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Thursday's Business and Politics round-up

18 Apr 2019

Person sat at a table reading a newspaper

Good morning!

As Easter weekend approaches, the theme of rebirth appears to be in the air.

Astonishingly, scientists in the USA have managed to partly revive the mind of a pig four hours after its death - though the brain lacked any signs of awareness or consciousness.

The political career of Nigel Farage too appears to be undergoing a renaissance of late, and his 'Brexit Party' is top of the charts, according to a recent YouGov poll, reported in The Times.

Change UK, another new party, comprised of former Labour and Conservative MPs, tallied far behind on 6 per cent in the poll, though it previously reported that it had signed up over 3,000 applicant candidates for the upcoming European Elections.

Whether or not the European elections next month will indeed bring about a refashioning of the political landscape is however far from certain at this stage.

The morning's top stories, rounded up for your convenience. 

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No plaudits for audits 

Another thing that could be in line for a grand reincarnation is the auditing business, as the markets watchdog confirms its recommendations to shake up the sector.

The Competition and Markets Authority unveiled its final recommendations this morning. Most punchily, it called for joint audits for most FTSE 350 firms and the splitting up of company's auditing and advisory services.

The latter would see separate management, separate financial statements, and an end to profit-sharing. CMA Chair Andrew Tyrie argued, 'Conflicts of interest cannot be allowed to persist; nor can the UK afford to rely on only four firms to audit Britain’s biggest companies any longer.'

The FT reports that Big Four firm PwC cautiously welcomed the review's proposals. Meanwhile, in The Telegraph, Deloitte's UK audit chief complained that 'warnings on unintended consequences such as lower audit quality, damage to UK competitiveness, and weaker resilience of the sector have been ignored'.

The CMA's report also called for greater scrutiny of audit committees, proposing that a regulator should set minimum standards for appointing audit firms, should be able to closely monitor decision-making, and should be able to reprimand instances where it is unsatisfied.

The report suggests the watchdog wanted to go further, 'moving responsibility for selecting auditors to an independent body'. 'We identified legal barriers to this change,' the report states, 'but remain of the view that this would be worth keeping under consideration in the long term.'

The price is right

The rate of price rises stayed stable at 1.9 per cent in the year to March, latest figures revealed yesterday.

The Consumer Price Index (CPI) was unchanged from last month, defying expectations which had pegged the statistic to rise slightly.

While welcoming the 'unexpected plus' for the economy IoD Senior Economist Tej Parikh is quoted in the Evening Standard warning that 'Inflation is however unlikely to stay below the 2% target for much longer', referring to the Bank of England's benchmark rate.

'With the rise in wages and firms reporting higher costs,' he added, 'we are likely to see upward pressure on prices over the coming months.'

There was also concern among property market analysts, following the weakest price growth figures in over six years.

In particular, London house prices fell by 3.8 per cent, the most significant drop in almost ten years, and price levels are now 6 per cent below their 2017 apogee.

Tricks of the trade

The European Union is mulling whether to apply tariffs to a wide variety of US imports, as trade tensions between the blocs rise.

Frozen cod, sultanas, and tomato ketchup could all be in line for extra duties, as the current list goes out for consultation.

The dispute centres on aerospace subsidies. While the EU firm Airbus complains that US firm Boeing gains from unfair tax treatment, the US side claims the boot is on the other foot. Indeed Trump last week threatened $11bn's worth of tariffs with that line of reasoning.

The EU's leading trade official, Cecilia Malmström, said, 'European companies must be able to compete on fair and equal terms. The recent WTO ruling on US subsidies for Boeing is important in this respect. We must continue to defend a level playing field for our industry disputes.'

Last Tuesday, the US President tweeted that 'The EU has taken advantage of the U.S. on trade for many years. It will soon stop!'

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