Live Blog

March 6, 2015, 8:30am

There are plenty of gags about the DFS sale (Q: what are the three things that would survive a nuclear war? A: Cockroaches, termites, the DFS sale), but it looks like that's extending into its IPO. The furniture retailer priced its shares at a bargain 255p today ahead of its IPO. That's towards the bottom end of its range of 245p-310p.

The deal will value the retailer at £543m, lower than the £585m it had originally hoped.

At that price, the IPO is expected to raise £98m through the free float of 38 per cent of its shares. That's slightly lower than the £105m it had mooted at the beginning of February. Unconditional trading will begin on Wednesday.

DFS is the UK's largest furniture chain by sales, with 105 stores in the UK, Ireland and the Netherlands. It was bought by private equity firm Advent International in 2010 for an estimated £500m.

Today Ian Filby, the company's chief executive, said the retailer would continue to "broaden its appeal" through a "measures programme of store expansion... we look forward to further building our excellent track record of sales, market share growth and cash generation".

March 6, 2015, 8:25am

Thomas Cook's share price soared today after Chinese billionaire Guo Guangchang took a five per cent stake.

The tour operator, which staged a marked turnaround after nearly collapsing in 2011, surged 16.2 per cent to 140p per share in early morning trade. The company's shares have risen 9.5 per cent so far this year.

Guangchang's conglomerate Fosun International paid £91.8m for 73,135,777 of the company's ordinary shares. Thomas Fosun intends to double its stake to 10 per cent by purchasing more shares on the open market.

The partnership will allow Thomas Cook to work with other travel and leisure businesses owned by the conglomerate, as well as providing access "over the medium term" to the Chinese tourism market.

"Thomas Cook's strong brand heritage and its leading position in the European travel market, together with Fosun's extensive expertise and resources, will capitalise on the increasing demand for international leisure travel," Wang Qunbin, executive director and president of Fosun.

"The investment in Thomas Cook complements our other recent investments in the sector, providing opportunities for further value creation."

Fosun recently snapped up French holiday resorts firm Club Med in a deal worth around €900m (£704m), and has also backed a $500m cash deal for troubled oil explorer Afren.  

It is thought that Fosun will look to expand Club Med into emerging economies in an attempt to tap into the increased consumer spending of their growing middle classes. 

"Building on our significant progress to-date, we are delighted to announce our partnership with Fosun, which represents a major milestone in Thomas Cook's 174-year history designed to bring significant benefits to Thomas Cook and its shareholders," Frank Meysman, chairman of Thomas Cook, said.

"Fosun's strong track record of value creation and focus on international tourism makes it the ideal partner to strengthen our brands and products."

Baby on phone
March 6, 2015, 7:55am

Vodafone has promised every single one of its female staff across 30 countries a minimum amount of time off when they have a child, making it one of the few companies in the world to introduce a mandatory minimum maternity policy globally.

From the end of the year, the telecoms giant will offer women at least 16 weeks of maternity leave with full pay, a policy which the firm said could create a $19bn boost to business every year if it were adopted by other companies.

It will also pay women a full salary for working a 30-hour week in the first six months they return to work.

"Too many talented women leave working life because they face a difficult choice between either caring for a newborn baby or maintaining their careers,” said chief executive Vittorio Colao. Our new mandatory minimum global maternity policy will support over 1,000 Vodafone women employees every year in countries with little or no statutory maternity care.

Women account for 35 per cent of Vodafone’s employees worldwide but just 21 per cent of its international senior leadership team said Colao. “We believe our new maternity policy will play an important role in helping to bridge that gap. Supporting working mothers at all levels of our organisation will ultimately result in better decisions, a better culture and a deeper understanding of our customers' needs," he said.

While a number of its subsidiaries already offered substantial maternity benefits - which will continue - the new mandatory minimum global maternity policy would make a significant difference to women in countries where there is little or no legislative requirements on maternity leave.

Offering women a mandatory minimum of 16 weeks leave would cost business an additional $28bn a year according to research by KPMG, however, this is more than offset by the costs to business of women leaving the workforce. Recruiting and training new employees to replace women who leave the workforce costs business $47bn a year.

March 6, 2015, 7:15am
European equities are seen opening lower this morning with investors eyeing the crucial US jobs data out later today.
The FTSE is pointing down 7 points at 6,954, with the German DAX down 8 points at 11,496 and the French CAC down 11 points at 4,953.
European stocks were given a boost yesterday after a confident Mario Draghi announced the European Central Bank's (ECB) landmark €1.1 trillion (£800bn) debt-buying programme will kick off on Sunday and boost Eurozone growth throughout 2015 and 2016.
Economists expect the US economy to have added 240,000 jobs in February, down from the 257,000 in January. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate is expected to fall 0.1 per cent to 5.6 per cent from a month earlier.

Corporate news

The Bank of England cotinues to remain tight lipped on the market probe, with officials declining to give any details of potential fraud around its liquidity operations in the crisis years.

Yesterday the UK’s rate-setters yesterday decided against moving rates up or down from the 0.5 per cent rate where they have sat since 2009.

And The ECB fleshed out its bond-buying programme saying it will buy €50bn worth of debt per month until at least September 2016, but the plan could be extended if inflation had not returned to its target of close to, but below, two per cent. Eurozone inflation is currently minus 0.3 per cent. The government debt purchases will be on top of €10bn of private sector debt that is already in process, taking total monthly purchases to €60bn.

This morning Alliance Trust said growth in its assets under management pushed full-year revenue to  £10.1m, up from £9.2 million a year earlier.

Vodafone has become one of the first international companies to offer women equal maternity leave worldwide. This is despite some of the countries where it's located offering minimal - if any - maternity leave.

And Chinese investor Fosun has taken a five per cent stake in UK holiday company Thomas Cook.

Data in focus

  • German industrial production (7.00am)
  • UK consumer inflation expectations (9.30am)
  • Eurozone gross domestic product (10.00am)
  • US jobs (1.30pm)
UK border at airport
March 6, 2015, 7:13am

London’s migrant population has grown by 189,000 over the last four years, more than any other region in the country, forecasters say.

Migrants coming to London accounted for a third of the more than half-a-million foreigners who are estimated to have come to the UK between 2011 and 2014, according to researchers at Oxford university.

London’s migrant population, coming from the European Union (EU) and elsewhere, soared from just under 3m in 2011, to 3.2m in 2014 - a rise of six per cent.

Those from the 28 countries of the EU made up the majority of settlers in London, accounting for 161,000 of the new population. An additional 28,000 migrants came to the capital from outside the EU, the projections have found.

The major analysis by Oxford’s Migration Observatory based the estimates on census data from 2011 and the likely location of where those entering the UK are settling across the country, based on data from the Labour Force Survey.

The most recent official estimates account for population changes only up to 2013. The director of the Migration observatory Madeleine Sumption said the estimates shows the large variation in size of migrant populations and gives an understanding of local demographics in the run-up to the General Election in May.

Immigration has become an increasingly hot-button issue as the General Election nears, however, businesses in the city have warned hostility to foreigners can only hurt growth.

The population of London is the largest it’s ever been, surpassing 1939’s previous record numbers at the beginning of the year. More than 8.6m now count the capital as home and that’s set to rocket by a quarter to 11m by 2039.

George Osborne
March 5, 2015, 10:53pm

George Osborne has conceded he made an error not reforming the state-owned bank RBS when the coalition took power in 2010.

Speaking to the Financial Times Weekend Magazine the chancellor said he hopes to move forward "as quickly as we can to get rid of it".

He added that he regretted acquiescing to the view that RBS could maintain its standing as investment banking giant with a presence all over the world. "I certainly regret that" he said.

The government retains a massive 80 per cent stake in the bank, that was bailed out to the tune of £45bn in 2008. "When I say ‘get rid of it’, I mean put it into the good hands of the private sector" Osborne told the FT.

The chancellor emphasised the scale of the task by adding "it’s not an exact science, but on some measures it’s bigger than all the privatisations of the 1980s put together". It could take years until the taxpayer is fully rid of RBS.

Osborne is determined though that the bank will not the taxpayer will not lose out. "I think people want to see they get their money back. The British taxpayer wants to feel they haven’t suffered some enormous loss" he said.

It hasn't all been bad news for RBS of late. While the bank did recently report a £3.5bn loss, it was primarily thanks to one-off items. The loss was also significantly down from last year's £8.2bn.

The bank's share price gradually been edging up and breached 400p in January. The government would need to sell up at 455p per share to protect the taxpayer from a loss.

The bank is preparing to exit a further 25 countries, bringing the total number down to 13.

Ed Miliband
March 5, 2015, 9:09pm

The last raft of opinion polls have made happy reading for the Conservative Party.

After weeks of level pegging, several polls have given the Tories a slight lead over Labour. The website electionforecast at its current prediction, forecasts a hung Parliament with the Conservatives as the largest party.

However, with two months to go and all leads within the margin of error, there is all to play for. This week, Lord Ashcroft's poll of marginal constituencies showed the Tories in a dead heat with Labour and both on course to capture 272 seats.

While both national and marginal polls have the election too close to call, Opinium has asked voters not who they support but who they believe will win in May.

Almost half believe the Conservatives are on course for victory while just 33 per cent think Miliband can pull off a win. Things have come a long way since Opinium asked the same question back in 2013.

Two years ago, 54 per cent of voters predicted Labour would oust the Tories while just 24 per cent thought the Conservatives would be returned to office.

The change in mood is also reflected among committed Tory and Labour supporters. Tory voters are far more upbeat than their Labour peers, with 82 per cent predicting David Cameron will prevail - up from 60 per cent in 2013.

Labour voters' confidence has taken a knock with 67 per cent expecting victory - down from 82 per cent in 2013. Only 47 per cent of Labour voter expect to see Ed Miliband become Prime Minister.

The Conservatives may have some reason for optimism given the state of the race but still face a serious threat from Ukip as well as their inability to consistently breach 35 per cent in the polls.

With the short campaign still to come after Parliament dissolves at the end of the month, Labour will be hoping to avoid a bloodbath in Scotland and head-off a rise in support for the Greens in England as well as take a large chunk of Tory seats to secure the keys to number 10.

March 5, 2015, 6:51pm

It's a well-worn stereotype that young people want overnight success and underestimate the amount of hard graft they have put in to make something of themselves.

This is perhaps true more so now than ever with young successful tech billionaires dominating the news and even becoming the focus of the silver screen. So do today's youth really believe instant success can be theirs with nothing but a good idea and some social media savvy?

Well, not quite, but not a totally inaccurate picture according to new research conducted for the London Enterprise Festival (LEF), which will be held in London this weekend.

Over a quarter of Millennials surveyed said running their own business would be less stressful than working for someone else. However, Generation Y's rose tinted glasses aren't limited to stress, with over half of the respondents saying they believed most start-ups turned a profit in their first 12 months.

While Millennials may be a little over optimistic about business success, it is encouraging for the future of an entrepreneurial nation that 85 per cent of Generation Y want to steer clear of the traditional corporate hierarchy and be their own bosses.

Erez Nounou, organiser of London Enterprise Festival commented:

Our findings prove that the millennial generation seem to be more impatient than ever before, expecting overnight success or simply moving on to their next venture without investing any sweat equity.

The speakers and panelists taking part in LEF are great examples of how a successful business can come in different shapes and sizes, and that there is no fixed formula for success.

The LEF coined the term "Insta-preneurs" to describe this impatient generation.

March 5, 2015, 5:59pm

After hovering close to the $1.10 for past 48 hours the euro fell below it for the first time since September 2003.

The euro has lost 15 per cent of its value against the dollar over the past six months. However, it's not just a weaker euro contributing to the shift - the dollar has gained strength thanks to higher yields on US government bonds.

The fall to below $1.10  comes after European Central Bank (ECB) governor Mario Draghi announced that the much anticipated €1 trillion quantitative easing programme will begin on 9 March.

"We will on 9 March 2015 start purchasing euro-dominated public sector securities in the secondary market," ECB governor Mario Draghi said at a press conference in Cyprus today.

"We will also continue to purchase asset-backed securities and covered bonds which we started last year." The ECB will buy up €60bn of assets every month till September next year.

The Eurozone economy has been in the doldrums consistently since 2010 with much of the blame being layed at the door of the current structure of the euro itself. Interest rates remain at their all0time lows of 0.05 per cent.

Today signalled some good news for the currency block, however, with the ECB raising the currency block's growth forecast to 1.5 per cent - up from one per cent. Draghi added that growth would accelerate to 2.1 per cent by 2017.

The central bank governor emphasised that there was no room for complacency and structural reform throughout the Eurozone was still needed.

nigel farage
March 5, 2015, 5:03pm

The election will be fought on the economy, on the NHS and maybe even on the beaches. But it will also be contested on social media, and it is here that Ukip is making a stand. Research from specialist marketing recruiter EMR has revealed what the makeup of the commons would look like if it was measured purely on social media. The interactive below allows you to explore the performances of the main parties across platforms. Hover over (or click on mobile) to reveal the results.





Overall, the Conservative party has 24 per cent of the total 2.2m "votes", with 541,000 – 122,000 ahead of Labour, using followers or likes as a measure. Obviously the data comes with caveats – people can, after all, like more than one party, subscribing to receive information rather than to pledge undying allegiance. There is a fair amount of variation across the various media.

LinkedIn is a haven for Conservative supporters, most likely because it attracts a business-oriented clientele. Facebook is also the domain of the Conservatives, but here they lead Ukip by a solitary point. Labour all but holds dominion over Twitter, leading the Tories by seven percentage points, while the only place the Liberal Democrats gain much ground is on the much-maligned Google+.