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Card spending on travel and eating out hit a new post-pandemic high during the half-term holiday while job adverts in the hospitality sector have surged, according to latest data.

The figures were published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) as part of a regular series of real-time indicators showing the impact of COVID-19 on the economy.

They also showed that the proportion of the UK workforce on furlough in May had hit 7%, or about 1.8 million people – a new low since the data series began in June last year.

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The number of workers on furlough hit a new low

Bank of England data, tracking payments by card processors to 100 major retailers, showed “social” spending, which includes travel and eating out, continued recent increases to reach a new high since the start of the pandemic, though still only at about 89% of February 2020 levels.

It was up from 85% a week earlier and just below the level of 91% in March, shortly before the first lockdown.

The level had dipped to as low as 20% in the spring of last year as much of the economy was closed.

Spending classed as “work-related”, including public transport and petrol, was also at its highest since early last year – and nearly a fifth above the February 2020 benchmark.

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Overall card purchases in the week ending 3 June were at 102% of the pre-pandemic average in February 2020, up from 95% in the previous week – though it was not the first time spending has topped pre-pandemic levels since lockdowns began to ease in April.

The ONS highlighted that the latest period covered a bank holiday, school half-term and May pay day for many workers.

The figures also provided a snapshot of how the hospitality sector is faring – with data from booking website OpenTable showing the average number of seated diners at restaurants in the week to 7 June at 147% of the same period in 2019, though this was down on the previous week.

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‘Thank goodness’ for recovery – but longer term relatively weak, says BoE governor

At the same time, figures from online jobs search site Adzuna, as of 4 June, showed the recruitment squeeze facing the sector with the volume of adverts for “catering and hospitality” roles at 140% of the February 2020 average, up from 57% in April.

Meanwhile Department for Transport data showed the volume of motor vehicle traffic at the start of this week at 99% of February 2020 levels as the economy gets back into gear.

But footfall data from Springboard showed that, while visits to shopping areas rose last week, it was still at only 85% of pre-lockdown levels.

The figures come as the British Chambers of Commerce predicted a consumer-led rebound for the UK economy this year but warned it would be held back if lockdown restrictions are not eased on 21 June as currently planned.

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Sam Bankman-Fried: Founder of bankrupt crypto firm FTX breaks his silence, with thousands locked out of savings

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Sam Bankman-Fried: Founder of bankrupt crypto firm FTX breaks his silence, with thousands locked out of savings

A crypto entrepreneur says his net worth has fallen from $26.5bn to $100,000 after his company imploded.

Sam Bankman-Fried admitted it has been a “bad month” after FTX collapsed into bankruptcy, leaving thousands of people frozen out of their savings.

The 30-year-old – who once positioned himself as a saviour for stricken firms – has been accused of misusing customer funds and moving $10bn out of the company in secret.

To make matters worse, reports suggest that at least $1bn has vanished.

But speaking at the New York Times’ DealBook summit, he insisted that he has never tried to commit fraud, and said he was “shocked” at how things unfolded.

FTX now has fresh management as it navigates bankruptcy, with its new CEO declaring that he had never seen “such a complete failure of corporate controls” during his 40-year career.

It has been claimed that funds belonging to FTX users was mixed with funds at Alameda Research, a trading firm that Bankman-Fried also ran.

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FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange that operated around the world, collapsed as panicked traders pulled $6bn out of the company in just three days after a series of bombshell allegations.

Speaking via video link from the Bahamas, Bankman-Fried said he now has “close to nothing” following his company’s failure – and is down to one working credit card.

He has admitted that his businesses “completely failed” when it came to risk management, and said this was “pretty embarrassing in retrospect”.

“Whatever happened, why it happened, I had a duty to our stakeholders, our customers, our investors, the regulators of the world, to do right by them,” Bankman Fried added.

While the embattled entrepreneur believes that American users should be able to get their money back in full, Bankman-Fried has warned in other interviews that international customers may only get 20% to 25% of the money they had locked into FTX.

A number of companies in the cryptocurrency sector have collapsed in recent months, coinciding with a sharp drop in the value of Bitcoin.

Some businesses have been accused of offering interest rates on savings that were simply too good to be true, while others have been likened to “Ponzi schemes”.

The Bahamas has now launched a criminal investigation into the circumstances surrounding FTX’s demise.

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HSBC to close dozens more bank branches

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HSBC to close dozens more bank branches

HSBC has announced plans to shut a further 114 UK branches – over a quarter of its surviving sites.

The UK-based but mainly Asia-focused bank said those affected would be shut from April next year.

The decision, as the wider banking sector has consistently claimed over many years, is the result of the surge in online banking.

It has led to declining demand for over-the-counter transactions with HSBC saying that some of those to be shut were dealing with fewer than 250 people per week.

It was unclear, at this stage, what the closures would mean for jobs.

The bank said it was to invest tens of millions of pounds in updating and improving its remaining branch network, which will total 327 once the closures have been completed.

Jackie Uhi, HSBC UK’s managing director of UK distribution, said: “People are changing the way they bank and footfall in many branches is at an all-time low, with no signs of it returning. Banking remotely is becoming the norm for the vast majority of us.

“The decision to close a branch is never easy or taken lightly, especially if we are the last branch in an area, so we’ve invested heavily in our ‘post-closure’ strategy, including providing free tablet devices to selected branch customers who do not already have a device to bank digitally, alongside one-to-one coaching to help them migrate to digital banking.”

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Joules administrator on brink of rescue deal with Phase Eight-owner Foschini

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Joules administrator on brink of rescue deal with Phase Eight-owner Foschini

The administrator to Joules, the collapsed fashion retailer, is on the brink of a rescue deal with the South African owner of Phase Eight.

Sky News has learnt that The Foschini Group (TFG) is close to securing an agreement to buy the majority of Joules’ stores and assets.

One source said a deal could be struck as soon as Wednesday afternoon.

If completed, it is likely to see roughly a quarter of Joules’ 132 shops closed, with the loss of “several hundred” jobs.

A more precise figure for store closures and redundancies could not be identified, with Interpath Advisory, the administrator, refusing to comment.

It remains possible that an alternative buyer such as Next or Mike Ashley’s Frasers Group could yet trump TFG’s interest with a last-ditch offer.

TFG, which also owns the women’s fashion brands Hobbs and Whistles, had been in discussions with Joules for several weeks about investing in the business prior to it calling in administrators this month.

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Based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire, Joules operates a total of 132 stores across the UK, employing over 1,600 people.

Its stores have remained open during the administration process.

Will Wright, head of restructuring at Interpath and joint administrator, said earlier this month that Joules was “one of the most recognisable names on the high street, with a unique brand identity and loyal customer base”.

“We have had an overwhelming amount of interest from interested parties.

“We will be working hard over the days ahead to assess this interest, but at this stage we are optimistic that we will be able to secure a future for this great British brand.”

Joules had been in talks with Next about a strategic investment earlier in the autumn but the two sides were unable to agree the terms of a deal as the smaller company’s share price continued to sink.

It then hired Interpath to consider an insolvency procedure – known as a company voluntary arrangement – that would have allowed it to slash its overheads through store closures, rent reductions and job cuts.

Joules said in August that it was aiming to secure an equity investment of about £15m, after warning that it would deliver a loss bigger than previous market expectations.

It also appointed Jonathon Brown, a former John Lewis and Kingfisher executive, as its new CEO.

Joules has been listed on the London stock market since 2016, having been founded in 1989 when Tom Joule began selling clothes from a country show stall in Leicestershire.

TFG could not be reached for comment.

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