This week: Facebook loses friends, U.S. interest rates rise and UK retail sinks.
Facebook ranked among the least-liked companies in global markets as scandal engulfed the social network this week. Its shares fell sharply after claims that an analytics firm used by Donald Trump’s presidential campaign improperly received data from millions of users.
Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have called for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to testify about the privacy leak. Consultancy Cambridge Analytica is accused of misusing the data on behalf of political clients. After advertisers threatened to unfriend Facebook, Zuckerberg broke his silence to acknowledge that a “breach of trust” had occurred. “We made mistakes,” said the 33-year-old billionaire, who pledged to take action against “rogue apps.”
Facebook shares were down 11% in the week to Thursday’s close. As fears grew that companies which held similar data on their consumers could prove equally vulnerable to security breaches, investors sold shares in technology stocks. The NYSE FANG+ Index – which comprises Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Alphabet’s Google – lost 6.6% over the week.
The opening salvo
Global equities came under heavy pressure after U.S. President Donald Trump fired the opening salvo in what could turn into a trade war. Trump unleashed a barrage of tariffs of up to $60 billion on imports from China, in a bid to reduce America’s bilateral trade deficit. Beijing countered by announcing plans to impose tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. products. The escalation of tensions helped push U.S. shares 2.5% lower on Thursday – their largest one-day fall in more than a month.
Alexander Wolf, senior emerging markets economist at Aberdeen Standard Investments, said: “China has unambiguously warned that it will retaliate, but its initial response is likely to be measured.” He added that China would probably respond with a combination of tariffs, non-tariff barriers on U.S. companies and promises to open up new sectors, hoping the combination would punish Trump voters while appeasing those who have been calling for reform.
Trump’s announcement helped drive America’s S&P 500 Index down 3.9% over the week to Thursday’s close. The fallout also affected other global markets, with the FTSE 100 Index down 2.7% and the FTSE World Europe ex-UK Index shedding 2.2%.
Powell hikes U.S. rates
As expected, the U.S. Federal Reserve raised interest rates. It also predicted that rates would rise more strongly than expected in the coming years in response to stronger growth domestically and globally. The Federal Open Market Committee voted unanimously to raise the federal funds rate by 0.25 percentage points, to a range of 1.5% to 1.75%.
Black Wednesday for UK retailers
A slew of bad news on Wednesday highlighted the threadbare condition of the UK’s high streets. Shareholders in Carpetright are no strangers to bad news, having already been floored by two profits warnings so far this year. The beleaguered beds and flooring retailer revealed that it was eyeing up a company voluntary arrangement, which would allow it to exit store leases or negotiate reduced rents. Meanwhile, shares in Moss Bros nosedived by more than 30% as the menswear retailer issued its own cautionary projection. Home improvement group Kingfisher, Europe’s largest home improvement group and owner of the B&Q brand, revealed that annual profits had fallen by 10%. Its chief executive described the outlook for the business as “uncertain,” and markets reacted by driving its shares down 7%. According to the Office for National Statistics, UK retailers have suffered their worst start to the year in five years. Annual sales growth in January was just 1.6%, compared with 2.3% for the same month last year.
A woman from the Scottish Highlands has got the world buzzing after newspapers told the tale of her pet bumblebee. Fiona Presley was working in her garden when she discovered a wingless queen bee that was struggling to survive. Ms. Presly filled a crate with fresh flowers as a makeshift hive. The library assistant from Inverness told Scotland on Sunday newspaper, “She was happy to sit and groom, eat, drink and sleep on my hand,” adding: “I think I have proved that you can have a relationship with an insect.” However, claims that Ms. Presly is the first known person to keep a bee as a pet may be wide of the mark. Once, when staying at a Rothesay boarding house, the late Scottish comedian Chic Murray was disgruntled with the size of his breakfast. As the landlady entered the dining room, Murray pointed to the minuscule portion of honey on offer and wryly commented: “I see you keep a bee!”
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