CFC liabilities to date as well as reach agreement that no further CFC obligations will occur under current legislation.

This is not only good news for Vodafone but also a number of other multinationals that are currently in negotiations with the tax authorities over CFC issues. It also reportedly signals a more flexible approach by the tax authorities as the new UK government has stated that they wish to make the UK open to international business. Over recent years a number of companies have moved operations away from the UK to for example, Ireland where there is currently no CFC legislation in place.

It’s a rather nice TV and a “bargain” at £6,999 but you’ll have to wait until 1 October to get the most out of it.

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If you are one of those people that keep on losing the TV remote control then you’re going to have fun when you need to keep track of your 3D glasses as well.

We blogged earlier this year about the launch of 3D televisions and their position within the product life cycle.

When it comes to the marketing mix (the 4Ps) there are certain characteristics that are found at the introduction stage.

Witness for example the high prices that are currently being charged for 3D televisions – a Samsung UE55C900 52 inch 3D TV was today for sale at the John Lewis shop in Oxford Street in London for £6,999 plus £139.95 for two pairs of 3D Active Glasses (this in itself provides an interesting example of pricing given that one pair of 3D Active Glasses costs £59.95 – if you need a calculator to spot the significance then maybe a career in finance isn’t for you!).

The lack of 3D content however was always going to be a problem at the initial stages. After all, a top of the range 3D TV isn’t that good if there aren’t a lot of 3D programmes to watch.

Sky TV in the UK though is about to come to the rescue. They announced today that they will be launching a dedicated 3D TV channel on 1 October. Some highlights of the launch weekend include coverage of golf’s Ryder Cup as well as the film Monster vs. Alien.

The good news for Sky subscribers with the latest Sky+ HD set top box is that they won’t need any additional Sky equipment to watch the 3D content. They “only” need one of the latest 3D TVs.

If you’re in the UK you can look forward to a rush of “P – Promotion” for 3D TVs in the autumn. We’ll report back in a years time but expect by then the “P-Price” to have fallen, the “P-Product” to have developed, the “P-Place” for purchasing to have increased and the “P-Promotion” to have…..

How much do condoms cost to buy? Well, I guess anywhere from £1 to £2.5bn…

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Reckitt Benckiser, the Anglo – Dutch consumer products group, has agreed to buy the maker of Durex condoms for £2.5bn.

Last week the board of SSL recommended that the shareholders accept the offer from Reckitt which was at an effective 33% premium on the share price.

In addition to Durex condoms SSL also make Scholl shoes but £2.5bn is a lot of money and a 33% premium is pretty good in today’s environment. Should the shareholders therefore grab this opportunity with both hands?

Students of business strategy will be aware that there are both pros and cons of acquisitions. The general view amongst analysts in this situation though appears to be that it represents a good fit for the Reckitt business.

Firstly, Reckitt will strengthen their health and personal care division which is currently their fastest growing area. Health and personal care is considered by many to be a key area for businesses going forward (this is a nice link to PESTEL within the syllabus).

Secondly, SSL has a larger presence in a number of emerging markets. In particular SSL are in a strong position in China, a country where Reckitt are relatively weak compared to their competitors.

Cost savings from synergies of course can never be ignored. If the deal goes ahead there could be reported savings of £100m a year in terms of removing duplicate jobs, combining distribution channels, etc.

Marketing synergies are also important. Reckitt for example produce the headache tablet Nurofen.

How can you make a salary of £26,000 stretch to buying a horse riding business, a holiday home, luxury holidays and a Range Rover costing £45,000?

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It seems that not all accountants are 100% honest.

Whilst the vast majority of accountants are  trustworthy there were two court cases in the UK this week that resulted in jail sentences for accountants.

Gary Gordon, who previously worked for the Big 4 firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, stole £45,000 from his employer UK Mission Enterprises. He rather unimaginatively simple diverted the cash into his own accounts.

He apparently had a gambling habit and didn’t appreciate the amount of money that he had stolen. He’s been jailed for 16 months.

£45,000 however pales into insignificance when compared with £1.3 million which was the amount that Tracey Laws stole from her employer Inchcape Limited.

Inchcape Limited is the parent company of a number of motor trading companies in the UK and for nearly 10 years Laws wrote 75 fraudulent cheques totaling £750,000 to her own horse riding school (which she had set up with money that she had already been stolen from her employers). She had also fraudulently transferred over £500,000 to her husband’s decorating company.

Despite having a maximum annual salary of £26,000 during her time with Inchcape she managed to buy a horse riding school, a holiday home, luxury holidays and a brand new Range Rover.

It wasn’t these mis-matched spending habits that caught her out though. Her crime was uncovered by accident when one of the motor trading companies was changing payment systems and two employees noticed a cheque made out to West Acres Stables (the stables owned by Laws).

These two observant individuals noticed that the handwriting looked very much like the handwriting of Tracey Laws. It turned out that it was her hand writing and the end result was that Laws was jailed for four years last week.

No doubt there are new internal controls in place at Inchcape and looking on the bright side for Laws she will at least save her annual accountancy membership fees going forward and she will also have her bed and breakfast supplied free of charge by Her Majesty’s Government for the next few years.

Is this the real Willy Wonka? After all he bought enough chocolate on Friday to make over 5 billion bars of chocolate.

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Anthony Ward, a British financier who set up hedge fund Armajaro Holdings, bought a huge chunk of chocolate on Friday.

To be precise, he spent over £650 million buying 241,000 tonnes of cocoa beans.

This was the highest single purchase of cocoa for nearly 15 years and happened as cocoa bean prices rose to their highest level for 23 years. On news of the purchase cocoa futures for July delivery jumped by 1.5%.

The trade took place on Liffe (the London International Financial Futures and Options Exchange), a market which trades contracts in commodities such as sugar, coffee and cocoa.

As well as the sheer size of the transaction the strange thing about it was that Mr. Ward’s company has actually taken delivery of the cocoa. This is very unusual as the vast majority of cocoa transactions normally involve traders exchanging option or futures contracts without actually taking possession of the beans.

So why has he purchased so much chocolate?

He’s a very astute and wealthy businessman who reportedly lives in a £10 million house in Mayfair, London.

The speculation is that he is stockpiling huge volumes of cocoa in order to be in a strong negotiating position. Harvests in the cocoa heartlands of Ghana and Ivory Coast have recently been weak and there is an increase in demand for chocolate in the Chinese and Indian markets.

It looks like chocolate prices are on the rise so what better excuse for me to stock up on some chocolate before the price rises. Somehow though I don’t think my stockpile will be anywhere near Mr. Wards…

If you wear a business outfit to work then surely getting dressed in the morning is overtime?

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There was an interesting court case in Germany this week. Not only for people that follow employment law but also for people that have to wear certain outfits to work.

German Policeman Martin Schauder was awarded an extra 7 days of holiday a year after arguing that the time he spent changing into his uniform each day was part of his job. He therefore claimed that this time was part of his work time.

He stated that it took him 15 minutes every day to get his police outfit on and 15 minutes to take it off. These extra 30 minutes a working day amount to an extra 45 working hours every year.

The court in Germany agreed with the policeman and told his employers to either pay him the overtime or to give him holiday.

The police force have unsurprisingly said that they are going to appeal against the decision.

Now, if this case is upheld then it raises some interesting opportunities for me. As an accountant who meets clients then I am expected to be dressed smartly. My personal choice of clothes for the office however would be shorts and a t-shirt so the fact that I have to wear a tie surely means that the time it takes me to do my tie up is overtime.

This varies from a sleepy 1 hour plus on a Monday to a speedy sub 1 minute on a Friday. Adding this all up will amount to a significant sum of overtime money and this is before I take into account the time taken to tie up my shoelaces instead of slip on my preferred choice of footwear of flip flops.