Financial Review 20th June 2014

Manufacturing makes good reading
British manufacturing is enjoying one of its best spells for more than two decades. Businesses of all sizes have increased production and investment and taken on staff to deal with surging orders. These orders include a big surge in exports.

All major analysts now agree that the UK economy is recovering strongly, and more rapidly than those of most of its competitors. The purchasing managers’ index of activity in the manufacturing sector, where scores above 50 represent growth, eased from 57.3 in April to a still strong 57 in May. This was the 15th month of growth in a row and considerably higher than readings in the United States and across Europe.

By contrast, output in France went into reverse as the country lived up to its reputation as the sick man of Europe, while the pace of growth in Germany eased, reflecting the weakness of the eurozone economies.

In the UK employment increased in May for the 13th month in a row, with large and small companies taking on new staff.

Workers are over-qualified, says IPPR
One in five workers in low-skilled jobs now hold degrees, according to a report from the left of centre think-tank the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR).

The growing number of workers who are over-qualified for their role is largely the result of a huge expansion in university education. The IPPR says the number of high-skilled jobs has not kept pace with the rate at which workers are becoming more highly qualified. It claims school-leavers would be better prepared for the job market by doing an apprenticeship instead of racking up huge debts at university. This is because there will be an expansion in the number of medium and low-skilled jobs which rely on vocational qualifications over the next decade.

The IPPR claims the notion that future job opportunities will be concentrated in highly-skilled graduate positions has been overplayed.

Student loans hit mortgage offers
Graduates with a mountain of student debt could find their future plans of buying a home thwarted after the Financial Conduct Authority confirmed the debts are now to be considered by mortgage lenders. This follows the introduction of the Mortgage Market Review in April.

In the current academic year, university fees can be up to £9,000 per annum, not counting accommodation and cost of living, meaning debts of tens of thousands of pounds for students over their three- or four-year further education courses. Despite recent advice suggesting otherwise, graduates will now have these student loan debts included in the affordability calculation for a mortgage.

The MMR guidelines will force all mortgage lenders to consider student loans as a committed expenditure, potentially reducing the amount they are likely to offer for a mortgage.

UK climbs rich list
The UK is now the fourth-richest nation in the world, with the average family better off than those in France and Japan, according to official figures. Gross domestic product per capita – the total size of the economy divided by every man, woman and child in the UK – was £21,692 in 2012. The measurement was only higher in the United States, Canada and Germany. In 1997, the UK was only the sixth-wealthiest nation in the world, behind the US, Canada, Japan, Germany and France.

The report, by the Office for National Statistics, said the UK is now one of the best performing economies in the Group of Seven leading industrialised nations. Throughout 2013 and in the first quarter of 2014, the UK has moved from having one of the slowest growth rates in the G7 to one of the fastest. Output, however, is still 0.6% below the pre-crisis peak. Italy is the only other country in the G7 not to have clawed back its losses.

Anti-social media
Private social media data is being used as evidence in divorce proceedings where one party is suspected of hiding assets. Judges are granting permission for lawyers to trawl through people’s Facebook and Twitter accounts looking for evidence of hidden wealth during divorce proceedings.

Social media sites, which contain a mass of personal data, are increasingly being used to collect evidence to try to recover assets from lying ex-spouses. Lawyers can apply for court orders for disclosure of private information from people’s Facebook and Twitter profiles without the defendant being informed. This can offer important insights into whether a person has lied to the court about their wealth and provide clues as to where they might be hiding it.

I’ll be dig-gone!
Property experts estimate that there could be up to 1,000 JCB diggers buried underground because they are cheaper to bury than to lift up to street level following basement extensions.

Wealthy home owners, who have extended their homes in London by adding basement floors, are leaving a trail of entombed diggers because it is cheaper to bury them than it is to lift them out when they are finished with. Property experts say these are buried under sand, gravel and concrete, close to some of the capital’s most expensive houses.

Developers say the machinery is becoming an increasingly big obstacle as they revisit homes that have already been extended underground. The value of these JCBs would be around £5 million.

The trend of adding new subterranean floors to London houses has become a highly lucrative business as space becomes harder to come by for extending homes.

Report takes stock of rising wealth
The amount of private wealth held by households globally surged by more than 14% to £90 trillion last year, mainly on the back of rising stock markets. Asia-Pacific, excluding Japan, led the surge with a 31% jump, while the number of millionaire households also rose sharply, says a report by Boston Consulting Group.

The report takes into account cash, deposits, shares and other assets held by households, but businesses, real estate and luxury goods are excluded. The amount of wealth held in equities globally grew by 28% during the year.

Economies in Asia have been key drivers of global growth in recent years. In China, private wealth surged by almost 50% in 2013. Growth was 16% in North America, 5% in Western Europe, 17% in Eastern Europe and Russia and 11% in the Middle East and Latin America.

Parking fines buck trend of falling motoring costs
For years the cost of running a car has spiralled upwards, with drivers resigned to paying vast sums just to keep their vehicles on the road. But the AA says the cost of owning a car in the UK is now plummeting, as insurance companies drop premiums and petrol prices fall.

The figures show that, for a petrol car worth less than £13,000, the average cost of ownership is now £1,913 a year, down from £2,292 a year ago. The biggest difference has been from lower insurance premiums, with the average cost of car cover down nearly 17% year-on-year.

But drivers were forced to pay a record £350 million in parking tickets last year. The 11% increase in just two years came as local authorities found new ways to boost their earnings because of government-imposed austerity targets. This has prompted accusations that local authorities see motorists as easy cash cows to raise revenue.

Football crazy
ITV’s set for a big advertising boost from the World Cup, even if it was criticised at the last football World Cup because its HD coverage from South Africa missed one of England’s crucial goals. The advertising spend is expected to increase by £21 million over the four weeks of the event. This is on top of an overall improvement in ITV advertising revenues, which are up by almost a quarter over the past year on the back on the improving UK economy.

Meanwhile, on the World Cup theme, while Wayne Rooney may have a less than stellar record in it, he remains the best paid player at the event in Brazil. He is estimated to earn around £300,000 a week – or fifty pence a second – which puts him comfortably ahead of superstars of the football world, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo, who have to scrape by on £292,000 and £288,000 a week respectively. Total prize fund for the Brazilian event is £340m.

Compare the market not com
Price comparison websites may seem like the perfect way to shop around for an insurance policy, but only if they provide an unbiased breakdown of all the best deals. But it has now been claimed that many prices offered for motor insurance are being unfairly restricted by secret agreements.

Industry watchdogs claim some comparison websites make deals with insurers to get an exclusive price, making their website the cheapest for a certain product. The secretive nature of these deals means customers will pay more on other sites.

Consumer lawyers predict the crackdown on comparison website prices for car insurance will be just the start, with deals on other types of insurance, as well as flights, hotels and other products likely to be scrutinised under EU competition law.

Tesco account looks interesting
Tesco has entered the current account banking market. Its branch network for banking will be service desks in its stores. It will pay 3% interest on current account balances up to £3,000. Accounts will be free provided at least £750 a month is paid in – otherwise there will be a £5 a month charge.

The overdraft rate will be a flat 18.9%, while an unauthorised overdraft, bounced cheque or rejected direct debit payment will cost £5 per transaction, subject to a £50 a month maximum. Customers will be warned of such problems in advance by text and will have until 5pm to fix them before a charge is imposed.

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