The Treasury finally closes the loophole of bonuses for companies receiving Covid-19 loans | Nils Pratley
AIt’s about time too: The Treasury has finally shown patience and said that large companies using government and Bank of England backed loan programs also cannot pay directors cash bonuses or dividends. to shareholders.
The restrictions are really just common sense: government loans should help businesses survive, not guarantee executive salaries or investor distributions. Most councils have probably gotten the point, but the job of the Treasury is to make sure the door is firmly locked against the sneaky and greedy. It’s amazing that it took so long for a bonus ban to be passed.
The other change on Tuesday better reflects the Treasury. It was the boost from £ 50million to £ 200million the amount of loans granted under the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Scheme (CLBILS). But, again, one has to wonder why the pleas of the “close quarters” of midsize companies – this is where the CLBILS facility is aimed – weren’t addressed earlier.
Perhaps this is because the squeeze could only be felt correctly when the other two regimes were implemented. Even so, quadrupling the CLBILS loan limit is more than a minor adjustment; it is an admission, in fact, that the money did not arrive where it was needed.
The Treasury has been showered with praise for its swift implementation of the leave wage support scheme – and rightly so. You wonder, however, if he needs a few hard-line professionals in the halls. The bonus loophole, in particular, should have been closed weeks ago.
Well done to the compass
Let’s call it a small victory for small shareholders: Compass Group took the trouble to include them in its £ 2bn fundraiser. Most companies, when rushing to raise funds in recent weeks, have excluded retail investors from the stock placement process, reinforcing the appalling message that the rights of individual investors can be violated in the event of crisis.
Normally, all shareholders are protected by a right of first refusal – the right to subscribe first when new shares are issued during a fundraiser. This is a key measure to ensure that councils cannot grant favors to their buddies or to friendly institutions.
the Financial conduct authority eased the rules during the pandemic for reasons everyone understands: Companies will often need cash faster than a conventional rights issue would allow. But boards – so far – have mostly ignored the FCA’s parallel instruction that “soft” pre-emption rights should be incorporated wherever possible.
Compass has shown that it can be done. Small investors were able to participate through the PrimaryBid.com website at no additional cost and under the same conditions. The solution is flawed as the structure caps aggregate demand from retail investors at € 8 million under EU rules. But the key point is that the technology works.
The problem is to persuade boards of directors to use it. The fear of the unknown and the presence of overly cautious lawyers seem to have been the main stumbling block. The likes of Asos at WH Smith have simply bypassed small investors, often issuing stocks at steep discounts, the situation that puts those excluded the most at a disadvantage.
An impressive team of the city’s big hitters – including Martin Gilbert, most recently of Aberdeen Standard Life, and Anne Richards of Fidelity – wrote an open letter last month calling on companies to think about small investors and employee shareholders. Well done, that changed the debate.
Now, Compass has set a good example. There should be no more woolly excuses elsewhere.
EasyJet has another battle on its hands
EasyJet says it was hacked by “a very sophisticated source,” which they all say. No company has ever admitted to being cybernetically duped by a seasoned hobbyist trying their luck.
Thus, we will have to wait for the opinion of the Office of the Information Commissioner (ICO) to find out whether easyJet has left its back door wide open. But the emails and travel details of 9 million customers were viewed, which is a big dent.
By way of comparison, the ICO is still trying to impose a fine of £ 183million on British Airways over a case involving 500,000 customers last year; like easyJet, BA argued that there was no evidence of fraudulent activity related to the violation.
We can therefore predict with more confidence the outcome of easyJet’s confrontation on Friday with its disgruntled founder, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who is trying to overthrow half of the directors. The board should win that one comfortably. The ICO can be trickier.