TOP NEWS SUMMARY: Pound Firm Against Dollar As Brexit Talks Begin

LONDON (Alliance News) - The following is a summary of top news stories ...

Alliance News 19 June, 2017 | 11:16AM
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LONDON (Alliance News) - The following is a summary of top news stories Monday.
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COMPANIES
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Standard Life is expected to enter merger talks this week with fellow life-assurance firm Scottish Widows, according to the Sunday Times. The newspaper quoted City sources as saying FTSE 100-listed Standard Life's planned merger with mid-cap Aberdeen Asset Management may pave the way for a further deal for Scottish Widows. On Monday, shareholders of Standard Life and Aberdeen will vote on the two companies' merger, which will create Europe's second-largest fund manger. The combined group is then expected to have discussions over its relationship with Scottish Widows' owner Lloyds Banking Group, which the Sunday Times said may include the option of purchasing the UK lender's life assurance arm.
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Barclays and a number of its former executives are expected to hear whether or not the UK Serious Fraud Office intends to bring criminal charges over its Qatar fundraising, the Guardian reported. An announcement could come as soon as Tuesday, according to the newspaper report, which said speculation is growing that the SFO will press ahead with charges following an investigation into cash injections from an arm of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund at the height of the financial crisis.
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J Sainsbury is close to a takeover of Nisa Retail, a UK member-owned convenience store group, the Sunday Times reported, but the deal is like to be opposed by independent shopkeepers opposed to its demutualisation. Britain's second-biggest supermarket chain is understood to have won a bidding war with the Co-operative Group for Nisa, according to the newspaper. Nisa has 2,900 stores and GBP1.3 billion in sales, the Sunday Times said, and Sainsbury's is said to have offered a deal worth GBP130 million.
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Real estate investment trust Hansteen Holdings said it has completed the sale of its German and Dutch portfolios for a total of EUR1.28 billion. The sale was agreed on March 20, and was sold on a debt-free basis for cash to entities owned by funds advised by affiliates of The Blackstone Group and M7 Real Estate. The price represented a premium of EUR76.0 million to the year-end valuation of the two portfolios. Hansteen said it has received net cash proceeds of EUR750 million, a substantial amount of which will be distributed to shareholders. It said it will make an announcement on the payout "as soon as reasonably practicable".
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Workspace Group said it has sold the third and final phase of the mixed-use redevelopment of Bow Enterprise Park in east London. The final phase comprises 130 residential units and has been sold for GBP6.3 million in cash and the return of a new 40,000 square foot business centre. Workspace said the sale is in line with the March 31 valuation.
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MARKETS
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London shares were higher mid-morning, with grocer Sainsbury's leading the blue-chip risers. The pound was trading firm against the dollar as Brexit talks get underway Monday in Brussels, with the Conservative Party still lacking a final deal for a governing majority. Wall Street was called for a higher open with major stock indices pointed up 0.3% to 0.6%.
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FTSE 100: up 0.7% at 7,514.20
FTSE 250: up 0.1% at 19,832.14
AIM ALL-SHARE: up 0.5% at 976.20

GBP: firm at USD1.2805 (USD1.2791)
EUR: soft at USD1.1189 (USD1.1193)

GOLD: down at USD1,251.31 per ounce (USD1,255.05)
OIL (Brent): flat at USD47.51 a barrel (USD47.12)

(changes since previous London equities close)
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ECONOMICS AND GENERAL
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One man has died and eight people have been taken to hospital after a van was driven into pedestrians near a north London mosque. The van driver, described by eyewitnesses as a large white man, was detained by members of the public after the attack in Seven Sisters Road at 12.20am on Monday. One witness described being surrounded by bodies in the wake of the attack outside the Muslim Welfare House, close to Finsbury Park mosque. Another said the attacker shouted about killing Muslims as he was held by local people.
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Negotiations between the European Union and the UK over the country's exit from the bloc finally get underway on Monday, even as Prime Minister Theresa May grapples with the fallout from an election that cost her party its parliamentary majority. Negotiators from the two sides agreed to go ahead with the originally planned start date of June 19 despite the snap election called by May backfiring, leaving her with a minority government and questions over that government's ability to begin the talks. May and other senior officials, including Brexit Secretary David Davis, stressed last week that the British government's priorities and timetable for negotiations had not changed as a result of the election. But Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said on Friday that protecting jobs and the British economy would be priorities for his country. The talks are set to kick off at 11 am local time in Brussels with a meeting between Davis and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
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Ireland's new premier Leo Varadkar said he wants to renew the close bond with the UK ahead of talks on Monday with Theresa May in Downing Street. In his first official overseas visit since being elected Taoiseach last week, Varadkar travels to London where Northern Ireland and Brexit will top the agenda. "I want to renew the close bond and strong relations that exist between Ireland and the United Kingdom," he said, adding: "Among other things, we will discuss Northern Ireland and the need to re-establish devolved government, and Brexit, focusing on how we can avoid any adverse impact on the rights and freedoms of our citizens, on trade and the economy." Northern Ireland's political parties are reopening talks aimed at restoring devolution to the region. They have until a June 29 deadline to agree a way forward after Sinn Fein collapsed the Stormont Executive earlier this year amid deepening mistrust and worsening relations with the Democratic Unionist Party.
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The average asking price for a house in the UK was down 0.4% on month in June, property tracking website Rightmove said - coming in at GBP316,109. That follows the 1.2% increase in May. It also marked the first monthly decline this year, Rightmove said. On a yearly basis, house prices climbed 1.8% after advancing 3.0% in the previous month.
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John Griffith-Jones, chairman of both the UK Financial Conduct Authority and Payment Systems Regulator, confirmed Sunday that he will leave both organisations at the end of March next year. Griffith-Jones' term of office at both organisations expires at that time. The UK Treasury will now begin a process of recruiting a new chair for the FCA.
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French President Emmanuel Macron's party has won a clear parliamentary majority, weeks after his own presidential victory. With nearly all the votes counted, his La République en Marche, alongside its MoDem allies, won more than 300 seats in the 577-seat National Assembly. Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the French people had given "a clear majority to the president of the republic and the government" and it was now "time for the presidential majority to get to work". A reduced centre-right contingent led by the Les Republicains party is set to be the main opposition to Macron's administration, with at least 126 seats. The Socialist Party of Macron's predecessor Francois Hollande had only 28 seats at midnight - it had held 280 in the previous assembly.
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China's home price growth slowed in May, data published by the National Bureau of Statistics showed. House prices increased in 56 out of 70 cities in May. Prices remained flat in 5 cities and declined in 9. In April, prices had increased in 58 cities.
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Iraqi forces backed by US-led air power advanced against Islamic State Sunday amid a push aimed at dislodging the extremist group from the last area under the militia's control in its former stronghold of Mosul, an Iraqi commander said. Security forces have pushed around 100 metres into the Old City and "liberated" the local civil defence headquarters, Lieutenant General Raed Chaker, the chief of the militarized federal police, said.
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At least two people were reported dead amid an attack on a hotel near the Malian capital of Bamako, according to security forces. Security personnel also reported two injured and 20 people released amid other media reports of a hostage situation. Multiple outlets reported that the hotel was a favourite destination for expatriates in the country.
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Donald Trump is not under investigation for obstruction of justice, one of his lawyers said Sunday, despite the US president's recent tweets that seem to indicate he is. Trump tweeted Friday "I am being investigated" and referred to the "witch hunt" again Sunday morning, as his lawyer was denying the investigation. The tweet referred to media reports that the special counsel overseeing the Russia probe was investigating Trump's conduct, Jay Sekulow said in an interview with CNN's State of the Union show. Sekulow said Trump was not under investigation and blamed the misunderstanding on the character limitations in Twitter posts, adding that he found Trump's use of social media "very effective".
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By Arvind Bhunjun; arvindbhunjun@alliancenews.com; @ArvindBhunjun

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