This weeks news includes; Theresa May calls snap election, Lloyds plan Berlin post-Brexit move, Weetabix to be sold for £1.4 billion, Apple gets self-driving car approval.
Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page and Facebook page for regular posts of important headlines. Click on the links for full stories.
Get all the important stories and insights straight into your inbox by subscribing to our mailing list here.
Opinion articles of the week:
- Bloomberg asks why did Theresa May call an election and what does it mean for Brexit?
- Business Insider looks at “the strange new problem” in Britain’s labour market created by the gig economy.
- CNBC explores how the markets really feel about the French election.
- Our insight article explores whether GM Crops could be the solution to world hunger.
1. THERESA MAY CALLS A SNAP GENERAL ELECTION
Prime Minister Theresa May has called for an early general election. Speaking from the steps of 10 Downing Street on Tuesday morning, May announced that an election will take place in just six weeks’ time on June 8, saying it is in “the national interest” to do so.
The prime minister added that she would put a motion to parliament on Wednesday calling on MPs to vote in favour of a snap election.
May said an election victory for the Conservatives would “guarantee certainty and stability for the years” and give her the public support to deliver her policies, including Britain’s imminent departure from the European Union.
A YouGov opinion poll published on Sunday gave the Tories a 21% lead over Labour among respondents. Labour led the Conservatives by 13% at this stage in the last electoral cycle — but went on to lose the subsequent election.
Speaking outside 10 Downing Street, May said: “At this moment of enormous national significance, they should be unity in Westminster, but instead there is division. The prime minister added, though, that she had “only recently and reluctantly come to this conclusion.”
May had repeatedly ruled out calling a snap election prior to Tuesday’s announcement. The next election was initially scheduled to take place in 2020 after Britain has formally left the European Union.
The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act requires a general election to take place on the first Thursday in May every five years. However, May would have the approval to call a snap election if two-thirds of MPs in the Commons voted for it and this approval was successfully obtained on the Thursday 20/04/17. (BBC News)
2. BRAZIL ECONOMY GROWING AT FASTEST RATE SINCE 2010
Brazil’s economy is showing signs it’s climbing out of its two-year recession, and international investors are snatching up the country’s stocks. Economic activity in Latin America’s largest country grew at its fastest pace since 2010, according to a central bank indicator. The IBC-Br index rose 1.31 percent in February, the bank said Monday, after an upwardly revised increase of 0.62 percent in the previous month.
“The economy will likely get to the end of this year with a meaningful growth rate,” Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said in Brasilia on Monday. It’s not just Brazilian officials who have high hopes for Brazil’s economy this year, however.
Investors have also jumped on the bandwagon, pushing the iShares MSCI Brazil Capped ETF (EWZ) more than 11 percent higher this year, handily outperforming the S&P 500. The ETF rose more than 2 percent Monday and was on track to post its best session since March 15.
The Brazilian real is also rising against the U.S. dollar this year, advancing more than 4.5 percent. The currency also popped 1.3 percent Monday. Brazil’s most recent economic uptick comes at a time when the U.S. economy is showing signs of a slowdown.
The Labor Department said Friday that consumer prices fell 0.3 percent in March, marking the biggest drop since January 2015. Also Friday, the Commerce Department said retail sales dropped 0.2 percent last month, more than expected. (CNBC)
3. MACQUARIE BUYS GREEN INVESTMENT BANK FOR £2.3 BILLION
The government has confirmed the sale of the Green Investment Bank to Macquarie for £2.3bn. The deal process, kicked off by the government more than a year ago, has been plagued by political opposition, delays and even a legal challenge from a rival bidder.
But Macquarie, which was advised by RBC, finally won their asset. The Universities Superannuation Scheme was also on the Macquarie bid. The government was advised by Bank of America Merrill Lynch and the GIB by UBS.
Macquarie, whose status as preferred bidder attracted noisy political opposition, set out a number of commitments for the future of the GIB. These include “maintaining GIB’s green purpose and green objectives”, keeping it as a discrete entity and committing to its Edinburgh headquarters.
Macquarie has made significant and important commitments to the UK government to maintain GIB as a discrete entity within its business, maintaining GIB’s investment focus and approach with a target to invest more capital each year than GIB has historically.
Macquarie will also uphold GIB’s green investment principles and report transparently on GIB’s green impact. Macquarie will utilise the market-leading expertise of the existing GIB team and will build on GIB’s deep commitment to Edinburgh.
After noisy political opposition to the Macquarie sale earlier this year, prompted by reports the Australian firm was planning to asset-strip the GIB, a rival bidder, Sustainable Development Capital (SDCL), caused further delay by challenging the deal with a judicial review in the High Court. The legal challenge, rejected by a judge earlier this month, was viewed as the final hurdle facing the deal.
The government had intended to complete the deal earlier, but the process was delayed by the judicial review and political opposition. Delays are also understood to have come about as a result of the change in government last summer. (City A.M)
4. LLOYDS PLANS POST-BREXIT MOVE
Lloyds Banking Group has decided to set up a European base in Germany after the UK leaves the EU, the BBC understands. Lloyds has decided to convert its Berlin branch into a European hub, in order to maintain a presence inside the EU, sources told the BBC.
Several British financial institutions are putting plans in place to protect their EU operations after Brexit. With the UK likely to leave the EU single market, they want to make sure they can still cater for EU clients. Lloyds is the only major British lender that does not currently have a subsidiary in another EU nation. However, it already has a branch in Berlin and employs 300 people in the city.
Lloyds is believed to have considered both Frankfurt and Amsterdam for its European base before finally opting for Berlin. The Sunday Telegraph newspaper reported that Lloyds would apply for a new German banking licence within a few months, but the company has refused to comment.
HSBC has already said it is likely to move 1,000 workers from London to its European headquarters in Paris, while the insurance market Lloyds of London recently said it was setting up an office in Brussels.
For many years, British-based financial services companies have been able to operate throughout Europe using so-called passporting rights. That scheme may end when Britain leaves the EU, with no guarantee that it will be replaced by a similar agreement.
It is that uncertainty that had led many financial companies – and particularly international banks – to make contingency plans that would see them transfer a chunk of their business to an EU member country. (BBC News)
5. GOVERNMENT ANNOUNCES RBS STAKE MAY BE SOLD AT A LOSS
Shares in RBS rose in early trading after chancellor Philip Hammond warned the government’s stake in the lender may be sold at a loss.
Having risen as high as 228p after the markets opened, shares in the lender, which is 72 per cent owned by the taxpayer, were trading at 227p at 9am, one per cent higher.
During the height of the financial crisis, the government bought its stake in RBS for £45.5bn, or 502p per share. Hammond’s predecessor, George Osborne, insisted the lender will only be sold off once it reaches that level, but at a session in the House of Commons yesterday, Hammond admitted the government has to “live in the real world”.
RBS’ fate shows a marked difference to that of Lloyds, which was also bailed out by the government in 2008, when it bought a 43 per cent share for £20.5bn. However, after the lender returned to profit in 2010, the government began selling off its shares, and earlier this month cut its stake to under two per cent. Meanwhile, in February RBS reported a loss of almost £7bn, its ninth consecutive annual loss. (City A.M)
6. WEETABIX TO BE SOLD FOR £1.4 BILLION
UK cereal firm Weetabix is to be bought by US firm Post Holdings for $1.8bn (£1.4bn), its owner has confirmed. Weetabix – made in the UK since 1932 – was put up for sale in January by China’s Bright Food, which bought a 60% stake in 2012.
Bright’s acquisition was the largest by a Chinese firm at the time, but it is believed to have struggled to build significant market share in China. Chinese consumers prefer a hot, rice-based breakfast to cold cereal. While Weetabix doubled sales in China in 2016, the UK still accounts for the majority of its sales.
A spokesman for Bright Food, Pan Jianjun, said the sale of Weetabix did not mean the firm was abandoning its global ambitions. Northamptonshire-based Weetabix, which has a royal warrant, was family-owned until 2004, when it was bought by private equity firm Lion Capital. Its main factory in Kettering produces three billion Weetabix biscuits every year.
It is the largest producer of breakfast cereals in the UK and employs about 2,000 people. Its products are exported to 80 countries, while it also has factories in Europe, east Africa and North America. (BBC News)
7. BAIDU TO SHARE SELF DRIVING TECHNOLOGY
Chinese internet giant Baidu has said it will share much of the technology it has created for its self-driving cars. The firm predicted that the move would help drive the development of autonomous vehicles. Called Apollo, the project will make a range of software, hardware and data services available to others, especially carmakers.
Other firms in the sector, such as Tesla and Google, have tended to keep key developments secret.
Baidu, often described as China’s Google, has been developing self-drive vehicles since 2015. Making the announcement ahead of the Shanghai Auto Show, it said technologies for use in restricted test environments would be available as soon July.
There will then be a gradual roll-out of other technology, with an aim to offer its full range of developments to support self-driving for highways and city roads by 2020.
In a statement, Baidu’s group president Qi Lu said it wanted to create a “collaborative ecosystem” using its strengths in artificial intelligence (AI) to “encourage greater innovation and opportunities, making better use of our technology to drive the evolution of the entire industry”. (BBC News)
8. APPLE TO START TESTING SELF DRIVING CARS IN CALIFORNIA
Apple is set to test autonomous vehicles after securing a permit in California. Self-driving car technology is being developed in a crowded arena of companies that Apple appears keen to keep abreast of.
The permit allows it to conduct test drives in three vehicles with six drivers, according to California state officials. The cars in question are all 2015 Lexus RX450h.
Apple has not announced it is building an electric car but has recruited dozens of automotive experts in recent years – obtaining testing permits will fuel speculation that it plans to.
“This does confirm what’s long been rumoured – that Apple is at least toying with the idea of getting into the autonomous game in some capacity,” said independent consultant Chris Theodore, a former vice president at Ford and Chrysler.
The permit does not mean Apple is definitely building a car, he added. “This is not necessarily automobiles as initially rumoured, but software or possibly hardware associated with autonomous technology.”
An Apple spokesman declined to comment, pointing to a statement the company made in November on the subject of regulating self-driving vehicles. Apple executives have been coy about their interest in cars. Chief executive Tim Cook has suggested that Apple wants to move beyond integration of Apple smartphones into vehicle infotainment systems.
Apple joins a growing list of traditional carmakers, technology companies, and small start-ups to test-drive cars in California – all vying to be the first to have commercially viable vehicles on the roads. (The Independent)
9. SKY ANNOUNCES £195m PRODUCTION DEAL WITH HBO
Media group Sky has announced a multi-year $250m (£195m) co-production deal with US television network HBO. Sky said it would produce “high-end drama” and that the first projects are in development.
It also announced a virtual reality project with Sir David Attenborough and the Natural History Museum. That news was released along with Sky’s results for the nine months to April. It reported an 11% fall in operating profit to a little over £1bn.
Rising costs from screening Premier League football and a “weaker UK advertising market” dragged on profits, it said. The broadcaster had a £494m bill linked to Premier League costs.
Sky said on Thursday that it wants to co-produce two drama series per year with HBO, with the first project being broadcast in 2018. Announcements about the first projects are “expected in the coming weeks”, Sky said.
Sky has co-produced dramas with Game of Thrones producer HBO before – for example, Young Pope was made in collaboration with Sky Atlantic, HBO and Canal Plus – but this is the first time that production companies will pitch to Sky and HBO together.
Sky has clinched a number of deals with HBO, including an exclusive five-year agreement in 2014 for Sky to distribute the HBO TV catalogue. (BBC News)
10. PREMIER LEAGUE CLUBS COLLECTIVELY POST FIRST LOSS IN 3 YEARS
Premier League clubs made a collective loss last season for the first time in three years despite generating more money than ever before, according to analysis published by Deloitte.
England’s leading 20 teams recorded an aggregate pre-tax loss of £110m in 2015-16, ending two consecutive years of profit that had appeared to herald a new era of sustainability. Top-flight sides posted record revenues of £3.6bn, a nine per cent increase on income of £3.4bn the previous year, while operating profits remained broadly stable at £500m.
Clubs collectively returned to the red, however, due to a 12 per cent hike in wage bills to £2.3bn, rising amortisation charges and substantial one-off costs.
Premier League teams appeared to have left their loss-making days behind when they recorded record profits of £190m in 2012-13 and followed that with another £120m profit 12 months later, although analysts believe last season’s figures merely represent a blip.
Television contracts worth £8bn for the 2016-19 cycle have already emboldened clubs to swell transfer spending further but are expected to bring teams back into the black.
Last season’s revenue growth was driven by local rivals Manchester United and Manchester City, who jointly contributed 50 per cent of the increase in income across the division. United grew earnings by 30 per cent to £515m thanks in part to a return to the Champions League and the success of their lucrative commercial operations.
That feat saw them overtake Real Madrid as the world’s richest football club for the first time since 2004. Neighbours City also benefited from their European campaign as their run to the semi-finals of the Champions League helped boost income to £392m. (City A.M)