What to Watch: Ryanair slams Javid, Airbus settlements, stocks calmer

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Ryanair released an open letter sent by its CEO, Michael O'Leary, to chancellor Sajid Javid about the Flybe rescue package on Tuesday. Photo: Yves Logghe/AP

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

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary slams Javid in Flybe open letter

Ryanair (RYA.L) on Tuesday released an open letter sent by chief executive Michael O’Leary describing statements made by chancellor Sajid Javid about the government’s Flybe rescue package as “both inaccurate and misleading.”

Noting that Javid had confirmed in a letter on 24 January that the regional airline had been given additional time to pay taxes known as air passenger duties, O’Leary said that the package was “in breach of state aid rules.”

A reduction in air passenger duties should be extended to all airlines that use regional airports in the UK, O’Leary suggested.

Disputing Javid’s assertion that Flybe was “a viable business with genuine short term difficulties,” O’Leary said that the airline had “lurched from failure to failure over the last 20 years.”

The Ryanair boss slammed the prospect of the government issuing Flybe a £100m loan, asking why the British taxpayer should be on the hook for “the billionaire-owned Flybe.”

Earlier this month, O’Leary told Javid that his airline was considering launching legal action against the UK government over its Flybe bailout.

Airbus agrees to settle bribery and corruption cases

Airbus (AIR.PA) on Tuesday confirmed that it had agreed to settle bribery and corruption investigations with authorities in the US, the UK, and France.

The European aircraft maker said that the agreements remain subject to approval in the various jurisdictions, and that it could not make any comments on the details of the discussions.

Bloomberg reported on Tuesday, however, that the settlements could cost Airbus in the range of $3bn (£2.3bn), citing an unnamed person familiar with the matter.

The agreements comes after years-long probes in the three countries. The UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched an investigation in 2016 after Airbus revealed it had discovered inconsistencies in disclosures made about external consultants.

The company allegedly failed to notify authorities about the use of the consultants in aircraft deals it was asking the UK government to cover with financing guarantees.

Sainsbury's pledges to invest £1bn to hit 'net zero' emissions

Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) has announced a pledge to tackle climate change by investing £1bn ($1.3bn) towards hitting its “net zero” emissions target by 2040.

The supermarket’s goal of 2040 is a decade earlier than the UK’s legally binding target to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050.

Sainsbury’s says its pledge follows ambitions in the international Paris Agreement to limit temperature rises to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

The company plans to switch to more renewable energy, make fridges in its stores and warehouses as efficient as possible, and run 20% of its fleet on zero- and low-carbon fuels by 2025.

Other plans include switching all lighting in stores to LEDs by 2022, as well as continuing with tree planting work.

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UK watchdog 'keeping close eye' on overdraft market

The UK’s financial watchdog is “keeping a close eye” on the overdraft market after multiple major banks introduced interest charges of almost 40%.

Banks — including Lloyds (LLOY.L), Santander (SAN.MC), and HSBC (HSBA.L) — have recently announced they are raising overdraft fees to 39.9%. Challenger banks Monzo and Starling are also setting their interest charges at similar rates.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said on Tuesday it has asked banks for more information on why and how they decided to set rates at these levels.

The rise in interest charges come in response to new rules from the FCA clamping down on complex overdraft fees. The new rules, which come into force in April, require banks to show an annual interest rates rather than charging daily overdraft fees.

The changes are meant to make it easier for customers to shop around when they need credit and the regulator believes seven out of 10 overdraft users will be better off.

UK government told to keep migrant salary cap

Britain should keep a controversial salary cap on migrants arriving to fill jobs in the UK, according to a review carried out for the UK government.

But the migration advisory committee urged prime minister Boris Johnson’s administration to lower the minimum pay threshold from £30,000 to £25,600 for medium- and high-skilled migrants with job offers.

A report published by the committee on Tuesday said a cap would stop employers hiring some migrants solely as they are cheaper.

It also set out plans for a points-based immigration system for migrants without jobs after Brexit, but warned the changes overall could hit GDP growth.

Dozens of UK business groups had written to the UK government last week arguing for a much lower minimum salary of around £20,000.

Stocks calmer despite coronavirus death toll

European stocks rebounded slightly on Tuesday morning, despite continued fears about the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus in China.

The death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 106, China’s National Health Commission has said. 

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index (^STOXX) was steady on Tuesday, reversing earlier gains but averting the kinds of losses seen on Monday.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was down by 0.1%, while the FTSE 100 (FTSE) was up around 0.1% in London. The French CAC 40 (^FCHI) was up 0.13%.

Sterling was down 0.2% against the dollar (GBPUSD=X) to around $1.302 in morning trading on Tuesday. The currency was also down 0.27% against the euro (GBPEUR=X), to around €1.18.

What to expect in the US

Futures are pointing to a higher open for US stocks.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) are up by 0.32% and Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) are up by 0.3%. Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) are up by 0.5%.

Companies reporting later on Tuesday in the US include: