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Global economy faces weakest growth in 30 years, warns IMF

The International Monetary Fund's managing director Kristalina Georgieva - REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
The International Monetary Fund's managing director Kristalina Georgieva - REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri

The world economy is facing years of slow growth, the managing director of the IMF has warned, with medium-term prospects at their worst in more than 30 years.

Kristalina Georgieva said global growth would be limited to an average annual rate of around 3pc over the next five years.

It is the weakest projection since 1990 and well below the average 3.8pc forecast over the past two decades.

Ms Georgieva said geopolitical tensions and economic fragmentation were key barriers to growth, with trade protectionism expected to limit the pace of expansion.

Speaking in Washington ahead of the World Bank and IMF spring meetings next week, she said the weaker outlook would make "it even harder to reduce poverty, heal the economic scars of the Covid crisis, and provide new and better opportunities for all".

About 90pc of advanced economies will see growth slow this year as tighter monetary policy weighs on demand and slows economic activity in the US and euro area, the IMF said.


08:05 PM

Markets round-up

Alright, that's all from me. But before I embark on a four-day Easter egg hunt, here's a quick markets round-up.

The FTSE 100 ended 1.03pc higher at 7,741.56, marking its third-consecutive week of closing in the green. The blue-chip index also reached its highest level in a month, although has still far to climb if it wants to trade at the 7,900 mark last seen at the start of March.

Meanwhile, the FTSE 250 gained 1.05pc before closing for the long Easter weekend.

Across the pond, Wall Street stocks are climbing despite choppy trading as investors prepare for Friday's latest employment report.

The Dow Jones is currently down 0.06pc at 33,471.10, while the broad-based S&P 500 is up 28pc at 4,101.85.

The Nasdaq Composite is up 74pc at 12,085.02, lifted by a surge in Alphabet's share price.


07:39 PM

Asos strengthens its board with a Google exec

Online fashion retailer Asos has recruited a Google executive to boost its board.

Natasja Laheij, currently a senior finance director for Google’s UK operations and chair of the board of Google Payments, is joining the clothing company next week.

Ms Laheij, formerly the chief financial officer of Amazon Fashion Europe, will become an independent non-executive director at Asos.

Asos has also appointed Jose Manuel Martinéz Gutiérrez, a McKinsey consultant turned chief executive of Spanish fashion brand Bimba Y Lola, as a non-executive director.

Asos said that Ms Laheij will bring commercial and financial experience across several tech platforms, while Mr Martinez Gutiérrez will offer extensive fashion and supply chain expertise.

"I am delighted to welcome Natasja and Jose Manuel to ASOS whose addition  will further broaden and deepen the expertise on the Board,” said Asos chairman Jørgen Lindemann.


07:15 PM

Jaguar Land Rover sales surge as global chip shortage eases

Jaguar Land Rover boosted sales over its final quarter as supply chain issues ease.

The Coventry based manufacturer sold nearly 95,000 vehicles to car dealers in the three months ending March 21, marking a 19pc uplift on the previous quarter.

The number of vehicles sold directly to consumers also jumped 21pc to around 103,000, which includes those sold under its joint venture with Chinese carmaker Chery.

Jaguar Land Rover explained that its strong sales performance reflects the gradually increasing supply of computer chips.

UK car manufacturers have been forced to cut production after supply chain constraints during the pandemic resulted in a global shortage of microchips.

Jaguar Land Rover expects to record over £500m in free cash flow - a measure of profitability that excludes non-cash expenses and includes on spending on equipment - for the financial year ending in March.

Jaguar Land Rover explained that its strong sales performance reflects the gradually increasing supply of computer chips. - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Jaguar Land Rover explained that its strong sales performance reflects the gradually increasing supply of computer chips. - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

06:48 PM

Britain looking to restart US trade talks

The UK is reportedly looking to restart talks with the US for a trade deal when President Joe Biden visits Northern Ireland next week.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to be in Northern Ireland during President Biden's trip, PSNI Chief Constable Simon Byrne has said.

The trip coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

British officials are expected to privately lobby their US counterparts to reopen dialogue in hopes of overcoming President Biden's reluctance over agreements unpopular with American voters, Bloomberg reported.

In particular, agreements over market access and the reduction or removal of tariffs.

Post-Brexit trade discussions had progressed during the Trump administration, but have stalled since President Biden's election.

The UK is expected to propose more favourable terms for local businesses impacted by President Biden's clean energy tax breaks and subsidies under the Inflation Reduction Act.

President Biden's trip to Northern Ireland coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. - Leon Neal/Getty Images
President Biden's trip to Northern Ireland coincides with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. - Leon Neal/Getty Images

06:10 PM

Pension protesters target Macron's favourite bistro

Pension protestors have also targeted the La Rotonde bistro favoured by French President Emmanuel Macron.

The bistro La Rotonde, whose awning was set alight as protesters threw bottles and paint at police, is known in France for hosting a much-criticised celebratory dinner for Macron when he led the first round of the 2017 presidential election.

Today marks the eleventh day of nationwide demonstrations against Mr Macron's pension reform, which lifts the retirement age by two years to 64.


05:59 PM

Airbus to expand China factory as travel recovers

Airbus will double its production capacity in China as domestic travel returns to pre-pandemic levels.

The European manufacturer will construct a second final assembly line for A320 planes under a deal signed by chief executive Guillaume Faury in Beijing on Thursday.

It will expand its existing plant in Tianjin, where it has been assembling A320 planes since 2008.

It comes after Airbus struggled to increase output in China amid supply chain restrictions as demand for passenger planes recovers following the pandemic.

“We’re paving the way for the growth of the market here in China,” Mr Faury said.

Mr Faury was among the French business executives who joined President Emmanuel Macron in his first visit to China since the pandemic.

However, the world’s largest planemaker failed to secure new orders during the trip despite negotiations over the past weekend.

Airbus will expand its existing plant in Tianjin, where it has been assembling A320 planes since 2008. - REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Airbus will expand its existing plant in Tianjin, where it has been assembling A320 planes since 2008. - REUTERS/Damir Sagolj

05:36 PM

Video: Protesters enter BlackRock's Paris HQ

In case you missed it: Dozens of trade unionists railing against Emmanuel Macron's pension overhaul briefly invaded the Paris office of private equity giant BlackRock earlier today.


05:02 PM

Remain campaigner Roland Rudd in line for multi-million pound payday

PR executive and Remain campaigner Roland Rudd is in line for a payday worth tens of millions of pounds as a major private equity firm circles his financial communications group.

Senior business reporter James Warrington has the story:

New York-based buyout firm KKR is closing in on a deal to buy a major stake in Mr Rudd's business FGS Global.

The deal, which is expected to close next week, will value the group at $1.4bn (£1.1bn).

KKR is to take a stake of more than 30pc in the PR firm. The advertising behemoth WPP, which currently owns around 58pc of the company, will cut its holding to just above 50pc.

Senior executives and bosses at FGS will together collect a payment of around £200m, with Mr Rudd’s stake understood to be valued at tens of millions.

Golden Gate, another US private equity firm that holds a stake of roughly 7pc, will be bought out of the business.

The deal will mark a second large payday for Mr Rudd, who set up the agency Finsbury in 1994 and sold a majority stake to WPP in 2001.

Read the full story here


04:40 PM

Office space shorage in London isn't going anywhere

The shortage of office space in central London will continue for the rest of the decade, property developer Helical has warned.

The London-listed company said that occupiers are demanding “well located, highly sustainable offices with good amenities”, which are essential to recruiting and retaining talent.

It means that landlords with top-tier buildings can charge premium rents, Helical said in its latest trading update.

However, the shortage of newly refurbished or redeveloped office buildings in central London is likely to persist as “the market plays catch up”.


04:06 PM

Love Island star recruited to crackdown on ‘get rich quick’ schemes

The UK’s financial and advertising regulators are joining forces with a former Love Island star to warn social media influencers against promoting illegal ‘get rich quick’ schemes.

The Financial Conduct Authority and Advertising Standards Authority have teamed up with Sharon Gaffka, who was a contestant on season seven of ITV’s dating show.

The regulators are to provide training and advice to influencers and their agents to prevent them unknowingly introducing their followers to scams or high-risk investments.

This includes a guide to what influencers should check before accepting brand deals for financial products and services.

Ms Gaffka said:

When you leave a show like Love Island, you are bombarded with opportunities to promote products and work with brands, if like me, you’re new to this kind of work, it can be a little bit overwhelming.

Sharon Gaffka was a contestant on season seven of ITV’s dating show.
Sharon Gaffka was a contestant on season seven of ITV’s dating show.

03:57 PM

P&O Ferries considers job cuts

P&O Ferries is poised to cut dozens of UK jobs as it prepares to launch one of two new Chinese-built superferries that will reduce costs on services between Dover and Calais.

The operator is consulting on up to 60 redundancies, with 60 more positions at risk of being restructured into new roles.
The jobs are management and supervisory rather than relating to on-board operations - many of which are already staffed by overseas agency crews.

Union leaders complained about the timing of the announcement following the recent travel chaos at Dover.

But managers insisted that the job cuts would allow P&O Ferries to return to a “competitive, sustainable footing”.

A spokesman added: “These proposals do not affect our operational colleagues below leadership level in any of our UK, Ireland or European ports or any colleagues aboard our vessels.”

The cuts come amid fresh embarrassment for the Dubai-owned ferry operator that sparked outrage last year by sacking nearly 800 seafarers.

P&O Pioneer, one of two new superferries bound for Dover, has been diverted to a French port after an accident during a safety drill.

As it was moored off the coast of the Isle of Wight ahead of being unveiled at the Kent port, a steel cable holding one of the lifeboats snapped.

Eyewitnesses said that the lifeboat was left dangling above the water without anyone on board for around 20 minutes as a result.

The new ferries use hybrid electric and diesel propulsion, and were billed as “the most sustainable ships ever to sail on the English Channel” when ordered in 2020.

However, it has since emerged that P&O Ferries will have no immediate options to plug them in to charge in ports, meaning that they will rely solely on their diesel engines.

A spokesman for P&O Ferries said:

We have already improved our service, boosted our competitiveness, and are generating growth while significantly reducing our carbon emissions.

On the key Dover-Calais route alone we save more than 85,000 tonnes of carbon emissions annually, and our new hybrid ships coming into service this year will further cut our carbon footprint.

P&O is consulting on up to 60 redundancies, with 60 more positions at risk of being restructured into new roles. - Matthew Horwood/Getty Images
P&O is consulting on up to 60 redundancies, with 60 more positions at risk of being restructured into new roles. - Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

03:35 PM

Handing over

That's all from me today and I wish you a happy Easter weekend when you get to it. Adam Mawardi will guide you from here.

I leave you with reports that Germany wants EU members to be given binding targets to slash their debts under new spending rules being prepared by Brussels.

In November, the European Commission put forward plans to reform the Stability and Growth Pact that limits how much EU countries can borrow.

The pact says states' public deficits should not go above 3pc of gross domestic product, and debt should stay below 60 percent of GDP.

Brussels wants to give wiggle room to EU members to implement reforms and investments that contribute to the green and digital transitions, two priorities for the EU.

Germany, a staunch defender of budgetary stability, is calling for countries with debt ratios of over 60pc to be made to reduce it by 0.5pc a year, according to the proposal seen by AFP.


03:06 PM

World Bank boosts forecasts for Ukraine and Russia economies

The World Bank has lifted its 2023 economic growth forecast for eastern Europe and central Asia amid improving outlooks for Russia and Ukraine despite the war between the two countries.

The institution raised its estimate to 1.4pc from an earlier 0.1pc prediction.

The regional forecast, released just days before the World Bank and International Monetary Fund hold their annual spring meetings, has Ukraine's economy growing by 0.5pc this year.

That follows a staggering contraction of 29.2pc in 2022, the year Russia launched its invasion.

The World Bank said in a statement: "While the economic toll suffered by Ukraine as a result of the invasion is enormous, the reopening of Ukraine's Black Sea ports and resumption of grain trade, as well as substantial donor support, are helping support economic activity this year."

Russia's economy shrank 2.1pc last year, considerably less than the 3.5pc contraction the World Bank forecast in January.

A Ukrainian serviceman checks a machine gun of a tank in Zaporizhzhia - REUTERS/Stringer
A Ukrainian serviceman checks a machine gun of a tank in Zaporizhzhia - REUTERS/Stringer

02:35 PM

US markets fall after larger jobless claims

Wall Street moved downwards as markets opened after a larger-than-expected weekly jobless claims report indicated the economy may be moving towards recession.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.2pc after the opening bell to 33,408.63.

The S&P 500 fell 0.3pc to 4,076.86 while the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite was down 1.7pc to 11,921.23.

Initial claims for state unemployment benefits stood at 228,000 last week, a fresh Labor Department report showed, much higher than economists' projection of 200,000 in the latest week.


02:32 PM

World economy faces years of slow growth, warns IMF

The International Monetary Fund chief has said the world economy is expected to grow less than 3pc in 2023, down from 3.4pc last year, increasing the risk of hunger and poverty globally.

Kristalina Georgieva said growth is expected to remain around 3pc for the next five years, calling it "our lowest medium-term growth forecast since 1990, and well below the average of 3.8pc from the past two decades".

She said slower growth would be a "severe blow," making it even harder for low-income nations to catch up.

She said: "Poverty and hunger could further increase, a dangerous trend that was started by the COVID crisis."

Ms Georgieva's comments at a Meridian-Politico event come ahead of next week's spring meetings of the IMF and its sister lending agency the World Bank in Washington, where policymakers will convene to discuss the global economy's most pressing issues.


02:27 PM

Banking fears fuel £1.2 trillion stock market exodus, Barclays warns

The banking crisis that has shaken the US and Europe has put investors off risk, according to Barclays.

Analysts are forecasting that $1.5trn (£1.2trn) will be invested in low risk money market funds over the next year, rather than in stock markets or other investments.

While the move could limit losses for investors, it is likely to hobble growth by making it harder for companies to raise money.

The amount of money parked at all so-called money-market funds climbed to a fresh record last month.

Their cash pile jumped by roughly $304bn in three weeks, bringing total assets to $5.2trn as of March 29, according to data from the Investment Company Institute.

Barclays has said the continued exodus from banks and so-called prime funds - which invest in more risky debt - will only fuel the trend for greater safety.

Barclays money-market strategist Joseph Abate said: "We expect money fund balances to increase sharply in the next year.

"While it seems that the concerns about broader bank solvency are fading, they appear to have caught the attention of this deposit base.

"Institutional investors have noticed that they were not getting as much compensation for taking on unsecured bank risk by keeping bank deposits above the $250,000 insurance cap."

Institutional investors are expected to put £1.2trn into low risk assets over the next year, according to Barclays - REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
Institutional investors are expected to put £1.2trn into low risk assets over the next year, according to Barclays - REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

01:51 PM

RMT threatens fresh strikes as rail talks hit buffers

Rail union chiefs have warned they may reignite suspended strike action as talks with the train operators fail to yield results.

Ballot papers on holding a further six months of strikes will be sent out to union members from today, with a closing date for a vote on May 4.

The RMT, which halted strike action last month, said no new document had been produced by Rail Delivery Group, which represents the train operators, outlining changes to its offer made to the union.

In a statement, the RMT said:

While negotiations continue, we remain in dispute and resolute in our determination to win a further mandate for strike action in the upcoming re-ballot.

Be in no doubt, if further strikes are needed, RMT will not hesitate to act to ensure a negotiated settlement on jobs, pay and working conditions.


01:35 PM

Jobless claims rising in the US

There were 228,000 jobless claims across the US last week, raising further concerns about a recession and that the US Federal Reserve will pause its programme of interest rate rises.

The figure was ahead of market estimates of 200,000 and up from 198,000 a week before, although this figure has been revised up to 246,000.

Continuing jobless claims increased to 1.8m from 1.68m.


01:13 PM

Pound trades below 10-month highs

The pound has hovered just below its highest level in 10 months as investor focus turned to Friday's US jobs numbers due this afternoon.

In a yoyo-session, sterling has risen 0.1pc and is heading back towards $1.25, having touched its highest level since June on Tuesday.

The pound was also little changed against the euro, which is changing hands for about 87.50 pence.

Markets have been subdued across the board today ahead of the release of the US non-farm payrolls employment data on Friday.

Analysts expect the US to have added 239,000 jobs in March, a slowdown from February's 311,00 figure.

Simon Harvey, head of FX analysis at Monex Europe, said:

There is a semblance of calm about today's trading session in the absence of any major data.

Price action instead is likely to be determined by expectations for tomorrow's payrolls print.


12:55 PM

Pension reform protesters target BlackRock office

Dozens of trade unionists railing against Emmanuel Macron's pension overhaul briefly invaded the Paris building in which US-based investment firm BlackRock has an office.

The union action in the historical Centorial building near the Grand Boulevards area targetted the world's largest asset manager because of its private pension fund activity, protesters said.

Protester Françoise Onic, 51, told Reuters: "The government wants to throw away pensions, it wants to force people to fund their own retirement with private pension funds, but what we know is that only the rich will be able to benefit from such a setup."

The action - where activists chanted slogans and set off firecrackers - came on an 11th day of nationwide union-organised strikes and demonstrations against the government's plan to increase the retirement age by two years to 64.

BlackRock did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Thomson Reuters has an office in the same building.

Workers on strike in France invade the building that is home to asset manager BlackRock - AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard
Workers on strike in France invade the building that is home to asset manager BlackRock - AP Photo/Aurelien Morissard

12:12 PM

Passengers stuck 'with no movement whatsoever' amid Easter getaway travel woes

Holidaymakers booked on cross-Channel ferries from the Port of Dover are facing delays at the start of the Easter getaway.

There are queues of "approximately 90 minutes" for passport checks by French officials at the Kent port, ferry operator DFDS wrote on Twitter.

The company told passengers: "Unfortunately due to high volumes of traffic there are queues at border controls.

"Once you arrive at check-in we will get you away as quick as we can."

In response, one passenger wrote: "We have been standing for 50 minutes. No movement whatsoever."

There are fears travellers at Dover will face more disruption after chaotic scenes last weekend when thousands of people were delayed, reportedly by up to 14 hours.

Traffic at the Port of Dover as the Easter getaway begins - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Traffic at the Port of Dover as the Easter getaway begins - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The queues for ferries at the Port of Dover - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
The queues for ferries at the Port of Dover - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

11:48 AM

US markets subdued ahead of jobs figures

Wall Street has been subdued in premarket trading as investors await jobs data this afternoon to gauge the impact of the Federal Reserve's aggressive policy tightening on the US economy.

Weak data from services and manufacturing sectors this week has pointed to slowing growth, fuelling hopes in the market of a pause in interest rate increases.

Fed fund futures are indicating a 58.2pc chance of the US central bank pausing its monetary tightening in May and a 45pc chance of a rate cut at the Fed's July meeting, according to CME Group's Fedwatch tool.

In pre-market trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was flat while the S&P 500 was down 0.1pc.

Nasdaq 100 futures were down 0.3pc, as major technology and growth shares such as those of Apple, Tesla and Nvidia fell between 0.2pc and 1pc in premarket trade.

The benchmark S&P 500 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq are on track to notch declines for the first time in four weeks.


11:28 AM

Tui expects Easter break to be near pre-pandemic levels

More than half a million customers will holiday with Tui over Easter, the travel operator has said, with capacity expected to be close to pre-pandemic levels.

Sunshine destinations like the Canary Islands, Turkey, the Balearics, mainland Spain, Egypt and Greece have had strong demand, it said.

Its shares have surged 10pc today to top the FTSE 250.

Tui chief executive Sebastian Ebel said:

Booking momentum remains encouraging, and the travel trends and strong demand for the Easter holidays are a healthy signal for the upcoming summer.

Our products and strong brand are popular and in high demand – in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and many other markets where people are looking for relaxation in the sun and active experiences.

Based on trends to date and as we have said in March, we continue to anticipate capacity to be close to pre-pandemic levels. We expect a good summer 2023.

Tui - Wayne Jackson / Alamy Stock Photo
Tui - Wayne Jackson / Alamy Stock Photo

11:09 AM

BlackRock hired to sell SVB and Signature Bank's £91.5bn of securities

The world's largest asset manager has been hired by the US government to arrange the sale of $114bn (£91.5bn) in securities that were held by failed lenders Signature Bank and Silicon Valley Bank.

BlackRock will conduct the sales of $27bn in securities from Signature and $87bn from Silicon Valley Bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp (FDIC) said.

The holdings are mostly agency and commercial mortgage-backed securities and collateralised mortgage obligations.

The sales "will be gradual and orderly, and will aim to minimize the potential for any adverse impact on market functioning by taking into account daily liquidity and trading conditions," the FDIC said.

The FDIC was appointed as receiver for the banks last month as they collapsed under the weight of deposit withdrawals.

Silicon Valley Bank collapsed after a run on deposits - AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
Silicon Valley Bank collapsed after a run on deposits - AP Photo/Jeff Chiu

10:50 AM

Bosses' inflation worries ease in March, says Bank of England

The Bank of England has said UK bosses expectations for inflation in the next year have fallen slightly for a third straight month.

The Bank's decision-maker panel survey showed companies expect a 5.8pc increase in the CPI measure of inflation over the next year, down from 5.9pc the month before but still more than double its 2pc target.

Looking ahead three years, expectations ticked up from 3.4pc in February to 3.5pc in March.

However, expectations for wage growth over the next year fell by 0.1 percentage points to 5.6pc in March. Realised annual wage growth fell by a similar amount to 6.5pc.

Respondents expected their borrowing rates to increase by a further 0.25 percentage points over the year-ahead.

Overall business uncertainty continued to decline in March. Some 47pc of firms reported that the overall level of uncertainty facing their business was high or very high, down from 53pc last month.

The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, London - REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
The Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, London - REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

10:33 AM

Amazon's takeover of iRobot faces competition investigation

Regulators will to investigate Amazon's anticipated takeover of iRobot.

The e-commerce giant's planned $1.7bn acquisition of the robot vacuum maker, aimed at expanding its stable of smart home devices, is already being reviewed by the US Federal Trade Commission.

The Competition and Markets Authority said it is also now considering whether the deal could reduce competition in the connected device market.

Invitations to comment on the combination are now open, regulators said.

iRobot's headquarters in Bedford, Massachusetts
iRobot's headquarters in Bedford, Massachusetts

10:19 AM

Queues an hour long at Dover ahead of Easter getaway

Queues for passport checks by French officials at the Port of Dover are "up to 60 minutes", ferry operator DFDS has said.

The company told passengers:

Unfortunately due to high volumes of traffic there are queues at border controls.

Once you arrive at check-in we will get you away as quick as we can.


10:12 AM

UK spends £18.7m on imports of EU flower bulbs

If you're planning a spot of gardening over the Easter weekend, here are some top statistics on flowers in the European economy to inspire you:


09:57 AM

Constructors head into spring with 'cautious optimism'

While activity on commercial and civil engineering projects continued to rebound, housebuilding declined for a fourth month according to the Construction purchasing managers' index from S&P Global.

Tim Moore, economics director at S&P Global, said:

A sharp and accelerated decline in house building was the main area of concern.

Cutbacks to new residential projects in the wake of subdued demand and rising interest rates contributed to the sharpest fall in housing activity across the construction sector for almost three years.

While lower demand weighed on house builders, business conditions were improving elsewhere in the construction sector.

Fewer logistics bottlenecks, which developed in the wake of the pandemic, and greater availability of products and materials meant the improvement in vendor performance was the strongest since 2009.

Max Jones, director in Lloyds Bank's infrastructure and construction team, said: "Despite a dip in the reading, contractors are heading into the spring months with cautious optimism.

"Industry leaders have naturally expressed disappointment about recent HS2 announcements and the impact on the sector's pipeline, however, infrastructure continues to provide a healthy orderbook."


09:47 AM

Housing slowdown holds back construction growth in UK

The construction sector continued to expand in the UK for a second straight month, according to a closely watched survey, although at a much slower pace as demand for residential work slowed.

The S&P Global/CIPS UK construction PMI index stood at 50.7 in March, down from 54.6 in February but above the 50.0 mark which separates expansion from contraction.

Housing activity was the main reason for the slowdown, decreasing sharply to 44.2.

The rate of decline was the fastest since May 2020, with survey respondents often citing fewer tender opportunities due to rising borrowing costs and a subsequent slowdown in new house building projects.

It comes as eurozone construction activity fell at its sharpest rate for three months in March, with the downturn led by Germany.

The S&P Global eurozone construction PMI total activity index fell from 47.6 in February to 45.0 in March, an eleventh consecutive monthly contraction in the sector across the region.

A slowdown in housing work held back growth in the UK construction sector - Rui Vieira/PA Wire
A slowdown in housing work held back growth in the UK construction sector - Rui Vieira/PA Wire

09:21 AM

Gas prices fall despite French strike uncertainty

European natural gas prices have declined for a third session amid lacklustre demand, even as uncertainty remains about the full restart of terminals in France.

Dutch front-month futures - the continent's pricing benchmark - fell 1.6pc to below €44 a megawatt-hour after slumping 13pc during the previous two days. The UK equivalent also edged lower.

European gas stockpiles are well-above seasonal levels following a mild winter, despite much of the continent experiencing  a relatively cool spring.

Still, the continent is recovering from a historic energy crisis, with many consumers limiting their use over recent months.

Meanwhile, a cloud of uncertainty surrounds French liquefied natural gas terminals — affected by strikes for most of last month — and it is not clear when they will resume full operations.

Striking French workers have blockaded gas terminals and, here, the EPPLN oil depot in Port La Nouvelle - Matthieu Rondel/Bloomberg
Striking French workers have blockaded gas terminals and, here, the EPPLN oil depot in Port La Nouvelle - Matthieu Rondel/Bloomberg

09:07 AM

Halifax and Nationwide house price indexes paint different pictures

The third consecutive monthly increase in house prices recorded by Halifax puts it at odds with the rival Nationwide house price index.

Halifax reported a 0.8pc gain in house prices between February and March, while Nationwide said property values suffered a monthly decline of 0.8pc.

In total, prices are down 2.1pc from their peak on the Halifax measure compared to 4.6pc according to Nationwide.

Andrew Wishart, senior property economist at Capital Economics, said:

We are inclined to think that the Nationwide data is closer to the truth as it is a better fit with the evolution of prices implied by the RICS housing survey.

But the resilience of the Halifax index suggests that prices could be proving more resilient than we had forecast.

In that scenario, mortgage lending would remain depressed for longer as fewer households can afford to buy at current prices and with mortgage rates at 4-5pc.


08:49 AM

Oil on track for third week of gains

Oil is heading for a third straight weekly gain after the Opec+ cartel surprised the market with a production cut.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, has slipped by 0.4pc this morning to below $85 but remains more than 6pc higher this week.

West Texas Intermediate futures eased 0.5pc toward $80 a barrel, but is still almost 6pc higher this week.

Monday's surge was the largest in a year after an unexpected move by the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies to shave more than one million barrels of daily output from next month. Saudi Arabia has since hiked prices of all its oil sales to customers in Asia.

Crude has risen about 25pc since mid-March, when it collapsed to a 15-month low on the back of a banking crisis that prompted a flight from riskier assets.


08:35 AM

Amazon offering French staff a year's pay to leave

Amazon has been forced to offer French managers as much as a year’s pay to leave the business as it struggles to plough ahead with its job cutting plans.

The tech giant has been struggling to navigate laws protecting workers on the continent, having let go of hundreds of workers within months in the US.

Bosses have also granted leave to departing employees so their shares can vest and be paid out as bonuses, according to Bloomberg.

Google owner Alphabet has also reportedly struggled and is in talks to reduce headcount through voluntary departures, offering severance packages that it hopes are generous enough to get workers to leave.

Amazon announced 9,000 job losses last month on top of the 18,000 announced in January - DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images
Amazon announced 9,000 job losses last month on top of the 18,000 announced in January - DENIS CHARLET/AFP via Getty Images

08:25 AM

Shell helps boost FTSE 100

The FTSE 100 has continued to rise in early trading as it was lifted by commodity-linked stocks.

It is outperforming most European markets as worries of a possible recession in the US caused an overhang ahead of the Easter break.

The FTSE 100 rose 0.4pc, while the midcap FTSE 250 index has also climbed into positive territory, up 0.2pc having slipped 0.1pc after the open. The continent-wide STOXX 600 climbed 0.3pc.

Shell rose 1.8pc as the energy giant forecast higher liquefied natural gas (LNG) output in the first quarter.

Robert Walters Plc fell as much as 4.1pc after the recruiter flagged persistent market challenges and said recruitment in the technology industry was hit by lay-offs.

Meanwhile, homebuilder stocks edged down 0.3pc even as mortgage lender Halifax said British house prices rose for a third month in a row in March, up 0.8pc from February.

The index was set for their worst weekly showing in over six months.

UK markets will be closed from Friday to Monday and reopen on Tuesday for the Easter holidays.


08:07 AM

Mixed open on the markets

It has been another mixed start for the markets against the backdrop of weaker-than-expected economic data in the US.

It has supported forecasts for a recession but also weakened the case for the Federal Reserve to boost interest rates, which is seen as a boost for markets.

The internationally-focused FTSE 100 has risen 0.3pc to 7,687.47 while the midcap FTSE 250 has dropped 0.2pc to 18,570.94.


07:52 AM

Shell to increase gas production despite falling prices

Energy giant Shell expects to increase the amount of gas it produces in the first quarter of the year and will pack more ships with liquid gas thanks to developments in Australia.

The business said it expects to produce between 930,000 and 970,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day from its integrated gas division in the three months, up from 917,000 barrels in the last three months of 2022.

It also expects to load ships with between seven and 7.4m tonnes of liquid natural gas (LNG) during the quarter, an increase from 6.8m tonnes in the previous three months.

This is due largely to more of the gas flowing through two sites in Australia, Shell said.

The move comes despite a more than 40pc fall in the price of liquified natural gas this year after nations built up supplies.

Shell - Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg
Shell - Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

07:41 AM

Robert Walter warns of slow start to the year

Recruitment agency Robert Walters has reported a "slower start" to the current year as global economic uncertainty impacted company hiring.

The firm said total net fee income increased by 4pc to £102.4 million over the first three months of 2023, compared with the same period last year.

It highlighted that this included a benefit from currency exchange rates.

Robert Walters, which employs more than 4,400 staff across 31 countries, said its performance included a 9pc decline in income in the UK amid "muted" activity in London and the regions.

Chief executive Robert Walters said "the market uncertainty we experienced in the latter stages of last year has tipped over into the first quarter of 2023".

He added that a "return of confidence to the Chinese economy, a stabilisation of the technology sector and a continued decline in inflation should have a positive effect on the global outlook".


07:33 AM

House prices going through 'period of correction,' say agents

What happens to house prices will depend on consumer confidence in the months ahead, according to property experts.

Adam Smith, director at Northampton-based mortgage broker Alfa Mortgages said inflation and levels of uncertainty around interest rates will play their part.

He said: "A decline in consumer confidence could lead to a sharper decrease in the value of UK bricks and mortar, but the extent of this remains uncertain and is the million-dollar question on everyone's mind."

Jamie Minors, managing director at Norwich-based estate agents, Minors & Brady said house prices are still going through a "period of correction".

He added: "With mortgage rates steadily reducing and consumer confidence returning after the disastrous Kwarteng/Truss administration, we are seeing strong levels of demand matching good levels of supply.

"Unemployment is still incredibly low, so as long as mortgage rates don't suddenly rise and people still have their jobs, buyers will continue to purchase, resulting in prices holding without further big reductions and a rally upwards in 2024."

Chris Barry, director at Gloucester-based conveyancer Thomas Legal said he believes house prices "should remain fairly steady throughout 2023".

He said: "Though demand levels dropped following the mini-Budget, the latest base rate rise may be one of the last for a while, which has increased confidence."


07:19 AM

Continued slowdown expected this year, warns Halifax

Predicting exactly where house prices go next is more difficult, according Halifax Mortgages director Kim Kinnaird. She said:

While the increased cost of living continues to put significant pressure on personal finances, the likely drop in energy prices – and inflation more generally – in the coming months should offer a little more headroom in household budgets.

While the path for interest rates is uncertain, mortgage costs are unlikely to get significantly cheaper in the short-term and the performance of the housing market will continue to reflect these new norms of higher borrowing costs and lower demand.

Therefore, we still expect to see a continued slowdown through this year.


07:16 AM

Housing market stabilised by easing mortgage rates, says Halifax

House prices rose in all UK nations and regions last month, though the annual rate of growth continued to slow in most areas.

The figures show property values across the country increasing for a third straight month, after four months of declines following the spike in mortgage costs caused by Liz Truss' ill-fated mini-Budget.

Kim Kinnaird, director at Halifax Mortgages, said:

The principal factor behind this improved picture has been an easing of mortgage rates.

The sudden spike in borrowing costs that we saw in November and December has now been largely reversed, and while rates remain much higher than the average of the last decade, across the industry a typical five-year fixed rate deal
(75pc LTV) is down by more than 100 basis points over the last few months.

It's also important to recognise that the labour market, a key indicator for house prices, remains strong, with unemployment at a historical low of 3.7pc, and pay growth continues to look robust.


07:10 AM

House price growth weakest in three and a half years

House prices inched upwards for a third straight month in March, according to an influential index, but the rate of annual growth was the weakest in nearly three-and-a-half years.

The average sale price stood at £287,880 last month, a rise of 0.8pc from £285,476 in February, according to lender Halifax.

However, this increase was slower than the 1.2pc recorded in February.

The annual rate of house price growth slowed to 1.6pc, down from 2.1pc record the previous month and the lowest since October 2019.

It comes as rival lender Nationwide said house prices have fallen by 3.1pc in the biggest annual decline since July 2009.

The building society said property values recorded a monthly decline of 0.8pc between February and March, marking the seventh consecutive drop.

Kim Kinnaird, director at Halifax Mortgages, said:

Overall these latest figures continue to suggest relative stability in the housing market at the start of 2023 and align with many other recent industry surveys and data.

This has been characterised by a partial recovery in activity and transactions, especially when compared to the significant drops seen at the end of last year, with latest Bank of England data showing mortgage approvals rising for the first time in six months.


07:07 AM

Good morning

House price growth was at its weakest annually since October 2019, according to lender Halifax.

It said the average sale price stood at £287,880 last month, with was 0.8pc up on February but only a 1.6pc annual gain.

It comes as rival lender Nationwide said house prices have fallen by 3.1pc in the biggest annual decline since July 2009.

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What happened overnight

Asian stocks sank while bonds and safe-haven currencies increased as mounting evidence of a US slowdown fuelled worries about a possible global recession.

Equity investors were inclined to take money off the table after recent strong gains and with many global markets heading into a holiday for Good Friday, when potentially pivotal US monthly payrolls data is due.

Japan's Nikkei fell 1.3pc, making it the region's worst performing major market alongside South Korea's Kospi , which sank the same amount.

Chinese blue chips eased 0.4pc. Hong Kong's Hang Seng sagged 0.4pc, with tech shares on the index down 1pc.

Wall Street stocks delivered a mixed performance on Wednesday following the latest signals that the Federal Reserve could pause interest rate increases in response to a slowing US economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 0.2pc to close at 33,482.72.

However, the broad-based S&P 500 finished 0.3pc lower at 4,090.38, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 1.1pc to 11,996.86.

The price of US Treasuries rose, pushing down yields as weaker-than-expected reports highlighted a slowdown in the US jobs market and services sector, reinforcing expectations that the Federal Reserve could soon loosen monetary policy.

The 10-year yield dropped by as much as eight basis points, falling to a low of 3.26pc. It is the benchmark bond's lowest level since mid-September.

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