News headlines for 11th January 2013

Economics

The divided state of the UK retail sector has been brought into sharp focus as an upbeat Tesco claimed victory in the Christmas retail wars, while Marks & Spencer suffered the fallout of a worse-than-expected festive period. Followed muted performances by rivals Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, Tesco revealed its strongest sales growth in three years, unveiling a 1.8 per cent rise in like-for-like sales for the six weeks to 5 January, part of its fourth quarter. Cover of City A.M., p.21 of Financial Times, p.32 of The Guardian and the cover of the Daily Telegraph’s Business section.

The Bank of England decided to keep interest rates steady yesterday, and economists predict rising inflation will stop the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) from printing more money any time soon. The economy is thought to be stuck in a “zig zag” of quarters of growth followed by quarters of contraction or stagnation. But due to high inflation means the traditional remedy of cutting rates or using more quantitative easing is unlikely to be an option. P.6 of City A.M.

Property

House prices were flat in December but rose overall in 2012, according to data published today. Despite the lack of change between November and December, the average house price was 3.2 per cent higher last month than a year before, according to the LSL house price index. The finding cements a general picture of housing market improvement in 2012, coming from a range of house price indices, including Rightmove and LSL – which was the most optimistic. P.15 of City A.M.

Transport upgrades have provided a boost to some property values. The recently completed East London line extension and the London Orbital Overground have opened up areas that were previously under the radar, leading to price rises of up to 15 per cent more than the market average, says estate agent Kingleigh Folkard and Hayward. P.46 of The Times.

Personal Finance

Last year over 65s were faced with energy bills more than double those thye paid in 2005, according to data out this morning. The average weekly fuel bill for families of people aged 65 and older was £26.08 in 2012, Saga said, up from £12.87 in 2005 – an increase of 102.6 per cent. This brought the bills up to 6.6 per cent of over 65s’ weekly disposable income, the figures revealed, from just 4.2 per cent seven years before. P.15 of City A.M.

The Office for National Statistics has bowed to fierce lobbying by pensioner groups and backed away from radical changes to the way inflation is calculated that could have depressed retirement payouts. Jil Matheson, the UK’s national statistician, took the City by surprise yesterday when she announced that ONS had rejected a proposal to alter the way the retail prices index is calculated, despite acknowledging it tends to systematically overestimate inflation. P.33 of The Guardian and p.4 of the Daily Express.

Recruitment

A record number of graduates have been awarded first-class degrees, prompting fresh concern over rampant ‘grade inflation’. The number of students given first-class honours rose 16 per cent last year – the biggest increase on record. More than a sixth of students now graduate with the top grade following a tripling of firsts awarded since the late-90s. Some leading employers are already threatening to demand first-class degrees from job applicants instead of 2.1s due to the rise in top grades. P.26 of the Daily Mail.

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