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  1. FTSE 100 closes flat ahead of election
  2. Brent crude nears $70 a barrel
  3. EU announces overhaul of e-commerce market

Live Reporting

By Chris Johnston

All times stated are UK

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Over and out

That's all we have time for on Business Live for Wednesday. Join us again at 0600 on Thursday. Thanks for reading.

Wall Street close

US markets closed lower on Wednesday, with the

S&P 500 down 0.45% and the
Dow 0.5% lower.
Nasdaq was also off 0.4%.

Zynga cuts losses

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Zynga, the company behind the FarmVille game, reduced its net losses to $46.5m from $61.2m for the first quarter to 31 March, while revenue rose to $183.3m from $168m. Zynga also plans to cut about 18% of its workforce. Shares closed up 4.4% to $2.61.

Kale for breakfast?

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Kale in the morning, anyone? Nine McDonald's restaurants in southern California are putting kale on their breakfast menus for a trial period. One of the "breakfast bowls" has kale along with turkey sausage, egg white and spinach, while another has chorizo and egg. Kale is regarded by some as a nutrient-rich "superfood" that has become more popular in the US in recent years.

More Apple

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So why is Apple raising more money when it has $178bn stuffed down the back of the sofa? In two words: it's cheaper. Almost 90% of its cash mountain is held outside the US, and the company would have to pay the top corporate tax rate of 35% if it returned the money from abroad. That is also why Apple has made numerous European acquisitions in recent years.

Apple cash

Apple logo
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Despite having enough cash on its books to bail out Greece - well, almost - Apple is once more raising funds with an $8bn bond sale.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal received about $20bn in orders from buyers, allowing the company to sell more than the roughly $6.5bn initially expected. Maturities range from two to 30 years. Apple will use the money to help pay for share buybacks and dividends.
Apple shares are down 1.4% to $124.04.

Oil spending

North Sea platform
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Douglas Fraser, Scotland business and economy editor, says the recent rebound in oil prices does not mean that oil companies are about to turn the capital expenditure taps on again anytime soon. Read more


Adaptimmune IPO

Shares of British cancer drug developer

Adaptimmune are down after it raised $191.3m by listing on Nasdaq on Wednesday. Adaptimmune sold 11.3 million US-traded shares - more than it originally expected - at $17 each, which was the high end of expectations. After jumping as much as 15% in morning trading, the stock was down more than 4% to $16.30. The company is developing immune therapies designed to target and destroy cancer cells and is running several clinical trials in a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline.

Wall Street update

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US stocks fell broadly in afternoon trading in New York after the release of weak economic reports and mixed corporate results. Yields on US government bond yields rose to their highest level in two months and oil prices continued to climb towards $70 a barrel. The

S&P 500 was down 0.6%, while the
Dow fell 0.7%.

Bankers worry about election result

The lack of a clear winner in the general election is likely to affect the appetite of businesses to borrow,

senior bankers have told Reuters. Banks are reluctant to be seen to be taking sides, it says but have privately expressed concerns over the prospect of there being no effective government for weeks or even months after the poll. Neither the Conservative nor Labour party are expected to win an overall majority.

Via Email

US productivity falls

Paul Ashworth

Chief US economist, Capital Economics

"The 1.9% annualised decline in productivity in the first quarter and the 5.0% annualised increase in unit labour costs obviously look awful. But this is exactly what happened at this time last year, when the unseasonably bad winter hit output more than employment. Productivity will rebound in the second quarter and unit labour costs will drop back."

Via Blog

An election that really matters

Robert Peston

Economics editor

Leaving the EU would have a profound impact on our economy, immigration and culture. For better or worse it matters." Read

Robert's full blog post.

Real Madrid top Forbes football rich list

Christiano Ronaldo
AFP/Getty Images

Forbes have released their latest

football rich list and there are few surprises. Real Madrid retain their place as the most valuable football team in the world for a third straight year. But the team's overall value fell 5% to €3.26bn (£2.42bn) with revenues of €746m. Their main Spanish rivals Barcelona came a predicable second in the 2015 list with a value of €3.16bn followed by Manchester United in third with a value of €3.10bn. However, Manchester United saw its overall value increase by 10% this year suggesting it could overtake Real Madrid soon.

Wendy's sales

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Wendy's - the third-largest US burger chain - reported better-than-expected quarterly sales as more customers visited its revamped stores. Like-for-like sales rose 3.2% in the first quarter, better than the 2.5% increase expected by analysts. However, net profit fell 40.6% to $27.5m as Wendy's sold 240 restaurants to franchisees in the quarter.

Shares were up 5.4% in afternoon trading in New York following the results.

US drone tests

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The US Federal Aviation Administration has struck partnerships to test commercial drones that can fly beyond an operator's line of sight - regarded as a first step for autonomous drone operations such as delivering packages. PrecisionHawk will test applications for surveying crops in rural areas, while BNSF Railway - owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway - will use drones to inspect rail lines in isolated areas. A third partnership between the FAA and CNN will allow the network to test newsgathering in urban areas with drones that would remain visible to operators. The announcement raises hopes that beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) technology will be included in new commercial drone regulations that the FAA aims to finalise by 2017.

FTSE 100 close

Bit of a lacklustre day on the London market, with the FTSE 100 closing up just 6.16 points, or 0.1%, at 6,933.74 points. That was despite a 8% rise in

Sage Group to 536p after posting organic revenue of £682m in line with its 6% growth target for 2015. Biggest faller was
Aberdeen Asset Management, down 4.3% at 431.1p following a disappointing trading update on Tuesday.

Oil gains

Oil pump
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Oil is hovering close to $70 a barrel, with Brent crude up $1.60 to $69.12, after hitting a 2015 peak of $69.63 earlier on Wednesday. US crude was $1.54 higher at $61.89 a barrel - close to an intraday high of $62.58. A month-long rally has been helped by the first fall in US crude stocks since the start of January. "Bulls are in control of the market," said Tamas Varga and Stephen Brennock, analysts at PVM Oil Associates, in a note.

Supermarket superstores

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You could be forgiven for thinking that the out-of-town supermarket was about to become an endangered species, but Sainsburys boss Mike Coupe begs to differ. Despite the rise of online and convenience stores, forecasts indicate that "big box" stores will still account for 60% of UK grocery spending by 2022. He says: "We believe that fundamentally the age of the superstore is not dead. In the end the format of choice will be the large out-of-town superstore." Do you agree? Email us at

'A healthy Greek economy'

And in the last word on Greece for a bit, Yanis Varoufakis has

tweeted a link to an article he has written titled A Blueprint for Greece's Recovery. He says there has been little progress on a Greek debt deal because "all sides are focusing too much on the strings to be attached to the next liquidity injection and not enough on a vision of how Greece can recover and develop sustainably. If we are to break the current impasse, we must envisage a healthy Greek economy." Read more

Tsipras and Juncker

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And in more news from Greece in the wake of its €200m payment to the IMF on Wednesday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker discussed the need for reforms to Greece's pension system during a phone call to assess progress in debt talks. The pair "discussed the importance of reforms to modernise the pension system so that it is fair, fiscally sustainable and effective in averting old-age poverty", according to a joint statement from Greece and the EC.

Varoufakis 'confident'

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Following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan on Wednesday, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis says he is confident about reaching a deal with Greece's international creditors, with a meeting of eurozone finance ministers next week potentially serving as a "platform". "We had a very fruitful and intense exchange of views on the best ways to make the Eurogroup next Monday a platform to enter into the kind of agreement between Greece and our partners which not only resolves the current negotiations but will lead to a period after June that will allow the Greek economy to recover and grow again," Mr Varoufakis said.

BHP spin-off

BHP Biliton
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BHP Billiton shareholders have overwhelmingly approved spinning off the miner's smaller assets into a new company called South32, paving the way for a stock market listing on 18 May. Investors will get one share in South32 for every BHP Billiton share they own. Named after the 32nd parallel line of latitude that links its offices in Perth and Johannesburg, South32 will produce alumina, aluminium, coal, manganese, nickel, silver, lead and zinc from mines and smelters in Australia, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and Mozambique.

Wall Street open

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As trading gets underway in New York, the

Dow Jones is flat at 17,922 points, the S&P 500 is 0.25% lower at 2,084 points and the
Nasdaq is up slightly at 4,941 points.
Western Union is the biggest riser of the three indexes, up 7.9% at $22.61.

Wasps hit target

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Rugby club Wasps has

closed its retail bond after reaching the £35m it had targeted in just over a week. It was the first time that a sporting club had raised funds in this manner and the offer was oversubscribed. David Armstrong, chief executive, said the funds would allow Wasps to pay down debt and put the club on a solid foundation.

Yellen on risk

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Janet Yellen said the Federal Reserve is prepared to take further action to make the financial system safer. Speaking to the International Monetary Fund, the Fed chair said that regulators were too focused on individual firms before the crisis rather than the entire financial system. Policy makers, including the central bank, must "remain watchful for areas in need of further action or in which the steps taken to date need to be adjusted", she added on Wednesday.

North Sea sale

Mikhail Fridman
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Mikhail Fridman's LetterOne fund is expected to start the sale process for the 11 North Sea gas fields it bought from RWE, bowing to UK government threats to revoke the assets' licences unless the Russian tycoon relinquishes ownership. The move signals that Mr Fridman has decided against challenging the rare intervention. The fields are expected to fetch up to $1bn (£650m), according to banking and industry sources. LetterOne declined to comment.

Good afternoon

Thanks to Tom and Ben for this morning's coverage. Chris Johnston with you through until 2130 with the rest of the day's business news and views.

US productivity falls

US welder
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US productivity fell at an annual rate of 1.9% in the first quarter,

according to the Labor Department. That was a slight improvement on the previous quarter when productivity was falling at an annual rate of 2.1%. They were the first consecutive quarters of falling productivity since 2006. However, economists say that bad weather is partly to blame and think the decline should be temporary.

Police search Sports Direct offices

Ibrox Stadium, home of Glasgow Rangers FC
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Police investigating takeovers at Rangers have searched the headquarters of Mike Ashley's Sports Direct company in Derbyshire. The Newcastle owner has a near-9% stake in the Ibrox club and has control of the club's retail operations. Sports Direct says the visit relates to "various persons previously employed by and or associated with Rangers".

GSK shares rise

GlaxoSmithKline shares

Investors seemed to like the first quarter results from GlaxoSmithKline. Shares were down before the results came out and are now more than 1% higher. There was a lot in the report for investors to mull over. Dividends will be a priority for any spare cash the company has. GSK also says it will not sell its HIV drugs business. The company set a target for group sales growth of "low-to-mid single digits".

GSK results

Glaxo sign

Drugs giant Glaxosmithkline has reported a core pre-tax operating profit of £1.3bn. That number does not include an £8.6bn gain
from a big deal with Novartis. If you include that and various one-off charges, including a £366m charge for reorganising the business then GSK reported a profit of £9.2bn.

Sainsbury's results

Sainsbury's sign

This is a financial year Sainsbury's management "will want to forget", says Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers. "Intense competition, led by the discounters, lies at the heart of the group's challenges, with key financial metrics including the dividend payment all moving lower," he says. "The current consensus analyst opinion of a sell unlikely to change," he adds.

Flash crash

Westminster Magistrates Court

Navinder Singh Sarao, who is fighting extradition to the US

on charges of having contributed to the 2010 'flash crash' on Wall Street, has said in a court appearance: "I've not done anything wrong apart from being good at my job. How is this allowed to go on, man?" Prior to the outburst the judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court, Elizabeth Roscoe, had denied an application to lift a £5m bail condition.

'Tough market'

Mike Coupe

Market conditions have been "very tough" for Sainsbury's, chief executive Mike Coupe tells the BBC. "It's been the toughest market that I've see in my thirty years in the industry," he says. Changes in shopping habits and deflation in grocery prices hit Sainsbury's bottom line, he added.

Digital antitrust probe

European Union antitrust regulators have

opened an investigation into cross-border e-commerce in a move aimed at removing borders to online sales as part of a broad strategy to overhaul the EU's digital market. The European Commission said the probe would focus on barriers to online sales in electronics, clothing and shoes, as well as digital content.

Digital single market

The European Commission wants harmonised EU rules on contracts and consumer protection when people buy online as part of its

digital single market strategy. It also wants more efficient and affordable parcel delivery, it said.

Web giant review

Google logo
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The European Commission will conduct a comprehensive review this year of the role of web giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to decide whether it should regulate them more tightly, it says. The inquiry will focus on the transparency of search results and pricing policies, how online platforms use the data they acquire, their relationships with other businesses and whether they promote their own services to the disadvantage of competitors. The review is part of a

digital single market strategy unveiled by Commission vice-president Andrus Ansip.

Microsoft on the prowl?

Microsoft sign
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Microsoft is considering a bid for,

reports say. Salesforce provides software that manages customer relationships. It is also a big provider of business software via the internet (or cloud services). Last year Microsoft struck an agreement that allowed its software to work better with Salesforce products. Salesforce was started fifteen years ago, but has never made a profit.

Greek unemployment

A man checks for announcements displayed on a window near anti-austerity posters
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Greece's unemployment rate

dropped slightly to 25.4% in February from 25.6% in the previous month, statistics agency Elstat said on Wednesday. February's figure, based on seasonally adjusted data, is the lowest since July 2012. The jobless rate hit a record high of 27.9% in September 2013.