UK government approve Huawei to help build 5G network despite warnings of a security risk

( via – – Wed, 24th April 2019) London, Uk – –

The government has approved the supply of equipment by Chinese telecoms firm Huawei to the UK's new 5G data network despite warnings of a security risk.

There has not been formal confirmation but the Daily Telegraph says Huawei will help build some “non-core” parts.

The US wants its allies in the “Five Eyes” intelligence grouping – the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to exclude the company.

Huawei has denied that its work poses any risks of espionage or sabotage.

But Australia has already said it is siding with Washington – which has spoken of “serious concerns over Huawei's obligations to the Chinese government and the danger that poses to the integrity of telecommunications networks in the US and elsewhere”.

Cyber threats are among the issues on the agenda for discussion by the once-secret Five Eyes alliance, at a security conference in Glasgow.

A spokesman for the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has said it is reviewing the supply of equipment for the 5G network and will report in due course.

Digital minister Margot James responded to the reports about Huawei by tweeting: “In spite of Cabinet leaks to the contrary, final decision yet to be made on managing threats to telecoms infrastructure.”

Huawei, which already supplies equipment used in the UK's existing mobile networks, has always denied claims it is controlled by the Chinese government.

It said it was awaiting a formal government announcement on the UK's 5G plans, but was “pleased that the UK is continuing to take an evidence-based approach to its work”, adding it would continue to work cooperatively with the government and the industry.

Ciaran Martin, the head of the National Cyber Security Centre – which oversees Huawei's current work in the UK – told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that a framework would be put in place to ensure the 5G network was “sufficiently safe”.

Asked about the potential of a conflict in the position among members of the Five Eyes alliance, he added: “In the past decade there have been different approaches across the Five Eyes and across the allied wider Western alliance towards Huawei and towards other issues as well.”

5G is the next (fifth) generation of mobile internet connectivity, promising much faster data download and upload speeds, wider coverage and more stable connections.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Huawei's involvement in the 5G network would include helping to build parts of antennas or other infrastructure.

Such a decision would mean Huawei would not supply equipment for use in what is known as the “core” parts of a mobile network – where tasks such as checking device IDs and deciding how to route voice calls and data take place.

BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera says it is believed the decision to involve Huawei was taken by ministers at a meeting of the government's national security council on Tuesday.

The home, defence and foreign secretaries were reported to have raised concerns during the discussions, which are chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May.


BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera

The decision on Huawei is one of the most significant long-term national security decisions this government will make and was always going to be contentious.

5G will underpin our daily lives in ways that are hard to predict. So does allowing a Chinese company to build those networks put people at risk of being spied on or even switched off?

That is the concern from Washington and other critics who wanted the company excluded.

But deciding to ban Huawei entirely from the network would have risked slowing down the development of 5G and also upsetting China.

The UK believes it has experience in managing the risks posed by Huawei and can continue to do so going forward.

But one retired senior intelligence official recently told me his view on what to do about Huawei had changed.

In the past, he said, he had believed the policy of managing the risk had been sufficient. But now he was less sure.

The reason was not to do with any change in his view of what the company could do. Rather it was about the risks to relationships with close allies, namely those of the Five Eyes and US.

Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Tom Tugendhat tweeted that allowing Huawei to build some of the UK's 5G infrastructure would “cause allies to doubt our ability to keep data secure and erode the trust essential to #FiveEyes cooperation”.

Speaking on the Today programme, Mr Tugendhat maintained it was difficult to distinguish between the core and non-core in a 5G network.

He said the proposals still raised concerns, adding that 5G involved an “internet system that can genuinely connect everything, and therefore the distinction between non-core and core is much harder to make”.

Universal credit to impact almost 2m people with loss of £1,000 a year – study

( via – – Wed, 24th April, 2019) London, Uk – –

Those on disability benefits and low incomes will be among worst affected, IFS concludes

Almost 2 million people will lose more than £1,000 a year following the switch to universal credit, with those claiming disability benefits the worst affected, according to research by a leading thinktank.

Self-employed workers on below average incomes and low-income families with little savings will also be among the biggest losers, the Institute for Fiscal Studiesstudy concluded, as the government aims to complete one of the biggest overhauls of the benefits system since the introduction of tax credits in 2003.

The benefit clawbacks under the new system, which will affect around half of claimants, are expected to lead to a huge outcry from anti-poverty charities who have accused ministers of sanctioning more than a decade of austerity for some of the UK’s most hard-pressed households.

Earlier this month, welfare claimants began the fourth year of a benefits freeze imposed by the former chancellor George Osborne in 2016, which has already delivered cumulative savings of £4.4bn.

In March, the annual Households Below Average Income (HBAI) report covering 2017-18 found that 3.7 million children were living in absolute poverty, up from 3.5 million in 2016-17.

Universal credit is a merger of several benefits previously paid to claimants separately, including housing benefit, child tax credit and jobs seekers allowance.

The IFS said 11 million adults would lose or gain under new rules governing UC payouts, with 1.6 million gaining by more than £1,000 a year and 1.9 million losing at least that much.

About 4.2 million will be at least £100 per year better off than under the current system and 4.6 million will be at least £100 per year worse off after transitional protection expires, the IFS said.

The research tracked previous claimants and concluded that the circumstances of many low-income families will improve and they are likely to reduce their losses from UC over eight years. For some, losses will fall from more than £1,000 to nearer £100, the report said.

But those who are disabled or live with a disabled person are especially likely to be persistently, rather than temporarily, poor.

Tom Waters, a research economist at the IFS and an author of the briefing note, said: “The biggest losses experienced as a result of the switch are mostly down to a small number of specific choices the government has made about universal credit’s design, such as its treatment of the low-income self-employed and people with financial assets.

“Many of those very large losses do turn out to be temporary for those concerned. However, even when measuring people’s incomes over relatively long periods, universal credit still hits the persistently poor the hardest on average.”

By Phillip Inman

Natwest to double growth funding programme for UK small and medium-sized businesses

( via – – Tue, 23rd April 2019) London, Uk – –

Natwest will double its growth funding programme for small and medium-sized British businesses, citing the need to help them navigate Brexit disruption.

The UK bank’s growth funding loan pot, which was started in May 2018, will be immediately doubled to £6bn in the latest sign that companies are demanding resources to cope with political impasse and that banks and investors can cash in by helping them.

The money will be available immediately and will help businesses looking to grow, fund green initiatives and navigate the current uncertain business climate, Natwest said.

Last week the government announced it had handed over £200m to help support smaller businesses in the 2019-20 financial year as the future of European Union funding remains uncertain.

The Treasury made the cash available to the British Business Bank, a public-private partnership which provides loans to small companies looking to increase in size through investment and venture capital firms.

The national chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), Mike Cherry, said at the time: “With Brexit on the horizon, serious questions regarding future funding for a UK small business support network that’s heavily reliant on the EU remain unanswered.”

Natwest figures released today showed that £2.9bn of its already-expanded £3bn growth funding pot had been approved for investment.

The bank said it would increasingly focus on financing eco-friendly projects and intellectual property.

Alison Rose, chief executive of commercial and private banking at Natwest, said: “We are working every day to look at what businesses need to not just survive, but grow. In many cases this is bespoke funding.”

Referencing Brexit, she said: “We recognise that the challenges businesses face evolve all the time, which is why we try to innovate whenever we can.”

By Harry Robertson

London Metal Exchange launched an initiative to ban brands not responsibly sourced by 2022

( via — Tue, 23rd April, 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – The London Metal Exchange (LME) on Tuesday launched an initiative that could see it ban or delist brands that are not responsibly sourced by 2022 as part of efforts to root out metal tainted by child labour and corruption.

The 142-year-old LME, seeking to avoid overly punishing small mining brands to the benefit of larger miners such as Glencore, said it would not single out cobalt and tin for accelerated auditing.

The proposal is the largest step yet by the LME, the world’s biggest market for industrial metals, to clean up the global supply chain of all its commodities.

Cobalt is a key ingredient in the batteries that power electric vehicles and one flagged by human-rights groups as particularly high risk.

“Global consumers rightly demand action on responsible sourcing – and our industry must listen,” LME chief executive Matt Chamberlain said in a statement.

The LME said its proposed rules would require all brands to undertake a “Red Flag assessment” based on guidelines set by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) by the end of 2020.

The exchange would audit higher-risk brands by 2022 with a view to banning them if they do not comply.

In a consultation paper in October, the LME said it wanted to ban cobalt brands that traded at a significant discount against prices gathered by trade publication Metal Bulletin after 30 days.

The discount was created by concerns that some providers of cobalt to the exchange may have used child labour at operations mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where several organisations have cited human-rights abuses.

The proposal marks a shift from the LME’s traditional role of requiring brands and companies to meet metallurgical standards to including issues of ethical responsibility.

Brands would be forced to publish fully all of their supply-chain information by 2024, the LME said.

By Zandi Shabalala, additional reporting by Eric Onstad

No access to bank accounts ‘costs £500 extra a year’ in bills

( via – – Mon, 22nd April 2019) London, Uk – –

People who do not have access to a bank account pay an extra £485 a year for everyday bills and services, research from an account provider suggests.

More than 1.2 million Britons do not have a bank account, so miss out on discounts reserved for those who pay bills by direct debit, said Pockit.

This ramps up the cost of energy bills, broadband and phone contracts, it said.

“For many of us, having a bank account is a basic fact of life,” said Pockit boss Virraj Jatania.

“Yet the unbanked face a banking poverty premium which can put a real strain on their finances.”

UK Finance, which represents the UK banking industry, said banks took their financial inclusion responsibilities “extremely seriously”.

“The banking industry is committed to ensuring banking is accessible to all. There are over seven million basic bank accounts in the UK, helping customers across the country access vital banking services,” it said.

Traditional banks can reject customers applying for accounts if they do not have enough forms of ID, or if their credit rating is poor.

But Pockit, which provides basic account services, said this meant many were being penalised.

It analysed prices from leading service providers and found:

  • Energy and broadband providers offer discounts to customers if they pay by direct debit – a saving which is not available to those without a bank account.
  • Mobile phone companies offer better deals to those paying via direct debit rather than pay-as-you go customers.
  • Those without accounts have limited options when looking for credit, and often turn to expensive cash-in-hand “doorstep loans”.

In one example, it found two of the UK's three largest broadband providers, BT and Virgin Media, offered a “super line rental discount” if you paid by direct debit.

But customers without a current account had to pay using methods such as cash transfers, costing them £38 more a year on average.

On electricity and gas, it analysed Ofgem data and found that those using pre-payment meters paid on average £141.57 more each year than those who paid by direct debit.

Lendlease’s Labbad to be successor as new chief exec of Crown Estate

( via– Mon, 22nd April 2019) London, Uk – –

Dan Labbad, Lendlease Europe's CEO since 2009, will be named this week as Dame Alison Nimmo's successor, Sky News learns.

By Mark Kleinman, City editor

The company which manages the monarchy's vast land holdings will this week name an Australian property industry veteran as its next chief executive.

Sky News has learnt that Dan Labbad, who runs Lendlease's European operations, has been identified as the successor to Dame Alison Nimmo, who is due to step down at the end of the year.

His appointment, which requires a Royal Warrant, is understood to have been signed off by 10 Downing Street and the Treasury in the last few days.

It is expected to be announced on Tuesday.

Mr Labbad's hiring will come after a nine-month search to fill one of the most prestigious jobs in the British real estate sector.

The Crown Estate's £14bn portfolio, which includes swathes of London's Regent Street and a fast-growing offshore wind turbine business, is managed on behalf of the Royal Family on a commercial basis.

Last year, the company reported a profit of £329m, with a quarter of that figure paid to the royal household as a sovereign grant to fund maintenance of royal palaces and residences.

The Crown Estate, which manages Windsor Great Park, does not have responsibility for the Queen's private properties such as Balmoral Castle and Sandringham House.

With a history dating back to ‎1066 and the Norman Conquest, the Crown Estate is owned by the reigning Monarch for as long as they remain on the throne.

It is one of the UK's biggest property groups, and has recently sought to capitalise on some of the sector's most important growth trends by opening its first branded serviced offices.

Mr Labbad's appointment will see him taking over from Dame Alison at the start of 2020.

He has run Lendlease Europe, which has worked on construction projects at London's Tate Britain art gallery and the Bluewater shopping centre in Kent, since 2009.

Including roles in Australia, where he led the expansion of Sydney Airport ahead of the Olympic Games hosted by the City in 2000, he has worked for the company for about 20 years.

‎Mr Labbad has also chaired the UK Green Building Council, which promotes sustainability in the built environment.

His arrival at the Crown Estate will come at a time when it is demonstrating resilience in the performance of its West End retail estate – although it will have been hit, like other landlords, by last week's environmental protests by Extinction Rebellion activists.

Outside London, it part owns the Westgate shopping centre in Oxford and Rushden Lakes, a £140m leisure and retail complex in Northamptonshire.

Much of the Crown Estate's growth is, though, being driven by its offshore wind portfolio, which a report by the company this month described as having “entered the premier league”.

Announcing last year's results, Dame Alison said its robust profit growth was a consequence of the company looking “beyond short-term volatility to deliver long-term, sustainable outperformance”.

‎The Crown Estate is chaired by Robin Budenberg, a former City banker who went on to run UK Financial Investments, the agency set up to manage taxpayers' stakes in bailed-out lenders after the 2008 financial crisis.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Estate declined to comment on Sunday.

Cashless Transactions The New Normal

Source: DW

Cashless payments are on the rise. They are fast, easy and convenient. Worldwide, cashless transactions have become the norm. But Germany’s central bank and government are still clinging on to cash. Can they stop the move towards a cashless society? Our documentary shows who is behind the worldwide anti-cash lobby. Banks want to get rid of coins and bills for cost reasons, and politicians think less cash will cut the rug out from under criminals and terrorists. Central bankers want to abolish cash because it would make it easier for them to enforce negative interest rates. And digital payment companies like Paypal or Visa simply want to profit from money transactions and collect as much financial data about consumers as they can. Their aim is to gain complete control over our buying behavior. For example, the “Better than Cash Alliance” in New York is supported by financial corporations such as Visa or Mastercard. They say the more people that are integrated into the international financial system, the more growth and jobs it will promote. But as our financial behavior becomes more and more transparent, states are also using payment data to find out more about us. The ordinary citizen’s view of cash as a store of value, independent of third party interests, is being increasingly ignored. But for them, cash is and will remain a symbol of freedom.

Inside Lenny Kravitz’s Amazing Brazilian Farm Compound

Source: Architectural Digest

Lenny Kravitz takes us on a tour of his incredible Brazilian farm compound. Built on an 18th-century coffee plantation, his home is set on a working farm that feeds every guest that comes through. Featuring a Brazilian barbecue, a full-sized football field and 19th-century Portuguese colonial-style farmhouses and outbuildings, it's a wonder Lenny ever wants to leave home.

Morgan Stanley shares climb after posting better-than-expected results in the first quarter

( via – – Fri, 19th April 2019) London, Uk – –

Morgan Stanley shares have climbed after the US bank posted better-than-expected results in its fixed income trading and wealth management divisions.

The bank reported $2.43bn profit in the first quarter of the year, beating expectations despite falling from $2.67bn the previous year.

Fixed income revenue of $1.71bn – nine per cent down on the same period in 2018 – beat analysts’ estimates by $200m, driven by gains in credit risk management, the bank said.

Its wealth management division, which accounts for around half of the bank’s annual revenue, saw revenues rise slightly to $4.39bn.

Investors were buoyed by the results as shares jumped 2.5 per cent to seven-month highs.

Investment banking revenue fell 24 per cent to $1.15bn on lower advisory fees from M&A and stock underwriting.

In the fourth quarter of last year Morgan Stanley’s fixed income trading suffered the sharpest fall among its peers, with revenue dropping 30 per cent year-on-year to $564m.

But in the first three months of this year its bond trading revenue suffered a smaller drop than rival Goldman Sachs, which fell 11 per cent.

Total revenue of $10.3bn also beat analysts’ expectations of $9.94bn but was seven per cent down on record quarterly results a year ago.

Chief executive James Gorman said: “We delivered solid earnings despite a slow start to the year following the turbulent markets in the fourth quarter.”

He added: “Even though risks to the global environment remain, markets have recovered and we are well positioned to serve our clients and invest in our businesses.”

Evercore ISI analyst Glenn Schorr said: “Wealth management was able to protect the margin in a tougher backdrop.”

He added that the performance “should make people more optimistic considering the lift in markets and better underwriting environment lately.”

By Callum Keown

Payouts by pet insurers hit a record £785m

( via – – Fri, 19th April, 2019) London, Uk – –

Payouts by pet insurers hit a record £785m in 2018, even though the number of claims submitted fell, according to the industry trade body.

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said this was down to the higher cost of increasingly sophisticated medical care.

The size of the average claim jumped by £36, or nearly 5%, to £793.

The ABI said the “overwhelming majority” of pet insurance payouts were to meet veterinary treatment bills.

Less common claims included pet owners asking to be reimbursed for the theft of a pet, the cost of advertising to find a lost animal, as well as liability for when a pet damaged property or injured someone.

However, the ABI says these claims were “tiny” compared with veterinary treatment bills.

Senior policy adviser for pet insurance, Joe Ahern, said: “There is no NHS for animals, so if you've not got a pet policy in place, you risk having to foot veterinary bills out of your own pocket.

“These can often be in the thousands of pounds and vet treatment is only getting more expensive, not less.”

The size of the average claim on pet insurance jumped by £36, or 4.75%, to £793 between 2017 and 2018.

However, the number of claims submitted fell to 990,000, down from 1.02 million the previous year.

Total payouts increased by £10m to £785m – a rise of 1.3%.

Nearly 4.3 million pets were covered by insurance last year, more than ever before, and an increase of 50,00 on 2017

But the ABI said there was still a “worrying level of under-insurance” among cat owners.

There are thought to be 7.5 million cats in UK homes, but only 1.3 million are insured, whereas 2.8 million dogs are insured out of an estimated 8.5 million pet pooches.

Average premiums fell slightly for the first time in eight years – down from £281 in 2017 to £279 in 2018. This is the first time there has been any decrease in pet premiums for eight years.

Over the past ten years, the average claim has increased by 75%, whilst the average premium has only increased by 50%, according to the ABI.

Pinterest makes stock market debut valued at £9.7bn

( via– Thur, 18th April 2019) London, Uk – –

The scrapbooking website, where users store ideas for clothes and recipes, is due to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

Pinterest's initial public offering (IPO) has set the company's valuation at $12.7bn (£9.7bn).

Pinterest, a digital scrapbooking site where users save ideas for things such as clothes, decor and recipes, is due to start trading on the New York Stock Exchange later on Thursday.

It set the price for its 75 million shares at $19 (£14.56) on Wednesday evening, above its $15 to $17 target range and putting it on track to raise more than $1.4bn (£1.07bn).

Pinterest says it has 250 million users and reported revenue of $756m (£579m) last year.

Its performance will be a test of the tech IPO market, following last month's disappointing debut from ride-hailing firm Lyft.

Lyft had an impressive build-up – raising more than expected when it went public – but shares have since dropped by about 30%.

Pinterest is the biggest listing of a US social media company since Snapchat's parent company made its debut in 2017. Snap's stock price has also fallen since its IPO.

Galaxy Fold: Samsungs new phone under investigation as screens breaks within days

( via – – Thur, 18th April, 2019) London, Uk – –

Flexible screen broke on several £1,800 tester devices ahead of shipping to the public

The screen at the heart of Samsung’s new Galaxy Fold phone, which literally folds in half, has been failing in testers’ hands within days, prompting concerns about the durability of the £1,800 device.

The company distributed the new category-forming device to publications across the US on Monday ahead of its release to the public on 26 April. But within two days testers were reporting that the all-important central flexible screen started to break under normal use.

Unlike traditional smartphones, which have screens covered in rigid protective glass, the Galaxy Fold has a new flexible plastic protective layer, which can be replaced by Samsung to repair a screen scratch without having to replace the whole display.

Some of the devices failed because journalists testing them peeled off that crucial top layer leaving sensitive components of the new multi-layer screen exposed – but other devices appear to have failed through normal use.

CNBC’s Todd Haselton, who did not peel off the crucial protective film, found half the Galaxy Fold’s screen failed.

The device used by the Verge’s Dieter Bohn failed after a lump formed between the display and the hinge behind it, which is designed to support the articulation of the two halves of the phone.

In a statement, Samsung said: “A limited number of early Galaxy Fold samples were provided to media for review. We have received a few reports regarding the main display on the samples provided. We will thoroughly inspect these units in person to determine the cause of the matter.”

Samsung said the phone was durability tested to withstand at least 200,000 unfoldings, or about 100 times a day for five years.

Other device testers have not reported the screens failing on their Galaxy Folds, but it is unclear how many of the phones have been distributed and therefore the failure rate of the devices.

The Galaxy Fold sold out of preorders in the US within days of going on sale, but will not ship or reach stores until 26 April. The phone, which will also come in a 5G variant, is planned to go on sale in the UK and other parts of Europe on 3 May, with preorders starting on 26 April.

Whether the devices, which Samsung said it expected to produce 1m, shipped to customers will suffer from the same issues as the pre-production versions handed to testers remains to be seen.

Sold as an ultra-premium device costing $1,980 in the US, £1,800 in the UK and €2,000 in Europe, the Galaxy Fold comes with various accessories in the box, including a protective aramid case and Samsung’s Galaxy Buds truly wireless earbuds. But it also comes with an insurance scheme called Samsung Care+, which covers replacement to the device for screen breakages or water damage. Unlike most other top-end smartphones, the Fold is not water-resistant.

Samsung’s last high-profile failure was the Galaxy Note 7, which suffered from battery problems in 2016, causing the phone to explode and leading to two recalls and eventual shelving.

The South Korean firm, which is currently the world’s largest smartphone manufacturer, will be anxious to avoid another extremely costly disaster.

Other firms, including China’s Huawei, are snapping at Samsung’s heels in pursuit of the new category of folding phones, with the Mate X expected to go on sale in the next 6 months.

By Samuel Gibbs

UK house prices rose at its weakest rate in six-and-a-half years in February

( via — Wed, 17th April 2019) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British house prices rose at the weakest rate in six-and-a-half years in February, dragged down by London’s biggest price slump in a decade as Brexit uncertainty sent chills through the property market.

Official data also showed Britain’s consumer price inflation unexpectedly held just below the Bank of England’s 2 percent target in March, offering relief to consumers whose spending has helped Britain’s economy through the Brexit crisis.

House prices were just 0.6 percent higher in February than a year ago, slowing sharply from a 1.7 percent annual rise in January, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

In London, house prices were down by 3.8 percent — the biggest drop since mid-2009. The malaise in the capital spread to the south-east of England, where prices fell for the first time since 2011.

Other surveys have shown Brexit to be a major drag on the property market in the capital, which is sensitive to flows of migrant workers from the European Union. A surge in prices in London in previous years has also stretched affordability.

House prices in London are now 6 percent below their mid-2017 peak, albeit a smaller contraction than an 18 percent decline during the financial crisis.

“It is possible that the avoidance of a ‘no deal’ Brexit at the end of March could provide a modest boost to the housing market through easing some of the immediate uncertainty and concerns,” said economist Howard Archer from consultancy EY ITEM Club.

“However, we suspect it is more probable that with Brexit most likely being delayed until Oct. 31, prolonged uncertainty will weigh down on the housing market and hamper activity.”


Separately, the ONS said consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 1.9 percent in March, the same rate as in February. A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a rate of 2.0 percent.

Sterling slipped against the U.S. dollar and the euro on the figures, while British government bond prices rose slightly.

Rising motor fuel prices were offset by falling food prices and computer game prices rising more slowly than they did a year ago, the ONS said.

Looking ahead, improving wage growth and poor productivity in Britain’s economy are likely to push inflation above the BoE’s 2 percent target by the end of 2019, said economist Andrew Wishart from consultancy Capital Economics.

“Nonetheless, with another Brexit crunch point looming in October and growth likely to be modest this year, we doubt the (Bank of England) will press ahead with another interest rate hike until next summer,” Wishart added.

BoE policymakers have said they want to see firm evidence of domestic inflation pressure – chiefly from rising wages – building before they vote to raise rates.

They will likely be reassured by Wednesday’s data that showed costs faced by factories for materials and energy – which eventually feed through to consumer prices – rose more slowly than expected in March.

By Andy Bruce, William Schomberg

Court ruling to review £14bn Mastercard compensation claim

( via – – Wed, 17th April 2019) London, Uk – –

A surprise court ruling has revived the possibility of a £14bn lawsuit against credit card firm Mastercard.

The Court of Appeal in London has ruled the Competition Appeal Tribunal must reconsider the class action against the firm which it threw out two years ago.

The claim alleges 46 million people paid higher prices in shops than they should have due to high card fees.

Mastercard said it continued to “disagree fundamentally with the basis of the claim”.

“This decision is not a final ruling and the proposed claim is not approved to move forward; rather, the court has simply said a rehearing on certain issues should happen,” it added.

The financial services firm said it was seeking permission to appeal against the ruling to the Supreme Court.

Class action

Former financial ombudsman Walter Merricks – who is behind the claim – is trying to bring the class action on behalf of all individuals over 16 who were resident in the UK for at least three months between 1992 and 2008 and who bought an item or service from a UK business which accepted Mastercard.

He alleges that fees which Mastercard charged businesses for accepting payments from consumers, known as interchange fees, led to UK consumers paying higher prices on purchases from businesses that accepted Mastercard.

If the £14bn was awarded and divided between the 46 million eligible people the payout would amount to £300 each.

‘Very pleased'

Mr Merricks' original claim was thrown out by the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) two years ago. But on Tuesday the Court of Appeal said the CAT had applied the wrong legal test in making its decision.

Mr Merricks' claim will now go back to the CAT, which will have to reconsider whether to allow it to proceed.

He said he was “very pleased” by the decision.

“It is nearly 12 years since Mastercard was clearly told that they had broken the law by imposing excessive card transaction charges, damaging consumers over a prolonged period.

“As a result we all had to pay higher prices in the shops than we should have done – while Mastercard have pocketed the profits.

Mr Merricks' solicitor Boris Bronfentrinker, from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, called the decision a “landmark day for all UK consumers that Mr Merricks seeks to represent”.

The proposed claim follows the European Commission's 2007 decision that Mastercard's interchange fees were in breach of competition law.

JD Sports defies high street gloom reporting 15% rise in pre -tax profit

( via– Tue, 16th April 2019) London, Uk – –

The rise in pre-tax profit and confidence in the face of Brexit uncertainty comes as many high street names are struggling.

JD Sports has defied high street gloom, reporting a 15% rise in pre-tax profit for the year.

Executive chairman Peter Cowgill said that the retailer of sports, fashion and outdoor brands had delivered a “record result” thanks to its “relentless focus” on providing a “compelling differentiated proposition to the consumer”.

Pre-tax profit was £339.9m in the year ending 2 February, compared with £294.5m the previous year.

The result comes as many high street names are struggling.

During the past week Debenhams has fallen into administration, LK Bennettannounced a third of its stores would close and Monsoon Accessorize has made preliminary moves towards a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).

Mr Cowgill said: “JD is not immune to the widely reported challenges to physical retail in the UK with lower footfall on many high streets, malls and retail parks combined with cost challenges from increasing minimum wage rates and rises in business rates.

“Therefore, it is very pleasing that the core UK and Ireland Sports Fashion fascias, the most mature part of our group, have delivered a further increase in sales and profitability.

“This helps maintain our belief that the store base at its current scale continues to provide a positive influence on our future development as it raises brand awareness, provides consumers with an opportunity to physically see and try the product, and enables us to provide multiple delivery points.”

JD Sports said it had increased its store count by 39 across Europe and a further 34 stores had opened in the Asia Pacific region. In the previous year 56 stores were opened in Europe and nine in Asia/Pacific.

Its acquisition of Finish Line in the US had also “significantly” extended its global reach and was “delivering encouraging early results”, Mr Cowgill said.

He also said the group was confident about the future, despite Brexit uncertainty.

“While we recognise that there is uncertainty surrounding the nature and timing of the UK's exit from the European Union, we are cognisant of the potential consequences of a disorderly exit on supply chains, tariffs, exchange rates and consumer demand,” he said.

“Notwithstanding this uncertainty, the board remains confident in the international potential of the JD proposition.”

By Sharon Marris, business reporter

Amazon inundated with ‘fake’ five-star reviews, Which? finds

( via – – Tue, 16th April 2019) London, Uk – –

Unverified reviews may be being used to artificially boost products, says consumer group

Amazon’s customer review system is being undermined by a flood of “fake” five-star reviews for products from unfamiliar brands, a new investigation claims.

The consumer group Which? analysed the listings of hundreds of popular tech products in 14 online categories including headphones, dashcams, fitness trackers and smartwatches, checking for telltale signs of suspicious reviews.

Its researchers found that top-rated items were dominated by brands with names such as Itshiny, Vogek and Aitalk, which in many cases had thousands of unverified reviews – meaning there was no evidence that the reviewer had even bought or used the item.

Many items also boasted a high number of five-star ratings posted in a short space of time – another indicator suggesting inauthentic reviews.

With headphones, all the products on the first page of results sorted by average customer review were from little-known brands and 87% of more than 12,000 reviews for these products were by unverified purchasers.

Seventy-one per cent of the headphones had perfect five-star ratings, while some included reviews for unrelated products such as soap dispensers. One set of headphones made by the brand Celebrat had 439 reviews. All were five-star, all unverified, and all arrived on the same day.

Which? found similar results when searching for smartwatches, with unverified reviews making up 99% of reviews for the top four products.

“Our research suggests that Amazon is losing the battle against fake reviews, with shoppers bombarded by comments aimed at artificially boosting products from unknown brands,” said Natalie Hitchins, the head of home products at Which?.

“Amazon must do more to purge its websites of unreliable and fake reviews if it is to maintain the trust of its millions of customers. To avoid being misled and possibly buying a dud product, customers should always take reviews with a pinch of salt and look to independent and trustworthy sources when researching a purchase.”

Neither Which? nor the Guardian were able to contact any of the brands cited in the report, or to identify the source of the suspicious reviews.

Amazon said in a statement: “[We] invest significant resources to protect the integrity of reviews in our store because we know customers value the insights and experiences shared by fellow shoppers. We have clear participation guidelines for both reviewers and selling partners and we suspend, ban and take legal action on those who violate our policies.”

A Guardian analysis also recently found that some items on Amazon are bundled together when they share a title, even if they are a different translation of a book or a remake of a film, making it difficult for readers to know which version they are buying.

By Rebecca Smithers

German prosecutors press charges against former Volkswagen CEO Winterkorn in connection with diesel emissions scandal

( via — Mon, 15th April 2019) London, UK —

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Prosecutors in the German city of Braunschweig said on Monday they were pressing criminal charges against former Volkswagen Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn in connection with the carmaker’s manipulation of diesel emissions testing.

Four other executives are being charged, the prosecutors office said in a statement, without giving their names.

VW was caught using illegal engine control software to cheat U.S. pollution tests in 2015, triggering a global backlash against diesel that and has so far cost it 29 billion euros (£25 billion).

Prosecutors said Winterkorn was accused of a particularly serious case of fraud, breach of trust and breaching competition laws because he had not acted – despite having a special responsibility to do so as the company’s CEO – after it became clear on May 25, 2014, that diesel engines had been manipulated.

He neglected to inform authorities in Europe and the United States as well as customers of the illegal software and he also did not prevent the continued installation of such software, the prosecutors said.

They added that this had resulted in Volkswagen being slapped with much higher fines in Germany and the United States than would have been the case had he acted.

VW said it would not comment because the company was not a party to the proceedings.

About a year ago, the United States filed criminal charges against Winterkorn, accusing him of conspiring to cover up the German automaker’s diesel emissions cheating.

Winterkorn remains in Germany, which does not typically extradite its citizens for prosecution in U.S. courts.

In a related case, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sued Winterkorn last month, saying U.S. investors were informed too late about the German automaker’s diesel emissions scandal, alleging a “massive fraud”.

The Braunschweig prosecutors said people accused of particularly serious fraud could face up to ten years in prison in Germany.

They said investigations into another 36 suspects in the diesel emissions scandal were ongoing and it was unclear when they would be wrapped up.

Reporting by Ludwig Burger; Additional reporting by Tassilo Hummel in Berlin

TSB become the first UK bank that pledges to refund fraud victims

( via – – Mon, 15th April 2019) London, Uk – –

TSB has become the first UK bank to pledge to refund customers who fall victim to any type of fraud.

The “fraud refund guarantee” will cover cases where customers are tricked into authorising payments to fraudsters, as well as unauthorised transactions.

The move comes as the bank tries to rebuild its image after an IT meltdown last April left 1.9 million customers unable to access their own money.

Banks have been under pressure to help tackle the rise in sophisticated fraud.

Richard Meddings, acting chief executive of TSB, told Radio 5 live's Wake Up To Money that the move was “about giving peace of mind to our customers and doing the right thing”.

He said: “It's a major societal blight. Innocent customers are being tricked.”

He added that the bank was investing in education for customers and staff about fraud, but also had a message for crooks: “If you come for one of my customers, we will hunt you down.”

Currently, victims who are tricked into transferring money directly from their account to a fraudster are less likely to be reimbursed, because they approved the payments.

Some £354m was lost last year through this type of scam, known as a “push” or “authorised” payment fraud, according to banking trade body UK Finance.

Financial firms returned just £83m of this to customers.

Examples of authorised payment fraud include fraudsters posing as builders, solicitors, or other contractors who have carried out work for the victim. They submit a fake invoice containing the fraudster's bank details and it is often not easy to spot that they are not the legitimate payee.

“The vast majority of fraud claims across UK banking are from innocent victims of fraud who have been targeted by criminals and organised gangs.

“However, all too often these customers must fight to be refunded and are not treated as victims of crime,” said TSB executive chairman Richard Meddings.

‘Step change'

TSB said its guarantee – which applies to losses from 14 April – marked a “step change” in the industry, where currently customers were only refunded for fraud losses in limited circumstances.

Under the guarantee, customers will need to contact the bank to report fraud and it will still investigate the fraud claim, including what happened and how, so it can inform customers and ensure they are protected from future fraud.

The bank, which has 5.2 million customers, warned it would not reimburse customers who tried to abuse the guarantee by committing fraud on their own account or by repeatedly ignoring safety advice.

Last month, banks and building societies agreed to do more to protect customers, introducing a new voluntary code which comes into effect on 28 May.

But consumer watchdog Which? said banks needed to do more.

“Other High Street banks are leaving their customers unprotected. All banks must now follow TSB's lead and ensure that their own customers are not left paying for the cost of this crime,” said Jenny Ross, Which? money editor.