Via Yahoo Finance

A retail park in north London is set to be converted into warehouse space for online sellers following a landmark deal amid the ongoing rise of e-commerce, my colleague Rachel Millard reports. 

Trading in the US open in just under three quarters of an hour, and currently markets are set to fall, joining their European peers. The Nasdaq looks like to be the worst hit, eyeing a 0.7pc fall according to futures data.

Model train-maker Hornby has reported increased sales and margins over the Christmas period in a brief update.

The group said the reception of its new products in previews and press had been “encouraging”, and said earnings “continued to be ahead of last year”.

It said it had also reached an agreement with Phoenix UK Fund, its biggest shareholder, to agreement the maximum principal amount it can borrow as part of its credit facility, from £3m to £9m.

After taking a 1.7pc knock during Sunday trading, Saudi Aramco’s shares ended trading more or less flat today. As I reported yesterday:

BAE Systems is now leading FTSE 100 risers, though BP and Shell are still doing most of the heavy lifting. Polymetal has also stayed up. Other than those, only Primark-owner Associated British Foods and Rightmove are holding above flat – the other 94 constituents are all posting losses.


French economy grows

Strikes against Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms are on course to become France’s longest since May 1968 Credit: Christian Hartmann/Reuters 

Emmanuel Macron won some economic breathing space from the strikes against his pension reform plans as a survey showed that France’s services sector picked up pace in December.

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My colleague Lizzy Burden reports:

The purchasing managers’ index by IHS Markit revealed that the biggest sector of the French economy climbed to 52.4 from 52.2 in November. A reading above 50 indicates expansion. 

Manufacturing, however, slipped from 52.1 to 52.

The result locked in a solid rate of output expansion in the last quarter of the year, according to Eliot Kerr, an economist at IHS Markit. “Faster headline growth at service providers helped offset stuttering manufacturing production and ensured the pace of expansion in composite activity was little-changed from November.”


Hikma Pharmaceuticals falls after JP Morgan downgrade

Pharmaceuticals group Hikma is the biggest faller on the FTSE 100 currently, after JP Morgan cut its rating overnight, warning that investors have underestimated the headwinds its generics division is facing. The Jordan-based group is down more than 4pc:


Ghosn goes to ground

Ghosn leaving his lawyers’ offices in March 2019 Credit: KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP

The legal team representing Carlos Ghosn has been unable to contact the former chairman of Nissan Motor Co. since he announced he had fled to Lebanon with his lawyers confirming that they intend to resign. 

My colleague Julian Ryall reports:

Junichiro Hironaka, who had been leading Mr Ghosn’s defence on charges of financial misconduct, told local media on Sunday that he had been unable to reach his client or Carole Ghosn since December 31.

Mr Hironaka said he will attempt to contact the former Nissan executive through his lawyer in Lebanon to confirm the resignation of the entire Japan-based legal team. 

Mr Hironaka told the Asahi newspaper that he believed Mr Ghosn had become “deeply despondent by the uncertainty of his trial schedule and the grim prospects for being reunited with his wife in the near future.”


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Analyst: Trump won’t follow through on Iraq sanction threat

Saxo Bank analyst Christopher Dembik says it is unlikely that Donald Trump will follow through with threats to place sanction on Iraq, given the country’s crucial role as an oil producer. He writes:

It is likely that president Trump is bluffing on Iraqi sanctions. It would be politically risky in a presidential election year to impose sanctions against Iraq, which is the OPEC’s second largest producer, with 4.7 million barrels of daily output. There is simply not enough global spare capacity to fill a gap caused by US sanctions targeting the Iraqi oil production. Higher oil prices would ultimately lead to a tax on US consumers.

In our view, the current market focus on oil price is misleading. We believe that economic damage related to the US-Iran cold war will more certainly come from cyber retaliation or from global uncertainty, with less direct consequences on the global economy.


Full report: UK businesses cheer up in wake of election

Boris Johnson’s electoral victory appears to have raised spirits in the City Credit: BEN STANSALL/AFP

My colleague Tim Wallace has a full report on that better-than-expected activity rise. He writes:

Business confidence perked up after the general election as reduced uncertainty boosted the economy’s prospects and raised hopes of a “Boris bounce“.

Companies’ expectations for future growth rose to their highest in more than a year, according to IHS Markit’s purchasing managers’ index (PMI), an influential survey.

The services industry stabilised after shrinking in the months before the election, indicating the Conservatives’ victory has restored a degree of certainty to the economy.

Employment picked up, new orders increased and optimism for the future climbed.


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Gold nears $1,600 mark

For much of the past half a year, gold has been floating around the $1,500 an ounce threshold – a psychological marker of risk. Now, after tearing upwards in recent sessions, they are eyeing the $1,600 mark.

It hasn’t been above that level since the aftermath of the eurozone crisis, so the rise is a sign of just how nervous investors are.


Round up: Oil, cars and Aldi

Aldi sales over the festive period were boosted by a surge in demand for products such as alcohol and specialty products Credit: Peter Summers/REUTERS

Here are our full reports on some of the day’s top stories:


Goldman Sachs: Oil risks will be sustained in coming weeks

Analysts at US investment bank Goldman Sachs has struck a cautious, pessimistic note on oil movement in coming weeks, warning it is too early to tell what the growing crisis between Iran and the US might mean for oil prices in the longer term.

Interestingly, they suggest that means (as many investors seem to have already concluded) it is time to buy gold. They write:

Although the rally in oil suggests the market attaches a significant probability to current tensions leading to an oil supply disruption, we would argue that assessing such specific consequences is difficult at this time. The range of potential scenarios is very large; spanning oil supply shocks or even oil demand destruction – which would be negative to oil prices. In contrast, history shows that under most outcomes gold will likely rally to well beyond current levels.

The analysts add that the aftermath of the September attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities suggests higher oil prices will unlock extra supply that is being held back:

The precedent set by the Abqaiq attack showed that the oil market has significant supply flexibility starting when Brent is at $70/bbl, even before shale production needs to ramp up, suggesting only moderate upside from here, should an attack on oil assets actually occur.


Reaction: Reasons to be cheerful for UK firms

Responding to those PMI figures, Lloyds Bank’s Allan Ramsay says:

Today’s reading shows that UK services firms have cause for optimism as we start the new year. That said, and despite December’s decisive election result, there still remains an understandable level of caution among businesses after a prolonged period of uncertainty.

Pantheon Macroeconomics’ Samuel Tombs adds the figures should prompt the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee to keep interest rates in place:

The upward revision to the services PMI in December from the flash reading is an encouraging sign that the lifting of the threats of a no-deal Brexit in January and a business-hostile Labour government has triggered a recovery in activity…

…Admittedly, it’s unclear whether the recovery in the PMI simply reflects an improvement in sentiment, or a genuine pick-up in activity. The PMI was misleadingly downbeat throughout 2019, with output in the services sector rising despite the business activity index repeatedly pointing to a downturn, so its recovery might just reflect this gap narrowing. For now, though, the survey data are starting to move in the right direction, significantly weakening the case for the MPC to cut Bank Rate over the coming months. 


Snap wrap: What’s moving markets today?

If you’re just joining us, here’s what’s happening today:

  • Markets have continued to reel in the aftermath of the assassination of Qassim Suleimani, with investors ditching shares in favour of less risky assets.
  • Stock markets across Europe are stumbling, while oil has hit $70 a barrel and gold touched a seven-year high overnight.
  • Only a handful of FTSE 100 companies are managing to scrape gains: oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell, weapons company BAE Systems, and gold miner Polymetal.
  • Extra pressure is being placed on the blue-chip index by a rise in the pound, which has gained ground following data that showed the UK’s service sector halted its end-of-year slowdown following last month’s election result.
  • Purchasing managers’ index data gave the crucial service sector – which includes a variety of businesses, from cafes to financial services – a score of 50, indicating it held stagnant during December after a slowdown in November.



Here’s how all December’s UK PMI readings look

As mentioned, we can’t see definite proof of a post-election confidence bounce yet – but it might become apparent once we start to get figures for January. 


UK could be a reaching a ‘turning point’

Commenting on the improvement in services activity (if mere stagnation can truly be seen as an improvement), Duncan Brooks from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply said:

Any improvement in the sector’s fortune is of course welcome, but this small improvement to the no change mark means stagnation is also a possibility. With the lowest prices charged inflation since July 2016, intense competition between firms meant costs were not passed on to consumers and a further rise in fuel costs and salaries could dampen the sector’s hopes of improved margins in the coming months.

Other clouds of uncertainty must also include the potential for further political instability as negotiators and policymakers take the next steps. But with the fastest level of job creation since the summer and a bounce in business optimism not seen since September 2018, commentators could be forgiven for believing there could potentially be a turning point on the horizon if the UK plays its cards right.


Improvement follows pre-vote doubts

Tim Moore, an associate director at IHS Markit, said of the readings:

Service companies widely commented on delayed spending decisions and a headwind to sales from domestic political uncertainty in the run-up to the general election. With manufacturing and construction output also subdued in December, the latest PMI surveys collectively signal an overall stagnation of the UK economy at the end of 2019.

However, the latest UK service sector figures are an improvement on those seen in November and strike a slightly more positive tone than the earlier ‘flash’ PMI for December.

It’s worth noting that Markit’s survey landed a little awkwardly last month, with its research process – which involves interviews with purchasing managers – taking place either side of the election. January’s initial readings should give a clearer indication of just how much sentiment has improved.


Services order books recover

The pound has risen immediately following those readings, which suggest – for the services sector at least – that a post-general election recovery may be on the cards.

IHS Markit, which gathered the data, reports:

UK service providers indicated that business activity was unchanged in December, following a marginal reduction in the previous month. The stabilisation of service sector output was helped by a return to improving order books, as signalled by the sharpest rise in new work since last July.

Job creation also strengthened in the latest survey period, partly driven by a rebound in business optimism to its highest for 15 months…

…Some survey respondents noted a boost to activity from higher underlying customer demand at the end of 2019. Meanwhile, those reporting a drop in output generally cited a headwind from delayed spending decisions ahead of the general election.

Researchers added:

There were signs that service providers have become hopeful that a more stable political backdrop will help to support business conditions over the course of 2020. This was highlighted by a rebound in business optimism to its highest since September 2018, with a number of survey respondents predicting a short-term boost to business activity when the first stage of Brexit is resolved.


Breaking: UK services sector beats estimates with stagnant growth

The services sector includes a variety of businesses Credit:  Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe

Just in: Finalised PMI data for December shows the UK’s services sector was stagnant – an improvement given economist were widely expecting a continued slowdown.

Services came in at 50, with the composite measure (a weighted balance of manufacturing and services) at 49.3, where a reading above 50 indicates growth:

More follows…


European losses extend

It’s going from bad to worse all over the continent, with particularly chunky losses for Germany’s DAX as investors ditch equities in favour of assets seen as less risky.

Germany is particularly vulnerable to disruption, with its already-suffering manufacturing sector liable to take a severe hit from anything that impacts global trade.

Credit: Bloomberg TV


Eurozone pulls away from stagnation

Purchasing managers’ index data for the eurozone shows activity rose slightly in September, lifting the bloc from the threshold of stagnation. 

 Data-gatherers at IHS Markit said:

The divergence between the performances of the manufacturing and services economies remained noticeable in December. Overall growth remained centred on the service sector, with growth here reaching a four-month high. In contrast, manufacturing output declined at a rate not exceeded for nearly seven years.

Markit economist Chris Williamson said:

Another month of subdued business activity in December rounded off the eurozone’s worst quarter since 2013. The PMI data suggest the euro area will struggle to have grown by more than 0.1pc in the closing three months of 2019.

At face value, the weak performance is disappointing given additional stimulus from the ECB, with the drag from the ongoing plight of the manufacturing sector a major concern. However, policymakers will be encouraged by the resilient performance of the more domestically-focused service sector, where growth accelerated in December to its highest since August.


BAE and Polymetal rises on market ructions

Two other beneficiaries from the sour mood out on the markets are weapons firm BAE Systems (which is likely to make plenty of sales if military tensions escalate in the Middle East) and Polymetal, a gold miner:


Upcoming activity gauge readings could shift pound

The pound is remarkably flat today, amid low movements on the forex market in general. SpreadEx’s Connot Campbell notes that could shift when we get services and composite purchasing managers’ index data at 9:30am:

Dealing with its own renewed Brexit anxiety as the markets entered a new year, the pound was flat on Monday, unchanged against dollar and euro alike. That could change following the morning’s UK services PMI; the manufacturing and construction readings were pretty dire, so the currency will be praying for a number better than the forecast 49.1.

Here’s how the finalised readings we got last week looked:


Top boss pay is falling… but it is still pretty high

As my colleague Tim Wallace reported this morning, top UK bosses’ are seeing their pay fall as pressure grows:

The typical chief executive earned just under £3.5m in 2018 according to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the High Pay Centre. That is equivalent to £901.30 per hour.

It marks a steep fall for those at the top of UK Plc. A year earlier they were paid more than £3.9m, or £1,020 per hour.

It is part of a longer trend. In 2015 the average top boss received £5.4m, which fell to £4.6m in 2016 – meaning annual pay at the top tumbled by almost £2m over four years.

Despite this drop, however, it is still ‘High Pay Day’ – the day on which pay for the average FTSE 100 chief executive officer surpasses the amount an average UK worker earns all year.


Energy giants top bleak FTSE

It’s frosty out there on the FTSE 100 today, with more than 90 of London’s blue-chip stocks losing group currently.

The biggest risers are heavyweights BP and Royal Dutch Shell, which are both benefitting from movement in oil markets. Together, they are putting a fair bit of upwards pull on the index, but it isn’t enough to keep things flat.


Strait of Hormuz is crucial to oil price

Oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz Credit: Hamad I Mohammed/REUTERS

The big question for markets in the near term is how Iran will strike back against the US’s actions. One of the most consequential moves it could make is disrupting or blockading the Strait of Hormuz – the vital Gulf waterway that acts as a major shipping lane for oil tankers.

As my colleague Lizzy Burden reported on Friday:

If Iran tries to close the Strait of Hormuz – one of the world’s most important oil arteries – Brent crude could jump to as much as $150 a barrel, Capital Economics says, more than double its current level.

That would mean inflation soaring by 3.5pc to 4pc in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as inflicting misery on ordinary people around the world including British drivers.

Hussein Sayed, from currency trading platform FXTM, says some traders are already bracing for a spike by placing bets on a higher oil price:

Interestingly, we note some investors are buying call options near $100 to insure or profit from massive price spikes. They are predicting that Iran will target shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, which is responsible for a fifth of the world’s oil supply flow. If this strait is blocked, even for a short period, it will lead to prices skyrocketing. At $70-$80 a barrel, the global economy is not likely to feel much impact from this rise in prices, but as we get closer to $100 there will be severe consequences, which would trigger steep selloffs in equity markets.


European markets stumble

The FTSE is slightly outperforming its continental peers, but overall it’s not looking too pretty for any European stock indices.

Credit: Bloomberg TV


Retail week begins

Though today is comparatively quiet, we’re kicking off a busy week for retailers, who (starting with Next, which reported on Friday) will be revealing how their festive trading went. Thursday is the biggest day, with Marks & Spencer, Tesco and John Lewis all set to disclose their performance.

The supermarkets face perhaps their biggest threat from  discounters such as Lidl and Aldi, which have been slowly eating up market share. Aldi, our retail correspondent Laura Onita reports, is claiming to have done well – but isn’t sharing like-for-like numbers:


FTSE falls

As expected, the FTSE 100 has dropped at the open, falling 0.45pc. A rising oil price may benefit some of London’s heavyweight energy firms, but against a neutral pound the pressure may be too much for the blue-chip index.


Oil jump could ‘shock’ global economy

The aftermath of Qassim Suleimani’s assassination is likely to roil markets in the coming weeks, say MUFG Bank analysts Lee Hardman and Fritz Louw. They write:

President Trump has exponentially increased the chances of conflict in an election year with red lines on both sides needing to be redrawn.

In this light, the flare in geopolitical tensions between Iran and the US has increased downside risks for the global economy. A significant spike in the price of oil would provide a negative shock for the global economy which has only tentatively shown signs of improvement towards the end of last year


Here are the key commodity moves from overnight

A push to safe-haven assets and worries about a shortfall in oil supplies have put gold at a seven-year high, and oil at $70 a barrel (though both have softened slightly from their overnight peaks):


What happened overnight 

Stocks declined and gold and oil advanced in the wake of escalating Middle East tensions as Asian financial markets returned to full strength following New Year holidays.

Gold surged to the highest in more than six years and US Treasury yields ticked lower amid fallout from the killing of a top Iranian military commander in Iraq. The S&P 500 Index posted its biggest loss in a month Friday in the wake of the killing, which threatened to spur escalating violence across the Middle East.

Japanese, Hong Kong and South Korean equities fell, and U.S. and European futures retreated.

Meanwhile, Chinese and Australian stocks bucked the trend. 

The tensions cast a cloud over largely positive forecasts for risk assets at the start of 2020, with a US-China phase-one trade deal expected to be signed later this month.

Moves by China to bolster economic growth, and signs of stabilisation in Chinese manufacturing, have also offered hope for a rebound in commerce.


Agenda: Investors seek haven assets as crisis in Middle East deepens

Qassim Soleimani was killed by the US on Friday Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

Good morning. European markets are set to open the week in the red as tensions between the US and Iran intensified over the weekend following the assassination of General Qassim Soleimani.

Oil prices continued to climb with Brent crude futures surging above $70 a barrel. Gold also hit a seven-year high as investors ploughed into safe haven assets as the crisis escalated. 

Tehran said it will not abide by any of its commitments to the 2015 nuclear agreement it signed, while Donald Trump threatened to attack 52 targets in Iran – including cultural sites – if the country retaliated.

Mr Trump added he would impose severe sanctions on neighbouring Iraq if it asked US troops to leave the country on an unfriendly basis. 

5 things to start your day

1) Top central banks will sweep up bonds worth hundreds of billions of pounds to kick-start growth again in 2020 in their latest unprecedented intervention into financial markets. The balance sheets of the four main central banks in the eurozone, US, ­Japan and UK are collectively expected to swell to more than £12 trillion by the end of 2020 after policymakers resorted to rebooting their quantitative easing (QE) programmes.

2) Saudi Aramco shares closed more than 10pc below their post-float highs yesterday as the fallout from the assassination of Qassim Suleimani by the US sent Middle Eastern shares plunging

3) A former pensions minister has hit out at the Treasury, calling it the “biggest barrier to pensions policy”. It is “shocking” that the Treasury has supported the introduction of new forms of Isas such as Help to Buy and Lifetime Isas but resists other reforms that would boost pension savings but would require upfront tax relief on ­individuals’ income, said Sir Steve Webb, who was a Liberal Democrat pensions minister in David Cameron’s coalition government. Read more here.

4) Pay is slumping among the country’s top bosses, with chief executives’ hourly wages dropping by more than £100 amid rising pressure from shareholders and increasing public scrutiny. Read more.

5)  The largest offshore wind farm developer in the world has laid off around 15 people from its business, and is currently weighing further cuts, as the company warns that wind might not be quite as effective as previously thought. Here’s why.

Coming up today

No major UK companies are set to report today.

Economics: New car registrations, reserves changes (UK), composite and services activity gauge December final reading (UK, eurozone and US), inflation (eurozone)