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What to watch: FTSE hits two-year low on trade fears, UK suspends 'gold-plated' visa scheme, and Ted Baker probes CEO 'hugging' claims

Oscar Williams-Grut
Senior City Correspondent, Yahoo Finance UK
Ted Baker is probing allegations against founder Ray Kelvin.Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for Ted Baker London.

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe and abroad:

FTSE 100 hits two-year low on trade war fears

European stock markets were sharply lower on Thursday as globe trade war fears ramped up again after a period of cooling tensions.

The CFO of Huawei was arrested in Canada overnight and is facing extradition to the US on charges of violating sanctions against Iran. The high-profile arrest has led to fears that the trade war between the US and China could be reignited, despite the recent truce between President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jingping.

Asian markets slumped overnight as a result. Japan’s Nikkei 225 (^N225) closed down 1.9%, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index (^HSI) ended the session down by 2.4%, and China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) closed down by 1.6%.

US futures also tanked when news of the arrest broke. S&P 500 futures (ES=F) were down by 1.1%, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) were down by 1.2%, and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were down by 1.4%. The VIX volatility-tracking index (^VIX) was up by 44%.

European markets are falling in the face of Asian and US weakness. Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) was down by 1.7% and trading around two-year lows. Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was down by 1.8%, France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) was down by 1.7%, and the Euronext 100 (^N100) was down by 1.7%.

UK suspends ‘gold plated’ visa scheme on money laundering fears

The UK has suspended a special visa scheme targeted at rich investors after concerns were raised that it could be being abused by money launderers.

Tier 1 investor visas were introduced in 2008 and granted holders indefinite leave to remain in the UK after five years if they invested £2m into the country.

The BBC reports that the scheme has now been suspended after money laundering fears were raised and an audit process is being introduced.

The BBC quotes immigration minister Caroline Nokes as saying: “I am bringing forward these new measures which will make sure that only genuine investors, who intend to support UK businesses, can benefit from our immigration system.”

Ted Baker probes CEO ‘hugging’ claims

Fashion retailer Ted Baker (TED.L) has announced an independent investigation into CEO and founder Ray Kelvin after reports of inappropriate behaviour.

Law firm Herbert Smith Freehills have been appointed to lead the investigation after reports of inappropriate hugging and claims that Kelvin shoved an executive into a wall. A petition calling for an “an end to forced ‘hugging’ by the CEO” has received more than 2,000 signatures.

Ted Baker published a trading update on Thursday alongside news of the investigation. Revenue fell by 0.2% in the 16 weeks to 1 December, the company said. Retail sales rose by 2.3%, but wholesale revenues declined by 6.5%.

Ted Baker shares were up by 4.5% in early trade. The share price fell by 25% on Monday and Tuesday after the allegations against Kelvin first emerged.

Wetherspoon boss Tim Martin slams ‘quasi religion’ of Remainers

JD Wetherspoon founder Tim Martin is on a cross-country tour of his pubs to promote his ideas about Brexit, saying he felt compelled to leave London for his two-month tour as he worries that pro-Brexit voices are being censored and ignored.

Supporting the European Union is “almost a quasi-religion” for some people, he told Yahoo Finance UK in a phone interview outside Leeds. “It’s quite difficult to get my message across.”

Martin has developed a reputation for his staunchly pro-Brexit stance and is one of a small number of high-profile businesspeople in the UK who have publicly supported Brexit, alongside James Dyson, the billionaire founder of the engineering firm Dyson.

You can read the full interview here.

What to expect in the US

US companies reporting later today include: