10 December 2012

That was week ending 7th December 2012

The theme for this week’s TWb4TW is “and now for something completely different” or not as the case may be.

This is the Autumn of our discontent - or should that be Winter?

Last week the Chancellor delivered his Autumn Statement. Now I may be a bit pedantic and old fashioned but for me December is winter. In fact over the last few weeks I kept thinking I must have missed the Autumn Statement, we seemed to wait a long time for it to appear. Given that it required the Chancellor to admit he is going to miss almost every target that he has been telling us are essential to achieve, he may have needed more time to think of plausible excuses.
Much has already been written and spoken about the statement so I am not going to add to that. However one thought did strike me.  Suppose you are on the board of a holding company reviewing the performance of the MD of one of your subsidiaries, which has been making losses for some time. He tells you that sales are static, that whilst he has cut some costs overall they are still increasing and that several new projects he announced either haven’t started or are taking longer to deliver results. However he assures you that everything is on track, but it may take 2 or 3 years longer before profitability is restored. When you quiz him about what he is doing different that might get a different result he mutters vaguely about taking some of the spend from one part of his operation to spend in another.
How long would you put up with an MD who keeps on doing the same things and assuring you that this will deliver a different result? Not long I suspect. Did the Autumn Statement contain anything really different that looked like it might deliver a different result? Well I couldn’t spot it.

What could be different?

Most commentators had some sympathy for the Chancellor saying that he had a difficult hand to play. However I am grateful to Fraser Nelson of the Daily Telegraph who highlighted some countries that have tried something completely different and are getting different results.
Estonia is a tiny country surrounded by large and powerful neighbours, with every reason to blame global forces for its own economic problems. However throughout the downturn it has kept its tax rates low at 21pc. It cut state spending by a tenth in one year compared to our average of 2.5pc a year. The result is Estonia now has the fastest growth in Europe.
Socialist Sweden made a permanent tax cut for the lower paid that encouraged so many people back to work that the extra revenue covered the cost of the policy. The tax cut amounted to a whole extra month’s salary a year. The increase in tax allowances here will benefit about 20 million people, but the tax cut amounts to 90p a week. Not enough to spend in pound shop, much less kick start the economy!
The Swedes also reduced corporation tax from 26pc to 22pc, but they did it in 3 months, whilst our reductions are being phased over several years. So is it time to try something completely different like significant tax cuts, delivered hard and fast that will stimulate significant economic activity that in turn will deliver higher tax revenues and lower government spending? Just a thought.

No change from Tesco

It is now a year since Tesco’s Chief Executive Philip Clarke launched a £1bn turnaround plan. However like for like sales fell again in the third quarter and now around 29pc of UK consumers choose to do the majority of their food shopping at Tesco, down from 35pc in 2011.
Some analysts have said it may be too early for consumers to have noticed the improvements Tesco has been making in staff and products. I believe that the problem is more that they have not noticed anything really different and that’s because it isn’t. Some of you may recall the experience recently of my business partner who when he was unable to access an offer on Tesco’s website reported it to customer services. They insisted first that there wasn’t a problem with their site it must be with my partner’s system. They went further suggesting ways he could spend his time fixing what was their problem and of course “nobody else has complained”. Eventually last week he was contacted by a technical person (significantly not from customer service) who admitted there was a problem with the Tesco website and there had been hundreds of messages about it.
So does £1bn to revitalise stores and products and hire 8,000 extra staff make a difference? Not so far apparently and maybe it’s because it won’t make the slightest difference to Tesco’s attitude to its customers, because Tesco doesn’t think it has an attitude problem.

HP full steam on to the rocks

Last week HP’s market value fell to $27bn which is now below the $31bn it has spent on acquisitions in the last 5 years. Research has consistently shown that mergers and acquisitions usually destroy value. HP’s management seem bent on proving this by setting an all time record for value destruction. Indeed they may have already achieved it.
Market speculation is that the company may be broken up as the sum of its parts now looks significantly greater than the whole. What is clear is that it needs to do something radically different as the current strategy which is to straighten out the huge mess that is today’s HP seems highly unlikely to succeed.

Other stories from last week, worth a mention

Starbucks offer to pay voluntary corporation tax was an appropriate way to kick off the pantomime season and it was different!

Sir Philip Green’s 25pc sale of TopShop leaves his Arcadia Group debt free and with £600m to fuel further growth. Sir Philip doesn’t have to do anything different, just carry on doing what he is really good at. Unlike HP who seem determined not to do what they used to be really good at.

The report into the West Coast rail bid fiasco was published confirming what we already knew about the levels of incompetence and dishonesty at the DfT. Now it’s official will it make a difference? Not holding my breath.

The Tchenguiz brothers started their claim for £200m against the Serious Farce Office for losses incurred as a result of their wrongful arrest. This is the largest claim ever brought against a government department. You could almost wish them well until you remember it is us the taxpayers who will have to stump up the £200m. Those responsible for the mess at the SFO at the time have all left with large payoffs, again paid by us. So no change there then.

So that was some of the week before this week. We hope you found some of the above thought provoking and useful for you and your business. We trust you had a good weekend and hope you have a great week this week.

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