Several small energy suppliers stop taking new customers

·50 min read
Energy crisis Britain  - Lauren Hurley/PA Wire
Energy crisis Britain - Lauren Hurley/PA Wire

Several small UK energy suppliers have stopped accepting new customers in a sign that Britain's energy crisis is deepening.

Igloo, Green and Ampower are all closed to new business, according to notices on the companies’ websites. Several energy suppliers have gone out of business already this year as gas and power prices surged to record highs.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has said the government is poised to step in to prop up the sector, including by lending money to bigger companies to help them take on customers from collapsed suppliers.

05:22 PM

Wrapping up

That's all from us today – here are some of our top stories:

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04:55 PM

Oil fluctuates ahead of Fed meeting

Oil fluctuated today as investors adjusted their positions ahead of a crucial Federal Reserve meeting.

Oil prices switched between losses and gains, though they trended marginally higher following a two-day losing streak.

The Fed meets tomorrow to determine the fate of stimulus measures. Officials are expected to hold interest rates near zero but set the groundwork for a tapering of the central bank's bond buying programme.

Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at TD Securities, told Bloomberg: “There may be some position squaring happening as investors aren’t entirely sure what exactly to expect tomorrow even if the general consensus is for asset purchases to slow down.”

Oil has resumed its advance over the past month, in part due to a tightening of the market following lingering supply disruptions from US storms.

At the same time, consumption is coming into focus in anticipation that soaring natural gas prices will force a shift toward oil.

04:42 PM

Google to fork out $2.1bn on New York campus

Google New York campus - REUTERS/Andrew Kell/File Photo/File Photo
Google New York campus - REUTERS/Andrew Kell/File Photo/File Photo

Google is splashing out $2.1bn on a Manhattan office building as it looks to cement its status in New York City and commit to in-person working.

The tech giant has already been leasing St. John's Terminal and the decision to buy the site builds on plans to invest more than $250m this year in its New York real estate, chief financial officer Ruth Porat said in a blog post.

Since it first set up shop in New York more than 20 years ago, Google now counts 12,000 employees in the city, its largest office presence outside California.

The company aims to increase its New York-based workforce to more than 14,000 in the coming years, Porat said.

04:22 PM

Soft drinks industry needs 'more than a temporary fix' over CO2

Soft drink CO2 shortage - Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Soft drink CO2 shortage - Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

The British Soft Drinks Association (BSDA) has welcomed the government's agreement with CO2 producer CF Industries, but warned more must be done to avoid future disruption.

Gavin Partington, BSDA director general, says:

Given the precarious position some of our members were in due to lack of available CO2 product, we are encouraged by this latest development and the short-term certainty it stands to deliver not just soft drinks manufacturers but the UK economy as a whole.

With the likelihood that it may take a few days for production to resume, combined with ongoing HGV driver shortage issues, it’s possible that supply of certain products won’t be as abundant as usual over the next week or so, but this should only be a short-lived situation.

However, we need more than a temporary fix – it can’t be right that a company whose products are critical to the food and drink supply chain can be allowed to close without adequate warning or apparent consideration of the wider impacts. Long-term, the Government needs to create or support conditions that prevent such damaging fluctuation in the market.

04:06 PM

FTSE 100 closes up 1pc

The FTSE 100 bounced back today thanks to gains for energy and healthcare stocks, while Ladbrokes owner Entain topped the index following a takeover approach from DraftKings.

The blue-chip index closed up 1pc and recorded its best session in two months. Oil majors BP and Royal Dutch Shell were among the top risers.

Entain jumped 18pc after it confirmed it had received a takeover offer from US betting firm DraftKings that could reportedly value the company at $20bn.

B&Q owner Kingfisher was the biggest drag on the index, falling 4.9pc even after reporting a jump in half-year profit as investors worried about supply chain troubles.

Danni Hewson, AJ Bell financial analyst, said: “After a manic Monday comes another turnaround Tuesday. Whilst investors are still clearly nervous about the countdown to a potential Evergrande default, they’ve been happy to jump on some rebound action today or embrace potential new seams of opportunity.

“Though London’s blue-chip index has still failed to claw its way back above that all important 7,000 mark, today has delivered some confidence boosters including news that the government has struck a deal to get production back underway at two fertiliser plants."

The domestically-focused FTSE 250 rose 0.8pc, with travel stocks among the biggest gainers.

03:52 PM

OECD: China can withstand Evergrande 'shock'

China's economy can cope with the fallout from the possible collapse of debt-riddled property giant Evergrande and contagion to other markets would be limited, the OECD's chief economist has said.

Reuters has the details:

"We think the Chinese authorites do have fiscal capacity and monetary capacity to buffer the shock," OECD chief economist Laurence Boone said.

The group has a $300bn debt pile – equivalent to two percent of China's GDP – and is struggling to pay it back, with payments on two bonds due on Thursday.

In a report issued earlier this week the S&P ratings agency indicated it believed authorities in Beijing would intervene if they believed any large-scale fallout was likely to materialise.

The situation has raised fears of a replay of the collapse of US banking giant Lehman Brothers in 2008. But Boone downplayed the risks of contagion from Evergrande.

"We have to look at the real side and the financial side," Boone said at a news conference on the OECD's world economic outlook. "On the real side, obviously when there is less demand in China this can have an impact," she said.

"On the financial side, the connection between China financial markets and other financial markets is much less than what we are seeing in the western world, so the impact here would be fairly limited except for some special companies," said Boone.

The OECD 2021 economic outlook report maintained its growth forecast for China at 8.5 percent.

03:41 PM

Stagecoach shares jump 20pc

Shares of Stagecoach have leapt 20pc after it was revealed the Scottish travel company was in talks with National Express about a merger.

The deal would value Stagecoach at £445m, with Stagecoach investors in line for 0.36 new National Express shares for each one they currently hold.

Jefferies International analyst Becky Lane said the transaction looks “financially attractive,” though there may be some regulatory concerns around market share, with the combined companies controlling a third of the UK's regional bus market and two-thirds of the long-distance sector.

03:14 PM

Expert reaction: Huge demand for UK green gilt

Laith Khalaf, head of investment analysis at AJ Bell comments on how the government's first green gilt sale was met with record demand, with the 12-year bond receiving a record £100bn of bids.

He says:

The new guilt-free gilt has been a huge hit, with institutional investors jostling to get a slice of the action. Bonds are already in high demand, thanks to the presence of a price insensitive buyer in the form of the Bank of England, as well as regulations which encourage pension schemes and insurance companies to hold gilts.

Add in a green tint which can help pension trustees bolster their ESG credentials, and you have a very potent sales mix indeed. The fact there’s also so little supply has also no doubt helped to put bums on seats. Just £15bn of green gilts are planned this year, a drop in the ocean compared to the £250 billion of bonds the government intends to issue this fiscal year. [...]

There will be questions of course about whether these green financing initiatives are entirely necessary, seeing as the government could simply raise money through conventional gilts and NS&I accounts to fund their green spending priorities.

That may well be the case, but these green products do at least provide an environmentally friendly option to savers and investors who want to do their bit, and would to like see their money put to good use.

More on this story here

03:03 PM

Online gambling stocks rise

DraftKings' $20bn takeover offer for online betting company Entain has pushed up shares of other British gambling firms as investors pin their hopes on more US takeovers in the sector.

Shares of Flutter, which was created by the merger of Paddy Power and Betfair, rose 2.7pc this afternoon. Online gambling group 888 has also jumped 6.7pc.

03:00 PM

Entain confirms DraftKings approach

Ladbrokes owner Entain has confirmed it was approached by US company DraftKings about a potential takeover, adding the offer would include a combination of DraftKings stock and cash.

Entain did not put a value on the bid, but the statement was published shortly after CNBC reported the bid was worth around $20bn (£14.6bn).

Entain said: "There can be no certainty that any offer will be made for the company, nor as to the terms on which any such offer may be made."

The company added: "A further announcement will be made as and when appropriate. Shareholders are urged to take no action at this time."

02:53 PM

What to expect at this week's US Federal Reserve meeting

US Federal Reserve inflation - Erin Scott/Bloomberg
US Federal Reserve inflation - Erin Scott/Bloomberg

The US central bank is set to begin a two-day meeting today, where policymakers will debate when they should taper asset purchases, reports Morgan Meaker.

Federal Reserve officials are expected to keep interest rates near zero while simultaneously signalling when tapering of the bank's $120bn in monthly bond purchases could begin.

“There may be some position squaring happening as investors aren’t entirely sure what exactly to expect tomorrow even if the general consensus is for asset purchases to slow down,” Bart Melek, head of commodity strategy at TD Securities, told Reuters.

A Bloomberg survey of 51 economists published this week predicted the Fed is likely to use the meeting to hint that it is likely to scale back monthly asset purchases and it will make a formal announcement in November.

The survey also predicted interest rates will hold near zero through 2022. The Fed had previously promised not to cut back on the Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities it is buying each month until there is “substantial further progress” toward maximum employment and 2pc inflation.

However Fed Chair Jerome Powell said last month he believed the bar has already been met on inflation and he saw “clear progress” on the employment.

02:35 PM

Joe Biden vows to meet $100bn climate pledge

US President Joe Biden climate change - REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool
US President Joe Biden climate change - REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool

US President Joe Biden has vowed to double his country's commitment to help developing countries deal with climate change.

The ambition means rich countries will meet a pledge to give $100bn a year to developing nations to help them cut emissions.

Boris Johnson had called on other world leaders to meet the target ahead of the COP26 summit in November.

02:17 PM

Boris Johnson: US trade deal unlikely before 2024

Boris Johnson has indicated that he doesn't expect to secure a free trade agreement with the US before the next general election in 2024.

Speaking ahead of his meeting with US President Joe Biden in Washington, Johnson declined to comment when asked if an agreement could be reached before the election.

“We will keep going with free trade deals around the world including in the United States,” he said. “But the Americans do negotiate very hard.”

Earlier, Johnson told reporters that Biden has too many domestic priorities to find time to negotiate a trade deal with the UK.

“The reality is that Joe has a lot of fish to fry,” he said, referring to the President’s $3.5 trillion tax and social spending package. “I would much rather get a deal that really works for the UK than get a quick deal.”

02:10 PM

More on the Entain takeover:

Markets had been expecting another takeover attempt for Entain to come from its joint venture partner in the US, MGM Resorts.

In January, Entertain rebuffed an $11bn bid from MGM, saying the deal undervalued the business. But there was widespread speculation that MGM would return to make another offer.

Last month, investment bank Peel Hunt reiterated its “buy” rating for Entain, arguing MGM's six-month ban on returning with another bid expired in July.

DraftKing's offer price is roughly 2,500p per share, according to CNBC.

If successful, the deal would give DraftKings access to brands including bwin, Coral, PartyPoker, and Sportingbet.

02:03 PM

Sunak raises £10bn in green gilt launch

The Treasury has raised £10bn with its first green gilt as keen investors offered £100bn to the Government in a scramble to put their money into low-carbon assets, writes Tim Wallace.

It represents a boost to the City of London as a home for the new environmentally friendly market.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak hopes to issue £15bn of green gilts this financial year to raise money for environmental projects including clean transport, hydrogen generation and lower-emission agriculture.

At face value the bond, which matures in 2033, has an interest rate of 0.875pc, but strong demand indicates the Government could end up paying a lower borrowing cost, raising hopes green gilts will provide cheaper funding than traditional bonds.

Green bonds are in high demand as investors want their money to go to projects which will help the world economy on its way to lower emissions, with individuals, pension funds and businesses keen to buy into the “net zero” targets.

Read the full story here.

01:54 PM

Ladbrokes owner Entain receives $20bn takeover bid

Entain DraftKings takeover - REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo
Entain DraftKings takeover - REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

US sports betting operator DraftKings has made a $20bn takeover offer for British online betting company Entain, CNBC is reporting.

Speculation has been swirling throughout the summer that UK betting companies will be the next target for US takeover.

Ladbrokes and Coral owner Entain has seen its shares sure over 166pc in the past year, with a 17pc spike this afternoon.

Both William Hill and Jackpot Joy owner Gamesys have already been snapped up in takeover deals by US casino operators, being bought for £2.9bn by Caesars and £2bn by Bally's respectively.

01:46 PM

Meggitt shareholders back £6.3bn takeover

Meggitt shareholders have voted in favour of a £6.3bn takeover by US aerospace firm Parker-Hannifin.

Almost all investors who cast a ballot backed the deal at a general meeting today, Meggitt said in a statement. The company will now convene a court hearing to approve the 800p-per-share offer.

Tom Williams, Parker chairman and chief executive, said: “We are confident the combination of Meggitt and Parker creates a world class provider of engineered aerospace solutions, enabling us to advance next generation civil and military aerospace programs, invest in R&D to develop innovative and sustainable technologies, and create opportunities for team members."

It comes after a turbulent period for London-listed Meggitt, which had received a superior offer from rival US defence firm TransDigm Group. TransDigm made a tentative 900p-per-share bid before dropping out of the takeover race.

The government will now have to decide whether to intervene in the deal amid higher scrutiny of takeovers of key defence suppliers by foreign suitors.

01:36 PM

US stocks open higher

Wall Street opened higher this afternoon as traders shrugged off concerns about China's Evergrande and looked ahead to the Fed policy meeting this week.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 55.14 points, or 0.16pc, at the open to 34,025.61. The S&P 500 opened higher by 16.72 points, or 0.38pc.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq gained 0.61pc at the opening bell.

01:26 PM

Gazprom delays refills of EU gas storage

Gazprom Europe natural gas - Gavriil Grigorov\\TASS via Getty Images
Gazprom Europe natural gas - Gavriil Grigorov\\TASS via Getty Images

Russia's Gazprom is delaying refills of its natural gas storage sites in Europe as it rebuilds domestic supplies, adding further strain in the continent's escalating energy crisis.

The majority state-owned company has been slow to rebuild its European stockpiles after it withdrew some supplies from storage last month to make up for reduced flows from Russia.

Now Europe is racing to refill its inventories just weeks before colder weather pushes gas demand even higher, with Gazprom’s facilities dragging down Europe’s total stockpile level.

Leslie Palti-Guzman, president of New York-based consultancy Gas Vista, told Bloomberg that “Gazprom remains the wildcard”.

While European storage levels aren’t currently “at a worrying level,” the company’s sites on the continent are almost depleted and there’s little transparency on the timing of a refill, she added.

01:18 PM

CF Industries to restart CO2 production

The government has reached an agreement with CF Industries to restart carbon dioxide production at its UK sites, Sky News reports.

CF Industries, which manufactures fertiliser and makes CO2 as a by-product, had halted production due to the soaring price of natural gas.

The shutdown had cut off around 60pc of the UK's commercial CO2 production, sparking a crisis for the food industry, which uses the gas to stun animals for slaughter and to preserve the shelf-life of meat.

The agreement followed talks between the company and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng.

01:11 PM

Evergrande misses loan payments to banks

Evergrande debt restructuring -  ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Evergrande debt restructuring - ALEX PLAVEVSKI/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Evergrande missed interest payments to at least two of its largest bank creditors today, taking the crisis-hit property developer a step closer to one of China's largest ever debt restructurings.

Bloomberg reports:

Evergrande hadn’t made the payments as of late Tuesday local time, people familiar with the matter said, asking not to be identified discussing private information.

Banks were expecting Evergrande to miss the deadline after China’s housing ministry told them the company would be unable to pay on time. It’s unclear whether banks will formally declare Evergrande in default.

Some are waiting for the developer to propose a loan extension plan before deciding on next steps, two people said. Evergrande’s next closely watched debt deadline comes on Thursday, when it’s due to pay interest on two bonds.

12:56 PM

US housing starts beat forecasts

US housing starts rose by more than expected in August in a sign that supply and labour constraints that have held back construction may be easing.

Residential starts rose 3.9pc last month to a 1.62m annualised rate, according to data published today. This was above the median estimate of 1.55m forecast in a Bloomberg survey.

The prior month of housing starts was revised higher, while building permits increased 6pc in August.

12:46 PM

EasyJet boss tells Ryanair rival to focus on running his own airline

EasyJet Johan Lundgren Ryanair Michael O'Leary - REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/File Photo
EasyJet Johan Lundgren Ryanair Michael O'Leary - REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/File Photo

The chief executive of easyJet has told Ryanair's boss to focus on running his own airline following comments about a potential merger.

Ryanair chief Michael O'Leary was quoted as telling the Financial Times last week that rivals easyJet and Wizz Air would need to merge or be taken over as the industry consolidates in the wake of Covid-19.

In an interview with Reuters easyJet boss Johan Lundgren said: "[It is] complete nonsense. I would urge anyone who runs an airline to focus on their own business rather than speculate about others, [where] they have no idea about what's going on."

12:37 PM

FTSE 100 holds onto gains

Time for a lunch time check in on the FTSE 100, which has held onto its 1pc gains but remains below the 7,000-point mark.

Oil major BP and miners BHP Group, Anglo American and Rio Tinto are among the top boosts, after falling yesterday.

Shares of Pershing Square Holdings are up 5pc as Universal Music soars in its stock market debut - Pershing has a 10pc stake in the music label.

Meanwhile Kingfisher has remained 5pc lower, after the firm warned mounting pressure on its supply chain was harming availability and driving up costs.

12:29 PM

French spirits group Pernod Ricard to buy Whisky Exchange

French distiller Pernod Ricard has agreed to buy The Whisky Exchange in a deal that will make the owner of Absolut vodka and Havana rum one of the world’s largest online spirits retailers.

The Whisky Exchange was founded in 1999 by Sukhinder and Rajbir Singh and has grown into a major online drinks platform with a catalogue of roughly 10,000 products.

It also operates three brick-and-mortar stores in London.

Alexandre Ricard, chairman and chief executive of Pernod Ricard, said: “E-commerce is a key channel in our long term strategy. “We are thrilled to work with Industry pioneers such as Sukhinder, Rajbir and the whole team to bring The Whisky Exchange to a new step of its development.”

Pernod said The Whisky Exchange will continue to operate with its current team and structure.

The value of the deal was not disclosed.

12:20 PM

Covid and sanctions hammer North Korea’s economy

People in Seoul watch a TV showing the latest North Korean missile launch  - Chung Sung-Jun /Getty Images AsiaPac 
People in Seoul watch a TV showing the latest North Korean missile launch - Chung Sung-Jun /Getty Images AsiaPac

North Korea’s economy will regain only a fraction of the ground lost in last year’s Covid recession, analysts at Fitch have warned, as the pandemic and sanctions hammer the hermit state.

My colleague Tim Wallace reports:

The ratings agency estimates GDP will edge up by 0.5pc this year, compared to a drop of 4.5pc in 2020.

“North Korea’s borders have remained closed to contain the Covid-19 outbreak since early 2020, and while reports on the domestic outbreak remain limited, no easing in restrictions has been announced,” said Fitch.

This includes a 30-day quarantine for anyone showing symptoms.

“Domestic travel also reportedly remains restricted. The economy is also struggling due to inclement weather conditions that have impacted the agriculture sector and thereby resulted in food shortages,” the agency said.

Agriculture makes up more than one-fifth of GDP, so floods caused by typhoons have had a crippling effect on the economy, sending the price of staple foods up by around 40pc over the course of the year.

This month’s missile tests will not help, as they keep the country isolated, Fitch said.

12:07 PM

Robot hedge funds reap record gains from Europe’s energy crisis

A smattering of funds that use computer-driven algorithms to bet on niche or “exotic” markets such as Dutch and British natural gas or Spanish and German power demand have turned Europe's rocketing energy costs into one of their biggest recent money makers.

Bloomberg has the details:

Leading the pack is the $950m Gresham Quant ACAR strategy, which made a record 38.5pc gain this year through August, according to an investor update seen by Bloomberg.

The $4.8bn Systematica Alternative Markets Fund racked up 23pc over a similar period, while Man Group’s AHL Evolution Frontier surged 32pc and is heading for its best year ever.

[...] “Everything has kind of combined to spark this perfect storm,” Scott Kerson, the head of systematic strategies at Gresham Investment Management who runs the ACAR strategy, said in an interview [with Bloomberg]. “What has been driving prices higher is strong physical demand meeting highly constrained supply.”

Kerson’s hedge fund is among a subset of quantitative trend-following strategies that traditionally profit from persistent rises or falls in stocks or bonds and trade in vast and liquid markets such as US treasuries and S&P 500 stocks futures.

As those markets become crowded and returns diminish, Gresham and a handful of its peers are now seeking gains and a little extra alpha by trading relatively less liquid markets from cheese and Turkish scrap steel to obscure chemicals or eggs and glass panels in China. Their bets on European energy markets have now come good.

11:58 AM

Asda to trial driverless cars on UK roads

Asda is to trial autonomous delivery vans starting next year as the UK prepares to ease rules around driverless cars on Britain’s roads, writes Matthew Field.

The supermarket, which was snapped up by the billionaire Issa brothers for £6.8bn last year, said it had signed up to a 12-month trial with UK start-up Wayve to try out its self-driving car technology.

Wayve, which is backed by Sir Richard Branson, was founded in 2017 in Cambridge and has sought to use advanced machine learning technology to improve the performance of driverless cars.

Its tie-up with one of the “big four” supermarkets will involve delivery vans taking to London’s roads to see how well they fare on the city’s complex urban delivery routes.

Wayve will deploy its technology as part of a handful of Maxus E-9 electric vans within Asda’s London delivery fleet. These will be equipped with a full self-driving suite of tools including six advanced cameras and a machine learning system.

There have already been trials of autonomous and robotics deliveries in the UK. In Milton Keynes, the start-up Starship uses six-wheeled, knee-high robots that trundle along pavements and bring goods from Co-op to locals.

However, self-driving cars do not yet have free access to the UK’s roads. Self-driving trials are closely monitored and cars use safety drivers. The UK is planning to loosen rules around automated lane assist technology, which allows cars to drive on motorways with only limited input from drivers, later this year.

11:45 AM

Lack of reserves leaves Britain facing winter gas crisis

My colleague Rachel Millard has more about how gas supply constraints have added up to far less gas being put into storage sites, which were already depleted coming out of the previous long winter.

She writes:

Stocks are low as the heating season looms. Storage sites in the UK and Europe are about 72pc full, with filling rates running at about 16pc below the five-year average.

[...] Centrica, the owner of British Gas, closed its Rough storage site off the Yorkshire coast in 2017 as repair costs and low margins made the project uneconomic.

The UK has a small number of storage sites left, such as Aldbrough run by SSE and Equinor in Yorkshire, and Stublach run by Storengy in Cheshire.

Overall they cover less than 2pc of annual demand, and contain far less than European counterparts.

Critics believe that leaves the UK dangerously reliant on imports - at a time when competition for supplies for Europe is huge.

Read her full story here.

11:35 AM

More on the IEA gas statement

11:30 AM

US futures bounce back

US futures bounced back today as investors shook off concerns about the potential collapse of China’s Evergande, though gains were capped by jitters ahead of a key Federal Reserve meeting.

Futures tracking the Dow Jones rose 0.9pc a day after the index fell 1.8pc in its worst day since late July.

Global stocks suffered a sell-off yesterday amid rising fears that Evergrande could default on its $305bn of debts, causing turbulence for China’s property sector, banks and wider economy.

Investors are also looking to the Fed’s policy meeting tomorrow, where the central bank is expecting to lay its groundwork for the tapering of stimulus measures.

11:16 AM

Revolut to roll out commission-free stock trading in the US

Revolut is reportedly preparing to roll out commission-free stock trading in the US as it looks to take on platforms such as Robinhood and Square.

The UK fintech, which is valued at $33bn, will announce today that it has secured a US broker-dealer licence, according to CNBC.

Chief executive Nik Storonsky said:

We are building a single app where people can manage all aspects of their finances, from banking and foreign exchange, to cryptocurrency and stock trading.

We’re eager to break down common barriers to entry around stock trading such as account minimums and complex interfaces.

11:12 AM

BA owner up 20pc in past week

The owner of British Airways has jumps 20pc in past week, as investors bet on a rebound for the airline following the resurrection of transatlantic travel.

Fully vaccinated Britons will be able to travel to the United States from November under a "new system for international travel" announced by the White House.

Julia Lo Bue-Said, chief executive of the Advantage Travel Partnership, described the decision as "a major game changer" for the beleaguered travel sector, with Paul Charles, chief executive of The PC Agency travel consultancy, labelling it as "brilliant news".

However IAG's share price - currently at 171.5p - is significantly below its pre=pandemic 2019 high of above 400p.

Read more about this story here: British Airways owner soars as US opens the door to Britain and Europe

11:07 AM

Uber lifts profit forecast

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi walks outside of the New York Stock Exchange - Spencer Platt /Getty Images 
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi walks outside of the New York Stock Exchange - Spencer Platt /Getty Images

Uber has updated its outlook for the third quarter, saying it now expects profit to beat previous expectations.

In an SEC filing the ride-hailing giant said adjusted earnings will be between a loss of $25m and a profit of $25m, compared to previous forecasts of “better than a loss of $100m”.

For the fourth quarter, it expects profit to fall somewhere between break-even and $100m.

Uber also updated its forecasts for gross bookings to between $22.8bn and $23.2bn, from between $22bn and $24bn previously.

Chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said: “They say that crisis breeds opportunity and that’s certainly been true of Uber during the last 18 months.”

10:58 AM

Shares in Alphawave jump 20pc

Shares in London listed silicon chip designer Alphawave soared 20pc on Tuesday morning as it gave upbeat predictions for its growth amid booming demand for microchips, reports Matthew Field.

Alphawave, an Anglo-Canadian venture that listed in the City in May, said revenues doubled year-on-year in the first half of 2021 to $27.6m from $11.5m. Pre-tax profits fell by a third to $3.9m on the back of spending on its float.

But the company said it expected bookings for its chip technology to exceed $230m in 2021 with revenues hitting $75m, ahead of its initial guidance.

Founded four years ago, Alphawave designs tiny semiconductor parts, called chiplets, that make their way into data centres run by companies such as Amazon. Its technology is focused on improving connection speeds within the chips themselves.

The company said it had closed licensing deals with one of the world’s largest chip makers in North America. US companies have been ramping up their spending on chip making amid a supply drought of semiconductors. Samsung, Intel and TSMC are expected to spend $75bn this year on ramping up production and tens of billions of dollars more over the next decade.

Shares in Alphawave surged as high as 410p, touching the company’s initial public offering price. Company saw its market cap fall after it went public earlier this year. It is now valued at around £2.7bn.

10:55 AM

Shell investors get surprise $7bn payout

The logo for Shell - Anna Gowthorpe /PA
The logo for Shell - Anna Gowthorpe /PA

Shareholders in Royal Dutch Shell will be handed a surprise $7bn (£5.1bn) payout after the oil giant promised to hand them three-quarters of the proceeds from its sale of Permian shale oil fields, writes James Warrington.

Of the $9.5bn Shell will receive from the sale of the assets to ConocoPhillips, $7bn will be returned to investors through share buybacks, the company said in a statement.

The remaining $2.5bn will be used to cut debt.

The cash return marks further efforts by Shell to win back investor trust after making heavy cuts to its dividend during the pandemic last year.

It comes less than two months after Shell raised its dividend by almost 40pc and started $2bn of share buybacks.

10:44 AM

Addison Lee to go fully electric by 2023

Addison Lee has pledged to make its fleet of cabs fully electric by 2023, writes James Warrington.

The taxi company said it will invest £160m to convert its 4,000-strong fleet of vehicles to electric models over the next two years.

The company is partnering with Volkswagen to roll out its ID.4 electric vehicles, with 200 cars hitting the road every month from November.

Addison Lee said it was the largest purchase of electric vehicles by a British private hire firm.

The taxi group already has more than 650 zero-emission vehicles in its fleet following its takeover of black taxi firm ComCab earlier this year.

10:40 AM

UK inflation to rise more than most advanced economies says OECD

Prices will rise higher in the UK this year than in most other advanced economies, the OECD said today.

The Paris-based group said in its interim economic outlook it expects inflation to average 2.3pc this year - raising its forecast for the country by one percentage point (the group previously forecast a 1.3pc rise in June last year).

“Near-term inflation risks are on the upside, particularly if pent-up demand by consumers is stronger than anticipated, or if supply shortages take a long time to overcome,” the OECD said.

“Accommodative monetary policy should be maintained, but clear guidance is needed about the horizon and extent to which any inflation overshooting will be tolerated.”

10:29 AM

OECD downgrades UK growth prospects

UK growth prospects have been sharply downgraded as inflation rises and the Delta variant weighs on the country's economic rebound from the pandemic, The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said today.

In its interim economic outlook report, the OECD forecast UK GDP growth at 6.7pc, a downgrade from 7.2pc.

For 2022, growth has also been downgraded from 5.5pc to 5.2pc.

The OECD lowered its growth outlook for the United States as well, from 6.9 to 6.0pc this year.

10:18 AM

Building site supplier SIG warns of supply squeeze

Building materials supplier SIG has said it expects full-year profits to come in ahead of expectations, but warned of a continued impact of material shortages, reports James Warrington.

SIG, which supplies roofing and insulation materials, said it had seen “solid” trading in July and August, despite supply chain troubles and driver shortages.

It said these problems could persist “for an extended period”, but that full-year operating profit would still beat expectations as long as conditions did not worsen.

Like-for-like sales grew by a third in the first half of the year to £1.1bn, while underlying pre-tax profit was £3m, up from a £53.8m loss last year.

10:10 AM

London fintech valued at $1bn

London-based fintech startup TrueLayer has been valued at $1bn in its latest funding round, making it the latest UK unicorn.

The payments platform said today it had raised $130m (£95m) from investment firm Tiger Global Management and payments technology provider Stripe.

"This new funding will allow us to bring open banking payments to new businesses, supercharging mainstream adoption through industries like ecommerce and subscriptions," said the company's chief executive and co-founder Francesco Simoneschi.

TrueLayer, which last raised $70m in April, said monthly payment volume has grown 400pc in this year so far, as it expands across Europe.

10:00 AM

UK creative industries handed export funding

The UK creative industries have been handed fresh government support as part of a package of measures to boost British exports, writes James Warrington.

The support package includes £330,000 worth of funding for the music industry via the Music Export Growth Scheme (MEGS).

The UK’s creative industries – including TV and film, music, publishing, fashion, gaming and advertising – accounted for exports of £37.9bn in 2019.

09:54 AM

Oil rises

Oil rigs are seen in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana - MARCO BELLO /Reuters 
Oil rigs are seen in the Gulf of Mexico after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana - MARCO BELLO /Reuters

Oil is rising today, after a two-day decline as the sell off in global equities eases.

Brent is up 1.3pc at $74.88 after pushing above $75 a barrel earlier this morning.

Oil has resumed its advance over the past month, party due to market tightening. Damage caused by US storms means some fields in the Gulf of Mexico will be unable to resume supply until next year.

At the same time, focus is falling on consumption in anticipation that soaring natural gas prices will force a shift toward back towards oil (Read more about that here: Record gas prices risk resurgence of dirty power).

“Any macro selloff will continue to provide a buying opportunity for oil, especially with so much pent up demand out there from the growing gas-to-oil switch,” Keshav Lohiya, chief executive officer of Oilytics, told Bloomberg.

09:42 AM

Sterling nears one-month low

Sterling is languishing near four-week lows this morning ahead of a key Bank of England policy meeting, writes James Warrington.

The pound gained 0.2pc to $1.3687, edging up marginally from previous day’s low of $1.364 – its weakest level since 23 August.

It comes in a crucial week for monetary policy, with the Federal Reserve and Bank of England among a string of central banks holding meetings.

While no rate hikes are expected until 2022, investors are starting to price in an expected tapering to pandemic stimulus measures.

Markets have also been troubled by fears of potential repercussions from Chinese property giant Evergrande’s debt problems.

09:34 AM

Expert reaction: Housing market ‘surprisingly resilient’

Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent and a former RICS residential chairman, comments on the August surge in property transactions:

The housing market has proved surprisingly resilient despite the reduction in the stamp duty saving since the beginning of July.

Transactions are always a better measure of underlying market strength than more volatile house prices.

Many buyers brought forward purchases in order to take maximum advantage of the stamp duty concession which began to taper off from 30 June.

Enquiries are still considerably above pre-pandemic levels though less activity will mean price growth is likely to continue to slow towards the end of the year.

Values are still being supported by shortages of stock and low mortgage rates although valuation appraisals have been increasing lately which usually means instructions are about to pick up.

Looking forward, the market is likely to cool bearing in mind the impending pressure on real incomes from higher inflation and the withdrawal of the furlough scheme at the end of this month.

Jonathan Hopper, chief executive of Garrington Property Finders, adds:

With transactions for the [August] back to typical pre-pandemic August levels, the post-Stamp Duty holiday hangover was fleeting.

Buyer demand remains strong, but with the catnip-like effect of the Stamp Duty reduction now gone, the market’s frothiest extremes have settled.

Estate agents are still busy, but buyers are now being much more considered and less emotional in their approach.

This is cooling the pace of price growth and leading to increased interest in London properties.

While still expensive in absolute terms, prices in the capital have risen much more slowly than those elsewhere since the pandemic hit.

With London’s prime market now starting to see the return of international buyers, more domestic buyers are sensing a window of opportunity as the turbulence of the past year has improved relative value in the capital.

09:30 AM

Property transactions back to pre-pandemic levels

Property transactions bounced back to normal pre-Covid levels in August, marking the end of the stamp duty holiday rollercoaster, official data shows.

My colleague Melissa Lawford writes:

There were 98,300 transactions in August, according to HMRC’s provisional seasonally adjusted estimate. This was a jump of 32pc compared to July 2021, when transactions plunged 62.6pc after the maximum stamp duty holiday savings in England and Northern Ireland dropped from £15,000 to £2,500.

The bounce showed that the July drop was an artificial blip caused by the change in the stamp duty holiday and suggested that the market is now returning to a pre-pandemic rhythm. National transactions were up only a marginal 1.3pc compared to August 2019.

While transactions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were consistently in line with the August 2019 figures, transactions in England were down 5.9pc.

This was despite the fact that buyers completing in August still felt some of the benefits from the tax break. Buyers who transact in England and Northern Ireland before September 30 still have a nil-rate band of £250,000. From October 1, after the tapered stamp duty holiday has ended for good, this will revert back to £125,000.

A shortage of supply, combined with record low mortgage rates, will continue to underpin home values, though analysts expect the pace of price growth to cool in the coming months.

A graph showing property transactions rising - HMRC
A graph showing property transactions rising - HMRC

09:21 AM

Caterer Compass beats revenue targets

Catering group Compass has beaten revenue expectations in the fourth quarter thanks to the return of live sports events, writes James Warrington.

The FTSE 100 firm said revenue for the three-month period would hit around 86pc of 2019 levels – ahead of previous guidance of 80pc to 85pc.

For the full year, revenue is expected to be around 76pc of 2019 figures.

Compass said its performance had been led by its sport and leisure division, with strong attendance particularly in outdoor sports.

But it struck a cautious tone over its business and industry division due to uncertainty over the reopening of offices.

Shares slid 1.8pc.

09:19 AM

Universal Music shares jump by one third in stock market debut

Billie Eilish performs onstage during the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Festival - Kevin Winter /Getty Images North America 
Billie Eilish performs onstage during the 2021 iHeartRadio Music Festival - Kevin Winter /Getty Images North America

Shares of the world's biggest music label leapt more than a third in their stock market debut today, as investors rushed to participate in the music market.

The market value of Universal Music, which represents artists and song catalogues from Billie Eilish to The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, leapt to to almost €47bn in Europe's largest listing of the year.

Universal's shares jumped by around 39pc compared to its reference price of €18.50.

The company was spun off by France's Vivendi, which handed a 60pc stake in Universal to its shareholders.However as investors reassessed Vivendi's value without the lable, the media group's own shares plunged 20pc.

Shares in Bollore, which holds 27pc of Vivendi, rose 2.8pc, while Amsterdam-listed shares of Bill Ackman's Pershing rose by around 5pc.

Ackman opted to take a 10pc stake in Universal via his main Pershing Square hedge fund, which is now eyeing a paper gain of more than 30pc.

09:04 AM

Stagecoach and National Express in merger talks

Scottish transport group Stagecoach has confirmed talks over a potential all-share takeover by rival National Express that would value the business at £445m.

Under the terms of the possible merger, National Express would own around 75pc of the combined group and Stagecoach shareholders around 25pc.

The takeover talks follow a difficult period for both companies, with passenger numbers slumping due to lockdowns, remote working and a switch away from public transport.

‘’Consolidation in the hard hit travel sector has been expected and it appears the bus coach and rail business is ripe for restructure," said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown

"The working from home revolution is still likely to be a drag on revenues going forward, with commuters likely to travel less in the future. Although some pent up demand for travel will have been unleashed, it’s still far from clear when passenger numbers will return to pre-pandemic levels."

The groups have outlined plans to slash costs as part of the possible tie-up. National Express said it expects to find annual savings of at least £35m.

Talks are ongoing and there is no certainty a formal offer will be made. National Express has until the end of the day on October 19 to make a firm offer or walk away, according to City Takeover Panel rules.

National Express surged 6.8pc to become the top riser on the FTSE 250 after the merger was confirmed.

Read more on this story here.

09:00 AM

B&Q owner slides despite jump in profits

Customers maintain social distancing measures at B&Q Leyton  - Hollie Adams /Getty Images Europe 
Customers maintain social distancing measures at B&Q Leyton - Hollie Adams /Getty Images Europe

Shares of B&Q owner Kingfisher have dropped to the bottom of the FTSE 100 even after the company reported a sharp rise in profit thanks to a pandemic-driven DIY boom, reports James Warrington.

The retailer posted a 70.6pc rise in pre-tax profit to £677m in the six months to the end of July, while like-for-like sales jumped 22.2pc to £7.1bn.

But shares in Kingfisher dropped around 5pc after the firm warned mounting pressure on its supply chain was harming availability and driving up costs.

Kingfisher, which has cashed in on higher demand for DIY products during lockdown, announced a £300m share buyback and hiked its interim dividend to 3.8p.

08:57 AM

FTSE 100 risers and fallers

British Airways owner IAG is the top riser on the FTSE 100 this morning, after the White House said it would relax restrictions on UK and EU arrivals - resurrecting transatlantic travel.

Pershing Square Holdings was also up 4.2pc while Royal Dutch Shell climbed 3.7pc after it agreed to sell its business in the biggest oilfield in the US - Permian Basin - to rival ConocoPhillips for $9.5bn in cash.

At the other end of the index, Kingfisher fell more than 5pc after the company said it was wrestling with "significant operational pressures arising due to the pandemic, including product supply and availability, shipping and logistics, and cost price inflation".

07:25 AM

Kwarteng also considering loans 'not grants' for energy companies

Kwarteng said the government is also looking at loans for the energy sector, which are another industry coming under pressure for surging wholesale gas prices.

"Every year in the winter between five and eight energy suppliers leave the market for whatever reason.... the thing we're facing this year is that figure, between five and eight, could be much higher so the cost of absorbing all those customers could be higher too," he told the BBC.

"We are looking at ways we can make sure larger, better capitalised companies can absorb the customers of failing companies," he added.

"Loans is a solution we are looking at. What I'm very keen to stress is these won't be grants, these aren't simply handouts. Nor should we bail out all the energy suppliers because a number of them have been badly run."

07:18 AM

Government considers 'temporary' support for US CO2 producer

The government is considering subsidies for an American company which has paused production of CO2 due to surging wholesale gas prices, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told the BBC this morning.

"If there is support provided, that will be on a temporary basis", Kwarteng said, adding he had spoken to the chief executive of Illinois-based company CF Industries twice in the past two days.

The company makes a huge amount of carbon dioxide which the British meat industry relies on to slaughter animals.

Because the company has stopped production, meat producers are warning they may have to halt production itself in a few days.

"I'm hopeful we can get something sorted today," Kwarteng said.

07:06 AM

FTSE 100 opens 0.9pc higher

The FTSE 100 has opened 0.9pc higher at 6,963.7 points, following a global sell off yesterday as investors fretted over inflation, the Evergrande crisis and a slump in iron ore.

The FTSE 250 has also pushed 0.6pc higher to 23,534.1.

07:02 AM

Business secretary warns Britain faces 'challenging' few days

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng - HENRY NICHOLLS /REUTERS 
Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng - HENRY NICHOLLS /REUTERS

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has warned the next few days will be “quite challenging”, as the energy crisis deepens and meat producers struggle with a shortage of carbon dioxide supplies (carbon dioxide is crucial in the meat industry because it is used to stun animals before slaughter).

“The next few days are going to be quite challenging,” Kwarteng told Sky News. “This is very serious.”

Gas prices are surging, smaller electricity suppliers are at risk of collapsing and the government is considering state loans for companies that take on customers from firms which go bust due to soaring wholesale gas prices.

Asked if state-backed loans were an option, Kwarteng said: "There are lots of options ... It costs a company to absorb up to hundreds of thousands of customers from another company that's failed, that costs money, and there may well be a provision for some sort of loan and that's been discussed."

He added he would not give money to companies which had been badly run.

Meat producers are warning they have just days of carbon dioxide supply left, threatening additional pressure on food supply chains that are already stretched.

Adding to pressure on energy prices, a cable that was knocked out last week after a fire at a converter station won’t be coming back online for another month.

National Grid said late on Monday that half the capacity of the IFA-1 U.K.-France line will come online October 23, a month later than previously thought. Full capacity of 2,000 megawatts is not expected until March 27.

06:54 AM

More on government borrowing: Interest costs double

Although UK government borrowing was well below official forecasts in the first five months of the fiscal year, debt interest costs in August almost doubled from a year ago to £6.3bn.

"Interest payments put upward pressure on spending as the cost of servicing debt reached the highest level of any August since records began,” said Michal Stelmach, senior economist at KPMG UK.

“This was due to higher RPI inflation, to which around a quarter of government debt is pegged, reversing the downward trend in debt interest to revenue ratio since 2012.”

The threat from higher inflation is looming - pushing up the cost of government debt tied to the retail price index.

The Treasury would face additional debt costs if the Bank of England starts raising interest rates next year, as economist increasingly expect.

06:46 AM

Johnson and Bezos discuss Amazon taxes in New York

Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Amazon Executive chairman, Jeff Bezos - Stefan Rousseau /PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Amazon Executive chairman, Jeff Bezos - Stefan Rousseau /PA

Prime Minister Boris Johnson discussed the issue of Amazon's tax when he met the tech giant's founder Jeff Bezos in New York last night, Downing Street said.

The two men met at the UK diplomatic residence, as part of the UN General Assembly.

"The prime minister raised the issue of taxation, and hoped progress could be made in implementing the G7 agreement on tax," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

“The prime minister welcomed the Bezos Earth Fund’s commitment, announced tonight, to give $1 billion to protect forests and remove carbon from the air," Downing Street said.

"The prime minister and Mr Bezos agreed to work together to see what more could be done in the run up to and at COP26."

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his partner, news anchor Lauren Sanchez  - Michael M. Santiago /Getty Images North America 
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his partner, news anchor Lauren Sanchez - Michael M. Santiago /Getty Images North America
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) meets with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during the United Nations General Assembly in New York - Stefan Rousseau /PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) meets with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos during the United Nations General Assembly in New York - Stefan Rousseau /PA
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Amazon Executive chairman, Jeff Bezos - Michael M. Santiago /PA 
Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets with Amazon Executive chairman, Jeff Bezos - Michael M. Santiago /PA

06:36 AM

Industries start to slow as shortages bite

Britain’s manufacturing, transport and chemicals industries all began to shrink last month as shortages of staff and materials sent growth into reverse, reports my colleague Tim Wallace.

Metals and mining businesses also reported falling levels of output as key materials and workers are increasingly hard to find.

Lloyds Bank’s recovery tracker found only nine of the 14 industries it follows grew in August, the smallest share since February when the UK was still in the depths of lockdown.

Some industries have only recently been able to make full use of the reopening freedoms.

The surveys show a sharp acceleration in tourism and recreation spending, with the boom in domestic holidays aiding businesses across the country.

Food and drinks manufacturers also expanded rapidly, helped by customers returning to hotels, pubs and restaurants.

They have been helped by changes to the Test and Trace rules which eased the impact of the “pingdemic”, which had forced large numbers of workers to isolate in July.

However Jeavon Lolay, economist at Lloyds, said shortages are still an issue in industries such as haulage, which has a knock-on effect on the wider economy.

“Labour availability is critical to the UK’s recovery from Covid-19. August’s data shows how staff shortages in one sector have a ripple effect across the whole economy. The lack of haulage drivers pushed transport sector output into contraction for the first time in six months, with manufacturers that rely on logistics firms to deliver key inputs unable to complete their orders as a result,” he said.

06:32 AM

Borrowing undershoots forecasts for year so far

While August borrowing appears to have jumped, the figure for the year so far looks much kinder for the Chancellor, who is preparing for his Autumn Budget next month.

The budget deficit fell to £93.8bn in the financial year to August, according to the Office for National Statistics - 25pc lower than official forecasts of £125.7bn.

Still, August's deficit stood at £20.5bn, higher than economists had expected.

The ONS revised last year's borrowing figure by £27.1bn to £325.1bn as it included the cost of writing off losses on £80bn of pandemic loans made to companies struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic.

But the overall lower borrowing figure for the year so far may prompt the budget watchdog to cut predictions for the current financial year, giving Rishi Sunak some wiggle room when it comes to his Budget.

Mr Sunak has already hiked taxes to pay for a £12bn annual boost to health and social care, with economists predicting tax giveaways will be few and far between when he announces his three-year budget next month.

06:26 AM

£5bn above forecast

Last month's figure is around £5bn over a consensus forecast from Reuters, but still £5.5bn less than last year's record figure for August.

However, it is still £15.3bn higher than borrowing was in August 2019.

06:16 AM

August borrowing overshoots forecasts

Good morning.

UK borrowing shot higher in August to hit £20.5bn after July's fall, much higher than a consensus forecast of £15.6bn.

The figure is the second highest August on record, according to the Office for National Statistics, after a peak of £26bn for the same month a year ago. The difference was mostly offset by a £5.3bn jump in central government receipts, with spending just £1bn less than it was a year ago.

Public sector net debt hit £2.2 trillion at the end of August, or around 97.6 of GDP, the highest ratio since 1963's 98.3pc.

5 things to start your day

1) Chinese property crisis rocks global markets: Stock markets fell around the world on Monday amid rising fears that a property crisis in China has put the global recovery from Covid at risk.

2) British Airways owner soars as US opens the door to Britain and Europe: The end of the travel ban comes as a major boost to IAG, which relies on transatlantic flights for a significant proportion of its revenue.

3) National Express targets Stagecoach takeover: The FTSE 250 coach operator has been discussing an audacious takeover of Perth-based Stagecoach, sources told Bloomberg.

4) Pimlico Plumbers sale nets £100m-plus payday for Charlie Mullins: Pimlico is understood to have been sold for between £125m and £145m. Mr Mullins has a 90pc stake in the business he founded in 1979, with the remainder belonging to his son Scott.

5) Poland defies €500,000-a-day Brussels fine to keep coal mine open: The European Court of Justice ordered Poland to pay the hefty fine on Monday after operations continued at the Turow open-pit lignite mine in the country’s south-west despite an injunction.

What happened overnight

Equities fluctuated in Asia on Tuesday, with investors nervously keeping an eye on troubled property giant China Evergrande after fears over its possible collapse sparked a rout across global markets.

Hong Kong-listed real estate firms, which took the brunt of the selling on Monday, tanking more than 10pc, managed to squeeze out gains in the morning as bargain-buyers moved in, but there remains a lot of uncertainty.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index, which plunged more than 3pc Monday, edged up 0.2pc. There were also gains in Sydney and Singapore. Tokyo lost 2pc as Wellington, Manila and Jakarta also fell.

Coming up today

  • Corporate: Interim results: Kingfisher, JTC; Trading update: Compass Group, Oxford Instruments

  • Economics: Public sector borrowing (UK); housing starts (US)