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Live Reporting

By Chris Johnston

All times stated are UK

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Over and out

That's all from Business Live for today - thanks for reading. We are back at 0600 tomorrow for what promises to be a busy day for retailers, with results from Morrisons and Home Retail Group, as well as the John Lewis Partnership. Join us then.

Plain packaging

ciggie
Getty Images

Japan Tobacco International - Britain's biggest cigarette maker - doesn't like the MPs' vote either, claiming it has been rushed through parliament. "The Government is using the general election as the finishing line ... we consider this legislation to be unlawful," a JTI spokesman said.

Plain packaging

Imperial Tobacco said that if the new cigarette packaging legislation does become law, it would be "left with no choice but to defend our legal rights in court". A recent survey found that 72% of the British public supported plain packaging.

Plain packaging

Cigarette packets
Getty Images

Tobacco companies are not happy bunnies after MPs voted to approve plain packaging for cigarettes. A Philip Morris spokesman says it will seek compensation for the "irrational and unnecessary attack on private property that vilifies products that well-informed adults choose to buy".

Ukraine bailout

Ukraine flags
Getty Images

The International Monetary Fund has formally agreed a $17.5bn four-year aid deal for Ukraine - the second attempt in less than 12 months to rescue the country from bankruptcy. The loan should trigger further credits from other donors that will bring the total aid package heading to Kiev to about $40bn, the IMF said.

Apple outage

Apple
Getty Images

Contrary to our earlier post, it seems Apple is

still having problems with a number of online services worldwide: "Customers may be unable to make purchases from the App Store, iTunes Store, iBooks Store, or Mac App Store."

FTSE 100

Royal Mail
Getty Images

A better day for the London market after yesterday's train crash. The

blue-chip index ended up 18 points, or 0.3%, at 6,721.
Royal Mail added 3.5% to 437.4p, while
Coca-Coca HBC shed 2% to £10.92. Despite Wednesday sharp falls the FTSE is up 2.3% since the start of the year.

Balls on RBS

RBS logo
Getty Images

A Labour government would be in no hurry to return Royal Bank of Scotland to the private sector, says shadow chancellor Ed Balls. Last week George Osborne said he wanted to "get rid of" taxpayers' 80% stake in the bank "as quickly as possible" after the election. "Hard as it is, we have to take the time which is necessary to get the best deal for the taxpayer," Mr Balls said.

Lego lawsuit

Lego Friends
Getty Images

America is Lego's biggest market, so it's no surprise that the Danish toy maker takes a dim view of companies selling fake products there. The

Financial Times reports the US International Trade Commission is investigating a complaint that two US companies and a Canadian group are violating patents on its Lego Friends range, which has proved a big hit since its 2012 launch.

Pension fraud warning

Martin Wheatley
Getty Images

The Financial Conduct Authority boss has warned that new pension freedoms could attract

criminal attention. "Scams and fraud, we know, tend to proliferate at the moment of maximum uncertainty," Martin Wheatley told the National Association of Pension Funds conference in Edinburgh today. Protecting pension savers is part of the FCA's remit.

Google 'store'

Google store
Google

And on the subject of technology, Google has opened its first UK "store" in the PC World outlet on Tottenham Court Road in central London. It's not quite an Apple store - more an exercise in "billboarding" for Android smartphones and Chromebook laptops, says Sebastian James, chief executive of Dixons Carphone, in a

Wall Street Journal interview.

Apple outage

iTunes logo
Getty Images

Some Apple services, including the App and iTunes stores, were down for several hours on Wednesday in Britain, the US and other countries. Some iCloud services were also affected until early afternoon London time, but have since been resolved. It's unclear what caused the outages.

GDP growth

The

National Institute of Economic and Social Research says that the UK economy expanded by 0.6% in the three months to February - the same figure as for the three months to January 2015. NIESR's most recent quarterly forecast projects GDP growth of 2.9% for 2015 and 2.3% for next year.

Lloyds 'challenges'

Lloyds
Getty Images

Lloyds Banking Group has warned in its 2014 annual report that "regulatory challenges remain relating to the Special Liquidity Scheme (SLS), the Repo Rate benchmark and the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor)". The bank paid £217m in fines to UK and US regulators last year for its role in rigging Libor rates and for attempting to fix "repo" rates to reduce fees for the SLS.

Greece talks

Greek flag
Getty Images

Greece has opened talks with its international creditors (formerly known as the 'troika') in Brussels today in the first step towards an agreement on the reforms it must implement to release more bailout cash. It's the first meeting between the two parties since Syriza took power at the end of January. But don't get too excited: no spectacular results are expected, EU officials say.

NZ poison threat

World Service

NZ cows
Getty Images

New Zealand has introduced emergency regulations to restrict the possession of a rat poison called 1080 following anonymous threats to use it to contaminate milk powder - one of the country's most valuable exports. Thousands of tests have been carried out to ensure no dairy products have been affected. Orders for infant formula from China have fallen since the contamination threat was disclosed on Tuesday.

Chris Johnston

Business reporter

Good afternoon from me, Chris Johnston, and thanks to Russell Hotten and Howard Mustoe for keeping us up to date this morning. I'm here until 1800 GMT.

Market update

It's still early in New York, but Wall Street has opened higher after Tuesday's big losses. The three key indexes - the Dow, S&P 500, and Nasdaq - were 0.1% ahead about five minutes into the trading day. The euro lingered near a 12-year low against the dollar.

Via Email

Diesel Cars

Andrew Bolstridge

Live page reader

Once I sat in my car with a colleague discussing a meeting we'd just had. Then I pulled out and drove away, he looked at me and said "has the engine been on all that time" - it's a Jaguar 2.7 litre diesel, and it purred away so quietly he didn't think it had been running. So my experience with diesels is that they're very, very good. Mine also has a particulate filter so I never thought it was that bad for emissions but … I guess every car spews out pollutants (especially buses!).

Via Email

Supermarket sales

Nick Bubb

Retail analyst and consultant

Little Waitrose sign
Waitrose

"Despite the hype about the Tesco recovery, yesterday's Kantar Grocery monthly market share data for the 4 weeks to March 1 wasn't really that good for any of the main supermarkets (as increasing food price deflation took its toll) and it was striking that Waitrose suffered a loss in market share for the first time since 2009."

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson
BBC

Former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has teamed up with former Google, Yahoo and PayPal director Sir Michael Moritz to write a new book on leadership. According to publisher Hodder & Stoughton it will cover "tactics to teamwork, from hiring to firing, from dealing with the boardroom to responding to failure".

Via Blog

Linda Yueh

Chief business correspondent

It's notable for a Communist country that China has a million millionaires, writes the BBC's Linda Yueh. Unlike in other countries, most of the super rich in China made their money through their own business efforts rather than inheriting it. Their children are coming of age now - they've been dubbed the fuerdai, which means the rich second generation.

Read more in her blog.

Market update

FTSE 100 graph
BBC

After a positive start to the day, the FTSE 100 has sunk back into negative territory. The index is down 0.06% at 6,698.9 points. In Frankfurt and Paris, however, markets were buoyed by upbeat comments from European Central Bank head Mario Draghi that the eurozone's recovery is set to strengthen. The Dax and Cac 40 were up 1.52% and 1.68% respectively.

Greek debt

Greece raised €1.3bn in three-month bonds as part of its quest to find some €6bn this month to repay maturing loans from the International Monetary Fund. The country's debt agency said it had accepted the entire amount offered by creditors, paying 2.7% interest compared with 2.5% in a similar sale a month ago.

Via Email

Diesel Cars

John Galpin

Business live reader

oxford street
Reuters

"The problem is less cars than it is buses, lorries, delivery vans and construction machinery which contribute much of inner city pollution, especially roads like Oxford Street where private cars are in a minority."

Shoe strike

About 5,000 people have gone on strike at a shoe manufacturer in China protesting about poor benefits, two activists and a worker told Reuters. The factory's clients include Guess?, Michael Kors and Prada. Workers are displeased about not receiving housing assistance, said the newswire.

Scotland's finances

More on Scotland's public finances. The country raised £54bn in taxes in 2013/14, which amounts to £10,100 per person. That figure is £400 more than the UK average. But Scotland's public expenditure in the same period was also higher than the UK average - at £66.4bn or 9.2% of total UK spending. Scotland has 8.3% of the UK population.

Scotland's finances

Scottish pound notes
PA

Scotland's public finances have improved according to the latest Scottish government figures, but remain worse than the UK average. The country's net fiscal balance - or deficit - was £12.4bn in the red in 2013/14, down from £14.3bn in a year.

Diesel cars

Diesel fuel pump
PA

A campaign by carmakers

against the "demonisation" of diesel engines gets the support of the AA. President Edmund King says: "There is a certain irony that the 'dash for diesel' was encouraged by governments in fiscal policy over several years... Policymakers can't keep shifting the goal posts without informing consumers."

Cairn Energy

cairn worker
cairn

Cairn Energy shares tumbled 18% after the oil explorer was served with a $1.6bn (£1bn) bill by the Indian tax authorities. The Edinburgh-based company said it would defend itself against the claim, which relates to the flotation in 2007 of its former sister company Cairn India.

Via Email

Industrial production

Howard Archer, UK economist, IHS Global Insight

"While January's fall in manufacturing output was disappointing, latest survey evidence from both the purchasing managers and the Confederation of British Industry offers genuine hope that matters are looking up for the sector after recent sluggishness."

Ericsson

satellite dish
Ericsson

Swedish telecom equipment maker Ericsson is cutting 2,200 jobs in the country as part of its latest cost-cutting programme. The firm employs around 115,000 people, of which around 17,000 are in Sweden.

Industrial production

Total UK production output is estimated to have increased by 1.3% in January 2015 compared with January 2014, said the

Office for National Statistics. There were increases in two of the four main sectors, with manufacturing output being the largest contributor, increasing by 1.9%.

Eurozone economy

euro coin
AFP

Confident words from European Central Bank head Mario Draghi. The economic recovery in the 19-country eurozone is gaining momentum and the bank's recent stimulus measures will prevent the continuing fall in prices - deflation. "The slowdown in growth has reversed," he told a conference. The recovery should "gradually broaden and, hopefully, strengthen".

Market update

The FTSE 100 stabilised this morning after yesterday's big losses in London and on Wall Street. The index was 0.34% up at 6725.45 points, led higher by 2% rise for Burberry shares.

Newspaper review

newspapers
BBC

The FT reports on the

euro being driven towards a 12-year low against the dollar, while the Wall St Journal asks if
US hoteliers will profit from their foray into Europe as the currency weakens. The Daily Telegraph says people who were
promised payments for disruption from shale gas exploration may not get them. The Times reports on
fears of a US rate rise sinking stock markets.

Pay date

World Service

Watson
PA

Actress Emma Watson has called for women to be allowed to be chivalrous after revealing that she was rebuffed by a date when she offered to pay for dinner. So who should foot the bill when on a dinner date?

The BBC's Katie Hile has been canvassing opinion at what's been voted one of London's most romantic restaurants.

China economy

BBC World News

Prof. Michael Pettis
BBC

With China's latest production, investment and retail sales data all undershooting growth forecasts, there are fresh concerns about the economy. The government now targets annual GDP growth of 7% over the next few years, but Beijing-based economist professor Michael Pettis is not convinced. He tells World Business Report: "I expect next year we will see lower numbers, and on and on."

Bank lending

BBC Radio 4

The problems faced by small businesses trying to get bank lending has drifted out of the headlines recently. But British Chambers of Commerce chief John Longworth says the issue has not gone away. There remains an urgent need for a British Business Bank to help small firms grow into big firms, he tells

Today.