Hedge funds and investment managers are dumping sterling as disappointing economic growth in the UK, the threat of a downgrade of its debt and an upcoming change of guard at the Bank of England have fuelled concerns about a drop in the country’s asset values. More speculators are shorting the pound than buying it for the first time in five months, according to figures from the US Commodity Futures Trading Commission that are used as a proxy for activity in the global hedge fund community. Betting against the pound is second only in popularity to shorting the yen, which has plunged in value against other currencies this year as investors have positioned themselves for more expansionary monetary policy in Japan, according to the Financial Times.
The Treasury has set up a unit to explore changes to the Bank of England’s remit as political pressure mounts for action to boost economic growth. The small internal group has been created to examine whether there is a need to alter the Bank’s 2% inflation target — a move likely to stoke speculation about an overhaul before the arrival of Mark Carney as Bank of England governor this summer. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, said yesterday that the Bank’s remit should be reformed to take more explicit account of the need to maintain growth, as “the mandate has to be flexible, but not so flexible that it becomes meaningless,” The Times says.
Delays in talks over the pricing of a deal to sell 72 Typhoon fighter jets to Saudi Arabia will take a toll on earnings this week at defence company BAE Systems, after a traumatic year including a failed attempt to merge with European aerospace giant EADS. BAE warned in December that hold-ups in the re-pricing of the Salam contract with the Saudis, worth £4.5bn, would cut earnings per share by around 3p. There is understood to be a small chance that agreement could be reached this week over reducing the price on the Typhoon contract to reflect the downturn in the global economy, The Daily Mail reports.
Travellers to Spain face chaos after Iberia Airlines workers called a 15-day strike that starts today. Ground staff including baggage-handlers will join the strikes, meaning that other airlines could be affected. Iberia, the loss-making Spanish airline, cancelled 415 flights from a total of 1,060 planned between today and Friday. Other stoppages, by up to 20,000 workers, are planned between March 4th and 8th and March 18th to 22nd. Vueling, a budget carrier part-owned by Iberia, will cancel 354 flights this week, 39% of the total. The Iberia Express offshoot will abandon 96 flights and Air Nostrum 357, The Times reports.
The Prime Minister is heading the biggest delegation of British business leaders ever to visit the sub-continent to demonstrate that India has a higher trade and investment priority. But there are heavy political undertones tied to the visit. Mr Cameron is braced for questions on the helicopter scandal and criticism about immigration controls said to be deterring Indian students from studying in Britain. He is expected to apologise for failing to make it clear there are no restrictions on numbers either benefiting from education or seeking post-graduate jobs, The Telegraph says.
Households suffered another income squeeze in February as living costs rose at the sharpest pace since September 2011, causing hopes for the year ahead to darken. The change in mood, after fresh optimism in January, will come as a disappointment to economists, following recent signs of rising confidence. A separate survey showing that footfall on the high street fell by 3.3% in the worst January performance for three years will have underscored concerns. According to Markit’s household finance index, 41% of the survey’s 1,500 respondents expected their finances to worsen over the year ahead, compared with only 23% predicting improvement, The Telegraph writes.
Centrica, which supplies gas and electricity to 10m British households, is keen to broaden the debate away from the residential business to focus on its role as a big tax contributor to the Exchequer as well as the employer of more than 33,000 people in the UK. Centrica reports full-year profits on February 27th, with consensus analyst forecasts pointing to a 15% rise in operating profits to £2.77bn. Profits from the UK residential supply business are forecast to rise by around 10% to almost £600m – an increase that is bound to fuel consumer anger, according to The Telegraph.