Oil Be Back: 10 Things We Learned This Week

From phonejackers to ferries, it’s been a week of surprises, backlash, and dividend drama  

Ollie Smith 18 March, 2022 | 10:33AM
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Arnie

You Can Never Be Too Careful on the Phone

Last night defence secretary Ben Wallace revealed on Twitter that an imposter posing as Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy had called him, and posed a number of suspicious questions before the secretary of state eventually terminated the conversation. This is not the first time a politician has been wrongfooted by a phonejacker. Back in 2015, then-prime minister David Cameron ended up on a phone call with a man posing as the director of the UK’s communications interception agency GCHQ. Phone scammers can strike anywhere. Check out our guide on avoiding scams from last year.

Joe Biden Has Gone There

In a significant departure from the (relatively) restrained rhetoric that has so far punctuated the west’s response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Joe Biden this week upped the ante by calling the Russian premier a “war criminal”. Few would dispute the allegation, which follows repeated atrocities involving air strikes and the bombardments of civilian and medical facilities in the country. Predictably, the Kremlin declared the notion preposterous, making it just about the only government in the world to do so.

The Return of Oil Begs Tricky Questions

It’s not like oil ever went away, but just weeks ago it was public enemy number one. At COP26 in November, governments from around the world were agreeing renewed commitments to reducing the planet’s reliance on fossil fuels. The resolutions were by no means perfect, but they did seem to indicate a direction of travel of sorts, and, to be fair to Boris Johnson, he was sticking to his own guns on renewables despite considerable opposition from backbench MPs you may recognise from previous episodes of UK politics, including Brexit: The Oven-Ready Deal, and Brexit: Chaos at Calais. Things have moved on, and the prime minister has spent the week courting new (and controversial) international partners to find fresh sources of the brown sticky stuff. As Leslie Norton argued weeks ago, it doesn’t bode well for net-zero.

Arnie Doesn’t Care About Content Rules

And speaking of oil be back, the world’s most iconic bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger had a personal message for Russian soldiers this week, declaring in a video address that the war in Ukraine was a war against their own compatriots and friends. Videos of that length don’t tend to get great stats, but you can definitely call this one an exception. In the nine-minute speech, the former governor of California issues a heartfelt plea to bring the suffering of Ukrainian children (in particular) to an end. Subtitled in Russian, it is a captivating watch.

Companies are Confident Despite the Conflict

Senior editor James Gard’s regular look at dividend-paying FTSE 100 stocks continued in earnest this week, and detailed the companies sticking to their payout plans despite everything going on in the world. It’s a shot away from March 2020, when plummeting sentiment (and, in the case of banks, the hand of the Prudential Regulation Authority) forced business behemoths to cease payouts. James has a European-focused version of the analysis too, so check that out if you’re looking further afield.

P&O is Barely Afloat

Things went from bad to worse for the 800 P&O employees laid off with immediate effect by the embattled ferry company yesterday. The sacked staff say they have been abandoned, and, for their part, union bosses accuse the company of behaving callously. That’s just one of P&O’s problems, though. Recovering from the coronavirus slump, updating its ancient fleet, and ditching what my own uncle (a regular user of the Pride of Hull ferry) called “bunker fuel” (diesel) may yet sink the company.

The Hawkish Caucus is Over

The Bank of England’s decision to hike interest rates again this week barely shocked anyone, but the breakdown of the vote to do so revealed something interesting about sentiment among members of its Monetary Policy Committee. Last time the vote went through five-four in favour. This time it was eight-one, leading at least one fund house to declare that the era of the “hawkish caucus” is now definitely over. The notion from another, meanwhile, that the Bank was responding “proactively” to the already-dramatic uptick in inflation was certainly a bit of a stretch, though. Catch up on how experts were so badly wrong-footed on the topic.

Fund Turnover is Varying Dramatically

Among Morningstar’s roster of outstanding analysts is Mattias Möttölä, our associate director of multi-asset and alternative strategies. This week he explained the findings of his team’s latest look at fund turnover, which, for the uninitiated, describes the rate at which funds are changed, launched, or closed across the world. It turns out the regional variances are becoming increasingly dramatic, so it pays to know exactly what’s going on in the region where your funds are domiciled.

Equities Made a Comeback in February

Having been humbled by market corrections in January, equity investors were back on it in February, piling money back into stocks ahead of fixed income. That’s the result of Morningstar data journalist Sunniva Kolostyak’s latest look at fund flows from across our investment universe. Check out her take, alongside the wise words of analyst Bhavik Parekh.

GameStop is Launching an NFT

Fresh from its meteoric (and death-defying) fame last year, once-forlorn game retailer GameStop has once more entered the doldrums, posting an “unexpected loss” amid uncertainty over its financial future. Don’t start stressing just yet, though. The company has said it is determined to keep branching into new marketplaces, and intends to launch a non-fungible token (NFT) at some point in the future. Among those rejecting the opportunity to get in on this action will no doubt be America’s largest hedge funds, whose short positions on the company were proved to be all-too-incorrect in 2021.

The information contained within is for educational and informational purposes ONLY. It is not intended nor should it be considered an invitation or inducement to buy or sell a security or securities noted within nor should it be viewed as a communication intended to persuade or incite you to buy or sell security or securities noted within. Any commentary provided is the opinion of the author and should not be considered a personalised recommendation. The information contained within should not be a person's sole basis for making an investment decision. Please contact your financial professional before making an investment decision.

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Ollie Smith  is editor of Morningstar UK