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Newspapers today: The Times, Independent, FT, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Express, Herald 160316

The Times

Doubts surface over sale of royal cruise ship: Questions have arisen over the sale of the 72-metre vessel, one of the world’s smallest cruise ships, to investors led by Roger Allard, a travel industry veteran and the former Chairman and majority shareholder of All Leisure, shortly before the group’s collapse.

Property group in talks to walk from City landmark: Canary Wharf Group is in discussions to sell the 50% stake that it manages and owns in the Walkie Talkie, one of the City of London’s newer landmarks, for about £600 million, according to CoStar News.

Habgood approved Hogg denial letter: The Chairman of the court of the Bank of England approved the letter from Charlotte Hogg that contained the final “serious error of judgment”, which convinced MPs she was unsuitable to be deputy Governor.

Playtech creator nets £113 million in stake sale: Teddy Sagi has cashed in £113 million of shares in Playtech after receiving an approach to buy some of his remaining 21.6% stake in the gambling technology company.

‘Cheap’ green policies will cost households £200 year by 2030: Energy bill payers should be “surprised” by the low cost of policies to tackle global warming, the government’s official climate adviser has said as it forecast that they would cost households £200 a year by 2030.

Energy minnows back call for price cap to protect customers: Three independent energy suppliers with more than a million customers between them have backed calls to cap the difference between companies’ most expensive and cheapest deals.

Oil pumps up as market starts to move back into balance: Oil prices rose higher after the International Energy Agency said an Opec deal to cut supply should succeed in creating a crude deficit in the first half of the year.

Brexit leads builders to quit London: Foreign construction workers at Battersea Power Station are leaving the country because of the Brexit vote, the Chief Executive of the development company behind the site has said.

Recruiter expands to avoid Brexit impact: Robert Walters said that pre-tax profits had risen 26% to £28.1 million, a record high for the company, as fee income from its regional businesses had risen last year, helping to push the group to an unparalleled performance.

The Independent

Controversial weedkiller ‘does not cause cancer’, experts conclude: The weedkiller glyphosate – the main ingredient of Roundup – does not cause cancer, a European Union expert committee has controversially concluded.

Renault’s entire management team ‘implicated in emissions test fraud’: Renault’s entire senior management team is implicated in an investigation into emissions test cheating, news agency Agence France-Presse has reported.

Ikea drivers ‘forced to live in lorries’ by wages of under £3 an hour: Lorry drivers working for companies delivering goods for Ikea are being paid less than £3 an hour, with some saying they are forced to live in their vehicles, an investigation has revealed.

Tesco and Lindt recall chicken meals and Easter eggs: Tesco is urgently recalling a batch of chicken meals and Lindt is recalling two batches of Easter eggs, because the products contain allergens that are not mentioned on the label.

U.S. cities shop for $10 billion of electric vehicles in defiance of Trump: Thirty U.S. cities have asked the auto industry about the possibility of buying 114,000 electric vehicles – including police cars, rubbish trucks and street sweepers – for about $10 billion (about £8.2 billion) to help cut carbon emissions from the transport sector.

Toshiba shares tumble putting future of new U.K. nuclear plant in doubt: Toshiba’s shares crashed 8.1% on Wednesday after it announced it would consider selling its troubled Westinghouse unit, putting the future of its planned U.K. nuclear plant in doubt.

M&S launches cafes for people to talk about their mental health: Marks & Spencer is launching a string of cafés designed to provide a space for people to escape the bustle of daily life, share stories about their mental health and be reminded that it’s “ok not to be ok”.

Wage growth weakens in January: Wage growth weakened again in January, making a near term interest rate hike from the Bank of England less likely.

IoD slams Rolls-Royce CEO’s £960,000 bonus: Rolls-Royce’s decision to award Warren East, its CEO, a bonus of £916,000 even after the aero-engine maker’s full-year earnings plunged was ill advised, according to the Institute of Directors, which represents U.K. business leaders.

Pound sterling remains near eight-week lows against U.S. dollar: The pound remained close to an eight-week low against a slew of other currencies on Wednesday, pressured by lasting uncertainty over when Theresa May will trigger Article 50, and the prospect of a new Scottish independence referendum.

Financial Times

Eon pledges to cut costs after record loss of €16 billion: Eon, the German utility, recorded a net loss of €16 billion for 2016 — the largest in its history — and unveiled ambitious measures to reduce debt by €7 billion through asset sales and cutting 1,300 jobs.

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Inpex’s $37 billion Australia LNG project hit by dispute: A series of contractual disputes at the $37 billion Ichthys liquefied natural gas project near Darwin are threatening further delays and cost overruns to Japan’s largest single investment in Australia.

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State-backed shadow funds drive up China valuations: State-backed shadow funds in China are helping drive corporate valuations in the region into “nosebleed territory”, according to a new report.

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Wells Fargo’s new CEO got 17% compensation increase in 2016: The scandal hit U.S. bank Wells Fargo has awarded new Chief Executive Tim Sloan $12.8 million for his work last year, up 17% from a year ago.

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Wall Street bonus pool boosted by Trump rally: Wall Street’s bonus pool rose for the first time in three years last year, as bankers and traders revelled in a fourth-quarter rally touched off by the election of Donald Trump.

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Oxford to start £10 million research project on medical marijuana: Oxford university is to launch a £10 million research programme in medical marijuana with venture capital funding, in the hope of developing treatments for pain, cancer and inflammatory disease.

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Virgin Care sues NHS after losing Surrey child services deal: Virgin Care, part of Sir Richard Branson’s business empire, is suing the National Health Service after the healthcare group lost out on a contract to provide children’s services in Surrey.

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Alitalia plans to cut costs by €1 billion over next three years: Alitalia has vowed to cut costs by €1 billion over the next three years in a bid to return to profitability by 2019, as Italy’s flagship airline embarks on yet another high-stakes restructuring plan.

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Leonardo offers first dividend for 6 years: Leonardo, the Italian defence company, has promised its first dividend in six years as Chief Executive Mauro Moretti faces a struggle to be reappointed by the Italian government.

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German prosecutors raid Audi offices in emissions cheating probe: German prosecutors raided several Audi offices on Wednesday as part of a criminal investigation into cheating software installed in diesel cars sold in the U.S., overshadowing the carmaker’s efforts to banish the scandal by announcing electric and driverless car projects at its annual investor conference.

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Safran under pressure to drop €8.5 billion Zodiac bid: French engine maker Safran faced mounting shareholder pressure to scrap its €8.5 billion deal for Zodiac Aerospace on Wednesday after the takeover target reported its 10th profit warning in three years.

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Former Cameron adviser Steve Hilton given own Fox News show: Steve Hilton, the former top David Cameron adviser who fell out with the U.K. prime minister over immigration and Brexit, has landed his own TV show in the U.S. on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News Channel.

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National Enquirer parent buys Us Weekly for $100 million: The parent company of American tabloid the National Enquirer has agreed to scoop up celebrity magazine Us Weekly for $100 million.

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Inditex profits rise despite currency squeeze: Inditex, the owner of Zara, has announced a 10% rise in full-year net earnings to €3.16 billion, but margins sank to a seven-year low due to currency effects and lower prices.

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Former security guard accused over Heinz insider trading: The Securities and Exchange Commission has accused a former security guard for a Heinz board member of insider trading ahead of the food group’s takeover by Warren Buffett and 3G Capital in 2013.

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Dalian Wanda is King Kong in Hollywood: King Kong has returned as the giant ape with a tender heart in Kong: Skull Island, a revival of the old Hollywood franchise that hit number one at the U.S. box office last weekend. It is a relief for Legendary Entertainment, the film’s producer, and Legendary’s owner Dalian Wanda, the Chinese property conglomerate.

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Oracle’s shares soar on cloud prospects: Oracle’s shares jumped more than 5% in after-market trading on Wednesday after the U.S. business software company said it was on the verge of showing profit from its move into cloud computing.

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Tesla taps Wall Street for $1 billion cash injection: Tesla turned to Wall Street for another $1 billion cash injection on Wednesday as it sought a bigger financial cushion for the planned launch of its mass-market Model 3 this summer.

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GoPro plans to cut 270 jobs, shares rally 10%: GoPro on Wednesday outlined a plan to shave expenses by reducing its headcount and cutting other costs, sending its shares rallying by more than 10% in extended trading.

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Chinese private equity: look elsewhere: China’s private equity universe has already been growing. Preqin, an alternative asset data provider, says that venture capital deal volumes in Greater China began to rival those of the U.S. as early as 2015. On Thursday, consultant Bain & Co noted that growth in investment has been especially strong for Chinese start-up firms. Nearly one-fifth of early-stage PE investments worldwide, around $15 billion, were made in China.

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Virtu/ KCG Holding: Fight or flight: Mr. Viola, who was once accused of slugging a man at a horse sale, is the billionaire Founder and dominant shareholder of Virtu, the high-frequency trading firm, which announced an unsolicited bid to buy rival KCG Holdings for up to $1.3 billion. Perhaps this can be resolved with less violence.

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Oracle: rallying cry: There is a school of thought, perpetuated openly by Oracle’s nemesis at cloud pioneer Salesforce, that Oracle is full of hype rather than hyper growth. Certainly, overall revenue growth was not so spry, up only 2% in the quarter to $9.2 billion. Within that, revenues from cloud software and platforms grew faster than 70% to more than $1 billion for the first time — now meaningful. But the business that Mr. Ellison likes to talk about most, the infrastructure-as-a-service cloud offering, which allows corporate customers to use a provider’s servers for computing, is barely a blip on the income statement. Its revenues were $178 million in the quarter, advancing a reasonable but less than hyper 17% year-on-year. It is hardly in the same league as AWS, whose revenues last quarter were 20 times bigger.

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Sports Direct reaction to Pirc’s pay claim shows value of ratios: According to calculations by Pensions & Investment Research Consultants, published by City AM, Sports Direct had a Chief Executive-to-average employee pay ratio of 400:1 — the second highest in the FTSE 350. This led the retailer to denounce the report as “fake news”, on the grounds that incumbent CEO and controlling shareholder Mike Ashley draws no salary or bonus, and his predecessor Dave Forsey waived his £6.6 million bonus — making its CEO-to-average pay ratio either zero or nearer 9:1.

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FIH’s naval intelligence: After a 300p-a-share offer from a vehicle associated with FIH’s Chairman, which already owns 23% of the company, a fund from the Uruguayan side of the River Plate is scouting for information to launch a possible counterbid. If it sets sail, the bid will be “at a significant premium to the current offer”.

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The Daily Telegraph

Philip Hammond’s national insurance U-turn leaves £2 billion hole in public finances: Philip Hammond’s U-turn to scrap a planned hike in taxes on the self-employed will leave a £2 billion hole in the public finances over the next five years.

Nearly three-quarters of restaurants and pubs eyeing price rises, says industry monitor: Pubs and restaurants are facing the spectre of rising costs from the business rates review as well as the forthcoming rise in the national living wage. Meanwhile competition within the sector is becoming even more fierce.

Indian tycoon launches £2 billion grab on Anglo American shares: Indian billionaire Anil Agarwal has stunned the City by unveiling an audacious plan to buy £2 billion worth of shares in Anglo American.

Government to set up new anti-money laundering watchdog: The Government is to set up a new watchdog to close loopholes used by criminals as part of a wider clampdown on money laundering and terrorist financing.

No end in sight for strike at BHP Billiton copper mine in Chile: A bitter strike at the world’s largest copper mine looks set to drag on with the two sides further away from agreement than ever.

BNP Paribas in talks to buy estate agency Strutt and Parker: BNP Paribas is in talks to snap up estate agency Strutt and Parker, which specialises in high-end country houses.

London’s Olympic Park scores double win with prospective tenants: Two major British companies are on the cusp of signing a double deal to relocate their headquarters to a new office development in Stratford, becoming the latest firms to move into the Olympic Park.

The Questor Column:

Ignore Trump’s drug price bluster: this distributor will keep delivering for investors: This week’s tip is an American company called Amerisource Bergen. As a distributor of drugs rather than a manufacturer, it will be among the less affected stocks if U.S. drug prices are forced lower. However, the political uncertainly around the whole industry is among the reasons for the undemanding valuation of shares in what remains a fast-growing and profitable business. Mr. McQueen favours “quality” companies, which in City terminology means those that make reliably high returns on capital and plenty of free cash flow, rather than just attractive accounting profits. He said Amerisource had low susceptibility to the economic cycle and made returns on capital of 17%. This year he said he expected the business to generate 7% of its market value in free cash. A final cause for optimism is that Mr. Trump’s plan to cut U.S. corporation tax rates would hand more money to shareholders. American firms pay 32.5% and Mr. Trump has talked about rates of 15%-20%. Questor says ‘Buy’.

WPP: Mr. McQueen has just two British holdings at present, one of which is WPP, the advertising group. He said that in some ways WPP was a similar story to Amerisource – the shares are trading at their 10-year average levels of 13.5 times earnings, despite 11% annual earnings growth over the same period. “This valuation makes it 20% cheaper than Omnicom, its giant U.S. rival, although the two groups have achieved similar growth in dollar terms,” Mr. McQueen said. “It will deliver 6.5% of its market value in cash this year and even if it simply carries on as it has it should produce pretty nice returns.” Questor says ‘Buy’.

The Guardian

U.S. Federal Reserve raises interest rates to 1% in bid to hold off inflation: The U.S. Federal Reserve has sought to head off rising inflation with a third interest rate rise since the 2008 financial crash and the second in three months, taking the base rate from 0.75% to 1%.

U.K. unemployment falls to joint lowest rate since 1975 but wages stall: Workers suffered a fall in real pay for the first time in more than two years in January as inflation outpaced wage growth, underlining the fresh squeeze in living standards facing U.K. households.

Public sector workers first to face cut in real pay, says thinktank: Public sector workers have become the first group to suffer a cut in real wages since the recovery of 2014 as forecasters predicted that the rest of the working population would follow suit later this year.

Zara Founder to receive £1.1 billion payout after record sales: The multibillionaire behind the Zara retail chain has banked another £1 billion after the fashion group reported record sales and profits.

Philip Hammond defends scrapping national insurance rise for the self-employed: Philip Hammond ditched plans to increase national insurance contributions for the self-employed, in a humiliating U-turn just a week after the measure formed the centrepiece of his first budget.

TV company behind Question Time could sell for up to £300 million: Tinopolis, the company behind TV shows including Question Time and Crufts and producer of BT’s Premier League and Champion’s League coverage, is up for sale with a price tag of up to £300 million.

Southern reaches new agreement with train drivers’ union Aslef: A fresh deal aimed at resolving the long-running row between Southern and the biggest train drivers’ union has been agreed, the two sides said on Wednesday.

Daily Mail

Sports Direct rages against ‘fake news’ about its pay policies: Research firm’s report was ‘incorrect’: Mike Ashley’s Sports Direct issued a statement castigating what it said is ‘fake news’ about the company’s Boss-to-average-employee pay ratio.

Oil and mining stocks push London shares higher as the Federal Reserve prepares to hike interest rates: London shares have entered a lull as the U.S. Federal Reserve prepares to raise interest rates this evening followed by the Bank of England decision.

BMW workers stage pension protest as it’s revealed some could lose up to £160k in retirement income: Workers at car giant BMW have staged protests as part of a campaign against plans to close their final salary pension scheme.

Bank of England will not be pulling the interest rate trigger this month – but the threat of inflation will soon demand a hike: Bank of England Governor Mark Carney may be thinking his job is becoming a poisoned chalice as the Bank of England gets set to announce its latest rates decision.

Daily Express

Pound rises against euro amid Dutch elections and drop in U.K. unemployment: The pound was up against the euro and dollar as the Netherlands headed to the polls and strong employment data was released in Britain.

Over-55s urged to wise up on pension advice: The over-55s are taking a massive financial risk by failing to take independent financial advice at retirement.

Fears Greek and Italian lenders could collapse Eurozone if money-printing is cut: Italian and Greek lenders could topple Europe’s financial system if the European Central Bank (ECB) pulls its mammoth money-printing programme, top monetary policymakers fear.

MDF recycling solution is a world first for British firm: Entrepreneur Craig Bartlett has the answer, having developed the world’s first-ever technology to offer continuous recycling of the wood composite material prized for its affordable adaptability.

Prudential make record profits due to rapid Asia growth: Demand for health and protection products across Asia’s fast-growing and increasingly affluent middle-class helped Prudential make a record annual operating profit of £4.26 billion, up 7% on the previous year.

The Scottish Herald

Glasgow builds on sporting credentials with successful bid for event: Glasgow has bid successfully to stage the annual congress of the European College of Sport Science in 2021 – an event expected to attract about 3,000 delegates and provide a near-£5 million boost to the city’s economy.

Growth in construction workforce forecast in spite of uncertainty: Scottish construction employment had risen to 181,000 by the end of 2016, its highest level since December 2013, official figures show.

Royal Bank settles action in U.S. over NovaStar loans: Royal Bank of Scotland, Deutsche Bank and Wells Fargo & Co have agreed a $165 million (£135 million) class-action settlement in the U.S. over under-writing for NovaStar Mortgage Inc, the now bankrupt subprime lender.

Growth in construction workforce forecast in spite of uncertainty: Scottish construction employment had risen to 181,000 by the end of 2016, its highest level since December 2013, official figures show.

Japanese bank plans Frankfurt move: Japanese investment bank Daiwa is understood to be finalising plans to set up a new European base in Frankfurt as part of its Brexit strategy, a move that will see a number of London staff relocated to Germany.

Aberdeen oil firm suffers setback in far north: North Sea-focused Faroe Petroleum has suffered a reverse after making a foray into frontier exploration territory in the Barents Sea north of Norway.

Argyll gold mine sees value increase by 49% after study: Mining group Scotgold has reaffirmed its commitment to the Cononish gold and silver project in Argyll after a new feasibility study increased the mine’s value, and lowered peak funding forecasts.

Hotel firm gets straight to the Point in Glasgow: The owners of a new budget hotel brand which chose Glasgow for its inaugural opening has revealed it is homing in on sites in Edinburgh for its next launch in Scotland.

The Scotsman

Bowleven Directors ousted after bitter investor battle: Kevin Hart, the Chief Executive of Edinburgh-based oil and gas explorer Bowleven, has been ousted after a bitter battle with a rebel investor.

Taxpayer stake in Bank of Scotland owner now below 3%: The taxpayer’s stake in Lloyds Banking Group has been cut to below 3% as the U.K. government continues to sell down its shareholding.

Scotgold cheers ‘significant’ boost to mine plans: Scotgold Resources, the firm developing Scotland’s first commercial gold mine, has hailed a “significant” boost to its plans on the back of lower running costs and higher prices for the precious metal.

FarrPoint limbers up for Glasgow sport extravaganza: Telecoms and IT outfit FarrPoint has been appointed by Glasgow City Council to advise on the internet connectivity and telecoms networks for the forthcoming Glasgow 2018 European Championships.

1100 jobs at risk as Jones Bootmaker calls in administrators: More than 1,100 jobs are at risk at high street chain Jones Bootmaker as its owner scrambles to secure a deal to save it from administration.

City A.M.

Kurt Geiger and Endless eye up struggling shoe brand Jones: As Jones Bootmaker sits on the brink of administration, upmarket shoe retailer Kurt Geiger and Endless, the turnaround firm that owns Bathstore, are reportedly among suitors poised to swoop in to the 150-year-old firm’s rescue.

Now the legal eagles are urging the government to seek a bespoke Brexit agreement for the City, while warning a “no deal” situation would have serious consequences: Legal eagles have become the latest in a string of experts calling on the government to secure a bespoke deal for the financial sector in the Brexit negotiations.

Polymetal on a spending spree as it ramps up capital expenditure: FTSE 250 metal mining company Polymetal has boosted its revenues by 10% but it has also ramped up spending at the same time, the company has said in its preliminary results for the year ended 31 December 2016

Profits soar at landscape gardening specialist Marshalls: Landscaping group Marshalls’ share price jumped up by as much as 6% in early trading as the builders’ merchants and garden centre supplier reported bumper profits in its 2016 full-year results.

AT&T wins European Commission approval for $85 billion Time Warner deal but faces battle in the U.S.: U.S. telecoms giant AT&T has won European Commission approval for its $85 billion (£70 billion) takeover deal for Time Warner.

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