22 February


22 February

Good morning,

At the White House yesterday, President Trump hosted survivors of last week’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and parents of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary and Columbine High School.
In an emotional “listening session”, attendees recounted their experiences and urged action to prevent further shootings.
Trump expressed his support for arming teachers, suggesting that a staff member with a gun could end an attack “very quickly”. He also backed calls for improved background checks on buyers of guns and announced that regulations would be proposed to ban bump stocks, which allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at a faster rate, almost like machine guns.
Trump’s positions are almost entirely in line with those of the National Rifle Association (NRA), which contributed an estimated $30 million to his campaign. The NRA has advocated armed teachers for some time now, accepts limits on the availability of bump stocks, and has said it will concede on improved background checks in exchange for strengthening the right to carry firearms.
It speaks volumes that an administration is so protective of the right to bear arms that it would rather put primary school children in a room with armed teachers than reform gun laws.


The UN Security Council will today vote on a resolution ordering a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to millions and the evacuation of the sick and wounded. The resolution was proposed by Sweden and Kuwait and is due to concerns over the welfare of those in Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held enclave which is under fierce bombardment from pro-government forces.
More than one million extra people should be offered antidepressants after a global study led by researchers from Oxford University concluded that, despite historic concerns and “ideological resistance”, they do work. The study found that every one of the 21 most commonly used antidepressants was better than a placebo but researchers said that doctors should switch towards the best performing ones. It is thought that about two million people in Britain suffer from depression, but just one-sixth get the help they need.
A month of strikes by university lecturers affecting 64 universities and more than a million students is underway. The University and College Union called the strikes in protest at proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme, which will leave a typical lecturer about £10,000 a year worse off in retirement. However, Universities UK says the scheme has a £6 billion deficit which cannot be ignored. Petitions have been signed by 80,000 students, backing the lecturers and demanding refunds for loss of teaching time.


Business & Economy

The government is bracing itself for a decision over the location of Unilever’s unified headquarters. Currently, the Anglo-Dutch company has a dual legal structure which involves two parent companies, two listings, two headquarters and two annual meetings. However, it decided to simplify its structure and unify in order to appease investors following a failed takeover bid by Kraft Heinz. Negotiations have been going on for months, but it is thought that Brexit may tilt the balance in favour of Rotterdam over London.
Barclays has announced that annual pre-tax profits climbed 10% from £3.23 billion to £3.54 billion. Jes Staley, chief executive, described 2017 as a “year of considerable progress” and said he is pleased with the start to 2018 despite it being “too early to offer formal guidance”. The bank also said that it had set aside £1.2 billion for litigation and conduct, including £700 million for PPI mis-selling.
Environment secretary Michael Gove has warned water companies that he will give Ofwat, the water regulator, new powers if they are unable to address concerns over prices, executive remuneration, and payments to shareholders. Ofwat figures show that water prices have outstripped inflation by 36% since privatisation and a study by the University of Greenwich found that water companies made £18 billion in pre-tax profits over the last decade and paid almost the same amount to shareholders in dividends.


What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 was up 34.8 points, or 0.48%, to 7,281.57 but the FTSE 250 fell marginally, dropping 14.02, or 0.07%, to 19,788.89.
AA, a constituent of the FTSE 250, was the day’s worst performer, finishing down 28.13% after it slashed its dividend from 9p to 2p and warned on profits. The breakdown cover provider said it had cut full-year profit forecasts for next year to £335m-£345m, compared with expectations of £390m-395m for the year to April. 
The company said this was due to its three-year plan to boost the use of vehicle monitoring systems which spot breakdowns preemptively and expand the insurance business, requiring an extra £45 million in both operational and capital spending this year, and another £54 million over the next two years.
Simon Breakwell, chief executive, described the investment as “vital to our long-term success”. However, it was another difficult day for AA shares which have lost two-thirds of their value since the 2014 flotation.
At the other end of the spectrum, Glencore, the Swiss headquartered mining company, climbed 5.24% after reporting that earnings had surged 44%, the highest annual earnings in its 44-year history. This will result in a dividend of 20 cents a share, or $2.9 billion in total.
Fellow miners followed in Glencore’s wake, with Anglo American, Antofagasta and BHP Billiton up 3.26%, 0.96% and 0.24% respectively.
There was more volatility on Wall Street after the minutes of the Federal Reserve’s January policy meeting were released. The central bank said that economic growth was set to increase, supporting the case for further interest rate rises.
The S&P 500 was down 0.55%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 0.67% and the Nasdaq fell 0.22%.
On the currency markets, the pound was down 0.07% against the dollar at $1.3907 but was up 0.01% against the euro at €1.1329.


Bouygues SA, Arbuthnot Banking Group, BAE Systems, Barclays, British American Tobacco, Centrica, Intu Properties, Kaz Minerals, JSC KazMunaiGaz Exploration Production GDR (Reg S), Macfarlane Group, Morgan Sindall Group, Moneysupermarket.com Group, Hellenic Telecom Industries SA ADS, Playtech, Rathbone Brothers, RSA Insurance Group, Serco Group, TBC Bank Group, Vitec Group
Go-Ahead Group, Hays, Wilmington
Q1 Results
Safestore Holdings
Q4 Results
Hellenic Telecom Industries SA ADS

Trading Announcements
Hansard Global, Safestore Holdings
APC Technology Group, Zytronic
UK Economic Announcements
(09:30) GDP (Preliminary)
(09:30) Index of Services
(11:00) CBI Distributive Trades Surveys
International Economic Announcements
(09:00) IFO Business Climate (GER)
(09:00) IFO Current Assessment (GER)
(09:00) IFO Expectations (GER)
(13:30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13:30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US) 


Columns of Note

In The Times, David Aaronovitch looks at the Stop Funding Hate campaignafter Center Parcs pulled its advertising from the Daily Mail. That decision followed a column from Richard Littlejohn in which he argued that children are best raised by a man and a woman, views described as “inappropriate content” by the holiday park operator. Aaronovitch expresses some sympathy but objects for two reasons; the campaign is likely to cause resentment rather than change minds, and it could result in effective censorship if newspaper executives see the need to tone down content to protect revenues.

Writing in the Financial Times, Philip Stephens argues that Russia has been left as the winner from the US foreign policy void under President Trump. He highlights that there appears to be no replacement for the American “glue” which has held the international order together since 1945 and examines the divide between Trump and Congress with regards to Russian aggression. Stephens suggests a return of the Cold War approach of “deterrence and dialogue” may be the answer.

Did you know?

According to his press secretary Pierre Salinger, President John F. Kennedy bought 1,200 Cuban cigars before signing the decree ordering the US trade embargo on the Caribbean island.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons
Oral Questions
International Trade (including Topical Questions)
Women and Equalities (including Topical Questions)
Debate on a motion on the role of disabled people in economic growth
General debate: Cancer strategy
House of Lords
Oral questions
Providing patients with costs of treatment to encourage charitable donations to the NHS - Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe
Re-establishment of devolved government in Northern Ireland - Lord Lexden
Assessment of the situation in Sudan regarding human rights and humanitarian aid - Baroness Cox
Legislation: Nuclear Safeguards Bill - Committee stage (day 1) - Lord Henley
Scottish Parliament
General Questions
First Minister’s Questions
Ministerial Statement: Prestwick Airport
Scottish Government Debate: Scotland’s Population Needs and Migration Policy
Legislative Consent Memorandum: Financial Guidance and Claims Bill
House of Commons
Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill - 2nd reading - Mr Geoffrey Robinson
Legalisation of Cannabis (Medicinal Purposes) Bill - 2nd reading - Paul Flynn
Sanctions (Human Rights Abuse and Corruption) Bill - 2nd reading - Ian Austin
Terms of Withdrawal from EU (Referendum) Bill - 2nd reading - Geraint Davies
House of Lords
Ecumenical Marriage Bill [HL] - 2nd reading - Lord Deben
Family Relationships (Impact Assessment and Targets) Bill [HL] - 2nd reading - Lord Farmer
Criminal Records Bill [HL] - 2nd reading - Lord Ramsbotham
Scottish Parliament
No business scheduled