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Summary

  1. Get in touch: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk
  2. New Look to close 60 stores and cut 1,000 jobs
  3. NME print edition axed
  4. Rolls-Royce shares soar
  5. Sales slide at the Restaurant Group
  6. Ofgem moves to cut energy bills
  7. Advertising watchdog cracks down on ticket resellers

Live Reporting

By Karen Hoggan

All times stated are UK

Good night

That's it for the midweek Business Live - thank you for joining us.

We'll be back tomorrow morning at 06:00 for all the latest news, views and analysis from the world of business.

Do join us then if you can.

France warns firms on equal pay

BBC World Service

French women demonstrating for equal pay in November 2016
Getty Images

The French government has warned firms with more than 50 employees that under new plans, they would have three years to eradicate unjustified pay gaps between men and women.

Those who fail to do so could face fines of up to 1% of the company's wage bill.

French men on average are paid 9% more than women for the same work, even though equal pay laws have been in force for nearly half a century.

Employers have been given a month to respond to the proposals.

Back in November 2016, some 200 to 300 people demonstrated in Paris for equal pay between men and women (see picture).

Mixed picture as Wall Street closes

NYSE exterior with yellow Wall Street sign in front
Getty Images

As far as the main indexes are concerned at the end of Wednesday's trading session, it's two down, one up, as US investors continue to react to Donald Trump's threats of a trade war.

The Dow Jones ended the day down 82.76 points, or 0.33%, at 24,801.36, while the S&P 500 fell 1.32 points, or 0.05%, to 2,726.80.

However,the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite rose 24.64 points, or 0.33%, to 7,396.65.

Join the conversation

Buyer sought for Countrywide Farmers

Countrywide office building
Google

A buyer is being sought for agricultural goods retailer Countrywide Farmers, which has gone into administration (see earlier post).

Countrywide directors said with "significant regret" the business faces "a very uncertain future".

The company, based in Evesham, announced plans to sell in April 2017, but a potential sale to Mole Valley Farmers Ltd fell through in October.

On 1 March, the company announced it had sold its liquefied petroleum gas division to DCC Flogas, however its retail business sale to Mole Valley could not be approved and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced an investigation.

Countrywide announced it was going into administration as the CMA investigation could last up to six months, and the company said it will be "unable to meet its financial obligations for this extended period of time".

Indian Hotel chain to offer IVF

Taj Mahal Palace Hotel
PA

India's biggest hotel chain, Taj Hotels, has announced plans to help female staff by paying for fertility treatment.

The company said it would reimburse "expenses for family expansion" as part of its commitment to promote equal opportunities for women.

It already has paid maternity leave and creche facilities in all its hotels.

The firm is seeking to break "gender stereotypes" that force many women to stop work when they have children.

Taj Hotels said it would pay for "various medical procedures", including IVF treatments and the freezing of eggs, embryos and sperm, as well as artificial insemination.

Read full story here

White House: Some countries could be exempted from tariffs

The White House has said Canada and Mexico, and possibly other countries, may be exempted from planned US import tariffs on steel and aluminum on the basis of national security, according to Reuters.

"We expect that the president will sign something by the end of the week and there are potential carve-outs for Mexico and Canada based on national security, and possibly other countries as well based on that process," White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told journalists.

Amazon 'working to fix' Alexa's random laughing

Amazon Alexa device on table
Amazon

Over the past few days, users with Amazon's digital assistant Alexa-enabled devices have reported hearing strange, unprompted laughter.

Amazon has commented on the issue to the technology news website The Verge, saying, “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.”

Read the story here

Sony blocks 'pick-up' video game

Advert for Super Seducer
RLR Training

Sony has blocked the publication of a video game designed to teach male players psychological tricks to convince women to date them.

Super Seducer was scheduled for release on the PlayStation 4 on Tuesday.

The title has been criticised for being sleazy and for promoting "toxic behaviours and attitudes".

Sony has limited itself to saying it "will not be made available", but the BBC has confirmed the Japanese company banned the title. Read the full story here

US jobs market 'tight'

Worker wearing visor with Stars and Stripes behind
Getty Images

Companies across the US are reporting a shortage of workers to fill available jobs, and rising wages in many regions, according to the Federal Reserve central bank.

The findings - contained in the Fed's Beige Book - increase the case for interest rate rises in the US.

"Across the country, contacts observed persistent labor market tightness and brisk demand for qualified workers," the Fed reported.

The central bank also said four of its 12 districts saw a "marked increase" in steel prices partly because there had been a decline in foreign competition. President Trump has said he plans to impose a 25% tariff on steel imports.

The Beige Book is a Federal Reserve System publication about current economic conditions across the 12 Federal Reserve Districts.

Wall Street down amid trade war fears

New York Stock Exchange traders
Getty Images

Let's check up on how US shares are doing now - and Wall Street's three key indexes are still down amid fears Donald Trump will slap tariffs on imported steel and aluminum this week, leading to a global trade war.

On Tuesday, Mr Trump's economic adviser Gary Cohn resigned over his opposition to the President's plans to impose tariffs.

"There is more of a political worry that has crept back into the market," said Brent Schutte, chief investment strategist at Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management.

"It's not just the tariffs, but the broader White House changing... all those things are undercurrents which are affecting market sentiment in the near-term."

The Dow Jones is at 24,635.42, a fall of 249 points or 1.00%.

The S&P 500 is at 2,712.19, down 16 points or 0.58%.

And the tech-heavy Nasdaq is at 7,361.64, 10 points or 0.14% lower.

Tusk: Trade wars not easy to win

Donald Tusk
Getty Images

It's been a busy day for European Union chief, Donald Tusk.

First the UK's post-Brexit relationship with the EU was exercising him.

Now he's warned Donald Trump not to go ahead with proposals to impose steep tariffs on imported steel and aluminium.

He said the US president's stated view that trade wars were good and easy to win was wrong. He said the opposite was the case, and EU leaders will gather in two weeks to discuss what action to take if the US goes ahead.

Mr Trump has said that cheap imports - especially from China - undermine American industries and jobs.

Hammond ends 'negotiating with ourselves'

Simon Jack

BBC Business Editor

Philip Hammond delivering speech
Reuters

Philip Hammond's speech was broadly welcomed by the UK financial services industry.

But City sources tell me there was nothing in this speech that would make banks and insurance companies halt, or even pause, their post-Brexit contingency plans.

As one City insider told me: "So far, we have been negotiating with ourselves.

"All the chancellor and the PM have done in the last week is to flesh out the position of one of the parties - that's pretty limited progress."

Having said that, the EU's perennial complaint has been that it doesn't know what the UK wants. The prime minister and the chancellor have gone a substantial way to answering that question in the last week.

Read Simon's full blog here

City of London welcomes chancellor's speech

Catherine McGuinness
City of London

The financial services sector is a key component of the UK’s trade with the EU and helps balance our goods deficit. The UK’s position is now much clearer. London’s global financial hub cannot be replicated anywhere else on the Continent. Refusing to include financial services as part of a final trade agreement would undoubtedly damage the whole European economy, limiting growth and risking jobs. Fragmentation will mean costs to customers and businesses would rise, access to deep pools of liquidity held in London would decline and the EU’s ties to the world’s leading financial expertise could be severed. We urge the EU to give their negotiating team flexibility by including financial services as part of a final trade agreement.

Catherine McGuinnessPolicy chairman, City of London
Fishing boat

Scottish fishing groups hit out at "arrogant" calls from the EU for continued access to UK fishing grounds after Brexit.

Read more

'Toxic mix' for New Look

Emma Simpson

Business correspondent, BBC News

Exterior of New Look store
Alamy

New Look has badly lost its way. Sales have fallen off a cliff. Even online sales were down 15% in December.

In recent years it focused on younger shoppers but failed to keep up with the likes of Asos, Boohoo and Primark.

It's also saddled with way too many stores. It has nearly 600 fashion outlets, an extraordinary number given the rise of online shopping.

And then there's the debt. New Look is drowning in it. It currently stands at £1.2bn.

In today's challenging retail environment that's a pretty toxic mix. It needs to cut costs and fast as well as revitalise its business. It's got its work cut out.

Return of roaming? Probably not

Rory Cellan-Jones

Technology correspondent

Woman lying down with smart phone
Getty Images

The end of mobile roaming charges has probably been the single most popular policy to come out of Brussels.

Gone is that wave of anxiety when you upload a photo to Instagram from Ibiza or send a hefty attachment from Amsterdam.

But could the fear of bill shock return? That possibility has been raised after Theresa May confirmed that the UK would be leaving the Digital Single Market, which was at the heart of the European Commission's strategy of removing roaming charges for people travelling between EU states.

Outside the Digital Single Market, UK mobile operators could in theory opt to reimpose roaming charges.

But just how likely is that? Read Rory's full blog here

FTSE closes ahead

London Stock Exchange
Getty Images

The FTSE 100 edged up by 11 points or 0.16% on the day to close at 7,157.84.

Rolls Royce notched up the biggest gain on FTSE 100 - rising by 11.7% following its latest results which showed that every division did better than analysts had forecast.

The biggest fall was in communications giant WPP's shares, which shed 3.9%. Earlier reports said consumer goods group Procter and Gamble were going to cut ad agency spending and "take back control" of its marketing.

Paddy Power Betfair shares however fell 3.35% after it lowered its profit guidance for the year.

And NMC Health - the biggest private healthcare provider in the United Arab Emirates - saw its shared drop by 2.5% following its results.

CBI backs chancellor on financial services

London City Skyline
Getty Images

Reaction is coming in to Chancellor Philip Hammond's speech on financial services.

CBI deptuy director-general Josh Hardie, said: “The Chancellor is absolutely right to be leading the fight for the UK’s financial services sector. Trying to forge a new trading relationship with our largest trading partner that does not include financial services is like building a ship with no sails.

“It’s fundamental we protect, maintain and develop our world-beating financial services sector - the lifeblood of both the UK’s and the EU’s economies that enables all other sectors to deliver jobs, innovate and grow. With two thirds of UK financial services jobs being found outside London, all parts of the country succeed when the sector has wind in its sails.”

Hammond: EU could do deal with UK on financial services

Philip Hammond
Getty Images

More detail on Chancellor Philip Hammond's speech now (see earlier posts).

He has told European leaders that it is in the "mutual interest" of both the UK and the EU to include financial services in a free trade agreement.

In a speech, Mr Hammond set out his argument against "sceptics", saying it is possible to reach a deal.

But EU president Donald Tusk flat out rejected the UK proposals.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has argued that such a deal had never been done before.

But Mr Hammond said the EU itself tried to include financial services on trade deals with the US and Canada.

He said: "If it could be done with Canada or the USA... it could be done with the UK."

Read the full story here

Watch: Tariffs would 'break US commitments in WTO'

BBC producer tweets

BBC World

Jennifer Hillman, Professor of International Trade at Georgetown University in Washington, used to sit on World Trade Organisation panel that settles trade disputes and was the US government’s top lawyer on trade policy

She told BBC World metals tariffs would break US commitments at the WTO

View more on twitter

Dow Jones 'fearful' of Trump's trade intentions

New York Stock Exchange sign
Getty Images

Some comment now on the New York financial markets from Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex.

He said the Dow Jones was still looking "pretty fearful of Trump’s trade intentions now that Gary Cohn is gone".

"The Dow Jones dropped around 150 to 200 points after the bell - obviously a bad start, but far better than the 350 point fall promised by the futures earlier in the day."

"It’ll be interesting to see how the Dow behaves as the session goes on; it has a tendency to save its major movements for the latter stages of the day, with plenty of time for some more Trump tweets to send the skittish index over the edge," he added.

No Airbus job losses expected at Broughton

An Airbus UK spokesperson told the BBC that the company did not expect to see any redundancies at its Broughton plant.

About 250 employees currently working on the A380 in the UK are likely to be deployed to other projects, including the A350, they said.

Wall Street falls on Cohn resignation

New York Stock Exchange exterior
Getty Images

The three key US stock indexes opened lower on Wednesday - the drop apparently triggered by the resignation of Gary Cohn, economic adviser to Donald Trump.

Mr Cohn opposed the President's plans to impose tariffs on metals imports.

The Dow Jones is at 24,735.08, down 149 points or 0.6%.

The S&P 500 is at 2,720.73, down 7 points or -0.27%.

And the tech-heavy Nasdaq is at 7,370.27, down 2 points or 0.02%.

Airbus shake up to 'affect' 3,700 jobs

A380
PA

European planemaker Airbus says up to 3,700 positions will be affected by a cut in the production rates for its A380 and A400M plane programmes.

"At this stage, Airbus estimates the maximum impact of these measures will affect up to 3,700 positions at sites across the company's home countries of France, Germany, the United Kingdom and Spain," Airbus said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Airbus is committed to managing any implications for its workforce in a responsible manner - as already successfully demonstrated on various occasions in the past. The company is confident that it will be able to propose opportunities to most of the affected employees through programmes which are ramping up," it added.

Airbus has cut production rates of the A380 - the world's largest passenger jet - due to weak demand.

Running late

BBC World Service

Alarm clock
Getty Images

The electricity transmission authority in Europe (ENTSOe) has warned that bedside alarms, central heating timers and oven clocks could be running up to six minutes slow - because of power deviations across the continent.

Countries as far apart as Spain and Turkey could have been affected, since mid-January.

It's the result of a dispute between Kosovo and Serbia that's led to a loss of power, meaning that clocks can lose time.

Computers and smart phones are not affected. The authority said one-hundred-and-thirteen GigaWatt hours of energy was missing and someone should have to compensate.

Retailer Countrywide Farmers goes into administration

Retailer Countrywide Farmers has gone into administration and administrators are looking for a buyer for all or part of the business.

The Worcestershire-based company, employs 735 people and has 48 retail stores supplying a range of farming, equestrian, harvesting and agricultural goods. It also has a distribution centre in Defford.

Administrators from KPMG's restructuring practice said no "initial redundancies" had been made.

On 1 March the company completed the sale of its liquefied petroleum gas division and more than 60 staff transferred to new owner DCC Flogas.

KPMG said the company had also identified a purchaser for the retail business, but the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) referred the process to an in-depth investigation.

David Pike, partner at KPMG and joint administrator,said: “Following the recent CMA announcement, the proposed retail transaction cannot proceed. Unfortunately, given the significant trading difficulties and cash flow pressures, this has led the directors to consider their options and take the difficult decision to place the company into administration.

Hammond: Collaboration on financial services 'makes sense'

Chancellor Philip Hammond said it was vital that financial services were included in any trade deal - to avoid financial instability:

I want to explain why it makes sense for both the UK and the EU, that we continue to collaborate closely on cross border financial services. I want to challenge the assertion that financial services cannot be part of a free trade agreement, to set out why it is in the interest of both the UK and the EU 27 to ensure that EU businesses and citizens can continue to access the UK financial services hub.

Philip HammondChancellor of the Exchequer

Hammond: All EU trade deals 'unique'

It is time to address the sceptics who say a trade deal including financial services cannot be done because it has never been done before. To them, I say: 'Every trade deal the EU has ever done has been unique.' The EU has never negotiated the same arrangement twice.

Philip HammondChancellor of the Exchequer

Hammond: London's loss not Europe's gain

BBC business editor tweets on Philip Hammond's speech

Hammond: Possible to include financial services in trade deal

Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond has started delivering a keynote speech in which he is making the case for preferential access for Britain's financial services industry to the single market.

Mr Hammond says that it is possible to include financial services within a trade deal "but that it very much in our mutual interests to do so".

Tusk: EU does not share UK's Brexit views
The BBC's Adam Fleming asks Donald Tusk about the EU's draft offer on its future relationship with UK.

Tusk: No 'pick and mix' for Brexit

BBC World Service

Donald Tusk
Getty Images

The European Council president, Donald Tusk, has said the best Britain can hope for in its future relationship with the EU is a free trade agreement.

Presenting the EU's draft negotiating guidelines, he said a final deal would be the only one in history that involved loosening rather than strengthening ties.

At a news conference in Luxembourg, he said there could be no pick and mix approach, but the EU would aim for zero tariffs on goods.

Mr Tusk did not make the same promise for services, a British priority. He said he was determined to avoid disruption to flights between Britain and Europe.

EU lists US products it would tax

BBC World Service

Steel production
Getty Images

The European Union has outlined how it will react if the United States goes ahead with plans to impose steep tariffs on imports of steel and aluminium.

The bloc's trade commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, said the EU was considering a list of US products that might be targeted in retaliation - including orange juice, peanut butter, cranberries, steel, industrial products and some types of bourbon whisky.

But she said she still hoped the US tariffs wouldn't be implemented.

President Trump's proposals have faced domestic as well as international opposition. His top economic adviser Gary Cohn has resigned because he disagrees with the plan.

The stores under threat

The New Look stores facing closure include Marble Arch, Oxford Circus and Moorgate in London along with:

Aberdeen - Bon Accord; Beckton; Bolton (mens); Borehamwood; Brynmawr; Burton Mens; Cameron Toll; Cardiff - Queen Arcade; Cheshunt; Clevedon; Craigleith; Doncaster (mens); Dundee – Wellgate; Exeter (mens); Fleet; Gateshead - Team Valley; Glasgow - Buchanan Street (mens); Gorleston; Hanley (mens) - Intu Potteries; Hounslow (mens); Hull – Whitefriargate; Keynsham; Kingswood; Leeds - The Core Shopping Centre; Leicester – Haymarket;; Maidenhead; Maidstone Mens; Merry Hill (mens); Metro Centre (mens); Monmouth; Newport (mens); Newton Mearns; North Shields; Nottingham (mens); Ocean Terminal; Peterbrough Bridge Street; Pontypool; Portswood; Ramsgate; Reading - Broad Street; Reading Oracle (mens); Rhyl; Romford (mens); Rugby; Shrewsbury (mens); Sidmouth; Stockport – Merseyway; Stockton-on-Tees; Stratford Upon Avon - Bridge Street; Thornaby; Tonypandy; Torquay - Union Street; Tredegar; Troon; Wallsend; Weston Favell; Wigan (mens).

Trading as normal

New Look
PA

New Look, which is working with Deloitte on the restructuring, said creditors will vote on whether to accept the CVA on 21 March.

All stores will remain open during the period of the proposal and online sales will be unaffected.

Daniel Butters, partner at Deloitte, said:

The retail trading environment in the UK remains extremely challenging, driven by weaker consumer confidence, the implications of Brexit and competition from online channels. It is important to stress that no stores will close on day one, and employees, suppliers and business rates will continue to be paid on time and in full."

New look for New Look

New Look model
New Look

New Look has blamed high rents and challenging trading amid a "difficult retail environment" for its CVA.

It allows a company to abandon unprofitable stores and reduce rents on its remaining outlets.

The retailer aims to close 60 of its 593 UK stores and cut rents and revise lease terms on a further 393 outlets.

BreakingNew Look to close 60 stores

New Look has announced its Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).

Under the reorganisation 60 stores will close, which is expected to result in 980 job losses.

But the company says it will try to redeploy staff.

Alistair McGeorge, Executive Chairman of New Look, said: "Given our challenged trading performance and over-rented UK store estate, we are having to take tough but necessary actions to reduce our fixed cost base and restore long-term profitability.

“We have held constructive discussions with our key landlords and strategic partners and will now seek creditor approval on our CVA proposal. A priority for us is to keep all potentially affected colleagues informed during this difficult time.”

When NME went free

NME
PA

NME went free in September 2015, following in the footsteps of other titles such as Time Out and the Evening Standard, in a bid to boost its circulation.

The weekly publication had been selling about 15,000 copies a week, was distributed at stations, shops and student unions across the UK.

Its print run increased to 300,000 - but advertising revenues have not been able to bring in enough cash.