GEORGE NIXON: Who is responsible for approving these ridiculous financial adverts? - Godz
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GEORGE NIXON: Who is responsible for approving these ridiculous financial adverts?

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One of the things said to unite successful investors and journalists alike is an awareness of the world around you.

Which brands and companies people are choosing, what’s cropped up that’s new and exciting, and what seems to be falling by the wayside.

I can’t claim to be either, but now I’ve re-emerged blinking into the sunlight after the country’s third lockdown, it’s time for the resumption of one of my favourite forms of newsgathering: looking at adverts on the tube.

Transport for London owns a fifth of the country’s advertising space

Because the chances are, if I’m asking, ‘what is this supposed 5 per cent guaranteed risk-free offer?’, plenty of others will be too.

And the millions of people who use our public transport system every day, many of whom are unlikely to have anything more than brief knowledge of financial regulation, cryptocurrencies or investment risk, are also likely thinking anything displayed has been rigorously checked and approved in advance.

So you would hope. Sadly, the truth isn’t quite so rosy. 

As I reported in February last year, a Chinese cryptocurrency firm called Zeux was allowed to plaster adverts for a 5 per cent ‘savings’ rate all over the London Underground, without anyone raising an eyebrow at it in advance.

It managed to slip through a hole in a regulatory regime which said the actual financial elements of its adverts were handled by the financial regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority. The FCA preferred to try and drown me in paperwork rather than give me a straight answer as to whether it had approved these ads beforehand.

Needless to say, it hadn’t.

Meanwhile Transport for London, which remarkably owns a fifth of the entire country’s advertising space, has a subsection of its advertising policy devoted to promotions of lap-dancing clubs, but not for financial adverts which would seem to pose far more harm.

After all, to paraphrase Jennifer Lopez in the 2019 film Hustlers, about a group of strippers turned thieves, what is someone going to say, ‘I lost five thousand dollars at a strip club, send help’?

In February 2020 we reported on a Chinese cryptocurrency firm which had dressed itself up as a best buy savings account

As much as I’d love to say this story caused uproar and led to a seismic change in the way public advertising is regulated, it didn’t.

In the last few months alone, we have had the collapse of Football Index, a gambling platform which claimed to let people buy and sell ‘shares’ in football players and earn ‘dividends’ based on their performance, presumably based on valuations devised on the back of a scrap of paper.

The company, which has left customers £90.5million out of pocket according to its administrators, was told by the Advertising Standards Authority to stop likening itself to an investment platform as long ago as September 2019.

A sponsored YouTube video from that June saw it describe itself as ‘basically the football stock market’. A punchy ruling from the ASA said it needed to stop ‘creating the impression their product was an investment opportunity when that was not the case.’

Football Index, founded by porn tycoon Adam Cole (pictured), frequently likened itself to a football stock market, despite being a gambling company

And yet still it kept up the pretence, with a NASDAQ-style ticker and the investment language persisting almost up until its collapse.

Such was the façade this firm was perpetuating I was even told that several years ago it was potentially looking to apply to the FCA for an investment licence.

And then only the other week we had a cryptocurrency brokerage called Luno rapped by the ASA for using the advertising strapline: ‘If you’re seeing bitcoin on the Underground/a bus, it’s time to buy’.

Needless to say, the ad failed to mention bitcoin has seen its value fall 46 per cent since mid-April and is so intensely volatile it can lose investors thousands in a day.

Cryptocurrency exchange Luno was told to take down adverts for failing to mention the massive risk involved in trading the likes of bitcoin 

The company has said it has introduced ‘new signage in London’ in a cringeworthy tweet ahead of the ASA’s ruling, which came nearly a month after complaints about the adverts surfaced on social media.

However even in spite of this, I was telling a friend of mine in the pub in Soho last Friday all about this sorry saga, and mid-conversation a bus with the same, supposedly banned, advert rolled past the window behind him. I found the same one last week in Euston tube station.

And this is all without getting into the Wild West that is online advertising, which was brilliantly exposed by journalists at our sister title Money Mail, who set up a scam advert on Google for just £96 which received 1,700 click-throughs.

The search engine giant, by directly taking money from both scammers and then for warnings from the people trying to stop them, is playing both sides in a manner worthy of a character in a John le Carré novel.

However the adverts remain widespread, even though the company claimed it had launched ‘new and improved adverts’

As another senior financial journalist wrote on Twitter a little while back, the FCA might even be better off just paying someone to type ‘best fixed-rate bonds’ into Google on a daily basis, such is the game of whack-a-mole we all seem to be playing.

But closing the stable door after the horse has bolted and taken thousands of pounds of people’s money is a waste of everyone’s time. 

The real question then, as my rather exasperated editor Simon Lambert put it on last week’s This is Money podcast, is who is OK’ing this stuff in the first place.

Who at TfL, the FCA or whoever else, thought: ‘If you’re seeing bitcoin on the side of a bus it’s time to buy’ was an appropriate strapline to place in front of millions of financially unsophisticated people? Cryptocurrency trading isn’t even regulated at the moment.

And who at Google, or our regulators, thinks adverts for bonds paying 9.5 per cent, at a time when 24-month savings accounts have just nudged 1 per cent for the time since last December, pass muster?

Maybe we don’t expect better from the technology giants these days, but we should from the people approving the adverts on public transport networks.

Some have argued that adverts for cryptocurrency should be banned as a result. I get the argument, but I actually think it lets our regulators off the hook. After all, if it’s all banned, then it’s nothing to do with them, it’s the consumer’s fault.

It lets them avoid the question of why a cryptocurrency firm is allowed to dress up as a savings account, as to why a betting company can clothe itself as an investment firm, and why something so volatile it can swing 15 per cent in a day can sell itself a risk-free purchase.

And they should be asking themselves why, after all the losses to fraud and in scandals like London Capital & Finance, Football Index and Basset & Gold, these things keep happening again, and again.

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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VW unveils seven-seat T7 Multivan to tempt families out of big SUVs

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Volkswagen has lifted the covers on its latest model – the T7 Multivan – and it’s aimed at tempting large families out of their seven-seat SUVs.

The T7 Multivan, which will cost from around £50,000, is the replacement for the T6 Caravelle and shifts to VW’s more car-focused platform, rather than being based on a commercial van as its predecessors have been.

The transition to the German maker’s extended MQB platform – the same one underpinning the Volkswagen Tiguan, Seat Tarraco and Skoda Kodiaq SUVs – means it will also be available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain.

And that gives an electric-only driving range of about 30 miles – which should be more than enough to complete the there-and-back daily school run.

VW’s new suave seven-seat MPV: This is Volkswagen’s T7 Multivan – a family bus it hopes will tempt buyers away from large SUVs

The T7 Multivan is expected in showrooms later this year. 

While the outgoing Caravelle MPV was based on the Transporter van, the forthcoming VW-badged commercial vehicle will be developed and produced in partnership with Ford’s Transit.

It means this new T7 Multivan is a new model from the ground up that will allow the MPV to offer customers the latest technology, including the first ever plug-in hybrid powertrain in a VW bus.

The Multivan eHybrid pairs a 148bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine with an 114bhp electric motor located on the front axle, which is powered by a 13kWh battery pack that stored under the floor.

It will use a six-speed DSG dual-clutch transmission. 

The combined maximum power output is 215bhp, while the battery – when fully charged – will offer zero-emission ‘short urban trips’ of around 31 miles before the petrol engine needs to engage.

The T7 Multivan uses VW’s car-focused MQB platform. The Caravelle it replaces shared its chassis with the Transporter van

The switch to a more conventional car platform sees the Multivan get plug-in hybrid technology

The Multivan eHybrid has a 148bhp turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engine and a 114bhp electric motor powered by a 13kWh battery pack that is stored under the floor. It will be capable of zero-emission ‘short urban trips’ of around 31 miles in EV mode

It will also be sold at launch with the option of a 1.5-litre or 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with eight-speed gearboxes.

A diesel option is likely to be added to the range in 2022, despite the majority shift away from vehicles with oil-burning engines.

VW hopes the reinvention of its biggest MPV will attract family-car customers who have in recent years switched attention to seven-seat SUVs.

With MPV sales dwindling, manufacturers have offered additional seating capacity in their largest sport utility vehicles, with the likes of the Nissan X-Trail (from £27,235), Skoda Kodiaq (from £27,955) and Peugeot 5008 (£29,590) aimed at buyers needing extra space for kids.

Seven seater SUVs – what they cost

  • Citroen Berlingo: £24,265
  • Citroen Grand C4 SpaceTourer: £26,230
  • Nissan X-Trail: £27,235
  • Skoda Kodiaq: £27,955
  • Peugeot 5008: £29,590
  • BMW 2-series Gran Tourer: £30,210
  • Land Rover Discovery Sport: £31,390 (£1,020 option)
  • Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace: £32,740
  • Mercedes-Benz GLB: £36,930
  • Kia Sorento: £39,110
  • Toyota Landcruiser: £42,405
  • Land Rover Defender 110: £44,210 (£1,900 option)
  • Toyota Highlander: £50,610
  • Land Rover Discovery: £53,150
  • Lexus RX-L hybrid: £53,805
  • Volvo XC90: £56,135
  • Audi Q7: £58,570
  • BMW X5: £60,010
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE: £63,935
  • Range Rover Sport: £64,685 (£1,620 extra)
  • Mercedes-Benz electric EQB: (TBC) Mercedes-Benz GLS: £77,110
  • BMW X7: £77,670
  • Audi SQ7: £79,845

However, in terms of comparable price, the new VW will be a notch up and therefore aiming to steal sales from the Audi Q7 (£58,570) BMW X5 (£60,010), Land Rover Discovery (£53,150) and Volvo XC90 (£56,135).  

While there are plenty of changes under the T7 Multivan’s skin, it has stuck with tradition, offering a horizontally split two-tone livery – a recognisable element from the outgoing Caravelle.

In terms of looks, the Multivan shares many design features with VW’s latest range of electric cars, like the ID.3 and ID.4. That includes the new headlight arrangement and honeycomb grille. 

As standard, the new model measures in at 1,941mm wide, 4,973mm long and 1,903mm high, broadly in line with the existing Caravelle.

There will also be a long-wheel base version with a 5,173mm-long chassis, with much of the additional space coming in the wheelbase to provide more cabin room.

To make the MPV more flexible, it also has a new modular seating system, doing away with the three-seater bench in the second row and instead having independent chairs. 

Each of these five rears seats can be removed entirely, while the second row be rotated 180 degrees to face the third-row passengers for a more social layout. 

The seats are also 25 per cent lighter than before, helping to keep the overall bulk of the Multivan as low as possible.

There’s also a multi-function table with cupholders than can collapse into an armrest and be moved up and down the cabin from the first to the third row of seats. 

Behind the rear row is a 469-litre boot (in the standard wheel-base version), which extends to 1,844 litres with the rearmost seats removed.

Up front, the van-like centre console has been omitted entirely, with a conventional manual handbrake replaced with an electronic parking brake operated from a switch low in the dashboard unit. The automatic gear selector has also been moved higher in the dash, sitting alongside a 10.0-inch standard infotainment touchscreen.

Drivers will also get a new multifunction steering wheel and 10.25in digital instrument display and optional upgrades include a head-up display and a wireless smartphone charger. 

Slide me

VW has done away with a conventional bench and now provides five independent rear seats. Each can be removed individually. There is also a multi-function table that can act as an arm rest and be slid up and down the cabin

Up front, the T7 Multivan feels very much like a big VW family car. With the controls for the automatic parking brake and auto-gearbox selector now moved to the dashboard, it means the MPV has a completely flat floor

In terms of looks, the Multivan shares many design features with VW’s latest range of electric cars, like the ID.3 and ID.4. That includes the new headlight arrangement and honeycomb grille

VW has also packed the T7 Multivan with the latest array of advanced safety features, including road sign recognition, lane-keeping assistance and automatic emergency braking.

It will also debut Volkswagen IQ.Drive system in one of its larger MPV models, which uses the adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assistance functions to enable what it calls ‘semi-autonomous driving’ on long-distance journeys.

Prices are expected to be announced later this year and start from about £50,000.

SAVE MONEY ON MOTORING

This post first appeared on Daily mail

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IPO boom: Average share price of newly-listed firms has risen 24%

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Companies that have listed on the London Stock Exchange this year have seen their share price rise by an average 24 per cent, according to investment platform AJ Bell.

The amount of money raised on the capital city’s stock market in the first five months of this year is also at its highest since 2015, with the majority arising from secondary listings.

This is still some way behind the amount amassed during the global financial crisis from January to May 2009 though, when about £40billion was raised and is also lower than the levels raised in the period after the tech bubble burst.

Financial powerhouse: The amount of money raised on London’s stock market from January to May is at its highest since 2015, with the majority arising from secondary listings

AJ Bell found that food delivery giant Deliveroo had raised £1billion in cash from its London listing this year, the most of any firm; however, it has also seen its share price dive the most (35.4 per cent) of any company.

The top two share price increases have both been among mining businesses: Caerus Mineral Resources (172 per cent), which mines copper in Cyprus, and Cornish Metals (134.1 per cent), which is planning to reopen a 400-year-old tin mine.

Other successful listings have included lithium-ion battery maker Amte Power (43.6 per cent), cybersecurity group Darktrace (41.8 per cent), and bar group Nightcap (130 per cent), whose co-founder is former Dragons Den star Sarah Willingham.

Mining greats: Shares in Caerus Mineral Resources and Cornish Metals have risen the most of any newly-listed company in 2021, growing 172 per cent and 134.1 per cent, respectively

TV personality: Former Dragon Den’s star Sarah Willingham co-founded bar group Nightcap

In total, the 40 companies whose listings AJ Bell has analysed – including Virgin Wines, MusicMagpie and Trustpilot – have raised £12.8billion so far, and more of them have seen their share price grow than decline.

Russ Mould, an investment analyst at the platform, has noted though that the recent decisions by some businesses to delay their listings, such as Tungsten West and Elcogen, could be ‘seen by some as a further sign that London is losing its lustre as a venue for up-and-coming firms.’

But he said that investors are taking more care and attention when deciding whether to back newly publicly-traded companies, particularly following the disastrous IPOs conducted by Deliveroo and Alphwave IP.

Loved up: Greetings card seller Moonpig has had a very successful time on the London stock market, which came after the group experienced a pandemic-induced boom in sales

‘The average share price gain across the 40 or so firms that have made it to market this year is 23 per cent, compared to the initial offering price.

‘It can therefore be argued that investors are sifting through market newcomers in a very methodical manner, buying those that meet their governance, business model, financial performance and valuation criteria and spurning those that do not.’

Deliveroo was one of the most hotly-anticipated listings this year, but in the run-up to its stock market debut, many investors backed out, citing concerns over the working conditions experienced by staff.

The company has also not made a profit since former banker Will Shu founded it in 2013, even as it experienced a substantial boost in Covid-induced sales, alongside takeaway groups like Just Eat and Domino’s.

Bad meal: Deliveroo was one of the most hotly-anticipated London listings this year, but its share price has plunged by over a third since its stock market debut in late March 

By contrast, online card seller Moonpig, whose sales have also soared during the pandemic, has seen its share price grow by just over a third (35.2 per cent), just behind Mods’ favourite bootmaker, Dr Martens (35.8 per cent).

Mould said that when it comes to investing in businesses, ‘avoiding losers is every bit as important as picking winners. Granted, it is still frustratingly difficult for private investors to get access to IPOs at the actual offer price, and they are left scrambling to buy stock in good deals in the open market.

‘As such, they will have not had a chance to accrue that average 24 per cent capital gain. But at least professional money managers have been doing their job by protecting client funds and not piling into any old deal at any old price.

‘The way in which multi-billion-dollar valuations at the American firms WeWork and Katerra just melted away, despite the powerful backing of Softbank, is a useful reminder of Buffett’s warning and how easy it can be to lose money if you pay the wrong price for the wrong firm at the wrong time.’

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Ashtead shares soar as investors cheer dividend hike and surge in profits

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Millions of savers and pensioners will be happy to hear that equipment rental firm Ashtead has raised its dividend after profits more than doubled in the last quarter of its financial year. 

The FTSE 100 listed group, which is often a staple of UK investment funds and pension portfolios, said it ‘returned to growth’ in the three months to the end of April.

Rentals of its equipment accelerated as it picked up extra work supporting UK hospitals and testing centres, with the company saying it benefited from its business being very diverse. 

A diverse business: Ashtead is the UK’s biggest supplier of traffic cones

Ashtead is the UK’s biggest supplier of traffic cones, but also organises the perimeter fence and crowd control at Glastonbury festival and rents out construction equipment and tools such as diggers.

Rental revenues in the quarter rose 5 per cent to around £1.1billion – or by 15 per cent at constant exchange rates – while overall revenues hit £1.3billion, an increase of 13 per cent. Pre-tax profits jumped to £220million, from £98million a year earlier. 

That means that for the whole year to the end of April, total revenues fell by just 0.4 per cent to £5billion, while pre-tax profit fell 4.8 per cent to £936million. 

In light of the improvement in the final quarter, the group proposed a final dividend of 35p, taking the full year total to 42.15p per share, a 3.7 per cent increase on last year. 

Shares in Ashtead fell at the open but were up 3.3 per cent to £52.54 by 12:15pm on Tuesday. They have risen by 45 per cent this year as it managed to weather the pandemic better than other firms thanks to the diversity of its services. 

Chief executive Brendan Horgan said: ‘Our business can perform in both good times and more challenging ones.’

And added: ‘The benefit we derive from the diversity of our products, services and end markets, our investment in technology and ongoing structural change, enhanced by the environmental and social aspects of ESG, enables the Board to look to the future with confidence.’

Back on track: Ashtead, which rents out equipment like diggers, said it ‘returned to growth’ in the three months to the end of April

The company said that in the UK, it raked in rental revenues of £362million over the year, up from £349million the year before thanks to more work for the Department of Health, which accounted for around a third of its UK revenues.

The company’s biggest market, however, is the US, where it generates about 86 per cent of its turnover. 

There, rental revenues from its Sunbelt arm fell by ‘only’ 2 per cent to $3.98billion, compared to $4.07billion the year before, which the company said it represented a ‘strong market outperformance’ as the pandemic continues to impact the construction business.  

Ashtead’s management seems confident though, which is proved by the fact that last month it launched a £1billion share buyback and pledged to supplement that with a sixteenth consecutive increase in the annual dividend.  

The company also said that it had not made any staff redundant and had not claimed any Covid financial support from governments. 

Shares in FTSE 100 listed Ashtead have risen by 45 per cent this year 

‘What is good for America is good for Ashtead, as four-fifths of the company’s sales and nine-tenths of its profits are generated Stateside, and a recovery in the US economy looks to be driving a revival in the FTSE 100 firm’s fortunes,’ said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

‘Ashtead’s American Sunbelt operation will benefit from higher economic output in the USA and especially from more activity in key end markets such as construction, while even the oil and gas sector is looking a lot less bad than before,’ he added. 

Nicholas Hyett, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, also believes Ashtead is well placed to benefit from large government infrastructure works in 2022.  

Neil Shah, director of research at Edison, added: ‘As the pandemic continues to impact large portions of the construction business across Ashtead’s key markets of the USA, Canada and the UK, a resilient business model and balance sheet have meant that overall business impact has remained low.’ 

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