Hello and welcome to our weekly intelligence briefing for boards, where we help directors keep up to speed on the macro trends affecting businesses across the world, and corporate governance news.

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Each day FT Leader writers on the Editorial Board meet to discuss the topics to be considered for Leader columns. Here are the issues that dominated this week:

The Ukraine war and its consequences continued to dominate the Editorial Board's agenda this week, with the impact on the dollar's hegemony the focus of one key leader. 


Those who have supported Russia's aggression - or stood idly by as Vladimir Putin has pursued his murderous ambitions - might be loath to peg their global economic ambitions to a supreme dollar that has been weaponised by sanctions. But for now at least, the currency looks safe. "Trust is hard won," our leader concluded. "At present, no other currencies seem ready to compete."


Later in the week, we will pick up on the growing market nerves around dollar-dependent emerging markets. Food security has been rattled by the Ukraine conflict, with EM jitters magnified by the Federal Reserve's "quantitative tightening" plans. Are EM defaults inevitable? 


Back in the UK, we return to the topic of P&O, and its wider ramifications. Amid the failure of government efforts to deal with the specifics of the company's illegal worker sackings, we focused on the inconsistency of the government's claim to care about the P&O case while simultaneously shelving a reformist employment bill. 


Our leader urged broad-based reform in the interest of good business: “Ensuring rogue employers face consequences means supporting companies that do the right thing, and stopping what would otherwise be a race to the bottom.”

The EU is rounding on Russian executives: Sberbank head Herman Gref, oligarch Oleg Deripaska and Ozon CEO Alexander Shulgin are among those about to be added to the sanctions list, according to documents seen by the FT, as the bloc seeks to tighten screws on Russian businesses following the invasion of Ukraine. 

If the move is approved by member states, those on the list will be subject to asset freezes and travel bans. Yachts are prime targets: this week, Spanish authorities seized Tango, a $90m vessel owned by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg at the request of the US, in a sign of growing transatlantic cooperation.

Putin’s regime is under increasing pressure from the west after allegations of atrocities, claims of war crimes by the Russian military and distressing footage emerging on social media of corpses and mass graves, including in the town of Bucha near Kyiv.  President Macron of France this week called for a ban on Russian oil and coal imports.

But the FT’s Martin Wolf argues Macron’s plan is not enough to hurt Russia: in the face of human rights atrocities, it is time to curb imports of Russian gas, he says. Nearly three quarters of Russia’s exports of natural gas went to European members of OECD, and Russia is by far the largest gas supplier to Europe. Germany and Italy are among the most reliant - but evidence suggests sufficient capacity elsewhere could make up the shortfall.

And while there is a western-led coalition against Russia, there is no global coalition. China, South Africa and Brazil are among those who refuse to condemn their ally. That could have implications for the future of international finance as countries around the world respond to the freezing of Russia’s foriegn currency reserves by the US and its allies. 

Companies from multinationals to small businesses are also wrestling with the ethical and logistical challenges presented by their Russian ties. More than 450 have pulled back or withdrawn, according to estimates by Yale School of Management. Visa and Mastercard have stopped processing foreign purchases from Russians, while Apple and Google have halted mobile payments. 

But more than 40 brands are “digging in”, calculating that there will be no quick return to the Russian market. US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan warned this week that war is unlikely to be resolved soon, predicting a “protracted” next stage. 

In more extraordinary events, bond markets are flashing warnings on growth prospects for the US economy - just as central banks prepare to raise interest rates in response to soaring inflation. Investors are watching a so-called yield-curve inversion, which occurred last week for the first time since 2019 - usually a harbinger of economic downturns. 

Lael Brainard, who sits on the Fed’s board of governors and is likely to become its next chair, said the Fed would begin a rapid reduction of its $9tn balance sheet as soon as May.  The FT’s Robert Armstrong offers a good explanation of her reasoning, and why recession fears are well-founded, while this FT explainer sets out what the Fed has proposed and why financial markets are on edge. In France, investors are pricing in strong polling for Marine Le Pen, far-right candidate and challenger to Macron. Markets were rattled this week ahead of the elections, which kick off on Sunday. 

Not everyone is cautious. Elon Musk has made himself uniquely influential by buying a 9.2 per cent share in Twitter, the social media platform that helped define the Tesla chief’s disruptive personal brand (Musk has nearly 90 mn followers, though he has yet to tweet about his purchase) - and a seat on the board. Twitter’s share price rose 30 per cent on Monday’s announcement. 

The FT’s Lex speculated on his next move: could Musk be plotting an acquisition? Alphaville has provided a timeline in graphics, while the FT’s Elaine Moore argues Musk may turn out to be not quite as influential as he hoped.

Warren Buffett has also found value in US stocks, with a stake in computer and printer-maker HP worth $4.2bn - the third multibillion-dollar investment by Berkshire Hathaway in just over a month.

Finally, it’s been a difficult week for some. The FT’s Sarah O’Connor explains how Amazon’s Staten Island workers’ victory in unionising could mark a turning point for the US labour movement, while the tech company has run into an argument with investors over tax transparency. The US Securities and Exchange Commission this week supported investors’ demands for a shareholder vote

Meanwhile, Toshiba’s second-biggest shareholder is pushing for sale to private equity, accusing the company of becoming “a corporate governance embarrassment for Japan”. 

A question of influence: how much sway do proxy advisers actually hold?

How much influence do proxy advisers have over shareholders? Too much, according to Michael Moritz, a partner at Sequoia Capital, who argues that the largest firm, ISS, and its rivals had “become judge and jury for the actions of corporate America”. But some experts believe proxy advisers' influence is overstated.

This article is brought to you by FT Specialist’s Agenda, a publication that focuses on corporate boards.

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