Monday update

DB Live: Branson selling airline stake; FM no to Stay Alert;

10pm: Branson selling Galactic stake

Branson and Virgin website

Sir Richard Branson is selling a £400m stake in his space exploration business to rescue the rest of his troubled empire. 

The billionaire, who has been roundly criticised for seeking taxpayer support to save his Virgin Atlantic airline, plans to sell 12% of New York-listed Virgin Galactic. 

Virgin Group said it would use the proceeds “to support its portfolio of global leisure, holiday and travel businesses that have been affected by the unprecedented impact of Covid-19.”

Sir Richard will lose his 51% controlling stake in Virgin Atlantic and has already cut more than 3,100 jobs. He said it will end its presence at Gatwick Airport. Sister airline Virgin Australia has gone bust. 

The tycoon is hoping to open the first UK branch of his Virgin Hotels chain in Edinburgh.

5pm: Ferry jobs axed

1,100 workers at P&O Ferries – a quarter of the workforce – are to be made redundant as part of a plan to make the business “viable and sustainable”, the company said.

4.45pm: London close

Investors remained nervous over renewed outbreaks of the virus overseas and Wall Street’s fall. Gainers in London included Halfords (up 26%) on the back of new measures encouraging cycling.

The FTSE 100 edge out of the red to close 3.75 points (0.063%) higher at 5,939.73.

4pm: US lower on virus fears

Wall Street stocks opened mostly lower as investors became concerned that the White House was pushing to reopen the nation’s economy too soon.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down almost 200 points (0.79%) at 2and the S&P 500 was 0.51% weaker. The Nasdaq Composite was 0.09% firmer.

South Korea warned of a new coronavirus cluster stemming from a nightclub, while Japan and Singapore also reported new Covid-19 cases.

12.40pm: Sturgeon halts Stay Alert campaign

Nicola Sturgeon May 11

The First Minister says she has asked the UK government not to use its Stay Alert campaign in Scotland.

Ms Sturgeon said at her daily briefing that consultation and alignment among the four nations is important while it is pragmatic to proceed at different speeds.

She made the point that she read about the campaign change by Boris Johnson in the newspapers.

She added that policy changes should not be presented as being applicable across the UK.

Schools will not return before 1 June in Scotland.

Comment: Why there needs to be a First Minister for England

11.45am: No press at Boris Q&A

Boris Johnson will not take questions from journalists today, instead dealing directly with members of the public.

The Downing Street press events have taken place at 5pm every day, led by Mr Johnson or a cabinet minister alongside two senior advisers.

This morning the Prime Minister called for questions from the public on Twitter.

A No 10 spokesperson said the usual format will resume tomorrow.

The Q&A will follow Mr Johnson’s presentation of a fuller version of his lockdown exit strategy to the House of Commons this afternoon.

He was heavily criticised after his televised address last night created more confusion.

10am: Glasgow firms not ready for return

Stuart Patrick

Almost half of companies in Glasgow are not confident that they could return to work under current social distancing rules.

Full story here

9am: Furlough extension

Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s expected extension of the government’s job retention programme could see it run until the end of September but at a 60% rate of subsidy, against 80% currently.

Part-time workers may also see their pay topped up.

An announcement could be made today.

The programme is due to finish at the end of June but employer groups have warned the government not to create a cliff edge that would make workers suddenly too costly for businesses, leading to big job cuts.

The government said on 4 May that the cost of paying the wages of 6.3m people was £8bn so far.

Genevieve Morris, a partner at tax firm Blick Rothenberg, says that if the scheme is not extended beyond June may businesses will be left with no choice but to commence the six-week redundancy consultation.

8.45am: London opens higher

Stocks rose in early trade as investors welcomed easing of the lockdown measures in England and elsewhere.

The FTSE 100 was up 42.48 points (0.71%) at 5,978.46, though budget airline easyJet was the worst performer, closely followed by British Airways and Iberia parent IAG as the UK government prepares to impose a 14-day quarantine on travellers arriving in the country, likely from June.

8am: Edinburgh Airport restrictions

Edinburgh Airport chief executive Gordon Dewar said airlines may choose not to fly under new quarantine rules.

Boris Johnson is expected to confirm the 14-day restriction on travellers entering the country.

Mr Dewar said: “The biggest question is whether airlines will fly in these conditions. It is very serious for us.”

France and Ireland not on quarantine list

Passengers arriving from France and Ireland will be exempt from quarantine measures that will come into force in the UK before the end of the month.

A 14-day quarantine ruling is expected which will require travellers from elsewhere to self-isolate.

Following Boris Johnson’s televised speech, No 10 confirmed a reciprocal deal with the government in Paris meant restrictions would not apply to passengers from France.

In a joint statement, the UK and French governments said they had agreed to “work together in taking forward appropriate border measures”, adding: “This co-operation is particularly necessary for the management of our common border.”

The statement added: “No quarantine measures would apply to travellers coming from France at this stage; any measures on either side would be taken in a concerted and reciprocal manner.

“A working group between the two governments will be set up to ensure this consultation throughout the coming weeks.”

7am: Heathrow calls for Border clarity

Heathrow Airport called on the UK government to lay out its plans on how borders will be re-opened, after it said that its passenger numbers plunged 97% in April.

The airport called on the government to explain how the country could exit the quarantine plan and re-open borders to allow the movement of people and goods.

6.30am: Virgin Atlantic talks

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic is seeking new funds from private investors in a bid to avoid collapse, according to a report today.

The airline is set to discuss potential financing options with several private sector investors, including Cerberus Capital Management, Centerbridge Partners, Apollo Global Management and Greybull Capital.

The company’s financing talks are said to include equity stake sale against potential commercial loans or other forms of credit.

5am: Markets

Asian shares followed Wall Street higher as investors looked ahead to more countries restarting their economies, even as some reported new coronavirus cases.

Investors in Asia were encouraged by a further easing of restrictions in New Zealand, while Japan plans to end a state of emergency for areas where infections have stabilised.

Japan’s Nikkei climbed 1.5% in afternoon trade from as high as 1.8% to hit its highest since 6 March.

Oil prices opened about 1% lower on a continuing overhang of supplies.

Brent crude futures lost 22 cents to $30.75 a barrel, while U.S. crude fell 15 cents to $24.59.

Top stories in today’s Daily Business:

Job scheme unable to halt sharpest payroll cuts

Mine shaft energy system to be showcased in Leith

Johnson: ‘Go to work if you can’t work from home’

High growth firms warn: ‘we will fail without support’

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