7 March

@Stu7Tay

7 March

Good morning,

The unified Korean women’s ice hockey team may have returned home without a medal, or indeed a victory from last month’s Winter Olympics, but their existence in Pyongyang may yet receive an accolade for being the spark of hope that eventually may lead to reconciliation on the peninsula.
 
For the goodwill between the nations that sprung at the Games continued yesterday, when Kim Jong-un agreed to historic talks with his South Korean counterpart, following a cordial meeting with a visiting delegation from the South. According to state media, the North Korean leader expressed his desire to “vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification”, something that has not been seen since the two countries divided after the Second World War.
 
Any meeting between the two leaders would be the first such occurrence in over a decade, when Kim’s late father, Kim Jong Il, met President Roh Moo-hyun in 2007. The stumbling block between further cooperation on that occasion was North Korea’s refusal to restrain their nuclear ambitions. This time, however, the country appears willing to cede some ground on the issue, with the North Korean camp vowing yesterday not to test missiles or nuclear weapons during proposed talks with both South Korea and the US.
 
Given that it was only five months since the last North Korean nuclear crisis, the idea that Kim was open to ending the weapons programme he once dubbed as a “treasured sword of justice”, and was keen to be seen to extend the hand of reconciliation, represents at least a remarkable change in tone from Pyongyang.
 
President Trump yesterday tweeted his willingness to cooperate with any potential negotiations, something he saw as “a serious effort” being made for the “first time in many years”. Chung Eui-yong, the South Korean national security adviser who met with Kim, will travel to Washington later this week to brief the US administration on the meeting.
 
After many false starts in the past, it is far too early to say with any certaintythat yesterday’s development will lead to a breakthrough in the Korean Peninsula. But if there’s anything that can be done that might bring about a calming of tensions in the area, as well as an end to the childish ‘Little Rocket Man’ nickname, it’s worth exploring in my book.

News

Police and MI5 are treating the suspected poisoning of a former Kremlin double agent and his daughter as a Kremlin-sponsored assassination attempt. Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, remain in a critical condition in hospital after being exposed to an unknown substance and collapsing at a shopping centre in Salisbury in Sunday. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has said that British dignitaries could boycott the football World Cup in Russia if there is proof that Russia had any involvement in the poisoning. (£)
 
Donald Trump's top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, has resigned after disagreeing with the US president’s plan to impose tariffs on aluminium and steel imports. The former Goldman Sachs president, an advocate of free trade, is the latest in a series of high-profile departures from Trump’s administration after Hope Hicks, the president’s communications director, resigned last week.
 
Defeated Italian prime minister, Matteo Renzi, has moved to veto attempts by senior figures in his Democratic Party to negotiate a coalition deal with the populist Five Star Movement party in order to keep the far-right out of power. Renzi, who has announced that he will stand down as leader after his party slumped to 19% of Sunday’s vote, said “Five Star and the right have insulted us for years and stand for the opposite of our values” and that the Democratic Party should begin a period in opposition. (£)

 

Business & Economy

Chancellor Philip Hammond will tell the EU today that it will harm its own interests if it refuses to include financial services in a future trade agreement with Britain. In a speech later, he will warn that prices on both sides of the channel will go up after Brexit if a deal does not include the sector. His speech comes as Brussels and Paris prepare to rebuff publicly Theresa May’s proposals to maintain the City’s access to the EU single market.
 
RBS yesterday agreed a settlement worth $500m with New York State after the bank mis-sold residential mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis. The deal comes ahead of anticipated separate agreement with the US Department of Justice, which is expected to total billions of dollars.
 
PWC, the administrator to failed City broker Beaufort Securities, has confirmed that it could take “many months” to return cash to investors. The Financial Conduct Authority placed Beaufort in administration on Friday, declaring the company insolvent and freezing about £700 million of funds tied to investments. (£)

Markets

What happened yesterday?
The FTSE 100 closed 31 points, or 0.43% higher yesterday to close at 7,146.75. The biggest climber on the day was packaging group Smurfit Kappa Group which closed up 19.7% after it received a bid from US rival International Paper. 
 
It was not such good news for Just Eat, who saw its shares slide 12.6% despite reporting a big rise in revenues for 2017. That’s because it announced that it is to invest an extra £50m this year to fight off competition from rivals like Deliveroo and Uber Eats. Neil Wilson at ETX Capital said there was a risk the company could become “embroiled in a low-margin street fight” with its competitors, a strategy he felt would fail to deliver for investors.
 
In Asia, South Korea’s currency, the won, strengthened by 1.4% after the announcement of possible talks with North Korea. The Dow Jones also opened higher on signs of a potential easing of tensions in the Peninsula. However, the prospect of a trade war, as well as the resignation of Gary Cohn, saw the futures market fall by more than 1%.

 

Finals
Anpario, Tritax Big Box Reit, Bioquell, CLS Holdings, Equiniti Group, esure Group, FDM Group (Holdings), 4Imprint Group, Hill & Smith Holdings, Legal & General Group, Lookers, Microgen, NMC Health, Ophir Energy, Pagegroup, Paddy Power Betfair, Rolls-Royce Holdings, Restaurant Group, Stock Spirits Group, Tyman, WANdisco

Interims
88 Energy Limited (DI), Netcall, River and Mercantile Group, St Ives

UK Economic Announcements
(08:30) Halifax House Price Index

Int. Economic Announcements
(10:00) Gross Domestic Product (EU)
(12:00) MBA Mortgage Applications (US)
(13:30) Balance of Trade (US)
(15:30) Crude Oil Inventories (US)
(20:00) Consumer Credit (US)

Columns of Note

Writing in The Times, Daniel Finkelstein says that the recent elections in Italy and Germany show a wave of populism is sweeping Europe and it’s time for the EU to reflect on this and reconsider its plans for further integration. Finkelstein concludes that offering a bespoke deal to Britain would show leadership and strengthen the EU’s solidarity. (£)

In the Financial Times, Frederick Studemann looks at the ascendency of women at the very top of German politics. Not only is Angela Merkel’s recently-minted government close to parity between the sexes, most of the frontrunners to succeed Merkel are women. The landscape is in stark contrast to when Merkel herself was making her mark, when she served as one of two women in Helmut Kohl’s last cabinet.

Did you know?

Roman statues were made with detachable heads, so that one head could be removed and replaced by another were a ruler to be disposed.

Parliamentary highlights

TODAY
 
House of Commons

Oral questions
Scotland
 
Prime Minister’s Question Time
 
Opposition Day Debate
Motion in the name of Plaid Cymru - European Union Citizenship
Motion in the name of the Democratic Unionist Party - Subject to be announced
 
House of Lords
 
Legislation
European Union (Withdrawal) Bill - Committee stage (day 5) - Lord Callanan
 
Oral Questions
Impact on the availability of long-term housing for rent of holiday lets - Baroness Gardner of Parkes
Opportunities for the study of music in schools - The Earl of Clancarty
Increasing the number of fully trained nurses working in the National Health Service and the associated care services - Lord Clark of Windermere
 
Scottish Parliament
 
Portfolio Questions: Education and Skills
 
Stage 3 Debate: Forestry and Land Management (Scotland) Bill
 
Stage 1 Debate: UK Withdrawal from the European Union (Legal Continuity) (Scotland) Bill

TOMORROW

House of Commons

Oral questions
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

Business Statement
Business Questions to the Leader of the House -  Andrea Leadsom

House of Lords

Oral questions
Supporting women who are victims of domestic violence -  Baroness Bertin

Ensuring employment protections for women provided for by EU law will be maintained when the UK leaves the EU -  Baroness Gale

Debate
Debate, to mark International Women’s Day, on the steps being taken to press for progress on gender equality globally -  Baroness Williams of Trafford

Scottish Parliament

General Questions

First Minister's Questions

Scottish Government Debate: International Women's Day