MT spent the Christmas period glued to the business news cycle, but if your sense of work/life balance is a little more fine-tuned then here are five stories you may have missed.
1. Oil rout comes back to bite the Saudis
The plunging price of crude over the past past year and a bit has been portrayed as an attempt by OPEC to thwart the efforts of shale producers, whose oil costs a lot more to extract. But the short-term impact on the Saudi Arabian public purse has been pretty horrendous.
Last Monday the kingdom revealed a budget deficit of 367bn riyals (£66.2bn), 15% of its GDP, after oil revenues slumped 23%. The slump has forced it to introduce a ‘radical’ deficit reduction plan, including increased prices for electricity, water and petrol and plans to privatise some government assets. It also wants to introduce a sales tax in cooperation with other Gulf states.
2. Sports Direct repents
John Lewis and Sports Direct might not be two companies that are often mentioned in the same breath. But the latter’s majority owner, Mike Ashley, has said he wants his company to have a reputation for looking after its staff that is rivalled only by the employee-owned department store chain.
‘I want to see Sports Direct become the best high street retail employer, after John Lewis,’ he told the Mirror. ‘I realise this is ambitious and it won’t be easy but I believe that as a FTSE 100 or even 250 company we have a responsibility to set a high moral standard.’
Not the sort of rhetoric we’ve come to expect from the sportswear chain, which was left reeling in December by a Guardian investigation into its employment practices. We’ll have to see whether Ashley puts his money where his mouth is.
3. Business leaders honoured
The New Years honours list might have been overshadowed by the knighthood bestowed on Tory election strategist Lynton Crosby, but plenty of the nation’s business leaders took home well-deserved gongs too. EasyJet boss Carolyn McCall, Britain’s Most Admired Leader 2015, was made a Dame, as was Net-a-Porter founder Natalie Massenet.
Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold, Funding Circle founder Samir Desai and Nationwide CEO Graham Beale were made CBEs, and Zopa’s Giles Andrews landed an OBE.
4. FCA drops banking culture enquiry
In the wake of the financial crisis, the powers-that-be tightened some of the rules governing financial services companies in the hope of preventing another crash. But some regard the problem with finance to be a deep-running cultural one, rather than something that can be tackled by tinkering around the edges.
The Financial Conduct Authority had planned to publish a report this year looking at whether banks were successfully encouraging their staff to be well behaved. The plan has since been quietly shelved.
‘A focus on the culture in financial services firms remains a priority for the FCA ,’ the regulator told the FT. ‘We have decided that the best way to support these efforts is to engage individually with firms to encourage their delivery of cultural change as well as supporting the other initiatives outside the FCA.' That’s unlikely to satisfy the banker bashers.
5. A very Merry Christmas for Amazon
We’re likely to see a slew of bad news from the British high street over the next couple of weeks as retailers count the cost of heavy discounting in the run-up to Christmas. One company that isn’t down in the dumps, however, is Amazon.
Shares in 'the everything store' reached an all-time high of 695.82 cents last Tuesday after it announced a ‘record-setting holiday’ for its Prime service. More than three million people joined the premium scheme in the third week of December – presumably in the rush to get their last minute Christmas shopping delivered on time. No word on any festive profits, though.