The Bank of England looks certain to hold interest rates at 4.5 percent for a fifth month running next week but analysts remain divided over whether the next move will be down or up.
All 45 economists polled by Reuters this week forecast the Monetary Policy Committee would hold borrowing costs at the conclusion of its monthly meeting at 1200 GMT next Thursday.
A majority of analysts still predict the MPC will lower rates by a quarter point some time this year after a similar cut in August but some predict rates will remain on hold all year and several are forecasting the next move will be a rise.
Investors made few changes in their allocations in December but headed into 2006 with close to twice as much exposure to equities as to bonds, Reuters polls showed on Wednesday.
Surveys of 44 leading fund management companies in the United States, Japan, Britain and continental Europe showed average stocks holdings at 62.0 percent, barely changed from 61.9 percent in November.
Bond holdings were unchanged at 31.4 percent and cash remained steady at 3.9 percent. Property and alternative investments made up the remainder.
It marked the highest level of exposure to stocks since March 2005 and kept bonds at the lowest level since April 2005.
Last year the UK experienced its highest number of corporate failures since2002 and the upward trend is likely to continue in 2006, analyst Experian haspredicted.
After falling for two years, corporate failures jumped by 11 per cent in 2005to 18,122, with the retail and business services sectors particularly badlyaffected. However the IT sector saw no change in the number of failures lastyear, reporting 624 failures, the same as in 2004.
“We are forecasting that corporate failures will continue to rise in 2006 andso encourage businesses to ensure that they make the necessary checks on theircustomers, prospects and suppliers to ensure they are forewarned about any cashflow difficulties and possible failure,” said Richard Lloyd, managing directorof Experian’s Business Information division.
A study has found Britons are drinking themselves to death at a faster rate than people anywhere else in western Europe.New research shows liver cirrhosis rates are soaring in the UK while falling in other European countries.
In the 1950s England and Wales had western Europe’s lowest rates of deaths from liver cirrhosis, which in developed countries is caused primarily by alcohol poisoning.
But in the 1980s and 1990s cirrhosis mortality rates rose by over two-thirds in the two countries – and more than doubled in Scotland, which now has one of the highest rates in Europe.
Lesley King-Lewis, chief executive of research charity Action on Addiction, said the new research was “further proof” that Britain’s drinking culture was seriously damaging the nation’s health.
Energy minister Malcolm Wicks has admitted the gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine could force UK factories to close.
Officials insist there is “no immediate threat” but Jeremy Nicholson, director of the Energy Intensive Users Group, has said high gas prices have already led to some heavy users cutting back.
Beef sold in British pubs, hospitals, schools and office catering is likely to come from Brazilian ranches cleared and worked by slave labour, according to a report to be published later this year.
David Ismail, a Perthshire farmer who has been awarded a scholarship by the Nuffield foundation, visited Brazil to research the social conditions under which the growing exports of beef – which are undermining the world price – are produced.
In remote areas where Brazil’s forests are being hacked out of the way for cattle grazing, he found conditions among the homeless labourers and their employers “like the worst scenes in apartheid”. He said: “I was shocked when I found how the growth into Europe of Brazilian beef was causing so many problems in Brazil.”
The DNA profiles of nearly four in 10 black men in the UK are on the police’s national database – compared with fewer than one in 10 white men, according to figures compiled by the Guardian.
Civil liberties groups and representatives of the black community said this offered evidence that the database reinforced racial biases in the criminal justice system. The Home Office denied this, saying most of the DNA came from people who had been charged and convicted of crimes. Only about 113,000 people who had been arrested but not charged were on the database, a spokeswoman said.
The figures, compiled using Home Office statistics and census data, show that 37% of black men have their DNA profile on the database compared with 13% of Asian men and 9% of white men.
Equity release schemes, which allow people to unlock money tied up in their property, have been criticised by the Which? consumer group.
The organisation said the policies were expensive, inflexible and risky.
The schemes are a form of mortgage which typically allow elderly home owners to cash in on the value of their homes but repay the debt on death.
An increasing number of companies may choose to cut pension benefits offered to staff rather than close final-salary plans, industry consultants said following cost-cutting moves by several firms in recent weeks.
Hundreds of companies have shut retirement plans to new staff that base benefits on the salary a person earns in the final year of employment. They say an ageing population and low real bond yields make the plans too expensive to run.
Some have gone even further and moved existing members of final-salary plans to schemes in which payments vary depending on market returns.
A hospital is to cancel some “low priority” operations over the next few months in an attempt to save money and stave off a major overspend.
Northampton Primary Care Trust said the need to control funding means a number of difficult decisions on low-priority operations will have to be taken.