UK-Africa summit up to 90% deal struck went into fossil fuels

( via – -Fri, 24th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Exclusive: Almost £2bn went to oil and gas despite a UK pledge to support cleaner energy in African countries

More than 90% of the £2bn in energy deals struck at this week’s UK-Africa investment summit were for fossil fuels, despite a government commitment to “support African countries in their transition to cleaner energy”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson opened the summit on Monday, citing the climate emergency: “We all breathe the same air, we live beneath the same sky, and we all suffer when carbon emissions rise and the planet warms.”

But the commercial energy deals revealed later were dominated by oil and gas production. The official UK government statement on the summit and a press release failed to mention these, citing only the far smaller support for clean energy. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said the “hypocrisy of the government’s position is breath-taking”.Advertisement

Johnson also announced that UK taxpayers’ money would no longer support overseas coal-fired power plants and coal mining. Yet MPs on the environmental select committee reported in 2019 that “UK Export Finance (UKEF) has not supported a coal project since 2002”.

A report by Greenpeace and Newsnight also found that UKEF spent billions of pounds abroad supporting fossil fuel projects that will emit an estimated 69 million tonnes of carbon a year.

The UK will host a critical UN climate summit in Glasgow in November, at which nations must dramatically increase their pledges to cut carbon emissions to avoid a disastrous 3o-4oC rise in global temperatures.

Before the summit, Lucas asked ministers which companies would attend, but the Department of Trade refused to reveal the names, citing “commercial interests”.

“Now we know why the government was so secretive,” said Lucas. “The hypocrisy of the government’s position is breathtaking. It boasts of its green credentials one minute, and then hosts an investment summit which sees billions being invested in carbon-intensive industries in Africa. This government’s promises on climate action are completely hollow.

“As hosts of this year’s UN climate summit, the UK needs to show international leadership and bring other countries with us. We can’t do that while UK money and business is supporting dirty energy around the world.”

A spokesman for the Department for International Trade (DIT) said: “The UK is committed to tackling climate change and supporting African countries in their transition to cleaner energy. Less than one-third [of the total £6.5bn in deals] were in oil and gas.”

At the summit, Johnson said the UK would help African nations “extract and use oil and gas in the cleanest, greenest way possible”, while also delivering “an electro-convulsive lightning bolt through our renewables industry”.

Other deals struck at the summit included a total of £170m for aircraft and airports and £224m for a new Kenyan gold mine. The biggest deal was £3.2bn for Bombardier to construct and operate two monorail lines in Cairo, Egypt.

The UK taxpayer is directly funding £50m of clean energy projects, including energy storage batteries and energy-efficient housing. “The government is stepping up our offer to work with African countries to unlock their massive renewable energy potential,” said the DIT spokesman.

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now, said: “The supposedly transformative £6.5bn UK investment in Africa includes oil, gas, gold mining and airlines. So much for fostering ‘climate-friendly’ development.

“In the 19th century, the ‘scramble for Africa’ was carefully disguised as a humanitarian project. Now, 150 years later, what we saw at the UK-Africa summit was a desperate and unseemly grab for markets, dressed up as ‘development’.”

By Damian Carrington 

UK regulator warn markets: be ready in case no trade agreement is struck with the EU

( via — Wed, 23rd Jan 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Financial firms in Britain should be ready in case no trade agreement is struck with the European Union by December, a senior UK regulator said on Thursday.

Britain leaves the EU next week, followed by a “business as usual” transition that ends in December. Britain and the EU will formally begin trade talks in coming weeks.

“Firms still need to ensure they are prepared for a range of scenarios that may happen at the end of 2020,” said Nausicaa Delfas, executive director of international at the Financial Conduct Authority.

Britain’s banks, trading platforms and insurers hope to get access to the EU market after December under the EU equivalence system, through which Brussels grants access to countries whose regulatory regimes it deems comparable to its own.

Britain has already put all EU financial rules into UK law, which means it will have “the most equivalent framework to the EU of any country in the world,” Delfas told an event held by law firm BCLP.

Britain will also need to decide whether EU-based financial firms can have access to UK investors under the same equivalence system it has inherited by adopting the EU laws.

“This provides a strong basis for the EU and UK to find each other equivalent across the full range of equivalence provisions,” Delfas said.

The EU’s financial laws include about 40 equivalence provisions, ranging from trading shares to insurance, but access remains more limited than the unfettered “passporting” UK firms enjoyed inside the EU.

“As both the UK and EU are committed to open markets, there is also a strong rationale for both sides to discuss broadening their respective equivalence frameworks,” Delfas said.

The EU is committed to completing its equivalence assessments by the end of June, but banks fear it will be overshadowed by broader UK-EU trade talks.

“We believe that equivalence decisions should be based on technical assessments,” Delfas said.

Equivalence should be determined on the “outcomes” of respective rules rather than a need to be written identically, Delfas said.

Reporting by Huw Jones

Facebook to hire 1,000 London staff this year

( via — Tue, 21st 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Facebook will hire 1,000 people in London this year in roles such as product development and safety as it continues to grow its biggest engineering center outside the United States after Britain leaves the European Union.

Over half of the new jobs will be in technology, including software engineering and data science, Facebook’s vice president for Europe, the Middle East and Africa Nicola Mendelsohn said in an interview.

Other roles will be in the “community integrity” team, which makes products to detect and remove harmful content from platforms like Facebook, Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Mendelsohn said London’s appeal was not only in its technology ecosystem but also the strength of its creative industries.

She said that while Facebook’s enthusiasm for London was undimmed, like other tech companies it wanted certainty about Brexit.

“The Johnson government has been very clear about what that looks like, and so we will continue to invest here in London,” she said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Facebook’s growth was “great news”. “We are committed to making the UK the safest place in the world to be online, alongside being one of the best places for technology companies to be based,” he said.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg will announce the new jobs, which will take its total UK employees to more than 4,000, on Tuesday before traveling to the World Economic Forum in Davos with Mendelsohn, where they will meet global leaders, regulators and other business chiefs.

The company is trying to rebuild trust in its platforms after the Cambridge Analytica scandal in 2018, in which a British political consulting firm collected data from Facebook for voter profiling and targeting.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s public affairs chief and a former British politician, said on Monday that the company will do a better job of preventing bad actors from manipulating this year’s U.S. presidential election than it did four years ago.

Mendelsohn said trust would take time to rebuild.

“We also understand that this is an ongoing important conversation – we want to be part of that conversation,” she said. “We want to be working with policymakers in this area to get to thoughtful policy.”

Facebook has commissioned research to show the economic benefits its platforms bring to businesses in Europe.

The study by Copenhagen Economics, which questioned 7,7320 businesses across 15 countries, estimated Facebook apps helped create 208 billion euros ($230 billion) of economic value last year.

“When you extrapolate that further, what you see is that has resulted in 3.1 million jobs in Europe as a result of people utilizing our platforms,” Mendelsohn said.

Reporting by Paul Sandle and Elizabeth Howcroft

Chancellor Sajid Javid promises to tackle regional imbalances by reforming how Treasury allocates funds

( via – – Tue, 7th Jan 2020) London, Uk – –

Chancellor promises to tackle regional imbalances by reforming how Treasury allocates funds

Sajid Javid has pledged to use his first budget to kickstart a decade of renewal for the economy after announcing 11 March as the date for the delayed set-piece event.

The chancellor said his package would focus on unleashing Britain’s potential after the country’s departure from the EU at the end of this month.

It is understood that Javid will announce a shake-up of the way the Treasury allocates investment in an attempt to even up spending between the regions. The chancellor also plans to set up a taskforce designed to make his department an engine of economic change.

Javid’s plans to ramp up investment spending by billions of pounds will allow the government to borrow for capital projects. Tax and spending measures will focus on health, the environment and the cost of living.

The chancellor said: “People across the country have told us that they want change. We’ve listened and will now deliver.

“With this budget we will unleash Britain’s potential – uniting our great country, opening a new chapter for our economy and ushering in a decade of renewal.”

Javid’s predecessor, Philip Hammond, moved the budget from the spring to the autumn but the date was pushed back as a result of the election.

A slowing economy has put upward pressure on the public finances, with the budget deficit – the gap between government tax income and expenditure – expected to hit £50bn in the current 2019-2020 financial year.

Javid will announce a set of less onerous fiscal rules so that the Treasury can take advantage of what are expected to be permanently low interest rates. The budget will announce extra investment in public infrastructure while promising to keep the national debt falling as a share of national output.

Boris Johnson’s 80-seat majority was the result of picking up former Labour seats in the Midlands and the north of England, and Javid intends to use his budget to help those on lower incomes and to tackle the economy’s regional imbalances.

The budget is likely to feature an increase in the threshold at which people start paying national insurance contributions, investment in new hospitals and the training of new police officers.

Almost 3 million UK workers to receive a pay rise of four times the rate of inflation from April

( via – – Tue, 31st Dec 2019) London, Uk – –

Employees over 25 will receive a 6.2% pay rise equating to £930 a year for full-time worker

Almost 3 million workers in Britain are to receive a pay rise of more than four times the rate of inflation from April, after the government said it would increase the official minimum wage.

In an announcement designed to woo low-paid workers in the immediate aftermath of Boris Johnson’s election victory earlier this month, the government said the “national living wage” for over-25s would increase from £8.21 an hour to £8.72 from the start of April.

Johnson said the increase was the “biggest ever cash boost” to the legal pay floor. “Hard work should always pay, but for too long people haven’t seen the pay rises they deserve,” he said.

Workers over the age of 25 on the legal minimum wage, rebranded as the “national living wage” four years ago, will receive an annual pay rise of 6.2% from April – more than quadruple the level of the consumer price index (CPI) gauge of inflation, which stood at 1.5% in November. The Treasury said the increase equated to an increase in gross annual earnings of around £930 for a full-time worker on the current minimum rate.Advertisement

Pay rates will also rise above inflation across all other age groups, including by 6.5% for 21-24-year-olds to £8.20, by 4.9% to £6.45 for 18-20-year-olds, by 4.6% to £4.55 for under-18s and 6.4% to £4.15 for apprentices.

The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said the rise was long overdue. “Workers are still not getting a fair share of the wealth they create, and in-work poverty is soaring as millions of families struggle to make ends meet,” she said. “No more excuses, working families need a £10 minimum wage now, not in four years’ time.”

Details of the pay rise had been put on hold after the chancellor, Sajid Javid, scrapped the autumn budget as Johnson pushed for the snap election. Annual changes in the legal wage floor are typically announced alongside the autumn budget.

The Conservatives faced criticism earlier this month after including a caveat in the Queen’s speech that the election promise to raise the national living wage to £10.50 by 2024 would only happen “provided economic conditions allow”.

Javid had said at the Tory party conference in September that his party would set a five-year target to raise the low-pay floor from 60% of median earnings in Britain to two-thirds. He also said he would lower the age threshold for the national living wage from 25 to 21.

Labour had promised to introduce a real living wage of at least £10 an hour for all workers aged 16 and over immediately, in a policy designed to show it would move faster to support households than the Tories.

Average pay packets across Britain remain lower than before the financial crisis, once inflation is taken into account, after one of the worst decades for pay growth since the end of the Napoleonic wars 200 years ago. Annual pay growth has accelerated this year, repairing some of the damage by rising at the fastest rate in 11 years.

Unemployment has dropped to its lowest level since the mid 1970s and inflation has remained relatively stable in the past year, hovering below the Bank of England’s target rate of 2%, helping hard-pressed families to repair their finances.

Pay growth has started to fall again in recent months, however, against a backdrop of heightened uncertainty over Brexit and a slowdown in the world economy.

Campaigners say work no longer guarantees a way out of poverty, with figures suggesting that about 14.3 million people are struggling to make ends meet, including about 9 million people who live in families where at least one adult is working.

The latest government announcement does not meet the level outlined by the Living Wage Foundation charity, which sets a voluntary pay floor used by about 6,000 companies calculated to reflect what people need to live on.

The Living Wage Foundation sets its “real living wage” at £9.30 an hour and £10.75 an hour in London. Firms including the insurer Aviva, the Nationwide building society and football clubs such as Crystal Palace are among employers committed to paying the real living wage to more than 210,000 workers.

The business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said the government would set out a future policy framework in the spring for raising the legal minimum pay level over the next five years.

Business leaders, however, said the government risked damaging companies at a time of heightened economic uncertainty.

Hannah Essex, co-executive director of the British Chambers of Commerce, which represents 75,000 businesses, said the move to raise the wage floor by more than double the rate of inflation in 2020 would “pile further pressure on cash flow and eat into training and investment budgets” at companies across the country.

“For this policy to be sustainable, government must offset these costs by reducing others and impose a moratorium on any further upfront costs for business,” she said, adding that many firms were struggling with rising costs.

By Richard Partington Economics correspondent

Boxing Day sales slump blamed on Black Friday and bad weather

( via – – Fri, 27th Dec 2019) London, Uk – –

Black Friday discounts and bad weather have been blamed for a decline in Boxing Day shoppers, with retail analysts reporting a fall in the number of people heading for the sales.

Springboard, which analyses customer activity in stores, said footfall up until midday had seen the largest decline since 2010, dropping by 10.6%.

It said Boxing Day was becoming less important as a trading day.

But there were still queues for some shops from as early as 04:30 GMT.

The footfall figures were the largest decline of any year since data was first published by Springboard 10 years ago. The retail data analyst examines information from UK High Street and shopping centre cameras.

Diane Wehrle, insights director at Springboard, said the final figures might improve but they are still likely to be substantially down on last year.

She said many consumers were still celebrating Christmas with their family on Boxing Day, while the rainy weather, online shopping and increased Black Friday spending were also possible factors for the drop in footfall.

“Boxing Day is indisputably a less important trading day than it once was,” Ms Wehrle said.

Some bargain-hunters did brave the rain, with some shoppers on London's Oxford Street waiting for stores to open at 9am.

Others queued outside Selfridges in Greater Manchester's Trafford Centre at 4.30am.

As the doors to Next opened in Liverpool at 06:00 GMT, more than 150 people were waiting outside the store.

A total of £3.7 billion was expected to be spent in the Boxing Day sales, according to Barclaycard, with four in 10 UK adults predicted to spend an average of £186 each.

But environmental concerns were also expected to drive down buying, with shoppers also predicted to spend £200 million less in post-Christmas sales this year compared to last year.

Opinium Research surveyed 2,002 UK adults online for Barclaycard between 29 November and 3 December.

UK business confidence levels highest for three years – Poll shows

( via – – Mon,23rd Dec 2019) London, Uk – –

Poll shows highest UK business confidence levels for three years

Key economic measures swing positive for the first time since Brexit referendum, says IoD

Business confidence in the British economy has leaped to its highest level for more than three years following the Conservatives’ election win, according to a survey of company directors.

For the first time since spring 2018, firms have become optimistic about the economic outlook, with a key confidence measure swinging into positive territory and hitting 21% in December, up from -18% in November.

That is the highest figure since the 2016 EU referendum, according to the Institute of Directors (IoD), which polled members in the days following the election. It added that Boris Johnson’s new majority government meant company directors, whatever their personal views, now had a framework around which they could put in place plans to invest, hire staff and expand.

The IoD’s main confidence measure – which is the net balance of those firms that are optimistic minus those that are pessimistic – had been negative for more than 18 months.

But the organisation warned that the uncertainty surrounding the UK’s long-term relationship with Europe remained a cause for concern, adding: “Our members’ confidence has proven sensitive to Brexit developments over the past few years, and this is likely to continue during negotiations in the year ahead.”

Directors at larger businesses tended to be more optimistic about prospects for the economy over the next 12 months. The data showed that company directors have also become more upbeat about their own firm’s prospects, with this figure increasing to 46% from 26% a month earlier.

This pick-up in confidence was accompanied by a “significant” increase in firms’ investment intentions for 2020. A net balance of 18% expected their investment levels to increase, though the bulk of those quizzed also expected to be hit with higher costs over the next 12 months. The directors’ body said this indicated that the new government “has its work cut out” to support the labour market and cut firms’ mounting bills.

The current state of the economy was named the top challenge, followed by continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Tej Parikh, the chief economist at the IoD, said: “Britain’s directors will be entering 2020 with a little more festive cheer than might have been expected only a few weeks ago.”

He added that the government’s agenda as outlined so far included some welcome proposals, such as plans to increase and broaden research and development tax credits.

He also highlighted proposals outlined in the Queen’s speech on 19 December to reform business rates. Some firms should have their business rates halved with the government committing to increase the so-called business rate “retail discount” from one-third to 50%, extending it to cinemas and music venues, and introducing an additional discount for pubs.

The government also claimed in the Queen’s speech that the reforms and reliefs announced since 2016 would reduce the burden of business rates by more than £13bn over the next five years.Advertisement

The IoD findings are based on a poll of 952 company directors carried out between 13 December and 20 December.

By Rupert Jones

UK economy grew faster in the third quarter than initially thought

( via– Fri, 2oth Dec, 2019) London, Uk – –

An upwards revision to services and construction output means growth rebounded by more than initially thought.

The UK economy grew at a faster pace than initially thought in the third quarter of the year, according to the latest official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said output between July and September was boosted by better growth in services and construction than measured in its earlier readings.

It revised growth to 0.4% from 0.3% – taking the annual rate of growth to 1.1%. Economists had expected no change.

There was a further early Christmas present for Chancellor Sajid Javid.

Separate ONS figures showed the current account deficit – the value of the goods and services imported versus the value of products shipped overseas – shrank to its smallest as a percentage of output since 2012.

The data showed a surge in exported goods meant the gap narrowed to £15.9bn in the third quarter.

The deficit has been seen as an economic risk by the Bank of England for some time – a consequence of the global economic slowdown caused by the US-China trade war but especially Brexit.

The latter is related to fears of a fall-off in demand for UK goods without a trade deal with the EU.

The UK is currently slated to leave on 31 January.

The passing of the government's Withdrawal Agreement Bill, being debated in the Commons on Friday and expected to become law early in the new year, gives Prime Minister Boris Johnson an 11-month transition period to agree new trading arrangements.

The EU has warned that timetable will be extremely tight.

Brexit and political uncertainty has dragged on demand in the UK economy in the final quarter of the year, though economists have said there are strong reasons to suggest the clear general election result will release some pent-up demand.

After keeping interest rates steady on Thursday, the Bank of England said it was waiting to see evidence of any “Boris bounce” before deciding whether the economy needed stimulus.

It has forecast growth of 0.1% in the current quarter.

Reporting by James Sillars

Bank of England appoint Andrew Bailey as new governor

( via – – Fri, 20th Dec 2019) London, Uk – –

Andrew Bailey has been appointed as the next governor of the Bank of England.

Mr Bailey, aged 60, is currently chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), the City watchdog.

He will become the 121st governor of the Bank of England on 16 March, taking over from Mark Carney, and will serve a full eight-year term.

The search for the new governor began in April and Mr Bailey, who spent more than 30 years at the Bank, was seen as an early favourite for the job.

However, the FCA has faced criticism in recent months over its regulatory scrutiny of the flagship fund of one of the UK's best known money managers, Neil Woodford. The fund was suspended in June and eventually closed, with investors expected to lose large sums of money.

In addition, the FCA's report into Royal Bank of Scotland's treatment of small business by its controversial restructuring division was called a “whitewash” after it recommended taking no further action against the bank.

Five things the Bank of England does

  • It sets the official interest rate, which determines the cost of borrowing money
  • It supervises the financial system, seeking to ensure it is stable and no banks are running out of cash
  • It acts as the government's bank and a lender of last resort in times of financial difficulty
  • It issues the UK's banknotes (coins are issued by the Royal Mint)
  • It stores the UK's gold reserves, as well as those of other central banks

Announcing the decision to appoint Mr Bailey, Chancellor Sajid Javid said he was “the stand-out candidate in a competitive field”.

“He is the right person to lead the Bank as we forge a new future outside the EU and level-up opportunity across the country,” he added.

Accepting the role, Mr Bailey said it was “a tremendous honour” to be chosen.

“The Bank has a very important job and, as governor, I will continue the work that Mark Carney has done to ensure that it has the public interest at the heart of everything it does.”

CBI chief economist Rain Newton-Smith congratulated Mr Bailey, saying: “His strong experience, both in Threadneedle Street and at the Financial Conduct Authority, means he is particularly well placed to steer the British economy through the new course it will take after Brexit and through challenging global economic times.”

But shadow chancellor John McDonnell was critical of the appointment, saying: “As an establishment figure with what some consider is a less than inspiring record at the FCA, Andrew Bailey will need to demonstrate early that he appreciates the need to address the deep structural problems of our economy and, like Mark Carney, understands the climate change threat.”

Mr Carney had been due to step down on 31 January, but has now agreed to stay on until 15 March in order to provide for a smooth transition.

Mr Carney described Mr Bailey as “an extraordinary public servant”.

“Andrew brings unparalleled experience, built over three decades of dedicated service across all policy areas of the Bank,” he said.

The decision means hopes that the Bank could have been led by a female governor for the first time in its history have been dashed.

Minouche Shafik, a former member of the Bank of England's interest rate-setting committee, had been hotly tipped for the role.

Mr Bailey has spent almost the entirety of his career at the Bank of England, which he joined in 1985.

He has held a number of roles including chief cashier, which meant that his signature appeared on all bank notes issued by the Bank of England.

Mr Bailey was chief cashier during the financial crisis when, he recalled in an interview: “The [RBS] treasurer, John Cummins, came in and I thought he was going to have a heart attack… and he looked at me and said: ‘I need £25bn today, can you do it?'. I said: ‘Yes, I can do that'.”

Mr Bailey was also a deputy governor and head of the Bank's prudential regulation division, before joining the FCA as its chief executive in 2016.

Analysis: Simon Jack

Andrew Bailey was the early frontrunner for one of the most powerful positions in the UK.

However, his time as head of the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, was peppered with a number of high-profile controversies – including its handling of complaints into RBS's treatment of small businesses in the aftermath of the financial crisis – which many thought might have harmed his chances for the top job.

He is highly thought of by colleagues and civil servants.

Former Permanent Treasury Secretary Lord McPherson described him as the most able and competent Bank of England official he had ever worked with, adding that while Bailey would not make waves for the government he had the backbone to stand up to it.

Mr Bailey, who will be paid £495,000 a year, is taking over at a fraught time for the Bank of England.

It emerged this week that an audio feed of sensitive market information from the Bank had been leaked to fund managers.

The Bank admitted one of its suppliers had “misused” the feed which gave traders early access to information that could potentially generate large sums of money.

The matter has been referred to the FCA, which Mr Bailey currently leads.

The City watchdog said it was “looking at the issue”.

PA reported that the prime minister's official spokesman, when asked whether Brexit was a factor in Mr Bailey's appointment, said: “The way it works is the chancellor recommends candidates to the PM, the PM then advises the Queen.”

When pressed on the issue, the spokesman added: “I just went through the process and the prime minister thinks he will do an excellent job.”

UK’s financial watchdog launches investigation into security breach at Bank of England

( via – – Thur, 19th Dec, 2019) London, Uk – –

Threadneedle Street says access to press conferences via back-up audiofeed unacceptable

The UK’s financial watchdog has launched an investigation into a security breach at the Bank of England that allowed hedge funds early access to an audio feed of Mark Carney’s market-moving press conferences.

In a breach casting a shadow over the governor’s final weeks at the Bank before he stands down at the end of next month, Threadneedle Street confirmed that its back-up audio feed for press conferences had been misused by a third party supplier.

Following a rapid internal probe at the Bank after the breach was first uncovered by the Times, the central bank said it had referred the matter to the Financial Conduct Authority, which is now investigating the incident.

Raising questions over whether hedge funds managed to profit from accessing the market-sensitive press conference seconds ahead of others, the breach comes after years of efforts to prevent misconduct in financial markets in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

Threadneedle Street said that the misuse of the back-up audio feed – which is up to eight seconds faster than its main video feed – was “wholly unacceptable” and had been done without the Bank’s knowledge or consent. The video feed is the main vehicle for broadcasting the press conference, and is handled by the financial news and data company Bloomberg.

The third-party supplier was reportedly connected to a market news service that charged clients between £2,500 and £5,000, according to the Times.

The Bank did not identify the third-party provider. However, Statisma News, a little known Essex-based company that sells live streams of central bank press conferences, posted a statement on its website in response to questions from the Financial Times. The company’s directors are listed as Philip Wand and Tom Sillence, both of whom are also directors of Encoded Media, a video services provider to businesses based at the same address, which lists government departments, the NHS and the Royal Navy among its customers. The Guardian has attempted to contact Wand and Sillence for comment.Advertisement

The statement said: “Statisma is a technology company specialising in the delivery of publicly available audio content. We do not carry embargoed information and we do not release information without it first being made available to the public. It is impossible to ‘hack’ or ‘eavesdrop’ any live public event or press conference. Any such suggestion is dismissed out of hand.”

Statisma tweeted in April that it could provide customers with feeds “up to 10 seconds faster than watching them on live TV”, including for press conferences held by the Bank, the US Federal Reserve and European Central Bank.

The ECB said on Thursday that since September this year it had offered a low latency – or minimal time delay – audio feed to “address exactly the issues that were in the news today”. It added: “Therefore, it doesn’t make any sense for anyone to use commercially offered solutions because the solution we offer is the fastest option available and it is free for everyone.” The Fed has also been contacted for comment.

The Times also reported on Thursday that a company received advance copies of speeches and other market-moving publications while it was linked to an unnamed, accredited news organisation. Livesquawk received embargoed releases before their official publication until last year when the firm was stripped of access, it is understood. According to the Times, the directors of Livesquawk and Encoded media were also co-owners of a company — Microlatency — that sold audio feeds to high-speed traders. Microlatency was placed into liquidation in January, the Times said, with its services now being offered by Statisma.

The director of Livesquawk, Harry Daniels, said: “We have never hijacked anything, we have no access to infrastructure at the Bank. Neither I nor Livesquawk have anything to hide or be fearful of re the FCA and will happily assist them in any way possible.”

Many hedge funds operate a high-frequency trading business model, in which they use ultrafast computer systems to buy and sell financial products, attempting to get ahead of their rivals by microseconds. Some firms utilise microwave transmitters to gain split-second advantages.

Carney’s comments, which are broadcast online, can often move currency and bond markets if they give hints as to the future path of interest rates. The Bank’s governor is due to stand down on 31 January after carrying out one more interest rate press conference on 30 January. The chancellor, Sajid Javid, is expected to announce his replacement imminently.

The Bank published the latest MPC decision on Thursday but no press conference was scheduled to take place. It said that the misuse of its audio feed had taken place since earlier this year, raising the prospect that hedge fund customers had obtained advantageous access to key press events.

In 2017, the Office for National Statistics stopped giving out figures early after research showed it was highly likely they were being leaked.

The breach will be of particular embarrassment to the Bank, given its recent focus on the security policies of the companies it regulates. Researchers found there was a “credible case to link cyber-risk to systemic risk in the financial sector” in a December 2018 paper.

The FCA is likely to focus on whether the information accessed early constituted inside information and then whether the managers of the investment firms involved had acted with propriety, a senior regulatory lawyer said. The investment managers involved could potentially face personal regulatory action, the lawyer said.

Danny Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank’s monetary policy committee, said that Threadneedle Street’s chief operating officer should resign immediately in the wake of the breach.

Joanna Place, who reports directly to Carney, has had responsibility for the Bank’s information security since her appointment in July 2017.

“Carney should be absolutely furious,” Blanchflower said. “The person in charge of the Bank’s security should be quitting within the next hour.

“Did they know this was being done? Did they know that someone was charging? If not, why not?”

The Bank declined to comment on the call for Place to resign.

Andrew Sentance, a senior adviser to Cambridge Econometrics who also previously served on the Bank’s MPC, said the security failure was “unprecedented” for a central bank.

“Central banks pride themselves on confidentiality and making sure communication is well managed,” he said. “There has been an abuse of information here. The question in your mind will be, if this happened what else has happened? Are the Bank’s communications secure?”

Jasper Jolly, Kalyeena Makortoff and Richard Partington

UK unemployment rate near 45-year low as labour market retain some of its strength

( via — Tue, 17th Dec 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – The number of people in work in Britain unexpectedly rose in the three months before the missed Oct. 31 deadline for Brexit, according to data which suggests the labour market was retaining some of its strength.

The number of people in employment rose by 24,000 to 32.8 million in the August-to-October period, bucking the median forecast for a drop of 10,000 in a Reuters poll of economists.

The employment rate hit an all-time high of 76.2% while the unemployment rate fell back to its lowest level since the three months to January 1975 at 3.8%.

“The larger-than-expected rise in employment in October suggests the labour market is not getting any worse and may have even started to turn around,” said Andrew Wishart at Capital Economics.

The increase in jobs was driven by a rise in the number of self-employed workers and full-time staff, while the number of part-time employees fell.

British government bond prices fell by a small amount as investors viewed the chance of a Bank of England interest rate cut next year as slightly lower.

Britain’s labour market has stayed strong even as the economy slowed following the 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union. That is due in part to employers, who are uncertain about what Brexit will bring, hiring staff who can be laid off easily rather than making longer-term commitments to invest in equipment.

But there had been signs recently that the jobs boom was weakening. These prompted two interest-rate setters at the Bank of England to vote for a cut to borrowing costs last month, and they are expected to do so again this week.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week reduced some of the uncertainty hanging over the economy by winning a big majority in a national election, ending any doubts about whether Britain would leave the European Union on the new date of Jan. 31.

But nerves about Brexit could return soon. Johnson plans to pass a law ruling out any extension of the Brexit transition period beyond the end of 2020, saying he is confident he will clinch a free trade deal with the European Union by then.

There were some signs of caution among employers in Tuesday’s data. Vacancies were the lowest since the three months to August 2017 at 794,000.

The Office for National Statistics also said average earnings rose by an annual 3.2%, the weakest increase in more than a year and slowing sharply from growth of 3.7% in the three months to September. The ONS attributed much of the slowdown, however, to high bonus payments in October 2018 which distorted the comparison.

Excluding bonuses, pay growth slowed less sharply to 3.5% from 3.6% in the three months to September and was above the Reuters poll forecast of 3.4%.

Reporting by William Schomberg

General election 2019: Conservatives win see pound and shares surge

( via – – Fri, 13th Dec 2019) London, Uk – –

The pound and shares have surged after the Conservatives won a clear majority in the UK general election.

Sterling gained 1.9% to $1.34 – its highest level since May last year – on hopes that the big majority would remove uncertainty over Brexit.

The pound also jumped to a three-and-a-half-year high against the euro.

On the stock market, the FTSE 100 share index rose 1.5%, while the FTSE 250 – which includes more UK-focused shares – leapt 4%, hitting record highs.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the election result meant that the Conservative government “has been given a powerful new mandate, to get Brexit done”.

Mr Johnson has pledged to take the UK out of the European Union by 31 January.

Politically sensitive shares saw sharp rises in morning trading on UK markets.

Shares in water companies such as Severn Trent, which faced the possibility of nationalisation under a Labour government, shot up 6%, while UK housebuilders also saw big gains, with a huge 10% rise for Persimmon.

Shares in banks exposed to the UK economy rose sharply. Barclays, RBS and Lloyds were up 7%, 11% and 6% respectively.

Neil Wilson, chief market analyst at, said housebuilders had been undervalued and rose “on hopes that construction will benefit from the Conservative victory”.

“We should also consider the potential risk that a Labour government could have posed to their profits being removed,” Mr Wilson said.

While many FTSE 100 shares saw big gains, this was offset slightly by the rise in the value of the pound, which affected companies with big international operations. A rise in sterling cuts the value of companies' overseas earnings when they are brought back to the UK and converted back into pounds.

In contrast, the FTSE 250 index – which generally contains firms with more exposure to the domestic economy – jumped more than 5% at one point, before slipping back slightly.

Analysis: By Simon Jack

The financial bookies had already installed Boris Johnson as the favourite but did not expect him to romp home by such a distance.

The pound moved sharply higher as soon as the exit poll was published and went on to post one of its biggest one-day gains against the dollar in years as Johnson's thumping victory removed one layer of political uncertainty.

Shares in politically-sensitive sectors such as house building and banking rocketed, as did water, rail and energy companies, as the threat of nationalisation under a Corbyn government evaporated.

Markets have given the prospect of a government with a functioning majority a round of applause but the euphoria may be short-lived.

Traders are already talking about the formidable challenge of completing a trade deal with the EU by this time next year, along with the prospect of a new Scottish independence referendum.

The election may be settled, but there are big political questions that are not.

Guy Foster, head of research at wealth manager Brewin Dolphin, said that “the potential for a smooth Brexit removes some of the downside risk for the UK economy”.

“This should be positive for both business and consumer confidence, at least in the short term, with a gradual acceleration in GDP growth and confidence.

“However, a lot can change over the coming months as the finer detail of the UK's future trade relationship with the EU is negotiated.

“This is still, after all, just the beginning of the exit process. Even with the passing of the withdrawal agreement, the UK could still leave the EU without a deal at the end of 2020 if trade negotiations don't proceed successfully.”

Andy Scott, associate director at financial risk adviser JCRA, said: “What will be interesting to see – assuming that Brexit will now follow a set course, at least [until] 31 January – is if economic data is given a significant boost from the perceived certainty, and [whether it] starts to influence sterling again.

“In recent months, the market has almost completely ignored the slowdown in the economy and the potential for monetary stimulus from the Bank of England, with election and Brexit expectations driving fluctuations in sterling's value.

“The performance of the economy is likely to be key to whether we see a further recovery in 2020.”

Sterling slips on Friday after three-day rally, set for best week since mid-October

( via — Fri, 6th Dec 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Sterling slipped on Friday, consolidating after three days of gains that took the pound to 2-1/2-year high versus the euro and a seven-month high against the dollar on expectations that the Conservative Party will win next week’s British election.

The pound is still headed for its best week since mid-October, having risen 1.5% against the dollar and almost 1% to the euro as various opinion polls indicate a comfortable majority for the ruling party.

But on Friday it slipped 0.2% to $1.3138, just off a $1.3166 high touched Thursday, while against the euro it traded at 84.58 pence, having traded as high as 84.31 pence this week.

“It’s a small move and no fundamental change (in terms of what opinion polls show),” Nordea analyst Morten Lund said.

“From a risk-reward perspective most people are too optimistic but if you look at option markets you can see some people positioning for sterling weakness.”

David Katimbo-Mugwanya, a fund manager at EdenTree Investment Management, said confidence has been growing that a decisive election result and the subsequent passing of a Brexit withdrawal deal in the UK parliament would boost the economy.

“I would expect some sort of bounce (in the UK economy). You have already seen some of that in the currency,” he said.

Should the Conservative Party win a majority in next week’s election, some analysts believe any further rise in the pound will be limited, however.

MUFG said in a research note sent to clients that the need for the UK and the EU in 2020 to begin negotiating their future relationship would introduce a “sustained period of uncertainty”.

Evidence of a weakening economy in Britain would also weigh on the pound, the analysts said, pointing to a new jobs market survey that showed the slowest rate of rising vacancies since October 2009.

Leaders of the two main parties will go head-to-head in a TV debate later on Friday.

Reporting by Sujata Rao and Tommy Wilkes

France and EU ready to fight U.S. latest tariff threat, ministers say

( via — Tue, 3rd Dec 2019) London, UK —

PARIS (Reuters) – France and the European Union are ready to fight back over the latest U.S. tariff threats on French products, French government ministers said on Tuesday.

On Monday, the U.S. government said it may impose punitive duties of up to 100% on $2.4 billion of imports from France, including champagne, handbags, cheese and other products, after concluding that France’s new digital services tax would harm U.S. tech companies.

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire described the U.S. proposals as “unacceptable”. “In case of new American sanctions, the European Union would be ready to riposte,” Le Maire told Radio Classique.

French junior economy minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Sud Radio that France would be “pugnacious” in its dealings with the U.S. on the matter, and that France would not back down on its digital tax plans.

France’s 3% levy applies to revenue from digital services earned by companies with more than 25 million euros ($27.86 million) in French revenue and 750 million euros ($830 million) worldwide.

But the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said on Monday that its investigation found that the French tax was “inconsistent with prevailing principles of international tax policy”.

It said it found the French tax proposal “unusually burdensome for affected U.S. companies,” including Alphabet Inc’s Google (GOOGL.O), Facebook Inc (FB.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Inc (AMZN.O).

The latest ruling by the U.S. government knocked down leading French luxury-goods stocks. Shares in LVMH (LVMH.PA), Kering (PRTP.PA) and Hermes (HRMS.PA) fell 1.4% to 1.5% in early trading.

“It’s too risky to go into the luxury sector. The sector was hit first of all by the Hong Kong protests, and now this will hit it even more,” said Clairinvest fund manager Ion-Marc Valahu.

Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Benoit Van Overstraeten

How Los Angeles County is remodeling its voting experience

Source: WSJ

Los Angeles County is remodeling its voting experience. And depending how the rollout goes for the county's 5.4 million voters during its 2020 election debut, voting changes could extend further across the U.S. WSJ's Emily Glazer explains.

November is the new Black Friday For UK shoppers

( via — Fri , 22nd Nov 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – With harsh lessons learnt from past Black Fridays, British retailers are stretching promotions over several weeks, aiming to smooth out consumer demand and reduce the pressure on supply and distribution networks.

Brought over from the United States by Amazon (AMZN.O) in 2010, the annual event started as a single day of discounting before growing into a long weekend that took in ‘Cyber Monday’.

It then grew to a week or so either side and is now getting longer and longer, though after chaos and scuffles in stores in 2014 it is now predominantly an online affair.

“We’ve re-named Black Friday, November,” John Roberts, the chief executive of AO World (AO.L), the online electrical appliances retailer, told Reuters.

With recent consumer spending subdued, Brexit still unresolved and a looming national election creating new uncertainties, retailers are in need of a tonic.

AO went live with Black Friday deals, such as a KitchenAid Artisan Stand Mixer reduced from 449 pounds ($578) to 279 pounds, on Nov. 13 and some deals will run into December.

Dixons Carphone (DC.L), Britain’s biggest electricals and mobile phones retailer, launched a first wave of promotions on Nov. 13 on products such as laptops, TVs and vacuum cleaners, and deals will run for a few days after Black Friday itself on Nov. 29.

Amazon’s Black Friday Sale runs for eight days from Nov. 22, but it has been running early Black Friday deals this week.

Argos, owned by supermarket group Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L), and department store group John Lewis [JLPLC.UL] both launched their campaigns on Nov. 22.


British retailers’ early experiences of Black Friday, when stores were overcrowded, websites crashed and delivery operations were overloaded, showed the folly of concentrating a huge amount of business on one day and then having a relatively flat period afterwards.

“While this may ease the demand on logistics operations over the period, it will mean that shoppers demand ever steeper discounts during Black Friday as they expect something more from retailers during this time,” said Zoe Mills, retail analyst at GlobalData, the data and analytics company.

It forecasts that UK shoppers’ spending in the Black Friday period would rise 2.2% year on year to 4.3 billion pounds.

Black Friday, the day after the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, is so-called because it was historically the day when retailers would move into profit after months in the red. It traditionally marks the start of the U.S. holiday shopping season.

This year’s sales drive, which is often make-or-break for U.S. retailers, falls a week later than last year, leaving U.S. retailers with a shorter holiday shopping period.A customer stands next to a container advertising Black Friday offers in a branch of Mamas and Papas in Manchester, Britain November 20 2019. REUTERS/Phil Noble


PwC, the advisory firm, reckons 52% of British consumers are either interested in buying or plan to buy something during Black Friday, with average spend forecast at 224 pounds. But it says consumers are increasingly cynical about the event.

“Some consumers doubt the quality of the deals on offer, with many seeing them as not especially good value or not worthy of interest, and this is likely to have been exacerbated as Black Friday deals have spread to the whole of ‘Blackvember’,” said Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC.

Black Friday’s popularity has meant Britain’s Christmas trading season now has three distinct peaks – around Black Friday, the week up to Dec. 25 and the post-Christmas sales.

But nearly a decade after coming to Britain, the event’s worth to retailers still polarizes opinion.

Supporters say carefully planned, targeted promotions in close co-operation with global suppliers allow retailers to achieve a sales boost while still maintaining profit margins.

Naysayers argue the discounts suck forward Christmas sales at reduced profit margins, undermine consumers’ willingness to pay full price again before Christmas, and dampen business both in prior and subsequent weeks.

Marks & Spencer (MKS.L) has dabbled with Black Friday in the past but has opted out since 2015. CEO Steve Rowe says his focus is on improving M&S’ value all year round.

“That’s the way to deliver great value for customers, not one off promotions, so we won’t be taking part.”

Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Mark Potter

UK Manufacturers see orders pick-up after no-deal Brexit avoided – CBI

( via — Tue, 19th Nov 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British manufacturers saw a pick-up in orders in November albeit from near decade-low levels, helped by the avoidance of a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry showed on Tuesday.

The CBI’s monthly orders balance rose to -26 from -37 in October, their highest level since August and stronger than a median forecast of -31 in a Reuters poll of economists.

October’s level of orders was the weakest in nine years.

“While the thick fog of uncertainty from a no-deal Brexit has lifted somewhat, the manufacturing sector remains under pressure from weak global trade and a subdued domestic economy,” Anna Leach, the CBI’s deputy chief economist, said.

“It’s clear that the outlook for the sector remains precarious.”

Export orders picked up after touching their lowest level since the financial crisis of 2008.

Manufacturers expected output to be flat over the next three months, the CBI said.

The European Union has set a new Brexit deadline of Jan. 31 and Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called an election for Dec. 12 in a bid to break the impasse in parliament over the divorce deal he negotiated with Brussels.

Reporting by William Schomberg

General election 2019: Johnson and Corbyn to pitch business leaders with tax and apprenticeships at CBI Conference

( via – – Mon, 18th Nov 2019) London, Uk – –

Boris Johnson, Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson will all attempt to woo the UK's business leaders with speeches to the CBI's annual conference later.

Mr Johnson will vow to end Brexit “uncertainty” and unveil Tory plans to cut business rates if he is returned to power in next month's general election.

Mr Corbyn will set out Labour's plans for 320,000 apprenticeships in England.

And Ms Swinson will say the Lib Dems are the “natural party of business” because they want to cancel Brexit.

Mr Johnson is hoping to win a majority on 12 December, get his Brexit deal taking the UK out of the EU into law by 31 January, and begin talks with Brussels on a permanent trading relationship.

The Conservative leader is expected to tell the CBI's conference: “Big business didn't want Brexit. You made that clear in 2016 and this body said it louder than any other.

“But what is also clear is that what you want now – and have wanted for some time – is certainty.”

Mr Johnson will announce policies to help businesses “make the most of Brexit”, including a review of business rates in England, with the aim of reducing the overall burden of the tax.

The Conservatives also say they plan a cut in National Insurance contributions for employers, who already benefit from a reduction known as the employment allowance.

They would increase this from £3,000 to £4,000.

They say this would amount to a tax cut of up to £1,000 for more than half a million businesses.

They would also increase the Research and Development tax credit rate from 12% to 13%, which the party says will boost manufacturing and the professional, scientific and technical services sectors.

The party also proposes tax relief for landlords and builders, and higher tax credits for companies that are involved in research.

“With a Conservative majority government you can be sure we will get Brexit done and leave with the new deal that is already agreed – ending the uncertainty and confusion that has paralysed our economy,” Mr Johnson is expected to say.

Analysis: By Reality Check

Business rates are a tax based on rental values of the property that businesses occupy.

They are typically 50.4% of the market rent – but there are lots of complex reductions, while smaller businesses pay a bit less.

Business lobby groups – especially small businesses – often complain about the complex system, and that rates have gone up faster than inflation since the current regime was introduced in 1990.

A recent Parliamentary inquiry found the UK had the highest level of this kind of tax in the OECD group of wealthy nations, more than double the average.

However, it is one of the biggest sources of government revenue, raising £31bn in England in the last financial year.

If the next government were to cut rates back to 1990 levels, it would cost about £10bn, says Jerry Schurder, head of business rates at property consultants Gerald Eve.

Retailers complain that business rates are a factor in the closure of small shops.

But economists at the Institute for Fiscal Studies have argued that cutting business rates would only give retailers short-term respite, as landlords would then increase rents.

‘Central motor'

Labour wants to tear up Mr Johnson's Brexit agreement and negotiate a new deal with Brussels, including a customs union and a closer relationship with the EU single market, which it would then put to a public vote.

Jeremy Corbyn will set out Labour plans to train 80,000 people a year, as part of a “climate apprenticeship” programme, in his speech to the CBI, which is the UK's largest business lobby group.

“Labour's Green Industrial Revolution will be a central motor of the party's plans to transform our country and economy, using public investment to create good, clean jobs, tackle the climate emergency and rebuild held back towns, cities and communities,” he is expected to say.

Labour's plan would see 320,000 apprentices trained in jobs such as construction, manufacturing and design within renewable energy, transport, sustainable agriculture and forestry, all during its first term in office.

It will be funded by diverting 25% of the funds that employers already set aside through the Apprenticeship Levy and topped up by any dividends over the cap paid into Labour's Inclusive Ownership Funds – the party's plan to give workers a 10% stake in their employers.

The party said it also wanted to give employers more choice over how they spend Apprenticeship Levy Funds.

Shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner told the BBC's Today programme that stopping climate change was “a huge opportunity to create jobs and wealth”.

But he added that Labour was committed to “a net zero economy well before 2050”, in an apparent weakening of the party's conference pledge to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson will tell business leaders that her party is the “natural party of business” as part of her case for the UK staying in the EU.

She will attack the other two parties' plans to spend on big infrastructure projects, according to remarks circulated before the conference.

“Both the Conservatives and Labour will have to scramble around for projects to pour money into just to keep their word – regardless of whether they're good projects and good use of public funds,” she will say.

‘Political paralysis'

The CBI said it wanted business rates – a tax on business premises collected by councils – to be reformed, as part of a number of recommendations it would like the parties to adopt.

It also asked for the Apprenticeship Levy to be overhauled. The tax has been unpopular with businesses since it was introduced in 2017.

The CBI also said it wanted stalled programmes such as the HS2 high-speed rail link between London and the north of England, and Heathrow's third runway to be finished.

“We simply cannot afford another wasted year of political paralysis, indecision and distraction while productivity and investment suffer,” director general Carolyn Fairbairn is expected to say at the conference.

She told the BBC's Today programme that big business had been left feeling ignored by politicians in recent times.

“There have been so many other issues around, in terms of sovereignty and issues that aren't really business issues, which is why I think today is really important as we'll have 1,500 businesses from around the country being addressed by all three political leaders,” she said.

“That says something important. It's a moment for us to hear a lot more about business in this election.”

Business groups gave mixed reviews to the parties' plans.

On the Conservatives' proposals, Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, one of the UK's oldest business lobby groups, said tax breaks to spur growth were “a sensible move”.

“However, though a thorough review into business rates would be welcome, further reliefs are also needed for the here and now.”

Reacting to Labour's proposals, Mr Parikh said businesses wanted to tackle climate change, “but will be concerned at the prospect of further strictures being placed on the Apprenticeship Levy, which has already gummed up the UK's skills system.

“That said, the fact that Labour has combined its proposal with the promise of wider reform suggests it is aware of the challenges and willing to work with businesses to iron out the creases.”

British consumers buying less, adds to signs the economy is losing momentum – ONS

( via — Thur, 14th Nov 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British consumers, whose spending has helped the economy through the Brexit crisis, cut back on their shopping in October, according to official data that adds to signs the economy is losing momentum.

An unexpected fall in sales in October pushed retail growth over the last three months to its weakest since April 2018, the Office for National Statistics said on Thursday.

The downbeat news follows official figures earlier this week that showed the economy as a whole grew at its weakest annual rate since 2010 in the third quarter of this year, while the number of people in work dropped sharply.

A strong job market and solid consumer spending have helped keep Britain’s economy afloat since the Brexit referendum in June 2016, as businesses have cut investment and manufacturers have suffered more recently from the U.S.-China trade conflict.

“These latest ONS figures are symptomatic of the challenges facing the retail sector after a year fraught with uncertainty,” said Lynda Petherick, head of retail at management consultants Accenture.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has called an early election for Dec. 12 in an attempt to get a large enough majority to pass Brexit legislation before a new deadline of Jan. 31, something he hopes will restore business confidence.

However, many economists fear that even if he gets his way, the risk of serious disruption to Britain’s trade ties with the European Union will soon be back on the agenda, due to his aim of moving to new trading arrangements by the end of 2020.

The Bank of England warned last week it may need to cut interest rates if global trade conflicts and Brexit uncertainty do not end, and two of its policymakers have already voted to loosen policy.

Thursday’s data showed retail sales volumes unexpectedly fell by 0.1%, and annual sales growth held at 3.1%, bucking average forecasts for a pick-up to 3.7%.

In the three months to October sales rose just 0.2% compared with the previous three months, an 18-month low.

Measures that exclude spending on motor fuel – which some economists think give a truer picture of underlying consumer demand – were weaker still, and fell below all forecasts in Reuters’ poll of economists.

The only retailers to do well in October were department stores, which the ONS said benefited from sales promotions and an earlier introduction of Christmas lines.

Supermarket group Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) said last week that it expected to trade well in the run-up to Christmas but feared a consumer hangover in early 2020 if Brexit was unresolved.

Baby products retailer Mothercare (MTC.L) is set to close its British stores with the loss of at least 2,500 jobs under the weight of the pressures plaguing the retail sector, including online competition.

Reporting by David Milliken and William Schomberg