18 August

@scottreid1992

Good morning,

Spain has suffered its worst terror attack since the Madrid bombings in 2004, as a vehicle attack on Barcelona’s Las Ramblas has killed 13 people with at least 100 more injured, 15 of them seriously. As a major tourist centre, the authorities have confirmed that the victims were from at least 24 different countries.

The incident began at 16.50 local time on Thursday, as a white van zig-zagged along a 500m stretch of the city’s main pedestrian boulevard, deliberately targeting bystanders. Several assailants have reportedly been killed in a separate attack in the nearby town of Cambrils, with both attacks claimed by Islamist militants.

The use of vehicles as weapons is now a painfully standardised weapon in the terrorist arsenal. A woman was killed with a car by a right-wing extremist at the Charlottesville demonstrations in the US last week, and in the past 13 months alone, there have been 8 similar attacks in the UK, France, Germany and Sweden.

As the news sets in over a worried continent, the Spanish Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy has called for a rallying resolve between nations: “the fight against terrorism is the principal priority for free and open societies like ours. It is a global threat and the response has to be global."

News

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, has declared the US to be at economic war with China, calling the nuclear confrontation with North Korea a ‘sideshow’. He expressed anger that the crisis has forced the US to postpone serious trade sanctions on China in order to enlist the country’s support on North Korea. The Trump administration had criticised Chinese demands that American companies doing business there share sensitive proprietary technology, with further complaints over steel and aluminium dumping. The strategist is thought to be on the way out in a series of high-profile exits from the Trump administration.

Donald Trump incited fresh ire on Thursday after lamenting the removal of ‘beautiful statues and monuments’ commemorating the Confederacy. The president finds himself increasingly isolated after defending the white supremacists who led a march on Saturday to protest against the removal of a statue of Confederate general, Robert E. Lee, in Charlottesville, Virginia, during which a demonstrator was killed and several were injured. 

Top A-level grades have increased for the first time in six years, with boys overtaking girls in the highest grades as results were announced yesterday. A* and A grades were awarded to 26.3 per cent of entries, up 0.5 per cent, amid news that many places on top university courses were still unfilled. This was the first year for a new style of qualification, decided solely by final exam.

A judge has ruled that it is legal for Northern Ireland not to recognise same-sex marriages. Mr Justice O’Hara dismissed two court challenges against the same-sex marriage ban in Northern Ireland, saying that it did not violate the rights of LGBT couples. He ruled that social policy was up to the decision of the Stormont assembly, which remains in political deadlock.

Business and Economy

Drilling has started on the first UK shale well for six years as geologists remain unconvinced on the amount of gas available for fracking. Cuadrilla, the company seeking US-style shale production in the UK, announced it had begun drilling at a site near Blackpool, ending a hiatus since 2011. The company was given the go-ahead by ministers last year, in hopes that shale in the UK may replicate American success, cutting gas prices and bolstering energy security.

Unemployment in France has fallen to a five-year low at 9.4 per cent in a strong sign of the country’s accelerating recovery amid a broad economic resurgence across the Eurozone. The announcement is also a much-welcome boon for Emmanuel Macron as he presses ahead with controversial labour market reforms in parliament. The single-currency bloc as a whole grew 0.6 per cent in Q2 – twice as fast as the UK in the same period.

Asda has announced its first rise in sales for three years. The supermarket, which ends a run of falling sales over the past 12 years, edged a 1.8 per cent increase in sales during Q2. While modest, the uptick is a dramatic turnaround from the 7.5 per cent slump Asda posted this time last year – the chain’s worst ever result. The return of inflation, a successful Easter and reform efforts are pointed to as the company toasts its success. 

Markets

What happened yesterday?

European markets have retreated firmly into the red today, with financials suffering most as the prospect of a US-rate rise receded on news overnight. 

The FTSE 100 closed down 0.61 per cent to 7387.87, as minutes from the Federal Reserve’s latest meeting showed policy makers were growing more cautious about recent weak inflation with some calling for a pause in interest rate hikes. Better-than-expected retail sales figures yesterday morning did little to shift the downward momentum, showing month-on-month sales grew by 0.3 per cent in July.

In financials, The Royal Bank of Scotland Group and Standard Charted dipped 2.2 per cent and 2.72 per cent respectively, as companies in overseas markets more exposed to US jitters. Kingfisher, the owner of B&Q hardware stores, was an exception to better sales figures – driven by food - dropping 4.1 per cent as the day’s biggest loser. Gold firm Fresnillo was yesterday’s winner, up 4 per cent as the precious metal – an investors’ favourite in uncertain times – rose.

The pound was flat against the dollar at $1.2885 but up on 0.2 per cent on the euro at €1.0975.

AGMs

Grand Group Investment (DI), System1 Group

Annual Report

Abbey

International Economic Announcements

(07:00) Producer Price Index (GER)

(09.00) Current Account (EU)

(15.00) U. of Michigan Confidence (Prelim) (US)

 

Columns of note

Writing in The Telegraph, Francis Maude has commented that the Tories must retreat from statist economic thinking in Brexit plans, and re-embrace free market liberalism in order to reconnect with the young. With a vacuum in the political centre, Maude suggests the Chancellor should be allowed more leeway in making his case for a ‘capitalist’ exit from the EU. (£)

In his column in The Guardian, Owen Jones has criticised calls for a new centrist party, commenting that centrism in Britain remains in denial over its flaws, and thus cannot connect to new political realities.

Did you know?

The average person walks the equivalent of twice around the world in a lifetime.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons

In recess until 5th September

House of Lords

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Scottish Parliament

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