The BoE faced more pressure to raise rates this week as figures showed UK inflation hit 5.4 per cent in December – its highest rate since March 1992.
The data added to the upward pressure on global bond yields. On Wednesday, Germany’s 10-year bond yield hit 0.013 per cent – its highest level since May 2019 – in a sign that investors think central banks will need to taper stimulus measures to cool inflation.
US President Joe Biden also lent his support to the Fed’s tightening of monetary policy. “Given the strength of our economy and the pace of recent price increases, it is appropriate . . . to recalibrate the support that is now necessary,” he told a press conference.
But amid much talk about rate raises, Kristin Forbes, professor of international economics and a former member of the BoE’s monetary policy committee, took a different view. She urged central banks to prioritise quantitative tightening and reduce their balance sheets.
Elsewhere, chief economics commentator Martin Wolf urged business leaders to play a better political role. Whether we like it or not, they are potent players in democratic politics and global decision-making, and must take this role seriously, he argues.
Larry Fink took up the mantle this week. The head of BlackRock, the world’s largest asset manager, used his annual letter to chief executives to defend stakeholder capitalism, writing: “It is not a social or ideological agenda. It is not ‘woke’.”
Meanwhile, ExxonMobil announced a new goal to cut emissions at its oil and gas operations to net zero by 2050. The move came less than a year after the oil major lost a proxy shareholder battle to activist investor Engine No 1.
At Unilever, however, sights were set firmly on shareholder value as the group faced a growing backlash from investors against its £50bn bid for the consumer health unit of GSK. As shareholders made their opposition public, Unilever ruled out increasing its bid.
The trouble is that shareholders will be sceptical about how such large dealmaking could camouflage problems, writes business columnist Helen Thomas. And the natural response to concerns about existing growth “isn’t to hand it another £50bn to play with”, she notes.
Into corporate governance and it has been a tough week in audit. On Monday, the Financial Reporting Council extended its investigation into PwC over its audit of defence contractor Babcock International.
Then on Tuesday a KPMG auditor in charge of scrutinising the accounts of Regenersis was fined £150,000 and banned from the profession for three years after admitting to misleading inspectors. And the very next day,the Big Four firm was hit with a £3m fine for audit failings at alcohol retailer Conviviality.
There was an embarrassing blunder for transport group Go-Ahead too. Adrian Ewer, head of the audit committee, stepped down with immediate effect on Wednesday after it was revealed there had been a mistake in counting proxy votes, overturning his majority support.