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The UK unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.8% in the three months to March

   NEWS / 18 May 2021

Published: 18 May 2021
Location: London, UK

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


The UK unemployment rate fell slightly to 4.8% in the three months to March, down from 4.9% in February, and job vacancies hit their highest level in more than 12 months. The figures, which cover a period of strict lockdown, showed "early signs of recovery" in the jobs market, the Office for National Statistics said. The number of workers on payrolls rose by 97,000 between March and April but was still 772,000 lower than before the pandemic struck.
 
A quarter of UK workplaces expect to reduce headcount next year and a third said they already have, according to study by consultancy firm PriceWaterhouse Coopers. The forecasts come despite two-thirds saying in the PwC survey they expect revenue to return to pre-COVID levels within two years, Yahoo Finance UK reports. The research found that with the withdrawal of the job support scheme, staff cuts could be even higher. The poll of 400 British executives also found that more than half (55%) of UK businesses expect to be saddled with debt on their balance sheets within a year, as earnings fail to keep pace with the rate of spending.  A similar proportion said they had struggled to service debt payments within the past year.
 
The price of gold hit a three-month high yesterday as traders turned to the safe-haven metal as a hedge against rising inflation and amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across Asia. Spot gold climbed 0.6% to $1,854 (£1,314) per ounce and US gold futures rose 0.8% to more than $1,853 per ounce. The rise was also spurred by a dip in benchmark US 10-year Treasury yields which slipped to their lowest level in almost a week.
 
The price of bitcoin plunged to its lowest level since the end of February following yet another provocative tweet by Elon Musk tweet which seemed to suggest Tesla could sell its holdings of the cryptocurrency. Bitcoin tumbled as low at $42,212.56, according to figures from Coindesk, a far cry from the highs of $64,000 per coin last month. It is currently down 8% at $44,991 and has fallen more than 20% in the last seven days. Ethereum, the second largest cryptocurrency, and Ripple dropped 8% on the back of the news, while Dogecoin is 5% lower. Musk’s tweets, which have repeatedly moved cryptocurrency markets, do not break any rules as cryptocurrencies are unregulated.
 
Travel stocks fell into the red in London yesterday, despite another step in the unlocking roadmap being enacted in England, as fears about COVID-19 variants dampened investor sentiment. Plans for foreign holidays have been thrown into disarray again after health secretary Matt Hancock warned against visiting "amber list" countries, despite lifting the ban on international travel, and said mutant strains of the virus meant people should avoid going to countries such as Spain, Italy, France and Greece. Prime minister Boris Johnson has said the Indian variant of COVID-19 could pose a "serious disruption" to life returning to some normality in England on 21 June.
 
Ryanair Chief executive Michael O’Leary has told BBC Breakfast that fares will be more expensive in 2022 due to a 25% reduction in the number of available seats than before the pandemic. “There’s no doubt in my mind that prices will rise, particularly during the peaks of the bank holiday weekends, the school holiday travel period,” he said, advising customers to book early because of reduced availability. However, the bosses of EasyJet and British Airways said flight prices would still be competitive and unlikely to rise for countries on the ‘green’ list.
 
Hollywood Bowl Group reported an 83% slump in first-half revenues yesterday. Revenues for the year to 31 March came in at £12.0m against £69.2m a year previously, while the pre-tax loss was £14.5m, compared to a profit of £15.2m in 2020. The group was able to operate its full estate of ten-pin bowling alleys and mini-golf courses for just 11 weeks of the 60 weeks to 17 May.
 
Cadbury says there is a shortage of its 99 Flakes after an unexpected surge in demand for soft-serve ice creams topped with the half-size regular Flakes. The majority of the 99 Flakes sold in the UK are made in a factory in Egypt, with some also arriving from a facility in Coolock in Ireland, the BBC reports. The term 99 Flake is often thought to indicate the original price of the ice cream it accompanies but Cadbury says: "The real reason for "99" Flake being so called has been lost in the mists of time."
 
Consumer group Which?  has expressed concern over travel insurance polices that may not offer travellers the level of protection they expect against potential COVID-19-related disruptions. Half of 2,800 travel insurance customers surveyed by Which? believed they would be covered should the government’s travel advice change after a trip was booked; 47% thought their policy would cover them in the event that local or national lockdowns prevented them from travelling; and 46% believed their policy would cover them if their airline or holiday company postponed travel but wouldn’t offer a cash refund. However, when Which? analysed 73 travel insurance providers between October and November 2020, cover for those three such eventualities – particularly for when government travel advice changes – was very rare, with large discrepancies between policies.
 
The UK’s fifth largest accountancy firm, BDO, has told its employees they can work wherever they feel they are most productive, depending on the task they are doing. For most people this will include a mixture of working at home, in the office and at client sites, BDO said. The move follows an internal survey which found 79% of staff wanted to be able to work remotely or adopt a flexible hybrid model once the covid crisis was over. BDO currently employs around 5,500 people across a total of 18 offices.
 
US telecoms group AT&T has confirmed it will merge WarnerMedia with Discovery to create a new streaming giant. Under the terms of the deal, AT&T shareholders will receive $43bn in cash, debt securities and debt retention, on top of a 71% stake in the new company. Discovery investors will own the remaining 29%. The new company will be second only to Disney, with estimated 2023 revenues of around $52bn and adjusted earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of $14bn.
 
Amazon is reportedly in talks to buy the historic MGM Studios for $9bn (£6.35bn). MGM is one of Hollywood's most famous studios, with its Leo the Lion logo and an almost century-long history. The sale would give the tech giant's Prime streaming service access to a vast back catalogue of iconic content.
 
Starbucks in the US says it will no longer require fully vaccinated customers to wear masks inside stores unless required by state law or local mandate. The announcement comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that fully vaccinated people don't have to cover their faces indoors anymore. Walmart, Costco and Trader Joe's are also allowing mask-free shopping under the same principle. Workers at Starbucks, however, will still be forced to wear face coverings all day.
 
The World Health Organization (WHO) claims long working hours are killing hundreds of thousands of people a year. The first global study of its kind showed 745,000 people died in 2016 from stroke and heart disease “due to long hours” with people living in Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific region the most affected. The WHO study, conducted with the International Labour Organization, found working 55 hours or more a week was associated with a 35% higher risk of stroke and a 17% higher risk of dying from heart disease, compared with a working week of 35 to 40 hours. Three quarters of those that died as a result of working long hours were middle-aged or older men. Often, the deaths occurred much later in life, sometimes decades later, than the long hours were worked, the WHO said.


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