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What to watch: Chancellor pledges £4.6bn in lockdown grants, champagne sales help Morrisons and Next saved by online shopping

Kumutha Ramanathan
·4-min read
The offices of banking giants Citi, HSBC and Barclays are pictured at the the secondary central business district of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs, east London on December 11, 2020. - A Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union looked to be hanging in the balance on Friday, after leaders on both sides of the Channel gave a gloomy assessment of progress in last-gasp talks. The Bank of England said Friday that UK banks remained "resilient" to the risks of Brexit and coronavirus, but warned financial services could face "disruption" when the transition period ends. (Photo by Tolga Akmen / AFP) (Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images)
The offices of banking giants are pictured at the the secondary central business district of Canary Wharf on the Isle of Dogs in east London. (Credit: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images)

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and around the world:

Chancellor pledges £4.6bn in lockdown grants

UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak has announced £4bn ($5.4bn) in new grants to support retail, hospitality and leisure firms, and another £0.6bn for struggling firms in other sectors.

The main targeted sectors will be offered one-off grants worth up to £9,000. Other hard-hit firms will be able to apply for another £594m pot from local authorities.

The package overall is expected to support more than 600,000 firms, and is provided on a per-property basis.

The news will come as a relief to the respective retail, hospitality and leisure industries that have been so hard hit by restrictions related to COVID-19, such as TUI (TUI.L). The stock is trading higher 1.5% at around 9.45am in London.

TUI shares have been gaining in early trading on Tuesday. Chart: Yahoo Finance
TUI shares have been gaining in early trading on Tuesday. Chart: Yahoo Finance

Businesses, such as TUI (TUI.L), have been forced to make steep cuts to stay afloat as potential customers have been discouraged from spending money on trips as travel restrictions are put in place. With summer bookings falling 83%, the holiday operator announced in September that it was slashing 8,000 jobs in the wake of the pandemic.

Champagne sales help Morrisons

Morrisons (MRW.L) enjoyed a bumper Christmas, the supermarket said on Tuesday, as new data showed Brits spent a record £11.7bn on festive food and drink from grocers.

Morrisons said on Tuesday that sales excluding fuel were up 9.3% over Christmas and New Year. Sales were up 8.1% in the 22 weeks to 3 January.

Champagne sales jumped 64% compared to last year and sales of whole salmon rose by 40%, as Brits stuck at home treated themselves.

“I'm very pleased with the way the Morrisons team has helped our customers across the nation enjoy their Christmas in the best way they could,” chief executive Dave Potts said.

News of Morrisons strong sales came as market research firm Kantar said the entire sector enjoyed a bumper holiday period. Kantar said December was the busiest month in history for the UK grocery sector, with shoppers spending a record £11.7bn at the tills.

READ MORE: UK chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils £4.6bn lockdown lifeline for firms and workers

Next saved by online shopping

Fashion retailer Next (NXT.L) reported a drop in sales over Christmas but its overall performance was better than expected as online sales were significantly boosted as shoppers were forced to stay home due to looming COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Full price sales declined 1.1% on last year in the nine weeks to 26 December, coming in ahead of the retailer’s expectation for an 8% drop in its October trading update. Its total full year profit before tax is forecast to be £342m.

Online sales surged 38%, with UK online sales up 36%, while retail sales fell 43%.

For the year head (2021-2022), the business is bracing for retail closures in February and March, yet expects its profit before tax of £670m.

The trading update added that the business did not experience “any disruption as a result of Brexit and all our new systems required for Brexit have been implemented and are now operational. We do not anticipate that Brexit will have a material impact on our ability to import and export stock in the year ahead.”

European markets positive despite further COVID-19 lockdowns and US Senate races

European equities were in positive territory in early trading on Tuesday, despite looming lockdowns and the US Senate runoffs in Georgia, which could impact president-elect Joe Biden’s ability to pass fiscal stimulus programmes.

The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) was up 0.4% lower at around 8.40am in London. Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) was flat in Frankfurt, while the CAC 40 (^FCHI) was up 0.1% in Paris.

US futures were moving modestly. The S&P futures (ES=F) were down 0.1%. Dow Jones (YM=F) lost 0.2% and the Nasdaq (NQ=F) slid 0.1%.

Asian markets were largely higher despite the US Senate news weighing on them. While Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) fell 0.4% at market close, the Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) leapt up 0.5% and the Shanghai Composite (000001.SS) also gained 0.7% at market close. South Korea’s KOSPI (^KS11) headed higher 1.6%.

-With additional reporting by Oscar Williams-Grut and Tom Belger

Watch: Rishi Sunak offers £4.6bn lifeline for high streets