Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world:
Housebuilding stocks jump on strong RICS data
Stocks in leading UK housebuilders jumped on Thursday, after a leading property survey showed booming demand in Britain’s housing market.
It comes after a survey by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) found a “sharp acceleration” in prices across the UK.
The latest monthly RICS survey of estate agents and surveyors shows a net balance of 61% of respondents reporting a rise in agreed sales, the third month of growth. A net balance of 44% say prices have also risen, the highest level on the index since 2016 and a “dramatic turnaround” on the -33% reading in May.
Saga sinks as it plans to raise £150m
Saga has announced plans to raise £150m in new shares, in a bid to “significantly reduce balance sheet risks” and cut leverage.
The news sent its existing stocks into the red, down 4.9% on the open.
The over-50s insurance and holiday firm has suspended its tour operations until April next year. Cruises have been suspended until next May, though may resume towards the end of this year and the company highlighted “positive” customer demand.
In its interim half-year results for the year to 31 July, it posted a loss of £55.5m ($72.3m), compared to £52.6m profits a year earlier. Revenue tumbled 51.4% to £192.4m as both its holiday and travel insurance arms took a hit from coronavirus disruption to international travel.
Insurance marketplace Lloyd’s of London said on Thursday that it expected to shell out as much as £5bn ($6.5bn) to cover claims related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The figure is a marked increase from the marketplace’s previous estimate of between £2.4bn and £3.5bn, which would already have put total claims on a level similar to those experienced after the 9/11 attacks.
The pandemic has pushed up losses at insurance firms globally, with restrictions and knock-on effects prompting across-the-board claims for business closures in particular.
Lloyd’s had previously said that payouts would be on par with those paid after 11 September, 2001 and the combined impact of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season, when it dolled out billions in insurance claims.
The COVID-19 pandemic has cost supermarket Morrisons (MRW.L) £155m so far this year, the company said on Thursday.
Morrisons said in a half-year update that costs linked to the pandemic were £155m ($201.6m) in the six months to 2 August.
It came as the supermarket invested in safety measures for staff and customers, hired new employees to deal with a surge in online ordering and a rise in the number of staff off sick, and paid bonuses to employees to reflect their hard work during the crisis.
Morrisons has hired 45,000 additional temporary and permanent staff members since the pandemic struck, the company said.
European stocks dipped as markets opened on Thursday, as investors awaited the outcome of a European Central Bank meeting.
Leading indices opened higher but swiftly fell into the red. The Europe-wide STOXX 600 index (^STOXX) was down 0.4% in morning trading, France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) fell 0.5% and Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) lost 0.8%.
It comes ahead of an announcement later on Thursday by policymakers at the European Central Bank (ECB), which will be followed by a press conference by its president Christine Lagarde. They are widely expected to keep policy unchanged, however.
ING analysts noted several ECB council members had voiced "uncomfortableness" with the rise of the euro in recent weeks, including the currency briefly rising above $1.20 for the first time in two years.
But they said in a note it was "too early" for the central bank to talk down the currency, and suggested investors may brush off any verbal interventions anyway as there is "not much the ECB can do" in its policy toolkit.
What to expect in the US
US stock futures also slipped into the red shortly after European markets opened, suggesting Wednesday’s rebound after three days of losses could prove short-lived.