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Summary

  1. Get in touch: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk
  2. FTSE closes 0.6% lower ahead of UK general election
  3. Oil price falls on over-supply fears
  4. Sterling above $1.29
  5. Santander to buy rival Banco Popular
  6. OECD predicts upturn in global growth
  7. House prices cool in May, says Halifax

Live Reporting

By Tom Espiner

All times stated are UK

Get involved

Good night

That wraps it up for the Business Live page tonight. Join us again from 06:00 for what promises to be a busy Thursday.

'Tech giants worth more than UK listed firms'

The "seven sisters" of tech - Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Tencent, are now worth a staggering $3.6trn (£2.8trn) - "more than the combined value of all firms with a primary listing in Britain", the Economist says.

However, their share prices have moved up faster than their earnings, it adds - "not quite bubble territory, but... getting close."

Wall Street closes flat

US stocks have closed flat as investors await the main bulk of former FBI director James Comey's testimony to Congress, the UK general election, and European Central Bank policy decisions on Thursday.

Stocks got a nudge higher after a sneak peek at Mr Comey's testimony.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 37.46 points at 21,173.69, the S&P 500 closed up 3.81 points at 2,433.14, and the Nasdaq closed up 22.32 points at 6,297.38.

Sir Philip Green empire hit by 79% fall in profits

Profit before tax at Sir Philip Green's Taveta Investments fell by 79% last year in a tough retail environment, according to documents filed at Companies House.

Taveta owns the Arcadia Group, which includes Burton, Dorthy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Top Shop and Top Man.

Profi before tax fell to £36.8m in 2016 from £172.2m the year before.

Bear faced

BBC senior North America reporter tweets...

Newsnight end-of-election special

Uber exec 'obtained rape victim medical records'

A senior Uber executive obtained the medical records of a woman who had been raped during an Uber taxi ride, according to tech publication Recode.

The records were seen by Uber chief executive Travis Kalanick.

Eric Alexander, who was president of business in the Asia Pacific, is no longer with the firm.

Tune into electionomics

BBC economics editor tweets

Comey opening statement published

Former FBI director James Comey's opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee has been published.

US president Donald Trump asked for Mr Comey's loyalty, and requested he drop any investigation of former US national security advisor Michael Flynn "in connection with false statements about his conversations with the Russian ambassador in December," Mr Comey says.

Qatar risks 'elevated' says S&P

Some more on S&P lowering Qatar's credit rating to AA- from AA. The ratings agency says that while Qatar has the third largest gas reserves in the world, the move to cut diplomatic ties by states including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen could put pressure on Qatar's economic growth.

"We understand these moves to be motivated by Qatar's apparently more conciliatory stance toward Iran amid allegations that Qatar is financing terrorist activity," says S&P.

"We note that Qatari authorities vigorously deny these allegations, and that Qatar's exact policy response is uncertain at the moment."

Qatar may have to use its sovereign wealth fund to prop up its banks in the event of any major outflow of funds, the ratings agency adds

How does immigration affect the economy?

In pictures: Last day on the campaign trail

Tim Farron and Ade Adeyemo, local candidate for Solihull, make breakfast for visiting journalists at Cafe Shirley, a German cafe in Solihull.
PA
Tim Farron is focusing on various key target seats for the Liberal Democrats. Mr Farron and Ade Adeyemo, local candidate for Solihull, made breakfast for visiting journalists at Cafe Shirley, a German cafe in Solihull.

Images of party leaders embarking on the final day of campaigning, before voters go to the polls.

Tim Farron and Ade Adeyemo, local candidate for Solihull, make breakfast for visiting journalists at Cafe Shirley, a German cafe in Solihull.

In pictures: Last day on the campaign trail

Images of party leaders embarking on the final day of campaigning, before voters go to the polls.

Read more

S&P lowers Qatar credit rating

Doha
EPA

Ratings agency S&P has lowered Qatar's long-term rating to AA- from AA after a number of Arab countries including Saudi Arabia and Egypt cut diplomatic ties, trade and transport links.

"We believe this will exacerbate Qatar's external vulnerabilities and could put pressure on economic growth and fiscal metrics," S&P said.

Reuters: 'Loophole allows Uber VAT avoidance'

Uber logo
Getty Images

A loophole in EU and UK tax law allows Uber to avoid paying value added tax (VAT) on the booking fees it charges drivers, according to news agency Reuters.

The gap allows Uber to avoid paying about £1,000 per driver per year in tax, Reuters says.

San Francisco-based Uber charges lower fares than rival ride hailing apps.

In the UK, its competitors' fares include 20% VAT on booking fees, but Uber's fares do not.

Uber is able to avoid VAT by exploiting a loophole in how the tax is collected for business-to-business sales across EU borders: it treats its 40,000 UK drivers as separate businesses, each too small to register for VAT.

It confirmed to Reuters that it does not pay value added tax on the fees it charges to UK drivers - its main source of income in Britain.

A snapshot of people walking through Dublin Airport

John Campbell

BBC News NI Economics & Business Editor

As sterling devaluates, UK holidaymakers are finding eurozone countries more expensive.

Read more

Not in the (shoe) zone

Shoe Zone
Getty Images

Shares in retailer Shoe Zone closed 4.27% lower on Wednesday.

The chain saw half-year profits dive by 84% after the weak pound pushed up its buying costs and sales fell amid a store overhaul.

The Leicester-based firm said pre-tax profits plunged to £309,000 in the six months to 1 April, from £1.9m a year earlier.

Shoe Zone buys its stock from China in US dollars and has been hit hard by sterling's fall since the EU referendum.

Sales also fell 2.3% to £72.9m as a restructure saw it close 12 outlets and open nine.

FTSE down ahead of UK general election

London Stock Exchange sign with shadow in front
Getty Images

The FTSE 100 closed slightly lower on the last day of campaigning before the general election.

At the end of Wednesday's trading, the FTSE 100 was down 0.62% or 46.33 points at 7,478.62.

Banking stocks were among the top risers, with Lloyds Banking Group up 1.65% and RBS adding 1.35%.

Analysts said that struggling Spanish bank Banco Popular's rescue by Santander had given the overall banking sector a boost.

On the downside, pharmaceutical companies tumbled. Shire was the biggest faller on the 100-share index, dropping 3.2%.

Harvard to sell New Zealand farms

A cow in New Zealand
Getty Images
Are cows a way to make a lot of moo-ney?

Want to make some money?

Well, maybe we should have taken some tips from Harvard and invested in dairy farms in New Zealand.

It is near a deal to sell some of those holdings to private equity giant KKR for more than $70m, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The $36bn Harvard endowment fund is the world's richest and has impressively made profits for more than a decade.

Oil price dives amid over-supply fears

Oil field in California
Getty Images

There's been a big slide in the oil price amid renewed worries over US over-supply (see post at 1.12pm).

Brent crude has fallen by 3.5% to $48.39 a barrel while West Texas Intermediate has slipped by 4.2% to $46.18 per barrel.

New figures from the US Energy Information Administration showed a bigger-than-expected increase in US crude oil output.

There are also fears that a plan by Opec and non-Opec oil producing nations to cut output will fail to bolster prices.

There are tensions within the cartel over Qatar, after six mainly Arab countries cut ties with it over its alleged links to terrorism.

New IATA chairman

Leisha Chi

Business reporter in Singapore

Singapour Airlines CEO, Goh Choon Phong,delivers a speech on the day of the delivery of the 10,000th plane by Airbus groupe to Singapour Airlines on October 14, 2016
Getty Images

Singapore Airlines chief executive officer Goh Choon Phong has been named as the new chairman of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

He will be taking over from International Airlines Group boss Willie Walsh, the industry body announced at its annual general meeting in Cancun, Mexico.

Mr Goh is currently overseeing a business review at Singapore Airlines, which recently posted a surprise quarterly loss - its first in five years.

He told reporters at the conference that job cuts are likely at Southeast Asia's biggest carrier, but that it is too early to provide any numbers.

Seven questions for ex-FBI chief James Comey at Congress

Half-term tourism 'more affected by weather than terrorism'

Tourists don't seem to have been deterred by tragic terrorist incidents in Manchester and London, according to the Association of Large Visitor Attractions (Alva).

"It is clear that... temporary exhibitions and special events, and the weather, were the key factors in affecting visitor numbers rather than security fears," Alva director Bernard Donoghue told the BBC.

"At information desks and tourist information centres there has been a noticeable number of people, both domestic and overseas, expressing their solidarity with the people of Manchester and London, rather than expressing particular security concerns," he said.

For the second May bank holiday and half-term week, attractions in the countryside mostly saw an increase in visitor numbers, largely due to the weather, Mr Donoghue said.

Some city centre attractions had a drop in visitors, and a small number of cancellations from school groups, after the Manchester attack. But attractions in London rose from the same period last year after a boost from popular temporary exhibitions, he added.

Last day of campaigning

Almacantar signs biggest commercial letting deal of 2017

Simon Neville

Business reporter

Two Southbank Place
Two Southbank Place

Property developer Almacantar said it had signed off the biggest commercial letting deal of the year after it pre-let more than 280,000 square feet (sq ft) to space-sharing business WeWork.

The site will be WeWork’s biggest in the world and will sit inside the redevelopment of Two Southbank Place (pictured), next to the London Eye.

WeWork is attempting to cash in on the boost for young entrepreneurs sharing workspace to create thriving business hubs.

Almacantar has already pre-let 250,000 sq ft to Shell on the site - meaning the entire redevelopment has been filled a year ahead of expectations, the company said.

The site is part of a larger £1.3bn development of the space, owned by Canary Wharf Group and Qatari Diar.

Wall Street becalmed as investors wait for Thursday

Wall Street trader
Getty Images

Wall Street indexes are flat in early trading as investors refrain from making big bets ahead of three events on Thursday.

The UK general election, a European Central Bank policy meeting, and the testimony of former FBI Director James Comey to a Senate committee could all affect investor sentiment.

In early trading the Dow Jones was up 43.58 points at 21,179.81, the S&P 500 was up 4.83 points at 2,434.23, and the Nasdaq was up 21.72 points at 6,296.60.

WPP shares lead FTSE 100 lower

Shares in ad giant WPP are the biggest fallers on the FTSE 100, down 3.5% after shareholders again expressed discontent with chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell's pay.

Royal London Asset Management, which holds more than six million shares in WPP worth about £106m, was among the investors that voted against the remuneration report and the new executive pay policy.

Ashley Hamilton Claxton, the investment firm's corporate governance manager, said: "Executive pay at WPP continues to look excessive."

The FTSE 100 share index was down about 0.3% after polls suggesting support for Prime Minister Theresa May's party was slipping, raising the possibility of a smaller majority or a hung parliament.

A fifth of WPP investors vote against Sorrell's pay

Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP CEO
Getty Images

More than a fifth of WPP investors have voted against chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell’s £48m pay at the firm's annual general meeting.

A total of 20.79% of shareholders voted against his pay package while 0.5% abstained, although the votes are not binding.

It comes after WPP reduced his combined salary by 32% from the £70.4m he received in 2015, one of the biggest pay deals in UK corporate history.

It is the second year in a row shareholders have kicked out at WPP's pay policies. More than a third of investors refused to back Sir Martin's pay deal at the 2016 AGM.

Electric cars have a long way to go

Electric cars charge
Getty Images

The number of electric cars on the roads reached a record two million globally in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency.

However, the IEA says the figure only accounts for 0.2% of passenger vehicles.

"They have a long way to go before reaching numbers capable of making a significant contribution to greenhouse gas emission reduction targets," it said. "In order to limit temperature increases to below 2 degrees Celsius by the end of the century, the number of electric cars will need to reach 600 million by 2040."

Oil prices fall on fresh Opec fears

Oil refining machinery
Getty Images

Oil prices have fallen on concerns that a plan by Opec and non-Opec nations to cut production will fail to support prices.

It comes amid tensions within the cartel over Qatar, after six mainly Arab nations cut ties with the Gulf state over its alleged links to terrorism.

The US Energy Information Administration also said on Tuesday that US crude oil could hit a record 10 million barrels per day next year, up from 9.3 million now, putting it nearly on a par with top exporter Saudi Arabia.

Brent crude and West Texas Intermediate are both down by 0.7%, at $49.76 and $47.87 a barrel respectively.

The holy grail of beer

Is the perfect pint possible? Or is it merely a dream?

San Francisco start-up Pubinno believes it has found the answer - and it comes in the form of a "smart tap".

The smart tap which aims to serve 'perfect' beer

German nuclear tax is illegal, rules court

German nuclear power stations
Reuters

Germany's energy utilities look set to receive refunds of billions of euros after the government's tax on their use of nuclear fuel rods was declared illegal by the country's top court.

Between 2011 and 2016, nuclear power operators made payments of more than 6bn euros (£5.2bn) to the government.

The Constitutional Court has ruled the tax was "unconstitutional and void".

E.On, RWE and EnBW have been hit hard by Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to abandon nuclear power by 2022.

Read more

A virtual future beckons

Sony virtual reality headset
Getty Images

While 3D films have arguably never really taken off, the same cannot be said for virtual reality.

Sony said on Wednesday that it has sold more than one million of its virtual reality headsets across the globe.

Sony is planning to boost production of the product which is designed to use with the PlayStation 4 console.

Facebook and HTC Corp also sell VR headsets.

Researcher IDC reckons that two million were shipped worldwide in the first three months of 2017 alone.

What business leaders really, really want

The BBC asked company bosses what they would like to see from the new government.

Here's what they had to say:

View more on twitter

Santander to sell Popular real estate

Santander's chairman Ana Botin said it plans to sell half of Banco Popular's real estate over the next 18 months which she told Bloomberg will allow it to "deliver on all our financial commitments".

She added that Santander has "deep experience" in integrating banks.

Its UK business, for example, is made up for the former Abbey National, Bradford & Bingley's savings business and Alliance & Leicester.

BreakingRBS investors yet to accept settlement

Around 13% of individual shareholders in RBS have not yet accepted a settlement from the bank.

Reuters is reporting that so far 87% of shareholders have agreed to an 82p a share offer from RBS.

The case revolves around a claim that RBS lied about its financial health when its launched a £12bn rights issue in 2008. The share offer was priced between 200p and 230p.

Whither the post-election FTSE?

So the pound would face some serious volatility in the event of a hung parliament, but what about the FTSE 100?

Jasper Lawler, senior market analyst at London Capital Group, looks at the scenarios:

View more on twitter

Sterling 'could plunge on hung parliament'

Pound coins and notes
Getty Images

The pound is steady this morning, trading 0.04% lower against the dollar at $1.29050.

But Neil Wilson, an analyst at ETX Capital, says there could be some serious volatility on Friday if we see a hung parliament - an increasingly likely prospect according to some polls.

"If Theresa May increases her majority the pound ought to rise as part of a broader relief rally in UK assets," he says.

"But if it’s a hung parliament, the pound is likely to plunge on increased political risk and a possible delay to Brexit negotiations."

He says in such a scenario sterling could fall as low as $1.20.

However, the longer term outlook would be "more mixed" as a hung parliament makes a softer Brexit more likely, which would support sterling.