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Osborne faces ?10bn hole in the UK public finances

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BEN SOUTHWOOD

CHANCELLOR?George Osborne is set to run a budget deficit ?10bn or more larger than the ?119.9bn predicted by the budget watchdog during the 2012-13 fiscal year, economists said yesterday.

January’s public borrowing figures, released yesterday by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), looked positive on the surface, analysts said, with a larger-than-expected surplus of ?11.4bn, ?5bn better than last year.

But analysts said this figure was flattered by seasonal strength in tax revenues and one-off transfers from the bank fund, known as the Asset Purchase Facility (APF), that carries out quantitative easing (QE)?by buying gilts.

“Excluding all the one-off transfers that muddy the waters, borrowing was ?7.5bn higher in the first 10 months of the current fiscal year than in the previous fiscal year,”?said chief Berenberg Bank economist Robert Wood.

Since the 4G auction brought in ?1.2bn less than built into the budget numbers, the budget could be ?10bn worse than predicted by the OBR?in the Autumn Statement, Wood forecast, echoing other economists’ numbers.

“Osborne is very unlikely to be able to say the deficit is falling in his 20 March budget unless he can find some other ways of massaging the figures,” Wood warned.

But the Treasury tried to shift focus onto spending, which was down ?2bn compared to the same month a year earlier, and receipts, which were up, even excluding one-off moves, it said.

Economists also criticised the Treasury for the level of “unnecessary complexity” in the finances.

“All of the messing around with numbers makes it very difficult to see the direction we’re going in,” Item’s Andrew Goodwin said.

Goodwin said all the different ways official bodies state the deficit and borrowing numbers can confuse even economic experts.

And the ONS decision yesterday morning to allow only ?9.1bn of intra-government transfers into the official borrowing numbers over the tax year confused matters further. Since ?2.7bn of this was already taken up by previous transfers, even on the government’s figures, which include one-off QE transfers, it will only be able to include ?6.4bn out of an expected ?11.5bn in its borrowing numbers.

BUDGET DEFICIT: WHAT IS GOING ON?

Q and A

Q Is borrowing going down – as George Osborne said he thought it would in the Autumn Statement – or is it rising?

A So far, 10 months into the 2012-13 fiscal year, borrowing was ?65.8bn – ?26.5bn lower than during the same period in 2011-12. But this includes some one-off windfalls. Excluding the transfer of the Royal Mail pension plan, and the Treasury’s raid on quantitative easing (QE) income, borrowing was ?97.6bn, and therefore ?5.3bn up on 2011-12. Further excluding the ?2.3bn money gained from winding down the Special Liquidity Scheme, it was ?7.5bn higher.

Q So will Osborne officially miss the Office for Budget Responsibility’s (OBR) target?

A The OBR forecast borrowing would be ?119.9bn over the year. Economists are now forecasting Osborne will overshoot the target by ?10bn-?15bn. That is due to higher borrowing and also because the OBR assumed ?11.5bn gained from raiding the Bank of England’s QE?income. Actually this can only bring in a maximum of ?6.4bn, as the target is for public sector net borrowing, which was yesterday defined to not include all the QE income. The OBR also assumed a ?3.5bn gain from this week’s 4G auction (it brought in ?2.3bn).

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Starlight Suite

FTSE rebound led by mining shares

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CATHY ADAMS

The leading share index staged a rebound this morning, led by mining shares.

In early deals, the FTSE rose 0.6 per cent after suffering its sharpest one-day fall yesterday since July on concerns that the US Federal Reserve could wind up stimulus programme sooner than expected.

Headline miners made up the top five FTSE risers this morning – as metal prices rallied – with Kazakhmys leading the pack, up 2.74 per cent.

Russian precious metals miner Polymetal and steelmaker Evraz were both up 2.2 per cent.

Outside of the miners, luxury retailer Burberry was up 2.2 per cent, and industrial buyout specialist Melrose rose 2.1 per cent.

Mid-cap miners and oil shares were also doing well, with Finnish miner Talvivaara up 7.2 per cent and Fortune Oil rising 4.6 per cent.

A mixed bunch of shares made up the FTSE fallers this morning. G4S topped the blue chip loser board, shedding 1.4 per cent.

Education group Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times, sank 0.8 per cent.

Brewer SAB Miller fell 0.4 per cent in early trading. Yesterday Morgan Stanley initiated its coverage of the stock with an “equal-weight” rating and a target price of 3300p.

On the wider index, Indonesian coal miner Bumi fell 4.2 per cent, as the majority of board overhaul proposals from company co-founder Nat Rothschild were rejected at the company’s EGM yesterday.

UK banking shares were mainly in positive territory this morning. HSBC rose 0.56 per cent, Barclays was up 1.17 per cent and Lloyds Banking Group rallied 0.89 per cent. Only RBS fell, shedding 0.39 per cent.

In Asia, the Nikkei closed up 0.68 per cent and in the US, the Dow Jones closed down 0.34 per cent.

     
     
  Starlight Suite  
 

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What the other papers say this morning

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FINANCIAL TIMES

Brussels turns up pressure on Libor
Banks and broker-dealers ensnared in the Libor-rigging scandal are facing fresh pressure to settle with Europe’s top competition authority as it expands the scope of its probes. In a speech on Friday in Paris, the EU’s competition commissioner will stress his determination to pursue the cases and ensure competition enforcement complements actions of global authorities against misconduct and corruption.

Joaqu?n Almunia’s speech is intended as a warning to financial institutions.

Former Virgin exec to head centre
Will Whitehorn, a former senior Virgin Group executive, is to chair a government innovation centre being created to devise integrated transport systems for export in a global market predicted to be worth ?900bn by 2025.

Reyl & Co opens London office
Reyl & Co, the Swiss private bank, has opened an office in London with a view to setting up a corporate advisory business, highlighting how a clutch of smaller banks are pushing into traditional investment banking activities.

THE TIMES

Mercedes and dealers fined
Mercedes-Benz and three commercial vehicle dealers have been fined ?2.6m by a competition watchdog for rigging the sale of vans and trucks around Britain.The Office of Fair Trading imposed the fines.

Dyson puts its faith in ?50m plant
Dyson is expanding its manufacturing in the Far East by taking production of its ground-breaking electrical motors in-house. The private company is to open its own production lines in Singapore.

The Daily Telegraph

Bankia to reveal largest loss
Nationalised Spanish lender Bankia is expected to reveal a ˆ19bn loss next week, the largest in the country’s corporate history. The bank has been struggling to sell assets since its bailout in 2012.

Merkel accused of unholy alliance
Angela Merkel has been accused of engaging in an “unholy alliance” with Britain after backing David Cameron’s demands for a cut to the European Union budget.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Heinz profit slips
H.J. Heinz’s earnings slipped 5.3 per cent as the ketchup maker recorded a larger loss from discontinued operations, though organic sales continued to improve in emerging markets.

Nielsen aims to gauge online TV
Nielsen Holdings is taking a step towards extending its TV-ratings business to measure online viewing, aiming to gauge how much viewership has drifted away from traditional TV to online outlets.

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