It is one of the more curious developments of 2018 – and certainly not one that foreign policy watchers expected during a Trump presidency – but it looks as if a significant cooling of tensions between North and South Korea could be on the cards this week.
Kim Jong-un will on Friday meet President Moon Jae-In of South Korea, becoming the first North Korean leader since the 1950-53 Korean War to cross the military demarcation line that divides the Korean peninsula.
The leaders will meet at the border and are expected to discuss the potential for a commitment by North Korea to give up its nuclear weapon capability as the first step to bringing peace to the peninsula. Alongside a series of talks which will take place at a military compound in Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone, the meeting will also include a ceremonial tree planting ceremony and a joint declaration on proceedings.
Whichever way you look at it, Friday’s meeting marks a volte face of proportions nobody could have predicted even at the end of last year when tensions between North and South were thought to be running at record highs. And whether his opponents care to admit it or not, Donald Trump seems to be playing a rather vocal role in proceedings.
Speaking in Washington DC yesterday, the US president said that Kim Jong Un “has really been very open and I think very honourable based on what we are seeing”. That’s the same man he described as “Little Rocket Man” in a typically blunt tweet not so long ago.
The American press has, unsurprisingly, picked up on Trump’s unusual choice of flattery given a very recent history of human rights abuses and suspected state-organised assassinations by North Korea. But most are in agreement; something seems to be working in the president’s newly mollified tone.
If, or indeed when, the meeting between Trump and the Korean leaders takes place in coming weeks, here’s hoping he leaves the big guy talk (and the mobile phone) at home.
The DUP has warned that it is prepared to vote against the government if Northern Ireland is forced to stay in the single market or customs union after Brexit. Speaking in Westminster yesterday, Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, said continued membership of either bloc would be crossing “red lines” for his party. MPs are due to discuss the Customs Union in parliament later today, but Downing Street has downplayed its significance as a “routine backbench business debate”. (£)
Tax havens which shelter dirty money in the British Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands are set to be exposed under new legislation to be forced through parliament. The prime minister has previously committed to the legislation, which is intended as a rebuke of Russian oligarchs close to President Putin who are thought to be exploiting loopholes in Britain’s financial system, but has so far failed to take action. As a result, a coalition of Conservative Party rebels and MPs from opposition parties will debate the legislation next week, and are thought to have enough support to defeat the government. (£)
BUSINESS AND ECONOMY
More than 40 companies including Coca-Cola, P&G, M&S and Asda have signed up to the UK Plastics Pact in an effort to cut plastic pollution over the next seven years. Led by the sustainability campaign group WRAP, the signatories of the pact are responsible for more than 80% of plastic packaging sold through UK supermarkets. One of the pledges supported by the pact includes a commitment to making 100% of plastic packaging ready for recycling or composting by 2025.
Facebook has reported quarterly sales of $11.9 billion in the first set of data released since the social media giant became embroiled in a user privacy scandal last month. The returns defied analyst predictions, representing a near 50% jump on revenues of $8 billion in the previous quarter. Facebook also reported a growth in first quarter profits to $4.9 billion, and advertising revenues of $11.7 billion. Facebook’s chief technology officer also separately announced plans for political advertising to be made far more transparent in time for the May 2019 local elections in England and Northern Ireland.
The Times reports that British companies may be in the middle of a “takeover boom”. According to Thomson Reuters, 35 transactions involving a British or Irish company – totaling £204 billion – had been completed since the start of 2018. That is almost double the previous peak of £104 billion accrued by deals during the first four months of 2000. Yesterday Sky and Shire Pharmaceuticals were two FTSE 100 companies to become the target of foreign takeover bids, whilst Whitbread announced plans to demerge its Costa Coffee chain.
UK car manufacturing output fell by 13.3% during March as both domestic and overseas demand for vehicles declined. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturing and Traders which published the monthly report, poor weather had affected production but the data represented a “considerable concern”, marking the eighth consecutive month in which UK car sales had fallen.
What happened yesterday?
London stocks compounded their losses yesterday, taking their cue from a sell-off on Wall Street amid rising government bond yields in the States. Although the FTSE 100 finished down 0.62% at 7,379.32, it did manage to keep above its lows of the session.
Talk of M&A was behind yesterday’s biggest gains, including broadcaster Sky (up 3.9%), whose stock rose following a formal takeover offer by US cable TV company Comcast for £12.50 per share, beating a lower offer made by 21stCentury Fox. Pharma giant Shire also rose after its directors said they were willing to recommend the latest takeover proposal from Takeda Pharmaceutical that was pitched at £49 per share. The UK Takeover Panel has given the companies until 1700 BST on 8 May to conclude talks.
Among the day’s fallers was Whitbread (down 0.22%) after announcing it would spin off its Costa Coffee chain as a separate listing within two years. Speciality chemicals group Croda International (down 3.92%) bottomed out the list, however, despite saying it was on track to meet earnings expectations for the year and posting a four per cent rise in core sales for Q1.
The pound was again lower on Wednesday, finishing down 0.3% against the dollar at $1.39, but remained slightly up on the euro at €1.14.
Brown (N.) Group
Novacyt S.A. (CDI)
U And I Group
Domino’s Pizza Group
Gem Diamonds Ltd. (DI)
Hastings Group Holdings
UK Economic Announcements
(07.00) Nationwide House Price Index
(09.30) BBA Mortgage Lending Figures
(11.00) CBI Distributive Trades Surveys
Int. Economic Announcements
(08.00) GFK Consumer Confidence (GER)
(12.45) ECB Interest Rate (EU)
(13.30) Continuing Claims (US)
(13.30) Durable Goods Orders (US)
(13.30) Initial Jobless Claims (US)
CableVision Holdings S.A. GDS
French Connection Group
FDM Group (Holdings)
Fondul Proprietatea S.A. GDR (Reg S)
Impact Healthcare Reit
LSL Property Services
Murray International Trust
RIT Capital Partners
COLUMNS OF NOTE
In the FT Big Read, George Parker and James Blitz comment that the debate over continued UK membership of the Customs Union is shaping up to be the most significant battleground to date in the Brexit process. Despite the government’s attempts to fudge the particularities of a deal so far, the authors comment that the conclusion of the debate will in fact be “very binary” and bound to alienate support for the government. (£)
Also in the FT, Jamil Anderlini argues that Donald Trump is “right” over China. Anderlini points out that the US president is simply speaking for a large section of foreign companies who operate in China when he criticises a perceived imbalance in competition and operating environments. The author suggests that industry has been prevented from speaking too loudly on the issue to date for fear of being shut out of the Chinese market, which Trump’s intervention may help alleviate. (£)
DID YOU KNOW?
There are fewer female US Republican senators than those named John. This is despite the fact that women make up half the US population and people named John just over three per cent.
House of Commons
Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (including Topical Questions)
Church Commissioners, the House of Commons Commission, the Public Accounts Commission and the Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission
Debate on a Motion on Plastic Bottles and Coffee Cups - Mary Creagh
House of Lords
Identifying landlords who breach the 90 day restriction on short term lets - Baroness Gardner of Parkes
Enhancing the role of the Food Standards Agency after Brexit - Baroness Jones of Whitchurch
Continuing UK participation in the Galileo space project after Brexit - Lord Haskel
First Minister's Questions
Stage 3 Proceedings
Civil Litigation (Expenses and Group Proceedings) (Scotland) Bill
Appointment of Member of the Standards Commission for Scotland
House of Commons
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House of Lords
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