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Newspapers today: The Times, Independent, FT, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Express, Herald 170216

The Times

French bond trading doubles over election fears: The volume of French bonds being traded has doubled this month to levels not seen since the Eurozone crisis because of uncertainty about the outcome of the Presidential election in late April.

Defeated bidders on HS2 contract may go to court: The decision by HS2 Ltd to hand lucrative contracts to CH2M, the American consulting engineer, could end up in court because losing bidders for the latest parcel of work may launch a judicial review.

Gas storage site may be out of action: Britain has taken a step closer to relying on imported gas after Centrica said that the country’s only sizeable storage facility may be out of action next year.

New twist on menu at Simpson’s: One of London’s oldest and grandest dining rooms is to close for refurbishment, putting the future of its 27 staff in doubt.

Private firms should have code of conduct too, says IoD: The Institute of Directors is calling for a new corporate governance code for private companies after recent scandals, including the collapse of BHS.

Free trade ‘will lift growth’: Britain could record a 4% bounce in GDP if it stripped away tariffs on imports after leaving the European Union, according to pro-Brexit economists.

Uber hopes to charm its drivers out of revolt: Uber has launched a charm offensive aimed at its estimated 40,000 drivers in Britain in an attempt to head off protests and legal challenges over their employment status.

Eurozone can’t relax yet, ECB insists: Interest rate setters in the Eurozone concluded that it was too early to think about easing back on stimulus measures, according to the minutes of the European Central Bank’s monetary policy meeting last month.

Dividend hope caps solid year for Coca-Cola bottler: Shares of Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company fizzed more than 4% higher after the soft drinks maker reported strong 2016 results and hinted at the possibility of a special dividend.

Canada Goose set for $300 million float: Famous for its £1,000 parkas with coyote fur-lined hoods, Canada Goose is to go public with a dual listing in the U.S. and Canada that will provide an exit for Bain Capital, its owner.

Cult drama helps Virgin lure viewers: Virgin Media has reversed losses of television subscribers, swinging from a net decline in 2015 to a net gain last year as it upped its game against Sky with a new set-top box and network upgrade.

The Independent

Deutsche Bank has examined Trump’s accounts for Russia links: Deutsche Bank, the troubled German lender that loaned hundreds of millions of dollars to Donald Trump, has performed a detailed investigation into the U.S. President’s personal accounts in a bid determine whether he had any connections with Russia, according to the Guardian.

Chief Executives to earn 400 times the average worker by 2037: A major re-think of corporate governance is needed to improve transparency across U.K. Executives’ pay ahead of Britain’s departure from the EU, according to a new report.

Snapchat slashes valuation by billions ahead of stock market flotation: The owner of Snapchat has set the valuation on its initial public offering at between between $16.2 billion and $18.5 billion (£13 billion – £14.8 billion), significantly below expectations of between $20 billion and $25 billion, the BBC has reported.

Pressure group turns to crowdfunding to stop companies funding hate: A pressure group whose aim it is to encourage corporations to stop advertising on media outlets that they say encourage hate speech and extremism has launched a crowd-funding campaign to raise awareness and spread support.

EU worried it will be flooded by ‘British champagne’ after Brexit: The European Union is reportedly worried that “British champagne” and “British Parma ham” could flood the continent after the U.K. leaves the EU.

RBS accused of fraud and ‘systematic’ forgery by former employee: A former RBS employee has said the bank “systematically” forged documents in order to cover up its own misconduct.

Austria’s defence ministry to sue Airbus: The Austrian defence ministry has said that it will sue the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus over alleged corruption and bribery.

Global stocks hit all-time high thanks to Donald Trump’s promises and strong economic data: Global stocks scaled new all-time highs on Thursday, spurred by a double whammy of robust economic data and lingering confidence in the Trump administration’s promises to cut taxes and roll back regulation.

Financial Times

Return of $1 billion block trade energises Hong Kong market: Goldman Sachs bankers who agreed last weekend to underwrite the first $1 billion block trade in Hong Kong in almost a year were taking a risk. Selling a portion of billionaire Richard Li’s stake in the HKT telecoms company meant pushing a high-yielding stock in a market in which investors are favouring high-growth.

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One million U.S. consumers behind on car loan payments: More than a million U.S. consumers have fallen at least two months behind on car loan repayments as the delinquency rate reaches its highest level since 2009, in the latest sign of stress in the $1.1tn market.

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Allianz to launch €3 billion share buyback as earnings gain: Allianz said it would launch a share buyback worth up to €3 billion, as Europe’s largest insurance group posted a 23% rise in fourth-quarter profits.

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Clearing houses saddled with ‘too-big-to-fail’ tag: Clearing houses, the market utilities that manage the risk of billions of dollars worth of securities and derivative deals on a daily basis, are posing regulators a new headache.

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Bruce Carnegie-Brown set to be named Chairman of Lloyd’s: Bruce Carnegie-Brown is set to be named as the new Chairman of Lloyd’s, the London insurance market. The 58-year-old will replace John Nelson, who has held the post since 2011 and is due to step down later this year.

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Fidelity boasts record operating profit of $3.5 billion: Fidelity, the privately-owned U.S. financial group, made a record operating profit of $3.5 billion last year, according to its latest annual report, which underscored how the company has moved far beyond its historic business of actively managed mutual funds.

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Norway plans shake-up of $900 billion oil fund: Norway’s government has proposed the biggest changes to the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund in decades, cutting the amount of oil money the country can spend each year and tilting the fund towards higher risk by investing about $90 billion more in stock markets.

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Atlas Mara in share placement as Chief Executive steps down: The woes of Bob Diamond’s London-listed African investment vehicle Atlas Mara have deepened after it announced the immediate departure of its Chief Executive and raised extra funds from an overnight placing.

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U.K. audit watchdog wants power to discipline company Directors: The U.K.’s audit watchdog has called for powers to discipline company Directors over financial reporting failures as it said it would launch a review of the U.K.’s Corporate Governance Code.

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Vodafone’s U.K. tax bill falls 20% to £257 million: Vodafone’s direct tax contribution to the U.K. Treasury dropped by a fifth in the last financial year, as payments related to its 2010 settlement with the tax authorities wound down.

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Mitsubishi Heavy rules out Toshiba nuclear rescue: Japanese conglomerate Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has ruled out rescuing Toshiba’s stricken nuclear reactor business, warning there are too many differences between their respective technologies to make a tie-up possible.

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Facebook Chief Zuckerberg posts manifesto defending social media: Facebook co-Founder Mark Zuckerberg mounted a broad defence of social media on Thursday, taking on growing concerns about his company’s contribution to everything from recruitment by terrorists to the spread of fake news.

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Google shifts position over internet balloons: Google’s dream of a fleet of high-altitude balloons drifting around the world and beaming internet down to the planet took a new turn on Thursday, as the company said it could bring the idea “years” closer to reality by instead fixing the balloons over a single location.

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Lenovo profits fall 67% as mobile and data centres struggle: Lenovo shares sank almost 7% after the world’s biggest PC maker reported a 67% fall in profits to $98 million in the final quarter of 2016.

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Air France-KLM to cut costs further after profits rise 35%: Air France-KLM has promised to cut costs and boost passenger capacity this year in an effort to “regain the offensive” in the lucrative long-haul market, as the group reported a 35% increase in full-year earnings.

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Lex:

Atlas Mara: Diamond cutter: On Thursday Atlas Mara axed Chief Executive John Vitalo and announced deep cost cuts. A belated savings pledge is welcome — but scepticism about the venture remains. Chairman Diamond argues his team brings operating expertise in areas such as treasury, trade and commodity finance, digital banking and partnerships via credit card companies such as MasterCard and Visa.

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Snap: court short: Not every Section 11 claim is dubious. It was used in the wake of WorldCom’s fraud. An even simpler way allows such claims to be avoided: they can only be brought if the share price falls below the offer price in the first three years following the IPO. That list of shame is lengthy, spanning Fitbit and Twitter, GoPro and Lending Club. Snap has just cut its IPO valuation target sharply, from $25 billion to $18.5 billion. That remains a rich but less wild price, giving it a better chance of a successful IPO, and of avoiding subsequent claims of fraud.

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Cobham: ditching ballast: If Cobham was an aircraft, it certainly would not be a stealth fighter. After its fifth profit warning in little more than a year, and a hefty writedown, the U.K. components maker is a substantial blip on the radar of City bears. It needs to find a flight path that attracts less flak.

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Lombard:

Drax dividend decision proves a drag to investors: Drax, owner of the U.K.’s largest power station, may recognise this subsidy/tax contradiction. Drax was able to benefit from one EU decision, though: approval late last year of a contract for difference, guaranteeing it a minimum price for biomass-derived power. This underpinned earnings of £140 million, but not enough to fund both new investment and a dividend increase — much to the City’s chagrin.

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The Daily Telegraph

Banks caution against ‘significant’ overhaul of pay rules: The U.K.’s biggest banks have warned the Government against launching a “significant” overhaul of the rules governing Executive pay, the Daily Telegraph has learned.

Philip Hammond is an ‘economic illiterate’ on trade, says former Thatcher adviser: Chancellor Philip Hammond is an “economic illiterate” and does not understand the benefits of free trade, according to veteran economist and former Treasury Advisor Professor Patrick Minford.

Nestlé’s new Boss sets out recipe for growth as sales disappoint: Nestlé will ditch poorly performing businesses that cannot be fixed and spend millions more on restructuring the company, its new Chief Executive said, as the food giant reported lacklustre full-year results.

Shire’s shares rally as pharma giant beats expectations: Shares in Shire jumped 6% after the pharmaceuticals giant reported full-year results that beat City forecasts.

The Questor Column:

This 22% discount can’t last – and the new manager is motivated to deliver: The actual fate that could await the team that runs the Montanaro U.K. Smaller Companies trust is that shareholders could vote to wind it up, putting them out of a job. If it fails to narrow before the poll, shareholders could be encouraged vote for a wind-up, which would take place at much closer to net asset value, effectively eliminating the discount and handing them an instant profit. If, on the other hand, the discount does narrow between now and the vote, they are in line for a windfall from the rising share price. Irrespective of such tactical motives for buying the shares, there are good reasons to expect an improvement in performance. Opportunistic investors could not be certain that the vote would be for liquidation, which would remove some of the buying pressure and limit the narrowing of the discount. Mr Montanaro has an excellent long-term track record, making returns of 111.7% over the past decade, compared with 81.3% for his peers, according to FE Trustnet, the investment analyst. Questor says ‘Buy’.

The Guardian

Argos to pay £2.4 million to 37,000 workers paid less than minimum wage: Argos is being forced to pay £2.4 million in wages to more than 37,000 current and former shopworkers, and has been fined nearly £1.5 million after a HMRC investigation.

Business rates rise is biggest issue for small firms in London: Nearly three-quarters of small companies in London say business rates are the most important issue they face, piling further pressure on the government over the controversial tax.

Vauxhall’s future in U.K. is secure, says business secretary: The U.K. business secretary has said he has been reassured about the future of General Motors’ Vauxhall production operations in Britain, following a meeting with the U.S. carmaker’s Chairman.

Choi-gate: Samsung heir Lee Jae-yong formally arrested for corruption: The Samsung heir, Lee Jae-yong, has been formally arrested as part of a probe into the “Choi-gate” corruption and influence-peddling scandal that led to the impeachment of Park Geun-Hye as South Korea’s President.

Giggs and Neville skyscrapers ‘threaten Manchester’s heritage’: A plan by former footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville to build two bronze skyscrapers in Manchester city centre is a “planning disaster of a magnitude not seen in decades,” heritage bodies have warned as they urged Ministers to intervene.

Daily Mail

Insurance Bosses at Beazley cash in £5 million after share price surges 10% since start of the year: Board members at insurer Beazley cashed in almost £4.9million of shares after a recent surge in the stock. Five Executives at the firm sold share options, offloading more than 1.2 million shares in the business, in total.

We were wrong on Brexit, admit top economists as they more than triple their growth forecasts for the U.K.: Leading economists have more than tripled their growth forecasts for the U.K. this year in a stunning admission they were wildly wrong about the impact of Brexit.

Power company Drax dives after dividend is cut as it reinvents itself for a low carbon future: Power company Drax is planning to review its dividend policy as it reinvents itself for a future without coal.

Fears for the City as Deutsche Boerse Boss claims German takeover of LSE will create 300 jobs in Frankfurt: A German takeover of the London Stock Exchange will create 300 jobs in Frankfurt – fuelling fears it will take the City’s business. Deutsche Boerse wants to buy LSE for £21billion, which critics say is against the U.K.’s interest.

Budget airline Wizz Air chooses Luton for its first U.K. hub amid booming demand for trips: Budget airline Wizz Air is opening its first U.K. base, in Luton, stressing its commitment to Britain. The low-cost carrier, founded in Hungary, is opening the hub amid booming demand for trips here.

Laura Ashley shares drop 10% as it warns on profits after poor Christmas: Laura Ashley suffered a 29% drop in pre-tax profits in the final six months of 2016, amid falling sales and rising costs.

Daily Express

Cobham shares hit 11-year low as aerospace group fires fifth profit warning in 15 months: Cobham shares plunged to their lowest for more than 11 years as the aerospace and defence technology group fired off its fifth profit warning in 15 months.

‘We need a post-Brexit visa’ Unskilled migrants cost U.K. taxpayers £3,500 each, say experts: Unskilled migrants to Britain drain thousands of pounds more from the country than they contribute, according to a group of economists backing the end of uncontrolled immigration after Brexit.

Trump trade could end in Dow Jones and FTSE stock market crash: Record high stock markets have raised fears the bubble could BURST with a devastating crash looming on the horizon.

Heineken’s £403 million takeover of Punch Taverns under scrutiny by competition watchdog: Heineken’s £403 million takeover of pub chain Punch Taverns is being put under the microscope by Britain’s competition watchdog amid concerns over the deal.

The Scottish Herald

Ian McConnell: Chancellor should take a leaf out of TUC book as pay squeeze looms: Hard-pressed U.K. households might feel, entirely justifiably, that they are due a break from the exhausting economic headwinds of recent years. Sadly, however, two sets of key economic statistics this week highlight the likelihood that things are set to get even worse.

Berkshire Hathaway-owned metals firm shuts plant in Livingston after loss: Caledonian Alloys, the aerospace metals recycler owned by U.S. billionaire Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway, fell into the red ahead of the closure of its plant in Livingston in December.

Property deals in cities are all set to total £68 million: The Cuprum building in Glasgow is on the verge of being sold for £28 million to a fund controlled by Credit Suisse in what would be the biggest property deal in the city since the Brexit vote.

Activist investor ups Johnston Press stake: Crystal Amber has increased its stake in Johnston Press, the publishing group which owns The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post newspapers, to 21.36%.

North Sea star joins Wood: Wood Group has appointed North Sea veteran Alan Johnstone to lead the European arm of the division that maintains and modifies oil and gas facilities such as production platforms.

Beattie Communications grows sales and profits: Beattie Communications Group increased profits by around 6% in its 30th anniversary year helped by winning new clients.

Call for tariff-free deal with the EU: The Director of the Scottish Retail Consortium has stressed the importance of getting a fair deal for consumers in the Brexit negotiations.

The Scotsman

Deal struck for rental flats development in Leith: Nearly 140 build-to-rent flats have been given the go-ahead in Leith after property firm Rettie & Co concluded legals on behalf of Forth Ports.

Cala poised to build another year of record profits: Upmarket housebuilder Cala Group said it was on course deliver another year of record earnings as it hailed a “very strong” performance for the first half.

North Berwick gin makes it a treble at Brit Awards: East Lothian spirits firm NB Gin is preparing for a return appearance at the Brit Awards with special limited edition bottles.

Comms agency Beattie buoyed by record annual results: Beattie, the public relations and ­communications group, has predicted a “flourishing” year ahead after unveiling record annual results.

Microsoft hikes prices by up to 15% after Brexit vote: Microsoft has raised prices on a raft of products including laptops and tablets by as much as 15% in direct response to the collapse in the pound following the Brexit vote.

City A.M.

Sales of bad debt top €100 billion in 2016 as Europe’s banks try to put crisis behind them: European loan sales broke through the €100 billion (£85 billion) mark in 2016 as struggling banks look to offload big books of bad debt.

Asset manager Fidelity urges Ministers to get tough on Executive pay committees: Fidelity International wants Ministers to back a proposal for boardroom pay committee chairs to be forced out if a large minority of shareholders do not back remuneration plans.

ECB continues to look through rising inflation as big risks loom on the horizon: The European Central Bank (ECB) remains committed to “looking through” rises in headline inflation as Europe faces a balance of risks “tilted to the downside”, according to the minutes from its latest monetary policy meeting.

Italian parliament signs off on €20 billion bank bailout fund, as country’s lenders creak under billions of euros of non-performing loans: Italy’s parliament has given the thumbs up to the law which will create a €20 billion (£17 billion) bailout fund for the country’s troubled banks.

The City of London’s policy chair is taking up the Chairman role at the firm which runs the U.K.’s cash machine network: The firm responsible for running the U.K.’s 70,000-strong cash machine network has appointed the City of London’s policy chair as its new Chairman.

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Disclaimer: Statements in this article should not be considered investment advice, which is best sought directly from a qualified professional.