Thursday Newspaper round up

The Daily Telegraph.

European banks cut lending lines to companies last month, defying the central bank’s grand plan to stem the crisis with a flood of more than £838bn of cheap loans. The European Central Bank said loans to the real economy fell in February, scotching claims that radical long-term refinancing operation would stem the crisis. Open Europe’s Raoul Ruparel said: “The LTRO has succeeded in avoiding a severe funding crunch. But it does not tackle the underlying lending risks which the banks are still keen to avoid, particularly with the looming recession in Europe,”

Facebook has warned that a legal battle with Yahoo! over patents could have a “material”   impact on its business, just as the world’s biggest social networking site   prepares for a multi-billion dollar flotation.The Silicon Valley company made the disclosure in an updated version of its   prospectus for the initial public offering that could value Facebook at £63bn. Yahoo!, which is under intense pressure from its shareholders to carve out a new business strategy, filed a lawsuit earlier this month alleging that Facebook is infringing 10 of its patents that cover the technology behind   areas such as online messaging and advertising. A darling of Silicon Valley in the 1990s, Yahoo! is seeking unspecified damages.

Gas leaking from Total’s Elgin platform in the North Sea could cost the French oil giant £4.8bn, credit rating agency Fitch said. Flammable methane gas continued to leak on Wednesday from the abandoned platform, 150 miles east of Aberdeen, as experts warned the gas cloud – just 120 yards from a flare which is still burning – was an “explosion waiting to happen”. Total admitted the gas could ignite but insisted there was only a “low” risk because the wind was blowing the gas cloud away from the flare. Shares in Total, which lost nearly 6% on Tuesday, fell again on Wednesday, wiping a further €1.2bn off the company’s value, although they appeared to be buoyed slightly by Fitch saying it believed the unfolding incident was “not as serious as BP’s Deepwater Horizon accident in 2010,”

Britain is in talks with the United States and France on a possible release of strategic oil stocks to push fuel prices lower, French ministers said on Wednesday, four weeks before the country’s presidential election. Earlier in March, British sources said London was prepared to cooperate with Washington on a release of strategic oil stocks that was expected within months, in a bid to prevent fuel prices choking economic growth in what is also a US election year. The French Energy Minister, Eric Besson, told journalists after the weekly ministers’ meeting that the United States had asked France to join it in a possible emergency inventory release. Such a release could happen “in a matter of weeks”, Le Monde daily said on Wednesday, citing presidential sources.

The Daily Mail.

For ordinary people, seeking to go about their daily lives, careless talk about filling Jerry cans with fuel and meetings of COBRA have led to a predictable reaction. Queues have formed at petrol stations up and down the land and many have dried up. But whereas the government is capable of dealing with the potential tanker strike (that has now gone to arbitration service ACAS), it can only look on with some anxiety at events in the North Sea.The reaction to the flow of gas leaking from a rig off the Scottish coast, with a flare burning nearby, has been similar to that when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico two years ago
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Thomas Cook has seen a glimmer of sunlight in recent trading as the troubled tour operator seeks to shake off a triple profit warning that almost tipped it over the edge last year. The world’s oldest travel firm said it has seen an improvement in UK booking trends over the past few weeks, boosted by its latest advertising campaign featuring a rock cover of Louis Armstrong’s Wonderful World. The group, which has 1,300 shops and was forced to secure a £200m rescue package from lenders last November, also said it had benefited from upgrades to its website.

Britain’s anaemic recovery has left it in the grip of the longest economic slump for 100 years, dismal figures showed yesterday. The Office for National Statistics said output dropped 0.3% in the final three months of 2011 – worse than the 0.2% decline previously reported. A steady improvement in exports, and a surge in savings by households putting their finances in order, cushioned the blow and fuelled hopes that the economy will bounce back this year. But even a strong recovery will not be enough to prevent unwanted comparisons with previous downturns. The slump at the end of last year meant that at the start of 2012 – three years and nine months after the recession started – gross domestic product was still 4.1% below the pre-crisis peak,

The scale of the £9bn insurance mis-selling racket affecting millions of Britons was today laid bare by a damning report which shows compensation claims to banks sky-rocketed in the final months of 2011. Official data released by the City regulator, the Financial Services Authority (FSA), showed complaints about payment protection insurance (PPI) rose 85% to just under one million in the second half of last year. The figures paint a picture of banks inundated with letters, calls and emails from throngs of angry customers. PPI, an insurance sold alongside credit cards and loans to cover payments if the borrower lost their job, was widely mis-sold by banks who often failed to check if the policy was appropriate.

The Times.

And finally more corruption from the City of London.  Three former senior managers of Cattles have been fined £700,000 and banned from working in financial services for misleading investors about the extent of bad loans at the failed doorstep lender. The executives were responsible for Cattles giving “highly misleading” information about loan impairments and profits in its 2007 accounts and a prospectus for a £200m rights issue, the Financial Services Authority said. James Corr, Cattles’ former finance director, received the largest fine of £400,000 for breaches of the FSA’s market abuse, listing and disclosure rules. Peter Miller, the former finance director of Cattles’ Welcome Finance unit, was fined £200,000; and John Blake, Welcome’s former managing director, was fined £100,000. Blake is appealing against the FSA’s decision.

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