News Shorts for February

by | Feb 26, 2015

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  • Riding High
    The S&P 500 index hit a new record, nearing 2,119 on 25th February as better news from Germany and a partial recovery in oil prices lifted spirits. The FTSE-100 also beat its 1999 record on 24th February, achieving an intraday high of 6.958.
  • Granny Damage
    Conventional savings accounts are suffering a loss of inflows, thanks to the popularity of high-yielding pensioner bonds, says the Nationwide. Some £8 billion of bonds have already been bought, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer recently announced an extension of their availability.
  • Now, About That Budget Forecast….
    HMRC looks set to take a £5 bn hit from falling income tax receipts this year, according to revised estimates from the tax authority. Higher earners will be paying about £4 bn less that it was forecasting last year, and standard rate taxpayers around £1 bn less.
  • False Pretences
    The Government’s new Pension Wise website went online at www.gov.uk/pensionwise, ahead of the April pension reforms, with the aim of informing consumers about their options after pensions freedom. But not before it had encountered its first imposter, a website named pensionwisechoices.co.uk, which had been operating under the strapline ‘Pension Wise Choices: Government Guidance Made Easy’. The imposter was closed down. 
  • The Belt Tightens
    The Nationwide building society announced that its lending had had shrunk by 5% year-on-year during the last three quarters of 2014. The society’s lending had totalled £20.4bn, with net lending down by 32% to just £5.7bn. That left it with a mortgage book worth £151.3bn. Loan to value ratios had fallen slightly to 67%, from 69% a year earlier. 
  • Biting Back
    Bitcoins, which had dropped to $175 in January, made a strong recovery in February, reaching $265 by mid-month before subsiding to $236 by 26th February. As ever, the movements were hard to fathom but may have reflected uncertainty about a possible Greek exit from the euro. Gold dropped back sharply to its mid-December levels at $1,220. 
  • Oil Bounces
    Crude oil prices staged a substantial comeback, with Brent rising by 22% to $61.50 a barrel by mid-February. But that was still not much more than half the $115 being paid in July 2014, and it was clear that major producers and oilfield developers were being badly hit by below-break-even prices. West Texas intermediate remained much lower at around $52.50, however. 
  • Ugly American
    American Express saw its New York share price plummet to just $78, from $94 in late December, as the loss of a customer account with cut-price retailer Costco coincided with growing concern about rising costs and slow growth. The bank had already announced the trimming of 6% of its US workforce.
  •  The State of Real Estate
    UK house prices saw a January blip that took them up by 2% on December, the Halifax reported. Or 8.5% higher than a year earlier. But the Halifax added that it still expected a slowdown in price rises this year. January is a peculiarly volatile month, apparently.  
  • Nice If You Can Get It
    Google’s two founders, Sergei Brin and Larry Page, announced plans to sell off a $4.4 billion personal shareholding in the internet and communications giant – although their remaining $45 billion stake will still leave them with overall personal control of the company. 
  • Feeling the Heat
    British energy companies competed to slice an average of 4.75% off their consumer prices for natural gas, reflecting what they said was a fall in market prices. Consumer groups, however, pointed out that wholesale gas prices had actually halved by 50% in the last ten months. We’ll have to see whether the most recent uptick in prices will change the picture.
  • The Rich Are Different
    The world’s largest flawless diamond is set to go for auction in April, carrying a potential $25 million estimate. But not before it’s been on a round-the-world beauty tour to show off its attractions and drum up some interest. Meanwhile, a painting by Paul Gauguin set an all-time record for any work of art, fetching $300 million.

 

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