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Supermarkets begin rationing fruit and vegetables

Asda has begun rationing fruit and vegetables for shoppers - REUTERS/Molly Darlington
Asda has begun rationing fruit and vegetables for shoppers - REUTERS/Molly Darlington

Fresh fruit and vegetables are being rationed at two of Britain's biggest supermarkets after poor foreign harvests and a domestic farming crisis led to shortages expected to last for weeks.

Asda and Morrisons are restricting how many tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and peppers customers are allowed to buy following the squeeze on supplies.

Asda is limiting shoppers to a maximum of three items each across tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflowers, and raspberries.

From Wednesday, Morrisons will only allow customers to buy a maximum of two each of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers.


Neither supermarket has said how long it intends to keep restrictions in place, but a spokesman for the British Retail Consortium (BRC) warned that disruption is likely for a few weeks.

The issues come after the amount of fresh produce coming from Spain and north Africa tumbled owing to a poor harvest from flooding and cold temperatures.

Meanwhile, farmers in the UK said that high energy prices mean domestic producers have not sown enough to fill the gap.

Imports are critical to keeping supermarkets stocked during the winter and spring, when Britain typically produces just 5pc of its own tomatoes and 10pc of its lettuces, and ships the rest from overseas. Moroccan authorities have also moved to block some exports of tomatoes, onions and potatoes because of fears over the country's own food security.

British growers today lashed out at a lack of foresight from supermarkets, which they said had become overly reliant on overseas suppliers.

Jack Ward, head of the British Growers Association, said that rationing was predictable after months of squeezing UK suppliers, whose payments for produce have not gone up as much as their costs.

He said: "If the retailers weren't prepared to say to growers, 'we'll support you, we'll give you the price that you need', then the crops didn't go in the ground.

"There is just this determination to sell vegetables at lower and lower costs, without really worrying about the long term sustainability and this is finally coming home to roost."

Mr Ward said similar issues with supply were likely to occur "time and time again" without making the UK supply chain more resilient.

He added: "We've been lulled into a false sense of security, that there will always be somewhere in the world that can deliver, the supply chain has done a fantastic job of finding somebody somewhere around the world that can supply. And we've come to the end of the road in that regard."

The Lea Valley Growers Association, whose members produce about three-quarters of Britain’s cucumber and sweet pepper crop, said normally UK salad vegetables would begin appearing on shelves at this time of year, but that glasshouses had been left empty.

Lee Stiles, who heads up the association, said: "If the supermarkets had supported growers with an additional cost price increase, they would have planted."

The current issues with supply are expected to continue for some time. Andrew Opie, of the BRC, said: "While disruption is expected to last a few weeks, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce."

The Government, meanwhile, came under fire on Tuesday for failing to protect UK farmers from rising energy costs. The National Farmers’ Union said Royal botanic gardens such as Kew were better protected from rising energy costs than vegetable growers.

Minnette Batters, the organisation’s president, said that a government scheme unveiled at the start of the year to help companies cope with their bills does not cover any “farming or growing” businesses.

She said the “seemingly ridiculous” situation meant food for British families was currently unprotected while businesses such as stationery manufacturers were supported.

Ms Batters said that "without doubt" there would be more empty shelves in supermarkets in the coming months without government support.

The production of salad ingredients such as tomatoes and cucumbers is expected to fall to the lowest level since records began in 1985, she added.

The Energy Bills Discount Scheme, unveiled in January, allows eligible businesses and non-domestic energy users to receive a discount on high energy bills until 31 March 2024.

Eligible businesses on the list include “Botanical and zoological gardens and nature reserve activities” and those that “manufacture of paper stationery”.

While dairy and milk farmers are also given support under the scheme, vegetable producers have been left out.

07:37 PM

Signing off

That's all from me, see you tomorrow morning.

07:35 PM

Gen Z drives surge in female entrepreneurs

Gen Z has driven a surge in the number of women starting companies, according to a government-backed review of female entrepreneurship.

Senior technology reporter Matthew Field has the story:

A report by Dame Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, for the Treasury, found more than 150,000 new companies were created by women across the UK last year.

Young entrepreneurs led the spike in new companies, with a leap of almost a quarter in the number of new businesses being started by under 25s.

The Rose Review found the number of companies led by all-female founding teams was 151,603 in 2022, according to the latest study, up from 145,271 in 2021 and 56,269 in 2018, when the review was first launched.

Gen Z female founders were behind nearly 17,500 new businesses, the report found, compared to just 785 at the time of the first Rose Review.

Dame Alison said: “It’s a testament to the resilience and entrepreneurialism of female founders that they are creating more companies than ever before.”

Kevin Hollinrake, the small business minister, said: “Seeing the number of businesses started by 16 to 25-year-olds increase by a quarter reaffirms the UK as a place of opportunity for all.”

The latest review found that one fifth of all new company incorporations were entirely led by female founding teams, compared to 16pc in 2018.

The Rose Review also announced new plans to provide three million places to female entrepreneurs on courses, compared to 800,000 last year.

Dame Alison said: “In the coming year we will continue to provide fresh initiatives offering mentorship, guidance and inspiration for founders, alongside securing new commitments from financial services institutions to make it easier for female-led companies to access vital capital.”

The report added that 190 financial services groups had now signed up to the Investing in Women code, representing £1 trillion in assets under management, which requires they report data on female investing.

While the number of female led start-ups has increased, female entrepreneurs still suffer from a steep funding gap compared to male-led businesses.

A report from the Female Founders Forum, published in November, found just 16pc of equity financing went to companies with at least one female founder.

The amount of venture funding going to all-female teams, meanwhile, was around 6p in every £1.

06:28 PM

Spotify's top podcast exec departs amid restructuring

Senior podcast exec Max Cutler is leaving Spotify, as the company restructures its podcast operation as part of cost-cutting measures.

His departure comes less than a month after Dawn Ostroff, who oversaw content and advertising, Bloomberg News reported.

Cutler, who founded a podcasting business acquired by Spotify, oversaw the platform's deals and partnerships with major podcast creators, like Joe Rogan, Emma Chamberlain and Alex Cooper of Call Her Daddy.

06:04 PM

Paperchase to make 900 workers redundant

Paperchase’s remaining stores will close within weeks, resulting in around 900 redundancies.

The administrators of Paperchase confirmed that 106 high street shops will close after they failed to locate an interested buyer for the remaining business.

It comes after Tesco stepped in and bought the Paperchase brand last month, just as the struggling stationery chain collapsed into administration. The deal did not include Paperchase’s stores.

The retailer, founded in 1968 by two art students, previously hired auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers and administrators from Begbies Traynor, the professional services firm, to lead the sales process and advise on the company’s options.

However, the auditors have now confirmed that the remaining shops will begin closing within weeks as their stock levels reduce. Paperchase’s online store ceased trading last Friday.

Paperchase’s remaining stores will close within weeks - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
Paperchase’s remaining stores will close within weeks - Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

05:32 PM

Hunt: Energy budget surplus won't benefit UK public finances

Falling energy prices won't benefit the UK's public finances despite lowering the costs of household utility bills, according to Jeremy Hunt.

The projected decline in the cost of the government's Energy Price Guarantee is balanced by a fall in revenues from a tax on oil and gas company profits

“We don’t have that windfall,” Hunt said today. “The net difference is marginal.”

It comes after The Telegraph reported that the Chancellor of the Exchequer has been handed an £11bn windfall ahead of his spending review after experts predicted the “worst phase” of the European energy crisis had passed.

In a timely boost ahead of the Spring Statement in March, the Chancellor gained extra financial firepower thanks to the shrinking cost of the Energy Price Guarantee.

Gas prices have plummeted since the guarantee was launched, dramatically cutting how much the Government must pay to keep household energy bills down.

However, the suprise budget surplus didn't represent a “recurrent” improvement in the national finances, Mr Hunt said today.

05:00 PM

FTSE 100 closes below 8,000

The FTSE 100 finished trading down 0.46pc at 7,977.75.

It dashes hopes the blue-chip index could replicate last week's streak of record breaking closes, having set a new highscore yesterday.

Still, the internationally-focused index has slightly recovered from being dragged below 8,000 points in early trading after HSBC dampened investors' expectations of a sustained income bonanza from rising interest rates worldwide. It's lowest point today was 7,952.48

The FTSE 250 also slumped 1.23pc to 19,850.85.

04:30 PM

"Eurozone recession is coming"

Robin Brooks, the chief economist at the Institute of International Finance and former chief FX strategist at Goldman Sachs, suggests that Germany's declining new export orders signal a looming Eurozone recession.

He said:

04:14 PM

Matt Hancock sells crypto art to raise money for Ukrainian refugees

Former health secretary Matt Hancock has launched a cryptocurrency fundraising sale of digital artwork created by a Ukrainian refugee who has been living in his Suffolk home.

My colleague Matthew Field has the full story.

03:50 PM

Hunt: US green subsidies are a "very real competitive threat"

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt has described the United States' Inflation Reduction Act, which pledges hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies for new clean energy projects which cut greenhouse gas emissions, as a "very real competitive threat".

Speaking at a green energy conference in London, Mr Hunt said: "This is not a time when it's going to be easy for us to access the GDP equivalent of $369 billion."

He continued:

We have to remember in that equation that the U.S. is somewhat coming from behind, because the previous president was not remotely interested in net zero...

So there is some catch-up element in what the U.S. is doing, but it is a very real competitive threat.

03:32 PM

Handing over

That's all from me today. Adam Mawardi will take things from here.

03:27 PM

US economy remains resilient, data indicates

The sweeping declines on Wall Street markets today comes as US business activity steadied in February, according to closely watched data.

The S&P Global flash February composite purchasing managers index climbed 3.4 points to 50.2, as the service sector regained its footing, suggesting a resilient economy that is keeping some pricing power intact.

While the gauge is the highest in eight months, it is barely above the 50 level that separates growing and shrinking activity.

The group's composite measure of employment at manufacturers and service providers rose to a five-month high, indicating still-solid demand for labour.

While growth in input costs eased, the index of prices received climbed to a four-month high.

Chris Williamson, chief business economist at S&P Global Market Intelligence, said: "The survey data underscore how the upward driving force on inflation has now shifted to wages amid the tight labor market."

Such sustained wage pressures may encourage Federal Reserve officials to consider additional interest-rate increases and keep higher borrowing costs in place for longer, which has spooked markets.

03:17 PM

Ofgem launches investigation in British Gas

Ofgem has announced a "comprehensive, independent and wide-ranging review" into British Gas after its subcontractors were revealed to be breaking into homes to fit prepayment meters.

The investigation into British Gas will examine whether the firm had taken all steps required under its licence to help domestic customers with debt before installing a prepayment meter or disconnecting them.

It will also look at whether British Gas and anyone working for the supplier assessed if a customer's "mental capacity and/or psychological state is such that installation of a prepayment meter would be severely traumatic to a customer and make their condition significantly worse".

Further, it will investigate if those working on fitting meters for British Gas had the necessary skills - including the ability to assess the mental capacity and psychological state of the customer on the doorstep - and was "fit and proper" to enter customers' homes.

A British Gas spokesman said: "The allegations around our third-party contractor Arvato are unacceptable and we immediately suspended their warrant activity."

British Gas - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire
British Gas - Owen Humphreys/PA Wire

03:12 PM

Wallmart and Home Depot drag down US markets

Wall Street stocks fell early following mixed results from Walmart and Home Depot as concerns about higher interest rates continued to weigh on markets.

Both retail giants, also listed on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, were lower after offering lacklustre forecasts for the coming year.

Walmart alluded to consumer inflation as a drag while it forecast much slower revenue growth, while Home Depot expects flat sales in its fiscal year of 2023.

Analysts are also watching Treasury bond yields, seen as a proxy for US interest rate policies, which remain upward-bound as investors prepare for more Federal Reserve rate increases.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1.3pc to 33,397.44. The broad-based S&P 500 shed 1.2pc to 4,031.11, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 1.5pc to 11,614.55.

Tuesday marks the resumption of trading after markets were closed on Monday in observance of Presidents' Day.

03:00 PM

Fruit and veg crunch caused by seasonal reliance on imports

Supermarkets are facing a particular crunch in supplies of tomatoes and lettuce due to the UK's heavy reliance on imports from the EU at this time of year.

Retail editor Hannah Boland has this analysis:

Industry figures suggest that in March, only 5pc of tomatoes sold in UK supermarkets come from farms across Britain, with the bulk - 85pc - sourced from the EU, and the remaining 10pc from the rest of the world.

It is a similar picture for lettuces at this time of year, with one in every ten lettuce grown in Britain and the other 90pc from EU farms.

However, the picture flips in the summer months, with British tomatoes accounting for 60pc of those sold in supermarkets by June and 95pc of lettuces having been grown in the UK.

This is why industry chiefs are hopeful that the supply issues will not last months, but instead will run for the next few weeks, until production picks up in Britain.

02:48 PM

Walmart gets cautious on economic outlook

Walmart truck a cautious note in its economic outlook for 2023 as the US retail bellwether forecast full-year earnings below estimates and warned that cautious spending by consumers could pressure profit margins.

Shares of the world's largest retailer fell 0.8pc in early trading as the company continued to battle price-hikes from many of its product suppliers in a high-inflation environment.

Higher US consumer prices, amid loftier costs for rental housing and food, have raised fears the US Federal Reserve could further lift borrowing costs to cool domestic demand, leading to an economic downturn in the second half of the year.

Wallmart was the owner of Asda until it sold the business to the Issa brothers and TDR Capital in 2021 but it retains a share in Britain's third largest supermarket,

Chief financial officer John David Rainey told Reuters:

There's still a lot of trepidation and uncertainty with the economic outlook.

Balance sheets are continuing to get thinner, savings rate is roughly half of what it was at a pre-pandemic level and we've not been in a situation like this where the Fed is raising at the rate that it does.

So, that makes us cautious on the economic outlook because we simply don't know what we don't know.

02:33 PM

US markets hammered at the open

It has been a brutal open on Wall Street as  retailers Walmart and Home Depot delivered a double blow to traders returning after a long weekend amid worries that interest rates will remain higher for longer.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell or 0.4pc at the open to 33,699.69.

The S&P 500 opened lower by 0.7pc at 4,052.35, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 1.3pc to 11,640.37 at the opening bell.

02:30 PM

Supermarkets not limiting items

It is understood that Lidl, Co-op and Sainsbury's have not introduced limits on the amount of fruit and vegetables shoppers can buy.

02:17 PM

EU and UK making progress on protocol, says Sefcovic

European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic has said that the EU and Britain have made progress in their talks about the Northern Ireland protocol but are not done yet.

Mr Sefcovic declined to tell journalists when exactly an agreement might be reached. He told a press conference:

With our UK partners, we have made good progress.

We can see the finishing line. But in such a negotiation, being close doesn't mean being done.

(It) never worked with artificial deadlines.

EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels today - OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
EU Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic in Brussels today - OLIVIER HOSLET/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

02:03 PM

Morrisons to ration fruit and vegetables from tomorrow

Supermarkets have begun rationing items of fruit and vegetables after a poor harvest in Spain and north Africa left gaps on supermarket shelves.

Asda is limiting customers to a maximum of three items each across tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, lettuce, salad bags, broccoli, cauliflower, and raspberries.

From tomorrow, Morrisons will only allow customers to buy a maximum of two each of tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, and peppers.

Poor yields from harvests on the continent and North Africa have hit supplies, which bosses hope will improve in coming days/weeks.

An Asda spokesman said: "Like other supermarkets, we are experiencing sourcing challenges on some products that are grown in southern Spain and north Africa.

"We have introduced a temporary limit of three of each product on a very small number of fruit and vegetable lines, so customers can pick up the products they are looking for."

The company is seeking alternatives to produce from Spain and Northern Africa, with the UK growing season due to begin soon.

Supermarket shelves have been left bare after a weak crop in key markets and the imposition of tighter restrictions on exports by Morocco.

Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said: "Difficult weather conditions in the south of Europe and northern Africa have disrupted harvest for some fruit and vegetables including tomatoes and peppers.

"While disruption is expected to last a few weeks, supermarkets are adept at managing supply chain issues and are working with farmers to ensure that customers are able to access a wide range of fresh produce."

01:58 PM

Tesco fruit and vegetable shelves also empty amid supply hit

Tesco has reportedly said it is suffering with supply chain problems for some tomatoes and peppers but does not have any restrictions on purchases in place.

Britain's second biggest supermarket Sainsbury's is understood not to have any limits on how many items of fruit and vegetables that customers can buy.

The Telegraph has contacted all of the UK's major supermarkets for comment and clarification on whether they are limiting purchases.

01:40 PM

Asda's shelves left empty by poor harvests

Shoppers across the country have been posting pictures on social media of empty shelves in the vegetable aisles, caused by the poor harvests in Spain and Morocco.

01:34 PM

Russia sends record amounts of oil to China

Russian exports of discounted crude and fuel oil to China jumped to record levels last month as Vladimir Putin tried to circumvent Western sanctions against Moscow.

Flows of oil from the Kremlin were at their highest level than at any point since the invasion of Ukraine a year ago.

It surpassed a record set in April 2020, according to data intelligence firm Kpler.

China is toe-to-toe with India as the biggest buyer of Russian crude after the war in Ukraine reshaped the pattern of global energy deals.

Moscow has had to offer discounts to entice a shrinking pool of customers, a move welcomed by Asian buyers trying to control inflation.

Russia's overall crude and fuel oil exports to China reached 1.66m barrels a day last month, according to Kpler data as of February 20.

The uptick in Chinese buying is evidence the country's economic recovery is picking up after ending its zero-Covid restrictions last year, which should help to lift global oil prices as demand increases.

Last week, Russia announced it would cut production by 500,000 barrels a day from next month amid a cap on prices imposed by the EU and the G7.

Vladimir Putin's regime exported record levels of oil to China last month - Sergey Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Vladimir Putin's regime exported record levels of oil to China last month - Sergey Guneyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

01:25 PM

Newcastle and Manchester Building Societies step closer to merger

Newcastle Building Society and under-pressure smaller rival Manchester Building Society have been given approval by the industry watchdog to bypass a member vote over their plans to merge.

Newcastle - the UK's eighth biggest building society - and Manchester have now agreed the terms of a deal after entering into exclusive talks last August over a tie-up.

But the pair said they had put in a formal request with the Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) to forgo a member vote in order to speed up the deal, given the "risks and the financial uncertainties facing Manchester".

The PRA has since granted the request, allowing the two mutuals to join forces by way of a board resolution, without the need to put it before their members "in order to protect the investments of shareholders or depositors", according to the lenders.

It comes as Manchester is facing strain on its balance sheet, despite having taken action to lower its risks, such as stopping new mortgage lending in 2013.

01:00 PM

US markets expected to fall at opening bell

Wall Street is expected to open lower as disappointing results from Home Depot added to fears that interest rates will remain higher for longer.

The No 1 US home improvement chain dropped 3.8pc in premarket trading after its fourth-quarter comparable sales fell short of estimates on higher supply-chain costs and weak demand due to inflation.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were down 0.8p while the S&P 500 is poised to begin the day off 0.8pc. Nasdaq 100 contracts were down 0.9pc.

Recent economic data points to a resilient economy with inflation far from the Fed's 2pc target, raising bets for two or three more 25 basis point hikes and lower chances of rate cuts at year-end.

12:47 PM

Credit Suisse shares hit record low amid investigation

Credit Suisse shares fell to an intraday record low after a report that the chairman is facing an investigation over comments last year amid huge client withdrawals.

Swiss financial markets regulator Finma is seeking to establish whether the comments from bank representatives including chairman Axel Lehmann were misleading, according to a Reuters report.

In a Bloomberg TV interview in early December, Mr Lehmann had said that outflows had "basically stopped" after it had disclosed the loss of 84bn Swiss francs (£75bn) of client assets in November.

By the end of the quarter, that figure had risen to 110.5bn francs (£98.7bn).

The remarks were made before the close of a crucial $4bn (£3.3bn) capital raise and helped arrest a sharp decline in the share price.

While total quarterly withdrawals exceeded Credit Suisse's initial disclosure, their exact timing after November is unclear.

The stock slid as much as 9pc to 2.58 francs. The shares have declined about 6.5pc this year.

Finma and Credit Suisse declined to comment on the report.

Credit Suisse chairman Axel Lehmann - REUTERS/Anshuman Daga
Credit Suisse chairman Axel Lehmann - REUTERS/Anshuman Daga

12:34 PM

Economy still faces 'uncertainty and volatility', insists No 10

Uncertainty and volatility remain risks to Britain's fiscal position, the Prime Minister's spokesman has said, after data showed the Government ran an unexpected budget surplus in January.

Asked whether the surplus meant the country could expect tax cuts at next month's budget, the spokesman said it was usual to see a surplus in January. He said:

We shouldn't place too much emphasis on a single month's data.

Borrowing remains at record highs and there is significant uncertainty and volatility, both clear risks to the fiscal position.

12:21 PM

Microsoft and Nintendo sign 10-year contract for Call of Duty

Microsoft and Nintendo have formalised their agreement to bring Call of Duty to Nintendo platforms for a decade in a move designed to allay fears about the blockbuster game becoming an Xbox exclusive.

The two companies have "negotiated and signed a binding 10-year legal agreement" that will see Call of Duty released to Nintendo players the same day and with the same features as its Xbox version, Microsoft president Brad Smith tweeted.

The Washington-based company committed to do so in December, contingent upon its proposed $69bn (£57bn) acquisition of Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard going through.

Microsoft headed into a showdown with European Union competition watchdogs by insisting its takeover will "bring more competition" for gamers but pledging to show willingness to address concerns.

Mr Smith told reporters ahead a closed-door hearing in Brussels: "We're more than willing, given our strategy, to address the concerns that others have, whether it's by contracts, like we did with Nintendo this morning, or whether it's by regulatory undertakings, as we've consistently been open to addressing."

11:59 AM

Holiday Inn owner's shares slump amid weak China demand

Sales and profits have rebounded at Holiday Inn owner InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) amid an increase in travel following the easing of pandemic restrictions.

Nevertheless, IHG saw its shares fall as much as 2.9pc amid continued weak demand in China where zero-Covid measures continued to have an impact on operations last year.

Keith Barr, chief executive officer of IHG, said that the group "saw demand return strongly in most of our markets".

The London-listed group revealed that overall revenues grew by 34pc to $3.9bn (£3.2bn) in 2022, compared with the previous year.

As a result, operating profits increased by 27pc year-on-year to $628m (£523m).

IHG, which runs 6,164 hotels, was lifted by returning demand in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, where sales jumped by 82.2pc.

However, its share have fallen 1.1pc after a slow recovery in the Chinese market, where the business saw a 25pc slump while restrictions remained in place.

InterContinental Hotels Group owns Holiday Inn - Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images
InterContinental Hotels Group owns Holiday Inn - Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

11:42 AM

Post Offices can finally send international parcels again

All Royal Mail international services have finally been reinstated at Post Offices following last month's cyber attack.

The incident on January 11 meant Post Offices were unable to handle international mail or parcels at its 11,500 branches, although domestic services were unaffected.

Post Office managing director of parcels and mails Neill O'Sullivan said:

Postmasters have been the innocent victims of this faceless crime, unable to support businesses and consumers wishing to use their expertise to get parcels sent abroad.

For many small businesses, Post Offices are an integral part of their business set-up and this has been a challenging time for them too.

We have worked day and night in partnership with Royal Mail to reinstate all international services via our branch network.

Post Office will be "providing additional remuneration" to postmasters for handling international items, with a new fixed payment worth 85p per item and 3pc extra commission for international labels sold in branch.

Post Office - Matt Cardy/Getty Images
Post Office - Matt Cardy/Getty Images

11:32 AM

Brent crude edges higher after earlier swings

Oil has edged higher after plunging earlier as investors weighed the prospect for further US monetary tightening against signs of improving demand from China.

Brent futures retreated below $84 a barrel but are now above the mark again after closing 1.3pc higher on Monday.

Meanwhile, US-produced West Texas Intermediate has risen 1.4pc today above $77 a barrel.

Prices have bounced within a relatively tight range this year, and a measure of volatility remains near the lowest level in 13 months.

Market watchers continue to weigh concerns that more Federal Reserve interest-rate hikes will sap demand, against expectations that China's reopening will drive an increase in commodity buying.

The world's largest importer has been buying more oil from Russia and snapping up ships for cargoes from the US as it ramps up imports.

11:26 AM

Carbon permit costs hit €100 per tonne

The price of permits in the European Union's carbon market has hit €100 (£88) per tonne for the first time, a milestone that reflects the increased costs that factories and power plants must pay when they pollute.

The benchmark EU Allowance (EUA) contract rose to a high of €100.70 per tonne.

EUAs are the main currency used in the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS) which forces manufacturers, power companies and airlines to pay for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit.

It forms part of the bloc's efforts to meet its climate targets.

11:13 AM

Union's strike threat after Treasury's January surplus

A union boss has issued a warning to the Government after the Office for National Statistics said there was a public sector net borrowing surplus of £5.4bn in January.

Public and Commercial Services union general secretary Mark Serwotka said:

The Government says it cannot afford to give our hard-working members a pay rise, but this morning's news there is a surplus of £5.4bn changes that narrative.

Ministers have no excuse for not putting some money on the table. If they don't, our strikes will continue to escalate.

11:01 AM

Farming grants of £168m to 'invest in new technology'

More than £168m in grants are to be made available to farmers this year, farming minister Mark Spencer has announced.

Money will be available to boost food production, pay for equipment and automation, and fund smaller abattoirs.

Speaking at the National Farmers' Union (NFU) conference in Birmingham, Mr Spencer said the money will come from the farming innovation programme and the farming investment fund.

It will sit alongside the environmental land management schemes (ELMs), which pay farmers for improving biodiversity on their land.

ELMs have taken five years to draw up and are the replacement for the EU common agricultural policy.

Farmers can be paid for planting hedgerows and maintaining wildflower meadows and peatland. Mr Spencer said:

The role farmers play in putting food on our tables as well as looking after our countryside is crucial. We know that sustainable food production depends on a healthy environment, the two go hand in hand.

Helping farms invest in new technology as well as bringing in nature-friendly schemes will support the future of farming.

10:50 AM

Russia to only cut oil output for March, deputy PM says

A 500,000 barrel-per-day cut to Russian oil production announced this month will apply only to March output for now, deputy prime minister Alexander Novak has reportedly said.

It comes as the US deputy Treasury secretary Wally Adeyemo said America and its allies will impose new sanctions this week to crack down on Russia's efforts to evade the measures and export controls aimed at forcing Moscow to end its war in Ukraine.

The Russian TASS news agency reported that Mr Novak said: "We will watch how the situation on the market develops, and decisions... will be made from this. Now, the decision is for March."

The cut will be made from January output levels, Mr Novak added.

He has said production stood at 9.8m-9.9m barrels per day last month.

Moscow's efforts to sell its oil globally have been complicated by an EU ban on purchases of Russian oil products from February 5 and price caps on oil.

Russia's decision to cut oil production was announced only nine days after oil cartel Opec+ - of which Russia is a member - agreed to leave production cuts agreed last year in place.

10:40 AM

Russia has 'all financial resources it needs' says Putin

Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday that Russia has all the financial resources it needs to guarantee its national security and development despite Western economic sanctions.

In a major speech to Russia's two houses of parliament, he said Russian firms had rebuilt their supply chains and that Moscow was working with other countries to build new payments systems and financial architecture.

Russia's $2.1trn economy is forecast by the International Monetary Fund to grow 0.3pc this year, far below China and India's growth rates but a much better result than was forecast when the war began.

Putin said Russia had been oriented on the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union. He quipped that no ordinary Russians shed tears over the loss of yachts and property in the West by rich Russians.

Russia was turning to major Asian powers and Putin called on businesses to invest in the Russian economy.

10:28 AM

Putin claims Western sanctions have not defeated Russia

Vladimir Putin has said that Western countries had imposed sanctions on Russia to make its people "suffer" but that it had not succeeded in defeating it on the economic front.

In a major speech ahead of the first anniversary of his country's invasion of Ukraine, Putin said: "They want to make the people suffer... but their calculation did not materialise.

"The Russian economy and the management turned out to be much stronger than they thought."

Speaking of the areas of Ukraine which have declared independence in sham referenda, Putin said: "We have already begun and will continue to build up a large-scale programme for the socio-economic recovery and development of these new subjects of the Federation (territory annexed from Ukraine).

"We are talking about reviving enterprises and jobs in the ports of the Sea of Azov, which has again become an inland sea of Russia, and building new modern roads, as we did in Crimea."

10:15 AM

'We doubt it will last' says economists as UK private firms rebound

The pound has rallied and the FTSE 100 rebounded from steep falls after stronger than expected data on growth in public sector companies.

But there is nothing like an economist's projection to bring you back down to earth.

Capital Economics UK economist Ashley Webb said the sharp rebound in the flash UK composite PMI in February "suggests the economy continued to remain resilient to the dual drags from high inflation and high interest rates".

However, he doubts this will last "as the drag from higher interest rates intensifies, triggering a recession this year". He said:

Overall, the PMIs suggests that the resilience in economic activity from last year continued at the start of this year.

But given our view that the Bank of England will raise interest rates further, from 4pc now to a peak of 4.5pc, we still expect the economy to slip into recession before long.

09:58 AM

PMI data 'nothing to celebrate,' says Lloyds economist

Rhys Herbert, senior economist at Lloyds Bank, said:

The economy seems to have performed better than the PMI data implied over the autumn and winter months.

Many expected the UK to be in recession by now, with the PMI now showing the end of a consistent trend of contraction over seven months.

However, official figures suggest that so far least we've narrowly avoided recession.

Even that economic picture is nothing to celebrate, particularly as there is little reason to expect a drastic improvement anytime soon.

However, the ongoing slowdown in inflation may be enough of catalyst for growth to continue to keep us out of recession territory.

09:55 AM

Pound rallies amid private sector recovery

The pound has bounced after the stronger than expected data showing growth in the UK's private sector recovered to an eight-month high, confounding analyst expectations.

The S&P Global/CIPS flash UK purchasing managers' index soared from 48.5 in January to 53 in February, according to the survey, which is based on preliminary data.

It is the first time in six months that the index has shown growth - anything above 50 is considered to be growth in the sector.

The pound has risen 0.6pc following the release of the data to be worth more than $1.21.

09:43 AM

Economic output unexpectedly grows in UK, data show

The UK economy performed better than expected this month according to a closely-watched gauge of market activity.

The S&P Global flash purchasing managers' index PMI rose to 53 from 48.5 in January, its highest reading since June last year.

A reading above 50 indicates growth in activity, while below means there has been a contraction.

New orders rose to 53.1, after coming in at 49 in January.

Services rose to 53.3, well ahead of forecasts of a contraction at 49.2. Manufacturing also surpassed expectations, measuring at 49.2, better than the 47.5 estimated by analysts.

09:16 AM

Eurozone recovery gathers pace, figures show

Europe's economic recovery accelerated this month, a key economic gauge if output has indicated.

The S&P Global flash PMI for the eurozone reached a nine-month high of 52.3 in February, up from 50.3 in January.

Services PMI rose to 53, up from 51 in January. A figure above 50 indicates growth.

However, manufacturing suffered a steeper than expected hit, falling to 48.5, worse than estimates of 49.3.

09:01 AM

HSBC drags down FTSE 100

The exporter-heavy FTSE 100 has fallen 0.7pc, dragged lower by HSBC after the London-headquartered bank dampened investors' expectations of a sustained income bonanza from rising interest rates worldwide.

HSBC dropped 1.5pc despite a surge in its quarterly profit as Europe's biggest bank said it expects net interest income to be at least $36bn (£30bn) in 2023, falling short of forecasts of $37bn.

The decline in HSBC shares dragged the banking index down nearly 1pc.

Shares of Holiday Inn-owner InterContinental Hotels Group fell as much as 2.2pc even as it reported a higher full-year profit.

Investor focus will also be on initial estimates for the S&P Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) due at 9.30am, which are expected to show a modest improvement in British economic activity in February from the previous month.

The domestically focussed FTSE 250 midcap index was also down 0.6pc.

08:50 AM

Tighter Budget 'probably still on its way', say economists

Record tax revenues from workers and capital gains taxes may have helped to offset massive spending on energy bill support and soaring debt interest payments, but do not expect a Budget bonanza from Jeremy Hunt.

Total receipts were £107.8bn, well above the £103.1bn the OBR forecast, as self-assessed income tax receipts of £21.9bn recorded their highest January figure since records began in April 1999.

However, Capital Economics deputy chief UK economist Ruth Gregory said:

With the OBR poised to slash its medium-term GDP growth forecasts, any hopes he might be able to give away a significant amount of money, while sticking to his previous debt-reduction plans, may be disappointed.

Less costly energy price subsidies and stronger income tax receipts were the main sources of January's borrowing undershoot.

As such, the figures paint a far more upbeat picture of the economy than the recent survey data.

Overall, it's likely that the Chancellor will have some wiggle-room in the Budget to fund near-term tax cuts and/or spending rises.

But probable downgrades to the OBR's assumptions about the economy's potential to grow could yet reduce the Chancellor's £9.2bn (0.3% of GDP) headroom against his fiscal mandate for 2027/28 and limit his ability to significantly scale back the planned fiscal squeeze.

08:36 AM

'Impact of climate change really hit home', says NFU president

Here is some more of Minette Batters' speech which she is due to deliver at the launch of the NFU annual conference later:

Labour shortages and soaring energy prices are hitting the poultry industry, already reeling from avian influenza, as well as horticultural businesses and pig farms.

Meanwhile, other sectors are facing an uncertain future as direct payments are phased out against a backdrop of huge cost inflation, with agricultural inputs having risen almost 50pc since 2019.

And the impact of this? UK egg production has fallen to its lowest level in nine years. In 2022, UK egg packers packed almost a billion fewer eggs than they did in 2019.

This was also the year that the potential impact of climate change really hit home. The extraordinary temperatures we experienced in July topped the previous record by almost a degree and a half.

While many parts of the country have experienced huge amounts of rainfall recently, impacting farming operations over autumn and winter, some counties still remain in official drought status.

Despite all this, NFU members and the farmers and growers of Britain continued to bring in the harvest, to produce the nation's food and to keep the country fed through tough times.

08:31 AM

Inheritance tax receipts on target for annual record

The Government is on target to break its annual inheritance tax record as receipts for January 2023 totalled £578m, up from £443m in the same month a year ago.

It takes the total inheritance tax take for the 2022-23 financial year so far to £5.9bn, £853m higher than through the same period last year.

It means the Treasury is only £178m short of its record £6.1bn inheritance tax receipts for the prior year, with two months to go.

Stephen Lowe, group communications director at retirement specialist Just Group, said:

The Chancellor has struck a seam of gold with recent inheritance tax receipts as he looks set to receive another record haul this financial year – and with more to come.

Receipts are likely to race past official predictions for the next few years.

The combination of frozen thresholds and property prices that have soared over the years mean that receipts could continue to grow over the coming years.

While it's good news for the Treasury there will be many people for whom an inheritance tax bill will be a nasty shock.

08:18 AM

Improved economic outlook easing pressure on Government, says PwC

The Treasury's net borrowing was in surplus by £5.4bn in January, which was £5bn higher than the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) expected.

Jake Finney, economist at PwC UK, said the latest public sector finances data from the Office for National Statistics showed the "improved economic outlook" is easing pressure on the Government. He said:

Tax receipts picked up in January, as workers and companies settled their tax bills. However, this was partially offset by large spending on energy bills support and one-off payments to the EU relating to historic custom duties.

Debt interest payments reached £6.7bn in January, the highest January figure since monthly records began 26 years ago.

This reflects the fiscal consequences of higher RPI inflation and higher interest rates. Higher debt servicing costs as a share of total revenues will leave the public finances more exposed to future economic shocks.

In the coming months, falls to natural gas futures prices should start to gradually bring down the cost of the Energy Price Guarantee scheme. However, we expect this will be partially offset by reduced tax receipts due to lower than expected inflation.

08:14 AM

Clock ticking to secure Britain's food supply, warn farmers

Surging prices mean "the clock is ticking" for Britain's food supplies, farmers have warned.

The National Farmers' Union (NFU) will launch its annual conference later with a message from president Minette Batters saying "volatility, uncertainty and instability are the greatest risks to farm businesses in England and Wales today".

She will also raise concerns about "labour shortages and soaring energy prices" hitting farmers, pointing out that UK egg production has fallen to its lowest level in nine years.

Ms Batters will tell the conference's 1,500 delegates: "More often than not – it has been incredibly hard getting government to back up its rhetoric with concrete actions.

"The time is nearly up for government to demonstrate its commitment to food and farming in our great country, not just by saying they support us, but by showing us they do.

"I won't let the opposition off the hook either, I believe the rural vote will be crucial in the next election."

Here is some more of what Ms Batters will say as she launches the organisation's annual conference today:

There are three key lessons we can take from this extraordinary year.

As the global population continues to rise, and parts of the planet become less suited to producing the food we eat, we have an opportunity, and a duty, to get the best out of our maritime climate.

Secondly, in the face of climate change, we should be unwavering in our commitment to achieving net zero and contributing to our energy security through on-farm renewables generation.

And thirdly, we should never take our food security for granted.

But the fact remains, volatility, uncertainty and instability are the greatest risks to farm businesses in England and Wales today.

Critically, those consequences will be felt far beyond farming, they will be felt across the natural environment, and in struggling households across the country.

NFU president Minette Batters - Heathcliff O'Malley
NFU president Minette Batters - Heathcliff O'Malley

08:11 AM

Markets fall as Government surplus narrows

The markets do not appear to be reassured by the record tax income for the Government in January.

The Treasury managed a surplus of £5.4bn, ahead of expectations of a deficit, but still well below the surplus of £12.5bn in the same month a year earlier.

The FTSE 100 was down 0.2pc to 7,995.62 points in early trading while the FTSE 250 has dropped 0.2pc to 20,067.88.

07:35 AM

Record tax revenues save Chancellor from bigger headache

Record tax revenues from workers and capital gains taxes helped to offset massive spending on energy bill support and soaring debt interest payments, official figures show.

Economics editor Szu Ping Chan has the latest:

In the final set of public borrowing figures before Jeremy Hunt delivers his Spring Budget, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the government received £5.4bn more in taxes in January than it spent on public services.

This is much higher than the £8bn deficit forecast by economists and £5bn larger than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the government's tax and spending watchdog.

January is traditionally a month where the Treasury receives more than it spends as businesses and workers, including the self-employed pay their tax bills.

The ONS said self-assessed income tax receipts were £21.9bn in January. This is the highest monthly figure since records began in 1999 and a third higher than receipts received a year ago.

Capital gains taxes, which are paid on the profits of disposed assets such as buy-to-let properties if they have increased in value, stood at £13.2bn, another record high.

07:30 AM

Hunt: 'We're rightly spending billions'

Chancellor of the Exchequer, Jeremy Hunt, said:

We are rightly spending billions now to support households and businesses with the impacts of rising prices – but with debt at the highest level since the 1960s, it is vital we stick to our plan to reduce debt over the medium-term.

Getting debt down will require some tough choices, but it is crucial to reduce the amount spent on debt interest so we can protect our public services.

07:27 AM

HSBC profits slip after Covid impact

Banking giant HSBC has announced a dip in 2022 pre-tax profits last year, calling the ongoing impact of Covid-19 the main factor in its financial performance.

The Asia-focused lender said it made $17.5bn (£14.6bn) before tax, down more than seven percent on-year, while reported revenue increased four percent to $51.7bn (£43.1bn).

In a statement to the Hong Kong stock exchange, HSBC detailed the tough global economic climate international banks are facing.

It cited renewed virus outbreaks in Hong Kong and mainland China as denting last year's economic growth.

It added that global uncertainty sparked by Russia's invasion of Ukraine, elevated inflation and rising interest rates contributed to a difficult financial environment that it expects will spill into 2023's earnings and even eclipse the toll of the pandemic.

"We are already seeing... a cost of living crisis affecting many of our customers and colleagues," Mark Tucker, the group's chairman said in a statement.

However, after-tax profits rose $2bn to $16.7bn (£13.9bn), while fourth-quarter pre-tax profit nearly doubled from $2.5bn to $5.2bn (£4.3bn).


07:20 AM

Record tax revenues offset Government energy support spending, says ONS

Record tax revenues from workers and capital gains taxes helped to offset massive spending on energy bill support and soaring debt interest payments, official figures show, writes economics editor Szu Ping Chan.

In the final set of public borrowing figures before Jeremy Hunt delivers his Spring Budget, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the government received £5.4bn more in taxes in January than it spent on public services.

This is much higher than a £8bn deficit forecast by economists and £5bn larger than forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), the government's fiscal watchdog.

07:17 AM

Budget surplus narrows as debt interest costs surge

The budget surplus narrowed sharply in the biggest tax month of the year for the Government as rising debt costs hit the public finances.

January normally delivers a large surplus for the Treasury as income tax payments are due.

However, the £5.4bn that the Government received - taking in more in tax revenue than it spent - was well below the £12.5bn surplus recorded in January last year.

Debt interest was £6.7bn, according to the data from the Office for National Statistics, which was the highest January figure since monthly records began in April 1997.

07:07 AM

Good morning

Public sector borrowing figures have given the Chancellor a boost as he prepares to deliver his Budget next month.

The Government managed a surplus of £5.4bn in January, well ahead of economists' expectations of a £7.9bn deficit.

However, the surplus was £7.1bn smaller than at the same time a year ago.

5 things to start your day

1)  Bank of England pours cold water on 'Big Bang 2.0' | Post-Brexit overhaul of rules for the insurance industry were too complex to introduce in one go, says senior policymaker

2) £800 plunge in energy bills to hand Hunt £11bn Budget boost | Drop comes as gas prices fall to their lowest level in 18 months

3) Four-day week makes companies more profitable, study claims | Cambridge study finds adopting the new working pattern increases revenue by more than a third

4) Jaguar Land Rover launches hiring spree in latest push to develop driverless cars | Company seeking to vacuum up laid-off tech workers

5) China is mounting an economic assault on Gen Z – and it will end in disaster | The ramifications of this apparel giant’s massive land grab are likely to be far-reaching

What happened overnight

Asian shares were mostly lower in quiet trading after US markets were closed for Presidents Day.

Shares dropped in Tokyo, Sydney and Hong Kong but rose slightly in Seoul and Shanghai.

Analysts say worries about weakening demand persist in Asia, as companies cope with rising energy and raw material costs and consumers hold back on spending.

In Japan, a preliminary manufacturing indicator, the flash purchasing manager's index, fell to 47.4 in February from 48.9 the month before. That was the weakest reading in more than two years.

Stocks in Tokyo closed lower, with the benchmark Nikkei 225 index losing 0.2pc to 27,473.10, while the broader Topix index fell 0.1pc to 1,997.46.

The latest data from Australia, called the Judo Bank PMI, showed private sector activity remained in contraction for the fifth straight month.

Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.2pc to 7,336.30. South Korea's Kospi gained nearly 0.2pc to 2,458.72. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 1.6pc to 20,561.77, while the Shanghai Composite gained 0.1pc to 3,294.37.

In the currency markets, the dollar was flat, after a three week rally. Treasury futures, which did trade Monday, fell slightly.