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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 Editorial Board struggled this week to find much in the way of uplifting topics to write about. We began by focusing on another bleak repercussion of the war in Ukraine, namely the prospect of a global food crisis. Our conclusion: the west has done much to support Ukraine in its effort to fend off brutal Russian aggression.

But there is also a global challenge ahead, due to these countries' importance to world's food supplies: “Rich countries were seen to let down the poor during the pandemic over vaccine supply. They must not fail on the food crisis.”

We will follow up later in the week by zeroing in on the global economic consequences of Shanghai's tough Covid lockdown, which already constrained Chinese GDP growth towards the end of the first quarter.

Meanwhile, we have opined again on Elon Musk's battle for control of Twitter, piffling perhaps by comparison with existential global topics. But it is crucial in its own way: "A venture as important to social discourse as Twitter, taken from the scrutiny of public markets by one of the platform’s most controversial users with vast business interests, is an unwelcome prospect in a world without wider rules around social media ownership," our leader team wrote.

"A shame Twitter has no dislike button."
In three days, France will vote on whether to give President Emmanuel Macron a second, five-year term or entrust the presidency to Marine Le Pen, his far-right challenger. The latest polls suggest Macron’s lead is widening. But that does not mean his presidency is secure.

In a combative televised debate last night, he accused his rival of being beholden to Vladimir Putin, though he was unable to land the kind of killer blow that sealed her defeat in the 2017 presidential race.

This time around, Le Pen’s straight-talking communication is resonating with voters in villages and towns outside Paris. “Le Pen’s new campaign tactics are working,” writes Victor Mallet from the campaign trail. ”The idea is to contrast a smiling, single mother of three who understands the concerns of ordinary people about rising prices, crime and immigration with a supposedly aloof incumbent president of the elite.”

The 53 year-old has her best chance of becoming the country’s first woman president, and delivering a nationalist body blow to western liberal democracy in the process. She has even softened her rhetoric on Islamic dress.

Business has found itself in the crosshairs of this election campaign: both candidates have criticised Stellantis over executive bonus packages.

Meanwhile in the UK, listed companies have been told by the country’s financial watchdog that women should hold at least 40 per cent of board seats, in a push to increase representation in senior positions. The Financial Conduct Authority also required boards to have at least one ethnic minority member.

The watchdog stopped short of setting quotas. But it has asked companies to either comply or explain why they could not reach the targets.

The rest of companies news this week was dominated by Netflix, where profit and cashflow have always been scant. In the past, that was tolerated because the company could point to an expanding user base around the world. But the streaming company is losing subscribers for the first time in a decade, complaining that it has become harder to grow membership in many markets.

Subscriber numbers are expected to fall by a further 2mn in the current quarter as consumers cut discretionary spending in response to rising inflation. Netflix shares fell by nearly 40 per cent on Tuesday and the announcement hit stocks in other subscription services, including Walt Disney, owner of Disney Plus, and Spotify.

The company has lost almost two-thirds of its market value since November. Bill Ackman, the US investor, sold his stake at a roughly $400mnl loss yesterday. Analysts are likening its fall to the dotcom crash.

Now, Netflix chief Reed Hastings is making moves that could alienate already skittish subscribers, by raising prices, tightening up on password-sharing and working on a cheaper, advertising-backed version of its service.

With no end in sight to the war in Ukraine, businesses and economies are braced for prolonged disruption. The International Monetary Fund this week cut its global growth forecast to 3.6 per cent as the wider effects of war hit Europe and emerging markets. The UK is predicted to have the slowest growth of G7 nations in 2023 at just 1.2 per cent.

The FT’s Martin Sandbu urges central banks to think twice before tightening monetary policies further after Putin’s invasion. Credit Suisse has warned of losses as fallout from Russia’s invasion hits results, while P&G is warning of higher commodity, freight and currency costs this year. But multinationals are still paying wages to 200,000 workers in Russia despite pledges to suspend activity since the invasion of Ukraine.

Western economies are still searching for alternative energy suppliers to Russia. Algeria, the third-biggest natural gas supplier to Europe with 8 per cent market share, is struggling to meet demand from major European economies. It does not have enough extra gas available quickly. Germany is finding political, legal and logistical obstacles to plugging its energy supply gap with nuclear power; nevertheless, Germans are preparing for a Russian gas embargo.

In the US, Elon Musk’s $43bn bid to take Twitter private is struggling to draw interest from private equity. Musk would need well over $20bn of new equity to complete the deal; the lukewarm response suggests the outlook for the social media platform is far from clear.

Private equity groups are concerned that Twitter does not generate enough cash to service the massive amount of debt Musk would need to take on to the company’s balance sheet to complete the deal. Many potential lenders are worried about Musk’s desire to promote greater freedom of expression, which risks making Twitter less attractive to advertisers.

Whatever happens, Musk’s bid will change Twitter forever, the FT’s Elaine Moore argues, even if the Tesla chief fails. The site is often a hodge-podge of news, information and bad-tempered arguments. The way the business is run and the experience of its users are both up for grabs.
Investors’ voices are missing in corporate flight from Russia (Comment from the FT)
Over 700 companies have curtailed operations in Russia - but some remain (Insight from Yale School of Management)
Global Financial Stability Report (Report from the International Monetary Fund)
Why LGBTQ+ inclusivity matters for boards

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