UK construction growth hits three-month low; eurozone inflation hits historic high of 5% – business live

LIVE – Updated at 11:31

Eurozone inflation jumps unexpectedly, UK construction sector slows and house prices rise 9.8% during 2021.


11:31 Mark Sweney

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The M&C Saatchi office in central London

M&C Saatchi’s biggest shareholder has proposed an all-share exchange merger with her acquisition vehicle, arguing that the deal would enable one of the biggest names in British advertising to become more digitally-led and better funded to seek out acquisitions.

London-listed shell investment firm AdvancedAdvT, set up and run by M&C Saatchi’s deputy chair Vin Murria, said on Friday that it is “interested in exploring a share merger between M&C and the company”.

Shares in M&C Saatchi, co-founded in 1995 by brothers Maurice and Charles as a breakaway from their first agency Saatchi & Saatchi, slumped as much as 11% as investors hoping for a cash offer for the firm, which was valued at £250m, were disappointed by the all-share proposal.

“The combination of the M&C brand and platform with the company’s funding and experience is expected to increase the merger and acquisition opportunity pipeline,” said AdvancedAdvT, which raised £130m last year and took a 9.8% stake in M&C Saatchi on Wednesday.

“A merger would create an opportunity to build a data, analytics and digitally focused creative marketing business with a strong balance sheet and additional management expertise in transforming businesses at pace.”

Tech entrepreneur Murria, who sold her company Advanced Computer Software for £725m in 2015, holds a 12.5% stake in M&C Saatchi and is executive chair of AdvancedAdvT.

Murria, who became deputy chair of M&C Saatchi after the last three founders still working at the agency were ousted following an accounting scandal, owns 13% of AdvancedAdvT.

Investment company Marwyn, which has previously owned Peppa Pig parent Entertainment One and the owner of, holds a 15.4% stake in AdvancedAdvT.


11:24 Mark Sweney

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The new Aston Martin Valkyrie at the 89th Geneva International Motor Show

Aston Martin warned today it would miss its annual profit target by about £15m after failing to deliver as many of its limited edition Valkyrie hypercar models to customers as planned.

The British luxury car manufacturer said it had delivered 10 of the £2.5m vehicles in the fourth quarter, fewer than planned.

“The impact is timing only, all Aston Martin Valkyrie Coupes are sold and remain allocated to customers with significant deposits,” the company said in a full-year trading update.

Lawrence Stroll, the executive chairman of Aston Martin Lagonda, said that the Valkyrie project had proved challenging since he inherited it when he led a consortium to buy the company in 2020.

“We inherited a challenging project with Valkyrie but we are now producing these fabulous hypercars,”

Related: Aston Martin will miss profit target by £15m after Valkyrie delivery failings


Jesús Cabra Guisasola, senior associate at Validus Risk Management, says surging electricity prices pushed up the cost of living in the eurozone:

The euro area’s headline inflation rate accelerated unexpectedly to 5% vs 4.8% estimated during the last month of 2021, and at a faster pace compared to November when it was reported at 4.9%.

“Some of the contributors for this increase can be found in the Spanish and Italian inflation figures which increased at the fastest pace in decades. Both economies reported inflation at 6.7% and 4.2% compared to a year ago, mainly driven by the surge in electricity prices which continue pushing households’ expenses up.

“In contrast, Germany and France reported a slowdown in the inflation figures, with an increase of 5.7% and 3.4% in prices compared to a year ago, and down from the previous month’s 6% and 3.5%.


Here’s more eurozone inflation analysis from ING’s Bert Colijn:

Another slight tick up for eurozone inflation means that the highest rate since 1985 has now been reached. Energy is still the dominant driver of the high rate, but the energy inflation rate did drop from 27.5 to 26% in December as oil price base effects have finally started to drive down year-on-year price growth. The rise was mainly due to higher trending food and goods prices, which have been affected by higher transport costs and shortages.

Is this peak inflation? This depends to a significant degree on gas price developments, which have been incredibly volatile in recent weeks and a dominant driver of the recent inflation surge. Still, at current futures prices for natural gas and oil, energy inflation is likely to have peaked and is set to trend down from here. On top of that, the German VAT effect, which lifted inflation for a final month in December, will shave off about 0.5% from headline inflation from January onwards.

But the downtrend could be slow, given the pressures facing goods producers, Colijn adds:

Non-energy industrial goods inflation already jumped from 2 to 2.9% in the past two months, showing clear signs of costs being priced through to the consumer at a faster pace. We expect this to continue at the start of the new year.

Mild restrictions in place to combat the fourth wave of the virus will curb service sector price growth moderately, but ultimately it is safe to expect core inflation to remain above 2% for the first half of 2022.

That would mean real wages (pay after inflation) remain under pressure, as earnings aren’t yet rising to keep pace with prices.



Bert Colijn, senior economist at ING Bank, points out that rising food and goods prices nudged eurozone inflation up to 5% last month:

Video: Covid in numbers: December 18 PM update – 90k new infections – up 44 per cent on 7 days ago (Liverpool Echo)

Covid in numbers: December 18 PM update – 90k new infections – up 44 per cent on 7 days ago

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Eurozone inflation jumps to 5%

Inflation across the euro area has jumped again, intensifying the pressure on the European Central Bank as prices continue to surge ahead of its target.

Consumer prices in the single currency region rose by 5% in the year to December, up from 4.9% in November – which was already the highest since the euro was introduced.

Energy prices drove the cost of living higher, rising by 26% over the last year due to the rise in oil and the surge in gas prices.

But price pressures were broader-based too – with food, alcohol & tobacco prices rising by 3.2%, non-energy industrial goods by 2.9%, and services by 2.4%.

Firms have been passing on their higher costs to consumers, with supply chain bottlenecks pushing up raw material costs and restricting product availability.

The ECB’s goal is to keep inflation at 2% in the medium term, and predicts that CPI will fall below 2% by 2023.

Last month the ECB decided to end its pandemic bond-buying stimulus programme in March, but it will maintain another asset-purchase programme to spur growth, and kept interest rates at 0%.

UK construction slowdown: What the experts say

Duncan Brock, group director at the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply, says the supply chain crisis facing builders may have abated last month, despite the growth slowdown:

“Though the overall index moved down slightly in December there was light at the end of the tunnel for builders in terms of the strongest order numbers since August, reduced pressure on business costs and some improved delivery times for essential materials.

“Residential building has powered on every month since June 2020 and was the best performing category in the last month of 2021. Commercial building struggled to gain a stronger footing in a weakened UK economy and civil engineering activity fell back into contraction.

“Though supply constraints were still hiking up prices, inflation was the lowest since March as materials production carried on apace reducing supply restrictions. It was shipping delays and haulage shortages that remained the significant gripes in the industry as over a third of supply chain managers faced longer wait times.

Though this was an improvement on the previous month and the best since November 2020, it was still a factor affecting builders’ forecasts for 2022 as business optimism fell to the joint-lowest for almost a year.”

Joe Sullivan, partner at MHA, says worker shortages are the top challenge for builders:

“The availability of labour is now the number one issue within the UK construction sector, with wages continuing to rise. Staff mobility is high as people look for the best pay packets, causing further disruption. In addition, the spread of the Covid-19 Omicron variant has inhibited progress on building sites, dampening output and making planning even more difficult.

Max Jones, director in Lloyds Bank’s infrastructure and construction team, agrees that that the surge in Covid-19 infections could hit builders:

“While Omicron is front of mind for contractors, it’s not the threat of a full lockdown, which looks peripheral, but a surge in cases that could halt work on projects that’s the worry. If that combines with a weather-induced slowdown it could make for a volatile start to the new year.

Elsewhere skills shortages remain and many are struggling to fill the gaps in capacity this is throwing up, while boardrooms are making plans for a full year of materials inflation.

UK construction growth hits three-month low

Growth at UK building firms fell to a three-month low in December as Omicron disruption hit the sector.

But there are signs that the supply chain crisis is easing, with fewer firms reporting disruption to deliveries.

Data firm IHS Markit’s construction PMI, which tracks activity in the sector, dropped to 54.3 in December, down from 55.5 in November, showing the slowest growth since September.

House-building accelerated, but commercial property growth slowed and the civil engineering sector contracted.

Some survey respondents noted that tighter pandemic restrictions and rising COVID-19 cases had acted as a brake on recovery, especially in the commercial sector.

© Provided by The Guardian
UK construction PMI

© Provided by The Guardian
UK construction PMI

On a more positive note, the number of construction firms reporting supplier delays dropped from 47% in November to 34% in December, with 5% of firms reporting shorter lead times among vendors.

That could help ease the cost pressure hitting UK builders, with input price inflation slowing to its lowest in nine months.

Tim Moore, director at IHS Markit, says:

“UK construction companies ended last year on a slightly weaker footing as renewed pandemic restrictions held back the recovery, especially in commercial work and civil engineering.

Some firms commented on disruption from rising COVID-19 cases, while others noted a lack of new work to sustain the rapid growth rates seen earlier in 2021.

“The worst phase of supplier delays seems to have passed as the availability of construction products and materials continued to turn a corner in December. While suppliers to the construction sector have caught up on backlogged work and boosted capacity, there were still widespread reports citing unresolved transportation issues and driver shortages.

Input cost inflation moved down another notch in December, helped by the alleviation of some supply chain pressures. The latest rise in purchasing prices was far slower than the 24-year peak seen last June.”


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A Shell gas station

Oil giant Shell is pressing on with its $7bn share buyback programme, as it benefits from the surge in gas prices this winter.

Shell said this morning that its cash return to shareholders, using the proceeds of last year’s sale of its Permian Basin business to ConocoPhillips, would continue “at pace” in 2022.

Some $1.5bn was returned to investors in December, and the remaining $5.5bn “will be distributed in the form of share buybacks at pace”, Shell said this morning in a trading update.

Shell also reported that its LNG (liquified natural gas) trading results in the fourth quarter of 2021 are set to be “significantly higher” compared to the third quarter, as it benefits from the surge in European wholesale prices to record highs.

That’s despite production and liquefaction volumes being hit by unplanned maintenance, mainly in Australia, where its giant Prelude floating LNG vessel had a power outage.

Full story: UK house prices rise at fastest pace since 2007 but boom predicted to end

09:35 Mark Sweney

UK house prices rose by 9.8% last year, the fastest rate since 2007, but the boom is predicted to end this year as household finances come under increasing pressure, according to Halifax.

The price of the average UK home hit a record high of £276,091 in December, up more than £24,000 over the year, the biggest annual increase since 2003.

Halifax said the housing market “defied expectations” last year, ending with a 3.5% increase in prices in December, a level not seen since the end of 2006.

Russell Galley, the managing director of Halifax, said

“In 2021 we saw the average house price reach new record highs on eight occasions despite the UK being subject to lockdown for much of the first six months of the year,”

Factors that have helped fuel the homebuying boom include the government’s stamp duty holiday, which came to an end in England and Northern Ireland in September after finishing earlier in Scotland and Wales, historically low interest rates and the “race for space” sparked by the pandemic-fuelled shift to remote and flexible working.

Halifax expects UK house price growth to slow considerably compared with the red-hot rates of the past two years of the pandemic.

“Looking ahead, the prospect that interest rates may rise further this year to tackle rising inflation, and increasing pressures on household budgets, suggests house price growth will slow considerably,” Galley said.

“Our expectation is that house prices will maintain their current strong levels but that growth relative to the last two years will be at a slower pace.”

Related: UK house prices rise at fastest pace since 2007 but boom predicted to end


Bitcoin has had a bad start to 2022.

The world’s largest cryptocurrency fell below $41,000 today for the first time since late September 2021 It’s now down 40% from the record high just below $69,000 set in November.

Ethereum is also under pressure, dropping by 5% today and down over a quarter in the last month.

The prospect of earlier, faster US interest rate rises has hit the crypto market, with other riskier assets also weakening this year (fast-growing but unprofitable tech stocks, for example).

John Hardy of Saxo Bank says the shutdown of the internet in Kazakhstan, a key area of bitcoin mining, is another possible factor.

Cryptocurrencies continued to stumble as the price action in Bitcoin pushed toward the next key chart area into 40k, and with Ethereum also continuing to lose altitude.

One theory for the weakness in price action this week is that the shutdown of the internet in Kazakhstan due to protests has pulled as much as 15% of the bitcoin mining network off-line. With the country declaring that order has been restored, the eventual renewal of internet access there will be important for establishing the attribution to the price action from this source.

Related: Kazakhstan internet shutdown deals blow to global bitcoin mining operation

Bloomberg argues the bitcoin selloff may not be over, saying:

Lack of interest and demand due to the holiday season, tax-based selling and concern in the markets about the Fed’s potential actions are resulting in turn-of-year weakness, said Vijay Ayyar, vice president of corporate development and international at crypto exchange Luno in Singapore.

He expects levels between $38,000 to $40,000 to come into focus.

Top CEOs surpass average yearly UK pay

09:00 Rupert Neate

The bosses of Britain’s biggest companies have just earned more money in 2022 than the average UK worker will earn in the entire year, according to analysis of the vast gap in pay between FTSE 100 chief executives and everyone else.

The High Pay Centre, a thinktank that campaigns for fairer pay for workers, said that by 9am on 7 January, the fourth working day of the year, a FTSE 100 chief executive will have been paid more on an hourly basis than the UK worker’s annual salary, based on median average remuneration figures for both groups.

The country’s biggest unions said it was disgraceful that “greedy executives are taking home millions while ordinary workers face yet another year of pay squeezes”, and they demanded that firms be forced to appoint a frontline worker to executive pay committees.

FTSE 100 chief executives were paid £2.7m on average in 2020 (the latest full-year figures available), which works out at 86 times the £31,285 average salary for full-time UK workers, according to Office for National Statistics figures.

More here:

Related: Top CEOs to surpass average yearly UK pay after just four days


European stock markets have opened lower, as investors await this afternoon’s US jobs report.

The FTSE 100 has dropped by 6 points, or 0.1%, to 7443 points, with veterinary pharmaceuticals business Dechra (-2.5%) and industrial software group Aveva (-2%) leading the fallers.

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index has lost 0.5%, as investors ponder how quickly America’s central bank will raise interest rates this year.

Ipek Ozkardeskaya, senior analyst at Swissquote, says:

On Wednesday, the ADP report revealed a much better than expected number with a print of 800,000 new private jobs in December. Today, the Non-Farm Payroll (NFP) is expected to reveal that the US economy added 400,000 new nonfarm jobs. But the jobs data doesn’t matter much for the Fed policy expectations right now, what matters for the Fed is inflation.

Therefore, a low figure, around 100-200K, wouldn’t change the direction the Fed is preparing to take. However, a strong NFP print, and a beat on unemployment rate, have the power of boosting the Fed hawks, on the idea that the US jobs market no longer needs the Fed’s support, and the Fed could pull away support faster if it believes that there is no harm for the jobs leg of the equation.

In this sense, a strong jobs data could wreak havoc in risk markets. Remember, investors like good data only and if only it boosts asset prices, and when it doesn’t, they mourn.

German, French industrial production unexpectedly falls

Industrial production in the eurozone’s two largest economies stumbled in November, new data this morning shows.

Industrial output in Germany dipped by 0.2% during the month, missing forecasts of a 1% gain, as supply chain frictions continued to hit German industry.

Carsten Brzeski, ING’s chief economist for Germany, says German industrial revival in October proved to be short-lived.

He also warns that the latest wave of Covid-19 across the globe means things for German industry will get worse before they get “structurally and sustainably” better.

The fourth wave of the pandemic and Omicron should send industrial activity back into hibernation.

German industry remains in the stranglehold of global supply chain frictions. It is not only semiconductors but all kinds of input goods, ranging from bottom brackets for bikes to magnesium needed in automotive and aircraft construction.

Supply chain frictions are not only leaving their mark on actual production but have started to spread and to undermine production prospects as reflected by dropping orders and weakening production expectations. Looking ahead, it will take until spring next year before German industry is back on a fully sustainable recovery path.

In France, industrial production dropped by 0.4%, also weaker than expected,


The prospect of higher UK interest rates could ease house price pressures this year, says Myron Jobson, personal finance campaigner at interactive investor.

The Omicron variant could also dampen demand, with economic growth taking a hit from the restrictions to fight the pandemic. But Omicron could also deter people from putting their homes on the market and inviting buyers in.

If Omicron proves to be a lingering and disruptive problem, it could widen the mismatch between housing demand and supply which could put upwards pressure on prices.

“The end of the stamp duty holiday has taken some of the heat out of the UK housing market, which may cool further if the Bank of England follows December’s interest rate rise with further increases in the year to guard against increases in inflation. The Omicron variant could also reinforce the slowdown if it results in a weaker labour market.

The 9,8% jump in prices over the last year also makes it even harder to get onto the housing ladder, Jobson adds:

House prices continue to outstrip the rate of wage growth, making it difficult for wannabe first time buyers to raise a deposit – the hardest aspect of getting onto the property ladder. The likely increase in mortgage rates over the year will contribute further towards the unaffordability of homeownership.

Omicron hits C&C’s drinks sales in December

© Provided by The Guardian
Cider in Pint Glasses

Irish drinks producer C&C Group suffered a hit to sales last month as the Omicron variant hit demand.

C&C, which produces Bulmers and Magners cider, and Tennent’s lager, says sales in December missed expectations.

New restrictions imposed in the UK and Ireland in December had a significant impact on its ‘on-trade business’ which sells drinks to pubs, bars and restaurants.

C&C told the City that:

In the month of December, the key festive trading period, C&C traded directly with 81% of on-trade outlets vs FY2020, delivering 64% of the volume against an expectation of 90% and 90% respectively.

While December’s performance was consequently behind expectation, the Group generated a modest profit for the month.

Before Omicron stuck, C&C was seeing a recovery. Trading in September to November was modestly ahead of expectation, thanks to customers returning to hospitality venues.

C&C also lifted its prices “to manage inflationary cost pressures”.

Shares have dropped almost 3% in early trading.

UK house prices: what the experts say

After a strong 2021, the UK housing market faces an uncertain 2022, says Jan Crosby, head of infrastructure, building and construction at KPMG UK:

The stamp duty holiday that partially fuelled last year’s increased demand is long gone, but concerns around house price inflation, ongoing supply chain issues and the impact of the Omicron variant are creating an unwelcome climate of uncertainty.

“Hopefully these pressures on the market ease sooner rather than later, although the price rises seen last year will continue to impede first-time buyers in particular.

“At some point the market has to moderate, either through an increase in supply or – perhaps more likely – a drop-off in the pandemic-era trend of people looking to move as what they want from their home has changed.”

Martin Beck, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club, reckons the markets will cool this year, but prices won’t fall:

The end of the stamp duty holiday has been followed by signs of the housing market returning to more normal levels of activity. And the fundamentals facing the market are looking less supportive of continued growth in prices. Higher inflation and tax rises will affect households’ spending power and mortgage rates are likely to rise in response to the Bank of England’s decision to increase the policy rate. Moreover, pandemic-driven changes in housing preferences, and the resulting boost to demand, are likely to fade over time.

But mortgage rates will be increasing from a very low level. Unemployment is low and households, overall, are still sitting on substantial unplanned savings accumulated during the pandemic. So, while the EY ITEM Club expects house price growth to decelerate significantly this year, an outright fall in prices is unlikely.

North London estate agent Jeremy Leaf reports that a shortages of houses for sale is holding the market back:

‘Buyers are clearly still emerging following their short hibernation to carry on where they left off, quickly snapping up new properties which come onto the market. Most are choosing to forget worries about rising inflation, interest rates and taxes to say nothing of Omicron.

‘However, lack of stock is reducing the number of transactions and supporting prices. Market appraisals and new instructions are improving but not quick enough yet.

’Stretched affordability means that prices are unlikely to rise as quickly as they did for a large part of 2021 but prices of family houses in particular will continue to do well.’

Introduction: UK house prices rise at fastest rate since 2007, but slowdown looms

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

UK house prices have posted their strongest year since the financial crisis, but a slowdown may be looming.

Monthly figures just released by mortgage lender Halifax show that UK house prices jumped 9.8% during 2021, hitting record highs.

That’s the sharpest annual increase since July 2007, Halifax says, as demand for larger homes, record low interest rates, and the stamp duty tax break drove up prices.

House prices rose by 1.1% in December alone, the sixth monthly rise in a row, as the market ended the year strongly.

But the market may cool during 2022, Halifax argues, as the cost of living squeeze and higher interest rates hit household budgets.

Halifax reports that:

  • Average UK property price hits a new record high of £276,091
  • House prices have increased by over £24,500 in 2021 — the highest year-on-year cash rise since March 2003
  • House price growth expected to slow in 2022

© Provided by The Guardian
Halifax survey of Uk house prices Photograph: Halifax

Russell Galley, managing director at Halifax, explains:

“The housing market defied expectations in 2021, with quarterly growth reaching 3.5% in December, a level not seen since November 2006. In 2021 we saw the average house price reach new record highs on eight occasions, despite the UK being subject to ‘lockdown’ for much of the first six months of the year.

“The lack of spending opportunities afforded to people while restrictions were in place helped boost household cash reserves. This factor, alongside the Stamp Duty holiday and the race for space as a result of homeworking, will have encouraged buyers to bring forward home purchases that may have been planned for this year. The extension of the Government’s job and income support schemes also supported the labour market and may have given some households the confidence to proceed with purchases.

“A lack of available homes for sale, and historically low mortgage rates, have also helped drive annual house price inflation to 9.8%, its highest level since July 2007.

“Looking ahead, the prospect that interest rates may rise further this year to tackle rising inflation, and increasing pressures on household budgets, suggests house price growth will slow considerably. Our expectation is that house prices will maintain their current strong levels but that growth relative to the last two years will be at a slower pace. However, there are many variables which could push house prices either way, depending on how the pandemic continues to impact the economic environment.”

Last month, Halifax reported that the “race for space” between homebuyers has pushed up prices in some UK towns by about a fifth this year, with Taunton topping a list of areas with the biggest increases.

Related: House prices shoot up in UK towns as ‘race for space’ continues apace

Also coming up today,

Markets are bracing for the latest US non-farm payroll report, which is expected to show that around 400,000 new jobs were created in America last month.

A strong reading, and a jump in earnings, could increase the chances the US Federal Reserve raises interest rates as soon as March — a prospect that knocked markets this week.

Kyle Rodda of IG explains:

Today’s trade in global markets will be about US Non-Farm Payrolls data, the anticipation of which has probably exacerbated this increased uncertainty around US Fed policy this week. Forecasters are tipping a solid 426k jobs gain, a drop in the unemployment to 4.1%, and – crucially – a rise in average hourly earnings of 0.4%.

It’s that final detail that may prove most pertinent for market participants, as they remain wary of signs of an emerging wage-price spiral. If the wages number does come in hotter than expected, then it may add to those fears of a more aggressive Fed, and add to this recent bout of elevated volatility and weakness in equities.

We also get December’s eurozone inflation report – in November, inflation across the 19-member eurozone soared to 4.9%. The latest construction PMI report will show how UK builders fared last month.

The agenda

  • 7am GMT: Halifax UK house price survey
  • 9.30am GMT: UK construction PMI
  • 10am GMT: Eurozone inflation report for December
  • 1.30pm GMT: US non-farm payroll jobs report for December

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