It is a Friday ritual of mine to start the morning with a read through Sathnam Sanghera’s Times column (which today is a doozy on the Indians taking over corporate life), swiftly followed by a perusal of the home supplements. Self-interested, perhaps, but there is nothing that thrills me more than ending the week with reading news of the encroaching influence of the ‘Bank of Mum & Dad’ or the latest ‘trend alert’ for my living room (“statement glasses” in case you were curious).
And on trend elsewhere in the paper this Friday? Why, the Centrist Dad of course.
No, I’m not just referring to former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna or Chris Leslie, however much of a stushie their break to the new Independent Group has caused in Westminster this week. Instead, the fever is raging in Israel. There, two newcomers fed up with a political landscape pockmarked by corruption and sectarianism are bidding to upend ten years of unbroken right-wing rule by prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The informal “Israel Resilience” alliance, hastily agreed at 5am yesterday, between Benny Gantz, a former head of the Israel defence forces, and Yair Lapid, a one-time television personality, is already leading in the polls. The new party, which will be called ‘Blue and White’ after the colours of the Israeli flag, is polling at 27% against Netanyahu’s Likud party, which stands between 21%-26%. If elected, the pair have agreed to serve two and a half year terms each.
The election campaign has turned ugly. Netanyahu has sought to recruit candidates from the far-right Jewish Power party to stand as representatives for his centre-right bloc, attracting the criticism of Israel’s religious leaders that he is “interested only in winning the election and nothing else”. Indictment charges currently lodged against the prime minister may also have something to do with his angst.
As the April 9th polling date approaches, expect scapegoating to be equally on trend. Netanyahu has already taken to the airwaves to denounce the “weak leftists” who are trying to succeed “on the votes of the Arab parties who want to destroy the state of Israel”. Here’s hoping the new entrants bring some civility to the debate.
The family of Shamima Begum have written to the UK government to announce their intention to challenge its decision to revoke her UK citizenship. In a letter to home secretary Sajid Javid, Shamima’s sister, Renu Begum, suggested the family attempted to block her travel to ISIS and that her fate was now “a matter for British courts” and that they “cannot simply abandon her”.
Up to 30 Conservative MPs are preparing to rebel against the government in order to prevent a no-deal Brexit, the BBC reports this morning. The Brexit Delivery Group of both Leavers and Remainers suggest its opposition is likely if the prime minister cannot pass a reworked Withdrawal Agreement through the Commons on February 27th. The 100-strong Brexiteer European Research Group also warns that it may withhold its support for future government legislation if Brexit is delayed beyond March 29.
Meanwhile, Jeremy Corbyn has been warned by “dozens of [Labour] MPs”, including shadow ministers, that they are prepared to join the new Independent Group if he refuses support for a second referendum. The Timessuggests the move may force Labour to issue an ultimatum to the prime minister, offering their support for the bill in return for putting it a Remain-Deal public vote.
Supporters of Catalan independence have launched a 24-hour general strike in protest against the trial of 12 nationalist leaders currently underway in Madrid. Demonstrators blocked roads and train tracks in Barcelona yesterday, leaving 22 with minor injuries and resulting in four arrests. The Spanish king, Felipe VI, meanwhile made a thinly-veiled rebuke of the demonstrators by stating democracy was not above respect for the law.
Business & Economy
The Office for National Statistics found that UK public finances reported a record surplus of £14.9 billion in January. The figure beat economists’ forecasts of £10 billion, and £5.6 billion greater than the previous year. While the fiscal status quo is expected to hold at next month’s budget Spring Statement, the extra funds have fuelled speculation of greater investment.
First-time buyers in the UK have reached their highest number since 2006. According to UK Finance, mortgage providers advanced £62 billion to first-time buyers last year, equivalent to 370,000 newcomer mortgages. The rise, which is 4.9% higher than in 2017, is attributed to increased uptake of the government’s Help to Buy scheme and rising support by “the Bank of Mum and Dad”. (£)
Hong Kong is preparing to open its banking market to online competitors for the first time. In the coming weeks, six companies including Tencent, Ant Financial, Alibaba, smartphone maker Xiaomi and insurer Zhongan are to be issued with digital banking licenses. Goldman Sachs suggests that the market may be up to $15 billion in size – equivalent to two-thirds of annual retail banking revenues, currently held by domestic Hong Kong banks including HSBC and Standard Chartered.
What happened yesterday?
A mixed bag of economic data coming from the Treasury and the Fed Reserve made for an uneven day on the London market. By close of play, the FTSE 100 stood 0.85% or 61.223 points down at 7,167.39, while the FTSE 250 added 0.18% to close at 19,236.88. The pound was slightly down on both the euro by 0.03% at €1.15 and the dollar by 0.08% at $1.30.
In the UK, the news of a record budget surplus from the ONS raised the prospect that next month’s budgetary Spring Statement may not amount to a simple holding operation. Poorer-than-expected manufacturing data in the US, meanwhile, stoked some concern that private investment may be on the wane.
In corporate news, energy supplier Centrica (down 11.7%) bottomed out the day’s losers as its shares responded to news that the government-imposed price cap would indeed hit its 2019 results. The company announced a rise in operating profits, and its intention to sell its North American franchise home services business, Clockwork, for £230 million as a response to slower regional growth.
Despite reporting that full year operating profit rose 14.3% to £1.6 billion, defence contractor BAE Systems was also down (-7.85%) as it warned that Germany’s move to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia could impact its ability to pursue sales in the country.
Barclays (-0.06%), meanwhile, about broke even as its fourth-quarter profits beat analysts’ estimates. In the last three months of 2018, the lender posted a one per cent increase in pre-tax profits at £574 million having also reported a two per cent rise in adjusted total income to £5.1 billion.
Afarak Group (DI)
APC Technology Group
Urals Energy Public Co Ltd. (DI)
UK Economic Announcements
(11.00) CHI Distributive Trade Surveys
Intl. Economic Announcements
(07:00) Gross Domestic Product (GER)
(09:00) IFO Business Climate (GER)
(09:00) IFO Current Assessment (GER)
(09:00) IFO Expectations (GER)
(10:00) Consumer Price Index (EU)
Columns of Note
The Times Red Box Unplugged Podcast interviews new Independent Group MP Anna Soubry on her view of British politics. Giving a damning indictment of the government, including Chris Grayling and the prime minister in particular, Soubry also explains that David Cameron was among those asked by Downing St to pressure her to remain with the Tories.
Philip Collins writes in The Times that the Independent Group must appeal beyond its opposition to Brexit in order to be electorally successful. He suggests the party would carve out a distinct identity by being pro-immigration, pro-market, and vocal in its support for wealth redistribution and internationalism. He also suggests the party move past support for another referendum, introduce land taxation and a scheme of vocational curriculum , and hike the living wage. (£)
Did you know?
Beer was not classed as an alcoholic drink in Russia until 2011, having previously been defined by a law which stated that anything containing less than 10% alcohol was a foodstuff.
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