The week in investor relations: Death of the all-male FTSE board, vaccine boost for small caps and bankers back to work
– The all-male FTSE board is ‘extinct,’ declared Sky News. The number of women on the board at top UK-listed companies has risen by 50 percent in five years, and there are now no all-male boards in the FTSE 350. The Hampton-Alexander Review, backed by the UK government, said ‘significant progress’ still needs to be made in leadership roles, however, with few women in the highest corporate roles and 16 so-called ‘one and done’ companies – those with only one female representative.
– The Russell 2000 index of smaller US-listed companies was up by more than 47 percent since the start of November, when markets began to shoot higher on vaccine optimism, having advanced 15 percent year to date, according to the Financial Times (paywall). By comparison, the benchmark S&P 500 is up 19.5 percent since November and 4 percent this year. ‘Small caps are having a moment,’ noted the paper.
– Goldman Sachs wants its bankers back at desks as soon as possible, reported The Guardian, with chief executive David Solomon telling a virtual conference that home working did not represent ‘a new normal’ for the firm. ‘That’s a temporary thing. I do think that for a business like ours, which is an innovative, collaborative apprenticeship culture, this is not ideal for us. And it’s not a new normal. It’s an aberration that we’re going to correct as soon as possible,’ the paper quoted him as telling a Credit Suisse-run conference.
– A Covid-19 test provider backed by Jack Ma raised close to $100 mn pre-IPO funding in the first quarter of 2021 and could list as early as this year, according to Nikkei Asia. The latest fundraising by start-up Prenetics, the test provider that helped English football’s Premier League resume matches and which is backed by Ma’s Alibaba Hong Kong Entrepreneurs Fund, will value it between $800 mn and $900 mn.
– Norway’s $1.3 tn sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, is looking at how to ensure high-quality audits are conducted in the roughly 9,100 companies in which it invests, a top fund official told Reuters. The collapse of German payment firm Wirecard prompted shareholders to call for closer scrutiny and regulators to consider how to improve rules after highlighting how, even with regular audits, accounting issues can go undetected.
– Vanguard topped a list of the world’s largest coal investors, according to the FT (paywall). The world’s second-largest asset manager controls holdings worth $86 bn in companies that produce or burn thermal coal, reported the paper, adding that ‘environmental campaigners complain that the finance industry is more interested in ‘greenwashing’ than addressing the task of decarbonizing society.’
– Outsourcing giant Serco was called out for plans to resume dividend payments after a seven-year interval, reported The Guardian. The company’s profits almost doubled last year, boosted by its £350 mn ($487 mn) contract to run the heavily criticized Covid-19 test-and-trace program for the UK health service. The company said it would be paying out £17 mn in dividends.
– In more Covid-19-related news, vaccine-maker Moderna revealed expected sales of $18.4 bn in 2021, according to CNBC. The firm released its Q4 results this week, also announcing that its chief medical officer, Tal Zaks, will leave the company in late September. Moderna is expecting to produce at least 700 mn Covid-19 vaccine doses this year and up to 1.4 bn in 2022. Pfizer, which also has a vaccine authorized for use in the US, said earlier this month that it expected to sell about $15 bn in doses this year.
– ‘GameStop’s reddit-driven roller-coaster rages on as volume soars,’ wrote Bloomberg as the ‘meme stocks’ sage got a new boost from retail investors, driving the share price up to its highest point since the start of February. ‘Thursday’s rally came as 145 mn GameStop shares changed hands, the most active day for the stock since January 26, and almost three times the volume seen on average over the past month,’ reported Bloomberg.