How The French Built The Largest Aquarium In Europe

Source: Spark

Sharks, caimans, tropical fish, sea lions… With its 35,000 seas creatures, Nausicaá attracts 600,000 visitors each year. But today, the aquarium is writing a new page in its history by becoming Europe’s biggest aquarium.

To meet this challenge, the engineers had to build a giant tank, as large as four Olympic swimming pools, and to develop a unique water filtration system, a world first. Each stage of the construction was a technical feat, including welcoming more than 22,000 additional animals, and hammerhead sharks.

From the structure’s architecture to the logistics of breeding thousands of species and bringing in hundreds more from all over the world, this film takes us on an immersive journey into this exceptional project.

Meta class-action lawsuit could find UK Facebook users sharing £2.3bn in damages

( via – – Fri, 14th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Up to 44 million UK Facebook users could share £2.3bn in damages, according to a competition expert intending to sue parent company Meta.

Dr Liza Lovdahl Gormsen alleges Meta “abused its market dominance” to set an “unfair price” for free use of Facebook – UK users' personal data.

She intends to bring the case to the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

A Meta representative said users had “meaningful control” of what information they shared.

‘Excessive profits'

Facebook “abused its market dominance to impose unfair terms and conditions on ordinary Britons, giving it the power to exploit their personal data”, Dr Lovdahl Gormsen says.

And this data, harvested between 2015 and 2019, provided a highly detailed picture of their internet use, helping the company make “excessive profits”.

Anyone living in the UK who used Facebook at least once during the period will be part of the claim unless they choose to opt out, she says.

However, in November, the UK's Supreme Court rejected an optout claim seeking billions of pounds in damages from Google over alleged illegal tracking of millions of iPhones – Google said the issue had been addressed a decade ago.

Free services

The judge in that case said the claimant had failed to prove damage had been caused to each individual by the data collection.

But he did not rule out the possibility of future mass-action cases if damages could be calculated.

And Dr Lovdahl Gormsen told BBC News: “Optout cases are specifically permitted at the Competition Appeal Tribunal.

“As a result, my case is able to claim damages on behalf of the 44 million British Facebook users affected.”

Meta has rejected the allegations.

People use its free services because they find them useful and have control over how their data us used, it says.

‘Deliver value'

A representative told BBC News: “People access our service for free.

“They choose our services because we deliver value for them and they have meaningful control of what information they share on Meta's platforms and who with.

“We have invested heavily to create tools that allow them to do so.”

However, this latest case adds to the company's legal battles

The US Federal Trade Commission was recently given the go-ahead to take Meta to court over anti-trust rules.

Meta said it was sure it would prevail in court.

Ovo Energy expected to axe 1,700 employees a quarter of its workforce

( via – – Thur, 13th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Ovo Energy, the UK gas and electricity provider, has told staff it plans to cut a quarter of its workforce.

The firm is expected to axe 1,700 employees from a total 6,200 workers.

The cuts, first reported by Sky News, are understood to be linked to its acquisition of SSE three years ago and the integration of the firm into Ovo.

It is understood the cuts will be made through voluntary redundancy. Ovo has also told staff it will raise minimum pay across the firm to £12 an hour.

Unite, the union, said it had warned in 2020 about Ovo's takeover of SSE's retail business and the possible impact on jobs.

On Thursday, Unite's general secretary Sharon Graham said: “We will do everything in our power to defend our members' jobs.

“We will not sit by and watch our members being made to pay the price of the pandemic.”

The job cuts come just days after Ovo was forced to apologise for telling customers to cuddle their pets to keep warm.

Ovo Energy's chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick blamed a “bad day” for “ridiculous” advice to customers on how to stay warm amid soaring energy bills.

The cuts are understood to relate to the SSE deal.

However, the energy sector has been struggling with higher wholesale gas prices since last September and the UK's price cap for households means firms have been unable to pass on the rising costs to retail customers.

It has led to more than 20 smaller energy businesses going bust.

Regardless of the cap, households are set to see a significant rise in energy costs this year when the regulator Ofgem reviews the ceiling on gas and electricity bills.

Mr Fitzpatrick has been lobbying the government to help reduce a rise in bills which would come into force in April. He has said that the rise in wholesale gas prices and its impact on people will be “an enormous crisis for 2022”.

On Wednesday, however, his company Ovo offered slightly more controversial guidance on how to cut bills to SSE Energy customers – suggesting they do “a few star jumps” or hug a pet “to stay cosy”.

Mr Fitzpatrick said he was sorry and was “really embarrassed” by the “ridiculous” advice emailed to customers on “simple and cost-effective ways to keep warm this winter”.

“We're a large company and somebody had a bad day,” he said.

The guidance has since been removed from the website. becomes UK’s most valuable fintech at $40bn

( via – – Thur, 13th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

London-based firm founded by Swiss surfing enthusiast Guillaume Pousaz overtakes worth of rival Revolut

A London-based online payments company has become Britain’s most valuable private fintech business after its latest fundraising valued it at $40bn (£29bn), handing its surf-loving founder a paper fortune of about $20bn., which simplifies payment processes for businesses, achieved the valuation after a $1bn investment that puts the stake of its 40-year-old chief executive, Guillaume Pousaz, at about $20bn.

Pousaz, a Swiss national, dropped out of university in 2005 when his father became ill with cancer and he then moved to California to pursue his love of surfing. It was only after running out of cash that he took up a job with International Payment Consultants, a payments processing firm, in 2006.

“I didn’t choose payments – payments chose me,” Pousaz told the Sunday Times in 2020. “I only took that job so I could go surfing.” A year after joining IPC, Pousaz left to launch his first startup. He founded in 2012.

Fintech, a catch-all term for financial services firms operating in the digital sphere, has become a key driver of the UK’s success as a tech investment hub, featuring companies such as Revolut and Wise.

Venture capitalists, who invest in new companies by taking stakes in them, invested a record £29.4bn in the UK tech sector last year. The number of unicorns – startup firms worth more than $1bn (£750m) – reached a high of 29 in 2021 including Depop, the British secondhand fashion resale app sold to US online marketplace Etsy for $1.6bn this year, and the car-selling platform Motorway., which is now worth more than the British fintech peer Revolut, valued at $33bn, said it would use the funding to launch products and further its involvement in the Web3 space. Web3 is the term used for the next chapter in digital innovation (after Web 2.0 was coined for social media companies) and centres on technological breakthroughs such as blockchain; a digital, decentralised ledger that underpins the cryptocurrency market.

Investors in the latest funding round include US investment firms and the Qatar Investment Authority, the Arab state’s sovereign wealth fund. processes payments for clients including Netflix, cryptocurrency trading platform Coinbase and Pizza Hut.

The fundraising comes a year after the London-based company’s previous round of investment, in which it raised $450m and achieved a valuation of $15bn.

Change in how consumers use financial services and a pandemic-driven rise in use of digital services has drawn investor interest in fintechs, prompting global investors to ramp up bets on the sector.

By Dan Milmo Global technology editor

Shiba Inu Surges 16% After Rumors of Robinhood Listing

( via — Thur, 13th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –
How The Right 5-10 Cryptocurrency Coins
Could Make You A Fortune

Memecoins were among the highest gainers in the past 24 hours as the overall crypto markets surged.

Shiba inu (SHIB) jumped 16% on Thursday, leading the gains among major cryptocurrencies, amid rumors of a listing on Robinhood.

Shiba inu prices reached as high as $0.00003 during early Asian hours on Thursday before a selloff. Shiba inu is the thirteenth-largest cryptocurrency with a market capitalization of $17 billion.

Price-charts suggest the move followed a bounce from resistance-turned-support levels of $0.000027. However, the tokens remains in a broader downtrend, as prices have dropped 62% since reaching all-time highs of $0.00008 in October 2021.

The price bump came shortly after rumors of a listing on Robinhood did the rounds on Twitter.

“Shiba Inu Robinhood listing said to come as early as Feb,” a tweet by business news handle ZeroHedge read. Robinhood did not return requests for comment.

Robinhood CEO Vlad Tenev previously denied plans for listing shiba inu on the influential stock trading application in October 2021. “It goes back to safety first, right. So we’re not generally going to be the first to add any new asset. We want to make sure that it goes through a stringent set of criteria,” he said in an interview with CNBC.

Additionally, shiba inu was listed on Bitso, one of Mexico’s largest crypto exchanges by trading volumes. However, the announcement did little to affect prices, trading data shows.

The bump in shiba inu saw other memecoins, such as dogecoin (DOGE), gaining as much as 14% in the past 24 hours. Baby doge and floki inu, two meme tokens issued on the Binance Smart Chain, surged 10% in the same period.

The surge in shiba inu came on the back of a broader recovery in crypto markets after nearly a week of declines. Bitcoin rose to the $43,000 level on Wednesday as Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell said the state would take measures to curb inflation in the coming months, as reported.

By  Shaurya MalwaJ

British Gas owner Centrica warns soaring energy prices to last up to two years

( via – – Wed, 12th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Soaring energy prices which threaten the living standards of millions could last up to two years, the boss of the UK's biggest energy supplier has said.

Chris O'Shea, chief executive of British Gas owner Centrica, said there was “no reason” to expect gas prices would come down “any time soon”.

He said hopes that bills rising by more than 50% to about £2,000 a year would be short-lived may be misplaced.

Rising energy bills have raised concerns over the cost of living.

“The market suggests the high gas prices will be here for the next 18 months to two years,” Mr O'Shea told the BBC.

Many countries see gas as an intermediate solution while they wean themselves off more carbon-intensive energy sources, such as oil and coal, creating an international dash for gas as the world economy wakes up after its Covid-related slumber.

“As we move towards net zero, gas is a big transition fuel,” Mr O'Shea said.

“And so as you turn off coal-fired power stations in other countries, there isn't an abundance of gas that you can just turn on quickly.”

The idea of re-badging gas as a “transitional fuel”, rather than as a traditional hydrocarbon, has growing political support and has encouraged those calling for increased investment in boosting the supply of gas from domestic sources such as the North Sea.

However, Mr O'Shea was doubtful that higher levels of UK-sourced gas would have made much difference to surging prices.

“I'm not sure an increase in UK supply would have brought the price down from £3 a therm, as it was in December, from 50p as it was a year ago,” he said.

“We bring gas in from the United States, from Norway, from Europe, from Qatar, from other places. So we're not in a position to simply have the UK as an isolated energy market. We are part of a global market.”

Mr O'Shea suggested three moves the government could make to help households cope with what has been described as a “cost of living crisis”.

  • Defer the cost incurred by surviving suppliers from taking on customers of the many companies that have gone bust, rather than it be added to upcoming bills.
  • Take the 5% VAT off energy temporarily or permanently.
  • Move levies charged to fund a green transition from bills to general taxation.

“Those three things together, could be enacted very quickly, without regret,” he said. “And that would take care of half of the price rise. And then you could get a further relief targeted to those households that needed most.”

Government officials have discussed targeting relief through changes to the warm homes discount plan, which currently offers a one-off payment of £140 to those in receipt of certain benefits.

Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, has proposed increasing that payment to £300 and widening the number of people eligible.

Prices rising

Mr O'Shea said the current design of the scheme would see relief for some result in rises in everyone else's bills.

“The way the warm homes discount works is that the cost of that scheme is met by customers. So if you increase it, you increase energy bills and we think that whatever relief comes is got to not be at the expense of hard-pressed energy consumers,” he added.

Another option proposed by some in the energy industry is to find a way to provide support to energy companies via loans or a fund, which firms could borrow from when wholesale prices are high and pay back once they've fallen.

But according to Mr O'Shea, that plan would rely on the assumption that prices would fall which he said might be wishful thinking.

“Ultimately, everybody in the UK is a taxpayer and an energy consumer. So the cost of this is going to have to be paid by UK citizens,” he added. “The question as to whether that's paid for the energy bill, or for general taxation is one for government.”

The government has indicated it will decide on what support it will offer before the new energy price cap, which is the maximum rate suppliers can charge for a default tariff, is set on 7 February.

By Simon Jack

Meta loses attempt to dismiss US Federal Trade Commission antitrust lawsuit demanding it sells WhatsApp and Instagram

( via– Wed, 12th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

The case is one of the most significant in the US government's ongoing efforts to rein in the perceived power and market dominance of the big technology companies.

Meta has lost an attempt to dismiss a US Federal Trade Commission antitrust lawsuit which could force the company to sell WhatsApp and Instagram.

Judge James Boasberg has ruled the FTC had a plausible case against the Facebook owner that should be allowed to proceed, although he did not suggest that it would be successful.

“Ultimately, whether the FTC will be able to prove its case and prevail at summary judgment and trial is anyone's guess,” he wrote.

“The court declines to engage in such speculation and simply concludes that at this motion-to-dismiss stage, where the FTC's allegations are treated as true, the agency has stated a plausible claim for relief,” he added.

The case is one of the most significant in the US government's ongoing efforts to rein in the perceived power and market dominance of the big technology companies.

It began during Donald Trump's term in office but an original complaint had been rejected by the court, although the case was allowed to stand, permitting the FTC to file an amended complaint.

The FTC alleges that Meta engaged in a “systematic strategy” to eliminate competition, including by purchasing up-and-coming rivals such as Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said when filing the suit that Facebook “used its monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users”.

In a statement Meta said it expected to win the case as it proceeded to court.

“Today's decision narrows the scope of the FTC's case by rejecting claims about our platform policies. It also acknowledges that the agency faces a ‘tall task' proving its case regarding two acquisitions it cleared years ago,” the company stated.

Lidl reiterate pledge to offer lowest grocery prices in the market

( via — Tue, 11th Jan 2022) London, UK —

The British arm of German discount supermarket group Lidl on Tuesday reported a rise in sales over the Christmas period and reiterated its pledge to offer the lowest prices in the market, a day after rival Aldi made the same promise.

British consumers are about to be squeezed on spending, with energy prices, food inflation, mortgage costs and taxes all heading higher in 2022, leaving retailers looking at a much tougher environment. 

“As inflation continues to rise, I want to reassure each and every one of our customers that we remain resolute in our promise of being the destination for the lowest grocery prices in the market,” said Lidl GB chief executive Christian Hartnagel.

On Monday, his counterpart at Aldi UK & Ireland, Giles Hurley, said his firm “will always offer the lowest prices for groceries, no matter what.”

The German discounters' price pledges have caused concern amongst some analysts.

“Are we entering a stage now where deep discounting in certain areas of the market represents a form of market failure due to the damage into the supply chain, especially farming?” asked Shore Capital analyst Clive Black.

Britain's food retail sector has been transformed in the past decade by the rise of Lidl and Aldi, which have driven down returns at the big four of Tesco (TSCO.L), Sainsbury's (SBRY.L), Morrisons and Asda.

Lidl GB is owned by Germany's Schwarz group and is Britain's seventh largest supermarket group, with a market share of 6.3%.

Its sales rose 2.6% year-on-year in the four weeks to Dec. 26 and were up 21% against 2019, before the pandemic impacted trading.

On Monday, Aldi UK & Ireland reported a 0.4% rise in December sales. 

Lidl GB said Christmas pudding sales jumped 23% year-on-year and sparking wine sales 24%. It also highlighted strong demand for Lidl Christmas jumpers and scented candles.

Unlike its bigger rivals, but in common with Aldi, Lidl is still opening new stores but does not have a significant online business.

Last November, Lidl GB set a new target of reaching 1,100 stores by 2025. It currently trades from over 890. 

Rolls-Royce protected from global chip shortage by parent firm BMW

( via– Mon, 10th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars boss Torsten Müller-Ötvös says its sales figures are the best in its 117-year history thanks to being protected from the global chip shortage by parent firm BMW.

The chief executive of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars (RRMC) has told Sky News the company expects to continue to be immune from the global shortage of semiconductors holding back the wider car industry.

Torsten Müller-Ötvös was speaking after the BMW-owned but Goodwood-based luxury marque revealed a record set of annual sales figures for 2021 – the best in its 117-year history.

RRMC said it delivered 5,586 vehicles to clients around the world, up 49% on the same period in 2020.

In his interview on Ian King Live, the CEO agreed that BMW had prioritised Rolls in terms of chip supply.

When asked if that arrangement was to continue during 2022, he  replied: “That remains the case.”

The company's sales data offered nothing in terms of value or profits but Mr Müller-Ötvös said the performance reflected, to some extent, a demand for luxury as the pandemic to date had badly hit international travel and driven up wealth because spending fell so sharply in 2020.

On BMW's aid, he said: “We were able to allocate all the chips we needed for building the cars, to fulfil client demand worldwide and that helped a lot; to be part of what I call a very professional, big group, who helped us to acquire all our chips worldwide.”

RRMC said of its sales: “All Rolls-Royce models performed extremely strongly.

“Growth has been driven principally by Ghost, with demand surging further, following the launch of Black Badge Ghost in October 2021.

“This, together with the continuing pre-eminence of Cullinan and the marque's pinnacle product, Phantom, has ensured order books are full well into the third quarter of 2022.”

By James Sillars

Why Investors Are Excited About the DeFi-zation of GameFi

( via — Fri, 7th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

How The Right 5-10 Cryptocurrency Coins
Could Make You A Fortune

Splitting the ownership and utility of gaming assets opens huge investment opportunities for GameFi, potentially making game finance bigger than decentralized finance (DeFi). The GameFi sector is young but booming, and this is very exciting for investors. The financial components of GameFi include on-chain leasing solutions, fractionalization, staking, game non-fungible tokens (NFT) dedicated marketplaces, layer 2 solutions for blockchain games and others.

GameFi and DeFi have many similarities but there are also some crucial differences. The DeFi sector has more structure but without any recent major improvements, whereas GameFi is a brand-new sector with lots of rules and standards yet to be set. Moreover, GameFi has less chance of manipulation by crypto whales. It also has a much higher potential to attract non-crypto users into the crypto market, especially in emerging markets, helping with both education and conversion.

The thesis of GameFi sector investment is that it makes sense to invest in whatever makes playing blockchain games more fun, more capital efficient and more trustless. For example: 1) on-chain leasing protocols that separate ownership and the right to use it; 2) game NFT-dedicated on-chain swaps; 3) distributed cloud gaming platforms; and 4) layer2 solutions for blockchain games.

This was perhaps best demonstrated this summer, when Andreessen Horowitz – one of the biggest and most storied Silicon Valley venture capital firms – invested $4.6 million in a little-known Philippine GameFi company called YGG. Yield Guild Games was established as a way to finance the use of gaming assets. Essentially it allows users to lease NFTs and then redeem them for fiat money. The heart of the innovation is that it splits the usage and the ownership of gaming assets. In a short time, YGG has grown to be a hugely important part of the GameFi ecosystem.

It also shows how the current GameFi upcycle is different from the DeFi upcycle (2020 through early 2021). During that period, investors were largely focused on investing in lending protocols, decentralized exchanges, synthetic assets and on-chain derivatives – basically the plumbing underpinning the ecosystem of DeFi. The thesis centered on investing in the best technology that would attract the most developers, which in turn would then grow the wider ecosystem.

There are some important platform investment opportunities in the current GameFi tide. GameFi is bringing crypto to the mass market. Many people will have earned their first crypto ever through blockchain games. This means that the potential market size is orders of magnitudes bigger than the previous round. Back then, it was all about crypto natives, with high barriers to entry. This time it’s about non-crypto natives with low barriers to entry.

The potential is much bigger, as the play-to-earn model means that many gamers will receive crypto assets for the first time. The focus will be more on investing into the financial infrastructure of blockchain games rather than the game itself. The key will be to invest in the Fi part of GameFi because a single game’s lifetime could be short, but the Fi is essentially tech infrastructure that will last much longer.

Doing well and doing good

There is a further angle to the GameFi investment opportunity. Many of the early adopters of play-to-earn opportunities are gamers in developing regions of the world, whose normal incomes have been badly hit by the effects of two years of lockdowns. GameFi and play-to-earn are seen as a way to make an income in the virtual world, free from the problems that beset the real world.

YGG is a great example of this. In a blog post this summer, Arianna Simpson, a general partner at Andreessen Horowitz who invests in crypto, wrote about this opportunity in regard to the investment in YGG. “Right now, there is a largely untapped economic opportunity in emerging markets to provide jobs by building a virtual economy in the digital world,” she wrote. “The way we define a ‘job’ is quickly evolving because of crypto and gaming, and we think we’re just starting to glimpse what’s possible in this realm.”

It’s still early, and that means there are still opportunities to help shape the standards of GameFi, unlike DeFi. As the GameFi ecosystems expand, and more people take part, more value is created. It is a virtuous circle that also has the potential to help alleviate poverty.

By Coindesk Staff

Sir Richard Branson to launch first SPAC on European stock exchange

( via– Fri, 7th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Sir Richard Branson is drawing up plans to list a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) on the Euronext Amsterdam stock exchange in the coming months, Sky News learns.

Sir Richard Branson is to launch his first European blank cheque company as the Virgin Group tycoon continues to tap public market investors to find takeover targets.

Sky News has learnt that Virgin Group is drawing up detailed plans to list a new special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in Amsterdam in the coming months.

Sir Richard's business is working with bankers on a listing, which could be announced as soon as the first quarter of 2022, according to insiders.

The news may be interpreted as a snub to the London market given that Virgin Group is based in the UK and that British regulators have reformed listing rules to make it easier to pursue SPAC deals in London.

One source said the Amsterdam-listed vehicle would probably seek to raise an initial sum of around €200m, although the final details have yet to be determined.

SPACs, which are listed pools of blind capital raised from investors to pursue a merger with a private company, have been an engine of global dealmaking activity for the last two years, resulting in hundreds of billions of dollars-worth of corporate tie-ups.

There have, however, been signs of investor apathy, with many fundraisings struggling and a number of high-profile companies seeing their shares plunge after their SPAC mergers have been completed.

Sir Richard has become a prolific user of SPACs, taking both his space tourism venture Virgin Galactic and commercial satellite operation Virgin Orbit public through mergers with blank cheque companies.

Virgin Orbit began trading late last year, and its chief executive, Dan Hart, will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange later on Friday.

Sir Richard will be absent from the ceremony after disclosing this week that he had tested positive for COVID-19.

Virgin Galactic's soaring valuation has enabled Sir Richard to raise hundreds of millions of pounds to prop up his other travel and leisure businesses.

He has pumped a substantial sum into Virgin Atlantic Airways to help it survive the first two years of the pandemic, with Virgin-branded cruise and health and fitness businesses also requiring additional financial support.

Virgin has also launched two US SPACs of its own, and used them to merge with 23andMe, a consumer research and genetics company, and Grove Collaborative, a manufacturer of sustainable consumer products.

Bankers expect Virgin to launch further blank cheque companies in the US.

A spokeswoman for Virgin declined to comment.

By Mark Kleinman

Energy firms call for green levies on bills to be scrapped

( via – – Fri, 7th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

The bosses of two energy firms are calling for green levies on bills to be scrapped to help customers facing higher prices.

The founder of Ecotricity described the levies on energy bills as a “stealth tax” of hundreds of pounds a year.

Centrica's boss is also urging government to fund green programmes through general taxation instead.

Thousands of households have seen their energy bills rise in recent months.

Spiralling wholesale gas prices, increased demand for energy in Asia and a summer with little wind have all contributed to soaring costs faced by suppliers and consumers.

Dale Vince, the chief executive of green energy firm Ecotricity, told the BBC's Wake up to Money programme: “The government talk about high energy prices and bemoan them… but what they don't talk about is the fact they take £9bn a year from our energy bills in a combination of VAT and about five social and environmental policies.”

Currently, about 12% of an energy bill set at the level of the Energy Price Cap of £1,277 goes towards funding green energy programmes, such as support for low-carbon electricity generation.

The price cap, which sets the maximum a supplier can charge annually on a dual fuel tariff in England, Scotland and Wales, will go up again in April after a review by the regulator Ofgem.

Mr Vince suggested that prices could jump because of green levies applied to bills.

“That's about half of the rise that's coming through the price cap. [The government] could take that away in a flash,” he said.

Writing in the Sun on Friday, Centrica's chief executive Chris O'Shea suggested one way forward would be to strip the environmental and social levies out of energy bills and “fund ‘green' programmes through general taxation instead”.

Mr O'Shea argued the move would reduce annual bills by £170 and spread the cost more fairly.

He also called on the government to consider suspending VAT on energy bills to help struggling households.

Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation think tank, suggested suspending VAT would make a “small dent” to higher costs, but that it might not be as effective as it would benefit higher-earners as well.

“The important thing is that we have a much larger intervention aimed at lower-income households,” he said.

Windfall tax

Ecotricity boss Mr Vince also suggested that North Sea gas suppliers should face a windfall tax as some have seen profits increase as wholesale prices have surged.

According to experts at energy consultancy Wood MacKenzie, UK North Sea oil and gas companies are set to report near-record cashflows of nearly £14.9bn for the current financial year.

“The North Sea operators have been making a killing this winter,” Mr Vince told the BBC.

“A windfall tax would be a fair thing to do, the North Sea operators don't need that money, weren't planning to have that money and it's a hole we've got in the economy somewhere else.”

Last month, other energy bosses, such as Ovo Energy's chief executive Stephen Fitzpatrick, predicted that the rise in wholesale gas prices and its impact on people would be “an enormous crisis for 2022”.

Energy UK, the industry's trade body, has warned bills could soar by another 50% unless the government intervenes.

The idea of targeted financial support for fuel bills – along the lines of the current Warm Home Discount scheme – is emerging as a frontrunner in the race to tackle rising costs, although a number of options are being considered by government officials.

The current scheme offers those receiving certain state benefits the option to apply for a one-off £140 payment every winter.

This could be increased and the number of people eligible could be expanded more broadly.

Small Business Minister Paul Scully told the BBC's Today programme: “We'll always look at what we can do, especially for targeted approaches, to support the lowest-paid because there is a wider cost-of-living issue.”

A spokesperson for the Department for Business said that the current energy price cap was “insulating millions of consumers from high global gas prices”.

“We'll continue to listen to consumers and businesses on how to manage the costs of energy.”

The department also pointed to schemes currently in place to help those facing high bills, such as the Warm Home Discount scheme, as well as the £500m Household Support Fund, which sees local councils distribute grants to struggling households in England.

Next Christmas online sales boosts profits

( via – – Thur, 6th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Retailer records 20% rise on pre-pandemic festive sales despite low stock levels and drop in trade at stores

Next rang up £70m more sales than expected over Christmas as a surge in online orders of party dresses and occasionwear made up for lower trade in stores.

The fashion and homewares chain is the first retailer to report its Christmas trading results, potentially giving an indication of how the high street fared in the biggest sales period of the year.

The group said it now expected to make £822m in annual profits, £22m more than previously hoped for and almost 10% ahead of pre-pandemic levels, in its fifth increase in guidance in less than a year.

In the eight weeks to Christmas Day, Next said its sales rose 20% on 2019 – before the Covid pandemic – despite suffering “materially lower” levels of stocks than it had hoped for while its delivery service had struggled because of labour shortages in its warehouses and distribution networks.Advertisement

“The fact that our sales remained so robust in these circumstances is, we believe, testament to the strength of underlying consumer demand in the period,” the company said.

The group’s strong performance was underpinned by an 85% surge in full-price online sales compared with 2019 at its Label business which sells brands such as Ted Baker, Nike and Mint Velvet. Online sales of Next goods in the UK and overseas were also up by more than 30% in the three months to 25 December while sales in its UK and Irish stores fell 5.4%.

However, Next warned of a “tougher environment” for the year ahead despite assuming no further disruption from the pandemic.

The company said it was unclear how much it had benefited from shoppers spending their savings built up during lockdowns and whether a return to spending on holidays and other social activities would hit sales of non-essential goods such as clothing.

The group also said trade could be affected by rising inflation. Next expects its prices to increase by almost 4% this spring and summer while the price of its autumn ranges would be 6% ahead of last year because of higher freight and manufacturing costs.

The company said that average wages were also set to rise by 5.4% across the group driven by the April increase in the legal minimum wage as well as shortages of warehouse and technology workers.

Richard Lim, the chief executive of Retail Economics, said: “These are mightily impressive results and demonstrate the growing strength of the brand and its agility to operate through the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic. The results shine an optimistic light on the resilience of consumer demand and the effortless transition shoppers now make between buying online and in-store.

“The outlook for 2022 looks more challenging. For many households, this year will be a ‘pinch point’ as the combination of tax hikes and a rise in the cost of living erode incomes.”

Despite the concern about cost rises, Next said it would pay out £205m to shareholders, or 160p per share, in a special dividend at the end of January.

By Sarah Butler

Greggs names Roisin Currie as new chief executive after sales rise

( via — Thur, 6th Jan 2022) London, UK —

Greggs (GRG.L) retail director Roisin Currie will take over as chief executive in May, the British food-to-go retailer said on Thursday as it reported a rise in fourth-quarter sales despite the spread of Omicron in the run-up to Christmas.

The company, known for its sausage rolls, savoury bakes and sandwiches, said it expected its 2021 profit to be slightly ahead of its previous expectations and that it would be able to pay a special dividend of 30 to 40 million pounds ($54 million).

Greggs said a strong October performance was followed by more challenging conditions as the Omicron coronavirus variant surged in December but like-for-like sales in the fourth quarter as a whole were still up 0.8% from 2019.

Chief Executive Roger Whiteside, who is retiring this year after nine years at the helm, said Greggs now had the playbook for COVID after dealing with the pandemic for two years.

“Our suburban stores started to do better again as people stayed at home, our city centre, office based and mass transport hub areas fell back,” he said. “But we still managed to stay positive.”

Greggs said conditions at the start of 2022 were likely to remain challenging with increased costs also in the mix.

“We've got reasonable visibility of what we're looking at from four to six months forward because we typically buy on a contract,” Whiteside said, adding that the inflationary outlook for the full year would be clearer by March.

Shares in Greggs, which were about 480 pence when Whiteside started as CEO, were trading 1.6% lower at 3,316 in early deals, which was still an increase of 44% over the past 12 months.

Some analysts welcomed the decision to appoint Currie as Whiteside's replacement.

“This looks a solid internal appointment, particularly given her key role in developing the delivery business,” analysts at Jefferies wrote in a note.

Greggs said total sales in 2021 were 1.23 billion pounds, up from 811 million pounds in 2020 and 1.17 billion pounds in 2019.

The company has cash of 198 million pounds, which it said would allow it to open about 150 new stores this year, develop digital channels and extend its trading day.

Whiteside said Omicron was putting pressure on workers at its 2,181 stores but was manageable from a financial perspective and Greggs had brought forward a pay rise for them.

“It is the impact on the people I'm mostly concerned with, rather than the impact on the business per se,” he said.

By Paul Sandle

China Mobile shares rise in Shanghai after raising $7.7bn in China’s biggest public offering in a decade

( via – – Wed, 5th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

China Mobile shares have risen as they started trading in Shanghai after raising $7.7bn (£5.7bn) in China's biggest public offering in a decade.

China Mobile shares have risen as they started trading in Shanghai after raising $7.7bn (£5.7bn) in China's biggest public offering in a decade.

The shares opened 9.4% higher before easing back in morning trade.

China Mobile's smaller rivals, China Telecom and China Unicom, have already made the move to their home country.

The three firms were delisted from the New York Stock Exchange after a Trump-era decision to restrict investment in Chinese technology companies.

China Mobile's Hong Kong-listed shares also rose in early trade after the company said it would press ahead with a plan to buy back up to 2.05 billion shares, worth nearly $13bn.

Nina Xiang, the author of US-China Tech War, told the BBC that the Chinese government would have made sure that China Mobile's Shanghai debut went well.

She said: “It's important for Beijing to ensure this listing appears successful and smooth to prove that China has the wherewithal to accommodate its own companies on its own stock exchanges.

“But it won't be great for Chinese companies to lose the access to the US capital markets as it will be another step in the downward spiral of deteriorating bilateral relations,” she added.

The policy introduced by the Trump administration to clamp down on investments in Chinese technology firms has remained in place under President Joe Biden as tensions continue between Washington and Beijing.

Ms Xiang also highlighted that more US-listed Chinese firms may take similar steps to safeguard their share listings: “There are dozens of Chinese companies listed on US exchanges that might seek a listing in Hong Kong this year to secure their shares remain publicly traded, in case the two countries couldn't reach a solution for Chinese firms to remain listed in the US.”

The company has said it plans to use the cash raised from the offering to develop projects including premium 5G networks, infrastructure for cloud resources and artificial intelligence software.

China Mobile is the world's largest mobile network operator by total subscribers.

Last month, Chinese ride-hailing giant Didi Global has announced plans to take its shares off the New York Stock Exchange and move its listing to Hong Kong.

The firm had come under intense pressure since it raised $4.4bn in its US debut at the end of June.

Also, within days of the New York initial public offering Beijing announced a crackdown on technology companies listing overseas.

Didi shares have lost almost 65% of their value since their US market debut.

Apple becomes first US company to reach $3tn valuation

( via – – Tue, 4th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

New year trading pushed Apple shares to a new high of $182.80 after tripling in value in under four years

Apple became the first US company to be valued at over $3tn on Monday as the tech company continued its phenomenal share price growth, tripling in value in under four years.

A pandemic-era surge in tech stocks has driven the major US tech companies to new highs, pulling US stock markets with them. Apple became the world’s first trillion dollar company in August 2018, passed $2tn in 2020 and hit its new high as trading began after the holidays and its shares passed $182.80 a piece before dipping lower to end the day valued at over $2.9tn.

Apple alone is now more valuable than the combined values of Boeing, Coca-Cola, Disney, Exxon-Mobil, McDonald’s, Netflix and Walmart. Its shares have risen 38% since the beginning of 2021, one of the largest gains on the Dow Jones industrial average stock market index.

The company released its last quarterly earnings in October and made a profit of $20.6bn over the previous three months despite suffering from Covid-related supply chain issues.

It is unlikely to remain the only $3tn company as analysts expect Microsoft will also hit the mark later this year.

The news came as US markets edged higher and European shares bounded to record highs in the first day of trading in 2022 as investors bet on a steady economic recovery despite the rising number of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.

Europe’s benchmark stock index, the Stoxx 600, rose to a record intraday high of 491.73 points on Monday, surpassing its November peak of 490.58, as global oil and equity markets climbed. It later closed at 489.99, up 0.45%.

The Stoxx 600 recorded a 22.4% jump last year, its second-best yearly performance in over a decade, after the global rollout of Covid-19 vaccines and government stimulus spending encouraged investors to pour money back into the markets.

The share price of airlines Lufthansa and Air France–KLM were two of the biggest climbers across Europe’s equity markets after analysts at Citi forecast that the reopening of travel routes to Asia could help bolster the beleaguered travel sector. Lufthansa shares rose by almost 8.9% to €6.73 a share, and Air France KLM rose by 4.9% to €4.06.

Europe’s record start to the new year set the stage for US markets to continue their late 2021 recovery. The opening of the S&P 500 index, which climbed by a record 47.7% last year, was bolstered by a 9% jump in Tesla shares after the company’s quarterly deliveries exceeded expectations.

In another boost to US markets global oil prices, which last year recorded their biggest annual rise since at least 2016, resumed their rise towards $80 a barrel as fears that emerged late last year over the impact of the Omicron variant waned. The oil price helped shares in US oil majors Chevron and ExxonMobil climb by 1% each.

The London Stock Exchange (LSE), which has lagged behind its European and US rivals by climbing 14.3% last year, was closed on Monday for the new year bank holiday. The FTSE 100 has been criticised as “old-fashioned” due to its dearth of tech companies and a glut of oil and bank stocks. It remained 6.5% below its May 2018 peak last year while the US, German and French markets all hit record highs.

Sean Darby, a global equity strategist at Jefferies, said: “Although Covid-19 variants permeated the global economy, 2021 was the year of records with many bourses closing at or near record highs, while inflows into equities surpassed their largest accumulation ever. Peering into 2022, we expect volatility to rise.”

Global oil markets are also expected to face ongoing volatility in the year ahead as traders balance the risk that the Omicron variant may stall a rebound in demand for transport fuels, against uncertain supplies from the world’s biggest oil producers.

Reporting by Dominic Rushe and Jillian Ambrose 

Toyota poised to outsell General Motors in the U.S. as sales leader for 2021

( via — Tue, 4th Jan 2022) London, UK —

Japanese automaker Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) is poised to outsell General Motors Co (GM.N) in the United States in 2021, which would mark the first time the Detroit automaker has not led U.S. auto sales since 1931.

In the first nine months of 2021, Toyota sold 1.86 million vehicles in the United States compared with GM's 1.78 million, or just over 80,000 more vehicles. For all of 2020, GM's U.S. sales totaled 2.55 million, compared with Toyota's 2.11 million and Ford Motor Co's (F.N) 2.04 million.

The year has been marred by a shortage of semiconductors used heavily in vehicles, forcing automakers to focus on their most profitable models.

The automakers are set to report full-year 2021 U.S. sales results on Tuesday. GM has been the largest seller of vehicles in the United States since 1931, when it surpassed Ford, according to data from industry publication Automotive News.

Toyota isn't boasting about the expected accomplishment. Senior Vice President Jack Hollis said in a statement that the automaker is “grateful” for its loyal customers, but “being No. 1 is never a focus or priority.”

GM spokesman Jim Cain said the Detroit automaker had a very strong sales year in the United States in full-size SUVs and pickup trucks as it has focused on profitability, and as the supply of semiconductors improves, so will sales.

“I wouldn't rush out, if I were (Toyota), and get a ‘We're No. 1' tattoo,” he said.

GM under Chief Executive Mary Barra also has emphasized profitability over volume, abandoning such money-losing markets as Europe and Russia.

Edmunds auto analyst Jessica Caldwell said Toyota will outsell GM in 2021 “unless the Detroit automaker pulls off a miracle.” But she added “it's unlikely that this is indicative of a long-term shift” and noted GM sells more brands than Toyota.

Cox Automotive forecast Toyota will outsell GM for all of 2021 in the United States: “Toyota has successfully managed tight inventory all year.”

For the entire industry, Cox Automotive forecast U.S. new vehicle sales will be down 32% in December over December 2020 — the slowest pace since May 2020, when the country remained mostly closed during the first wave of the COVID pandemic.

Industry analysts forecast around 15 million vehicles sold for all of 2021 in the United States. U.S. vehicle sales will remain well below the five-year average of 17.3 million from 2015-2019.

IHS Markit forecasts U.S. sales are expected to reach nearly 15.5 million in 2022, up an estimated 2.6% from the projected 2021 level of approximately 15.1 million vehicles.

Auto buyers have seen prices jump dramatically. Edmunds said average transaction prices for new vehicles hit another new record in November at $45,872 — compared with $39,984 in November 2020. Edmunds also forecast used vehicle prices will surpass the $30,000 mark for the first time in 2022.

IHS Markit forecast worldwide new light vehicle sales of nearly 82.4 million in 2022, up 3.7%, while 2021 sales are expected to be up just 2.9% globally from 2020.

Reporting by David Shepardson

Chinese giant Tencent joins backers of £3.3bn digital bank Monzo

( via– Mon, 3rd Jan, 2022) London, Uk – –

Tencent Holdings, which has a market value equivalent to more than £400bn (£296bn), is taking a small stake in Monzo, the UK-based lender, as part of a $600m (£444m) fundraising, Sky News learns.

Tencent Holdings, the Chinese technology behemoth, is taking a stake in Monzo, the British-based digital bank which has confounded expectations by securing a $4.5bn (£3.3bn) valuation.

Sky News has learnt that Tencent, which has become a prolific investor in Europe's burgeoning tech sector, has subscribed to shares as part of a $100m (£74m) top-up to Monzo's latest funding round.

A source close to the process said Tencent was investing a minority of the $100m capital injection.

The Chinese company's involvement adds another prominent investor to the bank's share register, weeks after it confirmed that the likes of Coatue and the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund had become investors.

Tencent has previously backed European banking start-ups such as Germany's N26, which had a brief presence in the UK market but rapidly withdrew citing Brexit-related complexities.

It also holds stakes in major US tech companies, including Tesla and Snap.

Its Hong Kong-listed shares have a market capitalisation equivalent to more than £400bn (£296bn).

The $100m top-up funding takes the total amount raised in Monzo's latest round to $600m (£444m), with its surging valuation aided by the addition of thousands of customers in 2021.

TS Anil, Monzo's chief executive, said: “The high level of investor interest we've had in this round is testament to our performance as well as the huge opportunity that lies ahead.

“With the backing of some of the best names in the investment community, we're going into next year with big ambitions – and we're just getting started.”

Monzo claims to have seen a doubling in revenues this year, and has more than 5m customers in total, with 100,000 being added each month.

More than 300,000 of those customers are now using paid and business accounts.

The bank has nevertheless had a turbulent couple of years, with a number of ongoing regulatory probes and a setback in its efforts to break into the US.

Monzo is chaired by Gary Hoffman, one of Britain's most experienced bank executives and the soon-to-depart chairman of English football's Premier League.

It employs more than 2,000 people.

Tencent has been contacted for comment.

By Mark Kleinman

Santander hands out £130m in Christmas blunder to thousands of clients

( via – – Fri, 31st Dec 2021) London, Uk – –

Tens of thousands of people awoke on Christmas morning to a surprise from an unexpected benefactor – Santander.

The bank mistakenly deposited £130m into 75,000 accounts on 25 December.

Santander's staff are now rushing to claw back the money, although the job is being made more difficult because much of it was deposited in accounts at rival banks, according to The Times.

The error occurred when payments from 2,000 business accounts were made twice.

“We're sorry that due to a technical issue, some payments from our corporate clients were incorrectly duplicated on the recipients' accounts,” the bank said in a statement.

“None of our clients were at any point left out of pocket as a result and we will be working hard with many banks across the UK to recover the duplicated transactions over the coming days.”

It said the mistake may have meant that some people were, in effect, paid twice from their employer's account, although the second payment was funded by Santander.

Ruined Christmas

One payroll manager, who asked not to be named, told the BBC the blunder had cast a shadow over Christmas and Boxing Day.

“It ruined my holiday period because I thought I'd paid out hundreds of thousands in error – I thought I had done something wrong,” they told the BBC.

“I thought it was just me and that I was going to get in trouble at work.”

They said that Santander had not given any information about how firms should explain the second payment to staff or about how it should be repaid.

“It's just a complete shambles,” the payroll manager said. “How they are going to recover it, I just don't know.”

The bank stressed that it had already begun speaking to the rival banks – which The Times said included Barclays, HSBC, NatWest, Co-operative Bank and Virgin Money.

Santander said those banks would “look to recover the money from their customers' accounts.”

However, it was not clear how the banks would respond if their customers had already spent the money, meaning returning it would push them into overdraft.

Santander indicated that it may contact people directly to get the money back.

By Dan Ascher

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