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Summary

  1. Get in touch: bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk
  2. Norwegian shares surge on IAG bid speculation
  3. EDF raises electricity tariff by 2.7%
  4. Mothercare UK sales fall 2.8%
  5. Carpetright to shut 92 stores

Live Reporting

By Tom Espiner

All times stated are UK

Good night

That's all from the Business Live page for tonight. See you again tomorrow from 06:00.

Wall Street closes higher

Tech and financial stocks led a rally on Wall Street as President Donald Trump toned down his views on attacking Syria and investors focused on what could be the strongest earnings reporting season in seven years.

"In the past few days, some of the worries that the market was fretting about - trade wars, Facebook, missile attacks - all of those have things have been walked back a little bit," said Michael Antonelli, managing director, institutional sales trading at Robert W. Baird in Milwaukee.

At the closing bell, the Dow Jones was up 1.2% at 24,483 points, while the S&P 500 gained 0.8% to 2,6631. The Nasdaq rose 1% to 7,140.2.

New EU tests to tackle 'rip-off' food complaints

Supermarket
Getty Images

New EU food quality tests need to be strict enough to stop manufacturers selling some brands with inferior ingredients in ex-communist countries, a Euro MP shaping the new rules says.

The EU Commission plans to collect data on a range of foods, so that countries can compare brand quality more easily.

"We have strict safety regulations, but quality is not defined in legislation," said Croatian MEP Biljana Borzan.

Brand quality varies too much across the EU, politicians and consumers say.

Read more here.

Taiwan's state-run dating agency

Taiwan state dating site
Taiwan

Taiwan hopes to tackle an aging population by organising more government-run matchmaking events, Bloomberg reports.

More than 14% of the population is 65 or older, and only Japan has a greater proportion of elderly people in East Asia, the article says.

"Long work hours, stagnant wages and a lack of affordable housing and child care are the main obstacles couples face when considering having children," the article says.

And the winner is...

Scene from What Remains
Giant Sparrow

The top prize at the Bafta Games Awards has just been announced, and it goes to... What Remains of Edith Finch.

It is something of an upset, as Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice had been the favourite to win having scored the most nominations.

What Remains is a first-person mystery adventure, and was developed by the US indie studio Giant Sparrow.

It had not won any of the other categories before taking Best Game.

Hellblade took the British Game prize and four other awards at the London event.

Nintendo's Super Mario Odyssey won two awards: Game Design and Family.

Wall Street update

Tech and financial stocks boosted Wall Street as President Donald Trump suggested that a military strike on Syria may not be imminent and investors turned their focus to the upcoming earnings season.

Financial shares rose 2%, which had the biggest percentage advance among the S&P's 11 major sectors. The technology sector rose 1.4%, adding the most gains to the S&P.

The Dow Jones rose 324 points, or 1.34%, to 24,513.5, the S&P 500 gained 24.64 points, or 0.93%, to 2,666.8 and the Nasdaq added 77.8 points, or 1.1%, to 7,146.8.

Investor sentiment was also boosted by US jobs data that pointed to sustained labour market strength.

Facebook was a notable laggard among technology stocks, falling 1.4% following a 5.3 percent gain over the past two days when Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress on the social network's data security.

Hellblade wins Bafta's Game Award

Scene from Hellblade
Ninja Theory

Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice has won four prizes at the Bafta Games Awards.

The third-person action title won British Game, Artistic Achievement, Audio Achievement and a new category, Game Beyond Entertainment. It features a female protagonist who suffers from psychosis.

Hellblade is themost nominated game, having been put up for nine prizes in total.

However, it has missed out on two other awards.

The Music prize went to the run-and-gun action title Cuphead. Night In The Woods took Narrative.

Officer who dragged man from plane sues United Airlines

United Airlines aeroplanes
Getty Images

A former Chicago aviation security officer who was fired after dragging a man off a flight last year has filed a lawsuit against the airline and city.

James Long is suing Chicago's Department of Aviation (CDA), its commissioner and the city, alleging he was not trained on how to use force.

He was sacked after removing David Dao from the plane last April to make room for United Airlines employees.

Video footage of the incident sparked international outcry on social media.

Trump says he backs 'cooperative' approach to Russia probe

US President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly said a federal probe into possible collusion between Moscow and his presidential election campaign is a "witch hunt," said on Thursday he backed a "cooperative" approach to the investigation.

"I have agreed with the historically cooperative, disciplined approach that we have engaged in with Robert Mueller," Trump said, referring to the special counsel leading the investigation.

This is quite a change from... Wednesday, when he tweeted:

View more on twitter

Mr Mueller has been looking into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

What can Vladimir Putin do to the US?

The BBC's World Business Report has been looking into the economic levers that Russia might use against the US.

Russia may have one of the world's largest energy reserves but blocking sales of oil or gas to the US are unlikely to have an effect.

The tightening grip of sanctions on Russia has led President Vladimir Putin to threaten retaliation.

However, thanks to shale, the US is not reliant on overseas oil and gas in the same way as it was twenty years ago.

The BBC's Vishala Sri-Pathma asked Elina Ribakova, chief economist at Deutsche Bank: does Russia have other potential ways to strike back economically?

Volkswagen puts Herbert Diess in the driving seat

Herbert Diess
Reuters

Volkswagen has replaced its chief executive with Herbert Diess, who takes on responsibility for the entire company after overseeing the VW brand.

Mr Diess replaces Matthias Mueller, who was appointed in 2015 at the height of the diesel emissions scandal.

Mr Diess has clashed with unions and has been known for his cost-cutting measures.

As well as Volkswagen, the German company also owns several other brands including Audi and Porsche.

Read more here.

Trump to order EPA to 'cut red tape' for manufacturers

US President Donald Trump has said he will sign a memorandum on Thursday ordering the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cut more environmental regulations.

"Today I will sign a presidential memorandum directing the EPA to cut even more red tape for our manufacturers," he said, "so that they can expand and continue to hire and to grow."

Pressure is building on embattled EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who is embroiled in allegations of ethics violations.

VW to create six new business areas

Volkswagen on Thursday said it will create six new business areas and a special portfolio for China, its largest market, and split its brands into three new vehicle groups with categories for value, premium and super-premium nameplates

Volkswagen replaced chief executive Matthias Mueller after he failed to refocus the group's portfolio of car brands after the diesel emissions scandal of 2015.

BreakingVW appoints new chief, creates new divisions

VW logo
Getty Images

Volkswagen said Herbert Diess will take over from Matthias Mueller as chief executive.

The announcement was made after Volkswagen directors ousted Mueller and deliberated ways to reform an empire which has motorbike, bus, truck and passenger car brands including Ducati, Bentley, Porsche, Audi, Scania and Skoda.

The carmaker also said it will reorganize its 12 brands by creating six new vehicle divisons.

Trump 'warms to TPP'

US President Donald Trump has asked his top economic advisers to look into the possibility of re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership, reports the Wall Street Journal.

He asked Robert Lighthizer and Larry Kudlow to look into re-entering TPP on favourable terms, the WSJ reports.

Luxury a hit for L'Oreal

L'Oreal stand in department store
Reuters

Sales of luxury cosmetics and stronger trading in Asia have helped L'Oreal post better-than-expected growth.

The French beauty giant, struggling to boost its mass market cosmetics sales, said high-end products are doing particularly well.

The world's biggest cosmetics firm said overall sales at the company grew 6.8% from a year earlier on a like-for-like basis, which removes the effect of currency swings and acquisitions or disposals.

That beat expectations for 5.6% like-for-like growth.

But L'Oreal's largest division, which makes mass market products and is home to labels like Maybelline, posted modest growth of 2.6%, slightly less than expected.

L'Oreal Chairman Jean-Paul Agon said the consumer division had begun 2018 with "sharply contrasted growth between the regions", citing a difficult market in France but a thriving market in China.

McDonald's shares hit by hepatitis probe

McDonald's burger
Getty Images

Shares in fast food giant McDonald's have given up earlier gains, and are now trading a little lower following a probe by a Kentucky health department.

Madison County is investigating a single case of hepatitis A in a food handler who worked while infectious at a McDonald's on 23 March, Reuters reports.

BreakingKleeneze goes into administration

Cleaning and beauty products firm Kleeneze has gone into administration.

The firm has a network of about 5,000 door-to-door sales people. It directly employs 69 people at its head office in Accrington and a further 71 at its warehouse in Heywood, administrators FRP Advisory LLP said.

Joint Administrator David Acland said: "Kleeneze has performed well over the years and has a strong network of independent sales distributors. Unfortunately, tough trading conditions have resulted in the business entering administration.

"The business has ceased to trade but we would urge any parties interested in acquiring the business to contact us as soon as possible. In the meantime, we are assisting employees and stakeholders during this difficult period."

Banks urged to take Brexit action

Sandcastle
Getty Images

European Union regulators have urged banks, investors and customers to take “timely action” to avoid disruption to cross-border derivatives and insurance contracts caused by Brexit.

Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019 and a transition deal until the end of 2020 agreed last month won’t be formally ratified until October or later.

“Contingency planning should consider timely responses to all potential challenges, such as contract continuity and possible relocations,” said a joint report from the EU’s banking, insurance and markets regulators on risks to the financial system.

Trump: Farmers will be taken care of in Nafta

Donald Trump
Getty Images

US President Donald Trump has said will take care of farmers "100%" in trade deals.

He added that China has consistently treated US agriculture "unfairly".

Mr Trump trade "negotiations" between Washington and Beijing were going well, conflicting with Chinese official statements on the dispute.

"We're doing really well with China. I think we're having some great discussions, we'll see what happens," Mr Trump said at a meeting with governors and lawmakers.

"We want more trade. We want no barriers," Mr Trump said.

Disney 'must offer to buy all of Sky'

Mickey and Minnie Mouse
Getty Images

Disney must offer to buy all of Sky if it acquires Twenty-First Century Fox's 39% stake and if Rupert Murdoch's Fox is prevented from purchasing all of the European pay-TV company itself, the UK's takeover regulator has said.

Fox agreed an offer to buy all of Sky 17 months ago but is still waiting regulatory approval, while Disney has agreed to buy Fox assets, including its stake in Sky, in a separate deal subject to its own regulatory clearance.

The ruling means that if Fox's bid to buy Sky is blocked by the government in June because of Murdoch's media influence, Disney will have to step in to make the same offer to shareholders if and when it becomes the owner of Fox's assets.

Korean Air chief's daughter apologises for tantrum

Audi may be excluded from VW shake-up

VW cars
Getty Images

Audi may be excluded from a shake-up of Volkswagen's portfolio of brands, with Rupert Stadler likely to remain the carmaker's chief executive, Reuters reports.

The Volkswagen boards are due to meet on Thursday to discuss the most far-reaching reforms in the company's history, the news agency said.

Volkswagen may create a "super premium" brand group which includes Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti, with Audi solely in the "premium" group, according to Reuters.

Besides the "volume" brand group that includes VW brand, Czech division Skoda and Spanish unit Seat, there will be a "commercial vehicles" category that includes the Man and Scania heavy-truck brands and VW's van division, Reuters said.

City growth to stall, says Santander boss

City of London
Getty Images

Growth in London's financial centre is set to stall due to Brexit, the boss of Santander has warned.

Ana Botin said: "I don't think so many companies or people are going to leave the UK, it is the people that are not coming that we should worry about because the UK was on a huge upward trend and that is not as strong now," Botin told the audience at an event in London.

"The US is taking lots of steps to make their finance centre more competitive. It is not about the UK versus continental Europe, it is about the UK against the US and the big financial centres."

How much will the EDF price hike cost you?

BBC's personal finance and consumer affairs reporter Kevin Peachey tweets...

View more on twitter

'Don't forget to drink the water - humans like water'

Mark Zuckerberg
Getty Images

Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of US senators on Tuesday and at times looked like he'd rather be anywhere else.

And, of course, it was something that was picked up on by social media.

The Facebook CEO's at-times awkwardness saw him being compared to Star Trek's Data - an android who struggles with human behaviour and emotions.

The senators, who were grilling Mr Zuckerberg about Facebook's role in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal, also opened themselves up to ridicule - with some pretty unbelievable questions.

Plenty of the jokes about the hearing had to do with The Social Network - the 2010 film which told the story of Facebook's creation.

Read more here.

Micro Focus jumps

Micro Focus share price
BBC

Shares in Micro Focus have jumped after Bloomberg reported that hedge fund Elliott Management has taken a stake in the UK software firm.

The shares jumped as much as 12% before falling back to be about 6% higher.

The report said Elliott has amassed a position in Micro Focus and plans to push for changes at the firm, without detailing the size of Elliott's holding or the changes in question.

Micro Focus shares plunged after a sales warning and the departure of the chief executive last month and have halved this year.

Elliott Management declined to comment and Micro Focus was unavailable for comment.

Wall Street climbs

Wall Street traders
Getty Images

The main US stock indexes are higher after expectations that lower US taxes will fuel corporate earnings.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up about 298 points, or 1.2%, to 24,487. The S&P 500 gained 24 points, or 0.9%, to 2,666. The Nasdaq Composite added 78 points, or 1.1%, to 7,144.

Banks rein in consumer credit

Pounds and credit cards
Getty Images

Banks made less non-mortgage credit available to households in the first quarter of 2018 compared with the previous quarter, according to a Bank of England survey of credit conditions.

The decrease was "largely driven by a changing appetite to risk", the report said.

Lenders reported that credit-scoring criteria for granting credit card and other loan applications tightened during the period.

EU probing Facebook's US data transfers

Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg
Getty Images

The European Court of Justice has been asked to investigate the legality of the Privacy Shield system used by thousands of companies including Facebook to transfer user data from other countries to US servers.

Ireland's High Court has asked the EU's top court to probe whether the data transfer process abides by EU privacy law and "ensures an adequate level of protection".

Facebook has its European headquarters in Ireland, where it employs 1,600 people.

Consortium to shake-up Fifa?

Fifa logo
EPA

The Financial Times is reporting that an international consortium, which includes Japan's SoftBank, is planning to create global football tournaments for Fifa, the international governing body for football.

Among the ideas planned by the consortium, is an expanded "Club World Cup" which would see the world's top 24 club teams play every four years.

Fifa has been dogged by a corruption and bribery scandal in recent years.

Bitcoin price leaps up 17%

Bitcoin
Getty Images

The price of the cryptocurrency Bitcoin has risen suddenly today jumping up over 17% in the last hour to $8,034.17, according to Coindesk.

The price is currently at $7,680.01.

It is not yet clear what caused the sudden surge in price.

Norwegian caught unawares

Norwegian planes
Reuters

Norwegian says it had not been aware IAG has acquired a 4.6% stake until media reports on Thursday.

The airline also said It had not held talks with IAG.

"Norwegian believes that IAG's interest in the company confirms the sustainability and potential of our business model and global growth," it said.

Shares in the airline have soared 38% following the IAG bid interest.

Carpetright's boss explains what went wrong

BBC Radio 5 live

The chief executive of Carpetright, Wilf Walsh, has been speaking to the BBC's 5 live.

He said that previous management for went on a "retail spree" that left Carpetright with "too many stores on the wrong sites, oversized and on the wrong rents".

"In some cases we've got two carpetright stores on the same site," he said.

Closing more than 80 stores over the last three years "hasn't solved the problem" of an "unsustainable" rent bill running at £65m per year.

So the company decided on further restructuring through a CVA.

But it's not just the store portfolio.

Mr Walsh said that competition is "intense".

Also, since Boxing Day consumers have tightened their belts.

"There is uncertainty, I don't think it's all down to Brexit," he said.

Premiership Rugby signs up US sponsor

Exeter"s Jack Nowell scores his side"s fifth try during the Aviva Premiership match at Sandy Park, Exeter. P
PA

Premiership Rugby, Englands top rugby union league, has announced a new title sponsor.

Insurance broker Gallagher has signed a multi-year deal, to have its name attached to the League.

Starting on 1 July the League will be called Gallagher Premiership Rugby.

Gallagher is based in Rolling Meadows, in the US state of Illinois.

It takes over from Aviva who were the title sponsors for eight years.

Mark McCafferty, chief executive of Premiership Rugby, said: "The international expansion of Premiership Rugby has been accelerated in recent years and it is fitting that we are now partnering with a global company with an equally strong presence here in the UK."

'Impressive' Dunelm

Analysts at Peel Hunt liked the latest trading update from Dunelm. Total like-for-like sales in the third quarter were up 4.6%. Online shares surged 35%.

"Dunelm has reported solid growth in store-only LFL sales, all the more impressive given the negative impact from snow disruption, which is not even mentioned in the statement.

"Interestingly, management feels the market backdrop has been more positive, although Dunelm’s improved execution is also driving performance. Worldstores losses are improving too."

Norwegian shares halted

Chris Johnston

Business reporter, BBC News

Bjorn Kjos, CEO of Norwegian Group
Reuters
Bjorn Kjos, Norwegian Group chief executive

Norwegian's shares have been halted on the Oslo stock exchange following IAG's confirmation of its interest in the airline.

The stock had earlier risen by 18.3% to 212.10 crowns, valuing the company at 8bn Norwegian crowns (£705m).

Fast-expanding Norwegian was forced to raise new funds last month to help fund its expansion and cope with higher fuel costs after warning of a larger than expected loss in the current quarter.

The budget airline is trying to crack the transatlantic market by undercutting established rivals, but faces pressures to control costs and shore up its balance sheet.

Shares in IAG initially dropped 3.4 before recovering to be down 0.4% at 612.9p, valuing the compay at £12.5bn.

WTO warns over tit-for-tat trade wars

Kamal Ahmed

Economics editor

Container ships
Getty Images

Global trade has seen its most rapid growth in six years, says the World Trade Organization's annual analysis.

But the positive news could be put at risk by tit-for-tat tariff wars that have broken out, according to the head of the WTO, Roberto Azevedo.

Broader global tensions could also see trade suffer.

Last month, President Donald Trump unveiled plans for a 25% tariff on US steel imports from countries such as China and a 10% tariff on aluminium.

Read more here.

Toys R Us announces final store closures

Empty Toys R Us shelves
Verity Hampton

Toy retailer Toys R US says it will close its remaining 75 UK stores by 24 April.

More than 2,000 affected employees have been informed and will be paid up to their last day of employment.

Toys R US, which fell into administration in February under the weight of its debts, has already closed 25 UK outlets.

The firm's is also in the process of closing its US arm, but has received bids of more than $1bn for a majority stake in its Asia business.

IAG confirms Norwegian interest

IAG plane tailfins
IAG

British Airways owner IAG has now issued a statement saying it considers Norwegian to be an "attractive investment" and has acquired a 4.61% stake in the airline.

It said: "The minority investment is intended to establish a position from which to initiate discussions with Norwegian, including the possibility of a full offer for Norwegian.

"IAG confirms that no such discussions have taken place to date, that it has taken no decision to make an offer at this time and that there is no certainty that any such decision will be made.

"A further announcement will be made if appropriate."