Published: 30 March 2021
UK business confidence has increased by 13 percentage points to 15%, the highest level since the start of the pandemic in March last year, according to the Lloyds Bank Business Barometer. Lloyds says the jump in confidence reflects the UK’s vaccine rollout programme and the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. Overall business confidence is calculated by averaging the views of 1,200 companies on their business prospects and optimism about the UK economy, with this most recent survey conducted between 1 and 15 March. Over a quarter of companies now expect to add to their workforce, up two percentage points on last month, while 22% are anticipating reductions.
Secret filming at Lighthouse Labs in Milton Keynes, one of the biggest UK Covid testing labs in the country, has found evidence of potential contamination, discarded tests and pressure to hit targets. A BBC Panorama reporter working as a lab technician filmed staff cutting corners and processing samples in a way that could cause contamination. This means some people who had taken a test via NHS Test and Trace may have received no result or a wrong result.
Mortgage approvals for February were up 20% on the same month last year, according to new data released yesterday morning by the Bank of England. The stats show a slight slowdown from borrowing levels seen in January, declining to 87,669 from 97,350, although approvals were still well above the monthly average in the six months to February 2020 of 67,300. Net mortgage borrowing was £6.2bn in February - the highest level since March 2016.
Global accounting and consultancy firm EY has dropped its appeal against a judge's decision ordering it to pay $10.8m to a whistleblower who flagged money laundering concerns. A BBC investigation revealed EY covered up evidence of smuggling by an organised crime gang that was laundering drug money from the UK via Dubai's gold markets and helped to cover up the crime of exporting to Dubai of gold bars that had been disguised as silver to avoid export limits on gold.
Royal Mail is offering free parcel pick-ups from home for the next few weeks to boost its delivery business. The company normally charges 72p to pick up a parcel, on top of the postage fee, but will waive the pick-up charge until the end of May to try to persuade more people to use the service. Royal Mail is attempting to secure a larger portion of the UK delivery business, which sees three billion parcels sent a year.
Wetherspoon has announced a programme of development to open 18 new pubs and make significant extensions and upgrades to scores of existing pubs, investing a total of some £145 million and creating 2,000 new jobs. Once all 75 projects in the pipeline are completed, Wetherspoon said it anticipates investing £750 million to open 15 new pubs and enlarging 50 existing pubs each year for 10 years, creating 20,000 new jobs.
Deliveroo has narrowed the price range for its upcoming initial public offering, blaming "volatile" market conditions. The food delivery app was seeking to float on the London Stock Exchange at a opening price of between £3.90 and £4.60 per share, but has now limited the price range to between £3.90 and £4.10 a share, thereby reducing its valuation from £8.8bn to between £7.6 and £7.85bn. Legal & General Investment Management, M&G and Aberdeen Standard have said they will not invest in Deliveroo because of concerns about the company's use of the ‘gig economy’ and its decision to use a dual-class share structure.
Domino's Pizza Group says it will sell its Icelandic unit for ISK 2.4bn (£13.7m) in cash as part of its ongoing programme to divest non-UK and Ireland assets. The 23 stores in Iceland will be bought by a local consortium and the proceeds from the disposal used initially to reduce group debt. The transaction is subject to competition approval in Iceland but all being well should complete before the end of May 2021. Last year Domino’s exited Norway and earlier this month said it was in talks on a sale of Domino's Sweden.
The US has warned it could put tariffs of up to 25% on a host of UK exports in retaliation for a UK tax on tech firms. Ceramics, make-up, overcoats, games consoles and furniture could all be hit, according to a list published by the Biden administration. The duties are designed to raise $325m (£235.8m), the amount the US believes the UK will raise from US tech firms. A UK government spokesperson said it wanted to "make sure tech firms pay their fair share of tax".
Rupert Murdoch's publishing empire, News Corp, has bought the books and media division of Lord of the Rings and George Orwell publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in a $349m deal. The business will be folded into its current book publishing operation Harper Collins Publishers, a News Corp subsidiary. The sale is subject to regulatory approval.
Royal Dutch Shell has proposed linking directors' pay more closely to climate performance and severing the link between bonuses and liquefied natural gas production volumes, as a step on the energy company’s transition to net zero emissions by 2050. The proposal would double to 20% the directors' long-term incentive plan if shareholders vote in favour on May 18. Shell, which did not pay a bonus to Chief Executive Ben van Beurden in 2020, also proposed not to raise his salary in 2021.
Reuters reports that Visa will allow the use of the cryptocurrency USD Coin to settle transactions on its payment network. USD Coin is a stablecoin, meaning its value is directly pegged to the US dollar. Visa’s move is the latest in a stream of mainstream financial institutions who have announced their support for cryptocurrencies. Large firms including Mastercard, Paypal and BlackRock have started using some digital coins in recent months.
UK investors are looking beyond Europe for stronger returns on their investments. According to the latest research from Charles Schwab UK, Japan is now the most attractive market for UK investors, 68% of whom now invest there. China also saw the biggest jump in attractiveness, up 15% since the research was conducted in May last year, and 67% of UK traders currently invest in the US. 18% said they had invested more in the US over the last three months.
The BBC reports that Nike is suing Brooklyn art collective MSCHF over a controversial pair of "Satan Shoes" that contain a drop of real human blood in the soles. The $1,018 (£740) trainers, which feature an inverted cross, a pentagram and the words "Luke 10:18", were made using modified Nike Air Max 97s. MSCHF released 666 pairs of the shoes on Monday in collaboration with rapper Lil Nas X and says they sold out in less than a minute. Nike claims trademark infringement.
Petr Kellner, the Czech Republic's richest man, has been killed in a helicopter crash in Alaska. The 56-year-old businessman, whose net worth has been estimated at $17.5bn by Forbes, was aboard an Airbus AS350 B3 helicopter when it crashed near Knik Glacier under ‘unknown circumstances.’
The billionaire's death, along with those of four others, was announced by his financial group PPF.
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