The round-up of the stories that a budding Student Lawyer should be aware of this week. Sign up here to get these updates in your inbox every week.
To impeach or not to impeach?
Article written by Beth Zheng (second-year law student at Durham University)
The announcement of Donald Trump’s impeachment proceedings on September 24th 2019 shocked the world. After all, he is only the third American President to be questioned, following Andrew Johnson, impeached for ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ (1868), and Bill Clinton’s acquittal of the same charge in 1998. However, whilst the political world is in full debate, the financial and legal markets seem to consider the proceedings have very minimal impact, and therefore there has not been any significant slowdown in the recent weeks.
Trump has so far been charged with two articles of impeachment, announced by House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi. The first being an ‘abuse of power’, which concerned his meddling in the 2020 Presidential Elections. Trump is accused of pressuring the Ukranian Government to investigate the former Vice President, Joe Biden as well as his son, Hunter Biden. He did so by withholding $400m worth of military aid and refusing to invite the Ukranian President to the White House. The second article was described as ‘obstruction of Congress’, relating to the same incident of election interference.
Following the announcement of the articles of impeachment on the 10th of December 2019, the Democratic Party-controlled House of Representatives voted to approve impeachment proceedings, where the Senate will now try all impeachments. However, on 3rd January 2020, it was reported that the US Senate were in stalemate over how to proceed with the trial with the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell and the Senate Democratic Leader, Chuck Schumer, reaching a point of tension over the correct way to continue proceedings. McConnell has expressed his opinion that the Senate should start proceedings as soon as possible and address witnesses after the briefs and opening arguments, mirroring the structure of Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. Although the Democrats have strongly called for the use of witnesses to reflect a fair trial, it has not yet been decided whether top White House aides will be called as witnesses.
Now, not only is the start date of Trump’s trial being delayed more and more, yet the end result of Trump’s impeachment is unlikely, given that his party, the Republicans, hold a majority in the Senate. This is the primary factor as to why the financial markets do not anticipate huge changes and why the legal market remains relatively unaltered. Notably, it was announced on the 31st December 2019 that a trade agreement between the US and China would be signed on the 15th January 2020, marking a huge step between improving trade relations and de-escalating tension between the two superpowers.
Nevertheless, companies such as Facebook and Microsoft have announced ways in which they have combated misinformation, emphasising that there is increased regulation and sends the message loud and clear that the use of fake accounts to spread propaganda and false information will not be tolerated. However, the most important message from Donald Trump’s impeachment is that no one is above the law, not even the US President.
The World’s Most Profitable Company Floats Away
Article written by Gina Asadi (recent BPP LLM Legal Practice (Solicitors) graduate)
Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil giant made $111 billion in 2018, making it not only the world’s biggest oil producer but also the most profitable company. Early November 2019, the company announced its intention to go public, through an initial public offering (‘IPO’). An IPO is the process of offering shares of a private company to the public by listing the shares on a stock exchange. The IPO comes as a move towards the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s economic reform and modernisation of the Kingdom, his Saudi Vision 2030. This Vision aims to reduce the Kingdom’s reliance on oil by investing the money raised from the sale of Aramco’s shares into non-energy initiatives.
Initial plans for the IPO included the sale of about 5% of the company through a dual-listing on the Saudi stock market, Tadawul, and on an international stock exchange, such as, NYSE or LSE. This was later abandoned as the IPO lost the support of international investors; concerns were raised over oil-price volatility, corporate governance and the heavy involvement of the Saudi government, which is involved in geopolitical conflict. Therefore, Aramco cancelled a number of roadshows aimed at foreign investors and dedicated its resources to focus on local investors. The updated plan for the IPO meant that Aramco would only be listed locally on the Tadawul, with 1.5% of shares being offered for sale to domestic and regional investors. However, Aramco executives indicated that a future international listing could still be viable.
Early December 2019, saw Aramco’s shares being listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange. The IPO raised a record $25.6 billion, rendering it the biggest IPO to date overtaking Alibaba’s $25 billion IPO in New York. Aramco shares were priced at 32 Saudi Riyals ($8.53) in the first week of trading. The IPO values Aramco at $1.7 trillion rather than the 2 trillion that Prince Mohammed had envisioned, nevertheless, still making Aramco the most valuable listed company in the world. It has been reported that the listing is oversubscribed by four times of what the company had expected. The IPO pricing follows Saudi Arabia’s meeting with Russia, as well as other members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, to discuss oil production and global prices.
After a string of not so successful IPOs, such as Uber and Lyft, the Aramco IPO has been described by many as a success, however, the floatation aimed to open the Saudi market to foreign investors. A goal it did not satisfy, leaving financial advisers wondering whether the IPO was truly successful.
Regardless of whether this IPO is viewed as a success, it carries potential opportunities. Greater transparency at the Aramco could mean a better understanding of Saudi Arabia’s actual oil reserves, giving investors a better understanding of the region’s standing. Further, the floatation of such an oil giant in the region could pave the way for other companies in the region becoming public; a move that will generate various opportunities for law firms. However, as it stands today investors and regional companies are keeping a close eye on Saudi Aramco’s performance in order to ascertain what their next moves are going to be.
Article by Mared Davies (third-year Law and Spanish student at the University of Bristol)
In recent years, data breaches have increased in size, cost, and destructiveness. They have exposed government secrets, leaked private celebrity photos, and had a crippling impact on logistics networks. A data breach in this day and age would cost a company an average of almost $4 million. Within the last decade, two-thirds of the largest data breaches ever occurred and billions of records were stolen, including..
3B from Yahoo (2014)
143M from Equifax (2017)
500M from Marriott (2018)
In spite of numerous security warning, consumers consistently reuse the same passwords for multiple different sites; many feeling hopeless about securing their private information anyway. It would appear that the majority are not concerned by the existence of data brokers who collect and sell intimate details of our lives, from age and home address to our interest in watching Stranger Things. Adding fuel to the fire are the internet companies with thousands of data points on us, who have been caught giving third parties access.
GDPR, the largest data protection regulation to date, came into effect in May 2018 in the EU. It cements consumers’ digital rights (like knowing how their personal data is being used) and empowers regulators to find companies that fail to meet those standards. The positive implications of GDPR include improved cybersecurity, standardisation of data protection, brand safety and a loyal customer following (as it allows users to spend more time on the sites they enjoy without being overwhelmed with advertisements from either unsolicited senders or relatively unknown organisations that they were subscribed to in the past).
There are negatives too: non-compliance penalties (a potential fine of 20 million euros or 4% of Global Annual Turnover), the cost of compliance (most organisations reacted to the legislation by instating a Data Protection Officer to take responsibility for ensuring internal policies were updated and any required processes were implemented), and the possibility of over-regulation (adding a double opt-in inside a form presents the modern customer with a never-ending message of consent).
To put it concisely, the general consensus is that the GDPR certainly holds some very positive implications for both businesses and users, but the cost of this can accumulate rather quickly with unforeseen salaries being added to the payroll.
The bottom line is that both regulators and users want more protection, but they’re fighting against 1) internet companies with vested interests in shady data dealings and 2) cyber-attackers intent on exploiting personal information.
Could the explosion of mobile phone ownership lead to healthy competition within the mobile phone industry?
Article by Tonfunmi Bello (LLM Corporate and Commercial Law student at the University of Hertfordshire)
There has been consistent growth through recent years of people who own phones worldwide, with there allegedly being more phones than people in the world. As of 2019, 2.71 billion people own a smartphone with Apple owning the largest market share in the UK. While this growth is exponential, perhaps as one would expect – smart phone usage is heavily focused in countries with advanced economies against those with lower economies. To illustrate, 76 per cent of people in eighteen developed countries owning a smartphone, while only 45 per cent of people in developing countries own a smartphone.
This number is expected to continue to increase. A report by Ericsson cited that there would be at least 6.1 billion smartphone users by 2020 with 90 per cent of the population over the age of six having a mobile phone. There are numerous factors leading to this growth, and the most basic is simply the increase in demand. This is not limited to advanced nations only either as developing nations such as China, India and Nigeria actively seek phones out with or without a recession, given that they are regarded as basic necessities globally.
Market saturation in this context shows that the mobile phone industry has satisfied the entire customer base to a point that there are no new innovative ways firms such as Apple or Samsung can grow (or rather, it is becoming harder to come up with entirely new ideas that cast the competition into the shadows). Due to the fast-paced nature of mobile phones being introduced, for example Apple releasing at least one new phone for the past recent years in a bid to remain current – it goes without saying that the mobiles must continually improve, or companies take over existing market share from the competitors.
This could lead to a serious problem for manufacturers as the global market declined by 2 percent in 2018 and was expected to remain flat in 2019. This saturation has influenced other markets such as the Chinese to look for newer growth areas. A key recent example of this can be noted in Apple’s iPhone 11 unveiling in India which has traditionally been dominated by their market share competitor, Samsung. Regardless of the competitor’s dominance, Apple garnered 41.2 per cent of the premium smartphone market in the second quarter of 2019 showing how rife competition is and more importantly, that no firm in the mobile phone industry could genuinely predict their success in a region no matter how dominant they are in a market. Moreover, a lack of creativity could surely lead to their demise.
The growth of mobile phone ownership is revered as a great invention, facilitating connections easier and faster than ever before. While their growth is extremely fast-paced and relatively expensive it is important to note that, as with other industries, market saturation within the mobile phone business keeps competitors innovative and creative – and can also drive prices down for consumers.