Opinion

Published

Has the FT given up on British businesses?

4 Mins

Sadly not any more if you are a home-grown business.

Last week I selected, at random, two days’ worth of the “Companies and Markets” section of the FT and, yes, it is actually devoted to reporting on companies and market events. Having parted with a not-to-be-sniffed-at £2.50 per paper, you could be forgiven for expecting some news and thoughts on a broad range of UK companies and yes, each day, seven pages are available to be filled with such. But what do we find there? 

My £5 worth covered 17 articles on US companies, 13 on Continental European, ten on the rest of the world and just seven on ours. Yes there were another five on FTSE 100 constituents but, as they tend to have operations all over the world, they hardly fit into domestic coverage. 

Why would most of us want to read articles entitled “Orange to offer Facebook in Africa” or “Cisco to appeal against Skype takeover clearance” or “Danone cuts sales and margin targets”?

President Sarkozy might be relieved to read “L’Oreal ready for the next generation” and mildly interested in “France Telecom hits out at rival” but why should you or I care? 

Meanwhile “ThyssenKrupp blames net loss on weaker demand” and “Hamburg to take biggest stake in Hapag-Lloyd” is hardly going to rouse the interest of those on the 07.43 to Cannon St, or indeed heading to work anywhere else in Britain, is it?

Just a very few years ago, the “Pink ‘Un” not only used to report on a considerable number of our companies every day but many of these were also accompanied by a comment section, which analysed and gave an opinion on the business in question. No chance of that now.

And it doesn’t get any better when it comes to writing about our circa 1,700 companies in the small-cap sectors. Just two were mentioned in the London stock market report section over my two-day sample.

What has gone wrong? 

The answer is that the paper has become obsessed with painting itself as an international beastie. 

The last nail in the coffin for reporting on our companies was when the excellent David Blackwell (twice winner of the AIM analyst of the Year Award) decided to plump for early retirement at the end of last year. Result? The latest circulation figures show they are selling a pathetic 70,478 papers in the UK and Ireland and just 220,027 for all their efforts everywhere else. 

When you try to be all things to all those interested in finance and commerce, you end up appealing to no-one.

There are a few positives that its tiny subscriber base can still look to, namely three first-class columnists in Gillian Tett (general banking and international finance), Wolfgang Munchau (comment on the absurdities of Euroland) and Lucy Kellaway (excellent at sending up corporate speak). But that’s about it.

The FT used to be required reading for all those working in the London corporate markets and for most SME business leaders. Not anymore. 

At a time when everyone from government ministers to the CBI, IOD, the ICAEW, and even bankers are looking to encourage British businesses, the fact that the most established home-grown journal of the past 120 years has almost become an irrelevance here is absurd. 

Can someone shake it up before it gives up on us altogether?

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