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Live Reporting

By Mary-Ann Russon

All times stated are UK

  1. More on ECB minutes

    Quote Message: The account of the ECB’s last meeting confirms that the governing council had become more concerned about the outlook for the eurozone economy by January, and that the ECB is preparing to announce more longer-term refinancing operations within the coming months. But it sheds no further light on other possible policy moves in the event that the current slowdown proves deeper or longer-lasting than expected. from Andrew Kenningham Chief Europe Economist, Capital Economics
    Andrew KenninghamChief Europe Economist, Capital Economics
  2. Good afternoon

    Firefighter Ricky Davis  and Crew Commander Daniel Cooper

    Thanks Karen and Jill for this morning's live coverage of all things business.

    Mary-Ann Russon with you until 21:30 for the rest of the day's news and views.

    Today an investiture ceremony took place at Buckingham Palace in London.

    Pictured are firefighter Ricky Davis and Crew Commander Daniel Cooper with their Queen's Gallantry Medal, awarded for rescuing residents at a care home during a serious fire.

    Got a point of view? You can tweet me at @concertina226 and @BBCBusiness.

  3. 'Too much too fast'

    For sale sign

    The problems at Purplebricks are a "classic case of trying to do too much, too fast", according to Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell.

    "Success in the UK gave management confidence they could take over the world. Alas, that has proved nothing more than a pipe dream.

    “Efforts to crack the US and Australia haven’t resulted in the expected revenues and so the company has been forced to issue a profit warning, triggering a 38% slump in its share price.

    “The overseas setbacks will be a huge embarrassment for the company which has tried to be a pioneering force in the real estate sector."

  4. ECB minutes

    ECB

    The European Central Bank took a gloomier outlook on growth, according to the minutes of its January meeting.

    "The risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook had moved to the downside, as the persistence of uncertainties related to geopolitical factors and the threat of protectionism, vulnerabilities in emerging markets and financial market volatility was increasingly weighing on economic sentiment," the minutes said.

    They also appear to show the central bank for the eurozone could be considering offering banks long-term loans to ensure they can keep lending during an economic downturn.

    "A number of remarks were made regarding available monetary policy tools in the domain of longer-term liquidity provision. Any potential new operations should reflect the monetary policy objectives to be achieved. While any decisions in this respect should not be taken too hastily, the technical analyses required to prepare policy options for future liquidity operations needed to proceed swiftly," the minutes said.

  5. China 'holds up Australian coal imports'

    BBC World Service

    China is reported to be holding up imports of Australian coal in what some believe is retaliation for recent political differences, according to BBC World Service.

    A number of harbours in northern China, including Dalian, are said to be refusing to accept Australian coal altogether.

    At other ports, coal shipments appear to be taking longer than usual to clear customs.

    Coal is Australia's biggest single export, worth nearly $50bn (£38bn) dollars a year.

    Canberra and Beijing have recently argued over a number of issues, including Australia's decision to exclude a Chinese billionaire.

  6. Centrica's dividend

    share graph over five years

    The chart shows the share price of Centrica over the last five years.

    The shares in the company, which owns British Gas, are now down 12% after its warning that profits will be hit by the energy regulator's tariff price cap.

    Ian Forrest, investment research analyst at The Share Centre, says there are questions about the dividend, as does George Salmon at Hargreaves Lansdown.

    While the dividend has been held at 12p this year, Mr Salmon said Centrica is increasingly relying on cost cutting and disposals to prop up the payment.

    "Neither can continue forever. We wouldn’t be surprised if a cut was around the corner, especially given the group has previously stated it was only comfortable committing to the dividend if it could generate over £2.1bn of adjusted operating cash flow, a figure that now looks out of reach next year.”

  7. OBR forecast

    chart

    The Office for Budget Responsibility has commented on the public sector finances data, which showed the largest January borrowing surplus since records began in 1993.

    "Double-digit growth in tax receipts in January generated a record monthly budget surplus, up sharply relative to last year. Over the first ten months of 2018-19, borrowing is now down almost half relative to the same period in 2017-18 – a slightly larger fall than implied by our latest full-year forecast." the OBR said.

    The fall in borrowing has been greater than its forecast because of an increase in tax receipts while spending growth has been weaker because of a 9% fall in debt interest.

    "There is particular uncertainty over Brexit-related spending int he final months of 2018/9," it said.

    This was the final data release before the OBR's next forecast on 13 March - alongside Philip Hammond's Spring Statement.

  8. Gas ban in new homes within six years?

    Woman and boiler

    New homes should be banned from connecting to the gas grid within six years to tackle climate change, UK government advisers say.

    They want new-build homes in the countryside to be warmed by heat pumps - and cooking done on induction hobs, rather than using gas boilers and hobs.

    In cities, new housing estates and flats should be kept warm by networks of hot water, says the report.

    The water could be heated by waste heat from industry.

    An alternative approach is to use heat pumps, which draw warmth from the sea or lakes; or burn gas from waste. Read the full story here

  9. SSE hikes energy prices

    Hand turning over knob

    SSE has joined the rest of the Big Six energy suppliers and raised its standard variable energy tariff to meet Ofgem's latest price cap.

    The 10.22% increase comes in on 1 April.

    It means a typical customer on a standard tariff will pay £1,254 a year, a rise of £117.

    The increase will affect around 2.1 million SSE customers.

    Tony Keeling, SSE's chief operating officer and co-head of retail, said: "We regret having to raise prices but with wholesale costs having steadily increased, as shown by Ofgem's calculations, we need to pass these on in our prices."

    The energy regulator said on 7 February that it would increase the price cap for default and standard variable gas and electricity tariffs by £117 to £1,254 a year from April 1 due to hikes in wholesale costs.

  10. Russia charges US investor with fraud

    Calvey

    Russian prosecutors have charged US investor Michael Calvey with fraud, his lawyer Dmitry Kletochkin has said.

    Mr Calvey, the founder of Baring Vostok private equity group, and several other senior executives were arrested last week on suspicion of defrauding Vostochny Bank shareholders. They deny the allegations and say the case is being used to apply pressure in a business dispute.

    Prosecutors claim Mr Calvey is suspected of embezzling 2.5 billion rubles (£29m) from Vostochny Bank, where Baring Vostok has a controlling stake.

    The firm was keen earlier this week to reassure investors that it's business as usual.

    It said that senior partner Elena Ivashentseva and co-founder Alexei Kalinin are now running things.

  11. Growth downgrades?

    money

    The economic forecasting group EY Item Club points out that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, may have to set out downgrades to the growth forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility in the Spring Statement on 13 March.

    The record high in January public finances will be a "welcome boost" against a "worrying backdrop".

    "With the economy clearly struggling early on in 2019 after a sharp slowdown in the fourth quarter of 2018 and the Brexit situation highly uncertain, the Chancellor will have a lot on his mind when he presents the Spring Statement.

    "It looks highly likely that he will have to announce downgraded growth forecasts from the OBR at least for the near-term with possible negative ramifications for expected budget deficits," the EY Item Club said.

    The Bank of England has already cut its forecasts for growth this year to 1.2% from 1.6%.

  12. Caution over pound's outlook

    However, Fiona Cincotta, market analyst at City Index, sounds a note of caution on the outlook for the pound.

    "While Theresa May is busy negotiating in Brussels, domestic politics is splintering more and more making it fairly unlikely that any Brexit proposal will get a green light from Parliament.

    For the time being sterling traders are working with a "positive outcome scenario" she says meaning that the pound is up against the dollar and the euro.

    "But if May’s next Brexit proposal is not approved by MPs the possible outcomes will narrow to either postponing the Brexit deadline or leaving the EU without a deal, neither of which will be supportive of the pound," she adds.

  13. FTSE 100 dragged down by 'bad day' for company news

    Interior of London Stock Exchange

    So what's behind the fall in the FTSE 100?

    The index continued to struggle with what was, all told, a bad day for corporate updates, says Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex.

    He points to Centrica's 11% fall after a "woeful" statement that included a further drop in customers at British Gas and another warning about the impact of Ofgem’s price cap on its financial performance.

    He also highlights a fall of more than 6% in shares in BAE Systems, following a reminder in its "upbeat update" about the "precarious nature of the current geopolitical moment".

    Commodity stocks were also down notes Mr Campbell.

  14. Markets midday update

    Man with Union Jack umbrella in front of London Stock Exchange sign

    Let's catch up with how the FTSE 100 is doing and at midday it's still trading lower at 7,179.47, a fall of 49 points or 0.68%.

  15. Why is the pound up against the dollar?

    Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker
    Image caption: Theresa May met Jean-Claude Juncker at the start of her negotiations in Brussels

    So let's take a more in-depth look at why the pound has perked up against the dollar.

    The boost to the currency comes amid Prime Minister Theresa May's three-days of negotiations in Brussels, which kicked off with a meeting between Mrs May and EC president Jean-Claude Juncker,

    According to Fiona Cincotta at City Index there are "signals that Prime Minister Theresa May could achieve some success in her Brexit talks in Brussels".

    "An encouraging press statement and was followed up by a positive comment from Chancellor Phillip Hammond saying the PM could present a revised Brexit deal as early as next week."

  16. Pound up

    pound

    The pound is up against the dollar and has edging towards the $1.31 level

    The currency touched $1.3086 but is now up 0.20% at 1.3069.

    Chancellor Philip Hammond said earlier that the government was trying to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

  17. Headroom

    chart

    These are the last public finance figures before Philip Hammond's Spring Statement next month, Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics, points out.

    He said the figures show the government is on track to undershoot the forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility for £25.5bn of borrowing in 2018/9 financial year.

    He calculates the Chancellor has £15bn of "headroom" for spending compared to his fiscal rules.

    "If a Brexit deal is secured, we think that a pick-up in economic growth in 2019 will increase the size of that headroom. And if there is a no-deal Brexit, the Chancellor should have plenty of scope to support growth, and if needed to the Chancellor would sacrifice his fiscal rules for the economy," he said.