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The prospects for an interest rate cut next month have not been helped by the latest wage growth figures which have come in higher than expected.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed regular wage growth, excluding the effects of bonuses, was 6% higher over the three months to March compared with a year earlier.

That was no lower than the sum reported the previous month.

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The ONS reported that total pay was also static, at an upwardly revised 5.7% for the period.

Economists had been expecting declines in both readings.

The data also showed a rise in the unemployment rate from 4.2% to 4.3%.

ONS director of economic statistics Liz McKeown said: “We continue to see tentative signs that the jobs market is cooling, with both employment from our household survey and the number of workers on payroll showing falls in the latest periods.

“At the same time, the steady decline in the number of job vacancies has continued for a twenty-second consecutive month, although numbers remain above pre-pandemic levels.

“With unemployment also increasing, the number of unemployed people per vacancy has continued to rise, approaching levels seen before the onset of COVID-19.

“Earnings growth in cash terms remains high, with the recent falls in the rate now levelling off while, with inflation falling, real pay growth remains at its highest level in well over two years.”

The figures were released against a backdrop of intense speculation on the timing of a Bank of England interest rate cut.

The Bank, which last week signalled further progress in efforts to bring down inflation, has held the rate at 5.25% since last summer.

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‘Path is downwards’ on interest rates

The rate-setting committee wants to see a “sustainable” return to its 2% inflation target before imposing the first cut.

Wage growth has been among the stubborn factors of concern.

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The Bank feels that the pace, currently around double the rate of price growth, risks fuelling a second round of inflation because more discretionary spending could result in higher prices.

Its chief economist Huw Pill later said in a speech that the pay growth rates remain “quite well above” what would be consistent for meeting the target sustainably.

Inflation figures out next week, which cover the month of April, are tipped to show a sharp easing in the main consumer prices index (CPI) measure, largely due to plunging energy bills.

A figure just above 2% is forecast by economists.

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UK comes out of recession

The Bank has resisted the temptation to cut borrowing costs as it believes that figure could shift back up towards 3% in the second half of the year.

Financial markets saw a 53% chance of a rate cut on 20 June – the monetary policy committee’s (MPC’s) next meeting.

While restrictive monetary policy was largely blamed for the UK’s recession during the second half of 2023, the economy has since performed better than expected.

That complicates the picture for the MPC.

Separate ONS data last week showed a 0.6% rise in gross domestic product during the first quarter of the year.

As with the wage figures, the Bank will be anxious that a growth spurt risks fanning the flames of inflation.

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Policymakers have said their decisions will be data dependent.

There is a further employment report due from the ONS ahead of 20 June and two sets of inflation figures between today and that date.

Yael Selfin, chief economist at KPMG UK, said of the rate cut prospects: “Next month will be key in terms of pay data as it will provide initial evidence of the impact of April’s National Living Wage increase.

“If it comes in line with our expectations of only a modest boost, and sufficient to keep annual pay growth on a downward trajectory, this could ignite more dovish sentiment on the MPC ahead of their June vote.”

Rob Wood, chief UK economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, believed the Bank would back a rate cut at its next meeting.

“Much as we have concerns over the jobs data, the labour market keeps gradually easing, and they give the MPC a hook to hang a June rate cut on,” he wrote.

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Indian pharma group readies swoop on anti-smoking aid Nicotinell

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Indian pharma group readies swoop on anti-smoking aid Nicotinell

An Indian pharmaceutical group is closing in on a deal to snap up Nicotinell, the anti-smoking aid, from Haleon, its FTSE-100 parent company.

Sky News has learnt that Hyderabad-based Dr Reddy’s Laboratories could be within days of acquiring the brand and a number of lesser-known European products from Haleon.

Sources said a deal was likely to be announced as soon as this week.

It was unclear on Sunday how much Dr Reddy’s might pay for the Haleon-owned assets, although it is expected to be in the hundreds of millions of pounds.

Should it be completed, it will be the latest in a string of acquisitions for the Indian- and US-listed company.

Dr Reddy’s has a market value in New York of about $11.7bn, having been established in 1984.

In Britain, the company has had a presence since 2002, and includes commercial offices and a research and development centre in Cambridge.

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It also operates an active pharmaceutical ingredient manufacturing site in Mirfield, West Yorkshire.

Dr Reddy’s has been in talks for months about acquiring the Nicotinell brand from Haleon, the over-the-counter products giant spun out of FTSE-100 drug maker GlaxoSmithKline.

Haleon, which has a market capitalisation of close to £29.5bn, is chaired by the former Tesco chief executive Sir Dave Lewis.

GSK sold its remaining stake in Haleon earlier this month.

Haleon owns some of the most recognisable over-the-counter healthcare brands in Britain, including the multivitamin supplement Centrum, Panadol pain relief tablets and Sensodyne toothpaste.

Nicotinell, which is sold in patch, gum and lozenge form, is said to be the second-largest nicotine replacement therapy product globally.

Its prospective sale will come days after Rishi Sunak’s administration failed to pass his flagship anti-smoking bill after he called a surprise summer general election.

Haleon declined to comment.

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FTSE-100 housebuilder Persimmon weighs £1bn bid for rival Cala

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FTSE-100 housebuilder Persimmon weighs £1bn bid for rival Cala

One of Britain’s biggest housebuilders is exploring a £1bn takeover bid for Cala Group, a rival player in the sector which has been put up for sale.

Sky News has learned that Persimmon, which has a market value of £4.74bn, is leaning towards submitting an offer for Cala ahead of a bid deadline next week.

City sources said it would be a strong contender to buy Cala, whose homes have a significantly higher average sale price than those of Persimmon.

Insiders expect Cala, which is being auctioned by Legal & General (L&G), to command a price tag of about £1bn.

If Persimmon is successful in the auction, it would mark the York-based company’s biggest acquisition for years.

Under Roger Devlin, its chairman, and chief executive Dean Finch, the company’s share price has rallied by over 20% in the last year.

In a trading update last month, Persimmon said it was on track to deliver growth in new home completions this year to up to 10,500.

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The Cala auction comes amid a general election campaign in which new home provision is expected to figure prominently.

Both main parties are likely to set out new policies to stimulate housebuilding growth, according to sources.

Analysts said this weekend that other housebuilders were also expected to consider bids for the L&G-owned company.

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These could include, they said, Persimmon’s larger rival, Taylor Wimpey, and Avant Homes, which is owned by Elliott Advisors and Berkeley DeVeer.

Persimmon is the UK’s third-largest housebuilder by market capitalisation, behind Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments.

Both Persimmon and Taylor Wimpey were among eight housebuilders named by the Competition and Markets Authority in February over suspicions they had exchanged commercially sensitive information.

A takeover of Cala by another major housebuilder would underline fresh momentum in the industry’s consolidation, after Barratt Developments unveiled a £2.5bn deal to acquire rival Redrow.

The prospective sale of Cala represents the first significant strategic move by its new chief executive, Antonio Simoes.

Bankers at Rothschild are overseeing the auction.

Mr Simoes described Cala as “a very strong business” during an earnings call earlier this year on which he was quizzed about the housebuilder’s future ownership.

L&G took full control of the business in 2018.

Cala reported a slide in half-year profits last autumn, citing a “challenging market”.

The company has a long-term goal to build 3,000 homes annually.

Persimmon and L&G declined to comment on Saturday.

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Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells admits removing reference to Horizon IT system from Royal Mail prospectus

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Ex-Post Office boss Paula Vennells admits removing reference to Horizon IT system from Royal Mail prospectus

Former Post Office boss Paula Vennells has admitted to amending the legal document Royal Mail issued to would-be investors before it became publicly owned to remove mention of the flawed Horizon IT system.

Data from the accounting software created by Fujitsu was used to prosecute more than 700 sub-postmasters for theft and false accounting.

Many more victims lost their homes, livelihoods and good reputation to repay non-existent shortfalls.

Now the inquiry set up to establish a clear account of the introduction and failure of Horizon has heard during Ms Vennells’s third and final day of questioning that she removed “at the very last minute” reference to Horizon from the prospectus Royal Mail issued before it was listed on the London Stock Exchange.

A prospectus is a legal and financial document detailing key information for potential company investors.

It was the first time the issue was raised with Ms Vennells.

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Paula Vennells breaks down in tears again

She said: “It was flagged to me that in the IT section of the Royal Mail prospectus, there was reference to – I can’t remember the words now – but risks related to the Horizon IT system… the line that was put in said that no systemic issues had been found with the Horizon system.”

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Ms Vennells wanted the reference removed as, “the Horizon system was no longer anything to do with the Royal Mail group” she said, and contacted the company secretary to have the reference removed.

Based on this action Ms Vennells wrote to a colleague “I have earned my keep on this”.

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She was at the top of Post Office for 12 years and served as its chief executive for seven of those, from 2012 to 2019.

In at times emotional testimony, Ms Vennells said she “loved the Post Office” and worked “as hard as I possibly could to deliver the best Post Office for the UK”.

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