EU emergency gas plan takes effect; UK retail sales grow in

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European stock markets are flat to slightly lower.

The FTSE 100 index is up 3 points at 7,485 while Germany’s Dax has slipped 34 points, or 0.3%, to 13,643 and France’s CAC and Italy’s FTSE MiB are little changed.

The UK fund manager abrdn reported a lower-than-expected first-half operating profit of £115m because of turmoil in global markets.

The insurer and asset manager Legal & General fared better, recording an 8% rise in operating profit to £1.16bn in the first half after a strong performance in its insurance and direct investment businesses. The results were a tad better than expected.

As travel has bounced back in recent months, InterContinental Hotels Group, which owns Holiday Inn, has seen its operating profits more than double to $361m in the first six months of the year, from $138m a year earlier.

German economy to lose €260bn by 2030 due to war, high energy prices

Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, is set to lose more than €260bn in added value by 2030 because of the Ukraine war and high energy prices, according to a study by the Institute for Employment Research.

Germany’s price-adjusted GDP will be 1.7% lower next year as a result and there will be 240,000 fewer people in employment. This fall in employment is expected to persist until 2026 when expansive measures kick in and the institute is predicting that by 2030, 60,000 more people will be employed than now.

One of the big losers is the hospitality industry, which was hit hard by the pandemic and will be feeling the pinch from lower consumer spending. Energy-intensive sectors, such as the chemical industry and metal production, are also among the worst-affected.

The study said that if energy prices, which have soared by 160% so far, were to double again, Germany’s 2023 economic output would be almost 4% lower than it would have been without the war and its knock-on effects. Under these assumptions, 660,000 fewer people would be employed after three years and 60,000 fewer by 2030.

Foundry of German automotive supplier G.A. Roeders in Soltau.
Foundry of German automotive supplier G.A. Roeders in Soltau. Photograph: Fabian Bimmer/Reuters

More on Dame Sharon White’s comments on the radio this morning.

The John Lewis chair said:

I’ve never seen anything quite like the economic environment we have at the moment.

I think the big worry that everybody has is inflation combined with low growth, low productivity. So I think the big focus for all of us is how do we avoid stagflation?

How do we avoid the UK becoming Japan with very low, very persistently low rates of productivity and very low persistent rates of growth? To come out of that you have got to get businesses investing.

She suggested introducing flexible retirement plans for people and skills courses for older workers to retrain for different jobs to encourage them back into work.

A million people out of the labour market has got profound, long-term, systemic implications and I would like there to be more of a debate, more of an open debate and certainly more of a debate between business and government.

The John Lewis store in London.
The John Lewis store in London. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA

Oil prices dip on potential boost of Iran supply

Crude oil prices have dipped, as traders are factoring in the chance that Iran could boost supply – talks to salvage the 2015 Iran nuclear accord are under way which would allow the country to export more oil.

Brent crude, the global benchmark, fell 71 cents, or 0.7%, to $95.94 a barrel while US West Texas Intermediate declined by a similar amount to $90.07 a barrel. A revival of the nuclear accord is expected to lead to a sharper drop in oil prices, analysts said.

Analysts at ANZ bank said:

The spectre of a US-Iran nuclear deal continues to hover over the market.

Last night, the EU tabled a “final” text to salvage the 2015 deal aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear ambitions, which needs to be approved by Washington and Tehran. A senior EU official said a final decision on the proposal was expected within “very, very few weeks”.

Commonwealth Bank analyst Vivek Dhar said:

While the details around the timing of he resumption of Iran’s oil exports remain uncertain even if the accord is revived, there is certainly scope for Iran to increase oil exports relatively quickly.

He said Iran could raise its oil exports by 1m to 1.5m barrels per day, or up to 1.5% of global supply, in six months.

A revival of the 2015 nuclear accord will likely see oil prices fall sharply given that markets probably don’t believe a deal will be reached.

A rejection of the deal by either Tehran or Washington, or both, would mean a resurgence of US sanctions and a probable decrease in Iranian oil and condensate exports from an estimated average of 1.5m barrels a day in 2022 to about 1m barrels through 2023 to 2026. By contrast if the deal is accepted, Iranian exports could reach 2.5m barrels a day leading to a surge in Iranian revenues.

The oil market has been knocked by global recession fears, with Brent crude suffering its biggest weekly drop since April 2020 last week. However, since then prices have been underpinned somewhat by stronger-than-expected export figures from China and the surprise pick-up in US jobs growth in July, which suggest demand for crude could hold up.

Dust engulfs the skyline in Tehran, Iran.
Dust engulfs the skyline in Tehran, Iran. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh/EPA

Introduction: EU emergency gas plan takes effect; UK retail sales grow in ‘lull before storm’

Good morning, and welcome to our live, rolling coverage of business, economics and financial markets.

The European Union’s gas emergency plan has come into effect today, asking countries to voluntarily cut gas use by 15% this winter to prepare for a potential full Russian cut-off. The reductions could become mandatory in a supply emergency, albeit with opt-outs for some countries and industries.

The head of Germany’s network regulator welcomed the plan, and said it could stabilise or even lower gas prices. Klaus Müller, head of Bundesnetzagentur, told the ZDF broadcaster:

If all countries in Europe save gas, this can stabilise the price so to speak, maybe even reduce it, and contribute to making sure that there is enough gas supply for us to make it through the autumn and winter.

Retail sales in the UK rose 2.3% last month, as the heatwave boosted sales of summer clothing, picnic treats and electric fans despite the intensifying cost of living crisis.

Experts said it could be the “lull before the storm,” with the Bank of England predicting a recession lasting longer than a year and inflation rising above 13.3%.

The latest monthly survey from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) showed a 2.3% sales rise in July compared with a 6.4% rise the year before. But the sales growth was largely caused by inflation, which is running at a 40-year high of 9.4%, and masked a larger drop in the number of items sold.

Retail sales have held up as people have been splashing out on summer clothes amid warm weather as well as wedding outfits, enjoying the opportunity to go on holiday and to family events that had been delayed by the pandemic.

However, Paul Martin, the UK head of retail at the advisory firm KPMG, said:

The summer could be the lull before the storm with conditions set to get tougher as consumers arrive back from summer breaks to holiday credit card bills, another energy price hike and rising interest rates. With stronger cost of living headwinds on the horizon, consumers will have to prioritise essentials, and discretionary product spending will come under pressure.

Consumers are determined to enjoy delayed holidays and an unrestricted summer. Pent up demand, especially for new clothes, has so far been at significant enough levels to keep the overall retail sector in relatively good health.

The boss of John Lewis said this morning that she has “never seen anything quite like” the country’s current economic situation throughout her entire career.

Dame Sharon White, the chair of the department store chain and a former Treasury civil servant, urged the next government to encourage people in their 50s to return to work after retiring during the pandemic.

She told BBC radio 4’s Today programme that with “one million fewer people in work or looking for work,” higher inflation was inevitable.

Regardless of what has happened coming out of Covid, if the labour market is that tight, if we continue to have far fewer people in work, looking for work – you’ve inevitably got more inflation and more wage inflation.

I guess I would encourage…any government to really think much more about how to we encourage more people back into work.

There’s not a business in the UK that’s not finding it very difficult to recruit at the moment because there are so many more jobs and so far fewer people looking for work. It’s a big issue.

The Agenda

  • 11am BST: Ireland Industrial production for June
  • 12pm BST: Mexico inflation for July (forecast: 8.13%)
  • 1pm BST: Brazil inflation for July (forecast: 10.1%)