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News in Brief for June

1)    Britain’s economic growth looked more cheerful as the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) raised its forecast for 2014 to 3.1%, from its earlier prediction of 2.8%. Meanwhile the CBI said its May survey of 700 manufacturers, retailers and service sector firms showed the economy growing at its fastest pace since its records began in 2003. But the BCC warned that households were under strain, and that it expected growth to slow to 2.7% in 2015, and further to 2.5% in 2016.

2)    Terry Smith, the ebullient founder of asset management business Fundsmith, is to leave his post as CEO of Tullett Prebon, in what the interdealer broker is calling a “well advanced” succession planning process. Smith will be concentrating his activities on Fundsmith, which is currently raising funds for a £250 million emerging markets fund to be known as Fundsmith Emerging Equities Trust (FEET). Nice one.

3)     UK house prices grew by an alarming 8% in the year to March, according to new figures from the Office of National Statistics. But price rises in London may be starting to moderate, the ONS says, after a frightening 17% annual growth. Outside London and the South East, the average increase was a slightly saner 4.7%.

4)    Pfizer’s £70 billion bid to take over pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca failed  after  being rejected by the AstraZeneca board on price grounds. But politicians and shareholders were also concerned that it might result in the downsizing of the company’s activities in favour of job creation in the United States.

5)     The European Central Bank reduced its base lending rate from 0.25% to 0.15%, in an attempt to restart the consumer economy by making it cheaper for banks to lend to borrowers. Just to ram home the message, it announced that any spare money they banks parked with the ECB would no longer attract attract 0% interest. Instead, they would have to pay 0.1% for the privilege of lending the ECB their money.

6)     Bitcoin prices rebounded from April’s low of $360 to $666 on 3rd June – still barely half of December’s $1,150 peak. But the sector is still expanding. Coindesk reported that the first five months of 2014 saw $113 million of venture capital raised by bitcoin startups, around 30% more than in the whole of 2013.

7)    The PPI mis-selling legacy continues, according to a report commissioned by the BBC. The organisation alleged that a handful of major banks had under-paid on their PPI obligations by as much as £1 billion, because of anomalies in the way they had assessed their liabilities. Although all of them had refunded the premiums on their mis-sold PPI policies, plus interest, several had failed to refund additional fees and charges which had been triggered by policies. Thus resulting in a significant shortfall in payouts to some customers.

8)    Pope Francis sacked the entire board of the Vatican's financial regulatory body, in the course of a review of banking practices that followed a corruption scandal within the city state, and an arrest for money-laundering. The five-member board was replaced by a team of four international experts, including Juan Zarate, a former national security adviser to US President George Bush, and Joseph Pillay, an adviser to the president of Singapore.

9)   The Bank of England voted in June to hold the base rate at its record low of 0.5%, where it has been since March 2009. But senior MPC members were letting it be known that rates would probably increase in 2015, and advisers warned mortgage brokers and clients to build this expectation into their stress testing checks. The MPC also voted to keep the Bank’s programme of quantitative easing at £375 billion.

10)   The International Monetary Fund warned the world’s major banks that they had done too little to reform themselves since the 2008 crisis. Director Christie Lagarde said that too many banks were still “too big to fail”,  and that another bout of trouble could pose a systemic risk to the international system.

11)    Bank of America was reported to be close to agreement on a new $12 billion package of fines and compensation  in respect of a Department of Justice investigation into alleged mis-selling of mortgage-backed securities. The Wall Street Journal said that the bank had already paid out $25 billion in other fines and provisions. 

12)    China’s economic growth forecast for 2015 was lowered from 7.3% to 7% by the International Monetary Fund, because of worries about a possible correction of the overheated  property market and a build-up of private credit. But the agency stressed that the prospects were still good.

13)    50% of all consumer retail transactions by value are now being conducted with cards, a survey by the British Retail Consortium found. In volume terms, however, cash still accounted for 53% of the number of transactions in 2013 – with debit cards accounting for 32%. The BRC says that cash use has fallen by 14% in the last five years, largely due to online purchasing and the arrival of contactless cards. Debit card use grew by 11% during the same period.

14)    Britain’s trade deficit for non-oil goods rose in April to £8.4 billion, compared with £7.7 billion in March, the ONS reported. The deterioration was partly due to a 1.9% fall in non-oil exports.

 

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