'Super Thursday' for retail analysts shows the City at its silliest

Outlook

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Nick Bubb, in his ever-readable Daily Retailer blog, said “spare a thought for the hard-working retail analysts” as his former colleagues prepared for their equivalent of hell. That was “Super Thursday”, although brokers would probably have used another word beginning with S  to describe it because Morrison’s, Next, Dunelm, Home Retail, Dixons Carphone, Darty and the John Lewis Partnership all contrived to put out updates or results on that day, inevitably followed by conference calls, of which there were seven – one after the other. Two of them actually overlapped, although one of those was hosted by Darty, which no one cares much about now that it doesn’t have any UK operations to speak of and really ought to be listed on Euronext.

While City boys and the banks they work for don’t generally deserve much public sympathy, Mr Bubb actually made a good point. Retail Super Thursday was a graphic demonstration of the City at its silliest, but the problem it created is quite serious.

That’s because even Clark Kent might struggle to write anything intelligible after suffering through that little lot, even if some of the weight were to be taken off him by a dogsbody fresh from the economics department of a fancy university. How can people properly assess the vast amount of financial data that belches forth from the retail sector if it all arrives at once?

It probably won’t surprise you that the default position for those responsible when this sort of pile-up occurs is to blame the regulators and their rules. Or to say that reporting dates are set months in advance and cannot possibly be changed. Or both.

That simply won’t wash. Companies have fully 60 days to report interims – and longer for final results – after reporting periods come to a close. That’s right: 60 days. There is even more leeway when it comes to trading updates, which aren’t mandatory any more anyway. Perhaps Dixons Carphone just didn’t like the idea of being left out.

Regardless, retailers should have time enough to collate all the numbers, hold the necessary board meetings to discuss them and then get together with the auditors and the PR people and the lawyers (they all like their fees, you see) without the need for such a logjam at the end. It is within the power of investor-relations departments to end this charade. They could phone their mates working for rival companies and carve up the calendar between them. Perhaps they could even hold a conference call!

At least one of them engaged its corporate grey matter on this subject – Morrison’s  told me that it was considering moving its reporting date in future.

 

Taxing banks more than other businesses is justified

 

First it was the big banks that complained; now the little ones are up in arms. At issue is the Chancellor’s profits surcharge, which will eventually replace the banking levy.

Big banks, notably HSBC, hated the latter because it was charged against their global balance sheets rather than just their UK operations, thus having the biggest impact on those with lots of global operations.

Challenger banks hate the surcharge, and will today be in the Treasury to put their case, which is that it squeezes them and prevents them from competing with the big boys by constraining their ability to lend.

Taxing banks more than other businesses is perfectly justified: despite what the regulators would have you believe, we will all be on the hook if one of them once again looks like going under. The extra tax they pay as a result of that can therefore be likened to an insurance premium paid to us.

 

However, the problem with any new tax is that it will inevitably hurt someone disproportionately. Ditching the levy is generally held to have been a concession to HSBC because its imposition is one of the reasons behind the bank’s decision to review its corporate location.

It would be rather a shame if that had been done at the expense of the creation of a genuinely competitive banking sector in the UK.

Comments