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Summary

  1. Bitcoin rises above $13,000
  2. Ryanair pilots in strike threat
  3. Cabinet not discussed Brexit end point - Hammond
  4. Spring Statement set for 13 March
  5. Steinhoff shares plunge after boss quits
  6. Get in touch: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk

Live Reporting

By Dan Macadam

All times stated are UK

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Good night

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BBC

That's it for tonight - thanks very much for reading. Do join us in the morning when Business Live will be back from 06:00am.

On the diary we've house prices figures from Halifax, lending data from the Bank of England and the latest EU growth estimates.

In the throes of a bubble?

Bitcoins
AFP

We'll finish with views on Bitcoin's latest surge, as the digital currency increases by $1,000 in the space of a day to break through $13,000 for the first time.

Karl Schamotta, a director at Cambridge Global Payments in Canada, says the entrance of major US exchange operators into the Bitcoin market is "driving the massive rally".

However, others are more blunt: saying that greed and fear are behind the surge.

"We are in the throes of a bubble market, and one of the characteristics of a bubble market is that there is no way to know when the bubble will burst," said Mick McCarthy of CMC Markets.

Wall Street slips on oil

Oil pumpjack
Getty Images

The main US stock indexes have finished slightly lower, dragged down by energy stocks and falling oil prices.

West Texas crude dropped 3% to $55.98 a barrel, while Brent crude slipped 2.6% to $61.24 a barrel as data showed US production is rising faster than expected.

The Dow Jones share index dipped 0.2% to 24140.91, while the S&P 500 was flat at 2629.27.

There was a modest gain in tech stocks, which saw the Nasdaq index buck the trend to rise 0.2% to 6776.38.

BreakingEx-Volkswagen executive jailed for 7 years

VW logo
Getty Images

A former Volkswagen executive has been sentenced to seven years in prison and a $400,000 fine, after admitting to helping the firm evade clean-air laws.

Oliver Schmidt, 48, is the second person to receive jail time in the US for his role in the diesel emissions scandal.

Mr Schmidt, who led VW's environmental and engineering office in Michigan and helped secure US regulatory approval, learned of the cheating scheme in 2015, according to court documents.

Volkswagen has said it installed software to cheat emissions tests in millions of vehicles globally. It has spent as much as $30bn to address US claims.

More valuable than Coca Cola

Coca-Cola cans
Getty Images

Bitcoin's latest surge means it's now worth more than most of the biggest companies in the US - albeit the comparison isn't exact.

The market value of Bitcoin (which you get from multiplying the number of bitcoins in circulation with the crypto-currency's price) is now $224.8bn.

That gives it a higher market capitalisation than 97% of the companies on the S&P index of the 500 largest US companies, according to analyst Charlie Bilello.

Drinks giant Coca-Cola, drugs firm Pfizer and Citigroup - the world's largest credit card issuer - all have a smaller market capitalisation than Bitcoin's, he said.

The big issues around Bitcoin

What are cryptocurrencies, how do they work and can you actually spend them? Why have values risen so sharply and what are the risks?

With uncanny timing, Money Box on BBC Radio 4 looked at the big issues around Bitcoin this afternoon...

View more on twitter

Bitcoin rises $1,000 in a day

Bitcoin price
Coindesk

To put Bitcoin's latest milestone in perspective, it has risen $1,000 in value in less than 24 hours (see the chart above).

Analysts suggested that a lot of new money was coming into the market looking for a profit - helped by the entry of major US exchanges.

Others said the currency's rise was unsustainable, and had the hallmarks of financial crazes like the dotcom boom.

"It appears the bubble is growing at an increasing pace," said David Cheetham, chief market analyst at XTB.

"Even the most ardent Bitcoin bulls would struggle to justify the rationale behind the latest gains."

BreakingBitcoin passes $13,000

Bitcoins and dollars
Getty Images

The dramatic surge in the price of Bitcoin continues as it passes $13,000 for the first time.

The digital currency has seen its value double in the last month in a steep, but often volatile, rise.

It's hit a new record high of $13,134.59, according to the Coindesk exchange.

Brexit no deal 'devastating' - US body

US activist
Getty Images

A failure to reach a Brexit deal would be "devastating" for UK and US companies, according to a major US business organisation.

The US Chamber of Commerce says it is calling for a transition period of at least three years after March 2019 - when the UK is due to leave the EU - to negotiate a full UK-EU trade deal.

Marjorie Chorlins, director for the body's US-UK Business Council, is appearing before Congress to discuss the Brexit negotiations.

"If Brexit is mismanaged, or if the UK crashes out of the EU without an agreement on their future relationship, the economic consequences would be substantial, and thousands of U.S. firms and their employees would be directly affected," she said in pre-prepared comments.

EU workers 'in limbo'

Unilever fined in ice-cream row

Ice-cream
Getty Images

Unilever's Italian division has been hit with a €60m fine for for abusing its dominant position in the market for packaged ice-cream.

Italy's competition agency launched a probe after a small ice lolly maker called La Bomba complained the giant consumer goods firm was forcing local retailers not to sell its lollies.

The investigation concluded that Unilever had “obliged or incentivised” local firms to exclusively sell its ice-creams.

Unilever has rejected the finding and said it will appeal.

"The market for ice cream (to be consumed) outside the home is a highly competitive one in which artisan and industrial, bulk and packaged products compete for the consumer's attention in a fragmented landscape that is like no other in Europe," Unilever said.

Festive fairy tale

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Telegraph cartoonist Matt's inimitable take on the government saying it hasn't carried out impact assessments of Brexit on the UK economy.

Video game watchdog in hot water

House of Lords

Parliament

Call of Duty: WWII
Activision

The Video Standards Council (VSC) has been accused of not doing its job, because it apparently hasn't banned a single title since it became the official video games regulator for the UK in 2012.

"The Video Standards Council is more like a trade organisation than a regulatory body and uses a very light touch approach to classifying video games, and this does not meet the concerns of parents," Liberal Democrat peer and former headteacher Lord Storey told the House of Lords.

"In fact there have been no videos which have not been available or removed from the shelves."

However, ministers said that there was no evidence that the watchdog had not done its job, saying that the VSC classified 146 out of 498 video games in 2016 as "18", meaning that only adults were permitted to purchase them and play them.

Guardian goes tabloid

Walmart to rebrand (sort of)

Walmart store and a man pushing trolleys
Getty Images

Walmart has decided to rebrand itself from "Walmart Stores" to "Walmart Inc", to reflect its online business, which encompasses mobile shopping, as well as pickup and delivery.

The US supermarket chain announced that the change will be effective from February 2018.

"Our customers know us as Walmart and today they shop with us not only in our stores but online and with our app as well," said Chief Executive Doug McMillon

Walmart has 11,600 stores around the world. It will continue to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol 'WMT'.

Ryanair shrugs off Portugal threat

Ryanair tailfin
Getty Images

The Irish airline isn't only facing industrial action in Italy - where dozens of pilots are planning to walk out on 15 December - but in Portugal too.

Portuguese union Spac has served formal notice of its Ryanair members voting in favour of industrial action. The Portuguese pilots also plan a strike later this month, according to reports in Irish media.

In response, Ryanair told the BBC: "We have never suffered any strikes. We regularly receive threats of industrial action from competitor airline pilot unions from Italy, Portugal and even Aer Lingus pilots occasionally.

"Both we and our pilots ignore these letters."

'Dear Mark Carney... capitalism stinks'

Mark Carney
Getty Images

The BBC has seen some of the angry letters sent to Bank of England governor Mark Carney.

Here are some of the publishable extracts - which were obtained through a Freedom of Information request:

  • "My grandchildren are going to have to buy tents … because all the housing stock will have been bought up by greedy buy-to-let landlords. I am angry. Yours in utter contempt, a better economist than you will ever be."
  • "Brexit is a good thing, people will start having a feel-good factor and start doing well. You spreading negativity trying to make a self-fulfilling prophecy is vile."
  • "My gold-plated £8k work pension will be worth 8p as inflation continues to rise and rocket. I can envisage the "Yes Minister snigger snigger" expectation of getting away with it.... I've decided capitalism stinks"

Strike will be dropped - Ryanair

Ryanair wing
Getty Images

Ryanair has poured cold water on the likelihood of a strike by its Italian pilots taking place next week.

“This is the sixth time FIT/CISL or ANPAC has announced strikes by Ryanair pilots, only to postpone/cancel them later," a spokeswoman for the airline says.

"We expect this latest threatened strike will also be postponed/cancelled since both FIT/CISL and ANPAC are Alitalia unions with no role in Ryanair," she adds.

Productivity versus employment

two workers
Getty Images

What's more important - higher employment or higher productivity?

According to Philip Hammond it's employment.

The chancellor told MPs grilling him over last month's Budget that while the UK has "a fundamental productivity problem", the government's approach since the financial crisis has been to "encourage employment growth".

"Other economies have chosen different routes where high levels of employment are tolerated.. the effects of which will be felt for years to come.

"I think we’ve made the right decision," he said.

The UK's poor productivity has been blamed for holding back the UK economy.

In last month's Budget the government's economic watchdog, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR), said productivity has grown by just 0.2% a year for the past five years, much less than expected.

It also warned productivity will see only weak growth in the next five years.

Ryanair faces first ever strike

Ryanair
AFP

Budget airline Ryanair could see its first ever strike next week, according to an Italian union.

Italian union ANPAC has announced plans for its members to strike on 15 December from 14.00 GMT to 18.00 GMT.

The union has 280 members, representing around 40% of the Ryanair pilots based in Italy.

Anpac said it was not yet clear how many of its pilots were scheduled to fly at that time.

But Ryanair is dismissive of the threat, saying it doesn't expect the walkout to go ahead.

Trump: US can hit 6% growth

Donald Trump
Reuters

Donald Trump has said he "sees no reason" why the US can't double its economic growth to 6% - a rate it hasn't hit for more than 15 years.

The president said that without the impact of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, economic growth would already be at 4% - a jump that he put down to his economic policies.

"We're at 3.3%. I see no reason why we don't go to 4, 5 even 6%," Trump said during televised comments from a cabinet meeting.

He added that he couldn't wait to sign "giant" tax cuts going through Congress, which would help to boost the economy further.

His comments came ahead of a major announcement on Israel due later today when it's expected the president will recognise Jerusalem as the country's capital.

FTSE gets a coffee hit

Costa coffee
Newscast

The UK's 100 share index finished in positive territory after an afternoon boost, helped by a rise in shares of Costa Coffee owner Whitbread.

The FTSE 100 rose 20 points, or 0.3%, to 7348.03 points. Whitbread topped the leaderboard, rising 7.5% after an activist investor took a sizeable stake in the business.

Analysts said the index was also helped by a fall in sterling and a modest recovery in mining stocks.

Many of the FTSE 100's firms make their money abroad, which is then worth more when converted back into sterling if the pound is weaker.

Brexit end state

The UK's biggest pub landlord

Wetherspoons pub
Getty Images

Speaking of Tim Martin, the outspoken founder of the Wetherspoon's pub chain was on this week's Desert Islands Discs on Radio 4.

Along with his song choices - which included Dire Straits' Sultans of Swing and Bob Marley's Natural Mystic - he also admitted that he was a useless publican at the start of his career.

He opened his first pub, Martin's Free House, in 1979 in North London. Now the chain employs 37,000 people, in 891 pubs of which 54 are hotels.

He spent his childhood in both New Zealand and Northern Ireland, as his father - initially an aerobatic pilot and later a Guinness employee - took the family around the world. He trained for the law but instead chose the career of a pub owner.

View more on twitter

Wetherspoon boss: Scrap food tariffs

House of Commons

Parliament

Tim Martin
Getty Images

Tim Martin, founder of pub chain Wetherspoon's and a high-profile Brexit supporter, has told MPs that the UK should eliminate all food tariffs after it leaves the European Union.

Such a move will lead to lower prices for consumers, and is allowed under World Trade Organization rules, he said in an Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee hearing.

But what about the damaging impact on British farmers if the EU continues to charge tariffs on British food exports?

"It might be difficult for some - you can't rule that out - but I believe British farmers would do well," Mr Martin said, pointing to the example of New Zealand lamb farmers who became more efficient after the UK started charging tariffs.

Neil Parish, the committee's chair, counters that UK farming doesn't have the same natural advantages as New Zealand, and that export tariffs would be a major blow to the industry.

'A chaos we haven't seen yet'

The BBC's political editor suggests the reason Theresa May's cabinet hasn't discussed the end state for the Brexit talks yet (see earlier posts) is because the prime minister has been trying to "keep the show on the road".

There are many pitfalls lying in wait for when her ministers - many of whom are split on how close the UK should be to the EU after it leaves - do have that discussion, Laura Kuenssberg adds.

View more on twitter
View more on twitter

Pret ups its coffee cup discount

Pret A Manger
Newscast

In the interests of BBC impartiality, it's only fair to follow up that news about Costa with an update from another major High Street coffee chain.

Pret A Manger has announced it's increasing the discount for bringing in a reusable cup to 50p from the first week in January.

Since August, Pret has offered customers 25p off their coffee if they bring a reusable cup that it can be served in.

It comes as campaigners call for a large cut in the number of takeaway coffee cups we use, because only a tiny percentage are recyclable.

Caffeine kick

Costa coffee
Newscast

Away from Westminster, shares in the owner of Costa Coffee have had a mid-afternoon pick-me-up.

Whitbread's stock is up nearly 7% after a New York-based activist investment fund, Sachem Head, took a 3.4% stake in the hotel and coffee chain operator.

It follows recent speculation that an activist investor could push Whitbread to separate its Costa Coffee and Premier Inn hotel businesses.

Credit Suisse analysts gave a range of possible options in October for unlocking more value from Whitbread, including spinning off Costa or selling the firm's Brewers Fayre and Beefeater pubs.

Davis raises questions over Brexit planning

John Pienaar

Deputy political editor

David Davis
EPA

MPs hoped to hear painstaking assessments had been carried out on the impact of leaving the EU but what the Brexit Secretary had to tell them was rather different.

John Pienaar suggests that for a famously genial minister, David Davis seems to have developed the art of upsetting MPs with doubts about Brexit into a science.

Read his analysis here.

Cabinet yet to have the big talk

As reported earlier, Chancellor Philip Hammond has told MPs that the cabinet is yet to discuss what the end state should be when the UK leaves the EU (see post at 14:36).

BBC Political Editor Laura Kienssberg says the pressure is mounting for Theresa May to have those talks with ministers.

View more on twitter
View more on twitter

Should Brexit models be made public?

Houses of Parliament
PA

There's a long running row in parliament over the government's impact assessments from Brexit, and its perceived unwillingness to publish them.

Chancellor Philip Hammond tells MPs: "When we get to the point where we have a deal negotiated and agreed and it is being put before Parliament, I think at that stage the maximum amount of analysis being placed in the public domain would be helpful."

But he also says: "At this stage, when we haven't even begun the negotiation yet, I'm afraid that to put our analysis in the public domain would be deeply unhelpful to the negotiation.

"There is no decision for Parliament to make at this stage. Parliament's decision point will be when the government has negotiated a deal and is presenting it to Parliament for endorsement."

Hammond: We have modelled Brexit arrangements

House of Commons

Parliament

Philip Hammond
PA

Brexit Secretary David Davis raised quite a few eyebrows earlier when he said the government had not carried out any impact assessments of leaving the EU on the UK economy.

He said the government had produced a "sectoral analysis" of different industries but not a "forecast" of what would happen when the UK leaves the EU.

MPs have asked Chancellor Philip Hammond to clear up the issue - which he has, up to a point.

"Of course we have modelled and analysed a wide range of potential alternative structures between the EU and the UK, potential alternative arrangements and agreements that might be made," Mr Hammond said.

"That analysis is ongoing and will inform our negotiating position with the EU," he added.

Wall Street opens lower

NYSE trader
Reuters

Over on Wall Street, US stock indexes have dipped in early trading as technology stocks declined on concerns over stretched valuations and the impact of US corporate tax reforms.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite index dropped 0.3% to 6,741.46.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.05% to 24,168.89, while the S&P 500 lost 0.1% to 2,625.76.

What's the end game?

Theresa May's cabinet
PA

Has the cabinet discussed what the end state should be when the UK leaves the European Union?

Chancellor Philip Hammond says ministers have had general discussions about the Brexit negotiations but not specifically talked about what the final outcome should be.

That will happen when the UK and EU move on to the second stage of Brexit negotiations, he tells MPs on the Treasury select committee.

Theresa May had hoped to announce an agreement on Monday to move onto those talks, but had to delay after opposition from her Northern Irish partners, the DUP.

BreakingSpring Statement on 13 March

Chancellor Philip Hammond announces that the next fiscal statement - now known as the Spring Statement - will be on Tuesday 13 March.

For the last 20 years, the chancellor has delivered the Budget in the Spring.

However, Mr Hammond has changed that so the Budget is now delivered in the Autumn.

The statement will not be a "major fiscal event", but will instead discuss longer-term issues and set out the latest official economic forecasts, Mr Hammond tells MPs on the Treasury Select Committee.

'Take the challenge head on'

House of Commons

Parliament

Philip Hammond
ParliamentLive

MPs on the Treasury select committee start by asking the chancellor about the grim forecasts for economic growth in last month's Budget.

Philip Hammond says the cuts in growth largely came about because the Office for Budget Responsibility slashed its expectations for UK productivity.

He says the government recognises there's "a productivity problem in this country".

As a country "we should take the challenge head on" and demonstrate we can do better, he says.

Hammond's jetset lifestyle

Chancellor Philip Hammond's appearance before the Treasury select committee is due to start any minute now.

One question he might hope doesn't come up is a story in The Times this morning that he has been using MoD jets and helicopters to fly to locations including Dudley and Wolverhampton.

Twitter wags have been trying to work out where they might land.

View more on twitter

Good afternoon

Dan Macadam

BBC business reporter

Philip Hammond
Reuters

Thanks Ben and Dearbail for this morning's coverage. I'll be taking us through the afternoon and into the evening.

First up, the chancellor will be in front of MPs on the Treasury select committee.

Philip Hammond may well face questions about the admission from Brexit Secretary David Davis that the government hasn't carried out any impact assessments of Brexit on the UK economy.

Mr Davis' comments have been the talk of Westminster this lunchtime, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn calling the government a "shambles".