Live Blog

November 27, 2015, 12:05am

Consumer confidence has come off the boil, according to survey figures released this morning, but remains at historically high levels.

The consumer confidence index produced by pollsters YouGov and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) dropped to a score of 113.6 this month – its lowest since June this year.

A separate index produced by market researchers GfK dipped to a score of one point. While it may sound low, GfK’s index has spent most of the last five years in deep negative territory.

The cooling off in confidence comes despite unemployment falling to its lowest in seven years and low inflation continuing to boost the purchasing power of pay packets.

Both surveys showed a decline in peoples’ expectations of their personal finances over the next 12 months.

“The question now is whether November’s figures represent a blip or the start of a downturn,” YouGov said.

“Consumer confidence is still relatively high, but it is not without its fragilities,” said Scott Corfe, associate director at the CEBR.

Economists attribute the drop to wider political and economic concerns, with generally positive domestic economic developments.

“These are uncertain times for UK consumers,” Corfe said.

“The economic picture is still quite blurry with positive news – such as encouraging employment figures –usually matched by an unwelcome development – like the increase in the UK’s budget deficit in October compared with a year ago.”

Joe Staton, head of market dynamics at GfK, said: “Overall, despite the good news agenda of rock-bottom inflation, falling fuel prices and higher wage growth boosting spending power, confidence appears to be depressed by a combination of wider economic, political and social events.”

November 27, 2015, 12:05am

The UK’s service sector, which makes up around 80 per cent of the economy, is in fine fettle, according to new survey figures published this morning, with a record number planning to invest in new technology.

The service sector survey from the Confederation of British Industry showed that business volumes in consumer services – hotels, bars and restaurants – rose at 40 per cent of 67 surveyed firms in the three months to November. It compares with nine per cent who said they were down. While the balance of 31 per cent is strong, it is slight slowdown on August’s survey when the balance was 33 per cent.

For business and professional services, where 109 firms from accountancy, legal and marketing sectors were surveyed, the balance dropped sharply to 13 per cent from 33 per cent. It implies the business and professional services growth was at its lowest since 2013.

Despite the drop, optimism levels climbed with firms expecting greater business volumes over the next three months. Hiring and investment plans were also robust.

Companies are increasingly investing to improve their efficiency and exploit new technology, with the share of companies citing this motive rising to a record high in the consumer services sector, and to a three-year high in business & professional services, the CBI said.

“The UK services sector’s good run continues, and it’s encouraging that business volumes are expanding across the board, and that companies still expect healthy growth in profits,” said CBI director of economics Rain Newton-Smith.

“Employment growth is expected to slow a little in the quarter ahead, and given concerns over a lack of skilled workers – remaining close to a seven year high in business and professional services – companies are increasingly looking to invest in new technologies that could raise their productivity.”

November 27, 2015, 12:01am

Britain first-time buyer market has cooled over the last three months following this summer’s record number of sales, new research shows.

New buyers completed 28,100 sales in October, which was down 8.5 per cent compared with July’s eight year high of 30,700, according to figures released today by estate agents Your Move & Reeds Rains.

The number of people who successfully managed to take their first step onto the ladder fell by 1.7 per cent from 28,600 on the previous months and by 2.8 per cent compared with October last year, the report showed.

Your Move and Reeds Rains director, Adrian Gill, said that after a busy summer period first time buyers may be putting plans on hold until after the Christmas holiday period.

“Despite the slight slowdown, however, the underlying figures remain strong. Sales totals are still high relative to previous years, with no sign that they’re about to slide back to the doldrums of the 2012 and 2013 period.

“Moreover, with real-terms wages continuing to outstrip inflation and consumer confidence heading ever upwards, there’s every potential for the property market to kick back up a gear just after the New Year,” he added.

The average price paid by a first-time buyer stood at £157,208 in the three months to July 2015. London remains the most expensive, with first time buyers paying on average £328,478 followed by £216,489 over the same period in the south east.

Londoners put down by far the largest deposit of any region in the three months to July, paying out £83,333. Buyers in the south east paid out £46,601 to secure their first home, which equated to almost double the national average of £26,102, the report showed.

November 26, 2015, 11:55pm

Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino admitted that perseverance was paramount after his side secured qualification to the last 32 of the Europa League with a laboured victory over Azerbaijan champions Qarabag last night.

England striker Harry Kane headed the only goal of the game, his ninth strike in six matches, with just 12 minutes remaining, while Son Heung-min and Dele Alli both hit the woodwork.

Leaders Spurs lie three points ahead of second-placed Anderlecht and need a solitary point from their final Group J fixture against Monaco on 10 December to seal top spot.

“We are very happy because with patience and maturity we got the win and qualified,” said Pochettino, whose charges face Chelsea in a Premier League tussle at White Hart Lane on Sunday.

“We have to say thank you to our fans as well. To travel here and support us is fantastic and so valuable to us. We have a strong mentality and our fans do too. We will have a great atmosphere on Sunday for Chelsea.”

Kane, who has started Tottenham’s last 41 Premier League matches, scored to continue his blistering goalscoring form, a far cry from early in the campaign when he appeared to be flailing, having notched just three in seventeen.

November 26, 2015, 11:53pm

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has vowed to spend big in the January transfer window in a bid to secure the club’s first Premier League title since their Invincibles campaign of 2004.

Frenchman Wenger attracted criticism from Arsenal supporters in the summer for only signing goalkeeper Petr Cech, who arrived for £10m from defending champions Chelsea, and neglecting other areas of the squad.

The Gunners have been beset by injuries in recent weeks which could force Wenger’s hand, although the 66-year-old’s penchant for securing value for money remains at the forefront of his mind.

“We are in a position where we want to do something,” said Wenger. “If I find the right quality I will do something. I love a bargain. Who doesn’t love a bargain? A bargain for us is to buy players of top quality, because only top quality strengthens our squad.

“Patrick Vieira cost £2.5m and was a top bargain, first of all because he was a top quality player. We spent £40m on [Mesut] Ozil and I still consider it a bargain because we got a top quality player.”

Utility man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain could return to first-team action when Arsenal travel to Norwich on Sunday, while England forward Theo Walcott is edging closer to full fitness.

Midfielders Francis Coquelin, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta, however, remain on the sidelines.

November 26, 2015, 11:49pm

Athletics chief Lord Coe admitted that his controversial association with Nike was impinging on his ability to clean up the scandal-hit sport after quitting his role with the United States sportswear giant yesterday.

Coe had faced mounting pressure to relinquish his £100,000 a year global ambassadorial role after conflict of interest claims surfaced following the award of the 2021 World Championships to Eugene, Oregan, the home of Nike, without a bidding process.

Despite such insinuations, Coe, who also announced his intention to resign as British Olympic Association chairman after next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, insisted his decision to cut ties with Nike was not due to a conflict of interests.

Such claims emanated amid a wider corruption scandal which has engulfed the sport, principally state-sponsored doping within Russian athletics, which Coe, as IAAF president, is charged with resolving.

“It is clear that perception and reality have become horribly managled. I have stepped down from the Nike position I have held for 38 years,” said Coe.

“The current noise level around this role is not good good for the IAAF and for Nike. It is a distraction to the 18-hour days that I and my teams are working to steady the ship.”

Russia, meanwhile, yesterday announced its decision not to appeal the decision of governing body the IAAF to suspend the country from international competition.

The All-Russia Athletics Federation [ARAF] has opted not to contest the sanction or request a hearing, while also promising to comply with an international inspection team after being provisionally banned following a World Anti-Doping Agency report earlier this month.

“The IAAF council was today [Thursday] informed that written confirmation had been received yesterday from the ARAF accepting their full suspension without requesting a hearing as was their constitutional right,” read an IAAF statement.

“ARAF confirmed they understood that council would only accept their reinstatement as an IAAF member following the recommendation of the IAAF inspection team who will decide if the verification criteria have been fulfilled.”

November 26, 2015, 11:47pm

England cricket bosses last night decreed that the age-old and mandatory pre-match coin toss will be scrapped in both divisions of the County Championship next season.

The aim of the proposal is to produce better and more consistent pitches in domestic red-ball cricket, lessen the significance of winning the toss and help the future development of spin bowlers.

“The visiting captain will be offered the opportunity of bowling first,” read an England and Wales Cricket Board [ECB] statement yesterday. “If he declines, the toss will take place as normal. But if he accepts, there will be no toss.

“There has been concern for some years about some Championship pitches. But it is fair to say that the plight of spin bowling in this country brought things into focus.”

The chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board’s cricket committee, Peter Wright, has confirmed that any decision on whether the trial would be extended beyond 2016 would be taken at the end of the campaign.

Initially, it was suggested that the trial of scrapping the toss would be limited to Division Two. City A.M. cricket columnist Chris Tremlett was among those to argue that the proposal should incorporate both divisions.

“While I’m in favour of the proposal, I cannot see why it is set to the trialled in Division Two only,” he wrote on Thursday. “It is almost mocking the standard of Division Two. Why not implement it in both divisions?”

November 26, 2015, 11:45pm

Skipper Eoin Morgan revelled in the depth of playing options at his disposal after a much-changed England dispatched Pakistan by 14 runs to secure victory in the opening T20 tussle with Pakistan in Dubai last night.

England recovered from 19-3 to post 160-5, as recalled wicketkeeper-batsman Sam Billings clobbered his maiden T20I half-century, while the ever-dependable Morgan posted an unbeaten 45 and debutant James Vince a valuable 41.

Pakistan slipped to 42-4 and then 75-7 before being dismissed for 146 with seam duo Reece Topley and Liam Plunkett both claiming three wickets as England won their fourth successive T20I showdown. The tourists can wrap up the three-match series in today’s second clash, also in Dubai.

The bigger picture is the World T20 in India in March, and winning without the likes of Joe Root and Jos Buttler gave a hint that Morgan’s charges could yet pack a punch and challenge for a title which England last won in the West Indies in 2010.

“It is always a good sign of a changing room that guys who have not played at all during a tour come in and perform really well. It shows the relaxed state of mind they are in and the fact they are chomping at the bit to come out and perform,” said Morgan.

“It’s a risk you take, trying new players, but today was brilliant and I was very proud of the guys.”

Morgan also stressed the need for a no-fear attitude to permeate the England squad and for players to operate with freedom if their limited-overs revolution is to become permanent.

“It is probably a lot easier for me. I have played quite a bit now and had a lot of experience. I’ve had the chance to make mistakes and go back and say ‘maybe I need to be a bit more chilled out’ because I make better decisions when I’m chilled out,” added Morgan.

“Hopefully that does rub off on the younger players because it can get quite heated, especially when the ball is flying everywhere in T20 cricket. But it is important to have a really calm demeanour about yourself and focus on the important things.”

Playing in only his third T20I, Billings arrived at the crease in the 14th over with England 95-4 but used the rebuilding work of Vince and Morgan, who shared 76 for the fourth wicket, as a foundation.

Man of the match Billings was run out on the final ball of the innings for 53, while his 24-ball half-century was the joint-second fastest by an England batsman in a T20I. Ravi Bopara’s 23-ball 50 against Australia in 2014 remains the record.

Newcomer Vince, meanwhile, showcased the form which saw him assume the status of the top-performing batsman in last season’s T20 Blast for Hampshire where he scored 710 at an average of 59.16.

A 45-run ninth-wicket stand between tail-enders Sohail Tanvir and Wahab Riaz flattered Pakistan, as Topley claimed 3-24 from his four-over allocation and the fiery Plunkett 3-21, while Lancashire’s left-arm spinner Stephen Parry snared 2-33.

November 26, 2015, 11:17pm

George Osborne’s spending plans have taken a hit from leading economists, who say it is unlikely that the chancellor will be able to keep his fiscal promises.

The Treasury was forced to defend this week’s Autumn Statement and Spending Review announcements last night after the influential Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), an independent research institute, said there was just a 50-50 chance Osborne would hit his target of a surplus in 2019-2020.

Calling Osborne’s £10.1bn surplus goal “completely inflexible”, IFS director Paul Johnson warned: “This is not like the friendly, flexible fiscal target of the last parliament, which allowed him to accept a bigger deficit when growth and tax revenues disappointed. This is fixed, four years out.

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“The forecasts will change again, and by a lot more than they have over the past few months. If he is unlucky – and that’s almost a 50-50 shot – he will have either to revisit these spending decisions, raise taxes, or abandon the target.”

Johnson said Osborne had been “lucky” that changes in forecasts for lower debt interest payments and higher tax revenues had allowed him to avoid deeper cuts or tax increases:

By adding some tax increases he has made some of his own luck. He’s going to need his luck to hold out.

Johnson is not the only economist to raise questions about the feasibility of Osborne’s tax and spend plans. Pantheon Macroeconomics chief UK economist Samuel Tombs said this week he doubted public finances would “heal as swiftly as the official forecasts expect”.

“Accordingly, we think that the chancellor will face a dilemma mid-way through this parliament: he will either have to raise taxes comprehensively or break his fiscal rule,” Tombs wrote. “As the fiscal squeeze will have slowed the economy by that point, and the Conservatives only have a slim majority in the Commons, we think he will eventually break his rule.”

Opposition parties used the IFS analysis to attack Osborne last night. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell cited IFS estimates that Osborne’s shift from tax credits to Universal Credit would cost 2.6m families an average of £1,600 per year to claim that “Tory spin is unravelling”.

But a Treasury spokesperson defended the policy change, saying: “Universal Credit is designed to ensure that work always pays. It is an entirely different system to the current one, taking in six different tax credits and benefits – with none of the cliff edges of tax credits.

“So comparing what someone making a new claim would receive under the new system in 2020 to what they would be eligible for now is not legitimate,” the spokesperson added.

November 26, 2015, 11:04pm

After eight tumultuous weeks of political upheaval, Portugal’s anti-austerity left took power yesterday, marking a pivotal moment for the eurozone as Germany’s firm grip on economy policy is broken.

The country’s new Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa has sworn to end austerity for the country, saying on Thursday that the new government’s programme was “a clear bet on turning the page on austerity”.

The Socialist minority government, supported by far left parties, was sworn in after weeks of upheaval following Portugal’s elections in early October, during which a short-lived centre-right government was toppled and replaced with Costa’s.

Despite the anti-austerity programme Costa has promised to uphold European budget rules, saying his government would “guarantee continuity” on EU and other international commitments - but added that consolidation of public accounts would become “healthier”.

After the Greek drama rocking the eurozone, Portugal’s anti-austerity promise may prove the next chapter, as Germany can no longer rely on the country to support their austerity case, said Ricardo Amaro from Oxford Economics to the Telegraph:

They have lost their best ally for fiscal discipline.

The Socialists have vowed to end sweeping austerity measures imposed by the previous government, and increase disposable household income to reduce the budget deficit.