First Russian superyacht seized in British waters
A £38m superyacht, owned by a Russian businessman, has been seized as part of sanctions against Russia, in Canary Wharf, east London, the UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps announced. It is the first vessel to be detained in the UK.
Officials boarded “Phi,” named after the mathematical concept, on Tuesday. It is 58.5 metres long, and has an “infinite wine cellar” and a freshwater swimming pool. The vessel was in London for a superyacht awards ceremony and was due to depart at noon.
Today we’ve detained a £38m superyacht and turned an icon of Russia’s power and wealth into a clear and stark warning to Putin and his cronies. Detaining the Phi proves, yet again, that we can and will take the strongest possible action against those seeking to benefit from connections to Putin’s regime.
The Department for Transport said it worked with the National Crime Agency and the Border Force maritime investigation bureau to identify and detain the vessel. It declined to reveal the name of the owner.
The department described Phi’s ownership as “deliberately well-hidden”. The vessel is registered to a company based in Saint Kitts and Nevis and carries a Maltese flag. The ship made its maiden voyage last year after being built in the Netherlands.
The UK government is aiming to triple the number of solar panels, more than quadruple offshore wind power and double onshore wind and nuclear energy by 2030, in a move that could lower bills for consumers and reduce the UK’s reliance on foreign energy suppliers such as Russia, writes Mark Sweney.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business minister, has put forward the targets as part of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s plans for inclusion in the upcoming energy security white paper.
The paper has faced delays because the cost of approving at least six nuclear power stations as part of an expansion of the UK’s renewable energy strategy has been debated at the Treasury.
Britons are drinking cocktails in record numbers at home and in bars.
According to the drinks group AG Barr, consumers are opting for a pornstar martini or mojito in a trend accelerated during the pandemic, reports my colleague Mark Sweney.
The Scottish company, which makes Irn-Bru, Rubicon and cocktail brand Funkin, said 7.4 million people drink cocktails when they go to a bar, club or restaurant, a 13% increase compared with pre-pandemic levels. About 43% of those cocktail drinkers indulge at least once a week.
And here’s our full story on the rise in UK grocery price inflation to 5.2%, the highest since April 2012.
UK shoppers are choosing to shop at discount supermarkets in greater numbers as grocery price inflation reaches the highest level in a decade amid a mounting cost of living crisis, reports our retail correspondent Sarah Butler.
Aldi grabbed its biggest share of the grocery market to date and Lidl matched its previous peak as grocery price inflation reached 5.2% in March, the highest level since April 2012, according to the latest figures from analysts Kantar.
Here’s the latest in the P&O Ferries sackings saga.
P&O Ferries has rejected the government’s call to move this week’s deadline for the 800 sacked workers to accept redundancy offers, saying most had already signed contracts and ministers were “ignoring the situation’s fundamental and factual realities,” reports our transport correspondent Gwyn Topham.
In a bullish response to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the ferry operator’s chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, said the demand was legally impossible and would close the firm down.
He wrote to Shapps: “Complying with your request would deliberately cause the company’s collapse, resulting in the irretrievable loss of an additional 2,200 jobs. I cannot imagine that you would wish to compel an employer to bring about its downfall, affecting not hundreds but thousands of families.”
European shares push higher as peace talks resume
European shares are pushing higher, as negotiators from Ukraine and Russia resumed talks in Istanbul.
The FTSE 100 index in London has climbed nearly 100 points, or 1.3%, to 7,570, while Germany’s Dax is up almost 2%, France’s CAC 40 is 2.4% ahead and Italy’s FTSE MiB has posted a 2.1% gain.
Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has dismissed reports that the sanctioned Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich suffered symptoms consistent with poisoning during an informal round of talks earlier this month, calling the reports “part of the information war.”
The Chelsea FC owner is part of the latest talks in Istanbul, Peskov confirmed, but said the Russian billionaire was not an official member of the delegation.
You can read more on our Ukraine live blog:
Consumer stocks such as the Coca-Cola HBC bottling company, JD Sports and Ocado are leading the share gains in London.
Barclays is the top faller on the FTSE 100, trading 3.6% lower at 154.68p. It fell as much as 6% in early trading, after one of its main shareholders offloaded $1.2bn off shares at a discount overnight.
An unnamed investor sold 599m shares, facilitated by Goldman Sachs, and equivalent to a 3.6% stake, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
It’s another blow to the UK bank, a day after it disclosed a bond sales blunder, which led to a £450m loss for overselling structured products in the US.
UK consumer borrowing rises to five-year high
UK consumers borrowed an additional £1.9bn in February, a five-year high, of which £1.5bn was borrowing racked up on credit cards.
Mortgage approvals fell slightly in February, but remained above pre-pandemic levels, according to data from the Bank of England published this morning. The monthly figure fell to 71,000 in February from 73,800 in January, still above the pre-pandemic average of 66,700 in the 12 months to February 2020.
Paul Dales, chief UK economist at Capital Economics, said:
The leap in credit card borrowing in February and smaller increase in household savings could suggest that the cost of living crisis is already starting to bite. But we think it is more likely that households had the confidence to borrow and spend a bit more and/or were willing to use borrowing/savings to smooth their spending. As a result, the economy may have a bit more near-term momentum than we thought.
The £1.9bn rise in consumer credit beat the consensus forecast of £800m, was the largest in five years and compared to the pre-pandemic 2019 average rise of £1.1bn. Admittedly, as it was driven by a £1.5bn gain in borrowing on credit cards, it could be a result of the cost of living crisis forcing people to turn to credit.
But while that may be true for some people, typically during periods when finances are tight households in aggregate pare back their demand for credit.
Rouble rises to one-month high, Russian stocks mixed
The Russian rouble continues to strengthen against the dollar. It’s up more than 2% at 87.81 per dollar, touching 87.40 per dollar earlier, its highest level since 28 February (four days after Russia invaded Ukraine).
Russia is demanding to be paid in roubles for its gas shipments, and exporting firms are required to convert 80% off their foreign currency earnings into roubles. This is supporting the Russian currency, said Iskander Lutsko, chief investment strategist at ITI Capital.
Referring to the Russian stock market, which fully reopened yesteday after weeks of shutdown, he told Reuters:
The market now really depends on progress in negotiations between Russia and Ukraine.
The rouble-based Moex Russia index has turned negative, trading 2.45% lower at the moment, after an earlier gain of more than 4%. The dollar-denominated RTS index is clinging on to a 4% increase, after climbing more than 10% earlier.
The Russian flag carrier Aeroflot, one of the most volatile stocks since the market reopened, jumped nearly 15%. The oil and gas giant Rosneft and the state lender Sberbank are both up more than 2%, after earlier bigger gains.
RAC: Fuel duty cut hasn’t been fully passed on; VAT cut would have been immediate
The latest fuel prices from the RAC motoring group show that the chancellor’s fuel duty cut of 5p per litre, plus 1p for VAT, hasn’t been passed on in full by petrol stations across the UK.
It said Rishi Sunak missed a trick – a VAT cut on fuel would have given drivers “an immediate and guaranteed reduction on their fuel bill”.
According to the RAC, the average petrol price was 167.01p per litre last Wednesday, when Rishi Sunak presented his spring statement (a mini-budget), and dropped to 163.30p yesterday – a fall of 3.71p. The average price of diesel dropped by 2.79p from 179.90p last Wednesday to 177.11p yesterday.
RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said:
Unfortunately, wholesale fuel prices were already rising before the chancellor made his announcement on fuel duty last week. This meant retailers were buying fuel in at a higher cost than they were a week earlier, which meant drivers may not have immediately and fully benefitted from the duty cut. Wholesale prices are currently falling, but it’s likely to be next week before we see what impact this has at the pumps.
Had the chancellor instead cut VAT on motor fuel last week, drivers would have seen an immediate and guaranteed reduction in their fuel bill next time they visited a petrol station. As things stand, drivers remain entirely dependent on what is happening on the wholesale market and the extent to which retailers are able or willing to pass on savings they make.
The UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is under mounting pressure over accusations that his wife, Akshata Murthy, is collecting “bloody money” in dividends from a family company that has refused to pull out of Russia, despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, writes my colleague Rupert Neate.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are calling on Sunak to answer “very serious questions” over Murthy’s estimated $900m (£690m) stake in the IT services and consultancy company Infosys.
Infosys, which was founded by her billionaire father, NR Narayana Murthy, continues to operate in Russia while most big global IT and consultancy firms such as SAP, Oracle, PwC, McKinsey, Accenture and KPMG have all closed their Russian operations.
Sunak, who has repeatedly called on British companies to pull out of Russia in order to “inflict maximum economic pain” on Putin’s regime, refused to comment on his wife’s 0.91% stake in Infosys.
Here is a profile of Akshata Murthy. Money comes in from her 0.91% stake in Infosys, which is valued at about $900m (£690m), making Murthy richer than the Queen (£365m).
Our Guardian US reporter Lauren Aratani has looked at how America is embarking on the great new experiment of hybrid working.
It can be hard to remember what work at the office was like before the pandemic forced millions of Americans to start working from home. That shift was monumental and seemingly implausible, until it happened. But people soon adapted to saying “sorry, you’re on mute” on Zoom calls and wearing sweatpants all day.
This spring, workers are finally heading back to the office en masse and into another untested and ambitious experiment in work life: hybrid working.
“This is a brave new world – we’re doing something we’ve never done before, which is we’re going to go, en masse, hybrid,” said Nicholas Bloom, an economics professor at Stanford.