What to Watch: Metro Bank chairman, Thomas Cook bill, Brexit trade deal

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Metro Bank's founder is stepping down as chairman of the bank with immediate effect. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

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

Metro Bank founder steps down as chairman

Vernon Hill II, the co-founder of troubled Metro Bank (MTRO.L), has stood down as chairman “with immediate effect,” according to the bank.

The bank said its chairman would remain a non-executive director until 31 December this year, but only stay on in an honorary position beyond that as “emeritus chairman” in recognition of his contributions to the bank.

The announcement marks a surprise acceleration of his departure as chair, after the struggling lender previously said he would stay on in that role until the end of the year.

Hill II played a central role in the launch of Metro Bank in 2010, rolling out dozens of branches in what was reported to be the first new bricks-and-mortar bank launch in a century.

But the bank has faced a tumultuous year that has wiped out much of its share price, after it admitted it had misclassified some loans and did not have enough capital to meet bank regulations.

Accountants clock up £11m bill for Thomas Cook liquidation

Accountancy firms KPMG and AlixPartners have already been paid £11m to assist with the liquidation of Thomas Cook, MPs have been told.

The fees cover three weeks of work across the 26 companies that have been liquidated following the 23 September collapse of the airline.

The two firms were appointed as special managers of the process because of the “significant” scale of the airline’s wind-down operation, Dean Beale, the CEO of the Insolvency Service, told the Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) select committee on Wednesday.

“KPMG were able to bring resources very quickly to the liquidation to support the official receiver,” Beale said. “And AlixPartners, through its work with Thomas Cook in the run-up to the liquidation, had information and experience of the operation of Thomas Cook.”

Asked whether £11m was “a lot” by the chair of the committee, Labour MP Rachel Reeves, Beale said that over 300 employees from the two firms were working on the liquidation in the week after Thomas Cook collapsed.

“It was a huge undertaking in those first couple of weeks,” he said.

Noting that it was “early days”, Beale said it was “very very difficult to estimate how much this is going to cost overall”.

Deutsche Bank: Johnson timeline for Brexit trade deal ‘almost impossible’

The UK government will find it “almost impossible” to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU before the end of Britain’s Brexit transition period next year, according to analysts.

Deutsche Bank analysts said in a note that complex and wide-ranging trade negotiations would be extremely difficult to wrap up in just 14 months if parliament backs prime minister Boris Johnson’s agreement.

The deal struck by Johnson with Brussels is largely focused on the terms of Britain’s exit, with the EU’s future relationship with the UK to be negotiated during a transition period after Brexit.

But the UK government only agreed to a short transition where the UK will stay under EU rules, risking another dangerous cliff-edge moment when the transition comes to an end in December 2020.

The UK could find itself in a similar situation to its current predicament, facing a stark choice between crashing out without a deal, further delays through an extension or compromising from a weak negotiating position to rush through an agreement.

European stocks mixed

European stocks were mixed on Wednesday, with the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) climbing by around 0.5%. Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was on the level, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) declined 0.4%.

The pound was steady on Wednesday after MPs voted against prime minister Boris Johnson’s plan to force his Brexit deal through parliament.

European Council president Donald Tusk said he would recommend that EU leaders accept the extension request that Johnson reluctantly sent earlier in the week.

Sterling fell slightly against the dollar to around $1.286 (GBPUSD=X) and was level against the euro, at around €1.157 (GBPEUR=X).

What to expect in the US

Futures are pointing to a slightly lower open for US stocks.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) are down 0.1% and Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) are down similarly. Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) are also down marginally.

Companies reporting later on Wednesday in the US include: