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VOLKSWAGEN: DAS AUTO OR DAS BROKEN AUTO?

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Volkswagen: Das Auto or Das Broken Auto?

Isabelle Chaboud, Professor in Finance, Accounting and Law at Grenoble Ecole de Management.
http://en.grenoble-em.com/annuaire/isabelle-chaboud

The Volkswagen group has been plunging towards an abyss ever since the discovery of its fraudulent circumventing of antipollution tests for diesel vehicles in the United States. The repercussions of the scandal have been quick and painful: the group lost approximately $25 billion in market capitalization over two days; its stock dropped by more than 20%; and the chairman of the board of directors, Martin Winterkorn, stepped down from his position on September 23rd. Mathias Müller, who previously worked for  Porsche, was nominated to replace the ex-chairman. The events following this scandal could not only be fatal to the German group, but also have industry-wide repercussions.

In 2014, Volkswagen was neck and neck with Toyota. The group had sold more than 10 million vehicles around the world and had successfully overtaken GM. Mr. Winterkorn proudly announced the group’s financial results in its last annual report. Given the difficult economic period, the ex-chairman was happy to share positive results: sales of €202.5 billion (up 2.8% from 2013) and a net result of €10.1 billion ( up 21% from 2013).

Given these strong results, the now ex-chairman decided to increase shareholder dividends from €4 to €4.80 per share. In addition, his statement to the group’s shareholders declared: “We support (financial) soundness, reliability and long term success, even under these unfavorable conditions.” However, with the current scandal, such lofty goals appear to have gone up in smoke. The breadth of the scandal revealed on September 18th will likely mark the end of Volkswagen’s ambition to become the industry’s world leader by 2018.

A rapid succession of events

On September 18th, the American Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that Volkswagen knowingly used software to help improve antipollution test results. On September 21st, the German group confessed and expressed its “sincere apology” following which an investigation was launched.

On September 22nd, the group declared that 11 million vehicles worldwide were equipped with this software and therefore called into question their test results. Volkswagen also indicated that in the third quarter of 2015, the group would set aside €6.5 billion to begin addressing this crisis.

A fatal blow to the “Made in Germany” brand

The group has been communicating for years with campaigns built around the German Das Auto slogan. Its slogans and ads, which were delivered in German even in France, helped develop the brand’s image of reliability, security and quality. This scandal however marks the implosion of years of efforts, research and development. By confessing to the use of a software that circumvents antipollution tests for 11 million of its cars, Volkswagen has opened the door to fears in other countries. As a result, Germany, South Korea and Italy have all launched investigations. On September 22nd, the French Minister of Sustainable Development, Ségolène Royal, requested a thorough investigation of the scandal.

To make matters worse for the group’s leaders, the American Department of Justice launched a criminal investigation. The risks are significant as those held responsible for fraudulent declarations and for cheating the Clean Air Act will face prison time.

At the same time, the EPA has launched an investigation and could fine the German automobile manufacturer up to $18 billion. To top off the crisis, thousands of automobile owners have joined together to launch a class action lawsuit in the United States.

Terrible risk management

This scandal is a perfect example of catastrophic risk management. Either the group’s management was unaware of major flaws in internal controls or they covered for their American teams. If the latter is true, how could the group’s management imagine that such a software would not be detected by a regulatory agency? With such a risk in mind, why did the group equip so many vehicles with this software?

It is possible that management estimated the risk of the software being detected to be minimal, but in any case, they greatly underestimated the magnitude of such a risk. If we take into consideration the fact that Volkswagen sold 10 million vehicles in 2014, then the 11 million vehicles equipped with this software translates to more than a year’s worth of sales!

A breakdown in governance

Given the consequences of such a decision, it is hard to imagine that top management, and therefore the board of directors led by Mr. Winterkorn, was not implicated in the decision-making process. A fact that brings into question the effectiveness of the German dual leadership governance model with its management and supervisory boards. This case would appear to be the epitome of an extreme breakdown in corporate governance. Either there was a massive cover-up from the management or we can point to a lack of independent non-executive directors who could have challenged management. Indeed, only very few directors were hired from countries other than Germany and Austria.

Not only does this scandal have a direct and immense financial impact on the group, it could also be a fatal blow to the brand if lawsuits are filed one after another and Volkswagen is forced to pay fines as well as punitive damages. On top of the impact suffered by the German group, the image of diesel fuel is also at risk. Finally, such a scandal has impacted other European manufacturers and their various stocks have dropped since September 23rd.

Michael Horn, President and CEO of the Volkswagen Group of America, appeared before members of Congress for more than two hours on October 8th. His declarations did not appear to convince the Energy and Commerce Committee. Much like Mr. Winterkorn, he stated that it was “not a corporate decision” and that “a couple of software engineers” were responsible for having installed the software in the vehicles. However, Congressman Chris Collins from New York’s 27th District categorically rejects such a view of the scandal. According to him, the manufacturer was either incompetent or responsible for a “massive cover-up.”

With such a major flaw in governance and risk management, who can this really be pinned on? Mathias Muller, the new chairman of the board of directors at Volkswagen, told the group’s 600,000 employees that “we can and we will overcome this crisis.” Nevertheless, he was unable to answer all of the questions brought up by this scandal and he has no real idea of how much it will really cost to fix everything from modifying the vehicles equipped with this software to recouping lost sales, making up for fines and rebuilding the brand’s image.

As a result, the bill is increasing daily. Volkswagen has already announced the recall of 8.5 million vehicles to begin fixing the issue. In addition, new class action lawsuits are being filed in the UK and the German carmaker will probably be forced to reimburse various government subsidies. The crisis could also lower the group’s credit rating which will increase the cost of financing. Analysts at Exane estimate that the cost will be at least €25 billion, whereas Credit Suisse predicts it to be more like €80 billion.

While we continue to await the verdict on who is to be held responsible, the group’s auditors have a real challenge to overcome as they try to calculate how much the group must set aside by the end of December 2015 in order to face this crisis.

Business

5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year

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5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year 1

By Fabio Comminot, Head of Dealing, Switzerland at Ebury, one of Europe’s largest Fintechs, has provided a five-step guide to make sure budgeting is done on time.

During the challenging times of COVID-19, it is difficult to forecast orders and costs. This is especially true for SMEs that operate internationally and therefore are exposed to currency fluctuations and market movements. So budgeting is immensely important.

Autumn is budget season for most companies. Upcoming project costs, sales and fixed costs must be defined or forecasted. Budget planning should be as accurate as possible right from the start of the process to avoid unexpected consequences at the end of the year..

With the effects of the COVID pandemic it has become difficult for all companies, no matter their size or history, to plan and make sales forecasts. Early planning and hedging are especially important for companies that work internationally and are therefore particularly exposed to currency risk.

These five steps will help SMEs take the right measures for the coming financial year, in time for budget season:

Step 1: Estimate your costs or sales in foreign currencies 

As difficult as it may seem, every company must estimate its expected fixed and variable costs for the coming year. Most companies can forecast their revenues based on experience or existing orders.

However, start-ups or young companies should also be able to at least estimate their costs including rents, insurance, wages and production costs. Special attention should be paid to costs or revenues that are spent or received in a foreign currency.

Step 2: Profit or cost assurance – define the strategy

As soon as an approximate plan for the coming year is in place, the company should consider the importance of currency management. Regular earnings or expenditures in foreign currencies are exposed to movements in exchange rates. If costs in a foreign currency are to be forecasted until the end of the year, the company needs to minimise volatility. This means that the exchange rate should be fixed so that there are no unexpected negative consequences at the end of the year.

Another option would be to protect the operating profit. Fluctuating exchange rates can rapidly ruin intended profit margins. In this case the company could aim to define the forecasted sales in the foreign currency and fix the margin based on this.

Step 3: Fix your budget rates 

The budget is set, the currency management goals are defined, the major part is done. Now it is a matter of defining the budgeted rates for the various currencies based on the current exchange rate. A buffer of about 5% can be useful when doing this – for example. instead of fixing the exchange rate from US dollar to Swiss franc at the current 91 cent, a rate of 95 cent could be budgeted. In this way, the minimum budget rate is defined and any negative exchange rate movement can be at least partially compensated for.

Step 4: Define the hedging strategy

With the targets and the budget course set, the next questions are: What currency developments can be expected? What is the industry outlook? Is the order situation relatively secure? Or is there practically no empirical data?

This step is where Ebury can support the company. Our experts in FX markets help answer these questions and begin to define the individual hedging strategy.

Step 5: Ensure a flexible fit

It’s done: the measures have been defined, now it’s time for implementation.

Ebury will implement the previous steps and , so that the company focuses on its core business. In contrast to traditional financial services providers such as banks, Ebury constantly monitors international trade and political events in order to assist clients with strategy adjustments. The Ebury team is supported by state-of-the-art technology and international currency analysts. It makes no difference whether the changes are driven by the currency market or whether the company’s order situation itself is changing. This allows the SME to focus on its operational business, which is worth a lot in uncertain times like these.

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Nearly 14 Million1 UK adults more likely to spend on Black Friday than they were last year

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Nearly 14 Million1 UK adults more likely to spend on Black Friday than they were last year 2

Yolt launches evolved app to help shoppers save whilst they spend

  • Across the UK, consumers are set to spend £6.4bn on discount days
  • Despite the pandemic, 1 in 5 stated they would see an increase in their spending on Christmas this year, revealing they will be likely to spend £240 more than they spent last year
  • Yolt today launches a brand-new evolution of the smart money app, which aims to help people save whilst they spend, saving a minimum of £416 a year
  • To help people spend smarter this Black Friday, the smart money app Yolt has a host of new features including round up functionality, and cashback offers with a wide range of retailers including John Lewis, Argos, Asos and Domino’s

New research* from Yolt, the award-winning smart money app, reveals that over a quarter (26%) of UK adults have said they are more likely to wait for discount days, such as Black Friday, to do their Christmas shopping than they were last year. In response to the pandemic and to help people shop smartly in the run up to the festive period, Yolt has launched a brand-new evolution of its app designed to help users to save whilst they spend. New features include the Yolt account and virtual Money Jar, as well as new cashback partnerships with the likes of John Lewis, Argos, Asos and Domino’s. The evolved smart money app can be used to save shoppers a minimum of £416** a year.

Despite the challenging economic climate, Yolt’s data insights from the first lockdown period in the UK showed that there were increases of up to 355% on spending in categories such as groceries, online clothing retailers, takeaways, and streaming and gaming services. On top of this, Yolt’s data revealed a change in consumers’ financial priorities – with many attempting to save in lockdown, but 65% not being successful in doing so. Therefore, to enable people to find the right balance in their efforts to save for any uncertainty that lies ahead, but also enjoy discount days such as Black Friday and festivities in the run up to Christmas, Yolt has launched a host of new features uniquely designed to help people save whilst they spend.

The evolved app comes at a time of challenging economic conditions, where more UK consumers are actively seeking discounts to try and balance the books this Christmas. Yolt’s research found that consumers across the UK spend an average £6.4bn on discount days such as Black Friday.

In total, over a third (35%) of UK adults said they would be looking to take advantage of upcoming discount days, with nearly one in five (18%) stating they do all their shopping for Christmas and birthdays on discount days and during sales. UK consumers said they tend to spend over £120 on days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and surprisingly almost one in five (19%) state they will actually see an increase in their spending on Christmas this year, verses last year. Those expecting an increase revealed they will likely spend an average of £240 more on this Christmas when compared to last year.

Concerns around affording Christmas are perhaps leading more people to take advantage of Black Friday deals than in previous years. Almost four in ten (37%) don’t tend to set savings aside for Christmas, and almost a quarter (23%) said they are going to have to dip into savings that weren’t allocated for Christmas this year. Finding the right balance between spending and saving for future uncertainty is going to be an increasing challenge for people during the festive period.

Pauline van Brakel, Chief Product Officer at Yolt, comments: “Given the incredibly challenging times we are facing this year as a result of the pandemic; it’s perhaps unsurprising to see that people are more likely to wait until popular discount days such as Black Friday to help them to spend smart over the festive period.  Savvy spending in the run up to Christmas is always a good idea, and discount days can help ease what is for many a very expensive time of year – having said that, people should try not to overspend and risk getting themselves into debt.”

Pauline continues: “Finding the balance between spending and saving isn’t easy. And whilst it might seem like a difficult time to save right now it is also perhaps more important than ever. We’ve launched an evolved version of the Yolt app to help people save whilst they spend. The app enables people to spend smart by earning them cashback on their purchases at selected retailers and rounding purchases up to the nearest pound. Encouraging users to save is central to the app, not only by spending smartly but also by finding them competitive deals on their household bills and even spotting Christmas bonuses or refunds and prompting users to add them to their virtual savings jar.”

The new Yolt app is available from today, with full access to all UK users on iOS. Android will follow in 2021.

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Christmas isn’t cancelled: European shoppers plan to spend more online this Black Friday

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Christmas isn’t cancelled: European shoppers plan to spend more online this Black Friday 3
  • Half (52%) of European consumers plan to do Christmas shopping around holiday sales, including Black Friday, compared to previous years
  • 60% say they are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping online
  • A third (34%) plan on leaving their Christmas shopping until the last minute in hope of securing bigger discounts

As Black Friday approaches, European consumers are not going to let a turbulent year spoil their Christmas. As shoppers continue to adapt to the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are getting even savvier with their spending. New research from Kaspersky has found half (52%) plan to do more Christmas shopping around sales or shopping holidays, including Black Friday, compared to previous years. What’s more, a third (34%) plan on leaving it until the last minute in the hope of securing bigger discounts.

In a bid to enjoy Christmas while also adhering to COVID-19 social distancing measures, European consumers are focusing their attention away from physical stores to find their gifts. In fact, three-in-five (60%) say they are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping online. A fifth (20%) go as far as saying they will make all of their festive purchases online this year, despite not usually doing so.

With online sales set to rise, Kaspersky’s findings also indicate that most consumers are not expected to scale back on their Christmas spending – despite economic recessions across the continent. Only a quarter (26%) of consumers are planning to reduce their Christmas shopping budget this year by at least a third or more due to financial restrictions caused by COVID-19. However, this figure rises to 30% amongst 25 to 34-year-olds, the age group most widely affected by pandemic-related job cuts.

Yet, as the number of consumers bargain hunting online rises, so does the amount of risks being taken to secure big savings. Only 16% are not willing to exchange their personal data for online discounts – despite the potential of falling victim to fraudulent websites and sales scams.

“The festive period is always a big deal, and never more so than this year, as people seek to redress some of the chaos the pandemic has caused throughout 2020. It stands to reason that people are looking to do the majority of their sale shopping online in a bid to stay safe, as well as grab a bargain. But we must also consider that where the crowds go, the criminals follow. Just as pickpockets flock to crowded areas hoping to get lucky, cybercriminals will be looking at consumer shopping trends and trying to exploit people’s eagerness to grab a bargain and save some money. So, my advice would be that people do their research, follow some basic common sense measures when shopping and avoid getting swept up in the tidal wave of hype as we seek to remedy 2020 with a happy festive season. One thing to always bear in mind is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” comments David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky.

Kaspersky warns bargain hunters to remain wary of potential Black Friday and festive season sales scams. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Shop online with confidence this Christmas by following our advice on avoiding retail scams:

  • Only shop with legitimate online stores. It’s always safer to type in the address yourself, or select it from your bookmarks, rather than clicking on a link. Use your browser address bar to check if the website you are visiting is genuine and secure and that they carry the padlock or HTTPS
  • Complete purchases through secure payment methods. Pay with credit cards or robust payment services so that transactions remain protected
  • Verify discounts. If you receive a sales discount via email or text, check the sender and any web links are legitimate before you click
  • Keep your device software and applications up-to-date and protect all your devices with a reputable internet security product. Cybersecurity solutions with behaviour-based anti-phishing technologies, such as Kaspersky Total Security, can send your notifications if you are trying to visit a phishing web page
  • Manage your passwords. Password managers can help you shop with multiple retailers by safely storing your credentials, so they are unique for all of your online accounts
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