Top 10 Stories of the Week! 07/03/16

Below are our top 10 stories that you need to know about. Be sure to check our twitter page for regular posts of important headlines. Click on the links for full stories.

Opinion articles of the week:

How would a Brexit affect law students? Click here for The Guardian’s insight into the prevalence of EU law within key law modules.

Negative interest rates are becoming increasingly common but many central banks are raising questions about their efficacy. Click here for the debate. For a short video explaining what negative interest rates are and how they work click here.

Fintech companies are increasingly opting to stay private rather than going public. Click here for Bloomberg’s view on the cause of the trend.

 

1. UK TRADE FIGURES

The UK’s trade deficit narrowed in January, official figures show, but its goods trade gap with the EU widened to a record level. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the total trade deficit – covering goods and services – shrank to £3.5bn from £3.7bn in December. The deficit in goods alone narrowed to £10.29bn – down from £10.45bn the previous month.

The goods trade deficit with the EU however, widened to £8.1bn, from £7.4bn. Trade with the EU is coming under more attention because of the UK referendum on EU membership on 23 June. (BBC News)

2. SUNDAY TRADING

The government’s plans to relax Sunday trading laws were rejected, after David Cameron suffered his biggest Commons defeat since the election at the hands of his own Conservative MPs.

The government’s attempt to let larger shops trade for longer than six hours each Sunday was voted down after 27 Tory backbenchers teamed up with Labour and the SNP.It lost by 31 votes after Cameron failed to reach a compromise with unconvinced MPs, who argued that it was necessary to “keep Sunday special” and protect family time for shop workers.

The defeat is the second of this parliament in the Commons for Cameron, and the first major one since his failure to win a vote on military action in Syria in 2013. His first loss of the parliament was a vote won by Tory Eurosceptics and Labour over the “purdah” rules governing the EU referendum in September. (The Guardian)

3. OIL PRICES

The oil price rose above $40 for the first time since December last week after extending gains that have seen it recover from a sharp downturn. Hopes of an improving global outlook and stronger sentiment for a recovery in turbulent markets saw the price of a barrel of Brent crude surge as high as $41, its highest level for nearly three months.

The price tumbled close to $27 in January, its lowest level since 2003, amid a glut in oil supply and slowing world demand as the global economy stuttered. (Sky News)

*Oil prices have since fallen below $40 again as of 14/3/16 after Iran announced it was not going to be involved in any coordinated production freeze any time soon. (CNBC)

4. TEVA PHARMACEUTICALS – ALLERGAN UNIT ACQUISITION

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is expected to win antitrust approval from the European Commission for a $40.5bn (£28.5bn) bid for Allergan’s generics unit. If the deal is closed, Allergan will receive $33.75bn in cash and shares of Teva valued at $6.75bn.

The deal is set to get the go-ahead from the European Commission after Teva agreed to sell off some of its products to appease regulators. To address competition concerns, Teva will dispose of some drugs that are already on the market and others that are in the pipeline. Sources had previously said assets worth around $1bn in the US, Europe and Middle East would be sold to win approval. (City A.M)

This comes months after Pfizer agreed a merger with Allergan in a $160bn deal which is due to be completed late 2016. (City A.M)

5. E-ON LOSSES

German energy firm E.On has said its annual net losses more than doubled in 2015 to €7bn (£5.4bn) after it wrote down the value of its loss making power plants by €8.8bn. The energy firm blamed record low wholesale electricity prices. E.On also reported a 9% fall in underlying earnings at its UK supply business to £267m, from £294m in 2014. The company said the fall in UK earnings was the result of its 3.5% cut in gas prices in January 2015.

In addition, it also pointed to “keen competition in the marketplace”. E.On is one of the “big six” energy companies in the UK, where it supplies electricity and gas to about five million customers.

E.On is however, in the process of hiving off its more traditional forms of power generation, in particular coal-fired power generation, into a separate company called Uniper. Uniper is expected to be listed on the German stock exchange some time during the second half of this year.

E.On itself will focus on what it calls the “new energy world” of renewable energy, including solar and wind energy. (BBC News)

6. DEUTSCHE BANK AND UBS BONUS COURT RULING

The UK Supreme Court has ruled Deutsche Bank and UBS should pay taxes on bonuses paid to their investment bankers. The bonuses were paid to staff via offshore accounts in the form of shares to avoid attracting income tax and national insurance in 2004.

The banks had argued that restrictions placed on the payouts meant they were not liable for tax. But a judge said the UBS restrictions were “completely arbitrary”.Under tax rules at the time, shares attracted only a 10% capital gains tax rather than income tax and National Insurance contributions.

In the case of Deutsche Bank bonus shares were awarded to staff through a Cayman Islands company, known as Dark Blue Investments. To qualify for the bonus payout staff only had to avoid being dismissed, or not resign within six weeks of receiving their bonus shares. After a period of time had elapsed the shares could then be redeemed by the employees as cash. (BBC News)

7. N-POWER JOB CUTS

Unions have reacted angrily to the announcement that energy firm Npower is to cut 2,400 jobs in the UK by 2018. Unison warned the job losses would deal a “devastating blow” to communities across the UK.

The job losses come as Npower announced annual losses of €137m (£106m) compared with €227m profit in 2014. The “big six” energy firm also lost 351,000 customer accounts in 2015 and has been plagued by complaints over billing.

In December, Npower was fined a record £26m by the energy industry’s regulator, Ofgem for its failure to bill customers correctly and deal with complaints effectively. The energy firm’s parent company, Germany’s RWE, warned that billing issues at Npower would continue throughout 2016.

Npower currently employs 11,500 people in the UK, of which 6,668 are full time posts. It said the job losses would be among both its directly employed staff and contractors. (BBC News)

8. KRISPY KREME IPO

The owners of Krispy Kreme’s British operation are baking plans for a public share sale that would represent the latest calorific addition to London’s equity markets.

Alcuin Capital Partners, which has owned Krispy Kreme UK since 2011, has appointed Investec, the investment bank, to oversee the flotation. The timing and scale of the likely share sale were unclear on Thursday, but market sources suggested it was likely to take place later this year.

Alcuin acquired a big stake in Krispy Kreme UK, the maker of glazed doughnuts, as part of a management buyout in 2011. The company, which opened its first UK store in London in October 2003, has since opened dozens more, as well as hundreds of in-store cabinets with retail partners such as Tesco. (Sky News)

9. HOTEL CHOCOLAT IPO

Hotel Chocolat plans to raise £50m by listing on the Alternative Investment Market (Aim) in London.

The company, which makes and sells chocolate through 84 stores in the UK and abroad, said the funds raised would be used to finance further expansion. It posted sales of £81.1m for the year to 28 June 2015 with profits of £7.9m before interest, tax and other charges.

The company planned to make further investment in chocolate manufacturing in the UK, as well as new stores and its online service. Hotel Chocolat recorded 5 million transactions in that period with an average transaction value of £15 excluding VAT. The company also said it planned to buy the Rabot Estate in St Lucia, which partly supplies its cocoa, before listing in the second quarter of the year.

Aim is a sub-index of the London Stock Exchange that was set up in 1995 to help small firms raise funds they needed for expansion. (BBC News)

10. MARIA SHARAPOVA

Sponsors have moved quickly to distance themselves from Maria Sharapova after the five-time Grand Slam tennis champion admitted failing a drug test.

Nike has suspended its relationship, while Tag Heuer has cut its ties. Nike said it was “saddened and surprised” at her admission that she tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open in January.

Ms Sharapova said she had been taking meldonium since 2006, on the advice of her family doctor.

She is one of the highest paid female athletes with earnings of over $30m last year from winnings and endorsements. In addition to the moves from Nike and Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer, German carmaker Porsche said it was “postponing planned activities” with Ms Sharapova until the situation became clearer. (BBC News)

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