WHO

Week in review: A spring in my step

This week saw many important developments, with the release of new data to suggest that some economies like the US and UK were doing worse than anticipated whilst others like the Eurozone finally caught some wind in their sails. Nonetheless, despite facing setbacks in a number of forms, both Osborne and Yellen seem committed to carrying out their intentions, whether it be the introduction of harsh budget cuts or the first Fed rate rise in years. In a similar vein, it seems that nothing can dampen the resurgent M&A pipeline with speculation of yet another megadeal. 

Another M&A megadeal in the making

Pfizer lab handout

Branded boxes of Allergan Botox, produced by Allergan Inc., are arranged in this photograph taken at a skin and beauty clinic in London, U.K., on Monday, Nov. 17, 2014. Actavis Plc agreed to pay about $66 billion for Allergan Inc., a deal that creates a new top 10 drugmaker and ends Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc.'s attempt at a hostile takeover of the maker of Botox. Photographer: Jason Alden/Bloomberg

  • What happened? Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company, this week approached Allergan, most famous for their Botox drug, to discuss the possibility of creating the world’s largest drugmaker worth over $300bn.
  • What’s behind this story? Although the talks are just at a very early stage, there are very good reasons for Pfizer to pursue a deal. The most significant is the tax benefit; being based in the US, Pfizer paid an effective tax rate of over 25% last year compared to just under 5% for the Ireland-domiciled Allergan so by acquiring Allergan, Pfizer would be able to complete a tax inversion where it domiciles in Ireland and drastically reduces the amount of corporation tax it pays. Aside from the usual synergies that result from acquisitions of this scale, especially applicable to biotech firms that are heavily dependent of their drug pipeline for revenue, now is a particularly attractive time to seek a deal as US pharma stocks have lost a significant amount of value following a promise by Hilary Clinton, the Democratic presidential frontrunner, to regulate drug prices more heavily.
  • Why is this important? This follows what has been a record year for M&A transactions as just last week, a megadeal in the brewing industry between AB inBev and SABMiller was just agreed upon. However, just like with the ‘Megabrewer’ deal, there are numerous complications that make the likelihood of a deal slimmer; politically, there needs to be a lot of manoeuvring as the US government has already instituted a set of anti-inversion measures and is in the process of implementing more whilst it should be noted that it was the outrage of British politicians that prevented Pfizer’s acquisition of AstraZeneca last year.

All eyes on me

Janet Yellen

  • What happened? This week, there were a number of developments that have significantly changed the outlook for a December increase in the Fed’s Funds Rate. In particular, these developments included the latest Fed meeting, the release of the US growth data for Q3 and the completion of the negotiations over the raising of the /US government’s debt ceiling.
  • What’s behind the story? Let’s start with the October Fed meeting; although the Fed as expected did not change the interest rate itself, the sentiment of its monthly statement has changed to a more hawkish tone because it explicitly outlined the conditions required for a December rate rise which will be the US economy’s ‘progress … toward its objectives of maximum employment and 2% inflation’ and removed mention of global risks such as China’s slowdown adversely affecting the US economy. On the other hand, data this week revealed that the US had grown by just 1.5% at an annualised rate for the third quarter of 2015, a drop of over 60% compared to the previous quarter’s growth rate of almost 4.0%. Although this was due to largely temporary factors such as the slowdown in inventory accumulation, it still gives reason for the Fed to delay the Fed rate rise. On a similar note, the US Congress agreed to raise the government’s debt ceiling to avoid a debt ceiling and in doing so, allowed government spending to rise by $80 billion over the next two years so by paving the way for fiscal stimulus, it also may reduce the incentive for monetary stimulus in the form a rate hike.
  • Why is this important? Speculation over the timing over the impending rate hike has been the driving factor behind many of the big stories in the past few months as firms are seeking to capitalise on the low borrowing costs through M&A deals, stock markets have adopted a bullish markets in the drive for higher returns and emerging market currencies are being battered as investors are taking their cash back to the US in preparation for the rate hike.

Austerity gone too far?

The UK's chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne

  • What happened? In a dramatic turn of events, UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne was defeated in his plans to introduce £4.4bn worth of tax credit cuts but not by the democratically elected House of Commons, rather by the unelected House of Lords.
  • What’s behind the story? This latest chapter in Osborne’s march to austerity has been highly controversial because this measure would hit the poorest hardest with the Resolution Foundation, a think-tank, estimating that 3.3m families would lose on average £1,100 a year and it would greatly damage incentives to work, imposing an effective marginal tax rate of up to 80% on some of the poorest in societies.It is in this light it only makes sense that the Lords scuppered Osborne’s planned cuts but in doing so, the Lords has allegedly overstepped their constitutional boundaries by voting down a financial package backed by MPs in the Commons.
  • Why is this important? The incumbent governing party, the Conservatives, were elected on a mandate to cut the deficit in the form of a £10bn budget surplus by 2020 and their austerity measures have resulted in considerable progress towards that goal with public sector net borrowing for the first half of the financial year already down almost 15% compared to the year before. However, having pledged £12bn worth of welfare cuts in their manifesto, Osborne must decide where to make those cuts without upsetting the very electorate that voted the Conservatives back into power with a majority and without causing too much harm to the economy which has already a slowing rate of growth of 0.5% in Q3 compared to 0.7% in the previous quarter due to poor export performance.

Other news:

  • China released the first details of its upcoming five-year plan, by announcing the end of its infamous one-child policy by replacing it with a two-child policy and the moderation of its economic growth target rate to just 6.5%. So far, these measures reflect China’s attempt to modernise both economically and socially but the devil is truly in the details as more specific and drastic reforms will be needed to arrest China’s economic slowdown.
  • The Eurozone showed promising signs of progress as it escaped deflation in September by recording a 0.1% inflation rate whilst unemployment in the region for September was recorded at 10.8%, the lowest rate since January 2012. On the whole, whilst these statistics are indicative of an improving economic outlook, they are still far below target and make the case for monetary stimulus by the ECB strong nonetheless.
  • The World Health Organisation this week declared that processed meats were responsible for causing cancer by labelling ham, sausages and bacon as “Group 1” carcinogens, a category which includes tobacco and asbestos. It is however important to note that their report clarified that they are not as “equally dangerous” as the other carcinogens because whilst “eating processed meat causes colorectal cancer”, the risk “remains small.”