UK house prices fell for the third consecutive month in May

Mark Moz/Flickr

( via – – Wed, 26 Apr, 2017) London, Uk – –

UK house prices fell for the third consecutive month in May, according to the Nationwide.
It was the first time that prices had fallen for three months in a row since 2009, the building society said.
Prices dropped 0.2% in May, while the annual rate of price growth slowed to 2.1% – the slowest pace for almost four years.
Nationwide said it was further evidence that the housing market was “losing momentum”.
However, it said it was too early to say whether it was more than a “blip”.
The building society said the slowdown could be linked to the recent squeeze on household budgets caused by the weakness of the pound.
Prices have been rising as the cost of imported goods goes up. At the same time, inflation has overtaken wage growth.
It also said “affordability pressures” in certain parts of the country could be to blame.
However, Mr Gardener said: “The number of people in work has continued to rise at a healthy pace. Indeed, the unemployment rate fell to a 42-year low in the three months to March.”

He said the pressures on the market were likely to continue, exerting a drag on house price growth in the quarters ahead.
But a shortage in the supply of housing was likely to support prices, he added.
“As a result, we continue to believe that a small increase in house prices of around 2% is likely over the course of 2017 as a whole.”
Property prices rose by 4.5% in 2016, according to the building society.
Samuel Tombs, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, also said he expected 2% growth this year, with house prices returning to a “slowly rising path”.
“Surveys suggest supply is tightening rapidly, employment growth looks set to remain steady at about 1% year-over-year, and mortgage rates still have scope to fall a little further,” he said.
“But the days of surging house prices driven by sharply rising loan-to-income ratios are gone.”

Britains top the charts with online grocery shopping

Howard County Library/Flickr

( via – – Fri, 2 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

British shoppers buy more food online than consumers anywhere else in the world – claiming their title for the second year in a row.

Kantar Worldpanel, which tracks spending data across the grocery industry globally, said the online spend per virtual supermarket shopping trip was $83.4 (£64.9) in 2016.

This was marginally down on 2015’s figure of $85.2 – which was also the world's highest – but still puts the UK well ahead of its international rivals when it comes to spending online.

The UK also topped the list in terms of frequency of online shopping with Brits buying more often than anywhere else – an average of 15.4 times a year compared to 14.1 in 2015.

Kantar said the average e-commerce shopping trip in the UK was worth $64.90 more than the average trip to a physical store.

“The higher online spend is a combination of shoppers choosing online primarily for large stock-up trips and retailers requiring a minimum spend,” Kantar said.

Following the UK in online basket size was France ($68.60), Portugal ($53.50), Spain ($43.80) and Taiwan ($33.70).

In spite of the growing popularity of internet shopping more broadly, online grocery purchases remain a small fraction of the total amount Brits spend in supermarkets.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight, Kantar Worldpanel UK, said: “Less than one-third of UK households currently buy their groceries online, suggesting there is still significant headroom for e-commerce to grow from 2016’s 7.3pc market share,” he said.

“The biggest increases in uptake are seen from slightly older shoppers; a combination of families retaining the habit even as their children grow up, and more mature households now feeling confident to take the digital shopping plunge.”

Mr McKevitt said the biggest barrier to growth was “resolving the tension between what connected consumers want and how retailers can deliver this profitably”.

The data showed that South Korea leads the way in terms of the popularity of online grocery shopping with almost 70pc of the population buying on the web more than once per month.

China (54.6pc), Taiwan (49.3pc), the UK (27.5pc), France (26.2pc) followed.

By Bradley Gerrard

Bank of England Staff union launches ballot Over Strike Action

James Stringer/Flickr

( via — Thur, 1 June, 2017) London, UK —

Staff at the Bank of England will begin voting on Thursday on whether to hold a strike this year in protest at below-inflation pay rises, union sources told Reuters.

Unite, Britain's biggest union is consulting members on whether to take industrial action at the 323-year-old Bank, which employs around 3,600 people, after they were awarded a 1 percent pay rise for this year.

The union, which represents workers in security, catering, legal, HR and other services at the Bank of England, said the pay offer was “derisory” and the second year in a row that employees have faced a pay offer that is lower than inflation, resulting in a fall in income in real terms.

Industrial disputes at the BoE are rare. In 1994, IT staff at the Bank were balloted for strike action after a pay dispute but voted against it.

“The Bank's disgraceful snub of low paid staff stinks of arrogance and represents an organisation thoroughly out of touch with the reality of the pressure staff face meeting their costs of living,” said Mercedes Sanchez, a Unite regional officer.

The Bank of England declined to comment.

Industrial action would be potentially embarrassing for the central bank, whose policymakers have focused heavily on the prospects for wage growth. The BoE's latest economic forecasts show wage growth is likely to pick up significantly over the next couple of years, but it has previously been overly optimistic about the pace of pay increases.

Pay rises for public sector workers in Britain have been capped by the government at 1 percent. Although this does not apply to the independent Bank of England, it operates in an environment of pay restraint for public officials.

Workers in Britain suffered a long hit to their spending power after the global financial crisis, which eased only briefly when falling oil prices took inflation to zero in 2015.

Real earnings are below their levels of 10 years ago and inflation looks set to hit 3 percent this year, pushed up by the pound's fall since the Brexit vote and the oil price rebound.

Britain faces the prospect of a wave of strikes in different industries this summer, with nurses and teachers threatening to stop work over issues ranging from pay deals to pensions.

Unite said some Bank staff earn less than 20,000 pounds a year imposing a 1 percent pay rise will potentially leave them and their families facing financial hardship.

BoE Governor Mark Carney has received an annual salary of 480,000 pounds since joining the Bank in 2013, as well as an annual accommodation allowance of 250,000 pounds. He has declined pay increases since joining.

The ballot will close on June 21 and if members vote in favour of strike action this could begin in the summer or autumn, the sources said.

By Andrew MacAskill and Andy Bruce

Google officially submits plans for new 1million sq ft London headquarters

( via – – Thur, 1 June 2017) London, Uk – –

Construction on building that is longer than the Shard is tall set to begin in King’s Cross in 2018

Google has officially submitted plans for its new 1million sq ft (92,000m2) “landscraper” London headquarters, with the intention of beginning construction on the building in 2018.

Designed by Bjarke Ingels Group and Heatherwick Studios, the team behind TfL’s New Bus for London and the 2012 Olympic Cauldron, the building will stand 11 storeys tall and stretch parallel to the platforms of London’s King’s Cross railway station.

Combined with Google’s current King’s Cross office around the corner, and a third building that the company also plans on moving into in the area, it will form a new campus that will house 7,000 Google employees. Dubbed a “landscraper”, the finished building will be longer than the Shard is tall.

The Heatherwick-designed building was submitted to Camden council and will be the first to be wholly owned by, and designed specifically for, Google outside the US. Google declined to comment on the cost of the project.

Heatherwick said in a statement: “The area is a fascinating collision of diverse building types and spaces and I can’t help but love this mix of massive railway stations, roads, canals and other infrastructure all layered up into the most connected point in London.”

He added: “Influenced by these surroundings, we have treated this new building for Google like a piece of infrastructure too, made from a family of interchangeable elements which ensure that the building and its workspace will stay flexible for years to come.”

Google’s Joe Borrett, the company’s head of real estate and construction, said: “We are excited to be able to bring our London Googlers together in one campus, with a new purpose-built building that we’ve developed from the ground up. Our offices and facilities play a key part in shaping the Google culture, which is one of the reasons we are known for being among the best places to work in the industry.”

The company’s decision to stick with its plans for the HQ was widely seen as a vote of confidence in the British economy following the decision to leave the EU in June 2016. In a speech in Google’s London office last November, chief executive Sundar Pichai said: “Here in the UK, it’s clear to me that computer science has a great future with the talent, educational institutions, and passion for innovation we see all around us. We are committed to the UK and excited to continue our investment in our new King’s Cross campus.”

Originally, the company’s plans had called for a luxury office, complete with a rooftop running track, indoor swimming pool and climbing wall – and saddled with an estimated £1bn price tag. But Google rejected those plans, put together by London-based architects AHMM, in 2015 for being “too boring”, and brought Heatherwick on board instead.

By Alex Hern

Pound Sterling slips as Conservatives lead shrink

Images Money/

( via – – Wed, 31 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

The pound already fell around 2 per cent last week as polls showed the Conservatives’ lead over the Labour Party had shrunk from as much as 20 points in April

The pound fell against the dollar and the euro on Wednesday after a new poll suggested that Britain could be on course for a hung parliament in next week’s election.

Sterling was recently hovering around $1.28 against the dollar, near a one-month low. Bloomberg data showed that the pound was the worst performing of all major currencies on Wednesday.

The latest seat-by-seat prediction by YouGov for The Times suggests that the Conservatives are on course to win 310 seats at the election – short of an absolute majority of 326 seats needed to form a Government.

“While all the polls still project that the Conservatives will be ahead on 8 June, the sharp recent reduction in the party’s lead, poor poll reliability in past votes, plus an unusually high level of uncertainty about the key issues and how different groups could vote, make this election tricky to call, says Kallum Pickering, an economist at Berenberg. “To put it one way, we would not be very surprised if there was surprise.”

Geoffrey Yu, head of the investment office at UBS Wealth Management said that if the latest poll proves accurate, he would expect markets to be shaken.

“Yet today’s poll distracts from the many others showing that a Conservative majority remains the most likely outcome, as is our base case,” he adds. “With no further indications of a hung parliament, the recent fall in sterling may be seen as a buying opportunity for investors.”

The pound already fell around 2 per cent last week as polls showed the Conservatives’ lead over the Labour Party had shrunk from as much as 20 points in April.

The currency remains about 13 per cent lower against the dollar since last June’s Brexit referendum, but had until recently been edging tentatively higher this year.

It rallied sharply after Theresa May’s 18 April announcement of a general election, with investors hopeful that a vote would strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand in Brexit negotiations.

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An ICM poll for the Guardian on Tuesday also showed Labour gaining ground but suggested the Tories are still enjoying a healthy advantage.

It placed Ms May on 45 per cent, Labour on 33 per cent, the Lib Dems on 8 per cent and Ukip on 5 per cent.

By Josie Cox

Irish government to sell 25% Allied Irish Banks Plc

( via — Wed, 31 May, 2017) London, Uk —

Ireland’s drive to recoup money from the bank rescue that almost bankrupted the nation is finally gaining pace.

The Irish government on Tuesday started the process of selling 25 percent of Allied Irish Banks Plc, after spending 21 billion euros ($23.5 billion) bailing out the lender following the 2008 financial crisis. In comments aired on Wednesday, Finance Minister Michael Noonan suggested the state may even eventually make a profit on its investment in the bank, even though it may take a decade to fully privatize the lender.

In all, taxpayers injected 64 billion euros into the nation’s financial system, in what the International Monetary Fund called the costliest banking rescue since the Great Depression. The burden of saving the banks eventually forced the nation into an international bailout, and seven years later, the state is still out of pocket. The government’s remaining stakes, added to the money generated by owning them, amount to about 28 billion euros.

So far, AIB has repaid about 6.8 billion euros through channels such as fees and dividends. The share offering in London and Dublin next month will raise about 3 billion euros, with terms to be set in mid-June.

Analysts at banks working on the IPO value the company at about 10 billion euros to 13 billion euros, people familiar with the matter said. The final value will depend on investor feedback, they said.

“If you look at the history, four years ago people were worried about putting in more capital — that was the fear,” AIB Chief Executive Officer Bernard Byrne, who took over in 2015, told reporters Wednesday. “We’ve gone into the ballpark at this stage, so that’s a good place to be.”

Still, calculating the real cost of bailing out the banks means looking beyond the 64 billion euro figure. Ireland introduced a snap guarantee in September 2008 of almost all its banks’ liabilities, totaling about 440 billion euros, weeks after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. sparked a global financial crisis. That drove up the state’s cost of borrowing money on international markets, adding to the taxpayer’s bill.

And while the government has vowed to recover the expense of saving what it describes as the “living banks” — AIB, Bank of Ireland Plc and Permanent TSB Group Holdings Plc — it won’t ever recover the estimated 30 billion euros injected into Anglo Irish Bank Plc. The lender is being liquidated.

In fact, one likely use of the proceeds from the AIB sale next month, according to Cantor Fitzgerald: paying down the legacy debt associated with Anglo Irish.

by Dara Doyle and Peter Flanagan

London Stock Exchange buys US analytics business for £535m

James Hume/

( via — Tue, 30 May 2017) London, UK —

London Stock Exchange (LSE) has agreed to buy The Yield Book, Citigroup's fixed-income analytics service and also its related indexing business, for $685 million (534.6 million pounds) in cash, the companies said on Tuesday.

LSE, which had said it would be looking out for investments after the collapse of its proposed merger with Deutsche Boerse, said the deal would boost the data and analytics capabilities of its information and FTSE Russell indexes business and take assets under management using its indexes to about $15 trillion.

The deal, which is subject to regulatory clearances and is expected to close in the second half of this year, is expected to add $30 million in synergy benefits to LSE's revenues over the first three years after completion and bring $18 million in cost savings over the same period, the company said.

Last year it estimated the business being acquired would have generated earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of $46 million on revenue of $107 million.

LSE, which bought stock index provider and asset manager Russell Investments in 2014, expects the EBITDA margin to rise to at least 50 percent within three years of the deal's completion, the company said.

“The acquisition of The Yield Book and Citi Fixed Income Indices supports the continued strong growth and development of London Stock Exchange Group's Information Services division,” said Mark Makepeace, CEO of FTSE Russell.

The Yield Book and Citi Fixed Income Indices have a client base of more than 350 institutions offering services used to analyse fixed income instruments including mortgage, government, corporate and derivative securities, Citi said.

Citi Fixed Income Indices includes the World Government Bond Index.

“This represents a very sensible deal as it helps LSEG grow its highly attractive info services division and will allow it to capitalise further on key industry trends including strong growth in multi-asset solutions and passive investment strategies,” said Numis analysts, who rate LSE as “hold”.

Citi was advised on the deal by its Institutional Clients Group. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP served as legal advisor to Citi.

Barclays acted as financial adviser to LSE, while Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP was counsel.

The deal announced two months after EU regulators blocked LSE's planned merger with Deutsche Boerse, citing concerns over a potential monopoly in the processing of bond trades, will be funded from existing cash resources and credit facilities, the LSE said.

Shares in LSE, which have risen 12 percent since that merger was blocked, were up 0.2 percent at 3,398 pence at 0814 GMT.

By Noor Zainab Hussain

Barclays App technology could end supermarket queues


Roberto Herrett/flickr

( via – – Tue, 30 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

Barclaycard is developing technology that could put an end to the supermarket queue by allowing shoppers to charge in-store purchases to their mobile phone.

The smartphone app automatically charges items to a credit card when shoppers scan items using the phone’s camera, without them having to pay at a checkout.

Barclays workers are trialling the service at the company’s Canary Wharf headquarters, and the company says a high-street retailer is set to pilot it in the next year.

Usman Sheikh, Barclaycard’s director of design and experimentation, who is leading the project, said it was already speaking to a number of “significant household names”, including supermarkets, about the “Grab and Go” technology.

It would allow shoppers to walk into a store, scan each item in their basket with the phone, and check out virtually as they leave, without having to queue for a till. While Waitrose operates a “Quick Check” service that lets shoppers scan items as they shop, they must still go through a till to pay.

“People want less and less friction when they’re shopping,” Mr Sheikh said. “The time involved is literally a fraction of what it would take to go to the till.”

He said that Barclaycard could operate the service through its own app, or integrate the technology within retailers’ existing apps. Retailers would be able to monitor transactions on a screen and check virtual receipts to counter shoplifters.

Amazon is trialling its own checkout-free shops, which use a system of facial recognition cameras and sensors on shelves to determine what customers are buying. The “Amazon Go” store, which is currently being tested by employees in Seattle, charges shoppers as they swipe their smartphone on leaving the store.

Last week Amazon registered the trademark “No Queue. No Checkout. (No, Seriously.)” in the UK amid rumours, it is planning to open stores in Britain.

Mr Sheikh said Amazon’s technology was out of reach to most retailers. “For a normal merchant, there’s no way. Every shelf needs to be fitted with sensors so it’s not a scalable solution,” he said.

He said Barclaycard’s alternative was “very light from a tech perspective, all the technology is in your pocket and the merchant hasn’t done anything new”.

It now plans to test the technology at offices in Northampton, Teeside, and New York and Wilmington in the US in the coming weeks, and start trials with a retailer in late 2017 or early 2018.

By James Titcomb

British Airways flight disruption continues


London Heathrow Airport says there are still some disruptions to British Airways flights following a global computer system failure at the airline.

It means the problem is entering its' third day which has seen thousands of passengers having to queue for hours over the weekend due to the chaos of cancelled flights.

Edinburgh Woollen Mill acquires Jaeger brand

Vincent Teeuwen/

Takeover of brand that once dressed Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe is part of retailer’s drive to launch Days departmental stores across the UK

Edinburgh Woollen Mill has confirmed the acquisition of the Jaeger brand as part of plans to launch a new 50-store department chain.

Philip Day, the billionaire owner of the Edinburgh Woollen Mill group, wants to open at least 50 of his eponymous Days stores, the first of which opened in Carmarthen, Wales, late last week.

The first Days store was opened in a former BHS and will house all the Edinburgh Woollen Mill group brands, which now include Austin Reed, Peacocks, Jane Norman and Country Casuals as well as Jaeger.

Others branches are expected to open shortly, in Newcastle and Bedford. The expansion comes despite the collapse of BHS, which has fuelled fears about the future of department stores in the age of online shopping.

Day told the Sunday Times he expects to pick up more struggling brands this year as business rates and the fall in the value of sterling have a major impact on the high street.

“Sometimes, lots of things all come at the same time, and I think 2017 is going to be one of those years,” he said.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Edinburgh Woollen Millen confirmed the collapsed Jaeger brand was now part of the group, the sale of which has proved controversial.

Private equity firm Better Capital put the business up for sale after struggling for several years to revive Jaeger. In the brand’s heyday, its clothes were worn by Audrey Hepburn and Marilyn Monroe but recently it has struggled to turn a profit amid heavy competition.

Day is understood to have bought the retailer’s debt and brand name in March but not the main company, meaning that the future of most of Jaeger’s 700 employees and payments for suppliers remains unclear.

Administrators have closed at least 20 of its 46 stores, making more than 200 staff redundant, and they remain in charge of the core business and its remaining staff.
A group of suppliers owed millions of pounds is considering taking legal action against its former owners.

The companies, which include the Portuguese clothing supplier Calvelex, tried to mount a rescue bid after Jaeger entered administration last month but found they could not buy the business because the rights to use the name had been sold.

Asked about the threat of legal action, Jon Moulton, the boss of Jaeger’s former owner Better Capital, said at the time the private equity firm had gone to great lengths to find a buyer for Jaeger without putting it into insolvency. “Any insolvency actions lie with the [Better Capital] fund’s successor,” he said.

Day, who took a £30.5m dividend from the Edinburgh Woollen Mill group in the financial year to February 2016 when the group made a pre-tax profit of about £90m on sales of £576m, has moved from his castle home in Cumbria to live in Dubai. He told the Sunday Times he spends fewer than 10 days a year in the UK.

By Sarah Butler

The small drone that takes off and lands from the palm of a hand


DJI, the world's largest drone maker, has unveiled its smallest camera drone to date. It's a drone so small that it can take off and land from the palm of a hand. Bloomberg's Selina Wang took the new drone for a spin.

Latest crackdown for payday loan firms come into force

( via – Fri, 26 May, 2017) London, Uk – –

A link to a price comparison website must be displayed “prominently” on payday loan firms' websites to help borrowers shop around.

New rules for payday loan firms have come into force, requiring online lenders to advertise on at least one price comparison website to help borrowers find the best deal.

A link to a comparison site must also be displayed “prominently” on the websites of payday loan companies.

The move follows a 20-month investigation into the payday lending sector by the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) in February 2015 which found a substantial gap between the cheapest and most expensive loans.

It found that a lack of price competition between lenders had led to higher costs for borrowers and many did not shop around.

This was partly because of the difficulties in accessing clear and comparable information.

The regulator also cited a lack of awareness of late fees and additional charges.

The CMA estimated borrowers could save themselves an average £60 a year by hunting down cheaper deals.

In a separate investigation, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) imposed a price cap on payday loans to help prevent borrowers from being ripped off.

That is already in force, set at 0.8% per day.
However, it is currently being reviewed by the City watchdog to find out if the cap is driving consumers to illegal loan sharks.

It forms part of a broader review of high-cost credit to see whether rules need to be extended to other types of loans.

Fixed default fees are currently capped at £15 to help protect borrowers struggling to repay.

The cap on interest rates on payday loans came into force in January 2015 after a chorus of concern about the industry.

MPs and the Church of England spoke out about the impact of very high rates on vulnerable people borrowing money to tide them over until their next payday.