Is now the time to raise interest rates?

    Shoppers reflected in windowImage copyrightAFP
    Image captionIs the economy moving fast enough to bear a rate rise?

    It’s been 10 years since the UK last saw interest rates rise.

    Back then, the iPhone had only just been unveiled, Twitter was a one-year old mystery and Instagram didn’t even exist.

    Hard to imagine life without these things now, but interest rates of 5.75% and Gordon Brown as prime minister seem strangely alien.

    After that 0.25% rise, the world of monetary policy went into a tailspin, with central banks imposing a rapid series of interest rate cuts as it attempted to outrun the credit crunch.

    Finally, in March 2009 they hit a record low of 0.5% until being cut again to 0.25% in August 2016 in the aftermath of the shock Brexit vote

    It will certainly be an unfamiliar feeling to see rates rise, although discussions about lifting them have rumbled during much of that almost nine-year period of record lows.

     

    Next month is hotly tipped to be the one that changes the direction of interest rates. Last month, Mark Carney dropped what was seen as his biggest hint yet that rates would be increased soon, possibly in November.

    Granted, the economic backdrop is difficult to decipher.

    This week saw inflation at a five-year high, weak retail sales figures on Thursday – but government borrowing figures on Friday way better than expected.

    And the underlying picture is of sluggish economic growth, persistently weak productivity, and wage rises that lag inflation and eat into earning power.

    On top of that, household debt is rising five times faster than earnings and is more than £200bn – a state of affairs that Bank of England governor Mark Carney has remarked on often.

    We ask two former rate-setters from the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee whether now is the time to bite the bullet.

Ford commuter start-up Chariot suspended after failed inspections

  • Chariot's fleet is made up of Ford Transit vansImage copyrightCHARIOT

Regulators in California have temporarily suspended a Ford-owned transport start-up after its vehicles failed multiple inspections.

Chariot is a fleet of Ford Transit vans that ferry passengers along popular routes in San Francisco.

In a note to users, Chariot said it expected to “resolve the disruption quickly”.

Regulator the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) said it had a responsibility to keep the public safe.

Chariot has irked regulators in the city before. Earlier this month it was warned to stop mimicking – and congesting – routes already being offered by existing public transport.

 Chariot has been operating for more than three years and offers a monthly subscription for the short journeys, or one-off fares of $5 during peak hours.

Ford bought the start-up in 2016 for an undisclosed sum, estimated to be in the region of $60m. Ford did not offer further comment on Thursday, referring the BBC to Chariot’s statement.

‘Three successive inspections’

The suspension was handed down by the CPUC, which oversees privately-owned companies offering infrastructure services, on Wednesday. Chariot informed its users on Thursday. It promised to reimburse customers who paid for the monthly service.

The email to customers said: “Even though Chariot is in full compliance with all regulations, we have received an order from a regulator to temporarily suspend service.”

When asked by the BBC, the CPUC would not confirm the exact reason behind the decision, other than to say the company’s vehicles fell short when inspected.

“Yesterday we suspended Chariot’s TCP operating permit because Chariot did not pass three successive California Highway Patrol inspections,” said CPUC spokesman Christopher Chow.

“The CPUC has a responsibility to suspend a carrier’s operating permit for failure to maintain a vehicle in safe operating mode, other violations related to transportation safety and/or failure to comply with the DMV’s employee Pull Notice Program.”

The Pull Notice Program is a scheme which enables the sharing of employee records between companies that hire drivers.

Correction 20 October 2017: An earlier version of this article incorrectly cited Salon.com as the source of a quote about Chariot. Their quote was instead referring to Lyft Shuttle and has since been removed.

BMW headquarters searched by EU investigators

BMW Munich officeImage copyrightEPA
Image captionEU officials inspected the Munich offices this week

BMW has confirmed its head office was searched this week by European Union officials investigating an alleged cartel among five German carmakers.

EU investigators are looking into allegations that BMW, Daimler, VW, Audi and Porsche colluded to limit their spending on emissions technology.

BMW said EU staff had inspected its Munich offices, adding that it was assisting the regulators in their work.

Also on Friday, Daimler said it had filed an application for leniency.

The firm, which owns Mercedes-Benz, also has no current plans to set aside funds for possible fines, according to chief financial officer Bodo Uebber.

‘Cartel’

EU and German regulators are looking at allegations that the companies collaborated for decades on many aspects of development and production, disadvantaging customers and suppliers.

BMW said it wanted to make clear the distinction between potential violations of EU antitrust law, and the illegal manipulation of exhaust emissions, which it denies.

In July, Volkswagen defended its record after allegations that it teamed up with other German car giants to breach EU cartel rules.

VW said it was normal for manufacturers to exchange technical information to speed up innovation.

However, it declined to comment on specific allegations that the five carmakers colluded on price and technology.

TV tower firm Arqiva eyes £6bn UK listing

Crystal Palace tower
Image captionArqiva’s TV masts include the famous Crystal Palace transmitter

The UK’s largest owner of TV transmitters, Arqiva, is planning a £6bn float on the London Stock Exchange expected to be the biggest this year.

Arqiva traces its roots back to the BBC’s first radio broadcast in 1922, and its masts are used by TV channels, radio stations and mobile networks.

The flotation comes after a failed attempt to sell the company privately.

The firm aims to raise £1.5bn to pay down debt in a share sale likely to put it in the FTSE 100 index.

Arqiva’s clients include the BBC, ITV and international broadcasters and its masts cover about 98% of the UK.

 The firm, owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and Australian bank Macquarie, was widely reported to be in talks about a sale.

However, the collapse of discussions with Canadian and Singaporean investors has paved the way for a float instead.

Arqiva chief executive Simon Beresford-Wylie said: “Arqiva provides the critical infrastructure and skilled workforce that ensures the effective operation of the UK’s television, radio, telecoms and smart meters.

“We are very much looking forward to bringing our unique combination of leading assets and skills to the public markets.”

For the year to June, Arqiva posted revenue of £944m and profits before tax, interest and other costs of £467m, but an overall loss of £427m.

The company said it expected to pay “generous” dividends, with this year’s payout totalling £195m.

China lifts ban on stinky cheese

Wheels of Roquefort cheese

China has reversed an import ban on several types of soft and mould-ripened cheese, including Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola and Stilton.

The authorities imposed the ban in September because the strains of bacteria used to make the cheeses weren’t approved in China.

has reversed an import ban on several types of soft and mould-ripened cheese, including Roquefort, Danish Blue, Gorgonzola and Stilton.

The authorities imposed the ban in September because the strains of bacteria used to make the cheeses weren’t approved in China.

Quarantine officials lifted the ban over the weekend after a meeting with European Union officials.

Imports of the temporarily-banned cheeses can resume immediately.

The EU Delegation and the French Embassy will organise a technical seminar between European and Chinese experts to help update standards, in an effort to avoid future bans.

No longer cheesed off

China’s cheesemongers rejoiced at the news.

“We are very happy about the decision. I think it’s a way for China to show they’re really open-minded to selling foreign products and especially cheese,” said Vincent Marion, the co-founder of Cheese Republic.

The online delivery service, based in Shanghai, specialises in artisan cheeses, and the ban affected more than half of the products the company sold.

It will be several weeks before more previously-banned cheese makes its way through the supply chain to Chinese retailers.

Cheeses please

The research firm Euromonitor expects cheese sales in China to reach 5.3bn yuan (£620m; $800m) this year, up 26% from last year.

More than 90% of it is imported, with most coming from New Zealand and Australia.

Cheese has also grown in popularity through fast food and pizza restaurants.

Mr Marion said his company caters mostly to foreigners, but there is also a growing local market for specialist cheeses.

Toshiba forecasts loss due to tax hit on chip sale

A Toshiba company logo appears on a building in TokyoImage copyrightAFP

Toshiba expects to post a 110bn yen annual net loss (£732m) due to the tax impact of the sale of its memory chip business.

In August, the Japanese company said it would post a net profit of 230bn yen for the fiscal year to March 2018.

It agreed last month to sell its lucrative chip unitto a consortium led by private equity firm Bain Capital.

Toshiba needs to sell the business to cover billions in losses incurred at its US nuclear unit.

In a statement on Monday, Toshiba also said it expects to post a net loss of 60bn yen in the six months to September 30, down from its previous forecast for a net profit of 140bn yen.

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Shares in the company dropped 1.2% in Tokyo trading, bucking the broader bounce on Japan’s market after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a clear victory in weekend elections.

Chip unit sale

Toshiba, originally known for its consumer electronics products, has faced a series of difficulties in recent years.

An accounting scandal, uncovered in 2015, led to the resignation of several members of the firm’s senior management, including the chief executive. The company was found to have inflated the previous seven years’ profits by $1.2bn (136m yen).

Problems came to a head again in January this year, when it became clear its US nuclear unit, Westinghouse, was in financial trouble. The business, bought in 2006, had suffered years of cost overruns at its reactors and a downturn in global demand for nuclear energy.

To cover those losses, Toshiba agreed in September to sell its prized memory chip business for $18bn to the Bain-led consortium

Brexit: Business lobby groups call for transition deal clarity

Britain’s five biggest business lobby groups are calling for an urgent Brexit transition deal, or, they warn, the UK risks losing jobs and investment.

In a joint letter being sent to Brexit Secretary David Davis, the groups, including the Institute of Directors and CBI, will say time is running out.

A government spokesman said the talks were “making real, tangible progress”.

Sources told the BBC the letter is still being finalised but is likely to be sent on Monday.

The other lobby groups backing the letter are the British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, and the EEF manufacturing body

More concessions

There has been a growing anxiety among businesses at what they see as a lack of progress in the Brexit negotiations.

One of the five groups – which together represent firms employing millions of people – told the BBC it was felt a joint letter would “emphasise our wish for a deal and clarity”.

They say it is important that the Brexit transition period matches as closely as possible current trading arrangements with the EU.

Theresa May has suggested a period of about two years, with the UK and EU trading on broadly similar terms to now and payments to Brussels to meet Britain’s budget commitments.

But although EU negotiators have agreed to start preliminary work on a future relationship, they still want more concessions on the UK’s so-called “divorce payment” before starting talks on trade and transition.

London skyline

Sky News and the Guardian reported they had seen the draft letter, which says an agreement on a transition “is needed as soon as possible, as companies are preparing to make serious decisions at the start of 2018, which will have consequences for jobs and investment in the UK”.

The letter reportedly adds: “It is vital that companies only have to undertake one adjustment as a result of the UK’s withdrawal, not two.”

Nikkei hits new highs after Japan election

Japanese stocks hit their highest level since 1996 on Monday after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won a clear election victory.

The Nikkei climbed more than 1% in its 15th consecutive day of gains, a record winning streak for the index.

The ruling coalition is set to retain its two-thirds majority, suggesting Mr Abe’s economic policies will continue.

The Nikkei index of 225 leading Japanese shares finished 239 points higher at 21,696.6.

The yen hit a three-month low against the US dollar, helping boost shares of Japanese exporters.

A weaker yen tends to lift the shares of export firms because it makes their products cheaper to overseas customers.

However, Japan’s fresh stock market highs also reflect a global rally, as the country’s equity markets are tracking gains on markets elsewhere.

Nissan, Mitsubishi and Sony all moved ahead in early trade, although Toyota’s shares slipped after it temporarily suspended production at its factories because of a powerful typhoon.

Shinzo Abe at LDP headquarters

Mr Abe, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) coalition, said the election was first and foremost about the nuclear threat from North Korea.

Analysts expect the victory will also mean the government’s economic policies will remain largely unchanged.

Since he was first elected in 2012, Mr Abe has pursued a “three arrows” policy of monetary easing, fiscal stimulus and structural reform.

Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch fined £35m by UK watchdog

The UK’s financial regulator has fined Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch £35m for breaking reporting rules.

The US bank failed to report nearly 69 million transactions over two years, the Financial Conduct Authority said.

The watchdog said it was the first enforcement action taken under rules introduced following the financial crisis of 2008.

Merrill Lynch’s fine was reduced by 30% because the bank agreed to settle at an early stage, the regulator said.