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Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Stock markets across Europe spent most of the day deep in the red, with the FTSE 100 posting 1pc losses and Germanys blue-chip DAX falling almost 2pc.
Virtually all of Londons blue-chip companies were down at midday with only BP and Shell, gold miner Polymetal and weapons manufacturer BAE Systems notching meaningful gains, amid escalating US-Iran tensions.
The FTSE 100 closed the day 0.62pc lower, wiping millions of pounds off the value of savers' pensions.
Other top stories of the day:
Gold hits seven-year high as investors plough into safe haven assets
Oil hits $70 a barrel for first time in over threemonths
UK services sector was stagnant in December beating an expected fall
Pound rises as data points to post-election activity bounce
Eurozone maintains activity growth
Roger Bootle:The worst house price figures for 60 years would be one of the best things that could happen to the economy
5:55PM
Market wrap
Gold prices hit a seven-year high today as traders fled to safe havens after the Iran crisis deepened following the assassination ofcommander Qassim Soleimani.
The precious metal climbed to $1,585 an ounce, its highest level since April 2013, while oil rose above$70 a barrel for the first time since the September rocket attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities.
European markets fell sharply at the open, before recovering later in the session as US traders struck a wait-and-see stance.
Tensions between Washington and Tehran have escalated sharply since Mr Soleimani was killed by an airstrike in the early hours of Friday. Iran has vowed revenge, but US President Donald Trump has threatened to launch further attacks against the country if it retaliates.
What to look forward to tomorrow:

Full-year results: Carrs Group
Preliminary results: Safestore Holdings
Trading update: Morrisons
Economics: Trade balance, non-manufacturing index, factory orders, durable goods orders (US), retails sales (eurozone)
5:41PM
Kingfisher appoints new chief customer officer
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Jean-Jacques Van Oosten joins most recently from the Danish toy company, The LEGO Group, where he was chief digital officer
Kingfisher, parent company of B&Q andScrewfix, has appointed Jean-Jacques Van Oosten as its new chief customer and digital officer.
The Belgian national, who was formerly chief digital officer at Danish toy company LEGO group, will be based at Kingfishers head office in London. He has held previous roles at Travis Perkins and Tesco.
Mr Van Oostenb said: Im delighted to be returning to Kingfisher after a decade that has seen technology change the world, especially in retail. Im looking forward to working with the team to build on the foundations Kingfisher has established.
5:25PM
Boeing could tap debt markets for billions as 737 Max crisis drags on
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Grounded 737 Max planes at Boeing's Seattle base
Boeing could tap the debt markets for billions of dollarsas it seeks to bolster its balance sheet as it battles a safety crisisover 737 Max jets.
The embattled aerospace giant is considering raising up to $5bn (?3.8bn), according to reports, and also mulling cost cutssuch as slashing its research budget and halting acquisitions.
In another measure to free up hundreds of millions in cash, Christmas bonuses normallypaid in the next few months have been cancelled for many of the firm's 140,000 staff.
Read the full article here
4:54PM
European stocks close in the red
Stocks in Europe have ended lower today, despite recovering slightly from earlier losses.
The FTSE 100 closed 0.62pc lower to 7,575.34 while the FTSE 250 dropped 1.04pc to 21,760.53.
In the eurozone, the Frankfurt DAX finished 0.70pc behind and the Paris CAC dipped 0.51pc.
NMC Health was the biggest faller on London's benchmark index afterthe group confirmed the independent review commissioned to assess its health will first review the cash position. The full review will be published as soon as possible.
Shares tumbled 4.49pc to ?16.71.
Live Market Update from the CMC dealing desk - European Closing Prices:#FTSE 7575.34 -0.62%#DAX 13126.99 -0.7%#CAC 6013.59 -0.51%#MIB 23581.29 -0.51%#IBEX 9600.9 -0.47%

Prices are indicative only. $FTSE $DAX $CAC $IBEX CMC Markets UK (@CMCMarkets) January 6, 2020
4:48PM
Waterstones sales flat during Christmas period
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Sales at Waterstones were flat over Christmas compared to the year before while its online and click-and-collect sales jumped around 20pc.
James Daunt, chief executive, said the company had to work harder as there was not a blockbuster book to be sold across the key Christmas trading period.
4:40PM
The Citys drinking culture in firing line again
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Boozy social events at law firms must be tackled in order to stamp out bullying and improve mental health and diversity in the profession, the professional body for lawyers in England and Wales has said.
My colleague Michael O'Dwyer writes:

Law firms arranging social events should consider treasure hunts, arts and crafts and tea ceremonies as alternatives to traditional drinks receptions for networking and team building events, the Law Societys Junior Lawyers Division said as part of its Booze Culture campaign launched on Monday.
Harmful drinking is the biggest risk to the health of lawyers under 50, research shows. Many incidents of bullying and harassment at work also involve alcohol, an International Bar Association study found.
The Citys drinking culture has come under the spotlight in recent months following a high profile sexual misconduct trial involving a former partners at Freshfields and an ongoing trial into allegations of misconduct the former boss of Baker McKenzies London office.
4:33PM
Good afternoon
Thanks for following along so far today. We will be taking a look at how markets in Europe closed shortly after they sold off again on account of the US-Iran tensions.
"The rhetoric from both sides has been upped, which has prompted traders to dump equities," says David Madden at CMC Markets. He adds:

"The Iranian regime has suggested it will carry out an attack on US interests as a payback for the killing of one of its military commanders in Iraq last week.President Trump has warned Iran that any military response will bring about further US attacks.
"The tense standoff has encouraged traders to curtail their exposure to most stocks. The upheaval in the Middle East has driven up demand forBP, Royal Dutch Shell, Tullow OilandJohn Woodshares."
Markets Hub I FTSE 100
4:22PM
Handover
London markets are coming to a close, so Im handing over to my colleague LaToya Harding, who will steer things heading into the evening. Thank you for following along!
3:54PM
Markets show signs of comeback
Its hard to see exactly what is catalysing the shift, but markets have recovered somewhat in the past half an houror so: the Nasdaq has moved back into positive territory andgold has fallen slightly in price (though oil look fairly steady still at just for $69 a barrel):
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Credit:
Bloomberg TV
The apparent improvement in sentiment has also lifted European shares:
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Credit:
Bloomberg TV
3:22PM
Round-up: Ghosn latest, worst hotel chain grows sales, what to look forward to at CES
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

A robot displayed at CES 2020

Credit:
ETIENNE LAURENT/EPA-EFE/REX
Here are more of the days top stories:
Carlos Ghosn fled Tokyo on a bullet trainafter firm hired by Nissan stopped surveillance:Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn reportedly travelled 300 miles toKansai Airportin Osaka on public transportafter a private security firm hired by Nissan stoppedround-the-clock surveillance of his property.
Sales at Britains worst hotel chainsurge past ?100m:Sales at Britains worst hotel chain have smashed through the ?100m barrier for the first time.
CES 2020: What to watch at the worlds biggest tech show:Every year, 170,000 technology fans and gadget makers descend on the glitzy Las Vegas strip for the worlds largest tech show.
3:08PM
Climate activists board Scottish gas rig
Activists from climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion have board a Valaris oil rig in Dundee, that was due to be leased by Shell later this month.
BREAKING: 3 XR Scotland rebels have boarded and climbing a Shell Gas Rig in Dundee. They are planning an extended occupation and XR Scotland have a series of solidarity actions lined up. over the next 10 days some that we are going to try and spread as far and wide as possible. Extinction Rebellion Scotland ? (@ScotlandXr) January 6, 2020
In an emailed statement, Shell said it is aware of the protest and added the safety of all involved was itsprime concern.
3:02PM
US activity data points to improvements
IHS Markit PMI data for the US has been released, and points to an acceleration in activity growth in the services sector, which also pulled up the services/manufacturing composite gauge. A score above 50 indicates growth.
Researchers said:

USservice sector firms indicated a moderate expansion in business activity at the end of 2019, with growth driven by a stronger rise in new orders. Foreign client demand also picked up, as new export orders increased for the first time since July. Subsequently, the rate of job creation ticked up to a five-month high despite only fractional pressure on capacity. Business confidence, however, remained well below the series average.

It should be noted that Markits is generally seen as the less-reliable of the major US PMI surveys, with ISMs non-manufacturing index (set for release tomorrow) likely to be the more closely-watched.
2:52PM
Money round-up
Here are the days biggest stories from our Money team:
Retiring at 55? How to make your money last 30 years while paying as little tax as possible
How can I get a pay rise in 2020?
Revealed: Britains commuter sweet spots with the best value homes and the cheapest season tickets
Investor newsletter REFERRAL (article)
2:40PM
US markets fall
As expected, US stock markets have dropped at the open, as traders shirk risky equities:
The Dow is down 0.5pc
The S&P 500 is down 0.4pc
The Nasdaq is down 0.6pc
2:03PM
Warehousing giant buys retail park from M&G
A retail park in north London is set to be converted into warehouse space for online sellers followinga landmarkdeal amid the ongoing rise of e-commerce, my colleague Rachel Millard reports.
She writes:

Prologis, the world's largest warehouse company, has bought the site in Edmonton for ?51.4m from the investment manager M&G.
The 128,000 sq ft Ravenside park had been owned by a fund that M&G has suspended following a wave of redemption requests.
Tenants include Mothercare, which is closing as part of adecision to shut all of its UK stores, as well as a 60,000 sq ft Wickes branch. It is close to an Ikea store and a Tesco Extra on the A406.
It is thought to be the first retail park bought to be converted into warehouse space in the UK, underlining the growing strength of online giants such as Amazon against their bricks-and-mortar rivals.
Read more:London retail park to become warehouse space for online retailers
1:47PM
Wall Street headed for a drop
Trading in the US open in just under three quarters of an hour, and currently markets are set to fall, joining their European peers. The Nasdaq looks like to be the worst hit, eyeing a 0.7pc fall according to futures data.
1:27PM
Hornby says sales and margins increased
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Hornby said its product preview had been encouraging

Credit:
Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Model train-maker Hornby has reported increased sales and margins over the Christmas period in a brief update.
The group said the reception of its new products in previews and press had been encouraging, and said earnings continued to be ahead of last year.
It said it had also reached an agreement with Phoenix UK Fund, its biggest shareholder, to agreement the maximum principal amount it can borrow as part of its credit facility, from ?3m to ?9m.
Hornby added:

The company is also currently exploring ways in which the balance sheet structure could be optimised for further future investment and growth; and will update the market accordingly.
1:18PM
Saudi Aramco closes day flat
After taking a 1.7pc knock during Sunday trading, Saudi Aramcos shares ended trading more or less flat today. As I reported yesterday:

The state-owned oil giant has shed almost ?200bn in value since its peak on December 16th, with a spiking crude price failing to offset resurgent nerves over the regions stability after Mr Suleimani was killed by a US airstrike on Friday morning.
It leaves the company worth just over $1.8 trillion (?1.38 trillion). Falls last month mean it spent only a couple of days over the $2 trillion threshold a valuation so prized by Saudi Crown prince Mohammed bin Salman it was described as a virility symbol.
Read more:Saudi Aramco shares plunge after Suleimani killing
12:30PM
European pares back some losses...
...but indices across the continent are still in the red.
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Credit:
Bloomberg TV
BAE Systems is now leading FTSE 100 risers, though BP and Shell are still doing most of the heavy lifting. Polymetal has also stayed up. Other than those, only Primark-owner Associated British Foods and Rightmove are holding above flat the other 94 constituents are all posting losses.
12:17PM
French economy grows
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Strikes against Emmanuel Macron's pension reforms are on course to become France's longest since May 1968

Credit:
Christian Hartmann/Reuters
Emmanuel Macron won some economic breathing space from the strikes against his pension reform plans as a survey showed that Frances services sector picked up pace in December.
My colleague Lizzy Burden reports:

The purchasing managers index by IHS Markit revealed that the biggest sector of the French economy climbed to 52.4from 52.2 in November. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.
Manufacturing, however, slipped from 52.1 to 52.
The result locked in a solid rate of output expansion in the last quarter of the year, according to Eliot Kerr, an economist at IHS Markit. Faster headline growth at service providers helped offset stuttering manufacturing production and ensured the pace of expansion in composite activity was little-changed from November.
Read more:French economy picks up pace despite strikes
12:08PM
Hikma Pharmaceuticals falls after JP Morgan downgrade
Pharmaceuticals group Hikma is the biggest faller on the FTSE 100 currently, after JP Morgan cut its rating overnight, warning that investors have underestimated the headwinds its generics division is facing. The Jordan-based group is down more than 4pc:
12:00PM
Ghosn goes to ground
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Ghosn leaving his lawyers offices in March 2019

Credit:
KAZUHIRO NOGI/AFP
The legal team representing Carlos Ghosn has been unable to contact the former chairman of Nissan Motor Co. since he announced hehad fled to Lebanonwith his lawyers confirming that they intend to resign.
My colleague Julian Ryall reports:

Junichiro Hironaka, who had been leading Mr Ghosns defence on charges of financial misconduct, told local media on Sunday that he had been unable to reach his client or Carole Ghosn since December 31.
Mr Hironaka said he will attempt to contact the former Nissan executive through his lawyer in Lebanon to confirm the resignation of the entire Japan-based legal team.
Mr Hironaka told the Asahi newspaper that he believed Mr Ghosn had become deeply despondent by the uncertainty of his trial schedule and the grim prospects for being reunited with his wife in the near future.
Read more:Carlos Ghosn goes to ground as Japanese lawyers tender resignation
11:35AM
Analyst: Trump wont follow through on Iraq sanction threat
Saxo Bank analyst Christopher Dembik says it is unlikely that Donald Trump will follow through with threats to place sanction on Iraq, given the countrys crucial role as an oil producer. He writes:

It is likely that president Trump is bluffing on Iraqi sanctions. It would be politically risky in a presidential election year to impose sanctions against Iraq, which is the OPECs second largest producer, with 4.7 million barrels of daily output. There is simply not enough global spare capacity to fill a gap caused by US sanctions targeting the Iraqi oil production. Higher oil prices would ultimately lead to a tax on US consumers.
In our view, the current market focus on oil price is misleading. We believe that economic damage related to the US-Iran cold war will more certainly come from cyber retaliation or from global uncertainty, with less direct consequences on the global economy.
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Credit:
Saxo Bank
11:22AM
Full report: UK businesses cheer up in wake of election
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Boris Johnsons electoral victory appears to have raised spirits in the City

Credit:
BEN STANSALL/AFP
My colleague Tim Wallace has a full report on that better-than-expected activity rise. He writes:

Business confidence perked up after the general election as reduced uncertainty boosted the economys prospects andraised hopes of a "Boris bounce".
Companies expectations for future growth rose to their highest in more than a year, according to IHS Markits purchasing managers index (PMI), an influential survey.
The services industry stabilised after shrinking in the months before the election, indicating the Conservatives victory has restored a degree of certainty to the economy.
Employment picked up, new orders increased and optimism for the future climbed.
Read more:Businesses perk up as election brings new confidence to economy
10:50AM
Gold nears $1,600 mark
For much of the past half a year, gold has been floating around the $1,500 an ounce threshold a psychological marker of risk.Now, after tearing upwards in recent sessions, they are eyeing the $1,600 mark.
It hasnt been above that level since the aftermath of the eurozone crisis, so the rise is a sign of just how nervous investors are.
10:30AM
Round up: Oil, cars and Aldi
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Aldi sales over the festive period were boosted by a surge in demand for products such as alcohol and specialty products

Credit:
Peter Summers/REUTERS
Here are our full reports on some of the days top stories:
Oil jumps to $70 as Middle East tensions mount:Oil was trading close to $70 a barrel and stock markets fell on Monday as the war of words between Iran and the USturned increasingly hostile, threatening to destabilise the worlds most important oil producing region.
New car sales sink to lowest level since 2013:Sales of new cars hit their lowest level in six years last year, according to new figures that revealed a third consecutive year of decline.
Aldi posts slowdown in Christmas sales growth despite revenue breaking ?1bn for the first time:Aldi reported a slowdown in UK sales growth over the festive period compared to the previous two years despite revenueexceeding ?1bn for the first time.
Money Newsletter REFERRAL (Article)
10:21AM
Goldman Sachs: Oil risks will be sustained in coming weeks
Analysts at US investment bank Goldman Sachs has struck a cautious, pessimistic note on oil movement in coming weeks, warning it is too early to tell what the growing crisis between Iran and the US might mean for oil prices in the longer term.
Interestingly, they suggest that means (as many investors seem to have already concluded) it is time to buy gold. They write:

Although the rally in oil suggests the market attaches a significant probability to current tensions leading to an oil supply disruption, we would argue that assessing such specific consequences is difficult at this time. The range of potential scenarios is very large; spanning oil supply shocks or even oil demand destruction which would be negative to oil prices. In contrast, history shows that under most outcomes gold will likely rally to well beyond current levels.

The analysts add that the aftermath of the September attacks on Saudi Aramco facilities suggests higher oil prices will unlock extra supply that is being held back:

The precedent set by the Abqaiq attack showed that the oil market has significant supply flexibility starting when Brent is at $70/bbl, even before shale production needs to ramp up, suggesting only moderate upside from here, should an attack on oil assets actually occur.
10:12AM
Reaction: Reasons to be cheerful for UK firms
Responding to those PMI figures, Lloyds Banks Allan Ramsay says:

Todays reading shows that UK services firms have cause for optimism as we start the new year. That said, and despite Decembers decisive election result, there still remains an understandable level of caution among businesses after a prolonged period of uncertainty.

Pantheon Macroeconomics Samuel Tombs adds the figures should prompt the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee to keep interest rates in place:

The upward revision to the services PMI in December from the flash reading is an encouraging sign that the lifting of the threats of a no-deal Brexit in January and a business-hostile Labour government has triggered a recovery in activity...
...Admittedly, its unclear whether the recovery in the PMI simply reflects an improvement in sentiment, or a genuine pick-up in activity. The PMI was misleadingly downbeat throughout 2019, with output in the services sector rising despite the business activity index repeatedly pointing to a downturn, so its recovery might just reflect this gap narrowing. For now, though, the survey data are starting to move in the right direction, significantly weakening the case for the MPC to cut Bank Rate over the coming months.
10:02AM
Snap wrap: Whats moving markets today?
If youre just joining us, heres whats happening today:
Markets have continued to reel in the aftermath of the assassination of Qassim Suleimani, with investors ditching shares in favour of less risky assets.
Stock markets across Europe are stumbling, while oil has hit $70 a barrel and gold touched a seven-year high overnight.
Only a handful of FTSE 100 companies are managing to scrape gains: oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell, weapons company BAE Systems, and gold miner Polymetal.
Extra pressure is being placed on the blue-chip index by a rise in the pound, which has gained ground following data that showed the UKs service sector halted its end-of-year slowdown following last months election result.
Purchasing managers index data gave the crucial service sector which includes a variety of businesses, from cafes to financial services a score of 50, indicating it held stagnant during December after a slowdown in November.

9:53AM
Heres how all Decembers UK PMI readings look
As mentioned, we cant see definite proof of a post-election confidence bounce yet but it might become apparent once we start to get figures for January.
9:42AM
UK could be a reaching a turning point
Commenting on the improvement in services activity (if mere stagnation can truly be seen as an improvement), Duncan Brooks from the Chartered Institute of Procurement & Supply said:

Any improvement in the sectors fortune is of course welcome, but this small improvement to the no change mark means stagnation is also a possibility. With the lowest prices charged inflation since July 2016, intense competition between firms meant costs were not passed on to consumers and a further rise in fuel costs and salaries could dampen the sectors hopes of improved margins in the coming months.
Other clouds of uncertainty must also include the potential for further political instability as negotiators and policymakers take the next steps. But with the fastest level of job creation since the summer and a bounce in business optimism not seen since September 2018, commentators could be forgiven for believing there could potentially be a turning point on the horizon if the UK plays its cards right.
City Intelligence newsletter (SUBSCRIBER) Article
9:40AM
Improvement follows pre-vote doubts
Tim Moore, an associate director at IHS Markit, said of the readings:

Service companies widely commented on delayed spending decisions and a headwind to sales from domestic political uncertainty in the run-up to the general election. With manufacturing and construction output also subdued in December, the latest PMI surveys collectively signal an overall stagnation of the UK economy at the end of 2019.
However, the latest UK service sector figures are an improvement on those seen in November and strike a slightly more positive tone than the earlier flashPMI for December.

Its worth noting that Markits survey landed a little awkwardly last month, with its research process which involves interviews with purchasing managers taking place either side of the election. Januarys initial readings should give a clearer indication of just how much sentiment has improved.
9:37AM
Services order books recover
The pound has risen immediately following those readings, which suggest for the services sector at least that a post-general election recovery may be on the cards.
IHS Markit, which gathered the data, reports:

UK service providers indicated that business activity was unchanged in December, following a marginal reduction in the previous month. The stabilisation of service sector output was helped by a return to improving order books, as signalled by the sharpest rise in new work since last July.
Job creation also strengthened in the latest survey period, partly driven by a rebound in business optimism to its highest for 15 months...
...Some survey respondents noted a boost to activity from higher underlying customer demand at the end of 2019. Meanwhile, those reporting a drop in output generally cited a headwind from delayed spending decisions ahead of the general election.

Researchers added:

There were signs that service providers have become hopeful that a more stable political backdrop will help to support business conditions over the course of 2020. This was highlighted by a rebound in business optimism to its highest since September 2018, with a number of survey respondents predicting a short-term boost to business activity when the first stage of Brexit is resolved.
9:34AM
Breaking: UK services sector beats estimates with stagnant growth
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

The services sector includes a variety of businesses

Credit:
Leon Neal/Getty Images Europe
Just in: Finalised PMI data for December shows the UKs services sector was stagnant an improvement given economist were widely expecting a continued slowdown.
Services came in at 50, with the composite measure (a weighted balance of manufacturing and services) at 49.3, where a reading above 50 indicates growth:
More follows...
9:23AM
European losses extend
Its going from bad to worse all over the continent, with particularly chunky losses for Germanys DAX as investors ditch equities in favour of assets seen as less risky.
Germany is particularly vulnerable to disruption, with its already-suffering manufacturing sector liable to take a severehit from anything that impacts global trade.
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Credit:
Bloomberg TV
9:13AM
Eurozone pulls away from stagnation
Purchasing managers index data for the eurozone shows activity rose slightly in September, lifting the bloc from the threshold of stagnation.
Data-gatherers at IHS Markit said:

The divergence between the performances of the manufacturing and services economies remained noticeable in December. Overall growth remained centred on the service sector, with growth here reaching a four-month high. In contrast, manufacturing output declined at a rate not exceeded for nearly seven years.

Markit economist Chris Williamson said:

Another month of subdued business activity in December rounded off the eurozones worst quarter since 2013. The PMI data suggest the euro area will struggle to have grown by more than 0.1pcin the closing three months of 2019.
At face value, the weak performance is disappointing given additional stimulus from the ECB, with the drag from the ongoing plight of the manufacturing sector a major concern. However, policymakers will be encouraged by the resilient performance of the more domestically-focused service sector, where growth accelerated in December to its highest since August.
Among individual #Eurozone countries, #PMI showed improved #services & #manufacturing growth in December in #Germany (4-month high of 50.2), #Spain (8-month high of 52.7), #Ireland (6-month high of 53.0). Weaker in #France (3-month low of 52.0) & Italy - deeper contraction (49.3 https://t.co/GuLPpLJ7mp Howard Archer (@HowardArcherUK) January 6, 2020
9:03AM
BAE and Polymetal rises on market ructions
Two other beneficiariesfrom the sour mood out on the markets are weapons firm BAE Systems (which is likely to make plenty of sales if military tensions escalate in the Middle East) and Polymetal, a gold miner:
8:49AM
Upcoming activity gauge readings could shift pound
The pound is remarkably flat today, amid low movements on the forex market in general. SpreadExs Connot Campbell notes that could shift when we get services and composite purchasing managers index data at 9:30am:

Dealing with its own renewed Brexit anxiety as the markets entered a new year, the pound was flat on Monday, unchanged against dollar and euro alike. That could change following the mornings UK services PMI; the manufacturing and construction readings were pretty dire, so the currency will be praying for a number better than the forecast 49.1.

Heres how the finalised readings we got last week looked:
8:38AM
Top boss pay is falling... but it is still pretty high
As my colleague Tim Wallace reported this morning, top UK bosses are seeing their pay fall as pressure grows:

The typical chief executive earned just under ?3.5m in 2018 according to research from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and the High Pay Centre. That is equivalent to ?901.30 per hour.
It marks a steep fall for those at the top of UK Plc. A year earlier they were paid more than ?3.9m, or ?1,020 per hour.
It is part of a longer trend. In 2015 the average top boss received ?5.4m, which fell to ?4.6m in 2016 meaning annual pay at the top tumbled by almost ?2m over four years.

Despite this drop, however, it is still High Pay Day the day on which pay for the average FTSE 100 chief executive officer surpasses the amount an average UK worker earns all year.
Read more:Top bosses pay rate falls by more than ?100 per hour
8:34AM
Energy giants top bleak FTSE
Its frosty out there on the FTSE 100 today, with more than 90 of Londons blue-chip stocks losing group currently.
The biggest risers are heavyweights BP and Royal Dutch Shell, which are both benefitting from movement in oil markets. Together, they are putting a fair bit of upwards pull on the index, but it isnt enough to keep things flat.
8:25AM
Strait of Hormuz is crucial to oil price
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

Credit:
Hamad I Mohammed/REUTERS
The big question for markets in the near term is how Iran will strike back against the USs actions. One of the most consequential moves it could make is disrupting or blockading the Strait of Hormuz the vital Gulf waterway that acts as a major shipping lane for oil tankers.
As my colleague Lizzy Burden reported on Friday:

IfIran tries to close the Strait of Hormuz one of the worlds most important oil arteries Brent crude could jump to as much as $150 abarrel, Capital Economics says, more than double its current level.
That would mean inflation soaring by 3.5pc to 4pc in countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), as well as inflicting misery on ordinary people around the world including British drivers.
Read more:US attack could threaten global economic growth
Business Briefing Newsletter REFERRAL (Article)
Hussein Sayed, from currency trading platform FXTM, says some traders are already bracing for a spike by placing bets on a higher oil price:

Interestingly, we note some investors are buying call options near $100 to insure or profit from massive price spikes. They are predicting that Iran will target shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, which is responsible for a fifth of the worlds oil supply flow. If this strait is blocked, even for a short period, it will lead to prices skyrocketing. At $70-$80 a barrel, the global economy is not likely to feel much impact from this rise in prices, but as we get closer to $100 there will be severe consequences, which would trigger steep selloffs in equity markets.
8:14AM
European markets stumble
The FTSE is slightly outperforming its continental peers, but overall its not looking too pretty for any European stock indices.
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Credit:
Bloomberg TV
8:10AM
Retail week begins
Though today is comparatively quiet, were kicking off a busy week for retailers, who (starting with Next, which reported on Friday) will be revealing how their festive trading went. Thursday isthe biggest day, with Marks & Spencer, Tesco and John Lewis all set to disclosetheir performance.
The supermarkets face perhaps their biggest threat from discounters such as Lidl and Aldi, which have been slowly eating up market share. Aldi, our retail correspondent Laura Onita reports, is claiming to have done well but isnt sharing like-for-like numbers:
Aldi kicks off the Christmas trading updates. Another record period, no LFL figures. Cue more unaudited and unreliable statements from other retailers in the next two/three weeks. ? Laura Onita (@LauraOnita) January 6, 2020
8:05AM
FTSE falls
As expected, the FTSE 100 has dropped at the open, falling 0.45pc. A rising oil price may benefit some of Londons heavyweight energy firms, but against a neutral pound the pressure may be too much for the blue-chip index.
7:58AM
Oil jump could shock global economy
The aftermath of Qassim Suleimanis assassination is likely to roil markets in the coming weeks, say MUFG Bank analysts Lee Hardman and Fritz Louw. They write:

President Trump has exponentially increased the chances of conflict in an election year with red lines on both sides needing to be redrawn.
In this light, the flare in geopolitical tensions between Iran and the US has increased downside risks for the global economy. A significant spike in the price of oil would provide a negative shock for the global economy which has only tentatively shown signs of improvement towards the end of last year
Qassim Soleimani drone strike | Read more
7:52AM
Here are the key commodity moves from overnight
A push to safe-haven assetsand worries about a shortfall in oil supplies have put gold at a seven-year high, and oil at $70 a barrel (though both have softened slightly from their overnight peaks):
7:45AM
What happened overnight
Stocks declined and gold and oiladvanced in the wake of escalating Middle East tensions as Asian financial markets returned to full strength following New Year holidays.
Gold surged to the highest in more than six years and US Treasury yields ticked lower amid fallout from thekillingof a top Iranian military commander in Iraq. The S&P 500 Index posted its biggest loss in a month Friday in the wake of the killing, which threatened to spur escalating violence across the Middle East.
Japanese, Hong Kong and South Korean equities fell, and U.S. and European futures retreated.
Meanwhile, Chinese and Australian stocks bucked the trend.
The tensions cast a cloud over largely positive forecasts for risk assets at the start of 2020, with a US-China phase-one trade deal expected to be signed later this month.
Moves by China to bolster economic growth, and signs of stabilisation in Chinese manufacturing, have also offered hope for a rebound in commerce.
7:39AM
Agenda: Investors seek haven assets as crisis in Middle East deepens
Investors fret over hit to oil supplies as Iran crisis rattles markets

Qassim Soleimani was killed by the US on Friday

Credit:
Ebrahim Noroozi/AP
Good morning. European markets are set to open the week in the red as tensions between the US and Iran intensified over the weekend following the assassination ofGeneral Qassim Soleimani.
Oil pricescontinued to climb with Brent crude futures surging above $70 a barrel. Gold also hit a seven-year high as investors ploughed into safe haven assets as the crisis escalated.
Tehran said it will not abide by any of its commitments to the 2015 nuclear agreement it signed, while Donald Trump threatened to attack 52 targets in Iran including cultural sites if the country retaliated.
Mr Trump added he would impose severe sanctions on neighbouring Iraq if it asked US troops to leave the country on an unfriendly basis.

5 things to start your day


1)Top central banks will sweep up bonds worth hundreds of billions of pounds to kick-start growth again in 2020 in their latest unprecedented intervention into financial markets.The balance sheets of the four main central banks in the eurozone, US, Japan and UK are collectively expected to swell to more than ?12 trillion by the end of 2020 after policymakers resorted to rebooting their quantitative easing (QE) programmes.
2)Saudi Aramco shares closed more than 10pc below their post-float highs yesterday as the fallout from the assassination of Qassim Suleimani by the US sent Middle Eastern shares plunging
3)A former pensions minister has hit out at the Treasury, calling it the biggest barrier to pensions policy. It is shocking that the Treasury has supported the introduction of new forms of Isas such as Help to Buy and Lifetime Isas but resists other reforms that would boost pension savings but would require upfront tax relief on individuals income, said Sir Steve Webb, who was a Liberal Democrat pensions minister in David Camerons coalition government. Read more here.
4)Pay is slumping among the countrys top bosses, with chief executives hourly wages dropping by more than ?100 amid rising pressure from shareholders and increasing public scrutiny. Read more.
5)The largest offshore wind farm developer in the world has laid off around 15 people from its business, and is currently weighing further cuts, as the company warns that wind might not be quite as effective as previously thought. Here's why.

Coming up today


No major UK companies are set to report today.
Economics:New car registrations, reserves changes (UK), composite and services activity gauge December final reading (UK, eurozone and US), inflation (eurozone)
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