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:

Boris Johnson’s fondness for lawbreaking has moved on from lockdown parties to the international law surrounding the Northern Ireland protocol. Our Editorial Board bemoaned the growing influence of the right wing of the Conservative party on the prime minister’s policy making. The Northern Ireland decision is “dubious, counter-productive” and “should horrify”.

Earlier, we weighed in on the ongoing populist pro-Trump tendency in US Republicanism. We made an appeal: “Republican sympathisers … above all in the business world [should] step up the fight to regain control of the once pro-business party from a figure who remains a menace to the US republic.”

And finally we took aim at the poor management of many air travel companies. “The industry was well aware of the problems it faced, and how long they might take to resolve. It therefore had no business selling tickets it could not honour.” There may be lessons here for other staff-constrained sectors.
The Fed has acted aggressively to curb the highest levels of inflation in 40 years this week, raising its benchmark policy rate by 0.75 percentage point and indicating that another rise of that size is possible at its next meeting.

The move was widely predicted, after two reports showed an alarming jump in consumer prices in May and a rise in inflation expectations, suggesting Americans are growing more concerned. The US bond market was already nervous when earlier in the week the US central bank began fiscal tightening on an unprecedented scale.

On Wednesday, it stopped pumping the proceeds of an initial $15bn of maturing Treasuries back into the $23tn market for government debt - the first time it has done so since it kicked off its bond-buying programme at the start of the pandemic - in an attempt to shrink its $9tn balance sheet. Wall Street, too, was braced for the rise. As the FT’s Robert Armstrong puts it, the Fed has abandoned subtlety: it is ready to smash things.

The FT’s Martin Wolf argues that vast debts make the world economy more fragile than it was in the 1970s. He sets out what monetary policymakers can learn from mistakes made in that period: overoptimism, taking high inflation too lightly and leaving vulnerable people and economies unprotected against shocks.

In Europe, the ECB signalled its determination to prevent a recent sell-off in bonds from triggering another debt crisis. In an emergency meeting, it started work on a new bond-buying plan to tackle market turmoil and address surging borrowing costs in parts of the eurozone.

Borrowing costs for heavily indebted countries such as Italy and Spain have shot to eight year highs since the ECB signalled an end to loose monetary policies, by stopping buying more bonds and raising interest rates.

In corporate news this week, could ESG investing be heading for a legal showdown?

A boom is drawing regulatory scrutiny on both sides of the Atlantic. Last month, German police officers raided the Frankfurt offices of DWS, the fund manager, as part of an investigation into greenwashing. Interest in sustainable investing has taken off, with assets managed in ESG labelled funds reaching $2.7tn. But many think the industry’s green credentials are inflated and overhyped.

“There’s nothing to suggest DWS is a one-off,” said one partner at a legal firm Pallas, which specialises in financial litigation.

In the US, Goldman Sachs’s asset management division is also under investigation by financial regulators over ESG claims made by its funds.

And in more ESG news, BP has taken a step closer to its aim of securing a 10 per cent share of global hydrogen markets, by taking a 40 per cent stake in a $30bn Australian renewables project called Asian Renewable Energy Hub, subject to approval.The project aims to generate a third of the country’s capacity with solar, wind and green hydrogen.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the largest asset managers over their outsized power at US companies, with clients taking more control of the way their shares are voted on contentious topics such as climate change.

This week, BlackRock said the owners of more than $530bn invested in its index tracking funds are now instructing the firm how they want their voting power exercised since it rolled out its so-called Voting Choice programme, which allows all US pension funds and most other institutional investors to opt to have BlackRock vote for them, tell it to follow recommendations from third-party proxy advisors, or vote directly on shareholder proposals.

“We see this as just the beginning,” said Saim Ramji, BlackRock’s global head of index investments.

In London, the FT’s Helen Thomas says stock exchange efforts at invigorating the UK capital’s global pull as a listings venue are flagging.

Last month, the London Stock Exchange regulator came up with the idea of compacting the two-tiered premium and standard segments of the exchange in an effort to attract more start-ups. But the proposals are convoluted, achieve little and suggest faltering confidence, she argues.

They feel less like an ambitious overhaul and more like FOMO - fear of missing out - accompanied by “a slightly confused tidying-up exercise”, she argues.

Finally, the days of dialling groceries to your door with ultrafast delivery apps may be over, says the FT’s Sarah O’Connor. The services enabled a mass-market version of the luxury of having servants at your disposal - albeit an atomised collection of people you don’t know and will never see again.

Behind the sector’s rise were investors, who were subsidising consumers by funding companies that often charged less for the services than it cost to provide them. Now the money is drying up and shares are falling, thanks to gloomy growth and higher interest rates.

Laziness might have been democratised - but not for long.
International regulatory update (briefing by Clifford Chance)
The regulation of listed companies summit (event by City & Global Financial)
Climate activists turn to litigation to spur corporate action

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

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