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The myth of the ‘poor pensioner’ helps shield the City | Business



Pensioners are a useful defence in the City’s fight to preserve its privileges. Unwittingly they are wheeled out as human shields by the finance industry, and increasingly major corporations, to serve and protect probably the most powerful interests in the UK.

The over-65s – or in many cases the over-55s, given the extent of early retirement – function as a high wall against accusations of tax avoidance, financial plundering and executive enrichment, because the world’s pension funds are benefiting.

So it was last week, when the former Conservative minister Esther McVey told the UK’s biggest supermarkets to hand back about £1.9bn in business rates relief given as a financial cushion in the pandemic.

The controversy centres on the dividend payments to shareholders made by Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons, which McVey said should only have been paid once the companies were free of subsidy.

Sainsbury’s disclosed business rates relief worth £230m in the first half of its financial year, while paying £231m in dividends, and in October, Tesco announced a £315m dividend despite receiving £585m in relief.

There is no way executives can justify sky-high personal rewards unless they can declare their businesses fit and able to pay dividends. If much of the money has come in taxpayer subsidy, no matter.

One analyst, Clive Black at stockbroker Shore Capital, spoke for the City when he told the Times it was “absolutely right” for Sainsbury’s to look after “its retail and pension fund shareholders”.

Meanwhile, Telecom Plus – a FTSE 250 utility company – paid a dividend for the same period as it claimed furlough funds from the government. In a response that mimicked Black’s comment, it said: “We ensured those shareholders who are reliant on the dividends would retain this important source of income.” Asked if the shareholders it had in mind were pensioners, the company said yes.

And what is good for British corporates also works for global investment funds. BlackRock manages more than $7 trillion (£5.3tn) of funds and makes it clear that lobbyists for the organisation represent the interests of hardworking pension savers.

There is no reason to single out BlackRock, other than it is the world’s largest private investment company and the boss of its research arm is touted as a possible Treasury secretary in Joe Biden’s White House. Would the appointment mean the new president leaves the fund management industry alone?

In the UK, BlackRock has recruited former Tory insiders, such as former chancellor George Osborne, presumably in order to stay in touch with the plans, such as they are in the Covid era, being hatched by City regulators and Rishi Sunak’s Treasury department. In Brussels, BlackRock has a huge team that aims to make the voice of the investor heard inside the EU.

Separately, a report last week by the Tax Justice Network estimated that £427bn is lost annually in corporate tax avoidance, mostly by companies shifting profits to low- or zero-tax jurisdictions, and by wealthy individuals using those same havens to evade local taxation.

This money is channelled through the major financial centres into stocks and shares, property and government debt – all with the acquiescence of a finance industry that wants the public to think of its clients only as pension savers.

Any government considering a clampdown will be told that it risks increasing the costs of administering financial transactions. Profit margins are sacrosanct, so investors will need to pay this extra bill.

It doesn’t seem to matter that the ageing and poor pensioner is largely a myth, at least in the arena of private investing.

The latest figures published by the Office for National Statistics show that individual shareholders own just 13.5% of the London stock market. UK pension funds own 2.4% and insurance companies, which could be said to be investing on behalf of pension savers, account for a further 4%. Collectively, that is less than a fifth of the market. The largest slice is held by overseas investors, who own 55%. So what was true in 1981, when individuals owned 28.2% and overseas investors 4% of the London market, is no longer the case.

Without the spectre of the individual saver – one that relies on a dividend payment to make ends meet – ministers have more leeway to tackle the likes of Sainsbury’s over its Covid-related tax breaks. They could also pressurise global fund managers to participate in far-reaching reforms of the City. It is an opportunity they should grab.

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Cramer unveils list of ‘return to normalcy’ stocks on vaccine optimism




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Sportsdigita’s software, used by major sports teams, sees growth during pandemic




Angelina Lawton

Source: John Wagner

Sportsdigita, an all-in-one cloud-based presentation software company owned by former National Hockey League executive Angelina Lawton, sees opportunity amid the pandemic as sports teams conduct business online instead of in person.

The company, which counts the Chicago Bears, Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Red Sox, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Yankees among its clients, is raising $10 million to $25 million in Series A funding. It may use some of the money it rasies to acquire smaller firms that have been hurt financially by Covid-19.

Sportsdigita is a subscription-based software company that’s seen growth since Covid-19 halted in-person meetings. It offers customized presentations and integrates video conferencing and presentation software. It competes with other services, like Microsoft PowerPoint and Microsoft Teams, both of which are included in an Office subscription.

But Sportsdigita considers itself “PowerPoint on steroids” because its Digideck software offers customized presentations for sports teams’ sales and marketing groups, which use them in pitches with corporate partners. Lawton said the Sportsdigita’s Digideck platform’s professional services, which come with subscriptions, help it stand out against competitors.

“That is a big differentiator between us and our competitors,” Lawton said. “We actually do the heavy lifting with the creative and design services. We’ll do the presentations and hand them over to teams once they are done, versus our competitors that will sell their product and then it will be up to the company or the professional team to put their packages together.” Subscriptions to Sportsdigita range in price from $20,000 to $500,000.

Lawton said the coronavirus pandemic sped up Sportsdigita’s development cycle, too.

“Prior to this, we were relying on getting on airplanes and face-to-face meetings,” Lawton explained, noting the product wasn’t scheduled to launch until 2021 or 2022 but was prioritized due to the pandemic.

Lawton said the Series A funding will better position Sportsdigita to gain market share among other companies that offer sales enablement software. MarketsandMarkets said in 2019 that sales enablement will be a $2.6 billion market by 2024.

Sportsdigita took a $3 million seed round in 2017 led by venture capital company Peak6 Investments. One of its investors is well-known Minnesota sports journalist Sid Hartman, who died on Oct. 18. Lawton said the company has 40 employees and wants to grow to 60 in 2021.

“In a baseball game, we’re in the fourth inning,” Lawton explained, describing Sportsdigita’s future. “These next innings will be critical for our success as far as how we pivot and grow.”

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CDC should warn people the side effects from shots won’t be ‘walk in the park’




A volunteer is injected with a vaccine as he participates in a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination study at the Research Centers of America, in Hollywood, Florida, September 24, 2020.

Marco Bello | Reuters

Public health officials and drugmakers must be transparent about the side effects people may experience after getting their first shot of a coronavirus vaccine, doctors urged during a meeting Monday with CDC advisors as states prepare to distribute doses as early as next month.

Dr. Sandra Fryhofer of the American Medical Association noted that both Pfizer and Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccines require two doses at varying intervals. As a practicing physician, she said she worries whether her patients will come back for a second dose because of the potentially unpleasant side effects they may experience after the first shot.

“We really need to make patients aware that this is not going to be a walk in the park,” Fryhofer said during a virtual meeting with the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, an outside group of medical experts that advise the CDC. She is also a liaison to the committee. “They are going to know they had a vaccine. They are probably not going to feel wonderful. But they’ve got to come back for that second dose.”

Participants in Moderna and Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine trials told CNBC in September that they were experiencing high fever, body aches, bad headaches, daylong exhaustion and other symptoms after receiving the shots. While the symptoms were uncomfortable, and at times intense, the participants said they often went away after a day, sometimes sooner, and that it was better than getting Covid-19.

Both companies acknowledged that their vaccines could induce side effects that are similar to symptoms associated with mild Covid-19, such as muscle pain, chills and headache.

One North Carolina woman in the Moderna study who is in her 50s said she didn’t experience a fever but suffered a bad migraine that left her drained for a day and unable to focus. She said she woke up the next day feeling better after taking Excedrin, but added that Moderna may need to tell people to take a day off after a second dose.

“If this proves to work, people are going to have to toughen up,” she said. “The first dose is no big deal. And then the second dose will definitely put you down for the day for sure … You will need to take a day off after the second dose.”

During the meeting on Monday, Patsy Stinchfield, a Children’s Minnesota nurse practitioner, said officials and drugmakers could try talking about the side effects in a more positive way. She said they could use language such as “response” instead of “adverse reaction.”

“These are immune responses,” said Stinchfield, a past voting member of the committee. “And so if you feel something after vaccination, you should expect to feel that. When you do, it’s normal to have some arm soreness or fatigue, some body aches and maybe even a fever. It sounds like in some of these trials, maybe even having to stay home from work.”

“You hear some people in the trials that are disappointed that they didn’t have any of those things, feeling they must have gotten a placebo” she added.

The committee meeting comes three days after Pfizer and its partner BioNTech applied for an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration for their coronavirus vaccine.

The FDA process is expected to take a few weeks, and an advisory committee meeting to review the vaccine has been scheduled for early December. Some Americans could get their first dose of the vaccine in about a month.

ACIP is expected to call an emergency meeting to make specific recommendations on distribution once the FDA authorizes a vaccine.

Federal agencies are already sending vaccination plans around to staff. Five agencies have started telling employees they could receive Pfizer or Moderna’s Covid-19 vaccine in as little as eight weeks, a person with first-hand knowledge of those plans told CNBC on Friday.

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