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WEEKLY MARKET ROUND-UP – 12/07/21

UK in countdown to ‘Freedom Day’

Boris Johnson has announced the UK government’s plans to end social distancing measures and most of the remaining lockdown measures imposed in England from 19 July.

According to Mr Johnson, the end of the lockdown regime will see social distancing measures, including the rules restricting indoor and outdoor gatherings, being lifted in England along with any remaining capacity restraints on restaurants, entertainment and sports venues.

Instructions from employers for their staff to work from home will also be removed while the wearing of face masks in public settings will become voluntary. All remaining UK businesses (including nightclubs) will be allowed to re-open with none required to demand proof of vaccination or testing before entry. However, the legal requirement to self-isolate in the event of a positive test for the virus, or if asked to do so by the NHS, will stay in place.

Telling times

After being forced to delay England’s previously intended ‘Freedom Day’ by a month, the move marks a decisive policy shift from relying on a complex matrix of legal requirements to battle the pandemic to a regime based on personal responsibility.

The UK’s prime minister told Britons that we must “learn to live with coronavirus” while noting that cases were predicted to rise to 50,000 a day later this month and that “we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths”.

The move represents a tactical gamble by the UK authorities at a time when only around 65% of adults have received two vaccinations. The UK’s approach is unique among developed nations; while it recognises that unlocking will lead to an increase in infections, it’s hoped that the NHS can better cope with them now, rather than later in the year during flu season or when schools re-open in the autumn.

In the meantime, the government plans to reduce the gap between first and second vaccinations for the under-40s from 12 to eight weeks. Its final decision for England will be confirmed on Monday 12 July while Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own timetables for re-opening.

Editorial credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com

End of an era for Amazon

On Monday (5 July), exactly 27 years to the day after he founded Amazon in his Washington state garage, Jeff Bezos stepped down as CEO of his $1.8trn e- commerce and cloud computing behemoth.

Bezos was replaced by long-time acolyte Andy Jassy who joined Amazon in 1997 and rose quickly through the ranks. Among other things, he helped mastermind the creation of Amazon Web Services (AWS), the hugely successful cloud business that remains an industry leader.

Meanwhile, Mr Bezos, still the largest single shareholder in Amazon, assumes the role of executive chair, allowing him to focus on other projects including his first manned Blue Origin launch (he blasts into space on 20 July) and his philanthropic pursuits.

The move leaves Mr Jassy with many internal constituencies to cover as well as a number of anti-trust legal threats. The timing of the departure of the world’s richest man from the CEO’s chair at Amazon is likely to help Mr Jassy – who received a $214m 10-year stock option the day he took office – to navigate such political threats.

Editorial credit: lev radin / Shutterstock.com

A Counter-offer: Fortress swoops on Morrisons

After rejecting a £5.5bn takeover bid from the US buyout firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice in late June, on Saturday morning (3 Jul), Morrisons’ board chose to accept a £6.3bn bid from the US group Fortress.

Morrisons shares jumped some 11% on Monday (5 Jul) – well past the £2.54 a share of the bid – while shares in Tesco gained around 3.5% as investors speculated that a bidding war is heating up. Other major US private equity players such as Apollo Global, which was beaten in the race to buy Asda, are also known to be circling Morrisons and other undervalued UK stocks.

Thanks to Brexit, UK shares have traded at a discount to their overseas peers ever since 2016 and cash-rich overseas investors are gambling that this discount will now unwind. Private equity players have made bids for 366 UK companies this year, by far the biggest year on record.

The UK deal phenomenon has been likened to the situation in Germany in 2005 when a senior politician famously described private equity firms as “locusts”.

Editorial credit: Ceri Breeze / Shutterstock.com