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The Bank of England will increase its quantitative easing programme by more than expected, with the Monetary Policy Committee voting to buy another £150bn of government bonds, lifting the total amount of QE to £895bn. An extension of £100bn had been expected.
There were signs that consumer spending had softened as England entered a second lockdown, the Bank said, meaning the UK could be on course for a double-dip recession as output falls again in the final quarter of the year. The Bank forecast that the easing of Covid-related restrictions would lead to a recovery in activity in the first quarter of 2021, but warned the recovery would take time and unemployment would remain elevated.
Interest rates remain on hold at 0.1 per cent.
Sainsbury’s will close roughly 80 per cent of standalone Argos stores by March 2024 as it refocuses on food under new chief executive Simon Roberts. Around 3,500 people may lose their jobs as a result of changes at the grocery group. With better first-half sales than originally expected, Sainsbury’s said it would pay a special dividend for the previous financial year as well as an interim dividend. But it also reported a first-half pre-tax loss of £137m after £438m of one-off costs linked to the Argos closures.
All eyes are on AstraZeneca’s behind-schedule Covid-19 vaccine, which the drugmaker is developing with the University of Oxford. But on Thursday it has regular quarterly results out, which showed a 3 per cent year-on-year increase in revenues during the latest three month period. Full-year guidance is unchanged.
Also out on Thursday are updates from insurer RSA, transport booking app Trainline, airline Wizz Air and retailer Superdry.
Beyond the Square Mile
Uber and Lyft’s share prices soared after California voted overwhelmingly to allow gig economy companies to keep treating their workers as independent contractors. Nearly two-thirds of voters backed Proposition 22, which exempts app-based gig economy groups from paying health benefits, holiday pay and other benefits. Uber shares closed up 15 per cent, their highest level since August 2019, and Lyft shares rose more than 11 per cent.
Shares in Big Tech also shot higher on Wednesday following the uncertain election result. A White House, controlled by Joe Biden but facing a Republican Senate, throws a spanner in any legislative programme and may mean that 2017 tax cuts remain intact and that interest rates stay low for longer, according to our Due Diligence reporters. It also means that any antitrust push against Big Tech could be curtailed. The Nasdaq Composite ended Wednesday 4 per cent higher, outperforming the broader S&P 500, which advanced 2.2 per cent.
The future Covid-19 vaccine market could be worth more than $10bn a year, generating bumper revenues for pharmaceutical companies that have funded large parts of their research with government money. The calculations by analysts at Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse assume that people will need to take a Covid-19 vaccine every year, like a flu jab, and are based on projected costs for the shot, currently hovering at about $20 a dose.
Essential comment before you go
Even if there is a clear outcome to the US presidential election soon, this week’s events are not an outlier — this is the culmination of a zeitgeist shift that has been building for a dozen years and investors must recognise.
Marks and Spencer has had more makeovers than the Bride of Wildenstein, whose plastic surgery cost the socialite millions. M&S’s makeover will cost too — an eye-watering £680m or so over the next seven years.
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