21 December 2018

Katie Stanton

21 December 2018

Good morning,

Christmas is four days away and the prospect of dragging myself home for a chaotic few days with the extended family is altogether anxiety inducing (think sugar-fuelled eight-year-olds, a not-so-sober sister and a dash of outspoken granny).

My only solace then is in seeing their wee faces light up as they unwrap the carefully curated gifts I’ve chosen to buy them; their less-than subtle hinting for the past few months has paid off and all is good with the world.

But it’s not such a pretty picture for Britain’s high streets this Christmas. There has been a widely reported lull in retail trading on the high street in recent weeks, as shops feel the impact of mild weather and easy online shopping (guilty).

Meanwhile, British consumer confidence dropped to its lowest level in five years in December according to the GfK consumer confidence index. It dropped to -14, down one point to its lowest level since July 2013. Consumers are ending the year pessimistic about Brexit and the volatile retail industry.

But all is not lost. The Independent retail analyst Richard Hyman contended that while “this year has been the most challenging we have seen”, it will “not be a disaster”. Similarly, Richard Perks, the director of retail research at Mintel, said that high-street operators could breathe a sigh of relief that sales growth would continue”.

And with a last-minute splurge expected on Super Saturday tomorrow, things might be looking up for retailers. The Guardian reported that nearly two million mince pies and 400,000 bottles of fizz could be sold in a last-minute rush for Christmas supplies in the most nerve-wracking day of the year for Britain’s high streets.               

But if the festive season, and all it entails, just isn’t your bag, take heart because today is the shortest day of the year and that means summer is right around the corner.

News

US defence secretary James Mattis resigned yesterday after the US president announced plans to withdraw the US military from Syria completely and pull out substantially from Afghanistan. Mattis opposed the surprise exit from Syria, later penning a letter to Donald Trump that said he would make way for someone who was “better aligned” with the president’s views. (£)

Thousands of passengers were stranded at Gatwick Airport yesterday after a drone was spotted in airspace on Wednesday. Police have failed to locate the device or its pilot, and the army were brought in to assist. The airport has recently reopened and staff are working to introduce “a limited number of flights” over the next few hours.

President Trump is facing rebellion from his supporters after he was denied funding for a border wall. He was refused the $5 billion that he wants for a US-Mexico border wall, with his own party foiling his plans in the Senate, leaving him unable to deliver on a pledge that captivated many of his voters.

The NHS is providing up to £300,000 of funding for “drunk tanks” to stop A&E units and ambulance crews being overwhelmed by intoxicated partygoers over the festive season. The alcohol intoxication management units will provide people with medical checks in city centres, avoiding the need to go to hospital.

Business & Economy

Tokyo prosecutors have arrested ousted Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn for a third time as new allegations of aggravated breach of trust have emerged. Ghosn is accused of signing a contract in October 2008 that would have transferred trading losses totalling ¥1.85bn ($16.6m) from his own asset management company to Nissan. (£) 

The production of cars in the UK fell by almost 20 per cent in November compared with figures from this time last year, according to the industry’s trade body. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders blamed changes to regulation and weaker demand in both UK and export markets. 

Markets

What happened yesterday? 

The FTSE 100 reached two year lows, eventually closing down 0.7% yesterday amid a global market sell-off after the US Federal Reserve’s decision to raise interest rates on Wednesday. The top fallers included cruise operator Carnival, which dropped 10.2% after issuing a flat outlook statement.

Perhaps surprisingly, however, the Office for National Statistics reported strong retail growth in November, with the non-seasonally adjusted growth rate at 13.2%. This news follows reports of a crisis on Britain’s high streets. Andrew Westbrook, head of retail at RSM, reported that growth could be a result of an increase in disposable income as petrol prices fall and wages grow.

Across the pond, Wall Street continued to slide amid fears of higher borrowing costs, disappointing earnings results and growing losses in technology and health stocks. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.7% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq was down 1.9%.

In currency, the pound was up 0.29% against the dollar followed the news from the Federal Reserve, settling around $1.26. The pound was down slightly against the euro at €1.10.

AGMs

Haydale Graphene Industries

KCR Residential Reit

Marble Point Loan Financing Limited NPV

Sabien Technology Group

Transense Technologies

Focusrite

EGMs

Datang International Power Generation Co Ltd.

GMs

Drax Group

Soco International

UK Economic Announcements

(00:01) GFK Consumer Confidence

(08:30) Current Account

(09:30) GDP (Preliminary)

(09:30) Gross Domestic Product

(09:30) Public Sector Net Borrowing

Int. Economic Announcements

(07:00) GFK Consumer Confidence (GER)

(09:30) Personal Spending (US)

(13:30) Durable Goods Orders (US)

(13:30) Personal Consumption Expenditures (US)

(13:30) Gorss Domestic Product (US)

(15:00) U. of Michigan Confidence (US)

Columns of Note 

Christina Sulbaran explains “the Maduro diet” in The Spectator this week. She laments the demise of the once prosperous Venezuela: “in the past four years, things have changed – utterly.” Supermarket shelves are empty, currency has skyrocketed and cash machines impose strict limits, assuming they work at all. Without food, this Christmas won’t be a celebration for Sulbaran, but there is one thing that the regime cannot take away: her solidarity with her fellow Venezuelans.

The Financial Times has made  George Soros its person of the year. Roula Khalaf takes an in-depth look at the history of the philanthropist described as the “standard bearer for liberal democracy” in a world under siege from populism.

Did you know?

Drug lord Pablo Escobar’s private zoo wasn’t properly dismantled after his death so rural Colombia is now home to a rampant population of thriving hippos. 

Parliamentary highlights

TODAY

House of Commons

No business scheduled.

House of Lords

No business scheduled.

Scottish Parliament

No business scheduled.