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Summary

  1. FTSE 100 closes flat ahead of election
  2. Brent crude nears $70 a barrel
  3. EU announces overhaul of e-commerce market

Live Reporting

By Chris Johnston

All times stated are UK

Get involved

  1. Over and out

    That's all we have time for on Business Live for Wednesday. Join us again at 0600 on Thursday. Thanks for reading.

  2. Wall Street close

    US markets closed lower on Wednesday, with the S&P 500 down 0.45% and the Dow 0.5% lower. Nasdaq was also off 0.4%.

  3. Zynga cuts losses

    Zynga

    Zynga, the company behind the FarmVille game, reduced its net losses to $46.5m from $61.2m for the first quarter to 31 March, while revenue rose to $183.3m from $168m. Zynga also plans to cut about 18% of its workforce. Shares closed up 4.4% to $2.61.

  4. Kale for breakfast?

    McDonald's

    Kale in the morning, anyone? Nine McDonald's restaurants in southern California are putting kale on their breakfast menus for a trial period. One of the "breakfast bowls" has kale along with turkey sausage, egg white and spinach, while another has chorizo and egg. Kale is regarded by some as a nutrient-rich "superfood" that has become more popular in the US in recent years.

  5. More Apple

    Apple

    So why is Apple raising more money when it has $178bn stuffed down the back of the sofa? In two words: it's cheaper. Almost 90% of its cash mountain is held outside the US, and the company would have to pay the top corporate tax rate of 35% if it returned the money from abroad. That is also why Apple has made numerous European acquisitions in recent years.

  6. Apple cash

    Apple logo

    Despite having enough cash on its books to bail out Greece - well, almost - Apple is once more raising funds with an $8bn bond sale. The Wall Street Journal reported that the deal received about $20bn in orders from buyers, allowing the company to sell more than the roughly $6.5bn initially expected. Maturities range from two to 30 years. Apple will use the money to help pay for share buybacks and dividends. Apple shares are down 1.4% to $124.04.

  7. Oil spending

    North Sea platform

    Douglas Fraser, Scotland business and economy editor, says the recent rebound in oil prices does not mean that oil companies are about to turn the capital expenditure taps on again anytime soon. Read more here.

  8. Adaptimmune IPO

    Shares of British cancer drug developer Adaptimmune are down after it raised $191.3m by listing on Nasdaq on Wednesday. Adaptimmune sold 11.3 million US-traded shares - more than it originally expected - at $17 each, which was the high end of expectations. After jumping as much as 15% in morning trading, the stock was down more than 4% to $16.30. The company is developing immune therapies designed to target and destroy cancer cells and is running several clinical trials in a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline.

  9. Wall Street update

    NYSE

    US stocks fell broadly in afternoon trading in New York after the release of weak economic reports and mixed corporate results. Yields on US government bond yields rose to their highest level in two months and oil prices continued to climb towards $70 a barrel. The S&P 500 was down 0.6%, while the Dow fell 0.7%.

  10. Bankers worry about election result

    The lack of a clear winner in the general election is likely to affect the appetite of businesses to borrow, senior bankers have told Reuters. Banks are reluctant to be seen to be taking sides, it says but have privately expressed concerns over the prospect of there being no effective government for weeks or even months after the poll. Neither the Conservative nor Labour party are expected to win an overall majority.

  11. Via Email

    US productivity falls

    Paul Ashworth

    Chief US economist, Capital Economics

    "The 1.9% annualised decline in productivity in the first quarter and the 5.0% annualised increase in unit labour costs obviously look awful. But this is exactly what happened at this time last year, when the unseasonably bad winter hit output more than employment. Productivity will rebound in the second quarter and unit labour costs will drop back."

  12. Via Blog

    An election that really matters

    Robert Peston

    Economics editor

    Leaving the EU would have a profound impact on our economy, immigration and culture. For better or worse it matters." Read Robert's full blog post.

  13. Real Madrid top Forbes football rich list

    Christiano Ronaldo

    Forbes have released their latest football rich list and there are few surprises. Real Madrid retain their place as the most valuable football team in the world for a third straight year. But the team's overall value fell 5% to €3.26bn (£2.42bn) with revenues of €746m. Their main Spanish rivals Barcelona came a predicable second in the 2015 list with a value of €3.16bn followed by Manchester United in third with a value of €3.10bn. However, Manchester United saw its overall value increase by 10% this year suggesting it could overtake Real Madrid soon.

  14. Wendy's sales

    Wendy's

    Wendy's - the third-largest US burger chain - reported better-than-expected quarterly sales as more customers visited its revamped stores. Like-for-like sales rose 3.2% in the first quarter, better than the 2.5% increase expected by analysts. However, net profit fell 40.6% to $27.5m as Wendy's sold 240 restaurants to franchisees in the quarter. Shares were up 5.4% in afternoon trading in New York following the results.

  15. US drone tests

    Drone

    The US Federal Aviation Administration has struck partnerships to test commercial drones that can fly beyond an operator's line of sight - regarded as a first step for autonomous drone operations such as delivering packages. PrecisionHawk will test applications for surveying crops in rural areas, while BNSF Railway - owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway - will use drones to inspect rail lines in isolated areas. A third partnership between the FAA and CNN will allow the network to test newsgathering in urban areas with drones that would remain visible to operators. The announcement raises hopes that beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) technology will be included in new commercial drone regulations that the FAA aims to finalise by 2017.

  16. FTSE 100 close

    Bit of a lacklustre day on the London market, with the FTSE 100 closing up just 6.16 points, or 0.1%, at 6,933.74 points. That was despite a 8% rise in Sage Group to 536p after posting organic revenue of £682m in line with its 6% growth target for 2015. Biggest faller was Aberdeen Asset Management, down 4.3% at 431.1p following a disappointing trading update on Tuesday.

  17. Oil gains

    Oil pump

    Oil is hovering close to $70 a barrel, with Brent crude up $1.60 to $69.12, after hitting a 2015 peak of $69.63 earlier on Wednesday. US crude was $1.54 higher at $61.89 a barrel - close to an intraday high of $62.58. A month-long rally has been helped by the first fall in US crude stocks since the start of January. "Bulls are in control of the market," said Tamas Varga and Stephen Brennock, analysts at PVM Oil Associates, in a note.

  18. Supermarket superstores

    Sainsburys

    You could be forgiven for thinking that the out-of-town supermarket was about to become an endangered species, but Sainsburys boss Mike Coupe begs to differ. Despite the rise of online and convenience stores, forecasts indicate that "big box" stores will still account for 60% of UK grocery spending by 2022. He says: "We believe that fundamentally the age of the superstore is not dead. In the end the format of choice will be the large out-of-town superstore." Do you agree? Email us at bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk

  19. 'A healthy Greek economy'

    And in the last word on Greece for a bit, Yanis Varoufakis has tweeted a link to an article he has written titled A Blueprint for Greece's Recovery. He says there has been little progress on a Greek debt deal because "all sides are focusing too much on the strings to be attached to the next liquidity injection and not enough on a vision of how Greece can recover and develop sustainably. If we are to break the current impasse, we must envisage a healthy Greek economy." Read more here.

  20. Tsipras and Juncker

    Athens

    And in more news from Greece in the wake of its €200m payment to the IMF on Wednesday, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker discussed the need for reforms to Greece's pension system during a phone call to assess progress in debt talks. The pair "discussed the importance of reforms to modernise the pension system so that it is fair, fiscally sustainable and effective in averting old-age poverty", according to a joint statement from Greece and the EC.

  21. Varoufakis 'confident'

    Varoufakis

    Following a meeting with his Italian counterpart Pier Carlo Padoan on Wednesday, Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis says he is confident about reaching a deal with Greece's international creditors, with a meeting of eurozone finance ministers next week potentially serving as a "platform". "We had a very fruitful and intense exchange of views on the best ways to make the Eurogroup next Monday a platform to enter into the kind of agreement between Greece and our partners which not only resolves the current negotiations but will lead to a period after June that will allow the Greek economy to recover and grow again," Mr Varoufakis said.

  22. BHP spin-off

    BHP Biliton

    BHP Billiton shareholders have overwhelmingly approved spinning off the miner's smaller assets into a new company called South32, paving the way for a stock market listing on 18 May. Investors will get one share in South32 for every BHP Billiton share they own. Named after the 32nd parallel line of latitude that links its offices in Perth and Johannesburg, South32 will produce alumina, aluminium, coal, manganese, nickel, silver, lead and zinc from mines and smelters in Australia, Brazil, Colombia, South Africa and Mozambique.

  23. Wall Street open

    NYSE

    As trading gets underway in New York, the Dow Jones is flat at 17,922 points, the S&P 500 is 0.25% lower at 2,084 points and the Nasdaq is up slightly at 4,941 points. Western Union is the biggest riser of the three indexes, up 7.9% at $22.61.

  24. Wasps hit target

    Wasps

    Rugby club Wasps has closed its retail bond after reaching the £35m it had targeted in just over a week. It was the first time that a sporting club had raised funds in this manner and the offer was oversubscribed. David Armstrong, chief executive, said the funds would allow Wasps to pay down debt and put the club on a solid foundation.

  25. Yellen on risk

    Yellen

    Janet Yellen said the Federal Reserve is prepared to take further action to make the financial system safer. Speaking to the International Monetary Fund, the Fed chair said that regulators were too focused on individual firms before the crisis rather than the entire financial system. Policy makers, including the central bank, must "remain watchful for areas in need of further action or in which the steps taken to date need to be adjusted", she added on Wednesday.

  26. North Sea sale

    Mikhail Fridman

    Mikhail Fridman's LetterOne fund is expected to start the sale process for the 11 North Sea gas fields it bought from RWE, bowing to UK government threats to revoke the assets' licences unless the Russian tycoon relinquishes ownership. The move signals that Mr Fridman has decided against challenging the rare intervention. The fields are expected to fetch up to $1bn (£650m), according to banking and industry sources. LetterOne declined to comment.

  27. Good afternoon

    Thanks to Tom and Ben for this morning's coverage. Chris Johnston with you through until 2130 with the rest of the day's business news and views.

  28. US productivity falls

    US welder

    US productivity fell at an annual rate of 1.9% in the first quarter, according to the Labor Department. That was a slight improvement on the previous quarter when productivity was falling at an annual rate of 2.1%. They were the first consecutive quarters of falling productivity since 2006. However, economists say that bad weather is partly to blame and think the decline should be temporary.

  29. Police search Sports Direct offices

    Ibrox Stadium, home of Glasgow Rangers FC

    Police investigating takeovers at Rangers have searched the headquarters of Mike Ashley's Sports Direct company in Derbyshire. The Newcastle owner has a near-9% stake in the Ibrox club and has control of the club's retail operations. Sports Direct says the visit relates to "various persons previously employed by and or associated with Rangers".

  30. GSK shares rise

    GlaxoSmithKline shares

    Investors seemed to like the first quarter results from GlaxoSmithKline. Shares were down before the results came out and are now more than 1% higher. There was a lot in the report for investors to mull over. Dividends will be a priority for any spare cash the company has. GSK also says it will not sell its HIV drugs business. The company set a target for group sales growth of "low-to-mid single digits".

  31. GSK results

    Glaxo sign

    Drugs giant Glaxosmithkline has reported a core pre-tax operating profit of £1.3bn. That number does not include an £8.6bn gain from a big deal with Novartis. If you include that and various one-off charges, including a £366m charge for reorganising the business then GSK reported a profit of £9.2bn.

  32. Sainsbury's results

    Sainsbury's sign

    This is a financial year Sainsbury's management "will want to forget", says Keith Bowman, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown Stockbrokers. "Intense competition, led by the discounters, lies at the heart of the group's challenges, with key financial metrics including the dividend payment all moving lower," he says. "The current consensus analyst opinion of a sell unlikely to change," he adds.

  33. Flash crash

    Westminster Magistrates Court

    Navinder Singh Sarao, who is fighting extradition to the US on charges of having contributed to the 2010 'flash crash' on Wall Street, has said in a court appearance: "I've not done anything wrong apart from being good at my job. How is this allowed to go on, man?" Prior to the outburst the judge at Westminster Magistrates' Court, Elizabeth Roscoe, had denied an application to lift a £5m bail condition.

  34. 'Tough market'

    Mike Coupe

    Market conditions have been "very tough" for Sainsbury's, chief executive Mike Coupe tells the BBC. "It's been the toughest market that I've see in my thirty years in the industry," he says. Changes in shopping habits and deflation in grocery prices hit Sainsbury's bottom line, he added.

  35. Digital antitrust probe

    European Union antitrust regulators have opened an investigation into cross-border e-commerce in a move aimed at removing borders to online sales as part of a broad strategy to overhaul the EU's digital market. The European Commission said the probe would focus on barriers to online sales in electronics, clothing and shoes, as well as digital content.

  36. Digital single market

    The European Commission wants harmonised EU rules on contracts and consumer protection when people buy online as part of its digital single market strategy. It also wants more efficient and affordable parcel delivery, it said.

  37. Web giant review

    Google logo

    The European Commission will conduct a comprehensive review this year of the role of web giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon to decide whether it should regulate them more tightly, it says. The inquiry will focus on the transparency of search results and pricing policies, how online platforms use the data they acquire, their relationships with other businesses and whether they promote their own services to the disadvantage of competitors. The review is part of a digital single market strategy unveiled by Commission vice-president Andrus Ansip.

  38. Microsoft on the prowl?

    Microsoft sign

    Microsoft is considering a bid for Salesforce.com, reports say. Salesforce provides software that manages customer relationships. It is also a big provider of business software via the internet (or cloud services). Last year Microsoft struck an agreement that allowed its software to work better with Salesforce products. Salesforce was started fifteen years ago, but has never made a profit.

  39. Greek unemployment

    A man checks for announcements displayed on a window near anti-austerity posters

    Greece's unemployment rate dropped slightly to 25.4% in February from 25.6% in the previous month, statistics agency Elstat said on Wednesday. February's figure, based on seasonally adjusted data, is the lowest since July 2012. The jobless rate hit a record high of 27.9% in September 2013.

  40. UK economy 'warning lights'

    Barista

    Activity in the UK service sector picked-up in April. The Markit/CIPS business activity index rose for the second consecutive month to 59.5, from 58.9, signalling the fastest rate of service sector expansion since August 2014. "It looks like the economy has rebounded from the weakness seen at the start of the year. But there are warning lights flashing about the sustainability of growth," warns Chris Williamson, chief economist at Markit said.

  41. Suffering supermarkets

    Grocery basket

    It's a sign of how tough conditions are in the grocery business when Sainsbury's 0.2% decline in sales for the 12 weeks ending 26 April was the best performance among the big four retailers. And those results look even more dismal when compared with Aldi, which reported a 15% gain in sales, and Lidl, which recorded a 10% rise - although they are both still much smaller than the big four. Those numbers come from Kantar Worldpanel.

  42. Grocery market deflation

    Tomatoes

    Growth in grocery market sales has slowed to 0.2% for the 12 weeks ending 26 April, compared with 1.9% in May 2014, "thanks to a record low for grocery price deflation", says Fraser McKevitt of Kantar Worldpanel. "This is good news for consumers, saving the average household £20 in the last three months. But many of the country's largest grocers have struggled to enjoy substantial growth, with lower prices taking £532m out of supermarket tills."

  43. UK bond yield up

    Pound coins

    The yield on ten-year UK government bonds has risen above 2.0% for the first time since December. Ten-year gilt yields hit 2.021 percent at 0740 GMT, their highest level since 8 December. Today's move continues a sell-off in debt that began around two weeks ago. And its not just UK debt that has been affected, many other nations have seen the price of national debt fall.

  44. Europe digital market push

    Raoul Lumb

    The European Commission is to announce its latest proposal for the digital single market initiative today, which will involve, for example, simplifying VAT payment rules for small businesses selling online. It wants to see more online services crossing borders in Europe. Raoul Lumb, technology associate at Hill Hofstetter says: "The idea is the EU should have a single digital marketplace online in the same way it has a single market for physical goods."

  45. Newspaper - business pages

    Newspapers

    The Guardian's Nils Pratley says that HSBC boss Stuart Gulliver "turned yesterday's quarterly results into an extended whinge about life in the UK". Mr Pratley makes the point that HSBC would be in better shape it it hadn't been fined for various wrong-doings. Andrew Clark in the Times says Mr Gulliver had a "hissy fit". The latest in Hewlett-Packard's long running battle to secure redress for its costly takeover of Britain's Autonomy is widely reported.

  46. Market update

    FTSE 100

    The FTSE 100 has been ducking in and out of positive territory in early trading. Imperial Tobacco saw the biggest gains after it said it may be open to buy additional brands, if Reynolds and Lorillard are made to sell further assets to get clearance for their merger.

  47. Greece pays up

    Greek parliament

    Greece has made a €200m (£148m) interest payment to the International Monetary Fund, according to reports. That's bought the nation a bit more time to negotiate with its creditors. But another payment of €750m is due on 12 May. Yesterday Germany's Bild newspaper reported that the Greek government had proposed a special levy on the nation's 500 richest families to help raise cash.

  48. Soc Gen results

    Logo of French bank Societe Generale

    French bank Societe Generale has reported a fivefold increase in its first quarter group net income. The bank saw reported group net income of €868m (£640m) for the first three months of the year, up from €169m in the same period last year, when the company took a €525m writedown on its Russian business.

  49. 'Caution' over Sainsbury's outlook

    Bernstein retail analyst Bruno Monteyne points out that Sainsbury's profits have held up well compared to rivals. Last year its underlying profits before tax fell 14%, while Tesco reported an 80% fall and Morrisons recorded a 52% drop. But Mr Monteyne remains "cautious" about Sainsbury, pointing out that the company intends to invest £200m in cutting prices in the current financial year.

  50. Poundland invites competition review

    Poundland store

    Bring it on, appears to be the attitude of Poundland as it attempts to buy rival 99p stores. Back in April the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its review of the deal. Last month Poundland said that it would not offer any changes to the deal to appease the CMA. Now Poundland says it wants the CMA to proceed with a deeper "Phase II" review of the takeover.

  51. Strong start for BMW

    BMW badges

    BMW had a strong start to the year. Sales grew 14.7% to 20.9bn euros. Profit before tax rose 5% to 2.27bn euros in the first quarter. BMW branded cars had a record quarter, as did the Mini brand. Rolls-Royce delivered 781 cars, down from 897 cars in 2014, but still the second-best sales figure for a first quarter.

  52. Sainsbury's boss

    BBC Radio 4

    Mike Coupe, chief executive is keen to see reform of business rates. He points out that Sainsbury's is one of the top ten tax payers in the UK, when it is only the 70th biggest firm. He says that supermarkets are unfairly penalised because they own so much property and are at an "inherent disadvantage" to online retailers.

  53. Sainsbury's boss

    BBC Radio 4

    Mike Coupe, Sainsbury's chief executive

    Has Sainsbury's written-off enough of the value of its property portfolio? "We believe so," chief executive Mike Coupe says on Today. He believes the company has a "robust" underlying profitability despite prices falling at an annual rate of 2.5%. Mr Coupe also says that customers tend to eat out more when they feel better off, which is bad for supermarkets.

  54. Sainsbury's loss

    Sainsbury's profits were hit by a charge of £753m last year. Of that £628m was announced in November when the company reviewed the value of its existing stores and cancelled some future developments. If you strip out that charge, underlying profit before tax was £681m, down 14.7%. Still not a great result.

  55. Sainsbury's results

    A general view of a Sainsbury"s supermarket in Cambridge

    Sainsbury's made a statutory full year loss of £72m for the 52 weeks to 14 March, the company has reported. This is the first statutory loss the firm has made for ten years.

  56. Newscorp results

    Newspapers New York

    Advertising revenue at News Corp's newspapers fell 12% in its most recent quarter, while circulation was down 6%. That contributed to weak results for the owner of the New York Post, The Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Australian newspapers. For the quarter, overall sales were down 1% to $2.06bn. Revenue was also hit by currency moves.

  57. The cost of the triple-lock

    BBC Radio 4

    Pensioners are likely to keep the triple-lock whoever wins on Thursday, says presenter Simon Jack on Today. The triple-lock means pensions go up 2.5% or at the rate of inflation, which ever is higher. "It costs £100bn a year" says Mark Wood, chief executive of JLT Employee Benefits. If you had to capitalise that, it would be around £1.4 trillion "which is the same as the value of all our houses", he says.

  58. Election and markets

    BBC Radio 4

    The markets could probably handle three or maybe four weeks of uncertainty after the election, says Brenda Kelly, head analyst, London Capital Group on Today. Belgium went 500 days without a government, points out Simon Jack. Belgium is "not of a similar ilk to the UK" MS Kelly says.

  59. Party spending plans

    Radio 5 live

    Anti-austerity, favoured by the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru, suggests we could close the deficit without spending cuts. Can that work? Paul Johnson from the Institute for Fiscal Studies is asked. "Well, yes, because actually to some extent you could achieve what Labour wants... with very little in the way of spending cuts at all. Essentially, as the economy grows, more tax revenues will come in, and that will reduce the gap between taxing and spending," he says. There is a debate as to whether that is austerity or not, though, he adds, as spending would be flat.

  60. Labour and Tory spending plans

    Radio 5 live

    Money

    With only 24 hours to go until the election, Paul Johnson, Institute for Fiscal Studies director, gives a handy precis of spending plans by Labour and the Conservatives on Wake Up to Money.

    Labour has said it wants to eliminate the current account deficit by around 2020, and the Conservatives want to completely get rid of the deficit by 2018.

    "There's a big difference in getting rid of the deficit, and getting rid of the current deficit. Labour are effectively saying they would be happy borrowing around £30bn a year, every year, after the end of the parliament. What that implies is the Conservatives need really, I mean really sharp cuts over the next two or three years in public spending to achieve what they want to achieve. The Labour party actually need very little at all in the way of cuts to achieve what they want."

  61. Good morning

    Tom Espiner

    Business reporter

    Sainsbury's is to announce its full year results this morning. The supermarket giant warned of falling sales in January, and said the outlook for the rest of the year remained challenging. Sainsbury's has been affected by the arrival of Aldi and Lidl - with five successive quarters of falling sales. Closely watched supermarket share figures are also out. GlaxoSmithKline has its first quarter results, and national pub operator JD Wetherspoon has its third quarter figures. If you want to get in touch email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk.