What to Watch: UK's shrinking economy, Forever 21 bankruptcy, Goals tax bill, and Woodford woes

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
UK chancellor Sajid Javid has announced spending plans at the 2019 Conservative conference. Photo: PA

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

UK government spending spree as economy confirmed to have shrunk in Q2

The UK economy shrank in the second quarter of 2019, according to Britain’s Office for National Statistics in a confirmation of previous estimates on Monday.

GDP in the period April to June was 0.2% lower than the previous quarter, according to the ONS.

Howard Archer, chief economic adviser at EY Item Club, told the BBC he expected the economy had returned to growth in the third quarter, predicting growth of 0.3% or 0.4%.

The figures come as UK chancellor Sajid Javid prepares to unveil a raft of spending plans in a speech to the Conservative party conference in Manchester.

He confirmed the major UK roads set to benefit from upgrades as well as expanded bus services and broadband coverage in a statement ahead of the speech.

Javid is set to spend £25bn ($30.7bn) on road upgrades and £5bn on faster broadband, telling Sky News he would “take advantage” of historically low interest rates.

Forever 21 files for bankruptcy protection as it shuts down stores

The US fast fashion chain Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy protection and announced hundreds of its stores will close.

The California-based firm said it would shut down stores in most locations around the world, including in Asia and Europe.

Up to 178 stores will be closed in the US, while the company’s flagship store in Oxford Street in London is expected to be its only surviving UK branch.

The chapter 11 bankruptcy gives it time to reorganise its business. It has also secured $275m (£224m) in new financing from its lenders, and $75m in new capital.

Goals says under-reported tax bill higher than first thought

A ball at a Goals Soccer Centre pitch. Photo: PA

The five-a-side football pitch operator Goals said on Monday that under-declaration of tax at the company could be “materially higher” than the £12m it had previously announced.

Goals Soccer Centres (GOAL.L) said in March it had uncovered “substantial” errors in how it declared VAT to HMRC in accounts dating back to 2010.

The company said in a statement on Monday it continued to work with its advisors in relation to “resolving” the issue, but suggested that the bill could end up being a lot higher than £12m.

It highlighted “improper behaviour on the part of a small number of individuals.”

Firms’ optimism about the UK economy sinks to lowest since EU referendum

Business optimism about the state of the UK economy has fallen to its lowest level since the EU referendum in 2016, according to a new survey.

The number of UK firms concerned about Brexit has also reached its highest level on record in the latest Lloyds Bank Business Barometer published on Monday.

Lloyds’ figures show the balance of firms optimistic about Brexit dropped five points to -10%, its lowest since June 2016.

Neil Woodford could be replaced at investment trust

The board of famous investor Neil Woodford’s investment trust said on Monday that he could still be replaced as its portfolio manager.

In its half-year results, the Woodford Patient Capital Investment Trust (WPCT.L) said that it continued to “evaluate the position” of its namesake investor, noting that it was in talks with other potential managers.

“This process can take time and ultimately the board’s decision will be that which is in the best interests of protecting long-term value for shareholders,” said Susan Searle, chair of the board.

In June, Neil Woodford was forced to suspend one of his flagship funds, the Woodford Equity Income Fund, after investors requested to withdraw hundreds of millions from it.

European markets open flat

Several major indices in Europe had a fairly flat open. FTSE 100 (^FTSE) opened 0.1% lower and the FTSE 250 (^FTMC) was 0.3% lower.

The Euronext 100 (^N100) and France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) opened 0.1% higher, while the German DAX (^GDAXI) index was flat.

Trading was mixed overnight in Asia, with Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) down 0.6% and China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) down 0.9% and the Hong Kong Hang Seng Index (^HSI) up 0.5%.

What to expect in the US

Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) was up 0.5%, Dow Jones futures (YM=F) and S&P500 futures (ES=F) were both up 0.4% at around 10.15am in London.