Visitor numbers at Merlin sites down after terror attacks

London eyeImage copyrightAFP

Visitors have stayed away from major tourist attractions in the wake of recent terror attacks, according to the London Eye and Madame Tussauds owner.

Merlin Entertainments, which also runs the Legoland theme park, also warned that numbers could continue to fall.

Bosses said before the attacks foreign tourists had been flocking to the UK to take advantage of the weak pound.

The company’s London Eye sits just next to Westminster Bridge – where the March attack took place.

Merlin said in a statement: “in the immediate aftermath of the Westminster attack on 22 March… the incident did result in a softer domestic, day-trip market.

“However, the subsequent attacks in Manchester and London over the past month have resulted in a further deterioration in domestic demand and, given the typical lag between holiday bookings and visitation, we are also cautious on trends in foreign visitation over the coming months”.

Impact

In the aftermath of a terror attack, major attractions tend to not feel the impact for a few weeks or months because most foreign visitors tend to buy their tickets for Merlin sites such as Alton Towers or The London Dungeons, in advance.

Chief executive Nick Varney added: “The impact of recent terror attacks on our London attractions is unclear at this stage.

“What is clear however is that London has bounced back before, and will do again.

“London is very much open for business, welcoming visitors from the UK and from around the world to this exciting and vibrant city.”

Investors heeded Merlin’s warning, sending shares falling 2.8% to 489p.

Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at ETX Capital, said: “Merlin had already warned in March when it released its 2016 full-year preliminary results that the threat of terror attacks had hit its UK business, citing events in Paris and Brussels as having an impact.

“This was before the Westminster attack on March 22nd, meaning the impact on the UK business is likely to be significantly greater in 2017 than it was last year.”

Merlin has seen visitors shun its attractions after major incidents before.

In 2015, the company saw a significant drop in visitors to its Alton Towers theme park after several thrill seekers were badly injured on one of the rides.

Bosses will face tough questions from shareholders on Tuesday at the company’s annual general meeting at Legoland, where they will also be told about the opening of Legoland Japan and new sites across the US.

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Trump pulls trigger on Nafta negotiations

Donald TrumpImage copyrightDREW ANGERER/GETTY
Image captionNAFTA was a centrepiece of Donald Trump’s campaign

The US plans to start talks with Mexico and Canada over Nafta “as soon as practicable”, the Trump administration said on Thursday.

The letter to congressional leaders provided formal notice of the administration’s intent to move forward with a campaign pledge to redo the 1990s trade deal.

Mr Trump earlier threatened to end the agreement, calling it a job “killer”.

Thursday’s letter said the deal needs “modernisation”.

Canada and Mexico are America’s second and third largest trade partners after China.

US trade with the two countries has more than tripled since Nafta went into effect in 1994, with more than $1tr goods and services exchanged each year.

But tension has been mounting under Mr Trump, who made tough-on-trade talk a hallmark of his campaign.

In January, he withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership.

He has also slapped tariffs on Canadian lumber and took to Twitter to talk about Canadian pricing of dairy products.

And on Thursday, the Commerce Department said it would investigate claims by Boeing that its Canadian aerospace rival Bombardier is unfairly subsidised by taxpayers and has been selling planes below cost in the US.

 

The Nafta letter from US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who was sworn in this week, triggers a 90-day period, meaning talks would begin in August at the earliest.

It raised a range of issues, including digital trade and environmental practices, but offered little detail.

In recent months, Canadian federal ministers have been travelling frequently to the US to lobby America lawmakers whose states have strong trade ties with Canada on the importance of the cross-border economic relationship.

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has also been in close contact with her Mexican counterparts on the Nafta file and will be in Mexico next week.

Ms Freeland said in a statement on Thursday that Canada remains “steadfastly committed to free trade in the North American region.”

“We are at an important juncture that offers us an opportunity to determine how we can best align Nafta to new realities – and integrate progressive, free and fair approaches to trade and investment,” she said.

Mexico also said it expects a “constructive” negotiation.

Mr Trump faces a political crisis in Washington related to an investigation of ties to Russia.

But the trade measures return him to one of his successful campaign themes, which struck a chord among some voters, who have seen US companies turn to cheaper, overseas workers for jobs once done at home.

 

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement the goal of new Nafta talks is to find a “solution that is both fair and beneficial for all parties”.

“Since the signing of Nafta, we have seen our manufacturing industry decimated, factories shuttered, and countless workers left jobless.,” he said. “President Trump is going to change that.”

Mr Trump’s protectionist stance breaks with Republican tradition, sounding closer to concerns voiced by labour unions and left-wing politicians like Bernie Sanders.

But Democrats were quick to say the letter was short on substance.

“The President’s vague Nafta letter is a stark contrast with the aggressive promises he made to hard-working families during the campaign,” California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who leads the party in the House, said in a statement.

“For all his rhetoric, President Trump looks to be sorely disappointing American workers on trade.”

Ford ‘set to shed 10% of workforce’

Ford car and US flagImage copyrightREUTERS

Ford is planning to cut around 10% of its global workforce in an attempt to boost profits, according to reports.

Chief executive officer Mark Fields also wants to arrest the slide in the US car company’s share price.

The cuts, first reported in the Wall Street Journal, are part of a plan to save $3bn (£2.3bn) during 2017.

Ford refused to confirm or deny the story, but said in a statement that it was focused on its plans to “drive profitable growth”.

It added: “Reducing costs and becoming as lean and efficient as possible also remain part of that work. We have not announced any new people efficiency actions, nor do we comment on speculation.”

Ford employs around 200,000 people, with half of them in North America.

Leaked document

In March, the carmaker announced that it would spend $1.2bn (£927m) to upgrade three plants in Michigan in the US and create 130 new jobs.

At the start of the year it cancelled plans to build a new factory in Mexico after pressure from President Trump, who had also criticised General Motors’ plans to produce cars there.

The company’s share price has fallen by nearly 40% since Mr Fields took up his role in the middle of 2014.

Earlier this year, a leaked document seen by BBC Wales revealed that Ford was projecting a reduction of 1,160 workers at its plant in Bridgend by 2021 if no new projects came into the site.

Uber must return confidential files to Waymo, orders US judge

The dispute is over Lidar, the technology that allows the car to "see" what is around itImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe dispute is over Lidar, the technology that allows the car to “see” what is around it

Uber has been told to return thousands of “pilfered” files to Alphabet’s Waymo self-driving car division.

The San Francisco judge also banned a top Uber engineer from involvement in certain work for the ride-hailing firm’s autonomous driving project.

Waymo has sued Uber over claims that a former employee stole trade secrets that were later used by its rival.

Although a blow to Uber, the ruling stopped short of ordering a shutdown of the firm’s self-driving unit.

District Judge William Alsup’s ruling, which was unsealed on Monday, said Waymo “has shown compelling evidence that its former star engineer” Anthony Levandowski “pilfered” thousands of documents from the company.

“The bottom line is the evidence indicates that Uber hired Levandowski even though it knew or should have known that he possessed over 14,000 confidential Waymo files likely containing Waymo’s intellectual property,” Alsup wrote.

Uber must return the documents either to Waymo or the court by the end of this month.

The judge also ordered Uber to keep Mr Levandowski away from work involving Lidar, a key sensor technology in self-driving cars that is the crux of the current litigation.

 

Waymo spokesman Johnny Luu welcomed the ruling, saying: “Competition should be fuelled by innovation in the labs and on the roads, not through unlawful actions.”

However, the judge added that “few” of Waymo’s alleged trade secrets have been traced to Uber’s self-driving car technology. Not all of Waymo’s 121 asserted trade secrets qualify as trade secrets, he added.

Crucially for Uber, the ruling did not shut down its self-driving car project. Uber is betting that its ride services network will eventually rely on self-driving cars.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling that Uber can continue building and utilizing all of its self-driving technology, including our innovation around Lidar,” Uber spokeswoman Chelsea Kohler said.

On Monday Waymo signed a deal with Lyft, Uber’s main US competitor, to test its self-driving technology.

Oil price tumbles to five-month low

Oil pumpjackImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The oil price has fallen to a five-month low as investor concerns re-surface about a worldwide glut.

Brent crude dropped by more than $2 on Thursday to below $49 a barrel, hitting its lowest level since oil cartel Opec struck a landmark deal to cut output on 30 November.

Analysts said investors were worried that oil nations would fail to ease supply fears at a meeting later in May.

They also pointed to higher-than-expected US oil production.

Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, dropped 4.8% to $48.38 a barrel in London on Thursday. West Texas crude lost 4.9% to $45.48.

‘Jittery’

Opec’s deal in November, and subsequent supply cuts agreed by other oil producing countries, helped to boost prices earlier this year, said David Hunter, an energy industry analyst with Schneider Electric.

But the market is getting a bit “jittery” as countries decide whether to extend those cuts, he said.

Opec and other oil nations are meeting on 25 May where they will discuss the success of the six-month cutback and whether it should be deepened.

Russia, one of the non-Opec countries to sign up to the cuts, gave mixed signals on Thursday about whether it would continue.

“While the cartel is expected to extend a self-imposed production cap by another six months, it will be a challenge to convince several non-Opec members to follow suit,” said Abhishek Kumar, senior energy analyst at Interfax Energy’s Global Gas Analytics.

“Persistent growth in US oil production … will also make extensions of the Opec cap beyond 2017 unlikely.”

‘Losing faith’

Data released on Tuesday indicated US crude stocks fell 930,000 barrels last week. Analysts had been expecting a drop of 2.3 million barrels.

The US data and some investors “losing faith with Opec” are not helping the oil price, said Abhishek Deshpande, an oil analyst at Natixis.

The fall in crude prices hit global energy and commodity stocks.

US oil giants Chevron and Exxon Mobil were two of the biggest fallers on Wall Street, dropping 2% and 1.3% respectively.

In London, Shell’s shares wiped out most of their earlier gains as the oil price tumbled.

The UK oil firm had started the day 3% higher after reporting better-than-expected profits, but finished trading with gains of only 0.5%.

Trump won’t scrap Nafta trade deal ‘at this time’

US President Donald Trump has told Mexico and Canada he wants to renegotiate – not scrap – the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Media reports on Wednesday had suggested Mr Trump was drafting an executive order to end the pact.

During his election campaign Mr Trump called Nafta the “single worst trade deal ever” and a “killer” of US jobs.

The reversal surprised markets, sending the Mexican peso and Canadian dollar higher after losses earlier this week.

‘Disgrace’

The White House said it had “agreed not to terminate NAFTA at this time” and that the Mexican and Canadian leaders had “now agreed to proceed swiftly to renegotiate… to enable the renegotiation of the Nafta”.

Trump’s trade agenda: Just what are his priorities?

 
Media captionDairy wars: Why is Trump threatening Canada over milk?

Mr Trump said: “Well, I was going to terminate NAFTA as of two or three days from now.

“The President of Mexico who I have a very very good relationship called me, and also the Prime Minster of Canada who I have a very good relationship, and I like both these gentlemen very much – they called me and they said rather than terminating NAFTA could you please renegotiate.

“I like them very much, I respect their countries very much, their relationship is very special and I said I will hold on the termination, let’s see if we can make it a fair deal. Because NAFTA’s been a horrible deal for the United States.”

Mr Trump’s comments on Nafta come just days after the US imposed a new tariff on softwood lumber coming from Canada.

He also called a new Canadian tariff regime affecting US dairy products a “disgrace”.

On Tuesday, the US lost a trade battle with the other Nafta signatory.

The World Trade Organization ruled that Mexico could impose more than $160m (£125m) annually in sanctions against the US on commerce in tuna, capping a dispute dating back to 2008.

Early in his presidency, Mr Trump fulfilled a campaign pledge by signing an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The 12-nation trade deal was a linchpin of former President Barack Obama’s Asia policy.


How has Trump done so far?

 
Media captionDonald Trump: First 100 days in 100 of his own words

Trump seeks tax windfall for business

Factory in Los AngelesImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration has proposed slashing the rate of corporation tax with the aim of spurring economic growth, the Treasury Secretary said.

Steven Mnuchin unveiled President Trump’s blueprint, which aims to cut the business tax rate from 35% to 15%.

Economists say the policy would add trillions of dollars to the deficit over the next decade.

But Mr Mnuchin said the tax plan would pay for itself “through growth, through deductions and closing loopholes”.

Secretary Mnuchin, joined White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn on Wednesday to announce the tax proposal, which he billed as “the biggest tax cut” in history, but it is unclear whether that will really prove to be the case.


Devil’s in the detail – Analysis by Anthony Zurcher, BBC News

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump released a tax plan that was fairly traditional by Republican standards and fairly light on details.

Now the Trump administration has released a new, different tax plan. It is also fairly traditional by Republican standards and equally vague.

The White House wants taxes to go down, but for whom? And how will it be paid for?

“We will let you know the details at the appropriate moment,” Trump economic advisor Gary Cohn said during the unveiling of the one-page, bullet-pointed outline.

Political devils love to hide in such details.

What seems certain is that, like the recent healthcare debate, the forthcoming tax battle will set Republicans at each other’s throats.

While conservatives traditionally have never met a tax cut they didn’t like, many in Congress have taken strong positions in recent years against adding to the budget deficit.

Mr Trump’s proposals will surely balloon the deficit unless they’re offset elsewhere, which will take more than the promised economic growth and loophole closing.

Once again, the heavy lifting on policy is left to Congress. The end result may not look at all like today’s plan – and, like healthcare, it may prove difficult to pass.


The Republican president’s plan will act as a guide for Congress as they try to pass a tax reform bill in the months ahead.

It could face resistance from fiscal hawks within his own party.

Democrats are highlighting the fact that Mr Trump’s own tax liability from his businesses would shrink under his blueprint, saving him millions.

Democratic Party chairman Tom Perez renewed a call for Mr Trump to release his tax returns to better understand how much he would gain from the plan.

“We must know how much Trump would personally financially benefit from his own proposal,” he said.

Also mentioned in the president’s broad outline:

  • some sort of repatriation tax, giving big companies an incentive to bring back money they hold overseas
  • tax breaks for childcare expenses
  • doubling the amount of standard tax deduction
  • a cut in individual rates, although few details expected yet
  • more tax rate cuts for hedge funds, and other enterprises that pay taxes at individual rates
  • eliminate seven existing tax brackets and replace them with three brackets at rates of 10%, 25% and 35%

What will Trump’s tax plan actually do?

Mr Trump’s blueprint is not expected to include any proposals for raising new revenue.

The much-discussed border tax that would put a tariff on imports – favoured by House Speaker Paul Ryan – will not be in the plan.

 
Media captionDonald Trump: First 100 days in 100 of his own words

And nor will Mr Trump’s $1tn (£779bn) infrastructure improvement plan feature.

The White House is also working to include an expanded child and development care credit, for which Mr Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, has advocated.

Democrats are not expected to back a plan which adds to the national debt.

That means Republicans, who control the House and the Senate, may be forced to work under a budget procedure which allows them to proceed without them.

President Trump would like to see Congress pass tax reform by the middle of autumn, says the White House.

Republican lawmaker Kevin Brady, who heads the House Ways and Means Committee and co-chairs Congress’ tax-writing panels, praised the broad tax outline.

“I think the bolder the better in tax reform,” he said. “I’m excited that the president is going for a very ambitious plan.”

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin (R) and National Economic Director Gary Cohn speak about President Donald TrumpImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionMr Mnuchin (R) and Mr Cohn (L) want to approve the plan “as fast as we can”

Senator Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, questioned whether lowering tax rates for small businesses, known as S corporations or “pass through” businesses, was beneficial.

Though “pass through” entities are typically small businesses, parts of Mr Trump’s own real estate conglomerate also qualify, giving Democrats more ammunition in opposing the plan.

Democrats have also criticised Mr Mnuchin’s claim that economic growth would create enough new tax revenue to cover the corporate tax cuts.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown called the 15% rate workable only “if you want to blow a hole in the federal budget and cut a whole lot of things like Meals on Wheels and Lake Erie restoration and then lie about the growth rate of the economy”.

California Democrat Ted Lieu described the proposal as “mathematically impossible”.