Published: 20 May 2021
The owner of the USA’s largest oil pipeline, forced to close following a cyberattack two weeks’ ago, has confirmed a $4.4m (£3.1m) ransom was paid to DarkSide, the cyber-criminal gang responsible. Colonial Pipeline boss Joseph Blount told the Wall Street Journal he authorised the payment on 7 May because of uncertainty over how long the shutdown would continue, and after discussions with experts who had previously dealt with DarkSide. The 5,500-mile pipeline carries 2.5 million barrels a day and carries 45% of the East Coast's supply of diesel, petrol and jet fuel. Blount said: “I will admit that I wasn't comfortable seeing money go out the door to people like this…but it was the right thing to do for the country."
An extended, bolstered inquiry into the computer accounting scandal at the Post Office which saw hundreds of sub-postmasters wrongly accused of theft and fraud will deliver its conclusions in the Autumn of 2022, more than a year after originally planned. Business minister Paul Scully said that as a statutory inquiry, witnesses could now be compelled to give evidence. The convictions of 47 former Post Office workers have been quashed, with hundreds more expected to follow. An inquiry was set up last September and led by retired High Court judge Sir Wyn Williams. It was originally expected to report its findings this summer.
At least nine people have become new billionaires on the back of vaccine-related sales and profits at pharmaceutical companies, according to a study from the People's Vaccines Alliance, a consortium which includes Global Justice Now, Oxfam and UNAIDS. Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel and BioNTech's Ugur Sahin now have a wealth of $4.3bn and $4bn respectively, Yahoo Finance UK reports. Two of Moderna’s founding investors and the firm’s chair as well as the CEO of ROVI, a company with a deal to manufacture and package the Moderna jab, have also become billionaires. The final three new vaccine billionaires are all co-founders of the Chinese vaccine company CanSino Biologics. Analysis of the Forbes Rich List showed the nine now have a combined net wealth of $19.3bn (£13.6bn), despite vaccines being largely public funded: Moderna has received at least $956m in US taxpayer financing. The combined wealth of eight existing billionaires with extensive portfolios in covid vaccine firms has also increased by $32.2bn, according to the Alliance.
Pub owners Marston’s and Mitchells and Butlers have reported big losses for 2020/21 but say sales have been strong since the hospitality industry was allowed to reopen last month. Marston's posted an underlying loss of £105m, up from a £31.1m loss last year, but sales are now at 80% of pre-COVID levels and on track to break even. M&B lost £200m, compared to a loss of £121m last year. Total revenue was £219m, down from £1,039m a year prior. However, sales are now back to 67%.
Ryanair has won a partial victory in its campaign against state support for rival airlines: the EU's second-highest court has ruled against €4.6bn (£4bn) of aid to Portuguese and Dutch carriers, saying the European Commission failed to explain properly in June 2020 why €3.4bn of government support for Air France-KLM and €1.2bn for TAP should be approved. Ryanair is opposing state aid to rival airlines, arguing more than €30bn of support subsidised badly run companies and broke fundamental principles of EU law. However, the court ruled against Ryanair's challenge to Spain's €10bn support package for non-financial companies.
Australian airline Qantas has announced new cost-cutting measures to help it deal with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic after posting an annual loss before tax of more than $1.5bn (£1.1bn). Qantas said its international division was still losing about $2.3m a week, down from $3.9m last month.
Growth in buyer demand for city centre flats is now outperforming growth in rural areas for the first time since before the covid pandemic started. According to an analysis by property website Rightmove, flats have seen the biggest jump in buyer demand since January, up by 39%, and replacing family homes which had been the strongest performers in the market. This was closely followed by demand for bungalows, which saw a 30% increase in demand over the quarter. Demand in city centres is up by 35% compared to a 32% jump in demand for villages, with buyer demand jumping as high as 76% in York city centre, followed by a 62% jump in Norwich and a 57% rise in Sheffield.
Water company Severn Trent says a dip in water consumption among its customers in the year to March 31 caused a 1% drop in revenue to £1.8 billion. Pre-tax profits came in at £471 million, down 17% on the same period a year earlier. The company now plans to raise £250 million from investors in a bid to help it accelerate out of the crisis, PA reports. Earlier this week, regulator Ofwat said it had approved £2.8 billion worth of projects that would create thousands of jobs in the water sector to fuel a green recovery from Covid-19. Severn Trent will invest £624 million as part of that programme, it said.
Gwyneth Paltrow's controversial health and wellness company Goop has been warned it could be shut down in the UK after failing to file its accounts for the second time. Goop was originally set up in Britain when Ms Paltrow lived there with her ex-husband, Coldplay's Chris Martin but when they "consciously uncoupled" in 2014, she moved the headquarters of the brand to the US. Goop Inc Ltd was first incorporated at Companies House in August 2011.
Spotify is set to launch a new feature designed to provide a live-show experience remotely to try to help the struggling music industry and live music in particular, Sharecast News reports. The streaming service is announcing a series of shows starting with dates this month and next, including names like The Black Keys, Rag'n'Bone Man, Bleachers' Jack Antonoff, Leon Bridges and girl in red. Spotify will broadcast "pre-recorded livestreams" rather than streaming straight from a venue. The shows run 40-75 minutes and cost $15 a ticket which will be unlimited.
Cryptocurrencies: China has imposed fresh curbs on crypto-currencies, banning banks and payment firms from providing services related to crypto-currency transactions. It also warned investors against speculative crypto trading on Tuesday. However, another big US bank is set to introduce a crypto-currency fund: Wells Fargo said on Wednesday it would introduce professionally managed funds for its wealthier clients, in particular "qualified investors". The price of Bitcoin fell below $34,000 (£24,030) for the first time in three months yesterday and other digital currencies such as Ether, which acts as the fuel for the Ethereum blockchain network, and Dogecoin lost as much as 22% and 24% respectively.
The CEO and co-founder of TikTok's owner ByteDance has announced he will step down and transition to a new role by the end of the year. Zhang Yiming said he will be succeeded by fellow co-founder Rubo Liang. TikTok' has an estimated 700 million active monthly users and has become a global sensation since it was founded in China in 2021 but it has also drawn criticism. During his presidency, Donald Trump regularly attacked ByteDance, accusing TikTok of being a threat to US national security, and politicians and officials worldwide have raised concerns about users' personal data being passed to the Chinese government.
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