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Summary

  1. News site Gawker to close next week
  2. William Hill suitors pull out of bid
  3. Oil price climbs above $50 a barrel
  4. Asda quarterly sales plunge 7.5%
  5. Uber plans driverless taxis

Live Reporting

By Dan Macadam

All times stated are UK

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Over and out!

That's it from Business Live today. Join us again tomorrow for more of the action!

US markets close higher

The main indexes on Wall Street close higher - just. Sentiment was lifted by the rising oil price - which is back above $50 a barrel. Chevron and Exxon were among the biggest gainers on the Dow.

As we mentioned earlier, prison shares were huge fallers after the US announced plans to phase out use of privately owned prisons.

Corrections Corp. of America plunged 35.3% and The Geo Group 39.6%.

The Dow Jones index closed up 0.1% at 18,595.65

The Nasdaq was up 0.2% 5,240.15.

The S&P 500 also gained 0.2% to close at 2,186.85

Harley-Davidson fined over air pollution

Harley-Davidson
Getty Images

Harley-Davidson has been fined $15m (£11.4m) for selling defeat devices that increased the air pollution created by its motorcycles. 

The company sold "super tuners" which increased the vehicle's performance but raised its emissions. 

As part of a settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice Harley-Davidson agree to pay a $12m in a civil penalty and spend $3 million on programs to mitigate air pollution. The company will also stop selling and recall the device on the market. 

Banker turns down cash

 A whistleblower who helped expose false accounting at Deutsche Bankundefinedhas turned down a multimillion-dollar award from the US regulator - the Securities and Exchange Commission - in protest against the agency’s failure to punish executives at the bank.  

In an article in the Financial Times, Eric Ben-Artzi, a former Deutsche risk officer, says he has told the SEC that he is declining his share of a $16.5m payout - the third largest in the whistleblower programme'sundefinedhistory - awarded for information that led the agency to fine Deutsche Bank $55m last year. 

Jail houses rocked

handcuffs
AP

Shares in US prisons have plunged on Wall Street after the Justic Department said it planned to phase out its use of privately-operated prisons because of security concerns.

Contracts with 13 private prisons will be reviewed and allowed to expire over the next five years.    

Geo Group Inc shares fell about 28% while Corrections Corp of America shares sank about 20%.

Read the full story here.

Pound gets some retail therapy

Sterling jumped above $1.31 against the dollar today, and for a while lifted above €1.16 against the euro before falling back slightly to €1.1592. 

"The British pound was the biggest riser amongst major currencies," according to Jasper Lawler from CMC Markets.

Hargreaves Lansdown's Chris Saint put the pound's rise down to retail figures showing "the UK consumer came out in force during July". It was also helped by a fall in the dollar overnight, he said.

Did Bank 'jump the gun'?

After strong July retail sales, former Bank of England policymaker Andrew Sentance gives his views on whether the Monetary Policy Committee jumped the gun by cutting interest rates... 

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View more on twitter

Defeating the point?

North America tech reporter Dave Lee finds out a bit more about Uber's plans to trial driverless taxis in the US in the coming weeks...

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Oil enters a bull market

The oil price is now up more than 20% so far this month - entering what is known as a "bull market". 

It’s also been up for six consecutive days. The last time it managed such a steady climb was back in March. 

However let’s get this in context. It’s still nearly $60 per barrel below its peak back in 2014.  

'Iran is key to oil talks'

Oil pump
AFP

The oil price is now pushing even higher - Brent crude is up 2.3% so far today to $51 a barrel. But it's not the first time we've seen oil exporters jacking up the oil price before a major meeting, Natixis analyst Abhishek Deshpande said.

He told the BBC there was a similar bounce before talks in Qatar in April, when some Opec producers had spoken of an output freeze only for negotiations to collapse. 

They're meeting again in Algeria next month, and Saudi Arabia has again made comments in the run-up suggesting that an output cap will be discussed.

I doubt this will lead to an agreement in Algeria. Iran is key to these talks and I see no reason why Iran will change their stance on supply."

Abhishek DeshpandeNatixis oil analyst

Twitter tweaks

Twitter has put out a couple of bits of housekeeping. First is the launch of a "quality filter" which will cut down on content that users don't want to see.  

Secondly, the US company says it's suspended 360,000 accounts since mid-2015 for promoting terrorism, a move which has "dramatically" cut the number of followers of so-called Islamic State figures.

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'Losing Gawker hurts...'

The editor of video gaming site Kotaku, part of the same group as Gawker, tweets about the news site's closure...

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'Today's gossip is tomorrow's news'

Hulk Hogan
AP

A bit more about Gawker.com, which is shutting down next week after a $140m privacy lawsuit brought by former wrestler Hulk Hogan and funded by Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel. 

The news and video site - whose tagline is "Today's gossip is tomorrow's news" - started as a chronicler of the media industry in New York before branching out into salacious stories of all kinds.

Gawker was sued by Hulk Hogan after the website published a video from 2007 of Mr Hogan having sex with the wife of a friend. It was later revealed that tech billionaire Peter Thiel had paid Mr Hogan's legal bills. Mr Thiel said he wanted to curb Gawker's "bullying" after it published an article that outed him as gay in 2007.

Parent company Gawker Media also has six other blogs, including the women-focused Jezebel, tech-oriented Gizmodo and sports site Deadspin. Gawker's announcement suggests those sites will continue under incoming owners Univision.

'Silver lining' for Gawker staff

Journalists react to news that gawker.com - the acerbic news site which specialised in celebrity gossip - is closing down next week (although six other sites owned by Gawker Media will continue).

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View more on twitter

What does Univision want with Gawker Media?

Univision
EPA

Univision, which bid $135m for Gawker Media at a bankruptcy auction last week, isn't much of a household name outside of the US. But it's huge in America - it's the largest Spanish-language broadcaster, known for its high-octane "telenovela" soap operas. 

It's also been buying up edgy news sites before it went for Gawker, which was sued for $140m by former wrestler Hulk Hogan. Univision owns more than 40% of satirical news site The Onion, for example. 

But what does the firm, which paused a stock market listing last year, want with Gawker Media? According to the Wall Street Journal, Gawker's seven blogs "skew toward upper-income, millennial male visitors, a very attractive and hard-to-reach demographic".  

Gawker's also making money. In 2015, Gawker generated $48.7 million in revenue, jurors in the Hogan case were told. 

BreakingGawker to shut down

Online news site Gawker, which filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying $140m in damages to former wrestler Hulk Hogan, will end operations next week, according to a post on its website.

Nick Denton, the company’s outgoing boss, informed current staff of the site’s fate on Thursday afternoon.

A bankruptcy court will decide later whether to approve media firm Univision's $135m bid to acquire Gawker Media's other assets, the post said.

'New nadir' for Asda

This time last year, ex-chief executive Andy Clarke talked about Asda's sales decline hitting a nadir - unfortunately today's results represent a new nadir, with the scale of the problems facing the grocer becoming ever more severe. If Asda has been waiting to push the button on its latest wave of price cuts, the time must be now, especially as a more uncertain post-Brexit consumer becomes ever more price sensitive."

Greg BromleyVerdict Retail

Oil rally

Scotland business editor Douglas Fraser tweets...

FTSE creeps higher

London's blue-chip index has made back its afternoon losses to finish 0.1% higher at 6,868.96 points in a quiet day of trading. 

Mining stocks helped to lead the FTSE 100 higher, after a fall in the dollar boosted commodity prices. However, publisher Pearson, insurer Legal & General and tobacco giants BAT and Imperial Brands, which were all ex-dividend, held back the index. 

William Hill: Back to the day job

William Hill has commented on gambling firms Rank and 888 walking away from their takeover attempt. Gareth Davis, chairman of William Hill, said: "We will continue to focus our efforts on our strategy to deliver value for shareholders." 

That involves focusing on its online-gambling turnaround, delivering a technology roadmap, driving more efficiencies, and refocusing its international strategy. 

"We have had a good start to the second half of the year and the board now expects operating profit for 2016 to be at the top end of the previously guided £260-280m range," Mr Davis said.

888 boss 'disappointed' by bid collapse

Commenting after his firm's joint bid for William Hill collapsed, Itai Freiberger, boss of online operator 888, says...

We are disappointed that the board of William Hill did not share our vision of the combined businesses. We believe that there was compelling industrial logic for the combination of these highly complementary businesses, which in our view would have brought scale, diversification, and strong revenue and cost synergies, from which all shareholders would have benefitted."

Itai Freiberger888 chief executive

BreakingGambling firms abandon William Hill bid

William Hill horserace
William Hill

Two gambling companies seeking to take over William Hill, the UK's largest betting shop operator, have walked away from the bid. 

Rank, the UK's biggest casino chain, and online operator 888 said they had withdrawn their interest as it had "not been possible to meaningfully engage with the board of William Hill". 

William Hill had already rejected a revised bid worth more than £3bn from the two firms.

Fed joins Facebook

Dearbail Jordan

Business reporter

Federal Reserve Facebook page
BBC

Always the first to be down with the kids, the US Federal Reserve has set up its very own Facebook page. Twelve years after the social networking site was launched, the US central bank's board is now kicking it online and has already amassed 425 “likes”. 

It turns out the aim of the page is to increase “the accessibility and availability of Federal Reserve Board news and educational content”. 

“You guys are so cool,” exclaimed one excited chap on the page. Our thoughts too.   

Brazil 'taps banks and oil for Paralympics'

Rio 2016 logo
EPA

Faced with funding shortfalls for the Paralympic Games, recession-struck Brazil has turned to public banks and state-run oil company Petrobras, Bloomberg reports

The firms are in talks to sponsor a combined 100 million reais ($31 million) for next month's event. The news comes after the International Paralympic Committee warned earlier this week that athletes from more than 50 countries could miss the Paralympics due to a lack of funding.

Taxing times

US market update

Asda sign
Getty Images

Asda owner Walmart is among the big winners so far in a quiet day on Wall Street. The US retail giant's shares are up 2% after it reported better-than-expected sales and raised its profit forecast for the year. That's despite a heavy sales fall for Asda in the UK.

The big three US stock indexes, though, are currently flat. The Dow Jones is largely unchanged at 18,575 points, likewise the S&P 500 at 2,183 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq at 5,235.

The moment Britain went mobile

Dearbail Jordan

Business reporter

In the dying hours of 1984, on a mobile phone weighing slightly more than the average house cat*, a man ushered in a “social and technological revolution”.

Historian Dominic Sandbrook details the historic moment Britain went mobile in The 80s on BBC 2 tonight at 9.00pm when Mike Harrison made the historical call. He rung his father, Sir Ernest Harrison, who went on to become the first chairman of Vodafone.

*The average female house cat weighs between 10-11 lbs.

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Eurozone stimulus on the cards?

IHS economist Howard Archer has read the minutes of the European Central Bank's July meeting, so you don't have to. The ECB is mulling fresh economic stimulus efforts, he says, but there's no guarantee it'll come straight after the summer break...

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BreakingOil price surges back above $50 a barrel

Oil chart
BBC

Brent crude, the international benchmark for oil, is trading back above $50 a barrel following a jump of nearly 20% this month. The oil price had dropped near to $40 a barrel in early August on renewed fears of a supply glut and a slowdown in global demand.

But it's surged back up in recent days after Saudi Arabia and Russia hinted that a supply freeze could be on the table at talks between major oil exporters next month.

Brent is currently at $50.25 a barrel, having risen 40 cents - or 0.8% - so far today. US crude is up even more, rising 1.6% to $47.55.

Toddler toy deal under scrutiny

Vtech toy camera
Getty Images

The merger of two of the biggest makers of toys for toddlers may face a full-blown investigation by UK competition regulators.

VTech, whose toys include toddler cameras and tablets, struck a deal to buy US firm Leapfrog for $72m in April, bringing together two of the biggest names in children's electronic toys.

But the takeover could leave little competition in Britain for children's electronic learning toys, the Competition and Markets Authority found.

In particular, UK regulators see them as close competitors in the supply of audio narration accompanying books; and warn that their tie-up could lead to higher prices for families.  

Vtech has until 25 August to allay the CMA's concerns.

Volvo and Uber join forces

Volvo XC90
Volvo

As well as trialling driverless taxis in the US in the next few weeks, Uber is also teaming up with Swedish car maker Volvo to develop more self-driving cars. 

The two companies are contributing a combined $300m, with Volvo making the base vehicles and Uber adding its self-driving system. The taxi hailing company will then buy the cars as well. 

Volvo says it means reduced costs and increased sales for its driverless cars. The tie-up also marks the beginning of what both companies say will be a longer term partnership.

What neither reveal, though, is what it'll mean for Uber's hoard of drivers, or whether customers will still need to give a rating to their robot replacements.

Good afternoon!

Dan Macadam

BBC business reporter

Thanks Karen and Chris for acting as our personalised shoppers through this morning's retail-heavy news, including the post-Brexit boost to the High Street; Asda's sales woes and difficulties for B&Q owner Kingfisher. 

Coming up this afternoon, we've got more on Uber's plans for self-driving cars (will it still keep the five-star rating system?), as well as a report on Brazil's last-minute funding for the Paralympic Games, plus all the business news and views as they happen.

Post-Brexit: sales up, confidence down

Ben Chu, economics editor of The Independent, tweets:

Que?

Lots of bemusement on Twitter about what the Republican presidential candidate means by this slightly cryptic tweet:

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Uber to launch 'driverless' cars

BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones tweets:

Asda 'lacks momentum'

Mark Broad

Business producer

Asda
Getty Images

Steve Dresser of Grocery Insight says the discounters - Aldi and Lidl - pose a perfect storm for Asda because their prices are lower and have better perceived quality.

He welcomes Asda's "Project Renewal", along with some changes to the product ranges and own-label development, but concedes they are disruptive for shoppers.

Store revamps are also annoying, but necessary, Mr Dresser adds. 

"I think they're now in a place to tackle the issues now they accept they have challenges, but it will take time. No one perhaps expected such a poor like-for-like sales performance, but the momentum isn't with them at the minute."

Sports Direct report date set

Sports Direct entrance
PA

Sports Direct says the independent report on working practices being undertaken by the law firm RPC will be published in the first week of September. 

When founder Mike Ashley appeared before MPs in June, he said the internal investigation had discovered "some issues" with working practices at its Shirebrook warehouse that had "hopefully" been addressed.

Mr Ashley said much of what the probe found about how staff were treated was an "unpleasant surprise".  

He also admitted workers at the Derbyshire warehouse were paid below the minimum wage and the company's policy of fining staff for being late was unacceptable.

Earlier this week the Unite union said workers will get back-pay of about £1m following Sports Direct's failure to pay the minimum wage.

The retailer's shares are up 1% in afternoon trading at 292.8p - but are still almost 50% lower since the start of the year.

Computing fails to attract girls at A-level

Asda's problems get worse

Asda sign
Reuters

The 7.5% slide in sales for Asda is the eighth consecutive quarterly fall and worse than the 5.7% drop for the three months to 30 March.

The disastrous figures underline the challenge facing new Asda boss Sean Clarke, who started last month.

He is attempting to turn Asda around with a £1.5bn investment in price cuts amid a brutal price war in the supermarket sector.

Walmart chief executive Doug McMillon said: 

In the UK the competitive environment and food deflation continued to challenge the market, significantly impacting traffic and comp(arable) sales. Our strategy to turn things around is focused on improving the retail basics. We are simplifying and strengthening our offering through improved availability and assortment discipline, reducing costs and driving sales through strategic price investments."

Walmart sales up

Walmart store
Getty Images

Despite Asda's woes in the UK, Walmart said like-for-like sales at its US stores rose a better-than-expected 1.6%, excluding fuel.

That was the eighth consecutive quarter of increases and sent shares in the world's biggest retailer up more than 3% in premarket trading.