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UK exports to the EU have returned to pre-Brexit levels

   NEWS / 13 Aug 2021

Published: 13 August 2021

By Suzanne Evans, Director, Political Insight


Although UK exports to the EU have returned to pre-Brexit levels according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - rising 9.1% in May to £14.1bn and 1.2% in June to £14.3bn - the official data collector is warning against over-interpreting the numbers. "Monthly data are erratic and small movements should be treated with caution," it said. "With the ongoing pandemic and recession, it is too early to assess the extent to which this reflects short-term trade disruption or longer-term supply chain adjustments. We will assess this over the coming months." William Bain, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce said Brexit changes appeared to be providing a "dampening" effect on trade despite rising EU exports.
 
The Competition and Markets Authority says it may require Facebook to unwind its purchase of Giphy because the tie-up threatens to reduce competition between social media platforms. Facebook bought Giphy in 2020 for $400m to merge the GIF provider with its Instagram business. The deal combined the biggest social media group in the world with the largest supplier of GIFs, which are animated images used to accompany social media posts. However, CMA said Facebook's ownership of Giphy could lead to it denying other social media platforms access to its GIFs or forcing Giphy customers such as Twitter and TikTok to hand over more data in return. That could increase the market power of a company whose brands, which also include WhatsApp, account for more than 70% of time spent on social media, the regulator said.  CMA said it would consider responses to its findings and issue a final report due by 6 October. Facebook said it disagreed with CMA and that the deal was in the best interests of people and businesses that use Giphy.
 
Bookings with travel firm Tui have jumped by 1.5 million since May, primarily because of sales in continental Europe, because frequent rule changes by the UK government have depressed the British holiday market recovery. Chief executive Friedrich Joussen said holidaymakers here have faced much more uncertainty than Europeans in recent months, such as the government’s decision to add Portugal to the list of green travel destinations in mid-May only to remove it in early June. "When you change the programme so often, then people cancel," he said, adding that the cost of PCR tests for Covid was also off-putting. Since mid-January, on all but a few days, UK travellers have cancelled more travel for summer 2021 than they have booked, according to Tui data. This is in direct contrast to customers from Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands, where bookings were ahead of cancellations for most of that period.
 
Amazon's TV and film business is moving production of its multi-million-dollar Lord of the Rings series to the UK from New Zealand. The company said the move was part of a plan to expand its production space and consolidate its footprint in the UK. Amazon Studios spent $465m (£336.5m) on the first season of the show.
 
Pret a Manger has told staff a temporary pay cut will now be made permanent as trade remains "significantly below" pre-Covid levels. The sandwich chain stopped paying workers during their breaks last September in an effort to cut costs. However, it has now told workers that the measure will be kept in place, leading The Guardian to report that staff are considering strike action. The company has meanwhile backed down on plans to keep a reduced 50p per hour special bonus for good service, which is linked to a staff member's performance as judged by a mystery shopper. This bonus will now be paid at its original rate of £1 an hour from next month.
 
KFC has warned that supply chain issues are disrupting both their food and packaging stocks nationwide. In a tweet on Wednesday, the fast-food chain said some items would not be available because there's been "some disruption" over the last few weeks. The statement did not mention which items on its menus have been affected or the reason for the disruption.
 
US tobacco giant Philip Morris International (PMI) has won the battle for London-listed inhaler maker Vectura. Vectura said yesterday that its board of directors plans to unanimously recommend the 165p-a-share offer made by PMIs, which values the group at more than £1bn. PMI had been engaged in a battle with Carlyle, but the private equity firm announced earlier this week that its latest offer of 155p-a-share was final.
 
Good Energy has reiterated its rejection of a £59.5m takeover offer by Ecotricity. Sharecast News says Ecotricity has been pursuing Good Energy for two months, holds a 25.1% stake in its target, and on Wednesday evening said shareholders had until 10 October to accept their offer. Good Energy said its board was unanimous in rejecting the bid by the privately held company, which is owned by former new age traveller Dale Vince. Good Energy chair Will Whitehorn said: "The board firmly rejects this highly opportunistic and hostile offer and does not agree that the takeover of Good Energy by a loss-making competitor would help the company compete more effectively in the energy market.”
 
London-listed spirits company Stock Spirits has agreed to be bought by funds affiliated to private equity firm CVC in a £767m deal. Under the terms of the acquisition, Stock Spirits shareholders will receive 377p per share in cash, a premium of around 41% to Wednesday’s closing share price. The share price surged to 384p on the news, however.
 
UK telecommunications company Arqiva is reportedly preparing to sell its remaining operations, which could be valued at around £2.5bn. Bloomberg cited people familiar with the matter as saying that the group is working with an adviser to solicit bids. The company's portfolio currently consists mostly of broadcasting towers, as well as a smart meter business, after it agreed to sell UK telecom masts to Cellnex in 2019.
 
Price comparison website operator Moneysupermarket has combined its TravelSupermarket brand and Icelolly.com to create the Ice Travel Group, and that completion of the merger will take place in
early September.
 
The Independent says Cineworld and Picturehouse cinemas have hiked the average price of tickets by more than 40% since screens reopened as Covid-19 restrictions eased. Despite the hike, box office sales were down 61.9% to $30.2 million (£21.8 million) in the first six months of the year, as admissions hit just 2.6 million, down from 9.6 million in the same period in 2020. The company said the average ticket price rise “was driven by a mix of customer behaviour and timing of film releases”. Cinema screens were one of the last places to reopen fully following lockdowns, with customers only allowed back in reduced numbers from May. The company, which also owns Regal Cinemas in the US, came close to collapse in November, before securing a series of new loans. Bosses say there is a “material uncertainty” around the company’s ability to continue if further lockdowns continue, as they would then breach banking covenants on loans due next summer.
 
It has been revealed that the transfer of Lionel Messi to Paris St Germain from Barcelona included a payment in crypto fan tokens, a form of cryptocurrency that allows its holder access to a range of sports club-specific membership perks, including voting rights on club matters, club rewards, and experiences. Like cryptocurrency, crypto fan tokens are built on the blockchain.  Reuters first reported that the Argentinian footballer's two-year contract would include tokens in his "welcome package," but it has not been reported what the value of his tokens is, nor what percentage of the deal is made up of tokens, but the club said he received a "large number". The tokens, which can be traded on exchanges, are being provided by Socios.com, a platform that has set a number of other clubs up with crypto assets over the last year. For fans, the fact that footballers like Messi are being paid in these tokens essentially reinforces their value. As well as football, some in the wrestling and motor racing industry have embraced the idea: Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo are the first teams in Formula 1 to offer fan tokens.
 
A hacker who stole just over $600m (£433m) worth of cryptocurrency has now returned most of the stolen assets. Yesterday, cryptocurrency exchange firm Poly Network confirmed on Twitter that $268m worth of Ether tokens had now been recovered, meaning that in the last 24 hours, the hacker has now returned $342m worth of tokens relating to three crypto-currencies to the firm. Tom Robinson, co-founder of Elliptic, a London-based blockchain analytics and compliance firm, told the BBC that of some of the money that is still outstanding, $33.4m of stolen Tether [tokens] cannot be returned because they are currently frozen by Tether themselves. The anonymous hacker meanwhile has claimed they carried out the heist for fun and to encourage Poly Networks to improve security. They also claim Poly offered them $500,000 and immunity from prosecution if they returned the tokens, an offer that was refused.
 
The partial closure of a terminal at Ningbo-Zhoushan, one of China's biggest cargo ports because a worker was infected with covid has raised concerns about the impact on global trade. The BBC says the news comes as the cost of shipping from China and South East Asia to the East coast of the US has already hit a record high, according to the Freightos Baltic global container freight index. With Ningbo-Zhoushan being the world's third-biggest cargo port after Shanghai and Singapore, if the terminal remains shut for an extended period it could have an especially large impact on the world economy.


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