Live Blog

March 6, 2015, 4:52pm

A British Airways flight from London to Seattle was forced to turn around after it declared a mid-air emergency.

The flight was just under two hours into an eight-hour flight to the city, in the North West of the US.

A British Airways spokesperson said the flight's pilots had encountered a "technical problem", although reports suggested there was a problem with oxygen in the cabin while it was flying over Scotland, just to the north west of Edinburgh. As it passed over the Midlands, the Boeing-777 was said to be flying at "barely 17,000ft".

Twitter users posted images of the low-flying aircraft:

The flight was given priority to land at Heathrow on what was described as a "very busy afternoon". 

A spokesperson for British Airways said: 

The aircraft has landed safely. Our highly trained pilots returned to Heathrow as a precaution after a suspected technical fault. The safety of our customers and crew is always our top priority.
 
leaders debates 2010
March 6, 2015, 4:33pm

Broadcasters will defy the prime minister and push ahead with three televised debates, even if David Cameron doesn’t attend.

The Conservative leader has said he will appear once to face at least six other leaders, but not a second with the same format or a third against the opposition leader, Ed Miliband.

This week Cameron laid out his bottom line, thereby ruling out a televised showdown with the Labour leader. ITV, BBC, Channel four and Sky News were all pencilled in for debates, which they say are in the public interest after 22m tuned in to watch verbal combats between Cameron, Miliband, and Clegg back in 2010.

Cameron, however, said he will participate in just one, against the leaders of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, Ukip, the SNP, the Green Party, and Plaid Cymru. The debate, he said, would have to take place before the end of March.

The Prime Minister has faced criticism saying he is ducking the debates and should stand and defend his record. There have even been suggestions he might be empty-chaired, a prospect which might hurt his ratings.

The debates may capture the public interest, but it is widely believed that, even in the United States where they are a staple of the election run in, such verbal stand-offs do little if anything to affect voter intent.

Here is the proposed schedule for the debates:

  • 2 April (ITV) – seven leaders
  • 16 April (BBC) – seven leaders
  • 30 April (Channel 4, Sky News) Miliband v Cameron
March 6, 2015, 4:29pm
It was a landmark week for inter-species relations as a weasel, a woodpecker and a photographer joined forces to prove once and for all that yes, Animals of Farthing Wood could happen.
 
Outside the animal kingdom, election campaigns gathered pace, with the debate over debates continuing to rage, while polls concluded, at various points, that the Conservatives will definitely win, “we literally have no idea”, and that given the choice, most people's ideal winner would be, er, a dog
 
What was certain was that the Tories have won the social media election, although Labour has lorded it over Twitter and Ukip does pretty well on Facebook. The poor old Lib Dems only got Google+. No word on Bebo, mind…
 
Mobile World Congress got techies excited, with the unveiling of the Samsung Galaxy S6, which has a “curved” screen (we’d argue it’s more “bevelled”, but far be it from us to be pedantic). Other excitements included Ikea’s “Home Smart” range, which wirelessly charges mobile phones, and smartwatch pioneer Pebble’s latest offering. We’ve got all the must-have gadgets here. 
 
Investors in troubled oil explorer Afren were cheered on Monday when its lenders decided to put off its deadline to repay $50m (£33m) of debts. Then this happened, and that cheer abruptly evaporated. We’ve looked at everything that’s gone wrong with the group. If you’re an investor, we suggest you look away now.  
 
Paddy Power’s results are always an excuse for a laugh, and this occasion was no different. Last year had “more ups and downs than Taylor Swift’s love life”, it lamented. We’ve got its best bits here
 
Finally, in weird human behaviour news, scientists suggested that after we shake hands, we subconsciously sniff our own hands to scope out “what other people are all about”. Apparently, it’s quite a lot like when dogs sniff each other in the park. Which suddenly makes the idea of a firm handshake kind of…. gross.

Leisurely reads

In the run-up to the election, former spin doctor Alastair Campbell’s experience will be much in demand again. City A.M. asked whether he was still “pointlessly combative”
 
Thursday was World Book Day. Take the opportunity to stock up your shelves with these four classic reads on business and leadership
 
And former Tech City boss Eric Van Der Klejj explained why the future of global fintech is more than just near-field communications

Great reads from elsewhere

It’s been a few weeks since ads for Game of War started appearing on TV featuring Hollywood star Kate Upton cast the goddess Athena, in an uncomfortable-looking aluminium corset. The mobile app is now grossing more than $1m a day. Bloomberg looks into what makes it so popular
 
Long Reads describes the first suicide bombing on American soil - and describes how it led to the redistribution of “the vast riches of one of the most notorious robber barons of the Gilded Age”. 

The last word

apple share price
March 6, 2015, 3:24pm

Apple is to jump across to the Dow Jones, becoming the fifth highest-ranked company on the index.

AT&T will be the casualty, with the switch taking place on 18 March this year. Apple is the world’s largest company, but won’t top the Dow as companies are ranked by share price, not by market cap.

The reasoning behind the switch is that Visa will split its shares four ways on the same date, reducing its 9.7 per cent weight in the Dow. The split mean’s Visa’s influence will be reduced to less than three per cent.

Apple has had a bumper year as the graph above shows. The almost hockey-stick trajectory of its share price makes the small gains made by the S&P 500, on which Apple is listed, and the Dow seem minuscule in comparison.

Apple is used to sitting top of the pile on the S&P (its Mrket cap is $736bn), but will have four companies above it on the Dow; Goldman Sachs, 3M, IBM, and Boeing all have shareprices higher than Apple’s.

 

Vladimir Putin
March 6, 2015, 2:20pm

What better sign that a leader understands the struggles of his people than by taking a big pay cut?

Vladimir Putin has announced he will take a 10 per cent pay cut between the beginning of this month and the end of December.

The Russian President said the pay cut will apply to other senior lawmakers, including Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and prosecutor general Yury Chaika, as well as Alexander Bastrykin, the president of Russia's Investigative Committee.

Although it sounds generous, it's worth pointing out that less than a year ago, the Kremlin decided to triple Putin's salary. 

However, since then Russia has been hit by the twin crises of western sanctions and plummeting oil prices, which have combined to push the rouble down 39 per cent in the last six months.

Still, Putin bills himself as living a frugal lifestyle, so he'll probably be alright. As long as he still has access to the basics: a fishing rod, a horse, a mini submarine...

Rangers fan outside gates dressed as rat
March 6, 2015, 2:19pm

Rangers shareholders have voted overwhelmingly in favour of the removal of the football club's current board, handing victory in the long-running boardroom battle to shareholder Dave King.

Chief executive Derek Llambias and finance director Barry Leach have been voted out with just under 85 per cent of shareholder support.

They have been replaced by South African businessman David King and his associates Paul Murray and John Gilligan, also with 85 per cent of shareholder approval. 

The vote was taken at an extraordinary general meeting held earlier today which lasted little more than 10 minutes.  

Dave King, who holds a 14.5 per cent stake in the club, called the EGM to gain control of the board and unseat its four members allied with Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley, who also holds a stake in the club.

Two of the board members, chairman David Somers and James Easdale, resigned in the run-up to the meeting, meaning the two resolutions to oust them was not tabled.

The battle for control of the Scottish club has now been won by King, who had already predicted a "landslide" victory.

London Eye, fireworks
March 6, 2015, 1:44pm

Deutsche Bank has been left with a seven per cent stake in London Eye and Madame Tussauds owner Merlin Entertainments, after it offloaded a chunk of the company's stock earlier this week.

Shares in Merlin plummeted fro 425p to 419p after the bank issued a statement saying its holding had crossed a seven per cent threshold.

On Tuesday, Deutsche launched the sale of 156m shares in Merlin on behalf of buyout firms CVC and Blackstone. 

The shares, which represented 15.4 per cent of the company, were placed at 417p, a 2.2 per cent discount to the company's closing price on Monday night.

Late on Monday, sources told City A.M. that the bank was struggling to place the block trade. It is understood today's announcement by Deutsche represents an aggregate position. 

CVC and Blackstone floated Merlin in November 2013 for £3.4bn and has since been selling down its stake in the group.

Deutsche Bank declined to comment.

March 6, 2015, 1:41pm

The US economy was inoculated from last month's bout of bad weather as jobs growth smashed expectations.

Figures released by the Labour Department today showed that the US economy added 295,000 jobs in February, which was up from the 257,000 in January. This was above economists' forecasts of 240,000.

This bumper figure pushed the dollar up 1.2 per cent against the euro, taking it to 1.08 per dollar, its weakest level since 2004.

Job were added in food services and drinking places, professional and business services, construction, health care, and in transportation and warehousing. However, employment in mining was down over the month.

The unemployment rate slipped to 5.5 per cent last month, from 5.7 per cent reported in January, also matching a more than six-year low.

Investors have been eyeing wage growth for an indication of when the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates.

But wage growth missed estimates in February, with average hourly earnings rising 0.1 per cent month-on-month, and two per cent annually. January's figure had shown a 0.5 per cent increase in wages, the biggest since 2008.

"On the one hand, the Fed is getting close to meeting the full-employment side of its dual mandate, but on the other, they are nowhere near meeting their inflation target and it’s hard to see how they will in the near future without better wage growth," Luke Bartholomew, investment manager at Aberdeen Asset Management, said.

"The hope is that more jobs and lower unemployment will finally translate into better wage growth but there is disappointingly little sign of that so far."

January's jobs number was also revised down slightly, to 239,000, and lower than the 257,000 initially reported.

lockheed laser
March 6, 2015, 1:25pm

We’ve had stealth bombers and drones for a while, it was always just a matter of time until we had lasers, too.

US defence company Lockheed Martin has developed a prototype laser weapon that can scorch holes through metal from over a mile away, as this photo shows. Some have termed the device a death-ray, and that doesn’t seem all that inappropriate. According to Lockheed it disabled the engine of a small truck from over a mile away.

The weapon has also been tested on sea and air targets.

Keoki Jackson, Lockheed Martin chief technology officer said:

Fiber-optic lasers are revolutionizing directed energy systems. We are investing in every component of the system – from the optics and beam control to the laser itself – to drive size, weight and power efficiencies. This test represents the next step to providing lightweight and rugged laser weapon systems for military aircraft, helicopters, ships and trucks.

Lockheed Martin is one of the US’s biggest defence companies, reporting net sales of $46.5bn in 2014.

Eric Schmidt at WorldPost
March 6, 2015, 12:36pm

Humankind has never had it so good and we should be thankful for the role of technology in getting us to that point, according to Google’s Eric Schmidt.

Speaking at the WorldPost's Future of Work conference, the executive chairman of the software giant said he wanted to talk about “why we are so unhappy – and why we shouldn’t be”.
 
Schmidt rolled off a list of issues - including the rise of Islamic State, a lack of jobs and instability in Ukraine - which make us feel like “we have no cause for optimism” and, he added, “many people blame technologies for these ills”.
 
“What I want to do is tell you that's not right and in many cases technology is the solution and technological achievement and advancement is essential to life in the 21st century.”
 
Using 1915 and 1615 as examples, Schmidt painted a picture of other eras of war, sickness and terrorism, concluding that “we are much happier now”.
 
“Somehow we think it's different now but humans have been the same for a very long time.
 
“I am absolutely convinced that technology is not the problem and it may even be the solution.”
 

 
Schmidt’s positive view of where technology can take the world comes at a time when debate rages about the rise – and potential dangers – of artificial intelligence (AI).
 
Both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have warned of the possible pitfalls of the increase in use of intelligent machines in the future, with Hawking warning that the human race could be “superseded” by a more advanced form of evolution. 
 
“AI has the promise of looking through very large sets of data and finding things humans don’t have the mental capacity to find. It’s the classic example of the needle in a haystack issue,” Schmidt said.
 
He used the example of Google Voice, which he said was powered by a “learning algorithm” that has progressed at such a rate that it can now correctly pronounce ‘Leicester’ – that notoriously difficult English place name for Americans to pronounce.
 
In a more pertinent example of the value of the translation service, he relayed a story of a Congolese woman who spoke no English who was giving birth behind the road and relied on her paramedics’ use of Google Translate to effectively communicate – and deliver her baby.
 
“AI made it possible for her to have a safe delivery,” he said.
 
Concluding, Schmidt expressed his hope for a future where technology made things better rather than worse.
 
“Human possibility is limitless. We can continue to be surprised by machines but, even better, we can be surprised by ourselves. And that is what I am most excited about.”

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