ACCA exam tips released today but don’t do what this person did…

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There’s a saying that studying for professional exams is a marathon and not a sprint.

In other words, it’s a long hard journey to reach the exam finish line and not just a quick sprint to exam glory. Anyone that has qualified as an accountant will fully appreciate that it’s hard work and certainly feels more like a marathon than a sprint!

So qualifying as an accountant can be compared to a marathon race although one thing for sure is that you shouldn’t adopt the approach that Mr Rob Sloan took when he recently ran the Kielder Marathon in the UK.

Mr Sloan was 20 miles through the 26 mile race when he decided to give up because he was feeling tired. He then got on a bus and headed home.

As luck would have it though his bus home went near the finish line and he jumped off just before the finish line. He then hid behind some trees and came back to the course when he thought no one was looking and then sprinted to 3rd place.

Mr Sloan was awarded the medal for 3rd place but luckily for the honest runners in the race, his cheating was eventually found out and he was disqualified from the race and is now facing a ban from his running club.

It’s only the examiners that know for sure what’s in the December 2011 ACCA exams but we’ve put together a list of subject areas that we’d personally make sure we knew pretty well in the run up to the exams.

We launched our Facebook page yesterday and the December 2011 ACCA exam tips can be found at www.facebook.com/theexpgroup

We’ve also added to our free ACCA and CIMA courses by launching free online training courses on Facebook towards ACCA’s Foundations in Accountancy (FIA) qualifications and these courses can also be found at www.facebook.com/theexpgroup

Good luck to those of you that are studying for the exams and I hope the final sprint goes well and you’re not forced to “get on the bus” half way through…

Are the young ones always smaller?

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I’m willing to bet that nearly all of you have used a Microsoft product. Probably an equally high proportion have used Google and a reasonably significant number of you will own an Apple product.

What about LinkedIn? Most of you have no doubt heard of it and a number of you will be registered with the website.

But did you know that Microsoft currently has one of 9.40, Apple has one of 13.61, Google has one of 20.30 and LinkedIn has one of well, … well, you’ll just have to wait a moment to hear the figure as it’s rather impressive.

So, what figures am I talking about?

The figures mentioned above refer to the PE ratio or the Price Earnings ratio.

In an attempt to astound you with my knowledge, the Price Earnings ratio measures… (wait for it)… the ratio of Price to Earnings (a round of applause please for that brilliant explanation).

In other words, the share price of Microsoft for example is such that the market is currently prepared to pay 9.40 times the earnings to own it.

The PE ratio is also sometimes known as the “price multiple”, “earnings multiple” or simply “multiple” and whilst share prices can be affected by a number of different things, a high PE ratio generally implies that the market is expecting earnings to rise in the future.

If we round up the PE ratios of the companies above we get:

Microsoft: 9

Apple: 14

Google: 20

That other tech giant on the market, LinkedIn currently has a PE ratio of 1,498 (yes, 1,498).

Wow – that’s not bad is it?

So hang on. A PE ratio this high implies that the market has factored in an expectation of significant growth in earnings for LinkedIn.

This really is an expectation of pretty significant growth as at the moment for every $1 of current earnings an investor gets he or she has to pay $1,498.

So, for the sake of the LinkedIn shareholders let’s hope that in the future more people become linked in.

I don’t think your customers are as loyal as this one…

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A lot of companies seem to mistakenly focus most of their effort on getting new clients rather than looking after their existing ones.

Some companies are so concerned with getting new clients that they forget about their existing clients and they end up winning one new client but losing two existing ones.

The benefits of having loyal customers who undertake repeat purchases can be substantial.

I’m not sure though that many companies will have as loyal a customer as Mr Thomas Stuker.

Mr Stuker is a sales consultant and has made nearly 6,000 flights with United Airlines.

To put that into perspective he’s accumulated 10 million air miles with them and has flown the equivalent of 400 times around the world.

To say he is a frequent flyer is stating the obvious and from the airline’s point of view, assuming an average cost of $300 per flight that’s a nice $1.8 million dollars revenue as a result of his flights.

Now United Airlines understandably appreciate his custom and when he reached the 10 million mile landmark the airline announced that they were going to name one of their planes after him and award him free upgrades for life.

Anyone who flies a lot will appreciate that you can accumulate “airmiles” with airlines as part of their loyalty programmes.

United Airlines are part of the Star Alliance mileage programme so Mr Stuker will no doubt be excitedly looking forward to some free flights for him and his family as a result of the 10 million miles he’s accumulated.

Then again, after flying the equivalent of 400 times around the world with his job he may well prefer to take his next holiday at home…

Was this as easy as 1,2,… (now what was the next one)?

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There’s a well known technique in public speaking of batching topics in groups of three.

The general idea is that it helps with the flow of the presentation and it’s easier for the audience to remember.

Unfortunately for US presidential hopeful Rick Perry, three topics were one too many when he spoke last night at the live presidential nomination debate for the US Republican candidate.

The speakers at the debate were all candidates to lead the Republican Party in next year’s US Presidential election against President Obama.

Mr Perry was in the process of listing the three US government departments he would abolish if he was elected president when he forgot what the third one would be.

His exact words were:

“I will tell you: It’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone: Commerce, Education and the….. what’s the third one there? Let’s see….. OK. So Commerce, Education and the…..the third agency of government I would…..I would do away with the Education, the….. Commerce and…..let’s see….. I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”

Now, we all make mistakes at one stage or another when speaking in public so is this really something for Mr Perry to worry about?

After all, the debates are only seen as one of the key deciders in whether somebody will win the nomination or not and they were only seen live on primetime TV across America. The press and TV in American are also only talking about it all the time.

Now, any of you studying professional exams will appreciate that two out of three is 66.67% and I’m sure that if you got 67% in your exams you’d see that as a success.

A potential future president of America only being able to remember 2 out of 3 of his proposed policies though probably isn’t so good.

The video of Mr Perry’s performance can be found here and get ready to cringe with embarrassment.

Which companies do you think are most likely to bribe?

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Here’s a quick question for you:

Companies from which of the following countries are most likely to bribe when doing business abroad?

Is it China, Netherlands, Russia or Switzerland?

My feeling is that a lot of you will probably be able to guess the correct answer but in case you’re struggling to identify which ones are most likely to make illegal payments then according to a survey of 3,000 business executives undertaken by Transparency International, companies from Russia and China are the most likely to pay bribes when doing business abroad.

Transparency International Chair, Huguette Labelle said “It is clear that bribery remains a routine business practice for too many companies and runs throughout their business dealings, not just those with public officials. And companies that fail to prevent bribery in their supply chains run the risk of being prosecuted for the actions of employees and business partners.”

At the other end of the honesty scale are companies from the Netherlands and Switzerland. Companies from these two countries were found to be the most ethical when it came to bribes, or rather not making bribes.

It’s not just the countries that the companies are from that can have an impact on the likelihood of bribing but also the industry sector that they are working in.

Bribery was most likely to happen when public sector works and construction contracts were involved.

Agriculture was reported as being the least likely industry to find bribes.

So in summary, the purchases of unmarked brown envelopes which would fit a wad of cash in are likely to be significantly higher by a Russian construction company than a Dutch agricultural company.

Was this the deal of the day?

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Last Friday Groupon raised $700 million in its initial public offering (IPO).

Some of you may have heard of Groupon. It’s done remarkably well in the 3 years since it started in 2008 and now has over 100 million users.

It’s a daily deal site whereby people sign up to get daily “special offers”. The business model of Groupon is such that when people buy a “special offer voucher” to use on a deal, Groupon shares the revenue with the service provider that is providing the special offer.

Interestingly enough their arrangement is such that if somebody buys a special offer voucher but then subsequently doesn’t use the voucher then Groupon keep all the revenue.

In simple terms an IPO is where the owners of a private unquoted company offer a proportion of their shares to the general public.

Let’s look at some of the figures.

A relatively small proportion of the company was offered in the IPO (just over 5%) but $700 million was raised. This values the company at nearly $13 billion. Not bad for a business that started just over 1,000 days ago.

In the past, other tech companies that have undertaken an IPO include Google who raised an impressive $1.7 billion back in 2004. Since then Google has gone on to become a $200 billion company but will Groupon grow to such heady heights?

To me it seems that whilst the Groupon business model has so far been successful it’s a fairly limited business model.

After all, it’s simply offering discount vouchers and the business model would surely be easy to copy and if one of the tech big boys such as Google or Facebook decided to really push a similar voucher scheme Groupon could have real problems.

One of the challenges the Groupon business model has is that the suppliers that sign up to offer discounts on Groupon are doing so in the hope that their classic their discount voucher will be a classic “loss leader” and will result in repeat purchases by the bargain hunter customers.

Figures are not available as to how many of these bargain hunters do more than simply purchase the discount voucher and then never undertake a second purchase from the supplier but my guess is that it could be a fairly significant number.

So, in summary, a business model that is relatively easy to copy and has limited barriers to entry combined with a customer base who are always looking for the next bargain (which may well be with another discount voucher company). This seems to me to be a risky investment.

Luckily for Groupon a lot of investors took a different view to me and at the close of the first day of trading the share price had risen to $26 from a launch price of $20.

Only time will tell though whether the IPO was indeed a great daily deal…

Surely this is the best “out of office notification” ever?

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I recently visited Cardiff for a few days of work. Cardiff is the capital of Wales and one thing you notice as soon as you enter Wales is that the road signs are written in both English and Welsh.

This reminded me of a production error which was reported a while ago which to me must rank as one of the funniest results of an out of office notification.

If used properly the out of office notification is a great tool as it lets the sender of the message know if you’re away for a while and who to contact in your absence.

The error here though involved Swansea Council in Wales who required a road sign saying:

“No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only”

They emailed their in-house translation service with a request for a translation of this phrase into Welsh and a reply came back with:

“Nid wyf yn y swyddfa ar hyn o bryd. Anfonwch unrhyw waith i’w gyfieithu”

They then produced the sign with both the English and Welsh text on it and put it in the required place by the side of the road.

It was a while later that some Welsh speakers noticed the road sign and it turned out that instead of telling drivers of heavy goods vehicles that they couldn’t drive down that particular road the Welsh text on the road sign actually said:

“I am not in the office at the moment. Send any work to be translated”

Is this a children’s fairy tale or an adult horror story?

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Forget about the Eurozone crisis that is currently dominating the news and instead, here’s a nice bedtime story to tell your children…

So children, are you feeling tired and ready for your story?

Once upon a time, in a land far far away there was a man called Gordon Reece (or Mr G.Reece).

Now Mr G.Reece was enjoying himself in the sunshine when suddenly everyone in the world started feeling happy and some wealthy friends and banks offered to lend him as much money as he wanted.

Mr G.Reece shielded his eyes from the sun and shook his head in disbelief. He couldn’t believe it but he gladly accepted the loans and with all that money he decided to treat himself.

He bought some houses, cars and a new Sony Playstation.

He even employed a couple of people to help him keep his house and garden tidy.

Things were going well but suddenly people around the world started becoming unhappy and didn’t buy as many things as they used to.

Mr G.Reece suddenly realised he had spent all of the money he had borrowed and didn’t have any money left to pay the interest on the loans.

He had an idea though. He could surely just go to another bank and get a new loan so that he could pay the interest.

Alas for Mr. G.Reece the banks didn’t want to lend him any more money as they knew he couldn’t afford to pay them back.

He then had another idea. To reduce his outgoings he would get rid of one of his employees and pay the other one a lower salary.

His employees were so upset that they messed up his house and garden and told him that they would carry on messing up his house and garden until he reinstated the job and the previous salary.

He then suddenly remembered his wealthy friends that had lent him money (a Mr F.Rance and Mrs G.Ermany). He gave them a call, explained the situation and they kindly agreed to write off some of the debt he owed them and also gave him a bit of cash to help him through the next few weeks.

His interest payments were now lower which was good but he was still struggling to pay the interest and the wages of his employees.

He decided that maybe this time he should actually go and visit his wealthy friends Mr F.Rance and Mrs G.Ermany and persuade them to write off even more of the debt and maybe give him some more money.

He jumped on a plane and headed to see them. He was feeling fairly positive when he arrived to meet his wealthy friends but then his face suddenly dropped.

There, heading to see the wealthy friends were none other than Mr P.Ortugal, Mrs S.Pain and Mr I.Taly. Three of his poorer friends who were also hoping to be given some money.

The problem though is that the wealthy friends don’t have enough money to give to all of the poor friends.

So children, what can they do?

Well, it’s time to go to sleep now kids and the story will be continued another night so sleep well, sweet dreams and don’t have any nightmares…

We’ve got some good news for you. We’ve just found 55 billion euros…

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Sometimes things go missing. You search high and low and if you are lucky enough to find them again then you can be pretty happy.

Germany though has just found something that it didn’t even know was missing.

It’s not as though it’s simply some keys that have dropped down the back of the sofa. No, Germany has just found €55 billion.

This is a pretty significant amount and the “find” came about due to spotting an accounting error.

In October last year, FMS Wertmanagement was created when toxic loans and securities with a face value of nearly €175 billion were transferred to it from HRE bank which was nationalised in 2009.

In other words, a so called “bad bank” was created out of the insolvent parts of HRE bank whereby the bad parts (the toxic debts) of the HRE bank were moved to a separate bank (FMS Wertmanagement).

Moving the toxic debt to the “bad bank” meant that what stayed in the nationalised HRE bank was non toxic and the nationalised HRE bank became solvent. This would in thoery help ensure that HRE bank would make a full recovery.

The German Finance Ministry today announced that there had been a double booking of debt and that staff had inadvertently subtracted funds when they should have added them.

The end result is that the reversal of this accounting error means that German debt, as a percentage of GDP reduces from 83.7% to 81.1% – i.e. debt has fallen by 2.6 percentage points.

So, in summary some good news for the German economy.

I should also mention that if the person that made the initial accounting error is by any chance reading this then we do run a wide variety of training programmes including our introduction to finance range of courses…

It’s just not tennis to leave your phone on at work is it?

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We’ve all been there. Sat in a meeting when suddenly somebody’s mobile phone starts ringing and there’s a mad rush by that person to grab the ringing phone and turn it off.

It’s often the case that the person with the “cheesiest” ring tone is the one that forgets to put their phone on silent.

When the phone rings there’s usually a mumbled apology along with a slightly embarrassed look but then the meeting carries on.

Whilst half the people at the meeting may well be thinking something along the lines of “what an idiot”, the meeting will normally continue with the ring tone soon becoming a distant memory.

There are certain jobs though where it really isn’t advisable to take your phone with you to work. For example, I’m not sure that a surgeon or classical musician should really have their phone with them when they’re working.

The video below shoes an interesting situation when top tennis player Caroline Wozniacki is about to serve against her opponent, the French tennis player Alize Kornet.

As a professional tennis player you need to remain focussed and concentrated at all times. Miss Wozniacki’s concentration though is broken by the ring tone of a phone belonging to none other than her opponent…