Live Blog

Cyclepath Victoria Embankment
January 27, 2015, 12:09pm

A revised version of the heavily anticipated 'Crossrail for Bikes' has been given the green-light by London mayor Boris Johnson, as part of a £913m policy to get more Londoners cycling. 

The latest version of the plans for Europe's longest “substantially segregated” cycle path, which cut delays by 60 per cent on the route previously proposed, will go in front of the Transport for London board next week. If approved, construction will begin in March. 
 
There are two routes, which will cross central London from east to west and south to north, which will be almost completely separated from traffic. The revised proposals keep two westbound lands on Upper and Lower Thames Street and Victoria Embankment while retaining the continuous, kerb-segregated cycle lanes and junctions. 
 
Some 21,500 people responded to TfL's nine-week consultation on the project – the biggest in London's history.  
 


Stratford (Source: London Mayor/TfL)

 
The mayor's office said the new plans would reduce traffic delays during the morning rush hour by up to 60 per cent. 
 
Drivers were concerned that the cycle path would increase their travel time between Limehouse Link and Hyde Park Corner by 16 minutes. The changes reduce that delay to just over six minutes at most.  Potential delays on other routes have also been reduced. 
 
Boris Johnson said: “Overwhelmingly, Londoners wanted these routes, and wanted them delivered to the high standard we promised. I intend to keep that promise. Thanks to the skill of TfL’s engineers and traffic managers, we have made changes to our original plans which keep the segregated cycle track and junctions, while taking out much less of the route’s motor traffic capacity – and so causing much shorter delays.
 
“I now look forward to the transformation that these planned routes will bring – not just for people who cycle now, but for the thousands of new cyclists they will attract. Getting more people on their bikes will reduce pressure on the road, bus and rail networks, cut pollution, and improve life for everyone, whether or not they cycle themselves.”
 


Camden semi-segregated (Source: London mayor/TfL)

 
The east to west route will start at Tower Hill, where it will connect to the Cycle Superhighway Three out as far as Barking. From Tower Hill, the new path will run along Lower and Upper Thames Street, Victoria Embankment, across Parliament Square, to Hyde Park Corner and through Hyde Park, across Lancaster Gate and up Westbourne Terrace.
 
The section through Hyde Park will be consulted on next month and the second phase of the scheme, on the Westway flyover to Acton, will be consulted on later this year.
The mayor's office said “relatively small changes” had been made “which will remove key pinchpoints” around Tower Hill, Blackfriars and Temple. 
 
The planned north-south route will run from Elephant & Castle to King’s Cross, with full segregation on St George’s Road, across St George’s Circus, Blackfriars Road, Blackfriars Bridge, New Bridge street and Farringdon Street to Stonecutter Street. 
 
The east-west and north-south routes interchange with each other at Blackfriars.
 
Pedestrians will also benefit, with thousands of metres of walkways, 22 new crossings, 35 shortened crossings and 41 crossings fitted with pedestrian countdowns.  
 
Sir Peter Hendy CBE, transport commissioner for London, said: “These projects will help transform cycling in London – making it safer and an option that more and more people can enjoy... Our task now is to work in concert with businesses and local boroughs to ensure these plans are introduced smoothly with the minimum disruption possible.”
January 27, 2015, 12:00pm

Afren's share price dived as much as 67 per cent today, after the company said it was exploring its options but could be forced to restructure its debt amid crumbling oil prices.

The London-listed African oil company said it was in talks with a committee of its largest bondholders regarding its financial position and funding needs, as it struggles with a "significant dislocation" in the oil market.

If the oil and gas producer doesn't receive the cash injection it needs, or isn't taken over by Nigerian rival Seplat, then it will be forced to restructure its debt. It received a "highly preliminary" takeover approach from Seplat in December but there was no guarantee of an offer being made.

The company has already started talking to the banks behind a $300m (£199) debt facility about deferring a $50m (£33) payment which is due at the end of this month. It also announced it's considering using a 30-day grace period relating to $15m (£9m) of interest payments on bonds due Feb 1.

"New funds will be required to meet interest and principal repayments, working capital and a reduced capital expenditure programme," the company said in a statement to the London Stock Exchange today. "[It] will be having discussions with its existing stakeholders and new third party investors regarding recapitalising the company," it said.

Afren has so far failed to shake off a torrid 2014, during which it suffered as oil prices slid below $55 per barrel, and former chief executive Osman Shahenshah and former chief operating officer Shahid Ullah were fired for gross misconduct in October.

The company's shares were trading down 67 per cent at £5.82 per share at pixel time in London today.

Double chin
January 27, 2015, 11:13am
We could soon wave goodbye to wobbly chins and welcome in slim, defined jawlines with just the jab of a needle.
 
A new treatment, currently in the testing phase, involves injecting a dose of the chemical ATX-01 into a person's skin around the jaw. 
 
The chemical is a version of the molecule deoxycholic acid, which is produced naturally by the body to destroy fat. It works by disrupting the membranes of fat cells, irreversibly destroying them in the process. 
 
The drug is being developed by the firm Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, and so far tests have been carried out on 1,600 people across Europe and the United States. Some 90 per cent of the volunteers have reported a significant reduction in chin fat over the past two years.
 
The jab is reportedly safe as well as effective, with no reported negative impacts on the surrounding tissue. Until now, removal of fat around the jawline has required complex and dangerous surgical procedures. 
 
Whether it is introduced in the US will depend on the outcome of a ruling by the US Food and Drug Administration, which is due to take place by May. If the result is positive, this could pave the way for European regulators to follow suit and approve the injections over here. 
 
If it is approved, the treatment will join the likes of botox and dermal fillers as injectable treatments to improve physical appearance. 
Houses for sale
January 27, 2015, 10:39am
Mortgage lending in the UK fell in December for the six month in a row, with gross borrowing levels 12 per cent lower than they were a year ago. 
 
Figures published by the British Bankers Association this morning show that the total figure for mortgages stood at £10bn last month. House purchase approvals dropped 24 per cent on 2013. 
 
For the year as a whole, however, mortgage lending was up, totalling £130bn compared with £110m in 2013. Despite the Mortgage Market Review creating a bottleneck in the early part of the year, 499,999 house purchases were approved, up nine per cent on 2013 when there were 459,000. 
 
This is half the level seen during the peak of 2002. 
 
Remortgaging dropped six per cent year-on-year and the number of loans approved for equity withdrawal fell to its lowest level yaer – just 81,000. 
 
The UK's unsecured borrowing has also increased, and now stands at 3.8 per cent, the highest rate since late 2008.  
 
Savings are also growing, largely thanks to changes to the Isa rules in July, which triggered net inflows of £9.3bn. In total last year £13.1bn was poured into Isas, 57 per cent more than in 2013. 
 
Credit card borrowing continues to grow and ended the year up 5.6 per cent. 
 
Richard Woolhouse, chief economist at the BBA, said: “The mortgage market has been softening since the spring, but for customers taking out home loans right now there are some great deals and we expect the market to begin to grow again this year.
 
“Robust employment data is making many of us feel more secure in our jobs and optimistic about our futures. That’s now feeding through to personal lending and credit card data, suggesting people are happy to finally replace the car or spend on household improvements.
 
“Outstanding business lending has been falling as larger firms have used the bond market rather than borrowing from banks. Despite this, outside real estate businesses are generally expanding their lending.” 
January 27, 2015, 10:28am
The secretary-general of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) has warned under-investment could one day push oil prices as high as $200 per barrel, as crumbling demand risks discouraging producers from pumping money into the infrastructure needed to actually get oil out of the ground.
 
"If [oil producers] do not invest there will be no supply, if there is no more supply there will be a shortage in the market after three to four years and the price will go up and we'll see a repetition of 2008," Abdalla El-Badri said at a conference in London yesterday. "Maybe we will go to $200 if there is a real shortage of supply because of the lack of investment."
 
Oil prices crashed by 70 per cent to $40 per barrel in 2008, after concerns over the faltering US economy and the onset of the financial crisis squeezed global demand. Prior to this, growth economies such as India and China gobbling up oil and supply concerns pushed prices to around  $140 per barrel.
 


Data source: Investing.com

This makes the black stuff's current decline - with the price per barrel falling 60 per cent since June last year - its second biggest ever. 
 
However, El-Badri defended Opec's decision not to cut production in November, saying this would've meant countries produced more than markets need. In such a situation oil producers have no incentive to invest in future oil production.
 
But other industry players have argued the ability to discourage under-investment actually lies with Opec, whose failure to curb production in November means oil prices will stay low, and this will eventually cause individual oil companies to scale back their investments.
 
"Opec is like the central bank for oil, which must give stability to the oil prices to be able to invest in a regular way," Claudio Descalzi, chief executive of Italian oil producer Eni, said at Davos.
 
So while both agree that weak demand is putting the world at risk of future oil price spikes, neither seem sure what to do about it.
January 27, 2015, 10:15am

A huge blizzard hitting the east coast of the US and New York City isn't closing down US markets and it remains business as usual on Wall Street.

The New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq and other exchanges are expected to open as normal as New Yorkers prepare to be hit with up to three feet of snow and freezing temperatures which could cause significant travel disruption and power cuts.

Despite the storm’s potential to be one of the worst in history, traders expecting a snow day will be disappointed, as thanks to the internet, there’s always home working.

If what some have been calling the biggest blizzard ever doesn’t shut down Wall Street, then what does? Computer glitches, paperwork problems, blackouts, war and assassinations, as well as the odd hurricane.

1.

A blizzard, no, but a hurricane, yes. The last time US markets closed was in the midst of the devastating hurricane Sandy in 2012. That was the longest shutdown due to storms in more than 100 years. In 1888 a blizzard caused a two-day shutdown of the New York Stock Exchange. Hurricane Gloria in 1985 also shuttered the trading floors.

2.

1933 saw a seven-, yes seven-, day shutdown of the markets as President Roosevelt proclaimed a week-long bank holiday after a month-long run on banks. It succeeded in returning confidence in the markets. Also in the same year, the New York Stock Exchange closed early because of gas fumes on the trading floor. Make up your own jokes with that one.

3.

A two-day mid-week break was taken when the end of the second world war was declared in August 1945. Throughout the cold war era of the 1950s and 60s, hour-long shutdowns were a near yearly occurrence for civil defense drills to take place.

4.

At 2.07pm on a Friday in 1963, the assassination of John Kennedy caused the New York Stock Exchange to close. The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981 also closed the floor early.

5.

Back in 1967, a two-week long early close of 2pm was instigated due to “back office workload” according to the NYSE. A year later, for six months traders worked a four-day week because of a paperwork crisis. This unspecified paperwork crisis reared its head a few more times in the 1960s.

6.

Into the 1970s, however, it was the computers causing trouble. Glitches such as computer failure, ticker down, Merrill Lynch having computer trouble and a computer stopping are just some of the reasons for trading being halted by the New York Exchange.

7.

In 1977 a massive blackout across New York City shuttered trading floors for the day.

Russian dolls
January 27, 2015, 10:15am

European leaders have written a joint statement saying they will back new sanctions against Russia, after renewed violence in eastern Ukraine.

Heads of state from all 28 European Union (EU) nations condemned the killing of civilians - said to have been deliberate - in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol over the weekend.

We note evidence of continued and growing support given to the [Ukrainian] separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia's responsibility. We urge Russia to condemn the separatists' actions and to implement the Minsk agreements.

The statement also requested that the Foreign Affairs Council, which meets in Brussels on Thursday, to "assess the situation and to consider any appropriate action, in particular on further restrictive measures".

The Russian economy is already suffering thanks to Western sanctions, as well as the declining price of oil.

Yesterday Standard & Poor's downgraded the country's credit rating to junk, cutting it to BB+, below investment grade., causing the rouble to lose more than six per cent against the dollar.

This morning it rallied slightly, before declining 2.12 per cent against the dollar. It now takes 67.70 roubles to buy one US dollar.

Aer Lingus
January 27, 2015, 9:55am

International Consolidated Airlines (IAG) is ready to add Aer Lingus to its roster, with the Irish airline's board set to recommend its third takeover to shareholders.

According to IAG, the Aer Lingus board is ready to accept the €1.35bn (£1.01bn) cash offer equal to €2.55 per share, subject to certain pre-conditions.

Shares in IAG and Aer Lingus are up 2.28 per cent and 1.37 per cent respectively in early morning trading.

An IAG statement posted to the stock exchange said:

The board of Aer Lingus has indicated to IAG that the financial terms of the proposal are at a level at which it would be willing to recommend to Aer Lingus shareholders, subject to being satisfied with the manner in which IAG proposes to address the interests of relevant parties. Accordingly the Board of Aer Lingus has granted IAG access to perform a limited period of confirmatory due diligence.

As the Irish government holds a 21.5 per cent stake in Aer Lingus, the prospect of a takeover has been subject to political scrutiny. IAG's offer is subject to the approval of government and Ryanair, which owns a 29.9 per cent stake.

Opposition politicians have called on Ireland's interim government to reject the bid as Aer Lingus' flights between the Shannon and Cork airports are considered vital to the economic prosperity of the region.

IAG has attempted to assuage any concern by alluding to the Irish government and local region in its plans for the airline:

It is IAG's intention that under its ownership, Aer Lingus would:

  • Operate as a separate business with its own brand, management and operations, continuing to provide connectivity to Ireland, while benefitting from the scale of being part of the larger IAG group.
  • Join the oneworld alliance, of which British Airways and Iberia are key members.
  • Join the joint business that IAG operates over the North Atlantic with American Airlines, leveraging the natural traffic flows between Ireland and the US and the advantageous geographical position of Dublin for serving connecting flows.

IAG believes that the proposal would secure and strengthen Aer Lingus's brand and long term future within a successful and profitable European airline group, offering significant benefits to both Aer Lingus and its customers.

IAG recognises the importance of direct air services and air route connectivity for investment and tourism in Ireland and intends to engage with the Irish government in order to secure its support for the transaction.

 

January 27, 2015, 9:38am

UK GDP growth slowed in the fourth quarter of 2014, coming in at 0.5 per cent and falling short of expectations.

Despite the drop, growth for the year was still 2.6 per cent, the fastest  growth rate since the heady days of 2007.  Economists polled by Reuters had expected slightly faster quarterly growth of 0.6 per cent. Compared to the fourth quarter of 2013, growth was up 2.7 per cent.

George Osborne has made much of the fact the UK is the fastest-growing G7 economy and today’s figures will no doubt be held up by the Conservatives as further proof that their medicine of austerity is removing the scars of the financial crisis - but he may be worried that the rate of growth is coming down faster than expected.

The growth, as ever, did not occur evenly across the board. The strongest sector was again the services sector, which contributes 78.4 per cent of GDP. That sector grew 0.8 per cent, slower than agriculture, (1.3 per cent) but faster than constructions, which decreased 1.8 per cent.

By weighting its growth rates and contributions to overall GDP, the ONS calculated how each sector affected the figure. Services remain the engine of growth:

Critics argue that the recovery may be built on sand and that household debt levels could soar, especially if house prices drop quickly. Prior to the financial crisis, the debt to income ratio was just under 170 per cent - but the Office for Budget Responsibility expects the figure to reach 184 per cent by 2020. It currently stands at 146 per cent.

James Knightley, an analyst at ING, said the figures suggested "the long-heralded rebalancing story in the UK has completely stalled". 

With inflation set to drop marginally below 0 per cent year-on-year in the next couple of months, it is little surprise to see that the market has priced out Bank of England policy tightening for this year. However, the comments from the BoE’s Mark Carney and Kristin Forbes over the weekend suggest that the upcoming Inflation Report may be less dovish than many market participants are anticipating. Consequently, we would be cautious about chasing sterling weaker.
January 27, 2015, 9:31am

It's being touted as the longest election campaign in history - and don't we know it. With exactly 100 days until the nation goes to the polls, party leaders have well and truly drawn the battle lines.

And with leaders of all seven parties (that's the three main ones plus Ukip, the Green Party, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru) expected to take part in television debates, this is likely to be one of the closest General Elections in modern history.

But what's coming up over the next 100 days? We've rounded up the 10 key dates for your diary. Or the best times to book a holiday, if you're not a politics fan...

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