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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:

Ahead of the Federal Reserve's decision to raise interest rates on Wednesday, the first increase in four years, the Editorial Board cautioned that curbing inflation while avoiding stagflation would be a delicate exercise. "There are no good decisions here, only hard ones."

The rejig of the global order is a vital dimension of the ongoing Ukraine conflict, with China's stance still uncertain. "Beijing’s best interest lies in exerting pressure on Putin and redoubling its efforts to bring about a ceasefire," our leader writers urged.

On the domestic front, the impact of inflation, particularly on energy costs, will be a major factor for chancellor Rishi Sunak to address in next week's spring budget statement. We are likely to opine on how he should proceed over the weekend.


Yesterday Russia and the Ukraine drew up a tentative peace plan, but that glimmer of hope soon felt distant  as Russian planes bombed a theatre in Mariupol. US President Joe Biden called Putin a war criminal for the first time, comments Moscow deemed “unforgivable”. 

Meanwhile, Russia is on the brink of its first debt default since 1998. Moscow said it had sent interest payments due on two of its dollar bonds, but investors might not receive the money. This will be one to watch: markets have already priced in a default and there is a 30-day grace period for paying up.

Last week we focused on the companies exiting Russia. Their flight sets a high ethical benchmark, argues management editor Andrew Hill – “any board with investments in other potential conflict zones that did not consider whether it was setting a precedent by fleeing Russia was shirking its duties,” he writes.

It will also be tough to size up how the exit will hit earnings, argues UK business writer Cat Rutter Pooley. Companies will need to “consider not just sanctions but the knock-on effects on supply chains and energy prices, and the likely impacts on future cash flows”, she notes.

Other corporations have stayed put including three of the biggest western oilfield services companies. Russian business at Schlumberger, Baker Hughes and Halliburton is worth billions, and the companies partner state-backed producers Rosneft and Gazprom.

Likewise, as of Tuesday morning, Gareth Penny chaired both Russia’s Norilsk Nickel and the UK-listed asset manager Ninety One. This is “a ridiculous situation” for the latter, which touts its ESG credentials and “active stewardship”, argues business columnist Helen Thomas.

Elsewhere supply chain challenges continue to bite. Both BMW and Volkswagen were forced to idle factories in Europe this week due to the shortage of a harness that holds electric wires. About a fifth of Europe’s supply of the low-cost part comes from war-hit Ukraine.  

And the latest attempts by Chinese authorities to control an outbreak of Covid-19 is likely to hit the global tech industry. Lockdowns in a number of cities – including tech hub Shenzhen – have disrupted supply chains and could dent growth and profitability.

Such disruptions will loom large at central bank meetings this week. On Wednesday the Fed  raised rates by a quarter of a percentage point – its first increase since 2018. The central bank signalled this would be the first of a series of hikes this year.

Fed chair Jay Powell channelled Paul Volcker and cemented his hawkish pivot. He said the Federal Open Market Committee was “acutely aware of the need to return the economy to price stability and determined to use our tools to do exactly that”.

The ​​BoE’s Monetary Policy Committee, due to meet today, looks set to follow suit. Most forecasters expect rates to increase from 0.5 per cent to 0.75 per cent, bringing them back to pre-Covid levels. But the bank will need to balance inflation with concerns about growth.

Officials will also need to consider labour shortages in their decision-making. Figures released this week showed that the number of unfilled jobs in the UK rose to a record of over 1.3mn as people continued to leave the workforce.

And central bankers aren’t the only ones grappling with the economy – Rishi Sunak is also feeling the pressure over the cost-of living crisis ahead of next week’s spring statement. The chancellor is set to  overhaul Britain’s corporate tax system to boost investment and growth.

Into corporate governance and directors at Shell are being taken to task over climate change. On Monday shareholder ClientEarth told the energy major that it would start legal action against the board for what it called a failure to adopt a strategy that “truly aligns” with the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

Corporate culture has also been firmly in the spotlight. Lloyd’s of London issued the largest fine in its history (£1mn) against underwriting group Atrium for behaviour including “systematic bullying” and the sexual harassment of female staff on a “boys’ night out”.

There was more positive news in the FTSE 100, however, as most companies met the boardroom diversity targets set in the Parker review. Almost all (94) have appointed at least one minority ethnic board member, though the majority are non-executive directors.

And finally, what happened to succession planning at Starbucks ? Former chief executive Howard Schultz is returning to run the coffee giant on an interim basis after its current head, Kevin Johnson, announced his retirement next month. The board has been searching for a new chief since 2021, the company said, and expects to name a successor by autumn.

The days when the safest course of action for a corporation was to keep quiet on geopolitics have disappeared. Now reputational risk is high on the agenda for boards, with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushing it even higher.

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While progress has been made on improving the gender diversity of boards, women remain largely under-represented in senior leadership positions. Why is it so difficult to create diverse senior teams, even in companies which are genuinely committed to this aim? 

At our next event, How companies can fix the gender imbalance in leadership positions, we will provide an in-depth discussion on what effective measures companies can take to improve gender balance and the challenges associated with this. 

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