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And so, as the City of London looks on, it begins. In approximately four and half hours from now, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, will travel 290 metres (surely yards? Ed.) from his office in Brussels to the Europa building, otherwise known as the “Space Egg”, carrying an envelope. Whether he will be wearing his ceremonial dark grey suit with dark grey pinstripe, or a replica 1966 England football shirt, is not known. Thence, he will present said envelope, containing a letter from the British prime minister, to Mr Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.
Article 50, giving notice of the UK’s intention to leave the EU, will be considered to have been officially triggered only when Mr Tusk accepts the letter, not when Sir Tim proffers it, according to British officials. EU officials have briefed that there “might be” a photograph of a handshake between the two men, although it remains possible that one will instead raise his thumb to his nose and waggle his fingers about for a short while.
Shortly afterwards, another handful of companies may take the opportunity to express their doubts about any of this being very helpful for trade, jobs or people’s livelihoods. Yesterday, European business organisations representing 20 million companies in 34 countries issued a statement calling for a post-Brexit settlement that preserves some semblance of single market integrity and avoids “unnecessary” obstacles to trade and investment. Meanwhile, Japan’s Keidanren, the powerful business group whose membership includes Toyota, Hitachi and other large Japanese investors in the UK, urged Britain into negotiate “with deeper consideration for the economy.”
At some later point today, however, a commentator for a popular tabloid newspaper is scheduled to dismiss this as scaremongering, pointing out that Britons have still been buying stuff on the high street and going on holidays.
And, to that end, this morning’s company announcements may – or may not – provide useful ammunition.
Tui, the travel group that operates the Thomson and First Choice brands, has said its winter season revenues rose 9 per cent and customer numbers by 5 per cent – thanks to growth in UK long haul and cruise holidays, as well as higher demand for trips to the Canaries and mainland Spain. This was offset partly by lower demand for Turkey and Egypt. However, overall its winter 2016/17 holiday packages were 97 per cent sold and Summer 2017 remains in line with expectations.
Saga, the insurer and holiday group reported consistent growth, with underlying profit before tax – excluding changes to the rules on personal injury claims – up 5.6 per cent. It proposed an 18 per cent hike in the dividend. Current holiday reservations are 8% ahead of last year and it has a new cruise ship on track for delivery in June 2019. In insurance underwriting, profit before tax excluding the personal injury formula change was down from £84m to £77m but the impact of the new claim formula was limited to £4m.
Johnston Press – publisher of the i newspaper and 200 local UK titles, including the Scotsman and the Yorkshire Evening Post – said advertising revenue continued to fall, with sales down 15 per cent to £121.6m. Print advertising excluding classifieds fell 9 per cent, with digital ads rising 1 per cent. Overall, though, the group remained profitable, albeit only by £22.6m – a quarter less than last year.
Stagecoach, the transport group that earlier this week lost the franchise to run South West Trains to a consortium of FirstGroup and Hong Kong’s MTR, has achieved like-for-like revenue growth in UK rail, although this is slowing. Inter-city businesses continue to outperform growth at its London commuter business, with revenue growth on the Virgin West Coast franchise higher than the industry average. But UK bus like-for-like passenger journeys fell by 1.7% and North America bus revenues fell 2.2%.
And, finally, Ryanair has taken the opportunity to remind Brexit negotiators that time is short, with a “distinct possibility of no flights between Europe and the UK for a period from March 2019 in the absence of a bilateral deal.” It points out that summer 2019 schedules must be released in March next year.
I’m sure it will be fine…
FT Opening Quote, with commentary by Matthew Vincent, is your early Square Mile briefing. You can sign up for the full newsletter here.