Black Friday early data indicates, tipped to hit record sales

( via – – Fri, 26th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Sales have made a strong start to Black Friday, early data indicates, with analysts suggesting the event could see record levels of business.

Barclaycard said that as of 13:00 GMT, there were 23.3% more transactions compared with the same time in 2020.

Analysts PwC predict £8.7bn will be spent – up from £7.8bn in 2019 and about twice as much as last year's event which took place during lockdown.

This is despite warnings to expect less generous discounts and some shortages.

Black Friday, which began in the US, sees retailers slash prices to entice shoppers ahead of the Christmas period.

It is officially on Friday 26 November but retailers' campaigns span the whole month and started earlier than ever this year, with some in October.

Barclaycard, which processes £1 in every £3 spent on credit and debit cards in the UK, also said transactions had increased by 4.2% than in 2019.

Rob Cameron, chief executive of Barclaycard Payments, said Black Friday was off to a “strong start” despite country's economic challenges.

“Retailers will also be pleased to see their sales volumes have recovered to pre-pandemic levels, and have surpassed those seen in 2019. So far the data looks extremely promising and we should be set for one of the most successful Black Friday shopping sprees on record.”

Metapack, a firm that connects major retailers with parcel delivery services, said data indicated that the biggest shipping days would take place on Monday and Tuesday, the same as last year.

PwC predicts about 60% of adults in the UK will make purchases, spending an average of £280 each.

But people are not only venturing out for shopping trips. On Friday, protestors gathered at Amazon buildings in the UK, US and Europe, with unions, equality and environmental groups saying Black Friday “epitomises an obsession with over-consumption”.

Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion has targeted Amazon depots in the UK, blocking entrances and access roads.

Linda Ellett, head of consumer markets at analysts KPMG, said deals were likely to be worse this year as retailers struggled with global supply issues linked to the pandemic, and shortages of HGV drivers and warehouse staff.

Analysis: By Emma Simpson

Black Friday is the first big test for supply chains in the all important “golden quarter” for retailers.

Shoppers have been buying early, worried they won't get the presents they want if they leave it until the last minute this year.

Black Friday started as a one-day event but is now almost a month long blizzard of promotions.

But expect fewer deals overall this time around amid all the problems over stock availability and labour shortages. Many retailers can ill afford to slash prices when their costs are soaring.

Retailers also want to smooth out demand to try to reduce the pressure on distribution centres where goods are picked, packed and despatched over the big Black Friday weekend.

A lot of businesses have been removing next day delivery options to help them cope.

Some businesses, especially smaller independents, will shun this event altogether.

It may have a lost a bit of its lustre, but Black Friday is still a massive shopping event. And it will probably be the most well organised retailers with scale and the biggest clout over suppliers who will cope the best.

There are concerns some retailers will not be able to meet demand on the day, leading to long waits for orders to be processed and delivered.

But analysts say most brands have spent months preparing for the sale and will have enough stock – although shoppers will not always get their first choice of product.

John Lewis told the BBC: “We've worked closely with our suppliers and we are confident we've got an extensive range of deals across a wide range of categories that represent great value for our customers.”

AO World, which has hired 500 extra drivers ahead of the day, said: “Like all electrical retailers, we are currently unable to get all the stock we need in categories like gaming to meet customer demand largely because of global microchip shortages.

“We are working closely with our partners so that our customers continue to get the exceptional service and range they rely on.”

Metapack thinks most retailers will avoid a “perfect storm” but a few could be unlucky.

“We've already seen retailers reach out and suggest customers buy early for Christmas which should ease the pressure,” said senior vice president Tom Forbes.

Some big brands such as M&S and Next have shunned Black Friday this year, with M&S again saying its focus was on “offering great value throughout the whole season”.

Many independent shops have also opted-out as they cannot afford to offer deep discounts in the vital Christmas shopping period.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, urged shoppers to support smaller local businesses who are “pinning their hopes to a bumper festive season” after last year's restrictions.

He said: “Rather than reaching for the same old brands – where deals might not be all they seem in any case – shop bespoke, receive one-to-one personal service and give some new restaurants, cafes and pubs a try.”

Shoppers have also been warned to check whether offers are all they seem.

An investigation by consumer rights group Which? found that 92% of Black Friday deals in 2020 were the same price or cheaper in the six months before the event.

‘I'm not playing that game'

The Potions Cauldron gift shop in York is one of the independent retailers not taking part in Black Friday.

Manager Phil Pinder thinks it's an American invention driven by retailers like Amazon who want to “squeeze everyone else out”.

“I read a story saying that some of the electrical retailers are going to run out of stock by Christmas from doing Black Friday deals.

“I'm not playing that game… it seems illogical.”

The shop, which sells magical themed drinks, sweets and gifts, has been doing well this year but it is struggling with product shortages due to supply chain issues.

Phil says it is missing about £50,000 of stock it hoped to sell before Christmas which is “a real headache”.

His message to shoppers this festive season is buy early: “If you want to get a specific present, go out and get it now. There are probably not going to be many of those last minute sales this Christmas because I don't think the retailers will have the stock.”

By Daniel Thomas and Michael Race

Stock markets across the world fall sharply after discovery of new Covid variant

( via – – Fri, 26th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Stock markets across the world have fallen sharply after the discovery of a new Covid variant raised fears over the economic recovery.

US stock markets opened lower after big falls in Europe, with London's FTSE 100 share index down nearly 3% and similar moves seen in Germany and France.

Shares in airlines and travel firms were among the hardest hit.

The UK and other nations have introduced a ban on flights from six southern African countries.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid said scientists were “deeply concerned” about the new Covid strain and its potential to evade immunity.

The UK has temporarily banned flights from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Eswatini starting from midday on Friday until 04:00 on Sunday.

All six counties are being added to the UK's travel red list. It means that any British or Irish resident arriving from the countries after 04:00 on Sunday will have to quarantine in a hotel, with those returning before that being asked to isolate at home.

The FTSE 100 index is trading sharply lower, with British Airways-owner IAG leading the fallers as its share price tumbled by 14%. Rolls-Royce, which makes engines for planes. also saw its shares drop, down more than 10%.

EasyJet was one of the biggest fallers on the FTSE 250 index, with its shares down 10%, as was Whizz Air. Travel firms such as cruise operator Carnival and Tui also recorded sharp declines.

“Fear has gripped the financial markets with the travel industry flying into another violent storm,” said Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“With Europe still battling with the surge of a fourth wave of the virus, there are now fears that the highly mutated Covid strain discovered in states in Southern Africa will prompt fresh shutdowns around the world in an attempt to stop its spread, leading to another drag on recovery.”

In the US, the Dow Jones Industrial Average opened down 2.2% while the technology-heavy Nasdaq dropped by 2.5%. The S&P 500 index was 1.5% lower.

Despite the fall in the FTSE 100 on Friday, the index is still trading nearly 12% higher than it was a year ago.

A number of other countries – such as Germany, Italy and Israel – have banned flights from the six southern African nations.

Both Germany and France's leading stock market indexes fell by more than 3% on Friday.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen tweeted that other EU nations should also “activate the emergency brake” to stop travel from these countries.

Overnight stock markets in Japan, Hong Kong and Australia also fell as did indexes in India and South Korea.

Oil prices also declined on fears the new Covid strain could lead to restrictions and dampen demand. Brent crude extended earlier declines to fall by 5.86% to $77.43 a barrel by early afternoon.

“The drop in the oil price is the market's way of saying it is worried about a reduction in economic activity,” said Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

In London, shares in oil giant BP dropped by 6.2%% while rival Shell also saw its share price fall by more than 4.6%.

But Mr Mould added: “The flipside of falling commodity prices is that a weaker oil price should provide some relief in terms of inflationary pressures.

“That may cause central banks to be more cautious towards raising rates in the near-term, however it does depend on whether the new Covid strain causes significant disruption or can be contained as best as possible in a rapid manner.”

Mr Javid said more needed to be learned about the new Covid variant. Only 59 confirmed cases have been identified in South Africa, Hong Kong and Botswana so far.

However, he said the variant had a significant number of mutations, “perhaps double the number of mutations that we have seen in the Delta variant”.

He said that adding the six countries to the red list was about “being cautious and taking action and trying to protect, as best we can, our borders”.

BA said: “We'll be contacting affected customers with information about their flight.”

It added it was advising passengers to monitor the latest travel advice with the UK government and on the BA website.

Virgin Atlantic said its flights from Johannesburg to London Heathrow would be cancelled between midday on Friday to early on Sunday morning.

“We're currently reviewing our schedule of South Africa operations for the coming week,” it added.

The carrier said any customers booked to travel to or from South Africa with Virgin Atlantic should check on the company's website. If they have booked through third parties or agents, they should get in touch with them.

Grayscale Says Metaverse Is a Trillion Dollar Market Opportunity

( via — Thur, 25th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

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

Revenue from virtual gaming worlds could grow to $400 billion in 2025.

The metaverse may represent an over $1 trillion annual revenue market opportunity, crypto investment giant Grayscale said in a report, without specifying the timeline.

  • The report, which was published on Thursday, is dubbed “The Metaverse, Web 3.0 Virtual Cloud Economies.” The report looks into the opportunity that will arise from the intersection of trends in gaming and lifestyle with blockchain’s potential to provide infrastructure for digital worlds.
  • Projects like Decentraland allow people to interact, govern and earn tokens, and get real world benefits for their time spent online, Grayscale said. People are spending more and more time online, and they concurrently spend money to build social status within digital realms, the company added.
  • Revenue from virtual gaming worlds could grow to $400 billion in 2025, from $180 billion in 2020, Grayscale said. The overwhelming majority of that $400 billion will be in-game spending, compared to spending on premium games, the company noted.
  • In Q3, total fundraising for crypto was $8.2 billion, $1.8 billion of which went to Web 3 and non-fungible tokens (NFTs), Grayscale said. Fundraising for gaming applications overshadowed all other verticals of NFTs in the third quarter, hitting around $1 billion.
  • “Compared to the $10 billion that companies like Facebook plan to invest, and the amounts that could follow from other companies and venture capitalists, the Metaverse is in its early innings,” Grayscale said.
  • The report was authored by Grayscale’s Head of Research David Grider and Research Analyst Matt Maximo. They defined the metaverse as “interconnected, experiential, 3D virtual worlds where people located anywhere can socialize in real-time to form a persistent, user-owned, internet economy spanning the digital and physical worlds.”

By Eliza Gkritsi

Commodities trader Vitol to buy Britain’s Vivo Energy in a $2.3 bln deal

( via — Thur, 25th Nov 2021) London, UK —

Commodities trader Vitol will buy Britain's Vivo Energy (VVO.L) in a deal valued at roughly $2.3 billion, the companies said on Thursday, as the Dutch firm looks to take full control of the distributor of Shell- and Engen-branded fuels in Africa.

Shares in Vivo, which has a network of about 2,330 service stations across Africa, jumped as much as 21% to 134.8 pence, just below the total offer that equates to about 139 pence.

Vivo shareholders will receive $1.79 in cash for each share they hold, and six cents as an interim plus special dividend.

Netherlands-based Vitol, which is the top Vivo investor with a 36.1% stake, will also buy out Helios, the second biggest shareholder.

Vivo was founded after Shell (RDSa.L) divested some of its downstream business in 2011. Vitol, Helios and Shell operated Vivo as a joint venture before the two top shareholders bought out Shell for $250 million in 2016.

The board of Vivo plan to unanimously recommend the deal to shareholders, the companies said.

Vitol had engaged with Helios on many occasions in recent years to buy Helios' 27.1% stake. The two agreed on the purchase price of $1.79 per Vivo share, which represents a premium of about 25% to the stock's Wednesday close.

“Since we founded Vivo with Helios and Shell, we have believed in the business' potential and we are excited to have it within the Vitol family, as a pillar of our strategy in Africa,” Vitol Head of Origination Chris Bake said.

Founded in Rotterdam in 1966, Vitol has about 6,600 retail sites on four continents, its website showed.

Vitol's offer on Thursday follows a lower proposal in February, which was rejected by the company's board.

Vivo's long-standing Chief Executive Christian Chammas earlier this month said he would retire in 2022. The company has performed well amid the pandemic, with shares having risen more than 50% so far this year.

Reporting by Yadarisa Shabong and Pushkala Aripaka

HMRC to relocate to Newcastle office part of north-east regeneration scheme

(( via – – Thur, 25th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Exclusive: Deal is part of north-east regeneration scheme developed by property tycoons David and Simon Reuben

HM Revenue and Customs has struck a deal to relocate tax officials into a new office complex in Newcastle owned by major Conservative party donors through an offshore company based in a tax haven, the Guardian can reveal.

The department’s planned new home in the north-east of England is part of a regeneration scheme developed by a British Virgin Islands (BVI) entity controlled by the billionaire property tycoons David and Simon Reuben.

The deal will see officials at the government department responsible for preventing tax avoidance working from a site owned by a subsidiary of a company based in a secretive offshore tax jurisdiction.

The Reuben brothers, their family members and businesses have donated a combined £1.9m to the Tories. Earlier this week, the brothers are reported to have shared a table with Boris Johnson at an exclusive Tory party fundraising dinner.

On Tuesday, officials including the Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay announced HMRC had agreed the 25-year lease with one of the Reuben brothers’ companies.

The brothers are the second richest family in the UK, according to the Sunday Times’s rich list. David Reuben’s son, Jamie, is a close ally of the prime minister and has served as a Tory party treasurer. He has donated more than £750,000 to the party since Johnson entered Downing Street.

The Reuben family has built a significant presence in Newcastle in recent years and is part of the controversial Saudi Arabia-led consortium that acquired Newcastle United football club in October.

Company filings show the family has frequently used BVI companies to hold its UK business interests, which include a luxury London property portfolio and a string of racecourses.

A spokesperson for HMRC said the office complex in Newcastle is owned and will be developed by a UK company, Reuben Brothers (Newcastle) Limited. However, Companies House filings show the company’s sole shareholder when it was incorporated earlier this year was Taras Properties Limited in the BVI.

Taras Properties first acquired the site in 2013 and transferred ownership of the land to the UK company in June this year for £10m, according to Land Registry records. The BVI company owns multiple large plots of land in central Newcastle in the area surrounding HMRC’s planned offices.

A spokesperson for the Reuben brothers confirmed the UK company is held by Taras Properties, but insisted the subsidiary “operates and pays taxes as a UK company”.

HMRC’s spokesperson insisted the Reuben brothers’ company would be subject to normal UK tax regulation. “The lease payments and any gains on the sale are subject to UK tax,” they said. “HMRC is satisfied the deal represents the best value for money for the taxpayer.”

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the Reuben brothers and owning UK property through offshore companies is perfectly legal.

But the government’s decision to move 9,000 HMRC staff to the site comes as it faces calls to honour a commitment to introduce a register of overseas companies owning UK properties. The draft bill, first published in 2018, is designed to crack down on the use of offshore companies to obscure owners’ identities and their source of funds.

Combatting offshore tax evasion and avoidance is described as one of HMRC’s priorities and earlier this year the department unveiled plans to crack down on offshore tax avoidance by targeting UK-based entities facilitating the sale of avoidance schemes using tax havens.

Responding to the move, Dame Margaret Hodge, a Labour MP and chair of the cross-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax, said: “It’s outrageous that HMRC should be using taxpayers’ money to benefit somebody that relies on offshore structures based in tax havens.”

Ryanair boss warns of passengers delaying bookings over growing pandemic worries

( via– Wed, 24th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Michael O'Leary spoke of his fears that passengers would delay bookings because of worries about growing pandemic restrictions in many countries across Europe.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O'Leary has warned of a “fraught period” ahead for airline bookings in Europe as a resurgence in coronavirus cases in many countries threatens consumer confidence.

Michael O'Leary told an online event he feared would-be travellers delaying bookings for breaks next summer too given the growth in COVID-19 restrictions over the past week on the continent.

He made his remarks just three weeks after reporting a strong recovery in bookings for Ryanair – Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers.

The no-frills carrier reported its first quarterly profit since the final three months of 2019 over the three months to September as a relaxation of travel curbs prompted sun-seekers and families to chance their arms.

Mr O'Leary said then that he expected a “tough” winter ahead despite low pricing due to the fact there was little visibility on demand and costs were rising as fuel bills shot up.

On Tuesday, he rued the return of pandemic-related complications that have seen a return to restrictions in various countries and even lockdown conditions in Austria.

“Up until last weekend, things were going great”, he told the contributors. “Volumes were back running at about 100% of our pre-COVID price volumes.

By James Sillars

Lidl to increase their number of UK stores to 1,100 by 2025

( via – – Wed, 24th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

German discounter Lidl has announced plans to increase the number of its UK stores to 1,100 by 2025, up from 880 now.

The move will create 4,000 new jobs, the supermarket chain said.

Its latest UK accounts published on Wednesday morning showed revenues climbed 12% to £7.7bn in the 12 months to the end of February.

That helped it post a pre-tax profit of £9.8m, compared with a £25m pre-tax loss in the previous year.

It said that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, it opened 55 new UK stores in the year which left it on track to reach its previously stated aim of having 1,000 stores by the end of 2023.

It said the improved results “can be attributed to the business' ambitious expansion plans and prudent investments in Great Britain”.

“We delivered an impressive trading performance in the period which was supported by our continued investment in new and existing stores, product innovation and our people,” said boss Christian Härtnagel.

He said the company remained confident in its strategy and its stores-first approach.

Lidl has a 6.2% share of the UK grocery market, and currently has more than 880 stores, more than 26,000 employees, and 13 distribution centres in England, Scotland and Wales.

It still lags behind bigger rivals. Market leader Tesco has a 27.6% share with some 3,400 branches, although the majority are convenience stores.

Sainsbury's is second-largest with market share of 15.2%, according to the latest figures from analysts Kantar which were published at the end of October. It has about 1,400 stores.

Asda has about 600 stores but a 14.3% market share while Morrisons has a 10% market with about 500 branches.

Aldi is currently the fifth-largest supermarket in terms of market share with 7.9% and 930 stores. Earlier in November, it announced plans to open 100 new stores over the next two years.

It's followed by the Co-op which is sixth-biggest with 6.3% market share and has about 2,600 stores.

Brexit impact

In its results, Lidl UK warned that changes it had been forced to make because of Brexit could “put pressure on the company's resources and capacity, leading to severe disruption to the supply chain”.

It listed the key impacts which included the increased administration involved in importing and exporting into and out of the UK.

It also mentioned additional certification and licensing as well as additional border checks by health authorities.

It said customs agents' capability and capacity have been “stretched to a maximum” which had “limited their ability to process goods more efficiently”.

It also revealed that government deadlines for some shipping lines had been missed, leading to delays at the UK border because of “mistakes being made during manifestation of incoming goods”.

There have also been additional costs due to customs duties and import costs, it said.

Shell launches talks with investors to win backing for HQ move, sources say

( via — Tue, 23rd Nov 2021) London, UK —

Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) has launched talks with investors to secure support for its plan to relocate its headquarters from the Netherlands to Britain, sources said, as a leading advisory recommended backing the move at a December vote.

Shell said this month it would scrap its dual Anglo-Dutch share structure and move its head office to London from The Hague due to the Dutch tax system and after a court ruling over its strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The company also plans to move its tax residence to Britain and drop “Royal Dutch” from its name – part of its identity since 1907 – to become Shell Plc.

Shareholders will vote on the changes at a special general meeting on Dec. 10 where the resolution needs to secure more than 75% of votes cast.

To secure the high threshold, Shell's management has in recent days set up more than 100 meetings with leading investors, two sources close to the process said.

“We believe this is a very shareholder-friendly proposition and we're working hard and engaging with many of our shareholders to explain all of the benefits of this move and encourage them to vote,” a Shell spokesperson said.

Proxy advisory Glass Lewis, which advises major funds, recommended shareholders vote in favour, in a note seen by Reuters.

The simplified structure would allow “an acceleration in distributions by way of share buybacks, as there will be a larger single pool of ordinary shares that can be bought back,” Glass Lewis said.

It would also strengthen Shell's ability to manage its energy transition, it added.

By Ron Bousso

Bulb Energy placed into untested bailout process that will rely on public money

(( via – – Tue, 23rd Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Regulator puts company into special administration to rescue 1.7 million household customers

Bulb Energy has gone bust and will be placed into an untested bailout process that will rely on public money to manage the fallout of the UK’s biggest energy supplier collapse yet.

The company will be handed to a “special administrator” that will have access to government funds to keep it running to supply gas and electricity to its 1.7 million household customers.

The cost to taxpayers is expected to soar through the winter, and could also be shared by households in the form of higher home energy bills in the future if the government cannot recover the costs from a new company through a rescue deal.

Bulb is by far the largest energy supplier to go bust after a string of more than 20 company collapses since September. The total cost of the energy market crunch could run to around £2bn this winter, according to Investec analyst Martin Young. But the final tally remains unknown as “Bulb’s failure takes us into uncharted waters”, he said.

Bulb told its staff that it had made the “difficult decision” to support a special administration. It added that there would be “no interruption of service or supply” and urged customers not to worry “as your energy supply is secure and all credit balances are protected”.

The company’s collapse has been long expected by industry rivals after it struggled to find new investment, or a willing buyer, before the UK’s looming winter energy crisis.

“It has been like watching a zombie movie – you know they’re walking dead but you couldn’t be sure when they’d stop moving,” one senior industry source said. “They’ve long been dicing with death but the recent events in the energy market have been a catalyst for what would have happened anyway.”

Bulb blamed the surge in energy market prices ignited by the global gas crisis for scuppering its plans to raise funds to fuel its ongoing growth, which included new businesses in France, Spain and Texas.

“When we started exploring fundraising options, we were delighted to receive lots of interest from investors to fund our business plans and future growth,” the company said in a blogpost on Monday. “However, the rising energy crisis in the UK and around the world has concerned investors who can’t go ahead while wholesale prices are so high.”

The company also took aim at the UK’s rising energy price cap, which was designed to set a fair energy price for about 15m homes using standard energy tariffs but has not kept pace with the rocketing increases in the wholesale energy markets.

The record increase in energy bills has caused 21 suppliers to collapse since the start of September, leaving the regulator, Ofgem, to find new suppliers to take on more than 2 million customers. The collapse of Bulb brings the number of households affected by a failed energy supplier to more than 3.7m.

The size of Bulb’s customer base means Ofgem is unable to find a supplier that would be willing or able to take on all of Bulb’s customers via its usual safety net process. Instead, the regulator will need to use untested legislation, in place since 2011, to put the company into special administration while a complex plan for its future is mapped out.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “Bulb is around three times larger than the largest company that has become insolvent in recent weeks. That’s why we’re taking the special administration regime approach.

“We will seek to appoint the administrators who will effectively run it and provide energy through that system, but at this stage it’s too early to say what the future of that provider is going forward.”

Ofgem plans to apply to court to appoint the administrator once it has had approval from the business secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng.

“Customers will see no disruption to their supply and their account and tariff will continue as normal,” the regulator said. “Bulb staff will still be available to answer calls and queries.”

The process is similar to other bailout schemes used to keep critical infrastructure companies, including British Steel and railways, running with the help of government funds.

Ofgem is expected to work alongside the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and the Treasury to keep the company running through the winter and until a fate for its customers is decided.

Some energy industry sources believe the company may be left in “special administration limbo” for up to a year, at a significant cost to the government, because it would be easier to find new private-sector investment or a willing buyer when energy prices have started to return to normal.

Gillian Cooper, the head of energy policy at Citizens Advice, said Bulb customers would be protected by the special administration process and “shouldn’t see much change to their service for now”.

She added: “But when the country’s seventh largest supplier fails, serious questions must be asked about the state of the market and how it’s regulated. It’s clear reforms are needed to prevent consumers and taxpayers from paying the price for supplier failures in future.”

The regulator has conceded in recent weeks that “robust action” was required to overhaul the energy market due to the ongoing supply market crisis.

An Ofgem spokesperson said: “Customers of Bulb do not need to worry – Bulb will continue to operate as normal.”

By Jillian Ambrose Energy correspondent

Holidaymakers urged to use £132m worth of unspent vouchers

( via – – Mon, 22nd Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Holidaymakers are being urged to use £132m worth of unspent vouchers issued during the pandemic before they lose financial protection.

The credit notes were offered by travel firms as alternatives to cash refunds when holidays had to be cancelled.

The vouchers, backed by the Atol insurance scheme, can be used towards new holidays or exchanged for cash.

But the regulator said the refund protection against firms going bust will end on 30 September 2022.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) also said travel firms would not longer be able to issue the Atol-protected cover after 20 December. The refund credit notes (RCNs) were issued from March last year, the month of the first UK coronavirus lockdown.

Michael Budge, head of Atol, which is run by the CAA, said: “With over £130m of Atol refund credit notes yet to be redeemed, and international travel opening up again, we want to remind consumers to redeem any unused credits to make sure they do not lose out.”

He said RCNs were a fantastic tool to reassure consumers and support the industry.

Many travel firms faced ruin if they were forced to hand back huge refunds in cash after large swathes of the industry closed down. But travellers were outraged at being offered credit notes instead of cash refunds, fearing that if firms went bust they would lose money.

In July 2020, the CAA decided to cover credit notes under the Atol scheme, and £131.7m of them remain unspent.

“The decision to end the scheme reflects the changing of international travel restrictions with significantly increased demand from consumers over recent months due to the opening up of more destinations.” Mr Budge said.

Under the Atol scheme, if a firm goes out of business holiday costs will be refunded. If it happens when travellers are abroad they will be able to finish their holidays and fly home.

All tour operators selling package holidays by air must hold an Atol licence.

How China Turned the Desert into Green Forests

Source: Innovative Techs

China is rebuilding the Great Wall of China. However, now they build not with stones, mortar, sand and rubble, designed to stop the enemy hordes. Nowadays they build with trees. Just like the wall erected many years ago, the world's largest man-made forest should stop the enemy that China has been fighting for many years and which is no less dangerous than the problem of overpopulation. This enemy is the desert that occupies most of eastern China and continues to grow non-stop.

Why Not Tried This Edible Boozy 23-karat Gold Chocolate Bar!

Source: BI

The SW Steakhouse in Las Vegas serves an edible gold brick. In true Vegas fashion, the chocolate bar is served in a custom-made box and served with golden ice cream. The bar is filled with dark chocolate ganache, Louis XIII cognac caramel, praline crunch, and finished with edible 23-karat gold.

Ryanair confirmed plans to abandon its London listing in post-Brexit snub to UK financial centre

( via– Fri, 19th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Europe's largest airline by passenger numbers says a fall in trading volumes of its stock mean its London-traded shares are no longer worth the complexity that Brexit added.

Ryanair has confirmed plans to abandon its London listing, in a move that will be seen as a post-Brexit snub to the UK's financial centre.

The no-frills carrier had said at the start of the month that it was considering the idea due to a fall in trading volumes of its shares on the London Stock Exchange (LSE) this year.

It gave notice on Friday that it intended the delisting to take place after trading closed on 17 December.

The airline said it would be listed solely on the Euronext Dublin exchange from that point.

Shares there fell back at the market open in the wake of the news.Advertisement

Ryanair's move comes after its UK shareholders' voting rights were restricted in the wake of the country's departure from the EU and coincides with other companies making moves to simplify their share structures and cut costs.

Mining giant BHP said in August that it would abandon its dual-listed structure and make Sydney its main listing.

However, London was handed a boost earlier this week when Shell said it was to make London its sole base and scrap its Dutch listing.

Ryanair said on Friday: “As indicated at our interim results, and following subsequent shareholder engagement, Ryanair has decided to request the cancellation of London listing as the volume of trading of the shares on the London Stock Exchange does not justify the costs related to such listing and admission to trading, and so as to consolidate trading liquidity to one regulated market for the benefit of all shareholders.”

Back in September the airline started the process of selling off around one million shares bought by non-EU nationals since January 1 – mainly British investors – due to company rules and Brexit.

At its results in early November, the firm had said: “The migration away from the LSE is consistent with a general trend for trading in shares of EU corporates post Brexit and is, potentially, more acute for Ryanair as a result of the long-standing prohibition on non-EU citizens purchasing Ryanair's ordinary shares being extended to UK nationals following Brexit.”

AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould said of the company's decision: “If Shell's decision to pivot to London was chalked up as a Brexit win, this is likely to be characterised as a Brexit loss in some quarters, coming after restrictions were introduced on UK investors buying its shares at the start of the year.

“Ryanair is desperate to be majority EU-owned in order to retain full licensing and flight rights in the bloc following the UK's exit from the EU.”

By James Sillars

Alibaba shares slumped by more than 10% after China spending slowdown warning

( via – – Fri, 19th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Alibaba shares have slumped by more than 10% in Hong Kong trade after the Chinese online retail giant warned of a slowdown in consumer spending.

The company forecast that its annual revenue would grow at the slowest pace since its stock market debut in 2014.

The weak figures underscore the firm's struggles with increasing competition and Beijing's regulatory crackdown.

On Thursday, Alibaba's US-listed shares ended the New York trading session more than 11% lower.

In the three months to the end of September, Alibaba's revenue rose by 29% to 200.7bn yuan ($31.4bn, £23.3bn), its slowest rate of growth for a year and a half.

The company also said it expects its annual revenue to grow by between 20% to 23%, lower than analysts' forecasts.

Chinese consumption slows

Alibaba chief executive Daniel Zhang told investors that increasing competition and slowing consumption in China were the main causes for the weaker growth.

Chinese shoppers have become more cautious about spending, with new coronavirus outbreaks, power shortages and concerns about the property market weighing on sentiment.

The latest figures do not include sales from this month's Singles Day, or “11.11 Global Shopping Festival”, annual shopping festival.

This year's Alibaba's usually glitzy event was a more toned down affair than previously, after Beijing cracked down on businesses and China's economic growth slows.

Sales for the 11-day event rose at their slowest rate since it was launched in 2009, up 8.5% on last year.

However, customer spending still hit a fresh record high of 540.3bn yuan.

Alibaba has come under intense scrutiny from Beijing as tough new rules have been imposed on the country's big technology companies.

Earlier this year, it paid a record $2.8bn fine after a probe found that it had abused its market position for years. Alibaba also said it would change the way it conducted its business.

The company's shares have lost more than a third of their value so far this year.

Royal Mail shareholders get a boost as parcel delivery benefit from £311m profit

(( via – – Thur, 18th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Company unveils £400m payout saying pandemic has created permanent rise in parcel volumes

Royal Mail is handing £400m to shareholders after its parcel delivery business benefited from the greater shift to online spending during the pandemic.

The accelerated trend to more parcels, which Royal Mail said was a permanent shift, helped it to a £311m pre-tax profit in the six months to 26 September, after barely scraping a profit last year. Its revenues rose by 7% year-on-year to £6.1bn.

The news sent shares up 5% on Thursday morning, making Royal Mail the top riser on the FTSE 100.

It marks a turnaround in fortunes for the company, after the early pandemic lockdowns depressed Royal Mail’s profits as it added new costs and hit the volumes of letters sent. However, the delivery company said it has seen a “structural shift” in parcels, with volumes up by a third during the financial half year compared with before the pandemic – although they were down by 4% compared with 2020, when customers were locked down at home and non-essential shops were closed.

The company, which was privatised controversially in 2013, has struggled with what it described as the “structural decline” of letters as more people use email for official purposes, with revenues from parcels only overtaking letters for the first time a year ago. It delivered more letters between April and September than the equivalent last year, but still a fifth less than in 2019.

At the same time Royal Mail has been restructuring. A new management team has brought in an agreement with the Communication Workers Union after a breakdown in the relationship under former chief executive Rico Back and cuts to 2,000 management jobs in June 2020.

The strong financial recovery has allowed Royal Mail to give shareholders money, despite its ongoing investments in automation to make it more efficient and efforts to make £110m in costs savings. It said on Thursday it would return £400m via a £200m share buyback that will start immediately and a £200m special dividend. It will also pay a £67m interim dividend.

Keith Williams, Royal Mail’s non-executive chair, insisted the company would be able to fund investment in new technology and growth from future cash flows, justifying the shareholder returns. It comes ahead of the crucial Christmas period after the company failed to cope with parcel volumes last year.

Royal Mail has also been pushing to weaken some of the “universal service” requirements imposed on it as a former state-run service, including removing the obligation to deliver post on Saturdays. Simon Thompson, Royal Mail’s chief executive, hinted further that it would push this agenda, saying the company needs to “start defining what a sustainable universal service is for the future”.

By Jasper Jolly

Starbucks partners with Amazon Go for first cashier-less cafe

( via — Thur, 18th Nov 2021) London, UK —

NEW YORK, Nov 18 (Reuters) – Starbucks Corp's (SBUX.O) newest cafe lacks one element most customers are used to seeing: cashiers.

The global coffee chain on Thursday opened its first ever location in partnership with Amazon Go (AMZN.O), the e-commerce giant's brick-and-mortar convenience store, where customers can sit at a table with a latte or grab a sandwich from a shelf and walk out.

Hit by a U.S. labor crunch, Starbucks and other companies are expanding labor-saving technology like artificial intelligence, robotics and digital touch screens.

White Castle is testing a robotic fry cook and Domino's Pizza Inc (DPZ.N) is experimenting with self-driving vehicles for delivery. IBM (IBM.N) is developing automated order taking for McDonald's Corp (MCD.N) drive-thrus.

U.S. restaurant staffing levels broadly are still at least 10% lower than before the pandemic, helping boost margins, said Rabobank analyst Tom Bailey.

“You'd see some of the digital automation tools deployed to cover that 10% gap as they grow,” he said.

The pandemic pushed people to place more orders online for carry out, delivery and drive-thru. To keep up, Starbucks shifted its development strategy to new store formats, adding pickup-only locations in urban areas, as well as traditional cafes and suburban drive-thrus.

Starbucks and Amazon plan to open at least three more U.S. locations together in 2022, said Kathryn Young, Starbucks' senior vice president of global growth and development.

Starbucks baristas will make drinks and the rest of the chain's menu at the new location in New York City, which will have the same staffing level as any other Starbucks, she said.

Customers can order through the Starbucks app and grab coffee to go from a counter near the door. Or they can use a credit card, Amazon app or Amazon One palm reader to enter the rest of the space, take snacks from shelves, or sit at tables.

Reporting by Hilary Russ

NYC Gets Own Cryptocurrency After Mayor-Elect Adams Touts Bitcoin

( via — Thur, 18th Nov 2021) London, Uk —

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

New York City Mayor-elect Eric Adams’ pro-crypto stance appears to be showing early signs of working, with a community-led crypto project planning to create a dedicated city-based token. 

CityCoins, which works on the Stacks protocol, decided to develop the token after Adams engaged in a friendly online banter with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez over Bitcoin, including taking paychecks in the largest cryptocurrency by market value. Adams has vowed to build a crypto-friendly city when he takes office in January. 

“We voted on what city should be next,” Patrick Stanley, a CityCoins community lead, told Bloomberg in a telephone interview. The top two choices were New York City and Austin. After Mayor Adams spoke last week, “the community to decided to activate New York.” 

CityCoins launched a Miami token in August. MiamiCoin has earned the city over $21 million to date, according to CityCoins. Outsiders can send STX tokens to “mine” MiamiCoin, and a percentage goes to the city’s designated crypto wallet. STX was last trading at around $2.30 and had a market capitalization of about $2.9 billion, according to 

NYCCoin mining is expected to kick off Wednesday, after which the city’s wallet stands to get fatter, Stanley said. 

“Every 10 minutes the city earns money for the sheer fact that NYCCoin exists. The wallet will get filled with Stacks and they can spend the Stacks or the yield the Stacks generate,” he said. 

“We’re glad to welcome you to the global home of Web3,” Adams responded to CityCoins’ choice in a tweet.  

Reporting by  Crystal Kim

UK rate of inflation hit its highest level for almost a decade at 4.2% as fuel and energy bills soar

( via– Wed, 17th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

The ONS reports a sharp rise in the cost of living which the Bank of England predicts will deteriorate this winter as a host of goods and services leap in price.

The rate of inflation has hit its highest level for almost a decade as prices rise across the UK economy, with fuel and energy costs leading the way.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that the consumer prices index (CPI) measure jumped to 4.2% in October from 3.1% the previous month – a bigger leap than economists had predicted and piling pressure on the Bank of England to act. The figures showed that the 12% increase in the energy price cap on household bills on 1 October was among the factors contributing the most to the spike alongside education, transport, eating out and fashion costs.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said of the rise: “This was driven by increased household energy bills due to the price cap hike, a rise in the cost of second-hand cars and fuel as well as higher prices in restaurants and hotels.

“Costs of goods produced by factories and the price of raw materials have also risen substantially, and are now at their highest rates for at least 10 years.”

The latter comment represents a warning that the pace of price increases shows no sign of letting up as those costs prepare to enter the UK's supply chain crisis which is also being complicated by a shortage of labour.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak responded: “Many countries are experiencing higher inflation as we recover from COVID, and we know people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we are taking action worth more than £4.2bn to help them.

“We're helping people get into work, progress and keep more of what they earn, through our Plan for Jobs and by effectively cutting taxes for workers receiving Universal Credit.

“We are also providing more immediate support, including through the £500m Household Support Fund for the most vulnerable families, fuel and alcohol duty freezes, and the energy price cap.”

But the cap is tipped by economists to add even more fuel to the inflation fire in the spring, when the next review takes effect, if it fully reflects rises in wholesale gas costs since last summer.

A report by the RAC motoring group on Wednesday showed a third of motorists were already driving less as petrol and diesel costs hit new record levels daily.

The ONS report, which showed inflation at its highest level since November 2011, was the first measure since the Bank of England shocked financial markets earlier this month when it held off on raising interest rates to curb inflation expectations, despite forecasting the CPI measure would hit 5% in the coming months.

The Bank, which said it had wanted to see how the jobs market responded to the end of the furlough scheme, has a 2% inflation target.

It will take some comfort from the fact that separate ONS figures have shown household spending power holding up as policymakers fret that fears of inflation are driving unsustainable pay awards.

The underlying pace of growth in wages – taking into account workers going back on full pay after furlough and how job losses during the coronavirus lockdowns fell most heavily on lower-paid workers – stood between 3.4% and 4.9% for regular pay in the three months to September.

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK, said: “While not unexpected, confirmation that inflation is moving further away from its 2% target may seal the Bank of England's resolve to raise rates in December, following the strong labour data released this week.”

By James Sillars

Amazon to stop accepting Visa credit cards in UK

( via – – Wed, 17th Nov 2021) London, Uk – –

Amazon will stop accepting Visa credit cards in the UK from 19 January, the online retail giant has told customers.

It said the move was due to high credit card transaction fees but said Visa debit cards would still be accepted.

Visa said it was “very disappointed that Amazon is threatening to restrict consumer choice in the future”.

Amazon said: “The cost of accepting card payments continues to be an obstacle for businesses striving to provide the best prices for customers.”

Visa fees

The online giant said those costs should be going down over time due to advances in technology, “but instead they continue to stay high or even rise”.

In an email to UK customers, Amazon said: “Starting 19 January, 2022, we will unfortunately no longer accept Visa credit cards issued in the UK, due to the high fees Visa charges for processing credit card transactions.

“You can still use debit cards (including Visa debit cards) and non-Visa credit cards like Mastercard, Amex, and Eurocard to make purchases.”

Amazon also asked customers to update payment methods, including for Prime membership and any subscriptions.

“We know this may be inconvenient, and we're here to help you through this transition,” it added.

A Visa spokesperson said: “UK shoppers can use their Visa debit and credit cards at Amazon UK today and throughout the holiday season.

“We are very disappointed that Amazon is threatening to restrict consumer choice in the future. When consumer choice is limited, nobody wins.

“We have a long-standing relationship with Amazon, and we continue to work toward a resolution, so our cardholders can use their preferred Visa credit cards at Amazon UK without Amazon-imposed restrictions come January 2022.”

Tesco sales grew in the last 12-weeks increasing its sector dominance in the run-up to Christmas – NielsenIQ

( via — Tue, 16th Nov 2021) London, UK —

LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) – Tesco, Britain's largest retailer, was the only one of the country's big four grocers to grow sales in the last 12 weeks, increasing its sector dominance in the run-up to Christmas, data from market researcher NielsenIQ showed on Tuesday.

It said Tesco's (TSCO.L) sales rose 0.4% year-on-year in the 12 weeks to Nov. 6, increasing its market share by 0.2 percentage points to 26.6%.

In contrast smaller rivals Sainsbury's (SBRY.L), Asda and Morrisons saw sales fall 3.1%, 2.4% and 4.7% respectively, and all lost market share.

NielsenIQ's data echoed figures from rival researcher Kantar last week. 

Last month, Tesco reported a 16.6% jump in first half profit and raised its full-year earnings forecast despite supply chain disruption. 

NielsenIQ said total UK grocery sales fell 2.0% in the four weeks to Nov. 6 versus high comparative numbers ahead of a second national COVID-19 lockdown last year.

Sales were, however, up 4.9% on the same period in 2019.

The researcher noted that in-store visits to supermarkets were up 6.5% compared with last year over the four week period, equal to 28 million more visits.

In contrast, the online share of sales fell to 12.2%, down from 12.6% in the previous four weeks.

Reporting by James Davey