23 May 2017 | Issue 17
Market corner

by Ghillie Little
Head of Corporate Consulting
Merger made in chemical heaven
Texas-based Huntsman and Switzerland's Clariant made things official and agreed to join forces. The two chemical industry heavyweights will create a combined company estimated to be worth around $20 billion. This is by no means the first chemical merger to occur in recent years. The industry has faced challenges in growth prospects and several big players like Dow and Dupont, Bayer and Monsanto have chosen the route of changing corporate structure to create more value for investors through the benefits of greater scale.

Ford'ing a new a path
Out with the old, in with the new, automated-approved replacement. Yesterday, the car company abruptly replaced its CEO Mark Fields with James Hackett who's been heading up the company's self-driving car division. Fields became CEO of Ford three years ago and investors thought he wasn't doing enough to keep Ford in the big leagues alongside the Teslas of the world. The 40% share price drop since Fields took over may have also been a factor.  Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr., whose family still owns 40% of the voting stock (and less than 2% of the company) said he wanted Hackett to speed up decision-making and cut costs, but did not offer specifics. Investors have yet to be impressed.
Noble nose-dive
Hong Kong-based commodity trader Noble Group has seen its shares fall a hefty 77.1% since the beginning of the year and this morning requested a trading halt when its share price took at 28% nose-dive. The plunge was triggered by the S&P Global Ratings change, reducing the long-term corporate credit rating 3 notches to CCC+, flagging Noble at risk of default over the next 12 months. No word yet from Noble on the three large debt maturities it will face over the next year.

Bitcoin and the giant Peach
The world's primary cryptocurrency is up more than 50% in the past month. Due, in part, to more people buying bitcoin in Japan after a Japanese government decision allowed bitcoin to come a means of legal payment within the country. Bitcoin still has a scalability issue but that hasn't stopped Peach Airlines from becoming the first Japanese carrier to accept bitcoin as payment.

Heroes of the week

The community of Manchester
Our heroes are all those who when tragedy struck helped others. From the emergency responders to the Good Samaritans providing shelter, to those lined up outside blood banks in Manchester today, to many others - the spirit of Britain prevails.
'Fearless Girl' backlash
Back in March, we noted the bold move made by State Street Global Advisors with the unveiling of the "Fearless Girl" statue in coordination with the company's campaign to pressure other financial firms to increase the number of women on their boards, and the roll out of their Gender Diversity ETF, SHE.

As we know, what began as a very positive message was over shadowed by the irony of the company's own diversity failings and what some felt was a shameless plug to raise funds under false pretences. 

Silver-lining, people are still talking about the statue and State Street Advisors have confirmed that some internal soul searching has taken place. The message of the "Fearless Girl" in and of itself was great, but if a company plans to make a bold and threatening call to action, it would be advised to first be sure that it practices what it plans to preach.

Notable Headline

Israeli court says emojis can signal your intent

...emoji with caution.
View from Europe

by Catalina Chiavari Pazos

Europe united, no matter what.

Who's having a good week?

Diamond ring bought for £10 at car boot sale may fetch £350,000

...the car boot sale we wish we had gone to.

Corridors of power

by Louis Rynsard
Director, Reputation & Strategy
You turn if you want to
Four days after the launch of the Conservative manifesto Theresa May has announced a ‘clarification’ to her social care plans. Pity the poor Conservative spokespeople who spent all weekend defending the so-called dementia tax. 

A self-inflicted wound this close to an election is never a good thing, but with the Tory lead still sizeable May should be returning to Downing Street with a larger majority. This is a wobble, not a crisis for the Conservatives. However, after the Budget U-turn earlier in the year, it is starting to look like this Government backs down when it meets resistance. Not so bloody difficult after all, this lady is for turning.
Trumped up diplomacy
If Afghanistan is where empires go to die, the Middle East is where they go to strut their stuff. President Trump’s tour of the region continues, with meetings in Israel and with the leadership of the Palestine Authority. In classic Trump form the trip thus far has been all about big deals, big photos, big hopes and big opportunities, but short on detail. Bigly.
Ousted is the new black
First Matteo Renzi defeated his internal rivals to seize back the party, now it is the turn of Pedro Sanchez in Spain.
With the on-going crisis in social democratic parties across Europe, it seems many are looking back to the good old days and trying to bring them back (I know one former Labour PM who may wish his own party was so nostalgic). While divided by much of policy, the trend here is for yesterday’s men to try and ride to the rescue. Will it work is anyone’s guess. However, I suspect until the new generations can convince the golden oldies that they ‘got this’, the European left will continue to struggle.

Fun fact

Water breaches 'Doomsday' vault entrance, seeds unharmed

...there's a 'Doomsday' vault? 

Silicon passage

by Louis Rynsard
Director, Reputation & Strategy
Zucks discovers humanity exists
So he travelled the country, met hundreds if not thousands of people, and Mark Zuckerberg has discovered something ground breaking, truly brand new information. Turns out, people talk to each other and human interaction matters. This is news that will shake Silicon Valley to its core! Humans exist and are driven more by friends and family than information. Well I never. 

While it does sound like a tech CEO just discovering that his ‘unknown unknown’ is people, armed with this knowledge, Zucks is looking to shake up Facebook and by extension the world. First technology disrupted business, then society; will it now disrupt friendships in a major way? Zucks thinks he can pull that off.

GO machines
After boasting that he could never be beaten by a machine, the world's best GO player lost to Google's AI. Long considered impossible for computers to master, this is the latest in a long line of things that we were certain AI would never beat a human at. 

Simple truth is, whatever we think a machine could do one day, it will do. Should we panic? Well not really, tech is a tool, just got to use it right.

Wanna Kim?
While it is too early to say for sure, it is looking increasingly likely that WannaCry came from the hermit kingdom North Korea.

This would explain how amateur the hack was, and also the targets. The important takeaway from all this, is that rogue nations like North Korea can and will strike at our institutions through cyber space until we sort our sh*t out! Yes, that means all of us. I'm looking at you.

Poem of the week

Resilience by Joshua Eyakware

...Year 6

Picked by Lief Anya Schneider

C-suite steer

by Lief Anya Schneider
Nation in shock. How should business respond?
Question: What role does business have to play when the nation is reeling from an unimaginable horror such as happened last night? Answer: A large one.

Business is stability. And reassurance. And defiance. The expression “business as usual” was popularised by Winston Churchill – a master at keeping the nation calm, focused and determined. It was used by many shops and other businesses during the Blitz.  It worked.

But flexibility is required too. If a business has a large announcement to make, for example, even if it’s taken months in the making, it may not be the time to push on exactly according to plan. Of course, it’s dependent on the circumstances. 

Today, even politicians stopped campaigning for a while. To carry on as if nothing happened is sometimes in poor taste. Sometimes, just for a second, the nation is distracted. Sometimes, there is an opportunity to help (as many Manchester businesses did today). 

A pause to assess the situation is key.

The SPIT is produced weekly by SBC London.
SBC London is a corporate reputation and communications advisory firm based in the City of London. 
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