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Boris Johnson revives working from home advice to combat omicron

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Boris Johnson Covid pound FTSE 100 Plan B omicron - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images
Boris Johnson Covid pound FTSE 100 Plan B omicron - ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP via Getty Images

Boris Johnson has announced a move into Plan B measures in a bid to halt the spread of the omicron variant.

The Government is once again asking businesses to let employees working from home when possible, starting from Monday.

From Friday, facemasks will be mandatory in most public indoor venues, such as theatres, cinemas, and restaurants, while as of next week larger venues will require the NHS Covid pass for entry.

Mr Johnson said: "So while the picture may get better, and I sincerely hope that it will, we know that the remorseless logic of exponential growth could lead to a big rise in hospitalisations and therefore, sadly, in deaths.

"That's why it is now the proportionate and the responsible thing to move to Plan B in England while continuing to work closely with our colleagues in the devolved administrations, so we slow the spread of the virus, buy ourselves the time to get yet more boosters into arms, especially in the older and more vulnerable people."

The pound had been tumbling close to its lowest level in a year against the dollar amid reports of toughening restrictions. It was changing hands at $1.3243 on Wednesday evening when the new measures were confirmed.

07:07 PM

Wrapping up

It's time to close the blog, thank you for following us today! Here are some of the most recent stories from the Business & Money team:

07:05 PM

What are your rights when it comes to working from home?

Boris Johnson has asked a return to homeworking where possible starting from next week. But what are your rights as an employee? My colleague Jessica Beard has written a helpful guide:

The term "flexible working" has been used so much over the past 18 months that the meaning can sometimes get lost. It is a way of working that suits both an employer and employee's needs, which can include working from home several days a week or having more flexible start and finish times.

In recent months, before the working from home order was issued, many people had returned to the office for a limited number of days each month.

Can I ask my employer for flexible working?

Yes, all employees have the right by law to request flexible working, which they could use to ask to work from home. The only requirement is that they have worked for the employer for at least 26 weeks.

06:53 PM

Jefferies cancels client parties and travel plans after tens of employees test positive

Jefferies has cancelled all client parties and most travel plans globally, asking employees to work from home where possible after over 40 employees tested positive since the start of December.

Chief executive Richard Handler told staff in a memo seen by Reuters that the firm was re-imposing a mask mandate in all its offices, regardless of vaccination status.

The bank's move raised questions about whether other banks will also review return to office plans, mask mandates and travel and entertainment policies.

06:37 PM

Bosses react to homeworking requirements

City bosses are reacting to Boris Johnson's order to work from home when possible, warning it will hit the already struggling hospitality sector and push economic activity into next year as consumers become more cautious with their finances.

My colleague Helen Cahill has more:

Patrick Dardis, chief executive of Young's pub group, said a new push for home working would be "disastrous". Thousands of pubs, clubs and restaurants closed when the industry was hammered by lockdowns in 2020. A report by consultants CGA and AlixPartners found the number of premises licensed to sell alcohol has fallen by 5,975 last year, representing a 175pc rise in net closures compared to 2019.

Dardis said: "It is another overreaction by the government," he said. "It's unnecessary and it will be disastrous for the economy and businesses. By all accounts this latest variant is mild. They should wait until they actually get some more information rather than overreacting."

06:20 PM

Boris Johnson confirms stricter measures amid concerns over omicron variant

A press conference is underway at Downing Street and the Prime Minister has confirmed stricter measures to prevent further spreading of the Covid-19 omicron variant.

My colleagues Maighna Nanu and Sam Hall report:

Boris Johnson has announced a return to work from home guidance.

He said: "We will reintroduce guidance to work from home - from Monday work from home if you can, go to work if you must but work from home if you can."

From Friday facemasks must be warn in most public indoor venues, Boris Johnson has announced.

This includes theatres, cinemas, and restaurants.

Boris Johnson said that the NHS Covid pass would be mandatory for nightclubs and other venues where large crowds gather including unseated indoor venues with more than 500 people, unseated outdoor venues with more than 4,000 people, and any venue with more than 10,000 people.

06:12 PM

Adobe snaps up UK social media marketing startup ContentCal

Software giant Adobe has announced plans to acquire UK social media marketing startup ContentCal in a deal that aims to give users, particularly small businesses, new services for posting content across a variety of channels.

The California-based group said the deal is expected to close in the first quarter of fiscal-year 2022.

It didn't disclose financial terms, however Bloomberg reported previously the price tag could be north of $100m.

London's ContentCal offers an all-in-one platform for creating and publishing content on social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, and services such as performance tracking.

It has raised $14m in total funding from investors including Fuel Ventures and Guinness Asset Management, according to data provider PitchBook.

05:56 PM

US stocks struggle for direction

Looking over the other side of the Atlantic, Wall Street indices struggled for direction after a strong start to the week.

Similarly to what's happening in the UK, investors are weighing positive news on Pfizer and BioNTech's Covid-19 vaccine against the spread of the omicron variant.

The two pharma groups said three shots of their jab could neutralise the new Omicron variant in a laboratory test and they could deliver an upgraded vaccine in March 2022 if needed.

"We've had a really strong start to the week. So there is sort of a pause in that rally," Fiona Cincotta, senior financial markets analyst at City Index, told Reuters.

"While we've got one good news from Pfizer, it does require three jabs ... so it does sort of feel that there's a bit of a race on now as to how quickly booster jabs can get rolled out and will countries be able to avoid lockdowns."

05:38 PM

FTSE 100 closes flat as positive vaccine news offset restrictions worries in the UK

The FTSE 100 ended the session flat as a pancake after gains in travel-related and healthcare stocks offset commodity-linked weakness.

Positive headlines on Covid-19 vaccines helped offset concerns about Westminster announcing tougher restrictions tonight.

"The Pfizer news is feeding into that more positive picture that's being built around Omicron," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.

"This idea is that it's not all doom and gloom, just because this variant is more vaccine resistant, it doesn't mean the vaccines are now useless, is building a more positive picture than what we were facing a week last Friday."

05:20 PM

John Lewis to pay £5m to Sheffield council after breaking lease

John Lewis will pay £5m to Sheffield council after closing its department store in the city and breaking a 20-year lease. My colleague Laura Onita has more:

The employee-owned retailer shut 16 branches including its Sheffield store in March, following a review of its estate amid a rise in online shopping.

The retreat was attacked by MPs and councillors as the authority had put the John Lewis store at the heart of a £480m revamp of the landmark Cole Brothers building.

Councillor Mazher Iqbal welcomed the agreement with John Lewis: “We now have full ownership of the building and site, and importantly, its future is now in the hands of Sheffield.”

A John Lewis spokesman said: “We are grateful to the council for working together to find a resolution so this money can be invested in Sheffield.”

Six months before John Lewis announced the closure, it agreed a deal with the council to end the 20-year lease and switch to one linked to turnover. It also secured £3m for a store refit.

05:05 PM

McDonald’s promises to improve diversity at franchisee level

McDonald’s is promising to diversify its franchisees based across the world and pledged $250m to help finance loans for underrepresented groups in the US.

The fast-food chain wants to be more inclusive when finding and training potential franchisees in international markets such as the UK, Germany and France, chief executive Chris Kempczinski said in an internal message viewed by Bloomberg News.

He noted that the costs to buy a restaurant are often an especially difficult barrier for candidates from minority backgrounds in the US.

As of 2020, more than 29pc of all US franchisees were from underrepresented groups, including Asian, Black and Hispanic owners, while women made up almost 29pc of domestic store owners.

The company has faced several lawsuits from Black store owners in the US.

04:49 PM

Ralph Lauren turns to virtual clothes on Roblox

If Christmas parties end up being cancelled, there's still the option to get dressed up with virtual clothes.

Ralph Lauren is debuting its first digital fashion line in Roblox’s virtual world, becoming the latest apparel maker to try building brand awareness in the so-called metaverse.

Roblox users can buy retro sportswear from the designer’s 1990s collection for their avatars, as well as engaging in winter activities such as ice skating.

The items are expected to cost 125 to 300 Robux, or about $1.25 to $3.

04:28 PM

Increased demand for 'dressy' clothes doesn't help bottom line for retailer Quiz

In contrast with the expected Plan B measures from Westminster, clothing retailer Quiz has hailed a massive sales bump from the dropping of social restrictions in recent months, which has led to more customers buying 'dressy' clothes.

The Aim-listed company posted a 109pc increase in revenue in the six months to the end of September, though it still made a £1.3m loss before tax from last year's £11m profit.

Chief executive Tarak Ramzan said: "Whilst there continues to be uncertainty in the short-term we remain confident in the strength of our brand and are highly confident that the clear demand for Quiz's trademark occasion-wear will support continued profitable growth." Shares dropped by nearly 4pc to 17.7p.

quiz shares down demand restrictions
quiz shares down demand restrictions

04:16 PM

Handing over

That's all from me for today, thanks for following! My colleague Giulia Bottaro will take over from here.

04:04 PM

Expert reaction: Plan B would be hammer blow for retailers

Jace Tyrrell, chief executive of London retail body the New West End Company, said new restrictions would lead to "another miserable Christmas" for struggling businesses.

While our top priority remains the safety and wellbeing of our customers and colleagues, and we fully support mandatory mask wearing in shops, a renewed ‘work from home’ order during the most important trading period of the year would be a hammer blow for our retail and leisure tenants.

Many businesses have committed time and money in their Christmas plans in a bid to make up for last year's losses - vital investment that they won't be able to recoup.

In the event of further restrictions, the Government must provide immediate clarity on the implications of Plan B for the retail and hospitality industry, and whether additional financial support will be offered to struggling businesses.

Our hope is that a balance can be struck between keeping everyone safe and supporting the high street in its time of need. Otherwise we risk yet another miserable Christmas for struggling businesses and their staff.

03:51 PM

OneWeb to start making satellites in Britain in $3bn boost to space sector


OneWeb, the taxpayer-backed internet satellite operator, plans to spend $3bn (£2.2bn) to move manufacturing from the US to the UK in a boost to Britain’s space industry, writes James Titcomb.

Chris McLaughlin, OneWeb’s head of government affairs, told MPs that it would start work next year on a UK manufacturing programme before starting to build satellites by 2025.

The move would be one of Britain’s biggest space projects and could result in OneWeb splitting from Airbus, its existing manufacturing partner, with which the company operates a manufacturing joint venture in Florida.

The Government paid $500m to rescue OneWeb from bankruptcy last year, along with the Indian telecoms company Bharti Global.

Taxpayers’ stake has since been reduced to 24pc due to further investments from France’s Eutelsat and others, although the Government retains a “golden share” that gives it a final say over other countries accessing its technology.

03:39 PM

Goldman pushes back rate hike forecasts

Economists at Goldman Sachs have pushed back their forecasts for an increase in interest rates and cut their outlook for near-term growth as the omicron variant sparks uncertainty.

In a note to clients, analyst Steffan Ball said he expects policymakers to take a cautious approach at the Bank of England meeting next week, despite recent data showing a strong labour market.

He predicted that the MPC will wait until February to raise rates by 15 basis points. That echoes similar calls by Barclays and JP Morgan.

Goldman lowered its growth forecasts by 0.1 percentage points to 1.2pc in the current quarter and by 0.2 percentage points to 0.6pc next quarter.

03:11 PM

Numis bankers in line for bumper pay packets

Numis has paid its staff over £310,000 each on average as bankers across the City prepare to take home their biggest bonuses since before the financial crisis.

Lucy Burton has more:

The broker, whose shareholders include billionaire Anders Holch Povlsen, said its pot for bonuses and salaries swelled 30pc to £99m for the year to September as revenues hit a record.

It has 319 staff, meaning each person pocketed over £310,000 on average. Numis's co-chief executive Ross Mitchinson said the jump was down to salary inflation as well as record revenue performance, bringing the total bonus pot to an all-time high following a rush of deals which included advising gene sequencing company Oxford Nanopore on its float.

Top executives such as Mr Mitchinson and his co-head Alex Ham, who were among the youngest bosses in the City when they took over the reins of the company in 2016 while still in their thirties, have not yet disclosed their bonuses but will get significantly more than £310,000.

The company said that its profits for the year had doubled to £74.2m, while the average market cap of its clients is now £1.4bn. The firm has always been UK-focused, but is now opening a Dublin office as it prepares to pitch for more deals in the US and the EU.

02:50 PM

US software firm wins £1.2bn Blue Prism bidding war

A £1.2bn bidding war for the British tech darling Blue Prism has been won by a Connecticut software company after a rival private equity suitor failed to come up with a stronger offer.

James Titcomb has more details:

The outcome is a boost for workers at the Warrington-based company which had been set for severe job cuts if it had fallen into the hands of private equity.

SS&C's £12.75-a-share bid for Blue Prism is now likely to be accepted after Texas-based Vista Equity Partners declined to come back with a third bid.

Blue Prism specialises in robotic process automation, in which clerical office work is replaced by software, and its takeover is the latest in a series of foreign acquisitions of British tech companies.

Vista had proposed merging Blue Prism with rival firm Tibco, leading to hundreds of job losses, while SS&C pledged to make much smaller reductions to headcount.

02:44 PM

Small firms call for clarity as Plan B fears mount

Small British businesses have called for urgent clarity amid reports Boris Johnson will announce a tightening of lockdown measures.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, said:

New measures aimed at limiting the spread of Covid during the crucial festive period will impact small businesses already beset by supply chain disruption, inflation and shortages.

We urgently need clarity around Plan B. Equally, the Government should explain what conditions would move us back to Plan A, whilst also outlining what Plan C would involve and the support measures that will be launched should more stringent restrictions take effect.

Plans to control the virus need to be matched by plans to protect the economy and livelihoods.

02:36 PM

Wall Street edges higher on vaccine optimism

Wall Street has pushed marginally higher at the opening bell after Pfizer said three doses of its vaccine were effective against the omicron variant.

The benchmark S&P 500 ticked up 0.09pc, while the Dow Jones and Nasdaq gained 0.01pc and 0.02pc respectively.

02:20 PM

BP makes jobs pledge in Scottish offshore wind bid

BP wind farm offshore Scotland - Danny Lawson/PA Wire
BP wind farm offshore Scotland - Danny Lawson/PA Wire

BP has added a sweetener to its bid to develop wind projects off the coast of Scotland by promising to create hundreds of local jobs if it wins.

The oil giant has partnered with German firm Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg amid intense competition to develop wind power off Scotland’s coast. They're among a slew of bidders awaiting the results of the latest auction.

If successful, the companies will build some 2.9 gigawatts of wind power capacity offshore Scotland, adding to another 3 gigawatts they are already developing in the Irish Sea. Crown Estate Scotland expects to announce the winners of the process in mid-January 2022.

BP says it expects to construct two vessels for crew transfers and two for offshore support, which it estimates will create about 500 local jobs. The ships will also be used to service its Mona and Morgan UK wind developments.

02:06 PM

Omicron response was an overreaction, says Willie Walsh

Former British Airways boss Willie Walsh has taken aim at governments for spreading fear about the omicron variant by introducing snap border controls and "rip-off" testing regimes.

Mr Walsh, who now leads airlines body IATA, said travellers should be allowed to make their own decisions based on scientific data.

The airline chief said "kneejerk" border restrictions would ease soon, but said it was too early to say whether holiday travel would be disrupted.

He added: "We can't shut down everything when a new variant appears."

01:50 PM

Brussels denies James Dyson's bid for damages in bagless vacuum battle

Sir James Dyson vaccum - CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images
Sir James Dyson vaccum - CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT/AFP/Getty Images

Sir James Dyson has lost a legal battle to secure tens of millions of pounds in damages from an EU court following a row about vacuum cleaner labelling, reports Matt Oliver.

In a long-running dispute, the billionaire's company successfully overturned a Brussels regulation that allowed “old fashioned” vacuums to appear as energy efficient as newer, bagless models.

Dyson and other makers of bagless cleaners argued they had lost out on sales due to this lack of distinction and sought damages of €176m (£150m) from the European Commission.

However, the General Court of the EU has rejected their claim and ordered them to pay the Commission’s legal costs.

“The court concludes that the Commission demonstrated conduct that could be expected from an administrative authority exercising ordinary care and diligence and, consequently, that the Commission did not manifestly and gravely disregard the limits on its discretion,” the court said.

The claim dates back to 2014 and the introduction the following year of EU directives covering labels meant to show the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners.

01:43 PM

What is the Government's Plan B?

New restrictions to counter the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant could be announced within hours as the Government prepares its "Plan B".

Cabinet ministers are discussing the measures, which could include asking millions of workers to do their jobs remotely again, with a press conference and Parliamentary statement scheduled for later today.

But what could this actually mean? The Telegraph's political editor, Ben Riley-Smith, has put together this guide.

01:31 PM

FTSE recovers after market panic over restrictions

The FTSE 100 has regained lost ground this afternoon after initially plunging on reports of incoming Covid-19 restrictions.

Britain's blue chip index is now trading around 0.3pc higher after at one stage dipping into the red.

Its recovery follows news from Pfizer said a third dose of its jab neutralises the omicron variant - delivering a fresh shot of hope in the fight against the virus.

Over in the US, Wall Street's main indexes are expected to open higher as well.

01:19 PM

Lego to build $1bn factory amid booming Asia demand

Lego - REUTERS/I-Hwa Cheng
Lego - REUTERS/I-Hwa Cheng

Lego is set to build a $1bn (£757m) factory in Vietnam as part of plans to meet growing demand for its toys in Asia.

The world's largest toy maker said the site near Ho Chi Minh City is expected to be complete by 2024.

It will help cut the Danish firm's carbon emissions by using solar panels, while also allowing it to make more of its products locally.

Lego, which has enjoyed a pandemic boom in sales as children spend more time at home, already has factories in Denmark, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Mexico and China.

It is working on ways to make its plastic bricks more environmentally-friendly.

12:44 PM

Europe's energy crunch set to linger

There are worrying signs that Europe's energy crunch will last for a while longer as prices climb to new records.

Power prices for delivery next year surged almost 11pc in Germany and 7.7pc in France as freezing weather has forced European utilities to burn more gas, coal and even oil to keep the lights on.

High prices this month are spilling into futures contracts for the following years – a sign that the crunch could last longer than many expected.

A protracted rise in prices will fuel inflation raise bills further for millions of households and businesses across the continent.

Prices have been on the rise in recent months as a surge in demand after lockdowns whittled away at supplies. The market has faced further pressure due to years of lower investments in fossil fuels, while low wind speeds have also hit renewable sources.

12:28 PM

Wall Street set to jump as omicron fears ease

US stocks are set to open higher this afternoon as market sentiment over the omicron variant continues to improve.

A report from Pfizer that three doses of its vaccine could neutralise the new strain sent its shares up 0.8pc in pre-market trading and added to wider optimism among investors.

Travel stocks recouped earlier declines, with Norwegian Cruise Line and Delta Air Lines rising 2.6pc and 2.4pc respectively.

The benchmark S&P 500 is pointing 0.4pc higher, while futures tracking the Dow Jones and Nasdaq are up 0.5pc and 0.4pc respectively.

12:20 PM

Pfizer says third dose tackles omicron

Pfizer Covid vaccine booster - NARENDRA SHRESTHA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Pfizer Covid vaccine booster - NARENDRA SHRESTHA/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

While Britain looks set to be plunged into fresh restrictions, there's some positive signals about the efficacy of vaccines against omicron.

Pfizer and BioNTech have said a third dose of their jab neutralises the variant – a results that will ramp up momentum behind booster shots across the world.

A booster with the current version of the vaccine increased antibodies 25-fold, providing a similar level as observed after two doses against the original virus and other variants, the companies said.

Blood plasma from people immunised with two doses of the vaccine has neutralising antibody levels more than 25-fold less versus omicron than against the original strain of the virus, they added.

Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said: “It’s clear from these preliminary data that protection is improved with a third dose.”

11:56 AM

Ofgem under pressure as energy crisis deepens

Pressure is growing on the energy watchdog to account for its role in allowing a landslide of energy suppliers to go out of business, at a cost to consumers.

Bloomberg has more:

Ofgem is accused of failing to act to prevent poorly-run suppliers entering the market, whose subsequent collapse has left consumers with a bill that Investec estimates at £3.2bn. The regulator did not act on evidence of rule-breaking and scaled back enforcement activity even as concerns grew, according to consumer group Citizen’s Advice.

“I think Ofgem has a lot of questions to answer as to whether or not it’s the right kind of regulator,” said Stephen Fitzpatrick, chief executive of Ovo Energy, Britain’s second biggest supplier.

A total of 24 domestic suppliers have collapsed since the start of August, as wholesale prices surged. Bulb Energy, the biggest one so far with 1.7m customers, needed to be temporarily nationalised to avoid market chaos. It’s not over yet – some industry bosses expect just a handful of suppliers to be left by April.

There could be an inquiry into Ofgem’s part in the crisis in the new year, said Martin Young, analyst at Investec.

A surge in power and gas prices, to levels more than four times higher than usual for this time of year, will be reflected in bills - when contracts run out and are renewed and through the nation’s energy price cap. That’s on top of the costs that will be passed through to cover the bust suppliers.

11:35 AM

Pound drops to lowest level in a year

Reports of a move to Plan B have sent sterling even further into decline, with the currency hitting its lowest level in a year.

The pound is down 0.2pc at $1.3198 after briefly touching its lowest level since last December when – you guessed it – tougher Covid restrictions were announced.

10:47 AM

Travel and leisure stocks slump amid Plan B reports

Travel and leisure stocks have gone into reverse amid reports Boris Johnson will announce new restrictions to curb the spread of the omicron variant.

The Financial Times reports that the Government has decided to move into Plan B, which will mean vaccine passports for large venues and a work from home order.

Restaurant Group, which owns brands including Frankie & Benny's tumbled as much as 6.2pc, while Cineworld fell 5.6pc to the bottom of the FTSE 250.

Airlines have also taken a hit, with Wizz Air, easyJet and British Airways owner IAG all down around 4pc.

10:41 AM

Gas prices rise further as Norwegian field cuts output

Sticking with energy troubles, natural gas prices have risen further this morning after one of Europe's largest fields cut output due to a fault.

Shipments from Norway are expected to slump by almost 13pc after the Troll field suffered an unplanned outage.

Benchmark Dutch gas prices rose as much as 9.6pc. The UK equivalent is up 9.2pc .

The outage piles further pressure on prices at a time when supplies are already tight. Worries have been growing over winter supplies from Russia as tensions with the US mount over a potential invasion of Ukraine.

Tom Marzec-Manser, an oil analyst, told Bloomberg: "Given the outage length is uncertain, this has added yet more risk to the benchmark price."

10:30 AM

European power prices surge to record high

Europe's energy crunch is deepening as freezing weather forces companies to rely on fossil fuels to keep the lights on.

German power for next year – a European benchmark – climbed as much as 8.3pc to a new record of €180.25 a megawatt-hour. UK day-ahead power surged 40pc to £284 a megawatt-hour.

Power prices have been under strain in recent months amid surging demand, while low wind speeds have exacerbated the problem and increased reliance of gas-fired power plants.

Europe is now facing sub-zero temperatures, meaning electricity producers are having to resort to burning even more coal and gas.

10:21 AM

Stagecoach says it's still in merger talks with National Express

Stagecoach National Express - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Stagecoach National Express - JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images

Stagecoach has said it's still in talks with National Express to hash out a merger as passenger numbers continue to increase steadily from the pandemic.

The two sides are discussing a deal that would see National Express shareholders take a three-quarters stake in the combined business.

If it goes ahead, the merger would create a new group controlling around 30pc of the UK bus market.

Stagecoach said it had a "positive outlook" regardless of whether it continues as usual, or is absorbed into National Express.

The firm pre-tax profit increased nearly sixfold to £31m as passengers started to travel again across the country in the six months to the end of October.

However, passengers were still travelling less than before the pandemic. Last month journeys stood at 70pc of 2019 levels and have dropped a little further because of Storm Arwen and new Covid guidance.

10:13 AM

Pound holds above 2021 lows ahead of US data

Sterling is hovering above its yearly low against the dollar as investors wait for US jobs data and the Bank of England's interest rate decision next week.

The pound edged up 0.06pc to $1.3236. Against the euro, it shed 0.2pc to 85.2p.

Money markets are pricing in a 58pc probability of a 15 basis points increase next week, down from a 70pc probability just two weeks ago.

Many traders had seen a rise as a done deal, but the emergence of the omicron variant has cast new speculation that the Bank could opt to hold off again.

Meanwhile, a report on US job openings later today is expected to provide fresh evidence of a tightening labour market.

10:03 AM

Games Workshop slumps as supply troubles hammer profits

Games Workshop Warhammer supply chain - Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images
Games Workshop Warhammer supply chain - Matthew Lloyd/Getty Images

Even goblins and elves can't escape supply chain troubles, it seems, as Warhammer figures have become the latest victim of the global distribution crunch.

Games Workshop, which makes the pugilistic figurines, slumped as much as 8.5pc this morning after it said freight costs and foreign exchange headwinds had hit profitability.

The Nottingham-based firm said operating profit before royalties was estimated to be down around £15m for the six months to the end of September.

It's a setback for Games Workshop, which saw its shares surge 83pc in 2020 as lockdowns boosted demand for hobbies. The shine is beginning to wear off, though, with the stock down 18pc so far this year.

09:55 AM

Pharma group Clinigen snapped up in £1.2bn take-private deal

British pharmaceutical firm Clinigen Group is being snapped up in a £1.2bn take-private deal.

The London-listed company has agreed a takeover by investment firm Triton that will see shareholders receive 883p per share – a 41pc premium to its price prior to news of the talks emerging. A previously announced final dividend will also be paid out.

Shares in Clinigen jumped 11pc after the deal was confirmed, rising above the offer price.

The company, based in Burton-on-Trent, specialises in acquiring the rights to niche commercial drugs and expanding their distribution. It also helps patients get access to treatments that aren't licensed in their countries.

Clinigen has long been a takeover target, with activist investor Elliott disclosing a 5pc stake earlier this year.

09:33 AM

Man Group launches £189m share buyback

Investment management giant Man Group has unveiled plans to buy back up to $250m (£189m) in shares as it looks to hand back cash to shareholders.

The FTSE 250 firm said it will launch the first tranche of $125m today, with the programme running through to Dec 7 2022.

Analysts at Shore Capital described the move as an "excellent use" of capital at the current share price.

Shares jumped 5.5pc following the announcement.

09:06 AM

Travel rebound drives up Upper Crust owner

SSP Upper Crust - REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/File Photo
SSP Upper Crust - REUTERS/Hannah Mckay/File Photo

A steady recovery in travel has handed a much-needed boost to catering group SSP, which delivered full-year revenues ahead of expectations.

The company, which owns Upper Crust and Ritazza, said revenues had continued to recover over the summer and autumn, averaging 66pc of 2019 levels in the first nine weeks of the new financial year.

SSP said the emergence of the omicron variant meant there was some uncertainty over the outlook for the winter months, but it said it was confident in its ability to handle short-term volatility.

Shares climbed as much as 4.8pc before paring gains to rise 0.8pc.

08:52 AM

Chinese property firm Kaisa suspends trading

Kaisa China property Evergrande - REUTERS/Aly Song
Kaisa China property Evergrande - REUTERS/Aly Song

Pain from the Evergrande crisis is spreading further through China's property sector, with rival Kaisa now teetering on the brink of restructuring.

Shares in Kaisa were suspended in Hong Kong today amid growing questions over its ability to make repayments – its second suspension in the last month.

It comes after the heavily-indebted property firm announced on Friday that it had failed in a bid for a debt swap that would buy it crucial time.

It's the latest sign of crisis in China's debt-riddled real estate sector, which was plunged into chaos since Beijing launched a drive last year to curb excessive debts and rampant consumer speculation.

08:35 AM

Berkeley builds up a head of steam

Let's take a closer look at Berkeley, which is leading the FTSE 100 risers this morning.

The housebuilder, which is focused on London and the south east, delivered upbeat results for the first half of the year, with profits up more than a quarter to £290.7m.

The blue-chip firm has cashed in on a boom in the UK housing market, delivering 1,828 homes directly over the period and another 395 through joint ventures.

Berkeley is now expecting volumes to grow 50pc above pre-pandemic levels by 2024/5. The firm lifted its full-year profit forecasts and raised guidance for the coming years to a 5pc annual growth rate.

08:30 AM

FTSE risers and fallers

The FTSE 100 is now up 0.3pc, extending its gains since the beginning of the week, though the rally has lost some momentum.

AstraZeneca is among the biggest drivers of the gains, alongside trusty stocks including British American Tobacco, Reckitt Benckiser, Diageo and Unilever.

This helped offset declines for oil majors BP and Shell.

Housebuilder Berkeley is this morning's biggest winner, gaining 4.6pc after hiking its profit forecasts for the year.

Meanwhile, the domestically-focused FTSE 250 is up 0.4pc, led by Upper Crust owner SSP, which beat revenue estimates for the full year.

08:19 AM

Tui eyes 2022 summer rebound as losses narrow

Tui holiday pandemic Covid - JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images
Tui holiday pandemic Covid - JAIME REINA/AFP via Getty Images

Holiday group Tui is pinning its hopes on a travel rebound next summer after revealing an annual loss of more than £2bn.

The company said it's close to breaking even in the final three months of the financial year, with a quarterly underlying loss of €97m (£82.7m).

But Tui said it's reviewing whether to cut the rest of its winter programme following the emergence of the omicron variant and the fourth wave of the pandemic.

It reported an annual loss of €2.5bn, slimmed down from losses of €3.2bn a year ago. Tui said the first quarter of the new financial year is 93pc booked, though it is still running almost a third below pre-pandemic levels.

The group hopes summer 2022 will see a rebound close to 2019 bookings, but stressed customers are continuing to book later and at short notice.

Shares dropped 5pc following the update.

08:09 AM

Taylor Wimpey boss steps down after 14 years

Pete Redfern Taylor Wimpey - Geoff Pugh 
Pete Redfern Taylor Wimpey - Geoff Pugh

The chief executive of housebuilding giant Taylor Wimpey is parting ways with the company after 14 years at the helm.

Pete Redfern, who joined the FTSE 100 company two decades ago, will step down once his successor has been found. Taylor Wimpey said the recruitment process was "advanced", adding it was considering both internal and external candidates.

The departures comes amid a slump in the homebuilder's share price, which is 29pc below its pre-pandemic peak despite the recent housing boom.Taylor Wimpey has also been touted as a potential takeover target amid reports activist investor Elliott has taken a stake.

Mr Redfern said:

It has been a privilege to work at Taylor Wimpey for the last two decades and to lead a business of which I am so proud, working with so many exceptional people both within the business and through our partnerships.

The business is in excellent health and is well positioned for strong future growth. Accordingly, I am confident that now is the right time for fresh leadership as Taylor Wimpey starts the next chapter.

08:03 AM

FTSE 100 inches higher

The FTSE 100 has inched higher at the open, taking a break from its strong rally since the start of the week.

The blue-chip index is up 0.1pc at 7,349 points.

07:59 AM

Centrica boss: Sale will help UK path to net zero

Chris O'Shea, chief executive of Centrica, said:

We are pleased to continue to bring focus to Centrica's portfolio with these transactions, which are aligned with our strategy to reduce our exposure to carbon intensive oil and gas exploration and production in a way that maximises shareholder value.

With the disposal of these largely oil producing assets to buyers who will be able to meet the material decommissioning costs, we can now focus on realising value for our shareholders from Spirit's remaining gas reserves.

Spirit will effectively be in run-off, and we will not explore for new hydrocarbon reserves; rather, we will focus on ensuring Spirit can fund its decommissioning liabilities whilst pursuing opportunities to leverage existing infrastructure to help the UK on its path to net zero.

07:56 AM

Green energy shift continues

Centrica’s sale of its Norwegian North Sea assets is a long time coming – the plan was first proposed in 2019, but was put on ice as a result of the pandemic.

Still, it comes at an opportune moment for the energy giant, as investor scrutiny over environmental issues begins to mount on the sector.

Last week Shell said it was pulling out of the controversial Cambo oil field development west of Shetland. That decision came after activist investor Third Point called for a break-up of the business, with its renewable division split from its legacy oil and gas operations.

07:47 AM

Centrica ramps up green energy push

Good morning.

British Gas owner Centrica has inked a deal to offload oil and gas assets in the North Sea as it looks to accelerate its move towards net zero.

The sale of Spirit Energy's Norwegian operations is an eagerly-awaited achievement for the company, which first unveiled plans to offload its 69pc stake back in 2019.

The overall value of the deal is £800m, with Centrica expected to take home proceeds of roughly £560m.

Boss Chris O'Shea said the sale would put the oil assets in the hands of buyers who can fund the decommissioning costs, allowing Centrica to focus on creating value from Spirit Energy's remaining gas reserves.

5 things to start your day

1) 2G and 3G to be phased out by 2033 in blow to smart meter roll out The energy industry will have to upgrade older mobile networks to 4G

2) Amazon hit by IT issues wreaking havoc on US home deliveries Companies that use Amazon’s web services, such as Netflix, Disney+, Tinder, Coinbase and RobinHood, were also affected

3) Steep pay rises for public sector workers pose risk for inflation and NHS, says Treasury The Chancellor's plans could hamper efforts to recruit more staff in the NHS and amplify the effect of inflation

4) Apple poised to become first $3 trillion company Report claims Tim Cook struck secret $275bn deal to spend more in China to appease Beijing

5) First plant-based Covid vaccine moves a step closer GlaxoSmithKline to co-produce a Covid jab grown only in plant cells in bid to catch up to rivals

What happened overnight

Asian stocks were broadly up Wednesday afternoon after a strong lead from Wall Street, but fears lingered over China's debt-hobbled property sector.

In Hong Kong, Chinese real estate company Kaisa Group Holdings suspended share trading just before the opening bell, "pending the release by the Company of an announcement containing inside information", according to a filing with the exchange.

By mid-afternoon in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index was up 0.13pc, while Shanghai was up by more than 1pc.

In Tokyo, the benchmark Nikkei 225 index was up by 1.4pc at the close, to end at 28,860.62.

Coming up today

  • Corporate: Numis, SSP Group, TUI Group (Full-year results); Berkeley Group; Stagecoach (Interim results); McColl’s (Trading update)

  • Economics: Mortgage applications(US)

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