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Summary

  1. Fed hints at rate rise 'fairly soon'
  2. Lloyds posts best profits for 10 years
  3. UK economy grows faster than initially thought
  4. Airbus sees costs rise on troubled A400M project
  5. Get in touch: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk

Live Reporting

By Daniel Thomas

All times stated are UK

Get involved

Good night

That's it for today. Business Live will be back from 6am tomorrow, hope to see you then. 

Dow closes on fresh record high

US traders
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The Dow Jones achieved its ninth successive record closing high, despite fresh fears of a sooner-than-expected rate rise from the Federal Reserve.

The index closed 0.16%, or 32.60 points higher, at 20,775.60, following strong performances from EI du Pont de Nemours and Co, Nike and 3M.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq ended slightly lower, down 0.11% and 0.09% respectively. 

Analysts blamed minutes from the Fed's last meeting, published this afternoon, which gave mixed messages about the possibility of a rate rise "fairly soon".

"We're back to figuring out what very ambiguous terms mean," JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade told CNBC. 

"For today, the market is interpreting this as not much has changed."  

Tesla narrows quarterly losses

Tesla cars
Getty Images

Electric car maker Tesla boosted sales and narrowed its losses in the fourth quarter of 2016. 

Total revenue jumped to $2.2bn from $1.2bn a year earlier, while its loss was $2.2m compared with $3.1m. Full year revenue was $7bn, up 73% from 2015.

The firm said orders for its Model S and X cars had reached "record highs" in the quarter, and that its Model 3 would go into production in July.  

It said: "We expect to deliver 47,000 to 50,000 Model S and Model X vehicles combined in the first half of 2017, representing vehicle delivery growth of 61% to 71% compared with the same period last year."

Dollar falls on Fed minutes

Dollar-euro chart
BBC

The dollar has fallen against the euro after minutes from the Federal Reserve's last meeting showed some members saw the possibility of a rate rise "fairly soon".

The currency is now trading 0.36% lower at 0.94580 euros. 

According to Reuters, the drop reflects a lack of urgency to raise rates among voting members, many of whom saw only a "modest risk" inflation would increase significantly.

The euro has also strengthened on news that a rival to centrist French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron will drop out of the race and back him. 

This has lessened anti-euro candidate Marine Le Pen's perceived chances of winning.

Fed minutes warn Trump policies 'might not materialize'

PSA promises to 'develop Vauxhall' after merger

Carlos Tavares
Getty Images

Car maker PSA has promised Theresa May that it will "develop" the Vauxhall brand if its plan to take it over succeeds.  

In a phone conversation with the Prime Minister, chief executive Carlos Tavares "expressed his willingness to develop further the iconic Vauxhall brand for the benefit of its faithful customers", PSA said in a statement. 

Ms May, meanwhile, "highlighted the historical importance of the automotive industry in (the) UK," it said.   

It comes amid concerns the Peugeot and Citroen-maker would close plants in Germany and the UK following the acquisition of General Motors' Opel and Vauxhall.

Earlier on Wednesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel backed the takeover after talking with Mr Tavares.

US stocks weaker following Fed minutes

US traders
Getty Images

Wall Street weakened slightly after the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve's latest meeting showed many of the bank's policymakers said it may be appropriate to raise interest rates again "fairly soon".

The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq remained in negative territory, down 0.12% and 0.16% respectively. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average held its slight gains to trade 0.07% higher.

Paris plan to lure London banks

Part of La Défense business district
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Paris's financial district, La Défense, is to build seven new skyscrapers in a bid to lure London banks after Brexit. 

The organisation that manages the district is confident of attracting a "significant number" of international businesses seeking a "new base within the European Union". 

Spokesperson Marie-Célie Guillaume said: “With only a few weeks to go until Article 50 is triggered, we want to send a powerful message to businesses that are uncertain about their future in London." 

HSBC, which already has offices in La Défense, has said it will move 1,000 jobs to Paris after the UK quits the EU. 

Peugeot's plans for Opel

Opel Corsa
Getty Images

Peugeot's planned takeover of GM's European operations will lead to combined sales of five million vehicles by 2022 and save as much as €2bn annually, as the talks advance towards a likely deal in early March, Reuters reports.

That would be 16% higher than last year's combined 4.3 million sales by PSA and Opel.

PSA also plans to make swift progress on technical convergence with GM's European arm, bringing new Opel models such as the popular Corsa onto the Paris-based manufacturer's own platforms to cut duplication, sources said.

Welcome to Apple Park

Steve Jobs
AP

Apple's sprawling new campus, dubbed "Apple Park", will open in April, the iPhone maker said today.

Although the first employees will begin moving into the new headquarters in Cupertino, California, this spring, it will take about six months for all of the 12,000-plus workers to move, Apple said.

The 1,000-seat theatre at its new headquarters will be named after its late co-founder, Steve Jobs, who helped design the 175-acre campus before his death in 2011.

Trump trouble for Fed

The minutes of the Fed meeting, at which the central bank voted to keep rates unchanged, also showed the depth of uncertainty over the lack of clarity on the new Trump administration's economic policies.

"Many participants expressed the view that it might be appropriate to raise the federal funds rate again fairly soon if incoming information on the labor market and inflation was in line with or stronger than their current expectations," the Fed said in the minutes. 

Last week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen said waiting too long to raise rates again would be "unwise" and gave a strong indication that the central bank remains on track to consider raising rates again by the summer. 

BreakingFed may raise rates 'fairly soon'

Federal reserve building
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US Federal Reserve officials earlier this month discussed the need to raise a key interest rate again "fairly soon" - especially if the economy remains strong. 

Minutes of the discussions showed that while Fed officials decided to keep a key rate unchanged at their 31 January-1 February meeting, there was a growing concern about what could happen to inflation if the economy out-performed expectations.

"Several'' Fed officials expressed concerns that there could be a "sizable undershooting'' of the Fed's 4.8% unemployment goal, which may force the Fed to raise rates at a faster pace than financial markets expect. 

Economists are not expecting a rate hike until June. However, the discussion in the minutes might raise the possibility of an increase as soon as March. 

Dow Jones flirts with fresh record

Senior market strategist at LPL Financial tweets...

Unilever stung into action by Kraft

Simon Jack

BBC Business Editor

Unilever products
PA

Think of Kraft Heinz's assault on Unilever as a slap in the face for management. It was short-lived, shocking, and will smart for a good while yet.

It's a slap that says "we think we can do a better job for your shareholders than you". That is not a message you want to get lodged in shareholders minds if you are Unilever's management and today the company acknowledged the sting.

"Unilever is conducting a comprehensive review of options available to accelerate delivery of value for the benefit of our shareholders. The events of the last week have highlighted the need to capture more quickly the value we see in Unilever."

That is the sound of a company cheek smarting.

Read more.

Whirlpool tumble dryer advice 'long overdue'

Fire at block of flats
BBC

As we reported earlier, Whirpool has warned millions of owners of potentially lethal tumble dryers not to use them until the machines have been repaired. 

A fault in the machines has led to fires, with one of the biggest happening at a block of flats in Shepherd's Bush last August (pictured).

Jill Paterson, a lawyer for families affected by the Shepherd’s Bush blaze, said: “This advice from Whirlpool is long overdue, there should have been more urgent action taken to protect consumers. It should not have taken enforcement action by Trading Standards for this to happen.

"Manufacturers have a responsibility to their customers and consumers have a right to expect that what they are buying is safe and will not cause damage or injury.

"The product recall regime in the UK needs a complete overhaul and we continue with our calls for the Government to implement the recommendations set out in the independent review led by consumer champion Lynn Faulds-Wood.”      

PM calls Peugeot-owner about future of Vauxhall

BBC business editor tweets...

French bond yields fall on Macron endorsement

Emmanuel Macron
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French bond yields have fallen after an influential French centrist politician dropped out of the presidency race to form an alliance with independent candidate Emmanuel Macron.

According to reports, the announcement by Francois Bayrou could tip the odds in favour of Mr Macron reaching a run-off against the far-right leader Marine Le Pen - one polls suggest he would win. 

French bond yields have risen in recent weeks as Ms Le Pen has narrowed the gap with her opponents in the polls. 

She has pledged to lead France out of the euro, something investors fear would drive up France's debt costs and cut the value of its bonds.

Bayrou's announcement also pushed the euro up against the dollar: it's currently trading 0.17% higher at $1.05540.

Owners told not to use dangerous tumble dryers after all

Blaze in a block of flats
Getty Images

Millions of owners of potentially lethal tumble dryers have been warned not to use them, while they await repair.

Tumble dryers sold under the Hotpoint, Creda and Indesit brands have been behind a series of fires.

Their owner Whirlpool had previously said they were all right to use, providing someone was in attendance.

But following advice from Trading Standards, the new guidance is not to use them until they are repaired.

Read more.

BreakingAO World founder steps down

Chris Johnston

Business reporter

John Roberts, the founder of online electricals retailer AO World, has stepped down as chief executive, but will remain on the board in a new executive role. 

The company said Mr Roberts would be succeeded by Steve Caunce, the chief operations officer. 

AO shares floated at 285p in February 2014 but have had a torrid run, ending today at 147p.  

Sajid Javid: Budget help for firms hit by rates rise

A shop
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Following assurances from the Prime Minister, the government has promised measures in the Budget for firms facing the "steepest increases" in business rates.

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said it was "clear to me that more needs to be done to level the playing field and make the system fairer".

A fierce campaign has been waged against rises, which ministers say will affect a quarter of business in the UK.

Labour said the government had allowed a "crisis" to develop. The rate change is due to happen on 1 April.

Read more.

Self-driving cars must be covered by insurance, says UK bill

Driverless car
Getty Images

Insurance cover for self-driving cars must offer protection for both times when the driver is in control and when the vehicle is in charge, according to new proposals from the UK government.

The measures are outlined in the Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill.

Ministers says they want to ensure it is easy for accident victims to claim compensation if a collision occurs when the cars are in automatic mode.

Insurers could still try to recover their costs from the vehicles' makers.

Read more.

Unilever and Lloyds boost FTSE 100

FTSE 100
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The FTSE 100 closed higher thanks to strong performances from Lloyds Bank and Unilever. 

The benchmark index gained 0.38%, or 27.42 points, to 7,302.25 points.

Unilever was the best performer, rising 4.96% after the company promised a new growth strategy following its rejection of a takeover bid by Kraft Heinz last weekend. 

Lloyds meanwhile gained 4.39% after announcing its profit for last year was up 158%.

The bank's figures were helped by a reduction in payment protection insurance provisions. 

Vauxhall and Peugeot owners 'want to confirm merger within two weeks'

Vauxhall plant
Getty Images

GM wants to finalise a deal to sell its Opel unit (which includes Vauxhall in the UK) to PSA within the next two weeks, the Press Association has reported, quoting sources. 

The pair apparently want to reach an agreement before the Geneva Motor Show, to prevent the proposed merger overshadowing their presence at the industry showcase on 9 March.

It comes amid fresh concerns that PSA - which owns Peugeot and Citroen - would scale back Vauxhall's operations after any deal, with analysts at Evercore ISI today claiming that the Ellesmere Port plant in Cheshire would likely close. 

Reuters has also reported that PSA hopes to generate cost savings of between 1.5 and 2bn euros from the proposed acquisition.

Vauxhall is a major employer in the UK, with around 35,000 staff, including 23,000 in its retail network and 7,000 in its supply chain.

On Monday, the business secretary, Greg Clark, told MPs that Vauxhall workers in Luton and Ellesmere Port had no reason to fear for their jobs.

Inflation positive across eurozone for first time since 2013

The FT tweets...

WTO's new global trade deal comes into force

Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevedo
Getty Images

An international agreement forecast to boost global trade by $1 trillion (£800bn) a year has come into force.

The Director General of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Roberto Azevedo, called it "the biggest reform of global trade in a generation".

The Trade Facilitation Agreement (TFA) involves streamlining customs procedures.

Mr Azevedo said it would have a bigger impact than eliminating all existing taxes on imports, known as tariffs.

Read more.

Regulating gig economy 'challenging'

Uber app
Getty Images

Commenting on today's Select Committee hearing on the gig economy, employment lawyer Sarah Ozanne questions whether the sector can ever be regulated in a way that pleases everyone. 

"Whether through altruism or because it senses a tax windfall, it is clear the government is serious about tackling the conundrum of when an individual is genuinely self-employed rather than a worker or employee,” says the CMC lawyer.

"The problem it faces is whether it is practically possible and beneficial to impose more certainty in this area." 

She adds: "To the many who enjoy flexibility of working hours and the employers whose business model relies on this, the present uncertainties are just fine. 

"It is the workers who depend on one source of income and the employers who yearn for control where conflicts arise and certainty is craved. The Select Committee’s findings may disappoint them.”

Gig economy chiefs defend business model

Deliveroo cyclicist
Reuters

Bosses from Uber, Deliveroo, Hermes and Amazon have told MPs they would have to reduce flexibility and offer less work if they were forced to offer greater employment benefits.

The Work and Pensions Committee is examining the welfare system's capacity to support self-employed workers in this sector.

Committee chair Frank Field said it was one-sided flexibility.

Some five million people work in the so-called "gig" economy.

Read more.

Garmin shares soar on strong results

Garmin products
Getty Images

Shares in GPS device-maker Garmin have soared after the firm posted stronger than expected quarterly results. 

Its stock is currently up 9% after it posted fourth-quarter profit of $132.4m - down from $210.2m a year earlier, but above analysts' expectations.

The firm also said its full year sales would beat estimates, thanks to growing demand in its outdoor, fitness, marine and aviation divisions.

It comes as rival fitness-band maker Fitbit is expected to post its first ever drop in revenue when it reports fourth-quarter results on Wednesday.

US markets open lower

US traders
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The main US share indexes opened lower today after touching fresh highs on Tuesday. 

The Dow Jones is down 0.05% at 20,732.04, the S&P 500 is 0.19% lower at 2,360.92, and the Nasdaq has shed 0.23% to 5,852.47.

Strong performers include Wal-Mart and smartwatch-maker Garmin - up 0.87% and 9.2% respectively after stronger than expected results. 

ScottishPower owner sees UK earnings slide

Scottish Power letter
Getty Images

The Spanish owner of ScottishPower saw profits dive in its UK operations last year as 160,000 customers switched to other suppliers. 

Iberdrola, which recently announced a 7.8% hike to its standard tariffs, said customer numbers had fallen from 5.48 million to 5.32 million in 2016.

UK earnings slid 21.5% to £240.3m, driven also by falling energy prices, rising costs and customers using less electricity due to warmer weather. 

The group said ScottishPower's customer numbers had since bounced back. 

However, around 1.1 million customers will still be affected by its price hike, which takes effect on 31 March as part of a round of similar moves by energy firms following rises in wholesale energy costs.

'A real sense of motivation'

BBC News Channel

Marks & Spencer's tells the BBC just how much of an asset disabled staff can be to a business: 

View more on twitter

UK faces 'Herculean' Brexit trade talks

Herman Van Rompuy
Getty Images

The former president of the European Council has warned that Britain faces a "Herculean" task to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) within two years. 

Once the UK formally tells the European Council it is leaving the European Union, it has two years to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. 

However, Herman Van Rompuy said: "The negotiations will be large and difficult. No-one knows how long, but two years will not nearly be enough."

Addressing an audience at Chatham House, Mr Van Rompey said that after Article 50 is triggered - most likely at the end of March - 18 months will be mainly devoted to the separation treaty.

He said: "You can have some more informal talks about outlines of an FTA but real sectoral negotiations will only start after the UK has left."

More fears of consumer spending slowdown

People shopping
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Richard Falkenhäll, senior currency strategist at Nordic bank SEB, believes the resilient performance by the UK economy reported today is unlikely to last.

“Britain's decision to leave the EU is still likely to slow growth albeit subject to a time lag... In particular household and capital spending seem vulnerable from the impact of growing political uncertainty created by the upcoming divorce from the EU. Retail sales have already showed signs of slowing and will likely continue to do so.

Business rates relief welcomed - FSB

A barber shop
Getty Images

As we reported earlier, the Government is considering providing relief on business rates following an outcry from companies about planned increases.

Mike Cherry, chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), has welcomed the move:

I am reassured to hear that the Prime Minister has personally intervened in this extremely worrying situation for many small businesses. Many of our members have contacted us to say that they are facing completely unfair and disproportionate increases in their tax bills, with some considering whether to close or scale back their business. That would clearly be in no one’s interest.

Brexit is a 'momentous change' for agriculture

Farmer with a cow
Getty Images

The British farming industry contributed £46.4bn to the UK economy in 2015, according to a new report.

The study, commissioned by the National Farmers' Union, examines the importance of agriculture to the UK ahead of the country's exit from the European Union (EU).

It says Brexit will "bring about momentous change for UK agriculture" given the EU's importance in terms of imports and exports.

It also points out that the EU's Common Agricultural Policy has provided the framework for the British industry since the 1970s.

Unilever to ramp-up value for investors

Marmite
Getty Images

Unilever is undergoing a review to deliver value to shareholders following the short-lived takeover offer from Kraft Heinz

In a statement, the consumer goods giant which makes Marmite, said: "Unilever is conducting a comprehensive review of options available to accelerate delivery of value for the benefit of our shareholders. 

"The events of the last week have highlighted the need to capture more quickly the value we see in Unilever." 

It added: "We expect the review to be completed by early April, after which we will communicate further."

Shares in Unilever rose 2.41% to £36.72.

Business rates: 'Storing up trouble'

Andrew Tyrie
BBC

More on the Treasury Committee's decision to hear evidence on business rates and the revaluation's impact on the economy.

Chairman Andrew Tyrie, who will write to the Chancellor about the issue, says: “The delay to business rates revaluations was bound to store up trouble."

He says there are two main areas of concern. Firstly, large, out-of-town premises may end up benefiting at the expense of smaller high-street businesses. 

Secondly, the rise in the cap on annual increases for larger premises was both large and unexpected.

He says: "The Chancellor has rowed back a bit. But the cap on the relief is still high. I will ask the Chancellor for the cost of restoring it to its previous level, and whether there is scope for more transitional relief.

Mr Tyrie adds: "The appeals procedure has recently been overhauled. It could turn out that the Government’s overhaul of the appeals procedure isn’t enough, or generate unfairness. But, it can’t be beyond the wit of man to find an appeals procedure that, without loss of fairness, is reasonably quick.”

WTO will find a 'path forward' with US

Roberto Azevedo
Getty Images

The head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seems to be taking the new US administration and its protectionist trade stance in his stride.

Roberto Azevedo said he is yet to have a conversation with the government about trade but said: "I am absolutely confident that other WTO members would like to engage in a constructive way to try to find a path forward like we always have."

"I don't think that we are facing anything that is unmanageable because different views and different opinions have been part of our work on a daily basis."

PM to help firms with business rates rises

Theresa May
UK Parliament

The Government is considering providing relief on business rates following an outcry from companies.

At Prime Minister's Questions, Theresa May insisted there will be help for some of those people who are set to lose out by planned changes to the system of business rates.

Business rates are being reviewed for the first time in seven years to bring them into line with property values.

It is hoped the Government will outline measures to help struggling businesses when it announces the Budget on 8 March.

Pressure for rates review grows

BBC economics producer tweets: