In one of the classic understatements of the year so far, new finance minister George Osborne has just announced his findings that the British economy is in a dire state and there will be difficult times ahead. Osborne’s revelation came as the government sat down to take action on tackling the record budget deficit. Osborne took up the role of Chancellor after the center-right Conservatives joined with the center-left Liberal Democrats to form the country’s first coalition government for more than half a century, as the Labour Government wound up 13 years rule.
Britain has barely limped out of the worst recession since World War Two, and the new government is under pressure to show their pre-election promises to reduce spending and raise taxes to cut a budget deficit running at more than 11 percent of GDP were not hollow. The coalition already pledged to significantly accelerate the reduction of the deficit in the next five years, cutting £6 billion pounds ($8.75 billion) from non-frontline public services during the current financial year. George Osborne is expected to unveil his emergency Budget on June 22 as the new coalition Government attempts to overcome the appalling state of the economy inherited from Labour.
Meanwhile on the home front, news from the Council of Mortgage Lenders (CML) is that mortgage borrowing by house buyers is on the increase, with the number of loans made to home buyers rising by 25% between February and March, to reach 45,000. First-time buyer borrowing rebounded faster than that by existing home owners, according to CML who also went on to warn that mortgage rationing might continue indefinitely unless the new government helped lenders raise finance.
The latest news on the small business front has shown decrease in UK business insolvencies last month. On a year to year basis, it was shown that
the total number of insolvencies fell by 15.1% in April compared with the same month last year, 2,274 in April 2009 down to 1,818 in April 2010.
Businesses that fell into the medium sized category were found to have suffered the most in April. Companies employing between fifty to hundred workers being the most vulnerable.
In a move that may indicate a thawing of hostilities between internet giant Google and the printed media – particularly Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, Eric Schmidt, chief executive of Google, announced that Google were holding talks with Murdoch and other newspaper proprietors regarding running subscription services for their online sites. Murdoch has repeatedly criticized Google for undermining newspapers by allowing internet users too much access to their valuable news content. Late last year Murdoch went far as threatening to sue Google for including headlines from News International in its search results. Staring from June, the Times and Sunday Times are set to erect a pay wall limiting access to their online news sites to paying customers. The papers will also withdraw their articles from Google’s search engine
With annual results due to be issued before the weekend, mobile phone company Vodafone are expected to announce a 150 percent increase in profits, with analysts expecting pre-tax profits of around £10.4 billion for the year to the end of March. Vodafone’s profits for 2009 were just £4.1 billion, largely due to one of impairment of £5.9 billion pounds of impairment charges.
Reports are that the Spanish bank Santander are believed to have emerged as likely winners of the tender to take over the 318 Williams & Glyn-branded Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) branches across England and Wales. Santander has apparently outbid Virgin, Spanish rival BBVA and Blackstone, with only National Australian Bank’s Clydesdale Bank arm still in the running. RBS is expected to make around £2 billion pounds from the successful completion of the sale.
Meanwhile credit card firm American Express has reportedly become the latest contender to enter into bidding for the payment processing arm of Royal Bank of Scotland. The partially state owned bank has been forced to sell of this division under European Commission rules governing state aid. The move by American Express, which has joined forces with private equity house Permira to table a bid in the £2.5 billion pound auction for RBS’s Global Merchant Services division, has been welcomed by RBS. Previously the bank had stated concerns over stand alone private equity buyers having sufficient experience to manage the business. With experience of processing payments of millions of customers in 130 countries, American Express could fit the bill and help RBS in their drive to expand in emerging markets,
Property development and investment giant, British Land, appears likely to take over the mantle as being the largest company in the field in the UK, leaving their bigger rival, Land Securities in their wake, when both companies announce full year results this week. British Land is expected to reveal that its net value of assets has increased by more than 20 percent over the past year to 490 pence a share, while Land Securities will announce that their shares have risen 16 percent increase in its net asset value over 690 pence a share.
Coming back down to earth with a thump will be British Airways who are widely expected to report losses of more than £600 million pounds when they reports their results on Friday. It is expected that results for the 12 months to the end of March will mark the airline’s worst ever financial performance, over a period in which it suffered from the effects of recession, strikes and bad weather. There are suggestions from senior staff that the company will not be able to survive any further blows. Analysts attending the shareholder’s conference will be keen to hear how chief executive Willie Walsh intends to explain the losses as well as the company’s ongoing dispute with cabin crews.
Pharmaceutical retailer and wholesaler Alliance Boots are expected to join the one billion pounds club on Monday. Alliance Boots, who returned to private ownership in 2007, are expected to announce a trading profit over the one billion pound by exceeding the 11.6 percent growth in 2009, when their profit was £953 million. By passing the one billion pound profit barrier Alliance Boots will become only the third retailer to do so in the history of UK retailing.
The euro has plummeted against the US dollar, falling below $1.22 for the first time since April 2006. The eurozone’s single currency fell more than 1.7% in afternoon trading in New York, to $1.216, before rallying.
The decline came after Germany announced plans to ban naked short-selling of shares from midnight local time on Tuesday. The single currency dropped by more than 2% against the yen on the news. Forex traders fear that the austerity measures being put in place in many eurozone countries will hit growth.