Can PwC partners sing?

Well, what can I say?

I admire them for being brave enough to do it but if I’m honest, by the look on some of their faces, I think a few of them aren’t sure that this will be the high point in their career.

Partners in accounting companies are renowned for being hard working and intelligent individuals.

One thing they are not renowned for is singing.

Now, whilst there are no doubt a number of partners who are good at singing, the PwC partners in Hungary have just released a video of them singing a cover of the famous John Lennon song “So this is Christmas” and it has confirmed that their finance and business skills are far superior to their singing skills (or at least I hope their finance and business skills are better than their singing…)

Congratulations though to them for getting into the festive spirit and their singing skills can be seen in the video below (if you’re viewing this in the office I’d advise headphones so as not to alarm any of your colleagues…)

It’s maturing nicely…

“Don’t worry, it’s secured with cheese” isn’t the most common phrase you hear when discussing the bond markets but a €6 million bond issue may well change that.

When a company issues a bond, the investor is lending money to that company in exchange for the bond. When the bond matures the company will repay the money that was lent (together with interest).

If you put yourself in the shoes of the investor, then what type of company would you invest in?

The chances are that you would be looking for large, well established and financially secure companies to invest in. That means that smaller companies generally find it challenging to raise funds via bonds.

An Italian cheese manufacturer has found a novel way around this problem.

4 Madonne Caseificio dell’Emilia is a relatively small Modena based cooperative firm which produces 75,000 wheels of Parmigiano cheese annually (nearly 2% of the world production of the famous cheese). It has issued a €6 million bond offering an annual yield of 5% with the capital being repaid in 5 annual amounts starting in 2018 and ending in 2022. The funds raised will be used to support their commercial expansion plans.

The interesting thing about the bond issue though is that it is secured by Parmigiano cheese worth 120% of the bond value. This means that if the company fails to repay the money the investors can get Parmigiano cheese from the company.

€7.2 million worth of cheese – that’s a lot of cheese! Let’s hope the bond matures nicely without any problems.

Does this suit you?

What do you wear to work?

If I had asked that question 10 years ago the chances are that a large proportion of answers would have been “a suit”.

Things are different now though. Tastes are changing and so are a number of office dress codes. As a result, fewer people are now wearing suits to the office.

A number of major companies revised their dress codes this year. JP Morgan for example decided to allow their employees to wear business-casual attire on most occasions. PwC also switched to a more casual dress code where employees were allowed to wear jeans as long as there were no client meetings.

Whilst this relaxing of business wear rules can have benefits for individuals who prefer to work in more casual clothing, there are some organisations who will suffer.

Fashion brands focussing on tailored men’s suits are an obvious example of a business which could suffer due to the decline in demand for men’s suits.

Brioni, the Italian menswear fashion house owned by French holding company Kering was founded in Rome in 1945 and is renowned for its high-quality suits. It has had numerous famous faces as its customers including James Bond in the Bond films from Goldeneye to Casino Royale and more recently it was reported that Donald Trump has been wearing Brioni suits during his US presidential campaign.

But things aren’t going well for Brioni.

Earlier this year Bloomberg reported 400 job losses due to a fall in demand and recently Justin O’Shea, the creative director of Brioni who was brought in to modernise the luxury Italian brand, left abruptly after just six months in the job.

Mr O’Shea is well respected in the fashion industry and has a reputation for being a very straight talking person. He told Vogue that “First of all, I would change the shitty logo. I would change the campaign. I would change the clothes. In fact, I would change pretty much everything.”

When it comes to change though, one thing seems certain and that is that the fall in demand for men’s suits is unlikely to change given the relaxing of more and more office dress codes.

Is it you or your competitor?

Sometimes it’s not what you do that counts but what your competitor does.

Apple are without doubt a great company and one of the most successful organisations that has ever existed.

They released their iPhone 7 the other week and whilst the die hard Apple fans will say that it is a big step forward for the iPhone, a number of commentators were not overly impressed with it.

But, and it’s a big but – their share price has been performing phenomenally well over recent weeks.

Just over 3 months ago at the end of June the price of an Apple Share was $92.04.

Since then the share price has increased by nearly 28%. This increase is partly due to the introduction of the new iPhone but the problems of their biggest competitor have also played a major part in their share price increase.

Samsung’s Note 7 has been a disaster for the South Korean company. Reports of the newly introduced Note 7 catching fire and the subsequent withdrawal of the phone from the market have caused big problems for Samsung.

Not so for Apple though as the 28% increase in their share price driven by the new iPhone and the problems at Samsung has resulted in the company increasing its value by $138 billion in the 109 days from 27 June to 14 October. Yes, the market value of Apple increased by $138,000,000,000 in just over 100 days.

$138 billion in 109 days is equal to

$1.27 billion per day, or

$52.75 million per hour, or

$879,205 per minute, or

$14,653 per second.

That’s not too bad an increase is it?

A good excuse to buy another handbag?

How much do the Louis Vuitton handbags cost?

A lot is the simple answer but some recent research by Deloitte’s has shown that the price of luxury items varies significantly around the world and foreign exchange movements play a big part in that valuation.

According to Deloitte, in US dollar terms London is now the “cheapest” city to buy designer and luxury goods.

Since the Brexit vote in June, at the time of writing the pound has fallen by more than 17% against the dollar (i.e. you need 17% more pounds now to buy the same amount of dollars you would have received back in June).

According to the research, on 7 October a Speedy 30 handbag from Louis Vuitton costs £645 ($802) in London, €760 ($850) in Paris and $970 in New York. China was the most expensive place to buy it with the handbag costing 7,450 Yuan ($1,115).

Nick Pope, fashion and luxury lead at Deloitte, told the BBC that “the trend in luxury pricing in the UK is being driven mainly by the depression on the sterling – thus making the same item more affordable in the UK than in any other luxury market”.

Of course, if your income is in British pounds then the cost to buy the handbag in London remains the same. If however your income is in another currency such as US dollars then it is $313 cheaper to buy in London than in China for example. If you are stocking up on your luxury handbags should you be planning a trip to the UK?

It’s not just the ladies from outside the UK who are buying luxury handbags who could be benefiting from the exchange rate movement.

Any male readers may be interested to know that a Brunello Cucinelli cashmere V-neck sweater now “only” costs £650 ($843) in the UK compared with $942 in France and $995 in the US.

$843 for a sweater?

Please form an orderly queue as you rush to the shops to buy one. Or maybe two…

Sam Allardyce and José Mourinho

As England’s football manager there are certain things that you should do and certain things that you shouldn’t do.

Winning a major tournament is a thing that you should do for example whilst looking to receive large amounts of money to advise people how to get around football transfer rules is something you shouldn’t do.

Alas for Sam Allardyce he did the latter and not the former and is now no longer the England football manager.

There are plenty of ways that football managers can make money in a legitimate and ethical way and maybe Mr Allardyce should have followed the example of the current Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho.

In addition to the £12 million wages Mr Mourinho receives from Manchester United he also does pretty well from various other activities.

Hublot watches, Adidas, Jaguar, BT Sport, Lipton Tea and EA Sports all pay a significant amount of money to Mr Mourinho to endorse their products. They see him as an internationally recognised figure with global appeal.

The latest big name to sign him up is Heineken. They reportedly will pay him £4 million for a 2-year deal to be Heineken’s global football ambassador.

That’s a pretty nice sum of money to receive and it got the accountant in me thinking about the financials from Heineken’s point of view. How many additional litres of beer would Heineken need to sell to cover the cost of appointing José Mourinho?

Heineken’s latest set of published accounts show revenue of €20.5 billion with an operating profit of €3.4 billion. In 2015 they sold 18.8 billion litres of beer. Ignoring various accounting items such as contribution and fixed costs it follows that each litre of beer generates approximately €1.09 of revenue and €0.18 of operating profit.

To cover the £4 million (approximately €4.6 million) cost of José the company would need to sell an additional 26 million litres of Heineken!

This clearly shows the challenges involved when an organisation is deciding whether or not to undertake any form of sponsorship or increasing brand awareness as it is virtually impossible to accurately place a financial value to the benefits achieved. The marketing guys would argue that the value is more than purely an increase in immediate sales revenue.

The fact is that it is extremely difficult to directly link an appointment of a brand ambassador to an increase in sales. There are numerous other items which can impact on the sales of a product. For example, a sudden heatwave would increase the amount of cold beer that is drunk and not even Jose Mourinho could claim to be able to impact the weather.

Back to Mr Allardyce though and whilst I doubt that many companies will be approaching him to sign him up as a brand ambassador, at least he can claim to be the only England manager who won all of the games where he was in charge (even if it was only for one game…)

Standing up for productivity.

How would you feel if your chair was taken away from you at work? Probably not too happy I would guess.

A recent bit of research though may make your boss think otherwise.

Scientists from the Texas A&M Health Science Centre School of Public Health installed “standing desks” in a call centre employing over 150 people. The standing desks could be adjusted so that the employee could work at them either sitting down or standing up.

Half of the employees were given sit–stand desks to use whilst the other half were given traditional sitting desks. The performance of the employees was recorded over a period of 6 months and the results were surprising.

Despite the employees who had the sit–stand desks only using the desks in the standing position for a third of the time, their productivity increased by 50%. Productivity was measured by the number of successful calls that the employee made to the clients with “successful” being defined as being when the company earned revenue from that call.

Each employee typically made in the region of 400 to 500 calls every month and the company wanted them to achieve on average 2 successful calls per hour. Those with the sit–stand desks achieved the target whilst those with the traditional seated desks averaged 1.5 successful calls per hour.

Dr Gregory Garrett from the centre was quoted as saying that “having the ability to move throughout the day really makes a big difference”.

So, is it time to introduce standing chairs in your office?

It’s a dog’s life…

Greece has had a bad time of it over the last couple of years in terms of their finances but a recent announcement by their Finance Ministry may result in animals coming to the rescue.

When I say animals, I should be more specific and say that dogs will be helping out and not just any dogs but dogs who can sniff out money.

Let me explain a bit.

It’s been well documented that Greece has had a few financial problems. There were fears that they would crash out of the euro. Capital controls followed and there was a new international bailout for the country.

As a result, a lot of the Greek population perhaps understandably didn’t feel that confident in trusting the banks to look after their cash and a significant amount of money is being held outside of banks.

From November 2014 to July 2015 over 50 billion euros was withdrawn from the banks and It’s been estimated that between 15 to 20 billion euros is still being held by Greeks outside of the banking system.

That’s a lot of mattresses to be storing cash under and people are looking at avoiding capital controls and instead take the money out of the country without the authorities knowing.

Taking a suitcase of cash out of the country is seen as a safe option for a lot of people.

So, where do the dogs come in?

Well, a recent posting on a government website said that a team would be put together to assess tenders for the provision of dogs whose job is to detect cash. The dogs would be in place to sniff out significant amounts of cash being taken out of the country at border points.

Given all the money problems in Greece, one big advantage of this plan is that the dogs won’t be paid in cash. Instead, they will be more than happy to be rewarded with a biscuit or two…

French Connection not quite connecting…

Ted Baker, SuperGroup and French Connection are all well-known fashion brands. It appears though that some shareholders in French Connection aren’t too happy at the moment and feel the company has fallen behind the other leading fashion brands.

French connection was established in the early 1970s, owns the famous FCUK logo and is listed on the London Stock Exchange.

Gatemore Capital Management, an American fund holds an 8% stake in French Connection and last week they wrote to the board of French Connection and criticised the company’s “disappointing” performance over recent years. Their comments raise some interesting examples for anyone studying a professional qualification with a corporate governance element to it (e.g. ACCA P1 or CIMA E1).

In their letter to the board, the fund urged the founder of French Connection, Stephen Marks to split his roles as chairman and chief executive. Best practice in UK corporate governance encourages the chairman and chief executive roles to be held by different people so as to avoid too much power being in the hands of one person. Mr Marks though holds both roles.

The fund also wanted the replacement of 2 of the non-executive directors. They highlighted that Dean Murray and Claire Kent would both “soon be losing their status as independent” as they had been on the board for 8 years. A key feature of non-executive directors, or NEDs as they are often referred to, is that they should be independent so that they can for example challenge the strategy put forward by the executive directors. NEDs shouldn’t be on the board of the same company for more than 9 years.

The financial performance of French Connection since the 2008 financial crisis hasn’t been particularly impressive. The share price has fallen from 100p to 40p since then and Gatemore felt that the company could catch up on its rivals by reducing the size of their product ranges and speeding up the closure of loss-making stores.

One interesting observation they had was that they wanted the company to drop the FCUK logo as it was no longer felt to be “aspirational”. Are we about to see the end of the famous logo?

A football star who can’t kick…

When you were young did you dream of being an accountant when you grew up? My guess is that most of you probably didn’t fall asleep at night dreaming of spreadsheets and calculators. Perhaps a more common childhood dream was playing for your favourite football team or being a famous actor or actress.

There have been some interesting developments recently though when it comes to playing for your favourite football team and some of the top teams are now signing players who will never be kicking a ball for their team. Instead, they will be representing their teams in the world of gaming, or to be more specific, football gaming such as EA Sports Fifa

Manchester City have recently signed Keiran Brown, an 18 year old gamer who has more than 12,000 followers on his YouTube channel.

Keiran will represent Machester City at Fifa esports tournaments where gamers sit in front of computers representing their team and watched by crowds of thousands of spectators.

Manchester City didn’t disclose how much Keiran will be paid but other professional gamers are reported to be paid in the region of £3,000 per month and can also win prize money at tournaments which can run into the thousands of pounds.

It’s quite a smart move for the club though as football games on consoles such as Xbox and PlayStation are extremely popular with supporters of the actual game.

Diegao Gigliani, vice-president of media and innovation at Manchester City was quoted as saying “As esport continues to gain momentum, it makes sense for our clubs to be part of the action and get closer to our fans, who love playing EA Sports Fifa as Manchester City. We will be a bigger presence at gaming tournaments, we will have more content through our digital channels and we will activate even more with our fans at matches and club events.”

So, in summary, if you want to play for your favourite football team but can’t kick a ball then maybe get out your Xbox and start practicing…