Global shares falls as miners hit by China slowdown concerns – as it happened

Last modified: 02: 22 PM GMT+0

Rolling live coverage of business, economics and financial markets as Cobham and Ultra agree deal and Meggitt pushes ahead with Parker Hannifin buyout

Closing summary: Global shares slip after China data raise slowdown concerns

The global stock market sell-off has deepened, as traders on Wall Street have woken up to news of a surprising slowdown in the powerhouse Chinese economy.

The S&P 500 lost 0.4% in early trading. The tech-heavy Nasdaq index lost more than 1%.

Sam Stovall, chief investment strategist at CFRA, an investment manager, said:

The expectation is that Delta could be slowing things down ... the concern is how much more, not only in China but also around the globe, could be affected by the Delta variant and that is still yet to be decided.

The FTSE 100 sell-off is at a decline of 1.1%, an 80-point decline. The index was dragged back by its exposure to commodities producers whose finances are heavily dependent on China.

The Guardian’s economics editor, Larry Elliott, writes:

Global share prices have fallen after a surprisingly sharp slowdown in China dented confidence in a vaccine-led recovery.

After a recent prolonged rise, stock markets reacted negatively to signs that tougher credit conditions and fresh outbreaks of Covid-19 were weighing on the world’s second biggest economy.

You can read the full report here:

In other business developments today:

  • Tesla shares slumped by 3.5% after US regulators said they are investigating its “Autopilot” driver assistance system after a series of crashes.
  • Ultra Electronics, a UK defence manufacturer that supported coalition forces in Afghanistan, has agreed to a £2.6bn takeover by the rival private-equity-backed aerospace firm Cobham.
  • Bankers and advisors for Parker Hannifin’s planned takeover of Meggitt, another UK aerospace manufacturer, will rake in more than £200m in fees on the deal if it goes ahead. Rival bidder TransDigm has until 14 September to spoil the party.
  • The mining multinational BHP has begun talks to exit the oil and gas industry by merging its hydrocarbon business with Australia’s top independent gas producer, Woodside Petroleum.

You can continue to follow our live coverage from around the world:

All eyes are on Afghanistan, where there are desperate scenes from Kabul airport as the Taliban take control of the capital

In our global coronavirus coverage, Ireland is to exempt jabbed pupils from missing school; Japan is set to extend state of emergency

Thank you as ever for following our live coverage of economics, business and financial markets. Please do join me tomorrow morning for more of the same. JJ

Wall Street’s benchmark index, the S&P 500, ended last week at yet another record high. However, it looks like the weak Chinese data from this morning have taken off some of the shine.

US stocks lost 0.3% on the major indices on Monday morning in New York. Here are the opening snaps from Reuters:

  • S&P 500 DOWN 11.46 POINTS, OR 0.26%, AT 4,456.54
  • DOW JONES DOWN 81.55 POINTS, OR 0.23%, AT 35,433.83
  • NASDAQ DOWN 48.45 POINTS, OR 0.33%, AT 14,774.45

It follows a period of quiet that is unusual - even for August. (Perhaps after the volatility of the previous pandemic-affected 18 months that was something to be welcomed.)

🇺🇸 The #SPX closed out last week at another record -- its 48th all-time high since the end of Dec. -- marking the best start to a year since 1995 - Bloomberg
*In Aug., it has fluctuated an average 0.5% each day, a level of tranquility that, except for 2017, has rarely happened.

— Christophe Barraud🛢 (@C_Barraud) August 16, 2021

Nicky Morgan on ITV’s Peston in February 2020.
Nicky Morgan on ITV’s Peston in February 2020. Photograph: Jonathan Hordle/REX/Shutterstock

Santander UK has hired former Conservative MP and minister Baroness Nicky Morgan to serve on its board.

Morgan will join as aniIndependent non-executive director with immediate effect, Santander said. She will chair the board’s “responsible banking committee” as well as becoming a member of the audit and risk committees.

Morgan had an informal role as a banking sector watchdog when she chaired parliament’s powerful Treasury select committee. She was made a member of the House of the Lords after stepping down as an MP.

She is a non-executive director of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which insures the deposits at UK banks.

A worker assembles Ford Motor Company’s 2021 Ford Bronco on the line at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan on 14 June 2021.
A worker assembles Ford Motor Company’s 2021 Ford Bronco on the line at the Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, Michigan on 14 June 2021. Photograph: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP/Getty Images

US manufacturing activity fell back steeply in August after hitting record heights in July, according to a closely followed survey.

The headline measure for the Empire State manufacturing survey, run by the New York Federal Reserve, fell by 25 points to a reading of 18.3 for August. That was described as a “significant” drop by the NY Fed, but it still corresponded to historically healthy output.

A graph showing that US manufacturing activity slowed in August after hitting a record level in July, according to the New York Fed’s survey.
US manufacturing activity slowed in August after hitting a record level in July, according to the New York Fed’s survey. Photograph: New York Federal Reserve

There were also signs of inflationary pressures in the survey: Both price indexes remained at or near record highs, and the index tracking prices received for goods climbed to a new record.

It was “an inevitable correction” given July’s record-setting strength, according to Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, a consultancy. He wrote:

A further modest decline now seems likely, but the global manufacturing recovering is moderating rather than ending. Inflation pressures remain intense.

It’s a brief filing that reveals the US investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot - but it will not make for pleasant reading for the company.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Office for Defect Investigation has opened a “preliminary evaluation” into “Subject vehicle crashes with in-road or roadside first responders”.

The 11 crashes cited between 2018 and 2021 involved 17 injuries and killed one person, the document said.

The investigation will “assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation”, as well as how Autopilot responds to obstacles and how it maps the car’s surroundings.

The filing said:

Most incidents took place after dark and the crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones. The involved subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes.

Tesla to be investigated over crashes involving 'Autopilot' automated driving tech

A red Tesla Model 3 Performance AWD driving on a UK road.
A red Tesla Model 3 Performance AWD driving on a UK road. Photograph: MediaWorldImages/Alamy Stock Photo

US regulators have said they are investigating Tesla’s “Autopilot” driver assistance system after a series of crashes.

The investigation will focus on instances when Tesla cars have hit emergency vehicles that were stationary at the scene of earlier accidents, according to US media. Tesla shares lost 1.8% in pre-market trading.

The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles - or almost all its US sales since 2014 - according to the Associated Press. It reported that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the action Monday on its website.

Reuters reported:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that since January 2018, it has identified 11 crashes in which Tesla models “have encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles involved with those scenes.” NHTSA said it has opened a preliminary evaluation of Autopilot in 2014-2021 Tesla Models Y, X, S, and 3.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief exceutive, has long touted the carmaker’s self-driving capabilities, but the Autopilot system is only seen by experts as capable of “level 2” autonomy - meaning drivers must keep their eyes on the road at all times.

However, there have been many instances of drivers using the system incorrectly - including some instances of drunk driving, video gaming or sleeping at the wheel.

The sell-off on the FTSE 100 has gathered a bit of pace: there are now only five companies whose shares have gained ground today.

The index itself has lost 1.2%, or 88 points, rolling back the gradual gains of the last week.

It looks like the mood on Wall Street will be similarly sour in an hour and a half when markets open: futures for the Dow Jones industrial average and S&P 500 indices eased from record highs on Monday.

They suggest declines of about 0.3% on the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

A picture of nodding donkeys pumping oil in California.
Nodding donkeys pumping oil in California. Photograph: John Crowe/Alamy Stock Photo

With concerns about the Chinese economy in the air, it is perhaps not surprising that oil prices have taken something of a tumble today.

Future prices for Brent crude oil - the North Sea benchmark - have fallen by 1.6% to about $69.50 per barrel at the time of writing - the lowest since Wednesday. It’s a similar story for West Texas Intermediate in North America: futures prices are down by 1.7% to $67.30.

Prices have recovered from the extraordinary lows seen at the start of the pandemic - when traders were so desperate to offload barrels that they paid others to take contracts off their hands - meaning a negative price on the WTI contract for the first time ever. In the Brent contract prices still reached near zero - meaning anyone with large oil storage abilities is likely sitting on a tidy profit.

Since then it has been a tale of a strong economic recovery (rising prices) tempered by the threat of renewed Covid-19 outbreaks slowing industry, and weighing on oil demand. (While that might reduce carbon emissions, it would likely coincide with a tough period for the world economy.)

A chart showing that oil prices have fallen back in recent days, but remain well above levels seen earlier in the pandemic.
Oil prices have fallen back in recent days, but remain well above levels seen earlier in the pandemic. Photograph: Refinitiv

The London Metal Exchange’s open-outcry trading floor, the “Ring”, which has been in operation in one form or another for more than 140 years.
The London Metal Exchange’s open-outcry trading floor, the “Ring”, which has been in operation in one form or another for more than 140 years. Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi/The Guardian

An interesting story from Reuters on one of the more enduring artefacts of the City of London: eight of nine members of the price-setting mechanism will return to the London Metal Exchange’s “ring” next month.

The LME announced that the ring would reopen in June, after traders opposed a plan to end the practice, in which prices are set in an intense flurry of buy and sell orders shouted across the floor. A key rule: traders must must keep one heel on the base of one of the ring’s red leather benches, however animated the discussions get.

It closed in March 2020 for the first time since World War Two because of Covid-19.

There will be changes to the system. Reuters explains:

Official prices used to settle LME contracts will still be established in the second round of open outcry trading between 1230 and 1315 London time.

However closing prices, which are used to calculate margins, will stay on the LME’s electronic system, LMEselect, meaning volume losses for some members.

If it seems odd that such an antiquated system still exists in a world of nanosecond financial trading, here’s one of those involved arguing that it still has a place: Reuters quoted ED&F Man Capital Markets’ global head of metals Fred Demler:

Ring trading is difficult if not impossible to replicate on a platform. It provides the liquidity which makes for efficient and reliable pricing, which is critically important for commercial hedgers, speculators and financial institutions.

Commodities companies have led declines on the FTSE 100 amid concerns over Chinese growth.

Glencore, Anglo American, Antofagasta and Rio Tinto were all among the 10 biggest fallers on the FTSE 100 on Monday. Commodities companies are sensitive to demand from China’s vast manufacturing sector.

The FTSE 100 is down by 1%, or 69 points. It’s the same story across the major European bourses. The Euro Stoxx 600 index is down by 0.6% after hitting record highs last week.

European shares fell back on Monday amid concerns over China.
European shares fell back on Monday amid concerns over China. Photograph: Refinitiv

OOPS! #China’s econ activity slowed more than expected in July, w/fresh virus outbreaks adding new risks to recovery already hit by floods, faltering global demand & inflation. All main data missed forecasts: retail sales, industrial output & investment.

— Holger Zschaepitz (@Schuldensuehner) August 16, 2021

Four British Eurofighter Typhoons from the Royal Air Force arrive at Bodoe Main Air Station in 2015.
Four British Eurofighter Typhoons from the Royal Air Force arrive at Bodoe Main Air Station in 2015. Photograph: Norsk Telegrambyra AS/Reuters

The takeover offer for Ultra Electronics from Cobham will be more than 40% higher than Ultra’s all-time record share price, writes the Guardian’s Rob Davies.

Dorset-based Cobham, itself owned by the US investment firm Advent since a £4bn deal in 2020, said the combined company would play a “mission critical” role in defence and security for the “five eyes” network of intelligence allies – the UK, US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.

It has offered binding commitments to the UK government to secure its blessing for the deal, including protection of sovereign defence capabilities, funding of the pension scheme and investment in the UK.

The deal values Ultra at more than three times its 2018 lows.

A graph showing that Ultra Electronics shares have risen sharply to a record high since Cobham’s interest was disclosed.
Ultra Electronics shares have risen sharply to a record high since Cobham’s interest was disclosed. Photograph: Refinitiv

You can read the full report here:

The share price rise from Ultra Electronics this morning has jumped, but it has been beaten to the top spot on the FTSE 250 by Future.

Future shares have risen by 6.7% on Monday morning. The publisher has pleased investors with a £300m takeover of Dennis Publishing, the owner of The Week, from private equity investors Exponent.

Future said it will expand its focus on “wealth publishing” like MoneyWeek and grow subscription revenues. There will be £5m of synergies - it did not detail how it would achieve these.

James Tye, Dennis’s chief executive, said:

In the three years that the business has been owned by Exponent, Dennis has been on an incredible growth journey, delivering double digit increases in subscription revenues, a greatly increased US footprint; and significant bottom-line increases. This is a testament to the talented team at Dennis who have helped make all of this happen.

We look forward to working with the team at Future to continue growing the reach, influence and value of all our key brands and businesses.

Here’s a list of the titles being acquired by Future: The Week UK / The Week US, The Week Junior UK / The Week Junior US, MoneyWeek, Kiplinger, Science & Nature, IT Pro, Computer Active, PC Pro, Minecraft World, and Coach.

Exponent will keep hold of satirical magazine Viz, the “strange phenomena” magazine Fortean Times, plus Cyclist and Expert Reviews.

A bit more detail on the choreography of the Meggitt bid battle: rival US suitor TransDigm has until 5pm on 14 September to make a firm offer - the fabled “put up or shut up” deadline.

Meggitt has already agreed a deal with Parker Hannifin. A circular published this morning said shareholder meetings on the Parker offer will happen on 21 September.

So the ball is firmly in TransDigm’s court: will it follow through with its mooted £7.1bn bid? And will that trump Parker’s £6.3bn offer in the eyes of Meggitt shareholders? It is an interesting question for Meggitt’s shareholders.

Nils Pratley, the Guardian’s financial editor, last week wrote:

TransDigm has yet to turn its proposal into an offer, but any bid that falls short of Parker’s bare-minimum undertakings should be ruled off-side immediately. Meggitt’s board seems to have grasped the point, as it should. Less encouraging is the fact that TransDigm decorates its website with boasts about its “private equity-like capital structure and culture”. On the face of it, control by an over-leveraged wannabe private equity crew does not sound the best outcome for Meggitt.

You can read his full take here:

BHP confirms talks with Australia's Woodside over sale of oil assets

A picture of BHP Billiton's Atlantis oil and gas rig in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, approximately 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana.
BHP’s predecessor company, BHP Billiton, owned the Atlantis oil and gas rig in the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, approximately 130 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Photograph: AP

FTSE 100 miner BHP has confirmed that it is in talks to sell its oil and gas division to Australian fossil fuel producer Woodside Petroleum.

It came after Australian Financial Review reported on Sunday that Woodside was in talks for a A$20bn (£11bn) deal.

BHP, the world’s biggest miner, has been considering spinning off its oil and gas division in part to address concerns over the company’s role in the climate crisis. BHP is also selling its last thermal coal mine.

In its statement on Monday, BHP said it noted “recent press speculation” on a deal (an odd definition of “speculation” given the story has proven to be almost entirely accurate).

BHP said in a statement:

BHP confirms that we have initiated a strategic review of our Petroleum business to re-assess its position and long-term strategic fit in the BHP portfolio. A number of options are being evaluated. One option is a potential merger of the petroleum business with Woodside Petroleum Ltd and a distribution of Woodside shares to BHP shareholders. We confirm that we have been in discussions with Woodside. While discussions between the parties are currently progressing, no agreement has been reached on any such transaction.

A further announcement will be made as and when appropriate.

Crowd surfers at Donington Park, an early event after the reopening of live music following the easing of pandemic restrictions.
Crowd surfers at Donington Park, an early event after the reopening of live music following the easing of pandemic restrictions. Photograph: Katja Ogrin/Getty Images

Big news for the events industry: Ticket resale websites such as Viagogo and StubHub could be shut down or hit with large fines if they are found to break consumer protection rules, under proposals by the competition regulator to stop “unscrupulous” touts ripping off fans.

In a landmark intervention that comes as the live events industry recovers from Covid-19 restrictions, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said existing laws were too weak.

It recommended a crackdown that would make life harder for touts, some of whom have been able to make millions of pounds fraudulently, exploiting relationships with resale platforms to harvest tickets in bulk, forcing fans to pay inflated prices.

You can read the full report here:

Weak Chinese data surprise economists and point to slowing growth

European stock markets have sold off on Monday morning after Chinese factory output growth slowed - taking economists by surprise and adding to signs that the world’s second-largest economy may be struggling to maintain momentum.

Chinese industrial production rose by 6.4% year-on-year in July, according to the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS). However, analysts had expected a much stronger rise of 7.8%, after it increased by 8.3% in June.

Retail sales growth also slowed, Reuters reported: sales increased by 8.5% in July from a year ago, far lower than the forecast 11.5% rise and June’s 12.1% uptick.

Fu Linghui, an NBS spokesperson, said at a briefing on Monday that China’s recovery remains uneven due to sporadic COVID-19 outbreaks and natural disasters. He said:

The domestic economic recovery still faces many challenges, and constraints on production increased.

Wei Yao and Michelle Lam, economists at Société Générale, said:

China’s activity and credit growth slowed notably across the board in July. Given that local outbreaks emerged only in a few cities in the second half of the month, it seems that the economy had begun to lose momentum even before then. External demand moderated as expected, while domestic demand softened under the weight of deleveraging pressure.

They add that the Chinese central bank is likely to loosen monetary policy given the signs of slowdown and the push to reduce corporate debt loads. Whether that will be enough is debatable:

But that would not be enough to stabilise growth quickly, certainly not until policymakers meaningfully ease back on deleveraging policy, and there are very few signs of this. Given the lack of desirable options, a consumption and/or green stimulus looks increasingly likely.

Deutsche Bank’s chief China economist on Friday cut the forecast for GDP growth this year. They now predict year-on-year growth of +5.5% in the third quarter and +4.5% in the fourth quarter.


Pay day worth £200m for bankers and advisors on Meggitt takeover

The publication of scheme documents doesn’t usually give much indication of the buyer’s plans for the business it is taking over, but it does reveal the fees that bankers and advisors can expect to make.

In the case of Parker Hannifin’s takeover of Meggitt, they are typically juicy. Bankers and advisors will make at least £206m.

The main beneficiary on the Parker side will be Citibank, which will earn £59m from lending the money for the takeover. On Meggitt’s side N.M. Rothschild, Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch will share £43m.

Lawyers for the two companies will also share at least £35m.

Perhaps unsurprisingly amid the broader sell-off, the bid for Ultra Electronics has made it the biggest gainer on the FTSE 350.

Its share price gained as much as 7% in early trades. It was last up 5.7% at £33.20. That was still short of the £35 offer price, suggesting investors think there is some chance it will not go through quite as planned.

However, the effect of the bid can be seen in the below graph showing Ultra’s share price this year. The massive jump in value came after the possible bid was first disclosed. Today’s further price action is visible in the top-right-hand corner.

A graphs showing that Ultra Electronics shares rose further on Monday morning after Cobham confirmed a takeover deal.
Ultra Electronics shares rose further on Monday morning after Cobham confirmed a takeover deal. Photograph: Refinitiv

The FTSE 100 has taken its lead from Asian markets this morning, falling by 0.7% in the opening minutes of trading on Monday morning. It was last at 7,169 points, a 49-point decline.

It is a dour start across Europe’s main markets after weak Chinese manufacturing data (more on that to come) spooked investors.

Here are the snaps via Reuters of big stock market indices:

  • EUROPE’S STOXX 600 DOWN 0.5%
  • FRANCE’S CAC 40 DOWN 0.7%

Ultra agrees Cobham deal and Meggitt pushes forward with Parker Hannifin buyout

Good morning, and welcome to our live, rolling coverage of business, economics and financial markets.

British aerospace manufacturers Ultra Electronics and Meggitt have both taken a step towards the exit from the FTSE 250 on Monday as US money looked likely to take over two venerable companies.

Ultra, which makes parts for fighter jets as well as submarine-hunting sonobuoys, on Monday announced that it had agreed a takeover by Cobham, the aerospace manufacturer owned by US private equity firm Advent International. The deal values Ultra’s shares at £2.6bn.

Meggitt, which makes parts including wheels, brakes and fire suppression systems for military and civilian jets pushed ahead with an agreed takeover by US manufacturer Parker Hannifin, publishing offer documents on Monday without waiting for details of a possible rival bid from TransDigm, another US aerospace company. TransDigm’s has said it is considering a 900p-per-share bid to Parker’s agreed 800p deal.

The two deals would together mark an extraordinary period in the British stock market for aerospace companies and indeed for mid-sized UK companies, who have been the object of a buying spree that is by many measures unprecedented.

Private equity buyers (like Advent) in particular have been able to make deals at valuations that are inconceivable for investors on public markets, thanks to historicaly low borrowing costs. In the first half of 2021 there were more private equity-backed takeovers of UK companies by value than in any point since at least 2005.

UK private equity deals boomed in the first half of 2021.
UK private equity deals boomed in the first half of 2021. Photograph: Guardian graphic/Dealogic

Cobham’s deal with Ultra, at £35 per share, would be a 63% premium to its share price before the interest was announced. Cobham and Ultra both said they would engage with the UK government over potential national security issues, after people close to business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng signalled he would pay close attention to the deal.

Alongside Ultra and Meggitt there are more signs that British aerospace has been undervalued. Rival manufacturer Senior turned down an approach in June from private equity bidders, while Advent has been selling off parts of Cobham - Advent reached a deal with Cobham only in December 2019, after months of wrangling resulted in some assurances given to the British government on keeping jobs in the UK.

The agenda

1:30pm BST: US New York Federal Reserve manufacturing index


Jasper Jolly

The GuardianTramp

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