House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
A spoonful of sugar
Written by Li-Ann Chin, researcher
Edited by David Gaffney, partner
5 August 2020
My father once told me there are three ways to eat condensed milk:
“Condensed milk is good to have when you’re hungry, there’s nothing left to eat, and you can’t afford anything else,” he said.
Condensed milk is ubiquitous in Southeast Asia. To consider it nutritious, however, would be quite a stretch. Its sugar level is so high it could put a horse into anaphylactic shock.
Back in the 1970s and 80s, my grandparents worked as rubber tappers to scrape a living together and there was not a lot they could afford. Proper nutrition was considered a luxury. Granted, condensed milk is unhealthy, but it is also really cheap.
Flash forward to 2020 and to Boris Johnson unveiling his ‘Better Health’ anti-obesity campaign, partially inspired by a frightening reminder of his own mortality from Covid-19. Crackdown plans include banning junk food advertisements, ending ‘buy one, get one free’ promotions on high-fat products, and stopping shops from displaying sweets and chocolates at supermarket checkouts.
I do not doubt that the prime minister’s intervention is well-intentioned. However, if this campaign is to be taken seriously, it needs to confront a much harder truth. Obesity prevalence is highest amongst the most deprived groups in society and is a result of poverty. Studies have shown that the financial stress and economic insecurity that families from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds experience serve as prime contributing factors. Simply labellingrestaurant menus with calories and alcoholic drinks with hidden “liquid calories” can never be enough.
‘Better Health’ frames the combating of obesity as a personal responsibility, a result of poor decisions made by individuals. Yet experts have long acknowledged that food choices are significantly influenced by factors such as income, knowledge and skills. And while empowering a population to adopt healthier eating habits is certainly a step in the right direction, there is much more that needs to be done, at a national and local level, to tackle the systemic factors that underpin this public health issue.
When there’s nothing else to eat and you’re dipping into a can of condensed milk with your spoon again, you don’t pause to count the calories printed on the label.
Two huge explosions have rocked Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, killing at least 100 people and injuring thousands more. According to President Michel Aoun, the incident is reportedly linked to the 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that has been stored unsafely at the port for six years. The country will observe an official period of mourning for three days from Wednesday.
The UK government has agreed to invest £14m into French biotech firm Valneva SE’s Covid-19 vaccine, in a move to secure its domestic production. The deal would see a manufacturing facility built in Livingston, West Lothian, with the potential to produce 60 million units of a vaccine. There is also an additional deal in place with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to produce 100 million units of Oxford University’s trial vaccine if proven to be safe.
Douglas Ross is set for coronation as the latest Scottish Conservative leader today, as he is expected to be the sole contender for the position, automatically replacing Jackson Carlaw who stepped down last week. Ross’s promotion also sees the return of former leader Ruth Davidson, with both running as a ‘joint ticket’ until the 2021 election when he expects to enter Holyrood and she will move on to the House of Lords.
Business and economy
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is investigating the circumstances around Eastman Kodak Co’s announcement of a $765m government loan to manufacture pharmaceutical drugs at its US factories. Namely, how Kodak controlled disclosure of the loan, news of which began to emerge on 27 July, causing Kodak’s stock price to shoot up by 25% on the day. It has also been reported that the price spike briefly produced a windfall for company executives who owned stock-option grants, which were granted on the day before the loan was officially announced. (£)
The UK government is planning to reactivate its full no-deal Brexit border plan when it completes its final split from the EU 1 January 2021, even if the two sides sign a free-trade agreement. The Department for Transport said it will be designing a traffic management system meant to avoid traffic chaos and limit tailbacks around Dover and Eurotunnel. (£)
Virgin Atlantic has filed for bankruptcy in the US, as it seeks protection under chapter 15 of the US bankruptcy code, which allows a foreign debtor to shield assets in the country. Virgin Atlantic’s US bankruptcy court filing said it had negotiated a deal with stakeholders “for a consensual recapitalization” that will get debt off its balance sheet and “immediately position it for sustainable long-term growth”. The move comes less than a month after the company announced it had agreed to a rescue deal with £1.6bn to secure its future beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
Columns of note
Writing in the Financial Times, Sonia Watson puts forth a framework for business leaders to work towards equality. With shareholders scrutinising companies’ ethnic diversity, significant change needs to be implemented, she argues. Suggestions include ensuring that job descriptions do not exclude applicants from diverse backgrounds and promoting diversity at every level – not just among junior employees.
In Bloomberg, Nisha Gopalan examines how the pressure placed on HSBC to continuously appease different geopolitical stakeholders serves as an equal threat to its business as its COVID-related loan losses. The think-piece ends with a radical suggestion to spin-off the non-Asian business, creating two companies with separate management teams and listings.
What happened yesterday?
Financial markets have buckled after China escalated the trade war with the US, sending American stocks to their biggest drop this year. The S&P 500 declined three per cent to 2,844.74 and losses in the Dow Jones Industrial Average surpassed 700 points as Apple and IBM slid at least four per cent. The FTSE 100, on the other hand, ended 0.05% higher at 6,036.
The 10-year Treasury yield dropped to the lowest since before President Donald Trump’s election, sinking by 13 basis points to 1.7142%. and Britain’s 10-year yield dipped four basis points to 0.512%.
West Texas Intermediate crude slid to $54.69 a barrel while gold increased to $1,476.50 an ounce. Interestingly, however, major cryptocurrencies climbed as Bitcoin approached $12,000.
In company news:
Scottish Widows becomes the first investor in Blackrock’s newly launched climate fund, which is designed for the transition to a low carbon economy. The company will be allocating £2bn of its pension portfolios into BlackRock’s Climate Transition World Equity Fund.
BP has halved its shareholder dividend and posted a $6.7bn quarterly loss after the COVID-19 pandemic hit global demand for oil. It has already announced it will cut 10,000 jobs, with as many as 2,000 set to be lost in the UK.
Ford will be replacing Jim Hackett as chief executive, after three years of lacklustre share price performance as it battles a slump in demand due to the pandemic. The company has announced that Hackett will be replaced by chief operating officer, Jim Farley.
What’s happening today?
Legal & General
Morgan Sindall Group
UK economic announcements
(09:30) PMI Services
Int. economic announcements
(08:55) PMI Composite (GER)
(08:55) PMI Services (GER)
(09:00) PMI Composite (EU)
(10:00) Retail Sales (EU)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(13:30) Balance of Trade (US)
(14:45) PMI Services (US)
(15:00) ISM Non-Manufacturing (US)
In 18th century England, gambling dens employed someone whose job was to swallow the dice if there was a police raid.
House of Commons
In recess until 1 September
House of Lords
In recess until 2 September 2020.
In recess until 10 August (with the exception of 30 July and 6 August 2020, on which dates business may be programmed by the bureau)