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Submitted by Bill Blain of Mint Partners

The theme this Friday morning is brinksmanship and stupidity. The headlines sound awful – “Trade War! Bring It On says Beijing”.

Trade war? Ouch, stock markets don’t like it. Trump has used his big trade stick to enact $50 bln of sanctions on China imports. The rhetoric in China went straight up to 11! Fury in the papers and from the official organs of state. BUT! The Chinese responded with a mere $3 bln of tariffs against US imports. Its’ a measured response – acknowledging there is power in Trump’s charges and ability to damage China.

Its’ what the Chinese haven’t done that’s interesting. When they cancel Boeing orders, and put the pressure on US Soya Exports – that’s when yesterday’s 3% stock market wobble becomes some more centrifugal… Stocks gapped down through long-term moving averages y’day – in thin holiday markets, ahead of quarter-end, I suspect next week is going to be torrid!

It's elsewhere things get really silly. Like more debunkings from Trump’s Casablanca as he sacked his National Security Advisor – a general he disagreed with, for a civilian who shares his enthusiasm for big-stick diplomacy. Elsewhere, we’re wondering if Facebook looks terminally punctured.

And, then there is UK financial Aviva making a complete *rs* of itself.

Why? Aviva has been a major story in sterling markets the past few weeks. Aviva decided to redeem its outstanding Preference Shares (a traditional form of non-voting debt-like equity) at par on the basis they will no longer count as capital from 2026. Problem was the Prefs were trading around 175! Meaning investors were going to be absolutely gutted – and Aviva justified it as good for shareholders!

There is nothing in the documentation to say such a redemption was ever envisaged or permitted – investors had no reason to expect the bonds would be redeemed at par against their interest. Yet, an obscure precedent involving Lloyds redeeming bonds early gave a fug of dubious legality to the process.

There was an immediate hue and cry. Fury from investors. (Disclosure: I decided not to say anything as I’ve got some in my own pension pot.) Then, after weeks of pressure, last night the CEO announced they were cancelling the buyback, and “preference shareholders can rest secure in their holdings”. Really? What ******* planet is he living on???

That does not help the thousands of retail holders who saw the value of their holdings plummet. One of my traders has been watching the price and the tick by tick action – as 25K, 50K and 100K tickets traded down as low 110%. Each of these tickets represented some panicked pensioner’s savings, their pension nest egg, being sold because of the fear the initial announcement engendered. This morning the Aviva’s are trading back up to 164%!
And, holders have been selling other names prefs, fearing other issuers would be equally dismissive of their pref investors.  

Funnily enough… just over a week ago, Aviva CEO Mark Wilson accepted a non-exec position on the Blackrock board. Guess what? Blackrock has been one of the major firms campaigning against Aviva making the pref call!

Aviva may think they’ve done the right thing cancelling the redemption. The reality? Retail investors have been fleeced. I strongly suggest Parliament considers hauling Wilson in and suggesting he and his board personally recompense any and every investor that lost money for their stupidity and abuse of markets. I’ve been advised by one of lawyer chums there is a very strong case for investors to haul Aviva in front of the courts.