UK TOP NEWS SUMMARY: UK Back To Growth After Receding Political Doubts

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

Alliance News 24 January, 2020 | 11:11AM
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(Alliance News) - The following is a summary of top news stories Friday.

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COMPANIES

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A shareholder in the food delivery chain Just Eat said a potential UK competition probe into the firm's merger with Takeaway.com is "shocking". Cat Rock Capital Management owns an approximate 3% stake in Just Eat, and also holds around 6% of Takeaway.com. Just under a year ago, Cat Rock had called on Just Eat to begin merger talks with "industry peers", having welcomed the departure of former Just Eat Chief Executive Peter Plumb shortly before, criticising the appointment of what it called an industry outsider. The UK Competition & Markets Authority on Friday confirmed it will be looking into whether the combination would lessen competition in the UK takeaway platform sector. Just Eat and Takeaway.com had originally envisaged the new, enlarged company to start trading in London on Monday next week, and the name was to be changed to Just Eat Takeaway.com on Friday this week. However, due to the CMA move the timetable has been delayed by a week and the new company will be renamed on January 31 and start trading February 3.

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The London-based medical equipment manufacturer Smith & Nephew has acquired US-based Tusker Medical for an undisclosed sum as part of its strategy to invest in "innovative technologies that address unmet clinical needs". Tusker Medical, which is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, manufactures Tula System, a system for in-office delivery of ear tubes to treat ear infections. The Tula system enables the placement of ear tubes in the physician's office without general anaesthesia for patients six months and older. Smith & Nephew said the acquisition is complementary to its existing ENT business, with the same customer and patient populations. The transaction was financed from existing cash and debt facilities. The commercial terms have not been disclosed.

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The brewer and pub and hotel operator Marston's warned that its second-half costs are expected to be higher by a further GBP2 million to GBP3 million amid a higher-than-anticipated increase in the UK national minimum wage: 6.2% from April. Elsewhere, Marston's said it delivered a "creditable" performance in the 16 week period to January 18 despite a "challenging" market. Managed and franchise like-for-like sales growth at its pubs increased 1.0% during the period, Marston's said, driven by drinks sales. Food sales, meanwhile, were weak, the company noted. Trading of pubs over the Christmas fortnight was strong, with like-for-like sales growth of 4.5%. Turning to Marston's beer operations, the company said volumes during the period were slightly behind last year, reflecting weaker lager sales. Excluding lager, volumes were in line with last year.

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MARKETS

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London shares were lower as fears over the spreading of the coronavirus in China eased. Investors' focus turned to PMIs, with mixed reports from Eurozone and UK. US purchasing managers' index reading is due at 1445 GMT. Wall Street, meanwhile, was pointed to a positive open, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index seen 0.2% higher, while the Nasdaq Composite was pointed to open up 0.3%.

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FTSE 100: up 1.4% at 7,615.34

FTSE 250: up 0.8% at 21,720.49

AIM ALL-SHARE: up 0.3% at 966.02

GBP: soft at USD1.3101 (USD1.3107)

EUR: broadly flat at USD1.1038 (USD1.1036)

Gold: down at USD1,561.10 per ounce (USD1,563.00)

Oil (Brent): broadly flat at USD61.66 a barrel (USD61.40)

(changes since previous London equities close)

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ECONOMICS AND GENERAL

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The UK private sector economy returned to growth in January, figures showed, as receding political uncertainty lifted order books. The seasonally adjusted IHS Markit/CIPS UK composite output index rose to 52.4 in January from 49.3 in December, climbing above the 50.0 no-change mark for the first time since August. Any reading below 50 indicates contraction, while one above expansion. The latest reading was the highest for almost one-and-a-half years and signalled a moderate expansion of business activity across the UK private sector economy. IHS Markit highlighted reduced political uncertainty following the December general election as a main driver for growth, as it had a positive impact on business and consumer spending decisions at the start of 2020. "The survey data indicate an encouraging start to 2020 for the UK economy," said Chris Williamson, chief business economist at IHS Markit. "The uplift in sentiment about the outlook hints at even better growth to come, but confidence needs to continue to rise to ensure this solid start to the year has legs."

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Eurozone business activity remained subdued at the start of the year, IHS Markit said. The preliminary composite purchasing managers' index was unchanged at 50.9 in January, with the reading just above the no-change mark of 50, indicating a marginal expansion in activity. "The rate of expansion has remained broadly stable since the start of the final quarter of 2019, running at the weakest for around six-and-a-half years," said IHS Markit. This data comes following PMI readings out of Germany and France. Germany's flash composite PMI rose to a five-month high of 51.1 in January. In France, the composite output index fell to a four-month low of 51.5 in January from 52.0 in December.

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Brussels' two top officials, the presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, signed off on Britain's EU divorce agreement Friday. With Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel's formal endorsement, the text will now go to the European Parliament on Wednesday next week for ratification. On Thursday next week, diplomats from the EU member states will approve the deal in writing. Then on Friday Britain will spend its last day in the EU before leaving the bloc at 2300 GMT as clocks strike midnight in Brussels. Queen Elizabeth II gave her formal assent to the British withdrawal legislation on Thursday and the EU is now expected to complete the final formalities in the coming days.

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China said it will close a section of the Great Wall and other famous Beijing landmarks to control the spread of a deadly virus that has infected hundreds of people across the country. A range of Lunar New Year festivities have been cancelled to try to contain the virus, and Beijing's Forbidden City and Shanghai's Disneyland have also been closed temporarily. The measures in the capital are the latest to try and control the outbreak of the new coronavirus, after authorities rapidly expanded a mammoth quarantine effort that affected 41 million people in central Hubei province. Officials say 24 deaths have occurred in Hubei, the central province that is home to Wuhan. The National Health Commission said Friday the number of confirmed cases had leapt to 830.

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