Closing summary

Oil prices have climbed more than 6%, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, trading at $114.80 a barrel, a gain of nearly 7%. US light crude is at $110.24 a barrel. The price rises come as EU foreign ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss further sanctions against Russia, with calls from the Baltic States and Poland for an oil embargo. However, Germany and others are advocating a more cautious approach.

Lithuania is urging the European Union to ban Russian oil as cracks begin to show in how far the EU will go in imposing further sanctions on the Kremlin’s war machine.

The UK and Italian stock markets have both gained 0.4% while Germany, France and Spain are down.

Aluminium prices jumped more than 5% earlier today after Australia banned the export of materials used to make the metal to Russia, as part of sanctions on Moscow.

The Russian rouble has gained 0.4% to 104.37 per dollar as Russian government bonds resumed trading in Moscow after a three-week shutdown (stock trading remains suspended). Benchmark 10-year OFZ treasury bonds sold off initially, sending their yields (the return to investors) to a record high of 19.74%, before they settled around 14% after the Russian central bank stepped in to buy some OFZ bonds (local currency bonds). Non-residents are not allowed to sell bonds until 1 April.

Investors are waiting to see if Russia can continue to service its debt, i.e. make a series of interest payments when they fall due. On Monday, Russia has to pay a $65.6m coupon to holders of its 2029 Eurobond, but can do this in roubles. It has a 30-day grace period to make the payments.

Another day, another Russian sovereign coupon to watch out for: @abhinavvr brings you the details.

— Giulia Morpurgo (@gmorpurgo) March 21, 2022

Fertiliser prices have hit record levels, according to the consultancy CRU, which tracks fertiliser prices. This will push up the cost of food production around the world. Russia is the world’s leading exporter of crop nutrients but has banned exports temporarily.

The Ukraine war is causing prices of grain and fertilizer to soar -- the makings of a new global food crisis. The head of the World Food Program, the U.N.’s anti-hunger agency, says “We’ll be taking food from the hungry to give to the starving."

— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) March 20, 2022

The UK chancellor has hinted at a fuel duty cut in this week’s spring statement.

Our other main stories today:

Egypt has fixed the price of unsubsidised bread amid a global surge in wheat prices since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A passenger plane carrying 132 people has crashed in southern China and sparked a mountainside fire, Chinese authorities have reported.

The French carmaker Renault has resumed manufacturing in its plants in Moscow, bucking the trend of many other large global companies that have cut ties with Russia over its war on Ukraine.

An Irish government minister is to talk to Ryanair after accusations that it hiked fares on flights from Poland to Ireland as demand soared from Ukrainian refugees fleeing the war.

Ryanair has rejected outright the claims made by the Ukrainian ambassador to Ireland, Larysa Gerasko, at a parliamentary committee meeting last week.

The cost-of-living crisis is biting across the generations, but the under-30s are likely to be among the hardest hit in Britain.

The average price tag on a home in Great Britain has topped £350,000 for the first time, according to Rightmove.

The rising cost of streaming: viewers are living in a golden age of TV, spoilt by more must-watch shows, films and live sport than at any time in broadcasting history, but the cost of getting it all has risen to £2,500 a year, leaving some entertainment fans wondering if they can afford the streaming revolution.

With this, we’re signing off for today. We’ll be back tomorrow. Thank you for reading. Bye! - JK


On the markets, oil prices have climbed more than 6%, with Brent crude, the global benchmark, trading at $114.11 a barrel. US light crude is at $110.24 a barrel.

European stock markets are mixed. The UK’s FTSE 100 is 30 points ahead at 7,435, a 0.4% gain and the Italian borsa is also up 0.4%, while the German and French markets are down by a similar amount.

In London, the biggest risers are mining and oil stocks which benefit from the surge in commodity prices: Antofogasta, Anglo American, BP and Shell are the top four.

Here is the latest in the P&O saga – 800 British crew were fired by the Dubai-based company via video call last week.

Indian seafarers hired to replace sacked P&O Ferries crews are being paid just $2.38 (£1.81) an hour, a union has claimed.

The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT), which represented many of the 800 staff fired without notice last week, said their replacements are being paid well below the minimum wage in the UK.

General secretary Mick Lynch said:

The news that the seafarers now on ships in British ports are to be paid $2.38 an hour is a shocking exploitation of those seafarers and another gut-wrenching betrayal of those who have been sacked.

The rule of law and acceptable norms of decent employment and behaviour have completely broken down beneath the white cliffs of Dover and in other ports, yet five days into this national crisis the Government has done nothing to stop it.

These ships of shame must not be allowed to sail. The Government has to step in now and take control before it’s too late.

The minimum wage in the UK for people aged 23 and above is £8.91 per hour. Companies using UK ports often register ships in other countries, allowing them to pay lower wages. For example, some vessels operated by P&O Ferries are flagged in Cyprus.

New P&O staff members during safety training at the Port of Dover in Kent after the ferry giant handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week and services remain suspended.
New P&O staff members during safety training at the Port of Dover in Kent after the ferry giant handed 800 seafarers immediate severance notices last week and services remain suspended. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA


Fertiliser prices hit new record

In bad news for farmers, fertiliser prices have hit a new record as supplies from Russia, the world’s biggest exporter of fertilisers, have fallen sharply.

In early February, Russia banned the export of ammonium nitrate for two months, which has sent prices surging, along with western sanctions on Belarus, a leading potash producer, as well as export restrictions by China. The surge in the price of natural gas, which is key to the fertiliser production process, is another factor.

The fertiliser index from CRU, a consultancy that tracks fertiliser prices, has climbed 30% since the start of the year, and is higher than in 2008, when prices surged during a food and energy crisis, the Financial Times reported.

Higher fertiliser prices increase the cost of food production globally. British farmers have said they were likely to offset the price rises by buying less fertiliser than usual this season for cereal crops, which could lead to lower production at a time when wheat supplies from Ukraine and Russia are under threat from the war.

Just in: Fertiliser prices are breaking new records as supplies from Russia, the leading exporter, has dwindled

— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) March 21, 2022

Russia is a major supplier of every crop nutrient. Alexis Maxwell, an analyst with Bloomberg’s fertilizer analysis and news publication Green Markets, says:

No other nation has the same breadth of readily exportable fertilizer supply. Their fertilizers move to all continents.

Russia is a major supplier of every crop nutrient.

Without that supply, fertilizer prices will soar and lead to even higher supermarket bills

— Businessweek (@BW) March 21, 2022


Moscow airport furloughs 7,000 people – reports

Sheremetyevo Airport near Moscow, has furloughed 40% of its staff – around 7,000 people – according to reports.

Air traffic at Russia’s biggest airport has dwindled since the end of February, when western sanctions were imposed on Russia. Russian airlines can only operate domestic flights, and to a few countries haven’t imposed sanctions on the country.

The website reported that the decision was announced by the general director of the airport Mikhail Vasilenko.

The airport also announced the suspension of all future investments and the closure of the third terminal, on top of the already closed terminals E and F.

Staff working at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport are being moved onto part-time work as this airport has not been hit as hard.

In a document, Vasilenko wrote “the decision was announced for reasons “out of the control of the employer and employees” and in connection with a “critical decrease in passenger traffic” against the backdrop of sanctions against the Russian Federation and the closure of the airspace of a number of countries.”

Employees on furlough will still get two-thirds of their salary and retain their jobs. They still have social protection and other support, a union member said, according to

An Aeroflot Boeing 777-300ER aircraft at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow in 2015.
An Aeroflot Boeing 777-300ER aircraft at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow in 2015. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Aluminium prices jumped more than 5% today after Australia banned the export of materials used to make the metal to Russia, as part of sanctions on Moscow.

Australia imposed an immediate ban on exports of alumina and aluminium ore, including bauxite, to Russia. Benchmark aluminium touched $3,554 a tonne, its highest level since 10 March, and later traded at $3,507 a tonne, up 3.7%.

Julius Baer analyst Carsten Menke said:

Taken together with disrupted exports from Ukraine, Russia’s smelters are facing a significant supply shortfall of raw materials. While the ban could be seen more as a symbolic sign, as Russia anyway struggled to sell its aluminium, the news is likely to be taken positively by the market.

Aluminium ingots stored at Rusal’s Krasnoyarsk aluminium smelter.
Aluminium ingots stored at Rusal’s Krasnoyarsk aluminium smelter. Photograph: Ilya Naymushin/Reuters

Our transport correspondent Gwyn Topham has looked at Uber’s new London licence.

More on the UK’s cost of living crisis. New analysis from the independent Joseph Rowntree Foundation highlights the “stark impact of a planned real-terms cut to benefits next month, as rising energy costs threaten to devastate the living standards of families on the lowest incomes”.

The analysis shows the impact of rising energy costs on household budgets. It finds that once housing costs are paid, even with the support package announced last month:

  • £1 in every £5 from low-income family budgets could go on energy costs this year.
  • Single adults on low incomes could spend a shocking 49% of their incomes on energy.
  • The average low-income family faces an extra £850 on their annual energy bill.

People on low incomes are about to experience a real-terms cut to their benefits, worth more than £500 a year, just as energy prices soar.

The Chancellor must uprate benefits in line with inflation to protect people from the worst impacts of rising costs

— Joseph Rowntree Foundation (@jrf_uk) March 21, 2022

Government bond trading resumes in Moscow

Trading of federal loan bonds has resumed in Moscow for the first time in three weeks, as the Russian exchange staged a phased reopening. The Russian central bank said it would be buying government bonds.

Russia’s benchmark 10-year OFZ bond sold off in pre-market trading, pushing its yield (the return to investors, which moves inversely to prices) to a record high of 19.74%. The yield has now settled around 13.6%, presumably after the central bank stepped in.

Moscow has banned sales of OFZ bonds by non-residents (who owned 19% of all such bonds as of early February) until 1 April.

Russia’s central bank has not announced yet when trading in Russian stocks will resume in Moscow. They last traded on 25 February, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine.

The rouble has steadied at 104.2 per dollar.


British natural gas prices are rising again, amid continued uncertainty over supply. Steady flows of Russian gas and higher flows of Norwegian gas largely failed to offset fears of supply cuts and forecasts of cooler weather next week.

The British gas price for day-ahead delivery rose 4p to 230p per therm, up 1.8% on the day while the Dutch gas contract has slipped 77 cents, or 0.8%, to €99.63 per megawatt hour. The Dutch April contract rose 0.2% to €101.28.

A gas hob.
A gas hob. Photograph: REX/Shutterstock

My colleague Jasper Jolly has talked to the US planemaker Boeing about the Chinese Eastern crash of a Boeing 737 jet.

A Boeing spokeswoman said:

We are aware of the initial media reports and are working to gather more information.

🔴 The flight, MU5735, was en route from Kunming to Guangzhou when in crashed in Tengxian County near the city of Wuzhou, according to the emergency management department of the Guangxi region.

The plane was a 6-year-old Boeing 737 jet

— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) March 21, 2022

Renault has resumed car production at its Moscow factory, Reuters reported.

The French carmaker suspended operations at the car assembly plant in late February, citing a “forced change in existing logistic routes”.

Renault’s board has decided to maintain its presence in Russia, with the backing of its main shareholder, the French state, the news agency said.

It quoted a spokesperson as saying:

The situation with components is unstable and changing, we prefer not to make any predictions.

Many other major global brands have halted business in Russia since its invasion of Ukraine, including McDonald’s and Uniqlo.


Egypt sets fixed price for bread

Egypt has set a fixed price for unsubsidised bread in an attempt to counter soaring food prices, after the Russian invasion of Ukraine shut off access to lower-priced wheat from the Black Sea region, and sent global wheat prices surging.

The Egyptian prime minister Moustafa Madbouly set the price of commercially sold bread at 11.50 Egyptian pounds per kg on Monday, which is 49 British pence.

Food prices had been rising in Egypt even before war in Ukraine, as in other countries, but the war has pushed the price of bread – on which many Egyptians heavily depend – much higher. Egypt is the world’s biggest wheat importer, buying more than 60% of its wheat from abroad. Russia and Ukraine accounted for 80% of imports last year.

Wheat is seen in a field near the southern Ukranian city of Nikolaev in 2013.
Wheat is seen in a field near the southern Ukranian city of Nikolaev in 2013. Photograph: Vincent Mundy/Reuters

Bread prices have risen as much as 25% in some bakeries, from 1.00 to 1.25 Egyptian pounds a loaf, while flour prices have increased up to 15%, Attia Hamad at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce told Reuters.

The new fixed prices for flat, round balady bread have seen set at 0.50, 0.75 and 1.00 Egyptian pounds for loaves weighing 45g, 65g and 90gm.

We have more details of the Chinese plane crash, a Boeing 737 jet. Onboard were 123 passengers and nine crew members.

China’s Civil Aviation Administration said it had activated emergency protocols and sent a working group to the scene. State broadcasters said rescuers had been dispatched but there were no immediate details of casualties.

Boris Johnson will chair a meeting on how to increase the UK’s nuclear power output today, as he prepares to publish his energy security strategy this month amid soaring prices.

The prime minister will discuss domestic nuclear projects with leaders from the nuclear industry at a roundtable meeting at Downing Street, No 10 said.

In other news, Labour has urged the business secretary to launch legal action against P&O Ferries over its “scandalous” decision to sack 800 workers without warning, which the party said is a criminal offence.

Shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, deputy leader Angela Rayner and shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds have written to Kwasi Kwarteng, asking if he will begin proceedings for what they called the “scandalous action” of the ferry company.

Ministers have serious questions to answer on the growing scandal at P&O Ferries and must make it a catalyst to improve workers’ rights, the Trades Union Congress said on Sunday.

The average price tag on a home in Great Britain has topped £350,000 for the first time, according to the website Rightmove.

Back to the UK’s cost of living crisis.

UK household incomes are set for the biggest annual fall since at least the mid-1970s this year, with energy bills due to rise by 54% from the start of next month. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has pushed gas prices to record levels – leading to warnings of a further jump in October.

Against a backdrop of soaring wholesale energy costs, average gas and electricity bills will rise by about £700 to almost £2,000 a year from April, and experts say the fallout from Vladimir Putin’s war could push average bills to £3,000 a year from October.

Our economics correspondent Richard Partington has looked at six measures Rishi Sunak could take to help struggling families.

Richard has spoken to people around the country about their struggles:

Meanwhile, our media business correspondent Mark Sweney has looked at the mounting cost of streaming.

Viewers are living in a golden age of TV, spoilt by more must-watch shows, films and live sport than at any time in broadcasting history, but the cost of getting it all has risen to £2,500 a year, leaving some entertainment fans wondering if they can afford the streaming revolution.

EU foreign ministers consider new sanctions including Russian oil embargo

Oil prices are climbing again today, after a Houthi rebel attack on a Saudi refinery at the weekend, which temporarily disrupted production, while EU ministers are considering whether to toughen sanctions on Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine, by imposing an embargo on Russian oil.

The Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said, as he arrived at a meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers:

Looking at the extent of the destruction in Ukraine right now, it’s very hard to make the case that we shouldn’t be moving in on the energy sector, particularly oil and coal.

Diplomats told Reuters that Baltic countries including Lithuania are pushing for an oil embargo, while Germany (which is heavily reliant on Russia for its energy) is resisting this, as energy prices are soaring.

The Lithuanian foreign minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said:

It’s unavoidable we start talking about the energy sector, and we can definitely talk about oil because it is the biggest revenue to Russia’s budget.

We cannot get tired of imposing sanctions, we cannot get tired of bringing assistance and help to Ukraine.

Joe Biden, the US president, is due to fly to Brussels on Thursday for summits with NATO’s 30 allies, the EU, and the G-7 including Japan.

The cost-of-living crisis is biting across the generations, but the under-30s are likely to be among the hardest hit.

A recent report from the Intergenerational Foundation thinktank suggested the age group will bear the brunt of Covid and the health and social care levy, reports freelance writer Kimi Chaddah.

In common with other workers, they face rising prices and bills. But those with student debts face another cost – millions can expect higher bills on student loans next year after the government froze the thresholds at which repayments start.

“Young people’s prospects have suffered,” says Liz Emerson, co-founder of the Foundation. “Covid borrowing, the energy crisis and sky-high inflation have exacerbated the situation, with policymakers choosing to extract more tax from younger, rather than older, generations by targeting earned, rather than unearned, income.”

Other experts also question whether a 5p fuel duty cut would really benefit the poor.

As UK chancellor Rishi Sunak announces a cut to the fuel duty, time to re-up this thread on whether it really benefits the poor #FuelPrices

— Giulio Mattioli (@giulio_mattioli) March 21, 2022

According to @NEF just 7% of the benefit of a fuel duty cut goes to the poorest 20% of households, with 33% going to the wealthiest 20%. That means an average of £1.80 a month to households in the bottom 20% of earners, and £8.20 a month to households in the top 20%.

— Campaign for Better Transport (@CBTransport) March 21, 2022

UK chancellor hints at fuel duty cut

The UK chancellor has hinted at a fuel duty cut in this week’s spring statement.

Hopes of a 5p per litre reduction were raised when Rishi Sunak said he would help families struggling with the cost of living when he presents his “mini-budget” on Wednesday. He said over the weekend: “Where we can make a difference, of course we will.”

Sunak acknowledged that energy prices were “the number one priority” for people at the moment and he knew fuel prices were “a big issue”. “It’s something that’s challenging to families, I get that,” he said. He said the government’s policy was to take “targeted action where we think there is most acute pressure”.

However, Richard Murphy, professor of accounting practice, thinks it won’t make a big difference because of VAT increases.

If fuel gets to £2 a litre and the government cuts fuel duty by 5p it will still take more than 5p per litre extra overall from each of us because of VAT increases since last autumn. The only person coining it in the next year will be Sunak. Don’t believe he’s cutting anything.

— Richard Murphy (@RichardJMurphy) March 21, 2022

The aircraft crashed in mountains in south China while on a flight from the city of Kunming to Guangzhou, according to Chinese state media. The number of casualties is unknown, as is the cause of the crash of the plane, a 6-year-old 737-800 aircraft, according to Flightradar24.

China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737 jet crashes

A Boeing 737 jet has crashed in southern China, Chinese state media are reporting.

A China Eastern Airlines plane carrying 133 people on board has crashed in Guangxi province.


European shares turn positive

European shares have turned positive, with the exception of Germany’s Dax, which has slipped 0.16%.

  • UK’s FTSE 100 index up 28 points, or 0.4%, at 7,432
  • France’s CAC flat at 6,624
  • Italy’s FTSSE MiB up 0.76% at 24,405
  • Spain’s Ibex up 0.4% at 8,449

In oil markets, Brent crude is above $112 a barrel, up $4.15 on the day.

Oil and mining stocks are the main risers in London, with the miners Antofogasta and Anglo American, the commodities trader Glencore and the oil giant Shell leading the gains this morning.


Rouble weakens slightly, federal loan bond trading to resume in Moscow

The Russian rouble has weakened slightly to 105.3 per dollar, while traders awaited the resumption of OFZ treasury bond trading on the Moscow exchange. They are coupon-bearing federal loan bonds issued by the Russian government.

Russia’s central bank said it would buy OFZ bonds once trading resumes, to limit volatility.

Regular OFZ bond trading is due to resume at 10am GMT after a morning auction to allow for prices to be set following a three-week shutdown. There are 55 OFZ bonds in issue.

Stocks and bonds last traded on the Moscow exchange on 25 February, the day after Russia invaded Ukraine. Over that weekend, western governments imposed sanctions on Russia, prompting the Russian central bank to hike interest rates and to suspend trading on the Moscow exchange on Monday 28 February.


European stock markets have slipped at the open, as expected. The Euro Stoxx index of 600 leading European shares fell 0.2%, as did the French market, while the German Dax edged down 0.1%, and Spain’s Ibex and the UK’s FTSE 100 were flat.

Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at the Dublin-based broker AvaTrade, has looked at the stock markets.

US and European futures are trading stable on the first trading day of the week. Traders have started to brush away the uncertainty about the ongoing war in Russia and Ukraine. They are also feeling a lot more comfortable with the fact that the Fed has now started increasing the interest rate, and they hope that this hike in the interest rate will help the higher inflation situation in the US. Last week, we saw a serious rally for the three major US stock indices as they posted their best performance since November 2020. The S&P 500 index soared 6.1% last week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average increased by 5.5% while the Nasdaq index spiked 8.1%--the tech sector once again outperformed others.

The big question for traders is if we will see the continuation of that rally this week and if the stock traders will be able to defend those gains. The answer to that will very much depend on the ongoing geopolitical tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the economic data that will be released this week. The focus will continue to remain on the supply chain and earnings, provided that the situation continues to ease off in Ukraine. Speaking of hope, traders are looking at the peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. However, in reality, the chances of those becoming a reality are still slim as it is highly likely that Russia will not stop anytime soon unless Russia achieves its goal.

German producer prices rose 25.9% in the year to February, mainly because of higher energy prices, official figures showed this morning.

Energy prices jumped 68% compared with February 2021, the Federal Statistics Office said. Stripping them out, producer prices were still up 12.4% on the year.

Introduction: Oil prices rise as EU mulls Russian ban, Saudi refinery hit

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of the world economy, the financial markets, the eurozone and business.

At the start of the new week, oil prices have risen, with Brent crude above $110 a barrel, as European Union nations consider joining the United States in a Russian oil embargo. Adding to market jitters, Houthi rebels attacked a Saudi Aramco refinery over the weekend, temporarily disrupting production.

Brent crude is up more than $3 at $111.03 a barrel while US light crude is trading at $107.88 a barrel.

Prices moved higher ahead of a series of summits this week between EU governments and US president Joe Biden, where the Europeans will consider whether to impose an oil embargo on Russia.

The Moscow stock exchange has been shuttered for three weeks following the imposition of western sanctions on Russia, but is resuming limited trading today, in federal loan bonds.

European stock markets closed higher for the second week in a row last week despite there being little prospect of a ceasefire between Russia and Ukraine.

Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK, said:

Volatility levels have slipped back quite considerably from the levels we saw in the immediate aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with stock markets on both sides of the Atlantic posting their best week since 2020.

There appears to be a growing disconnect between what markets are doing and what is happening on the ground in Ukraine and the increasingly brutal measures that Russian forces are taking in trying to wear down resistance to their occupation, including the use of hypersonic missiles.

While markets appear to be focussing on the fact that peace talks are taking place, there is also little evidence that they are actually leading anywhere, given the distance between the two sides in respect of what they will accept, with Ukrainian President Zelensky saying at the weekend that Ukraine wouldn’t give up Lugansk or Donetsk in the east of the country.

Joe Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations warned on Sunday there was little immediate hope of a negotiated end to the war in Ukraine.

European markets look set to start the week lower, after a mixed Asian session where Japan’s Nikkei closed 0.65% higher, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 1.1% and the Shanghai market was little changed.

The Agenda

  • 7.30am GMT: European Central Bank president Christine Lagarde speaks
  • 4pm GMT: US Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell speaks



Julia Kollewe

The GuardianTramp

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