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An Apple for 100 Companies..

Whilst a lot of companies around the world are struggling or going out of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some are doing very well.

Apple is currently the world’s most valuable company and it’s share price has shot up during the pandemic. Like a lot of tech companies, Apple’s valuation has increased as it’s expected to do well in the post Covid-19 world where people are more reliant on tech as they work and shop remotely.

Apple’s valuation is pretty spectacular and at the time of writing the value of Apple is $2.3 trillion (or to write it in it’s full glory $2,300,000,000,000).

To put that into perspective, the valuation of Apple is now higher than the value of the 100 largest companies in the UK – the market value of the FTSE 100 (the 100 largest companies in the UK) is $2.1 trillion compared to Apple’s $2.3 trillion.

Apple’s shares also recently rose by 3.4% due to a four-for-one stock split.

As the name suggests, a stock split is where the shares are split into more shares. The underlying value of the company doesn’t change as it is merely dividing the shares into a larger number of shares.

For example, if you held 1 share before the split which was worth $8, after the split you would hold 4 shares which (in theory) would be worth $2 each so your total holding would still be valued at $8.

Each individual share in Apple though was trading at over $500 before the split and after the split the equivalent value of the new shares was up by 3.4%.

One of the reasons share prices can increase when there is a stock split is that the shares are now within the reach of a larger proportion of individual buyers.

Some individuals who may not have been able to afford to spend $500 on a share may instead be able to spend $125 on a share.

This “opening up” to a wider range of shareholders can cause the share price to increase.

Either way, I’m sure that shareholders of Apple are pretty pleased with the performance of the company.

Cows vs. oats

Things are changing in the milk business. Or rather, I should say things are changing in the dairy milk and vegan milk business.

Over the last few years, the number of people who have switched from cow milk to vegan alternatives such as soya, oat and almond milk has soared.

In the US for example, over 40% of households purchased vegan milk last year according to a report by the Good Food Institute and Plant Based Food Association.

This switch in consumer habits hasn’t gone unnoticed and one of the biggest oat milk producers recently secured a significant investment.

Oatly is a Swedish company who arguably led the movement to Oat milk. They are doing very well and their products are now available at over 50,000 locations in 20 countries.

Last month they announced that a group of investors including leading global investment firm Blackstone Group and celebrities Oprah Winfrey, Jay-Z and Natalie Portman had purchased a 10% stake in the business for $200 million.

That valued the business at $2 billion and for a company which reportedly had about $200 million in sales last year that’s a pretty decent valuation.

The investors are no doubt anticipating further growth as the demand for non dairy milk and oat milk in particular increases.

One thing though that could make it challenging for Oatly is that there are limited barriers to entry for potential Oat milk producers so increased competition is likely to be just around the corner.

One of the attractions of Oat milk is its simplicity. Oats and water are the main ingredients so nothing too complicated there.

Oats are a very easy crop to grow so there’s little to stop companies entering the market. Recently, for example, PepsiCo’s Quaker Oats have launched their own brand of oat milk and it won’t be long before the supermarkets have their own brand oat milk.

When it comes to the consumer, will they be prepared to pay a premium for Oatly milk or will it be a very price sensitive market similar to that faced by the dairy milk industry?

My guess is that prices may be on their way down as competition heats up.

Big Mac with 4 sides

We blogged last year about the former boss of McDonald’s being fired due to a relationship with a colleague but it turns out, there may be more to the story.

Steve Easterbrook used to head up McDonald’s but was fired when he “violated company policy” by having a relationship with a colleague.

The relationship was consensual but it was against company policy which prohibits “any kind of intimate relationship between employees in a direct or indirect reporting relationship”.

McDonald’s agreed to terminate Mr Easterbrook’s contract “without cause”, which in effect meant that he was let go, but not for significant workplace misconduct (ie he didn’t do anything seriously wrong). His payoff at the time was reportedly worth $40 million.

However, things have moved on and it looks like Mr Easterbrook shared a happy meal with more than one colleague.

McDonald’s have said that they have uncovered “undisputed evidence” of three other sexual relationships with staff. Investigators also identified that he had approved a grant of company shares worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of the employees he was in a relationship with and this grant took place “shortly after their first sexual encounter”.

When the first relationship was uncovered last year, investigators reviewed Mr Easterbrook’s phone and nothing untoward was found. Further investigation since he left however identified that he had sent nude photos from his company email account and whilst they had been deleted from the phone, they had not been removed from the company’s servers.

As a result of all this additional information, McDonald’s are now suing Mr Easterbrook to recover his $40 million payoff. They are claiming that if he had not withheld this information, they would not have approved his payoff.

The most valuable car company is…

Which of the following two motor manufacturers would you say is the most valuable?

The first one produced 2.4 million cars whilst the second one produced 103,000.

This isn’t a trick question but an illustration of how market valuation is very much based on expectations of future rather than historical performance.

The car manufacturer who produced 2.4 million cars was Toyota and up until yesterday was the highest valued motor manufacturer in the world.

The company that only produced 103,000 cars was Tesla and yesterday it’s shares increased to above $1,000 for the first time. This valued the company at £207 billion which was over $6 billion more than Toyota was valued by its investors.

So, despite only producing approximately 4% of Toyota’s production, Tesla is currently the most valuable motoring manufacturer in the world.

There are views that the market sees Toyota as a lumbering giant who is being slow to get into full electric vehicles whilst Tesla is leading the way in terms of the future of driving and electric vehicles in particular.

Tesla certainly seems to have turned the corner. After years of making losses, Tesla has reported 3 straight quarters of profits and is now worth more than Ford, General Motors, Honda and Fiat Chrysler combined.

As well as being pretty innovative in terms of their car designs, Tesla have come up with an impressive idea for their car names.

Earlier this year, Tesla’s Senior Director of Artificial Intelligence Andrej Karpathy gave a presentation on the use of artificial intelligence for full self driving.

During the presentation it became clear that the names of the cars spelt out a nice marketing message.

Their current car models are the Models S, 3, X and Y which near enough spells out SEXY (they couldn’t have the Model E as Ford had already trademarked that so Tesla called it the Model 3 but stylised the 3 so that it looked like E).

They also have 4 vehicles in the pipeline.

Namely, the Cybertruck, the All-Terrain Vehicle, the Roadster and the Semi.

The first letters from the names of the 8 Tesla vehicles spell out SEXY CARS…

Flying high with creativity.

Sometimes a little bit of creative thinking can go a long way. This bit of creativity though went a very long way indeed.

Creativity can add value to all types of businesses and this particular project involved technology and one of the largest sea birds.

There are 22 species of the albatross bird. With a wingspan of up to 3.5 metres, the wandering albatross species has the largest wingspan of any living flying bird. Importantly for this project though, they are also capable of flying long distances out to sea.

Illegal fishing by trawlers can seriously impact on fish levels. Organisations tasked with protecting fish levels can find it almost impossible to prevent this illegal fishing. In simple terms, the ocean is very large and the boats are pretty small so keeping track of them and what they are fishing for is very difficult.

In an innovative project led by the French National Centre for Scientific Research, 169 Albatrosses have been equipped with sensors. If the birds are in the vicinity of a boat, these sensors are able to tell whether the boat’s Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) are switched off.

Having the AIS systems switched off on a boat is common when the boat is fishing illegally.

The beauty of this project is that the albatrosses can cover huge areas and when the sensors identify boats with their AIS switched off, the enforcement boats can head to that location to investigate further.

The initiative is currently being trialled off the coast of New Zealand and over the last 6 months the birds have located 353 boats, 37% of which were not emitting the AIS signal.

A bitter coffee taste…

Anyone that has studied hard for their exams will almost certainly at one time or another utilised the services of a strong coffee.

Whilst desperately trying to cram that last bit of knowledge into your brain before the exams there is often a temptation to grab a strong coffee late in the night to keep your mind awake.

For years students around the world have been utilising the caffeine in coffee to help get that extra mark or two.

Coffee is said to originate from East Africa where legend has it that a 9th century Ethiopian goat herder by the name of Starbucks Kaldi noticed that after his goats had ate some coffee beans they started bouncing around like teenagers at the local disco.

This started the journey of coffee and associated caffeine hits so loved by students around the world.

Over in China, one coffee chain has been in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Luckin Coffee was only set up 3 years ago but had lofty ambitions.

They described themselves as “a pioneer of a technology-driven new retail model to provide coffee and other products of high quality, high affordability, and high convenience to customers” and had vowed to overtake Starbucks as China’s biggest coffee chain.

They grew quickly.

Very quickly in fact as within 3 years they had 4,500 outlets around China.

They were also one of the small number of Chinese organisations to quote their shares on the US Nasdaq market.

Things weren’t all they were made out to be though as in April their shares were suspended on the Nasdaq market after the company revealed that they had uncovered $310 million in fake transactions.

It appears that some people in the organisation were so keen for the growth of the company to continue that they created fake sales so as to give the impression that their revenue was growing quicker than it was in reality.

The company announced the discovery and warned the market that investors could no longer rely on previous financial statements that showed rapid growth.

The ongoing financial investigation by the company has resulted in the chief executive and the chief operating officer being fired yesterday and six other employers have been suspended whilst investigations continue.

The shares are currently suspended on the Nasdaq.

KPMG partners cheated in exams.

Ethics are pretty important if you’re a partner in an accounting firm. Unfortunately for these guys though they weren’t the most ethical of people as they were involved in cheating in exams.

The cheating was uncovered by the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) in the US. They were initially investigating claims that KPMG had altered previously completed audit work after receiving stolen information about what inspections would be conducted by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board.

During that investigation however they also found that numerous KPMG audit professionals cheated on internal training exams by sharing answers.

Cheating at exams by sharing answers? Surely that would be a junior member?

Actually, no.

The key people involved were (now former) KPMG audit partners.

The investigation stated that former partners Timothy Daly, Michael Bellach, and John Donovan were involved in the cheating.

They had obtained images of questions and answers to the tests from subordinates and then shared them with members of their team.

The tests which were taking place were in connection with ensuring that KPMG audit staff understood certain accounting and auditing principles.

KPMG themselves became aware of potential cheating on the exams and began an investigation. They sent a document preservation notice to all KPMG staff (this basically means not to delete or destroy any potential evidence).

The ex-partners however ignored this preservation notice. They deleted various text messages and denied any wrongdoing to KPMG investigators.

KPMG were obviously not happy with the situation when the truth emerged and the partners soon became ex-partners of KPMG.

The three individuals were also suspended from appearing or practicing as an accountant before the SEC (although they can apply for reinstatement in the future).

KPMG had a pretty bad time of it last year in terms of the stolen PCAOB information and the exam cheating and had to pay a penalty of $50 million.

Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC’s division of enforcement, said: “Audit professionals play a critical role in the integrity of the financial reporting process and the protection of investors. These actions reflect our commitment to hold these gatekeepers responsible for breaches of their professional obligations.”

A KPMG spokesperson said “We are a stronger firm as a result of the actions we are taking to strengthen our culture, governance and compliance program.”

Time up for Swiss watches?

Switzerland has a reputation for being the home of some of the most prestigious watch manufacturers.

Omega, Tag Heuer and Breitling are just three if the many famous brands of Swiss watches that produce extremely high-quality timepieces.

But things are changing though and there’s a modern-day challenger to their dominance.

That modern-day challenger is Apple.

Last year Apple sold more watched than the entire Swiss watch industry.

A recent report by Strategy Analytics estimated that Apple sold 30.7 million smartwatches last year (an increase of 36% on the 2018 figure).

Estimates for the entire Swiss watch industry showed sales of 21.1 million units last year (a 13% fall on the 2018 figures).

This is a difficult time for the Swiss watch industry as they face a number of challenges.

The younger generation especially are keen on the tech side of watches and these are very much in fashion.

Although some Swiss watch brands such as Swatch and Tissot are launching their own smart watches, their competencies and skills are very much based around the mechanical engineering of watches compared to software engineering which is needed for smart watches.

Another major challenge is their distribution channels and where they are sold.

Swiss watches are typically sold in jewellery shops whereas smart watches such as the Apple watch are sold in phone shops and Apple stores.

Certainly a challenging time for the Swiss watch industry.

Will these Swiss watch brands survive?

Only time will tell…

How much for a speech?

The salary of Boris Johnson, the current UK prime minister is just over £150,000. I’m sure that most Prime Minsters don’t do the job for the money but there can be some pretty significant financial benefits when they move on from being the prime minister.

As the PM, Mr Johnson can’t do any other work whilst in his job but other MPs can. Theresa May was Boris Johnson’s predecessor but now is back to being a standard MP.

According to the government’s register of interests though she’s doing quite nicely on the financial side of things.

PwC for example paid Mrs May in January to do a speech. The total time involved including preparation and travel was 12 hours.

So, how much do you think PwC paid Mrs May for this?

Go on, have a guess.

She received approximately £96,000 for the speech.

Now, that’s not bad for 12 hours work.

As well as receiving £96,000 from PwC she also received money from other organisations for speeches delivered during the first quarter of 2020. These were:

Approximately £115,000 from Dubai Women Establishment for a speech in February (19 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from the Structured Finance Association for a speech in February (25 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from Brown University, Rhode Island, USA. (14 hours, including preparation and travel).

Approximately £115,000 from Trinity University, Texas, USA. (14 hours, including preparation and travel).

Over £500,000 for 5 speeches in 3 months.

Not bad work if you can get it.

According to a statement by Mrs May in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, these payments “are made to the Office of Theresa May Limited and used to pay employees, maintain my ongoing involvement in public life and support my charitable work.”

KPMG fined £700,000.

KPMG in the UK has been fined by the Financial Reporting Council for what only can be described as pretty poor auditing.

The situation behind the fine involves professional scepticism, or to be more precise, a lack of professional scepticism.

Professional standards define professional scepticism as “an attitude that includes a questioning mind, being alert to conditions that may indicate possible misstatement due to fraud or error, and a critical assessment of audit evidence.”

Or to put into simple words, to question and challenge what the client is saying and not to simply accept what they are saying at face value.

KPMG were fined £700,000 (which was reduced to £455,000 for early settlement) and reprimanded former senior partner for Manchester, Nicola Quayle for a “failure to apply sufficient professional scepticism”. Nicola was also fined £45,000 (reduced to £29,250 for early settlement).

The reason for the fine was because the FRC held that KPMG had failed to obtain and document sufficient audit evidence in relation to supplier-funded rebates.

These were “complex supplier arrangements” and KPMG should have been on alert to pay particular attention to “these types of complex supplier arrangements.”

Claudia Mortimore, deputy executive counsel to the FRC, said: “This is a measured and proportionate package of sanctions, which balances on the one hand the limited nature of the breaches, which did not call into question the truth or fairness of the financial statements, with the fact that auditors should have been on alert to pay particular attention to these types of complex supplier arrangements. Professional scepticism remains at the core of an auditor’s duty and the FRC will take appropriate action where it has been lacking, as in this case.”

This event took place back in the 2015/16 financial year and KPMG in the UK released a statement saying:

“We regret that specific aspects of our audit of this company for the 2015/2016 financial year did not meet the required standards.

As the FRC makes clear, there is no question as to the truth and fairness of the financial statements. Audit quality is of paramount importance to our firm and we have updated our audit processes and procedures to address the areas of concern.”