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What to Watch: Balfour Beatty soars, Sports Direct woes, German GDP dip and UK inflation figures

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Balfour Beatty shares have soared. Photo: Darren Staples/Reuters

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Balfour Beatty soars as it looks outside Brexit Britain

Balfour Beatty (BBY.L) shares were up 10% at around 9am on Wednesday in London, with the biggest rise on the FTSE 250 (^FTMC) as it saw its pre-tax profits soar in the first half of the year.

The infrastructure giant’s profits were 26% higher at £63m in the six months to June, boosted by expansion abroad as it looks outside Britain amid a construction slowdown since the 2016 referendum.

“Today, the group’s geographic and operational diversity underpins our risk management, with over 50% of our business and investments portfolio assets outside the UK,” said Leo Quinn, its chief executive.

Unexpected rise in UK inflation

The Bank of England is set to come under pressure to control price growth after inflation in July came in at 2.1%, significantly above analyst expectations.

The figure, released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on Wednesday, follows bumper wage growth data earlier this week.

Analysts had predicted that inflation would fall to 1.9%, or slightly below the Bank of England’s 2% target.

Germany economy shrinks

Recession fears are growing in Germany as its GDP shrank by 0.1% in the second quarter, according to data released on Wednesday by its Federal Office of Statistics.

The contraction, in line with analyst predictions, indicated that the US-China trade conflict and a weakening global economy have started to take their toll on the export-reliant country, with trade and the construction sector a particular drag on growth.

On the year, the economy still grew by 0.4%, Yahoo Finance UK’s Germany correspondent Jill Petzinger reports.

“Today’s GDP report definitely marks the end of a golden decade for the German economy,” said ING Germany’s chief economist Carsten Brzeski in a note.

Grant Thornton quits as Sports Direct auditor

A branch of Sports Direct on Oxford Street, central London. Photo: PA

Grant Thornton is severing ties with Sports Direct (SPD.L) after more than a decade as the company’s auditors.

Grant Thornton’s resignation comes after several delays to the publication of Sports Direct’s results in July, a highly unusual move that stunned many analysts and investors.

The auditing industry has faced heavy criticism in recent years after a series of corporate scandals that auditors failed to flag ahead of time, such as the collapse of BHS, Patisserie Valerie, and Carillion.

Admiral boss says results ‘a bit dull’

The chief executive of Admiral (ADM.L) said the company’s latest results were “a bit dull” as it reported a 4% rise in pre-tax profits to £218m.

But its shares were buoyed by the news, up 4.1% in the biggest rise on the FTSE 100 (^FTSE) index.

David Stevens said: “If it’s a can’t-put-down, read-in-one-go page-turner that you’re after, then I’m afraid our half-year results don’t fit the bill. Frankly, they are a bit dull.

But he said “modest” profit growth was “more exciting” given a £33m charge because of reforms to personal injury claim payouts.

Norwegian Air pulls out of Ireland

Norwegian Air (NAS.OL) shares sank 2.5% in early trading in Oslo after it confirmed that it will discontinue transatlantic flights from Ireland from September.

It is the latest sign of difficulties for Europe’s third-largest budget airline, Yahoo Finance UK’s Edmund Heaphy reports.

The move follows weaker-than-expected revenue growth for the airline in July, and after it announced in 2018 that it was planning to slow its rapid growth and trim costs in order to save cash and curb operational losses.

European markets lower

Several European indices were trading lower on Wednesday, with contracting German GDP weighing on investor sentiment after a boost on Tuesday when the US delayed fresh tariffs against China.

The Euronext 100 (^N100 ) was 0.2% lower, while France’s CAC 40 (^FCHI) and Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) were both 0.3% lower at around 9.30am in London. But Britain’s FTSE 100 (^FTSE) index was flat.

Overnight in Asia Japan’s Nikkei (^N225) was up 1%, China’s Shanghai Composite index (000001.SS) up 0.4%, and the Hong Kong Hang Seng (^HSI) was up 0.1%.

What to expect in the US

US stocks look set for a lower open on Monday. S&P500 futures (ES=F), Dow Jones futures (YM=F) and Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) were all down 0.2%.