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DAILY BRIEFING

The final frontier revisited

Written by Maria Julia Pieraccioni, associate 
Edited by Scott Reid, associate partner
21 July 2021 

Good morning,

Whether you pledge allegiance to Captain Kirk, or like me were pained when Princess Leia’s storyline was side-tracked in favour of Luke Skywalker’s (frankly overrated) return in Star Wars, one thing is undeniable: space, and its unknown, has beguiled generations.
 
Jeff Bezos, the richest man on Earth, just yesterday blasted into space on the inaugural crewed flight of his rocket ship, the New Shepherd. He joins fellow billionaire Richard Branson, who made his own trip on board a Virgin Galactic rocket on 11 July. Elon Musk joined in the friendly competition by poking fun on Twitter at Bezos’ suborbital space flight (he wasn’t technically in space, but rather within the Earth’s atmospheric limits).
 
Putting banter aside, the episode raises questions about whether space has become the new playground for the rich. The evidence of commercialisation is there: both Branson and Bezos were testing their rockets for space tourism, and word on the street is that Bezos’ rocket boasts far superior windows (although a four times heftier price tag)—so pick a window seat if you can.
 
Despite waning investment and interest in space over the last decade, government efforts seem to be back too. Musk recently won a $3 billion NASA contract to build a lunar lander for its Artemis program, which when completed will return people to the moon for the first time since 1972.
 
However, the sums spent here have not gone unnoticed by climate change campaigners who draw attention to other news this week that could use a billionaire’s boost. For a month, north-east Siberia—the coldest inhabited place on Earth—has been devastated by uncontrollable forest fires, due to dry soil and trees. The Amazon rainforest – once considered “Earth’s lung” as a carbon sink – is now emitting more CO2 than it absorbs as a result of excessive deforestation. Floods in Germany, which local politicians have firmly attributed to climate change, have also now claimed the lives of more than 180 people.
 
Of course, investing in space exploration and protecting the planet needn’t be mutually exclusive. But if the media perceive that Bezos, Branson and Musk are choosing space over other priorities, their space odyssey might be the makings of a PR crisis.

News

The UK government has distanced itself from comments made by business minister Paul Scully who yesterday refused to say whether people should isolate or not if ‘pinged’ by NHS Test and Trace. The government instead insisted that it is “crucial” that anyone alerted must self-isolate amidst a lifting of government restrictions. (£)
 
First minister Nicola Sturgeon is urging the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to not rule out the possibility of vaccinating all teenagers against Covid-19. The Scottish Government is currently following the JCVI’s advice to offer jabs to children living with severe neurodisabilities, Down’s Syndrome or severely weakened immune systems.
 
In an exclusive for The Guardian, border officials revealed that following the lifting of restrictions on Monday, they are no longer required to check incoming passengers for proof of negative Covid test, or a passenger locator form. The government responded that it will be up to the airlines to conduct the necessary checks prior to boarding.

Business and economy

Unilever’s decision to stop selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in occupied territories in Palestine has been met with a strong response from Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett. Bennett warned Unilever CEO Alan Jope that this “anti-Israel” stance would be met with legal action if necessary. (£)
 
Shell has confirmed that it will appeal a landmark court ruling requiring it to cut emissions faster than planned. According to a company statement, the ruling unfairly singled them out, a treatment not reserved to its American and international competitors. It also stated that its current emissions reductions plan was among the most rigorous agreed by a major oil firm.
 
A study by money transfer specialist Xendpay revealed that Aberdeen had the slowest increase in wages of any UK city from 2014. Wages in the city grew by three per cent in the period to May 2021 compared against a UK average of 24%.

Columns of note

Following the departure of US troops from Afghanistan, Ed Gorman writes a poignant piece for Tortoise, shedding light on the recent history of a war-torn country. By recollecting his experience in Afghanistan as a freelance reporter in the early 2000s, Gorman chastises NATO and US efforts for revealing themselves unable to establish a lasting peace and instead add to the region’s chaos. (£)
 
And in the Guardian, Torsten Bell makes a convincing case against the government’s rumoured proposal to raise national insurance as a means of tackling the country’s social care crisis. Bell argues that a rise in national insurance would be an unbearable onus for young workers and would do nothing to tackle other fiscal areas where finances are lost such as through tax avoidance.

Cartoon source: New Yorker

Markets

What happened yesterday?

The London stock exchange gained back some territory from Monday’s losses, closing positively up 0.54%. Rising Covid-19 cases in the UK led sterling down against the euro by 0.23% at €1.156 and against the dollar at $1.36, losing 0.40%.
 
European shares also benefitted from so-called “bargain hunters” on Tuesday. The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed up 0.52%, with the French Cac-40 leading the European exchanges close at 0.81% up. 
 
Meanwhile, fear of the rise of the Delta variant in the US was evident among investors, who decided to buy stocks cheap inching the market up. The S&P 500 closed 1.06% higher, while the Nasdaq followed suit closing at 0.68%.

What’s happening today?

Finals
Polar Capital
Technology Trust

Interims
Gresham
Rtc Grp.

Q2 results
Etalon S

Trading results
Antofagasta
Close Bros
Euromoney
Petra Diamonds
Royal Mail

AGMs
Bloomsbury
Caledonia
Caledonian Tst.
Experian
HarbourVest Private Equity
Jpmorg.eur
Nichold
Norcros
Open Orphan
Paypoint
Qinetiq
Royal Mail
Tatton Asset M.

UK economic announcements
(09:30) Public Sector Net Borrowing

Int. economic announcements
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)

Source: Financial Times

did you know

The last vote needed to pass women’s suffrage in the United States was that of Tennessee legislator Harry Burn.
 
While he was initially opposed to the amendment, his mother told him to “be a good boy” and vote for it—so he did.

(source: @qikipedia)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

Oral questions
Northern Ireland

Prime Minister’s Question Time

Ten Minute Rule Motion
United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority Pension Transfers (Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman Investigation)

Legislation
Building Safety Bill: Second Reading

Adjournment
Forced repatriation of Chinese seamen from Liverpool after WWII

Westminster Hall Debate
Privatisation of Channel 4
Early years education funding
Role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission in international trade deals
Guidelines for Do Not Attempt Resuscitation orders
Social Justice and Fairness Commission and implications for Government policy

House of Lords 

Oral Questions
Case for establishing a crime of ecocide
Proportion of infectious diseases in people that originate in animals
Creating a register of all home educated children
Spyware sold by NSO Group to governments around the world and its uses

Statement
Update on the Northern Ireland Protocol

Legislation
Skills and Post-16 Education Bill [HL] – committee stage (day 4)

Statement
Covid19 Update

Orders and regulations
Fisheries Act 2020 (Scheme for Financial Assistance) (England) Regulations 2021
European Union (Future Relationship) Act 2020 (References to the Trade and Cooperation Agreement) Regulations 2021
Environmental Authorisations (Scotland) Regulations 2018 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2021
Electricity Capacity (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Scottish parliament 

The Scottish parliament is in recess until 30 August but will be recalled on 3 August for Covid updates.

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