Diesel prices fall to lowest levels since Putin’s invasion – live updates

The price of diesel at the pump has fallen below 170p for the first time since Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The average price of a litre is at its lowest level since March last year, having surged to £2 at the end of June.

Since then the price has tumbled 30p, saving more than £16 on a full tank. 

RAC fuel spokesman Simon Williams said forecourts could do more to help families through the cost of living crisis.

He said: “If retailers play fair with drivers, the price should fall further still as the wholesale price is now back to a level last seen around the time Russia invaded Ukraine. 

“Even with retailers taking a higher than average margin of 10p a litre, the price of diesel should really be 10p lower at 160p.”

Read the latest updates below.

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12:50 PM

US markets expected to fall at opening bell

Wall Street looks like it will open lower after some mixed earnings reports, even after late gains on US markets spurred by a sanguine rates outlook from US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell.

Futures contracts on the three major US gauges fell, following Tuesday;s rally after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell refrained from pushing back against investor optimism. 

Chipotle Mexican Grill dropped in premarket trading after its results missed estimates. Microsoft gained, with its market value poised to breach $2trn, as analysts raised price targets after it unveiled plans to use artificial intelligence tools to improve online search and browsing.

S&P 500 futures fell 0.4pc while Nasdaq 100 futures fell 0.2pc. Contracts on the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.3pc.

12:38 PM

Real wages still falling in Britain as France and Germany rebound, OECD warns

The UK was the only European country in the G7 where real incomes adjusted for inflation fell in the third quarter of last year, according to the OECD.

Rampant inflation was to blame for continuing slide in household spending power, the Paris-based organization said, piling pressure on Rishi Sunak and the Bank of England to get the cost-of-living crisis under control.

Across the 21 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) for which there was data, real household income per head grew by 0.2pc in the three months to September compared with the previous quarter. 

This was the first rise since the start of 2021, with nine of the countries recording an increase.

However, while France, Germany and Italy were among the countries where households incomes rebounded, the UK floundered with real income slipping by 0.6pc.

It was not alone in the G7. Canada saw real household income fall by 0.5pc, while in the US it remained flat.

But the UK is in a small club of OECD countries where real incomes have not yet surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Others in that group include Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Portugal and Spain.

12:16 PM

Microsoft deal with Activision Blizzard ‘could harm UK gamers’

Microsoft’s merger with Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard risks being blocked by regulators, who have said it could result in higher prices, fewer choices, or less innovation for UK gamers.

The Competition and Markets Authority said its in-depth independent investigation provisionally found the merger could make Microsoft even stronger in cloud gaming, stifling competition in the growing market and harming UK gamers who cannot afford expensive consoles.

It also said the deal could also harm UK gamers by weakening the important rivalry between Xbox and PlayStation gaming consoles.

12:02 PM

Pound gains after Fed chairman’s disinflation comments

The pound is headed back towards $1.21 even after the US Federal Reserve chairman signalled it may need to make more interest rate rises than expected in response to surprisingly high employment figures.

Sentiment has become more upbeat after Jerome Powell said that the disinflationary process had begun its early stages, which markers have interpreted as showing that interest rate rises will not be more aggressive than expected.

The pound has risen 0.4pc against the dollar.

11:51 AM

Turkey suspends stock markets after earthquakes

Turkey’s stock exchange has suspended trading after a selloff sparked by the devastating earthquakes that have killed more than 11,100 people. 

The country’s government has been overwhelmed by the extent of the damage to infrastructure, logistical problems and aid needed to assist the 13.4m people living in the disaster zone. Dozens of countries have so far offered help.

Turkey’s benchmark index is headed for its worst weekly performance since the 2008 global financial crisis.

The rout in Turkish stocks triggered two market-wide circuit breakers with Bist 100 index falling more than 7pc. 

The index has plummeted more than 16pc in three days, marking the biggest such drop since December 2021.

11:40 AM

Union threatens blackouts as strikes hit Britain’s biggest power plant

Drax has insisted Britain will not face power cuts as workers at its plants in Yorkshire announce strikes over pay.

The union Unite has announced nine days of walkouts taking place on February 20 and 27, March 6, 13, 20, 27 and April 4, 10 and 17.

Unions bosses said Britain could face power cuts later this month after more than 180 workers rejected an 8pc pay increase.

However, a Drax spokesman said the company “has robust plans in place to ensure the power station continues to safely generate renewable electricity”.

The company said it had put forward a deal with a pay rise worth 10pc and a £2,000 lump sum.

The spokesman said: “We are deeply disappointed that Unite is planning to go forward with this unnecessary action which will see colleagues lose money instead of securing a significant pay rise.”

Unite general secretary Sharon Graham said: “This is a classic case of greed by a company which is already generating eye-watering profits. Drax is cynically seeking to boost its bonanza profits further by forcing workers to take a real terms pay cut.

“Unite is now totally focussed on the jobs, pay and conditions of its members and the workers at Drax will be receiving the union’s complete support.”

11:31 AM

One in five firms has no PR support

Nearly a fifth of businesses have nothing in place to manage their reputation in the face of the impending economic downturn, a business group has warned.

The report by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) also found that three quarters of businesses that employ public relations – or PR – professionals have them on their board.

The survey of 100 business leaders said nearly one-in-five businesses have no public relations support, either internally or externally.

11:15 AM

UK announces new sanctions on Russia

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has announced a fresh round of sanctions against the Russian military and some Kremlin figures, which he said would “accelerate the economic pressure on Putin”.

The announcement in the Commons come as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky makes his first visit to Britain, where he will meet Rishi Sunak and the King.

The sanctions package hits six entities the Foreign Office said provided military equipment such as drones to the Russia government, as well as eight individuals and one entity linked to Russian financial networks.

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said: 

Ukraine has shown Putin that it will not break under his tyrannical invasion. He has responded by indiscriminately striking civilian areas and critical national infrastructure across the country.

We cannot let him succeed. We must increase our support.

These new sanctions accelerate the economic pressure on Putin – undermining his war machine to help Ukraine prevail. I am determined, consistent with our laws, that Russia will have no access to the assets we have frozen until it ends, once and for all, its threats to Ukraine’s territorial sovereignty and integrity.

11:05 AM

Maersk warns falling demand for shipping will hit profits

Shipping group Moller-Maersk has warned that lower container volumes and freight rates might drive a four-fold plunge in profits this year, even as it reported record earnings for last year.

The Copenhagen-based company, which transports goods for retailers and consumer companies such as Walmart, Nike and Unilever, raised its profit forecast twice last year as a surge in consumer demand and pandemic-related logjams at ports boosted freight rates.

But freight rates have since tumbled as recession looms and pandemic-fuelled import bubbles deflate in the United States and other major consuming countries.

This year, Maersk expects global demand for shipping containers by sea to fall by as much as 2.5pc as a build up in inventories is unwound.

Chief Executive Vincent Clerc said: “The shipping market looks difficult right now. Freight rates have stabilized at a lower level that is not catastrophic for us.”

10:45 AM

Oil climbs on renewed optimism

Oil prices have continued to climb amid market optimism following comments from both the US President and chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, has climbed 1.1pc towards $85 a barrel, while US-produced West Texas Intermediate has risen 1.3pc above $78 a barrel.

It comes after Joe Biden went off-script during an otherwise climate-friendly State of the Union speech Tuesday night to acknowledge an uncomfortable reality for the White House: “We’re still going to need oil and gas for a while.”

It followed Fed chairman Jerome Powell saying disinflation had begun.

Meanwhile, a fire broke out at an oil refinery in Russia’s southern Rostov region near the border with Ukraine and was later extinguished, state media reported.

10:12 AM

FTSE 100 pushes even higher

The new record highs for the FTSE 100 keep coming, as the market is lifted by strong gains for BP and the upbeat sentiment after US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s comments renewed hopes for a less-aggressive monetary policy.

The UK’s blue chip index has risen 0.8pc to 7,926.18, surpassing its previous peak of 7,906.58 hit last week. The midcap FTSE 250 index has climbed 1.4pc to 20,469.56.

Wall Street’s main indexes rallied on Tuesday after Powell said 2023 should be a year of “significant declines in inflation” even as he acknowledged that rates may need to move higher than expected if economic strength threatens the Fed’s progress in lowering inflation.

Meanwhile, the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) cut its forecast for UK GDP growth this year to 0.2pc from 0.7pc, saying Britain will dodge recession in 2023 but its people will face the after-effects of a severe fall in living standards.

Shares of BP rose as much as 3.2pc to touch a fresh three-year high, a day after the British energy giant reported record profit for 2022.

Barratt Developments has gained 2.1pc even as Britain’s largest housebuilder cut its half-yearly dividend.

Smurfit Kappa fell as much as 2.6pc to the bottom of FTSE 100 after the packaging giant said box volumes were down less than 2pc in 2022 against a strong prior year, and that Germany and the UK markets performed below expectations. Peers DS Smith and Mondi fell more than 2pc each.

09:45 AM

Housebuilders may thinks its time to ‘fasten down some hatches’

Barratt Developments’ results “show there is no escaping the impact of soaring interest rates, rising inflation and a consumer confidence crisis on the housing market”, according to analysts. 

Britain’s biggest housebuilder said it saw “early signs” of improved trading in January, after significantly weaker consumer confidence hit its reservation rates in the second half of last year. 

However, Julie Palmer, partner at Begbies Traynor, said: 

The order book that insulated the housebuilder from these headwinds in the first half and helped it deliver a pre-tax profit of £501.5m is down nearly 30pc versus a year ago. 

Wrap in property valuations dropping and you can see how homebuyers, who enjoyed more than a decade of rock-bottom rates, are pulling back from making long-term financial commitments on mortgages as the cost-of-living crisis bites. 

With the UK facing a long-term housing shortage, Barratt remains a fundamentally strong business. It has a healthy level of cash on the balance sheet, but this dipped below £1bn during the first half. 

Recruitment freezes and cutting back on new sites will do something to mitigate these challenges but materials and labour inflation are heading in one direction and sales seemingly the other.

For the housebuilders like Barratt, this could be the market to sit on its land bank and fasten down some hatches.

09:30 AM

Imperial Leather advert boosts PZ Cussons

PZ Cussons’ first Imperial Leather television campaign in seven years has helped reinvigorate declining sales of the soap brand as the group’s half-year profits leapt higher despite cost pressures.

The healthcare and consumer goods firm – which also owns brands including Original Source, Childs Farm and Carex – said it had seen a positive response to its Imperial Leather advertising push and new launches, which came after years of falling sales for the range.

Overall, the company said it notched up a 7.8pc jump in underlying pre-tax profits to £40.5m for the six months to December 31, but earnings slumped by nearly 50pc across the UK, European and Americas division.

Group-wide revenues rose 18.8pc to £336.9m, boosted by the recent acquisition of the Childs Farm business, favourable foreign exchange rates and extra reporting days in the period.

On a like-for-like basis, revenues rose 6.1pc, but this was propped up by price increases, with sales by volume down 5.4pc.

09:17 AM

SoftBank boss owes bank $5.1bn from failed side deals

Masayoshi Son, the chief executive of SoftBank, owes his employer about $5.1bn (£4.2bn) after racking up losses on side deals he set up aimed at boosting his compensation.

Mr Son, whose stake in SoftBank grew in recent months, saw his unrealised losses widen by roughly $400m over the final quarter of 2022 compared to the three months before.

The founder and chief executive of SoftBank was down $4.7bn on the same side deals in the previous quarter. 

Compensation has long been a contentious issue at SoftBank. Japanese companies pay some of the lowest executive salaries in the world, reflecting a culture where job-hopping by managers is still infrequent. 

Mr Son himself has kept his pay at 100 million yen, now roughly £630,000 — while chief executives in the US routinely make more than $100m.

SoftBank posted a net loss of 783.4 billion yen (£5bn) for the quarter to December.

08:58 AM

Shapps’ ‘noisy rhetoric’ helped convince rail workers to strikes, says rail boss

Grant Shapps “galvanised” rail workers into continuing strike action when he was transport secretary through “noisy political rhetoric”, the boss of Network Rail has suggested.

Andrew Haines said negotiations with trade unions have been conducted in a “measured tone” since Mark Harper took on the role in October last year.

Widespread strikes over jobs, pay and conditions began in June 2022, when Mr Shapps was transport secretary.

Comments he made include accusing the Rail, Maritime and Transport (RMT) union of a “total lie” over claims that he disrupted negotiations, and declaring that he would limit the ability of “these very militant, extreme-Left unions” to bring services to a standstill.

Asked whether Mr Harper and his rail minister, Huw Merriman, have “changed the narrative with the unions”, Mr Haines said: 

They have taken some of the more robust rhetoric out and said ‘We’re prepared to talk, we’re prepared to meet’.

The conversations are equally direct and blunt but they’re done in a measured tone that isn’t confrontational.

The underlying realities haven’t changed but what that’s allowed us to do is avoid the distraction.

It’s a harsh reality that, however well-intentioned, noisy political rhetoric, if anything it galvanised the workforce against settling.

08:29 AM

FTSE 100 falls back after surge to new record

The FTSE 100 has pulled back slightly after hitting a record high as trading began this morning, following sharp gains on Wall Street a day earlier after US Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell’s comments renewed hopes for less aggressive monetary policy.

The exporter-heavy index rose 0.8pc to an all-time high of 7,925.02, surpassing it previous peak of 7,906.58 hit just last week.

The FTSE 100 has since pulled back to  7,904.36, a rise of 0.5pc on the day so far. The midcap FTSE 250 index has climbed 0.7pc.

Wall Street’s main indexes rallied on Tuesday after Powell said 2023 should be a year of “significant declines in inflation” even as he acknowledged that rates may need to move higher than expected if economic strength threatens the Fed’s progress in lowering inflation.

Among single stocks, Barratt Developments gained 1.6% even as Britain’s largest housebuilder cut its half-yearly dividend.

Emerging markets-focussed asset manager Ashmore Group edged up 0.4pc after reporting a 54pc drop in its half-yearly profit before tax.

08:24 AM

eBay to cut 500 jobs

Digital auction company eBay is cutting 500 jobs as staff at the ecommerce company become the latest to suffer from a spate of tech layoffs.

Senior technology reporter Matthew Field has the details:

The digital marketplace, which is best known for its online auctions, said in a regulatory filing it would cut about 4pc of its workforce as the online sales boom driven by the pandemic slows.

Jamie Iannone, eBay’s chief executive, said in a note to staff: “This shift gives us additional space to invest and create new roles in high-potential areas.”

It comes after Amazon last month confirmed it would lay off 18,000 people, the biggest round of job losses in its history, as technology companies cut costs amid pressure from investors.

Tech companies hired rapidly during the pandemic, believing the pandemic-fuelled boom in digital technology would be permanent. But this growth has since slowed, with investors agitating for cost cutting. 

08:08 AM

Barratt Developments flags signs of recovery

Britain’s biggest housebuilder has revealed early signs of a recovery in homebuyer demand as mortgage rates start to ease back, but said reservations remain under pressure.

Barratt Developments said it has seen a “modest uplift” in reservations this month, though its weekly net reservation rate remains 46pc lower year-on-year since the start of January.

It had seen reservations plummet by 57pc in the final months of 2022 after the mini-Budget market turmoil sent interest rates on mortgages soaring higher amid political and economic uncertainty.

But mortgage costs have been gradually falling back following actions to stabilise markets and signs that wider interest rates may soon be peaking.

For the first time since the calamitous mini-Budget last September under former Prime Minister Liz Truss, five-year fixed-rate mortgages are now available at below 4pc once again.

HSBC UK announced on Tuesday that it has reduced a five-year fixed-rate mortgage deal for borrowers with a 40% deposit to 3.99pc in a further sign the market is settling following turmoil in the autumn.

08:05 AM

FTSE 100 hits record high at open

The FTSE 100 immediately hit a new record high at the open after US Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell indicated the pace of interest rate rises may ease as the year progresses.

The blue chip index has jumped 0.7pc to 7,922.06 as market sentiment was boosted by Mr Powell’s shrugging off of strong labour market figures on Friday.

The FTSE 250 surged by 0.6pc to 20,299.48.

07:59 AM

Hong Kong citizens suffering ‘genuine hardship’ says MP

The committee’s report comes two years after HSBC chief executive Noel Quinn faced a grilling by MPs over the bank’s operations in Hong Kong, its biggest generator of revenue and profit. 

Giving evidence in January 2021, Mr Quinn said HSBC had to comply with the law and it was not for him to make a “moral or political judgment on these matters”.

Alistair Carmichael, co-chair of the group of MPs, told Bloomberg:

This is no longer just about the interpretation of the law, this is about the fundamental rights of an individual to have access to their own property.

This is causing genuine hardship for people who have made the difficult decision to leave Hong Kong.

07:55 AM

Good morning

HSBC has been accused of siding with Chinese authorities and denying Hong Kong citizens access to their money after moving to the UK, according to a report by MPs.

The report by the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on Hong Kong said the bank had refused to provide documentation to thousands of people who had requested access to their pension funds.

The committee also demanded that the Government should condemn HSBC, Standard Chartered and other banks for backing China’s National Security Law, which has prompted 88,000 Hong Kong residents to move to Britain amid a Beijing crackdown on pro-democracy protesters.

5 things to start your day 

1)  Zoom to lay off 1,300 employees as work from home craze ends | Chief executive Eric Yuan to take 98pc pay cut as company focuses on long-term vision

2) BP chief insists he doesn’t care about rivals despite falling behind US players | Move marks stark readjustment of company’s strategy to shift towards greener energy

3) HS2 train services to be almost halved under proposal to cut costs | Measures to rein in spending include fewer trains and slower speeds

4) ‘Squeezed middle’ will suffer even if Britain dodges recession, warn economists | Inflation and higher interest rates to leave middle class households £4,000 worse off

5) Lidl and Tesco in High Court battle over yellow circle | Branding was allegedly trademarked for use as a ‘weapon in legal proceedings’

What happened overnight 

Asian equities jumped, while the dollar was on the back foot after less hawkish than feared comments from Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell lifted sentiment and fuelled investor hopes the central bank may soon ease monetary policy.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.7pc higher. The index is up about 8pc for the year after shedding nearly 20pc last year. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index rose 0.4pc.

Tokyo’s key Nikkei index ended lower as the market was weighed down by a higher yen against the dollar and lacklustre earnings reports from some corporate giants.

The benchmark Nikkei 225 index slipped 0.3pc to close at 27,606.46, while the broader Topix index added 0.1pc to 1,983.97.

US stock markets closed higher after Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell indicated that last week’s strong jobs report alone isn’t likely to change interest rate forecasts.

However, Mr Powell signalled that further interest rate rises could be necessary if the Federal Reserve continues to receive higher jobs reports or higher inflation reports.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 0.8pc higher at 34,156.69 points, while the broad-based S&P 500 increased 1.3pc to 4,164.00. The tech-focused Nasdaq Composite Index climbed 1.9pc to 12.113.79 points.

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