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The Bank of England has said that UK households and businesses have been “resilient” in the face of rising interest rates – but repeated previous warnings that the full effect of higher interest rates was yet to come through.

Unveiling its latest Financial Stability Report – which is published twice yearly – the Bank said that household finances remained “stretched by increased living costs and higher interest rates, some of which has yet to be reflected in higher mortgage repayments.”

The Bank, which raised its main policy rate 14 consecutive times between December 2021 and August this year to the current 15-year high of 5.25%, said that, because most mortgages taken out over recent years had been at a fixed interest rate, higher interest rates tended to have a lagged effect on households with a mortgage.

It said that around 55% of mortgage borrower accounts, around five million, had repriced since interest rates began to rise in late 2021.

But it warned: “Higher rates are expected to affect around five million [further] households by 2026.

“For the typical owner-occupier mortgagor rolling off a fixed rate between [April to June] 2023 and the end of 2026, their monthly mortgage repayments are projected to increase by around £240, or around 39%.

“As higher mortgage rates continue to flow through to UK households, the average debt servicing burden will increase.”

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The report noted that, although average quoted mortgage rates had come down since the Bank’s last Financial Stability Report in July this year, they remained “higher than in the recent past”.

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People are waiting for mortgage rates to drop

Andrew Bailey, the governor, emphasised that the UK banking sector remained well capitalised and had come through the Bank’s recent stress tests well.

He added: “If economic and financial conditions were to materially worsen for households and businesses, our banking sector has the capacity to support them.”

He said that there was evidence that net interest margins (the spread between what banks charge borrowers and pay depositors and a key driver of bank profits) had peaked.

The governor highlighted that, “thank goodness”, despite higher mortgage costs there had not been a big increase in home repossessions as in the past.

He added: “The financial system is much better placed to support borrowers. It’s a benefit of financial stability that the system is able to take these actions. And that’s a good thing, a very good thing.”

Mr Bailey said that, while UK households and businesses had remained resilient in the face of higher borrowing costs, the Bank had noticed an increase in arrears among home owners – both those living in their own homes with a mortgage and among buy-to-let landlords.

He said that the Bank was “very alert” to the issue of renters and particularly in view of the fact that, with home ownership in decline, renters now formed a larger proportion of the population and also tended to be at the lower end of the income scale.

He went on: “There is obviously a financial stability lens on this and it comes through the buy-to-let market.”

Asked about the way in which some borrowers were responding to higher mortgage rates Sarah Breedon, the deputy governor responsible for financial stability, said the Bank had noted an increased uptake, over time, of long-dated mortgages of up to 35 years and particularly among younger borrowers.

She added: “The more important thing is lending into retirement when people might not have the income [to cover mortgage payments]. We don’t judge it as a financial stability risk but it is something we are watching.”

Mr Bailey said that, among corporates, there was also evidence of some arrears building up and in particular among small and medium sized businesses.

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How is the mortgage crisis affecting you?

But the report noted that the share of corporates at higher risk had fallen from its pandemic peak and pointed out that the bulk of UK corporate debt on fixed rates was due to mature in or after 2025.

The governor added: “We judge that the UK corporate sector as a whole has remained resilient.”

Further afield, Mr Bailey said that the overall risk environment remained challenging, singling out the Chinese economy – where many parts of the property sector remain under strain – as a particular risk for the global economy. He added that the “tragic events in the Middle East” had also contributed to geopolitical uncertainty.

The governor also sounded a warning on vulnerabilities in so-called ‘non-bank’ finance – services such as loans and credit which are not provided by banks but by other institutions, such as insurers, venture capital firms and currency exchanges.

In particular, he highlighted market-based finance – the provision of types of corporate credit, such as high-yield bonds and leveraged loans – where he said risks remained significant and, in some cases, had increased since the Bank’s last report in July.

He added: “There are now larger imbalances in the market in derivatives for US government debt – a key instrument in the financial system.”

The governor said that this could contribute to market volatility if hedge funds needed to unwind their positions in such instruments rapidly and noted that sharp movements in the prices of such assets could lead to wider dislocations as was shown during the LDI crisis which followed Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-Budget in September last year.

The report also revealed that, since July, the Bank’s financial policy committee had been briefed on the continued adoption of artificial intelligence and machine learning in financial services and their potential financial stability implications.

Mr Bailey said: “I don’t pretend to be an expert on AI, because I am not, but when I speak to people who are they make the point [on] the complexity of the code behind it and the extent to which it is understood.

“It obviously has tremendous potential and particularly to improve productivity which would be a welcome thing.”

The governor also paid tribute to Alistair Darling, the former Chancellor, who died last week. He said Lord Darling was “wise, kind and had an absolutely wicked sense of humour.”

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Next weighs move for stricken cosmetics chain The Body Shop

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Next weighs move for stricken cosmetics chain The Body Shop

Next has approached administrators to The Body Shop about a potential deal to purchase parts of the stricken cosmetics chain.

Sky News has learnt that executives from the UK fashion retailing giant have contacted FRP Advisory to express an interest in acquiring assets as part of any sale process it decides to launch.

There were doubts this weekend, however, that FRP, which was appointed to handle the insolvency of The Body Shop in the UK earlier this month, would elect to run a conventional auction, with one source suggesting that contact between FRP and Next had already stalled.

Read more: The Body Shop UK in administration – what went wrong?

Next is understood to have been monitoring The Body Shop for some time, but people close to the FTSE-100 company confirmed that it had expressed an interest in assembling a deal.

The retailer, run by Lord Wolfson, has become one of the most prolific buyers of distressed retail businesses in Britain in recent years.

Among the brands it has acquired are Fat Face, Joules and the online furniture retailer, Made.com.

It has also snapped up Cath Kidston and JoJo Maman Bebe, the maternity wear retailer, while it has struck partnerships with Victoria’s Secret and Gap.

One obstacle to any deal with The Body Shop may lie in the fact that its brand and intellectual property (IP) assets are not part of the administration process.

It is understood that Aurelius, which has only owned The Body Shop since 1 January, is financing the rest of the business, and as part of that has secured major assets including stock and IP.

FRP is expected to decide whether to launch an auction within weeks, with a sale of the restructured business in its new form back to Aurelius a possibility.

If Next did pursue a purchase of the chain, it would be unlikely to retain many, if any, of The Body Shop’s British stores.

This week, FRP announced the closure of nearly half of its 198 UK stores, with seven shutting immediately.

“Following the earlier sale of loss-making businesses in much of mainland Europe and parts of Asia, and to support a simplified business, The Body Shop will also restructure roles in its head office,” the administrators said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost from the store closures and a downsizing of its head office that will leave roughly 400 people employed there.

“This swift action will help re-energise The Body Shop’s iconic brand and provide it with the best platform to achieve its ambition to be a modern, dynamic beauty brand that is able to return to profitability and compete for the long term,” FRP added.

Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, in 2003. Pic: Reuters
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Dame Anita Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, in 2003. Pic: Reuters

Sky News’ revelation that Aurelius was preparing to appoint administrators sparked a vigorous debate about why the brand founded by the late Dame Anita Roddick and her husband Gordon nearly 50 years ago had faltered.

‘Mismanaged for years’

Aurelius bought the business from Natura, a Brazilian company, late last year and rapidly discovered that it had insufficient working capital and that it was trading even more poorly than anticipated.

One retail executive suggested there were serious questions for Natura to answer, saying: “This company did not fail in the last six weeks, it has been underinvested in and mismanaged for years.”

The Body Shop’s businesses across most of Europe and parts of Asia have already been offloaded to a family office following the company’s acquisition by Aurelius in a deal it said was valued at £207m.

At the time of the deal, The Body Shop employed about 10,000 people, and operated roughly 3,000 stores in 70 countries.

Although it has struggled for profitable growth for years, it has retained a prominent presence on British high streets.

The Roddicks were prominent champions of environmental causes, a positioning which helped it gain an edge over rival retailers during the 1980s and ’90s.

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Its opposition to the animal testing of cosmetics was also unusual in the decades immediately after it was founded.

Its distinctiveness has, however, been diminished in recent years by the emergence of competitors which have also put sustainability at the heart of their businesses while more effectively targeting younger consumers.

Dame Anita died in 2007.

Natura was reported to have paid more than $1bn to buy The Body Shop in 2017.

It was owned by L’Oreal, the cosmetics giant, prior to its sale to Natura.

Next, FRP and Aurelius declined to comment.

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Worst airlines for customer satisfaction revealed

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Worst airlines for customer satisfaction revealed

The worst airlines for customer satisfaction have been revealed

The UK’s flag carrier airline, British Airways, ranked among the worst airlines in the survey.

BA’s customer score for long-haul flights was the joint third lowest out of 17 carriers analysed by Which?, at 59%.

The airline received just two stars out of five for boarding experience and value for money, and achieved three stars for the other six categories assessed.

For short-haul flights, British Airways’ score was 56%, which was the fifth lowest among 22 airlines.

At the other end of the spectrum, the best airline for long-haul flights was Singapore Airlines (83%) and for short-haul Jet2.com (81%) took the top spot.

The worst performers in the long-haul ranking were Lufthansa (56%), Air Canada (58%), American Airlines (59%) and British Airways.

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The pilot was reportedly left 'penniless'
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Pic: PA

Wizz Air (44%) was ranked bottom for short-haul flights for the second year in a row, followed by Ryanair (47%), Iberia (49%) and Vueling (53%).

Which? said the standard of service last year often “fell well short of the mark”, with many passengers struggling to get support when they needed it.

UK air fares reached record highs in 2023.

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Rory Boland, editor of magazine Which? Travel, said: “Air fares have soared in recent years, and the bare minimum passengers should expect in return for their hard-earned cash is a reliable service, with friendly, easy to access customer support when they are let down.

“While the likes of Jet2 continue to excel in this regard, our survey shows that passengers of many airlines are sadly being shortchanged – with high rates of last minute cancellations, abysmal customer service and sneaky extra fees for luggage hiking up the final price.”

A British Airways spokesperson said: “We always work hard to get our customers to where they need to be on time.

“We apologise to customers for any disruption they’ve faced during these challenging periods and again thank them for their understanding.”

Marion Geoffroy, UK managing director at Wizz Air, said: “We do not consider the findings of this report to be representative or the methodology used to be transparent.

“Only 124 Wizz Air passengers were surveyed, while Which? spoke to several thousand people who had flown with some of our competitors.”

The survey of Which? members was conducted in October last year and relates to more than 10,000 flights with customer scores based on overall satisfaction and the likelihood to recommend an airliner to a friend.

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Energy price cap to fall but bills to include ‘temporary’ charge to help tackle record debt

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Energy price cap to fall but bills to include 'temporary' charge to help tackle record debt

The energy price cap is to fall by £20 a month, the industry regulator has announced, but households are to face an additional “temporary” charge to help suppliers support struggling customers with record levels of debt.

Ofgem confirmed a 12% price cap reduction will take effect from 1 April, taking the annual energy bill for a typical household paying by direct debit for gas and electricity to £1,690.

The current level, in place from January to March, is £1,928.

The fall reflects lower wholesale prices, with natural gas costs over the peak winter season falling across Europe due to higher stockpiles.

A mild winter has been a factor in the drop.

Read more:
Energy price cap reduction – live reaction
Why the cap has come down in ‘new normal’

The adjustment by Ofgem, while some relief for household budgets squeezed by the tough economy, still leaves the cap more than 50% up on pre-crisis levels.

The regulator confirmed alongside the cap figure that it was taking action to tackle a record £3.1bn in bill arrears, though prepayment meter customers would not be affected.

A handheld SSE smart meter for household energy usage is held next to an energy-efficient LED light bulb. Families across Great Britain will find out on Friday how tough energy bills will be this winter but they may have to wait to discover what the Government will do to help Picture date: Thursday August 25, 2022.
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Ofgem’s plans aim to bolster support for energy customers in debt to their suppliers. Pic: PA

“To address this challenge in the short-term, Ofgem will allow a temporary additional payment of £28 per year (equivalent to £2.33 per month) to make sure suppliers have sufficient funds to support customers who are struggling”, its statement said.

“This will be added to the bills of customers who pay by direct debit or standard credit and is partly offset by the termination of an allowance worth £11 per year that covered debt costs related to the COVID pandemic.”

Ofgem said its wider action would include further closing the gap between the higher charges that prepayment meter customers pay and what most other households face.

It said those on prepayment meters would save around £49 per year while direct debit customers would pay £10 per year more.

The watchdog said the new figures, taken together, meant bills would still fall to their lowest level since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

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Ofgem says lower unit charges will mean that bills will fall for everyone in April, despite the debt aid elements. Pic: iStock

Russia’s vast gas supplies to the continent were shut down shortly after its military action began, forcing a scramble for replacement volumes.

Much of the void has been filled by additional supplies from Norway and heightened shipments of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Market experts have warned that a return to pre-crisis energy prices is unlikely to occur given the new realities over the source of supply hampered, in the short term at least, by attacks on shipping in the Red Sea that have forced LNG cargos to make longer journeys.

The trend of higher prices has led to questions over whether the price cap, initially introduced to prevent rip-off charges, has become a barrier to competition. Ofgem is working with the government to address the cap’s future.

It is now utilised by the vast majority of homes in the wake of the supplier crisis that began in 2021 that saw dozens of operators collapse, including Bulb.

Fixed deals have been hard to come by ever since but there are some that have undercut the price cap.

Read more: What is the price cap – and how will it affect my bills?

Research for professional services firm KPMG, released separately on Friday, suggested 48% of households believed the price cap was a barrier to fixed-term offers by suppliers.

A third of respondents said they no longer shopped around because of the cap.

Price comparison site uSwitch said Ofgem’s wider action on elements of the price cap bill should help improve the volume of offers.

Its director of regulation, Richard Neudegg, said: “Consumers have been patiently waiting for better tariff choices, and many are desperate to take advantage of cheaper rates.

“If you are on a standard variable tariff, now is the time to start keeping an eye out for deals.

“The end of the Market Stabilisation Charge also on 1st April will be a positive step, taking out an unnecessary premium on deals.

“However, Ofgem’s decision to extend the Ban on Acquisition-only Tariffs for another year is a gamble.

“Although this could be cut to six months, while it’s in play, fixed deals risk being more expensive than they would otherwise be, at a time when customers are finally hoping to lock in some certainty.”

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