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Jeff Bezos is heading where no tech billionaire has gone before, with his brother alongside.
The Amazon.com founder, and his brother Mark, will both travel to the edge of space next month on the first human flight operated by his rocket company Blue Origin.
In an Instagram post, Bezos wrote that he’s dreamed of travelling to space since he was five:
On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.
The Bezos brothers will travel on the New Shepard spacecraft, along with the winner of a multimillion-dollar auction for the final seat – just a couple of weeks after Jeff steps down as Amazon’s chief executive.
The flight takes 11 minutes, with the reusable suborbital New Shepard system flying more than 62 miles above Earth beyond the Kármán line (the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space).
That’s high enough to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the planet before the pressurized capsule returns to earth under parachutes.
In the Instagram video clip, Jeff Bezos explains how the flight will be an adventure, and ‘a big deal for me’:
To see the earth from space it changes you — it changes your relationship with this planet, with humanity. It’s one Earth.
Mark Bezos founded private equity firm HighPost Capital and also works for an anti-poverty charity, and as a volunteer firefighter. He says he didn’t expect his brother to be on the trip – let alone both of them.
Lunchtime update: The London stock market is holding its gains, thanks to a strong performance by the housebuilders.
The FTSE 100 index is up 20 points, or 0.3%, at 7089 points, with Persimmon (+2.8%), Barratt Development (+2.3%) and Taylor Wimpey (+2%) among the top risers.
The smaller FTSE 250 index is has gained 0.35%, with builders Crest Nicholson (+2.8%) and Redrow (+2.7%) among the risers.
Construction stocks are a good gauge of UK economic confidence, and Halifax’s prediction that house prices will keep rising will be providing support too.
Sophie Griffiths, market analyst at OANDA, says:
While miners are trading lower, housebuilders are boosting the index after a stronger-than-expected increase in house prices. The Halifax house price index recorded a 1.3% MoM rise, ahead of the 1.2% forecast.
European stock market have shaken off their earlier losses, with the Stoxx 600 now up 0.25%.
Campaign group Positive Money have welcomed the Bank of England’s statement that stablecoins should face closer regulation if they become widely used in the UK.
Simon Youel, head of policy & advocacy at Positive Money, says users need to be protected from the risks of private money, but would benefit from a BoE-backed digital currency.
“With the decline of cash and emergence of private digital currencies, we urgently need a new form of public money in the form of a central bank digital currency, to ensure that we aren’t surrendering the future of money to unaccountable private interests.
“A central bank digital currency would open up access to our central bank to everyone, taking away the unique privileges enjoyed by private banks, and ending our reliance on them to manage our money and make payments.”
“It is welcome that the Bank of England intends to regulate private digital currencies such as stablecoins to protect users. If stablecoins and cryptoassets are to function as money they should be regulated as such.”
Tether, the biggest stablecoin, has a market value of over $60bn, and is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar. In May, it showed that 75% of Tethers were backed by “cash and cash equivalents”, with only 3% backed by actual cash [the FT has a great explanation here]
The Bank of England has launched a discussion paper examining the complex, but fascinating, question of central bank digital money and the wider issues surrounding digital currency.
And in it, the BoE says that “stablecoins” (digital tokens pegged to a traditional currency, but issued by private firms) should be regulated like payments handled by banks if they start to become widely used.
But there’s no decision yet on whether the central bank will launch its own digital currency.
In its discussion paper, the BoE says the use of stablecoins as money creates important issues. Any stablecoins that become “systemic” should be stable in value at all times and offer 1-to-1 redemption with a robust legal claim, the Bank says.
Stablecoins used as money should meet equivalent standards as those provided by commercial bank money (bank deposits), it continues. Plus, any regulatory model for stablecoins should include ‘a core set of features of the current banking regime’ — including capital requirements, liquidity requirements and support from a central bank, and a backstop to compensate depositors in the event of failure.
The Bank says:
New forms of digital money could be preferred by the public to commercial bank deposits, but they will endure only if they can be trusted as a store of value and as an accepted means of payment.
This means that stablecoins must promise, credibly and consistently, to be fully interchangeable with existing forms of money. In other words, they must be anchored. This is essential for ensuring that users have the same confidence in stablecoins as commercial bank money.
The BBC’s Faisal Islam has tweeted the key points too:
The Bank says it hasn’t yet decided whether it will take the plunge and issue its own central bank digital currency, or CBDC (which chancellor Rishi Sunak has nicknamed ‘Britcoin’).
But Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said the bank is considering it closely.
“We live in an increasingly digitalised world where the way we make payments and use money is changing rapidly. The prospect of stablecoins as a means of payment and the emerging propositions of CBDC have generated a host of issues that central banks, governments, and society as a whole, need to carefully consider and address.
It is essential that we ask the difficult and pertinent questions when it comes to the future of these new forms of digital money.”
The Bank adds that responses to its recent discussion paper on CBDCs has identified five key issues:
- Financial inclusion should be a prominent consideration in the design of any CBDC. Any CBDC should have a high degree of accessibility to people, regardless of their geographic location in the UK, age, socioeconomic status, digital skills or disability.
- A competitive CBDC ecosystem with a diverse set of participants will support innovation and offer the best chance to deliver the benefits of CBDC. Respondents agreed the Bank should provide the minimum level of infrastructure for the system to be reliable, resilient, fast and efficient. The private sector should take a leading role in responding to the needs of the end users.
- In assessing the case for CBDC, the Bank should assess whether non-CBDC payment innovations could deliver the same benefits. An assessment of the net benefits of CBDC should therefore consider to what extent they can instead be delivered by private sector proposals.
- A CBDC should seek to protect users’ privacy. Feedback from respondents has emphasised the importance that users place on having privacy in their transactions. As with existing forms of digital payments, there are important legal compliance arrangements that CBDC would need to meet, such as anti money laundering, countering the financing of terrorism and sanctions. Subject to meeting these the Bank should therefore seek to ensure that users enjoy a strong level of privacy from any transactions associated with CBDC.
- While CBDC should “do no harm” to the Bank’s ability to meet monetary and financial stability, opportunities to meet our policy objectives more effectively should also be considered in CBDC exploration. The Bank is primarily focused on possible benefits CBDC might bring for ‘payments’. It is also considering the possible opportunities that CBDC may offer for monetary and financial stability.
Serviced office provider IWG has already been battered by the pandemic, and the latest Covid-19 variants will mean more pain this year.
IWG warned this morning that underlying earnings for this year would be “well below” 2020’s levels, due to the emergence of new, more infections strains such as the Delta variant.
IWG had been pinning its recovery hopes on the move to flexible working – where people dividing their time between home, and a desk at one of its shared workspaces.
But as my colleague Kalyeena Makortoff reports, ongoing lockdowns and new variants are hitting IWG’s profits.
The company, formerly known as Regus, reported a £620m annual loss for 2020, when its finances were hit by social distancing rules and work from home orders resulted in empty offices.
The UK-listed company, which is headquartered in Switzerland, reported strong recovery in some markets including the US. However, occupancy levels across the whole group were lower than expected due to “the prolonged impact of Covid-19, including continuing lockdown restrictions and the emergence of new variants of the virus in some markets”.
“Accordingly, this will delay the anticipated recovery in our business and, given the operational gearing of the group, is expected to have a significant impact on the group’s results for 2021,” IWG said, adding that underlying earnings will come in “well below the level in 2020”.
Shares in IWG have tumbled almost 13% this morning, to 319p, making it the biggest faller on the FTSE 250 index of medium-size firms.
House prices are likely to continue rising for some time despite hitting a new record high in May, one of Britain’s biggest mortgage lenders has said.
The monthly snapshot of the property market from Halifax showed a 1.3% jump in the cost of a home in May, taking the average selling price to a record £261,743 as homebuyers raced to complete purchases before the stamp duty holiday begins to run down at the end of this month.
Halifax said almost £22,000 had been added to the average house price since May 2020, when the UK experienced the first easing of national lockdown restrictions, and the gradual reopening of the housing market after a temporary freeze. It marks a 9.5% annual increase, the fastest rate of growth in seven years.
The report echoes similar findings from a survey by Nationwide last week, which showed prices rising 10.9% year on year, the fastest rate since August 2014.
Here’s the full story:
The average UK house price has jumped by more than £22,000 over the past 12 months, and by £3,000 in May alone, Halifax’s data shows.
That puts the housing ladder further out of reach for many first-time buyers — undermining the new 95% mortgage guarantee scheme launched this spring.
Mark Harris, chief executive of mortgage broker SPF Private Clients, says:
‘Cheap borrowing and affordability is giving buyers more purchase power, which is pushing up prices. Lenders remain keen to lend and have plenty of cash to do so, resulting in ever-lower mortgage rates from sub-1 per cent.
However, lenders aren’t only targeting those with big deposits or similar levels of equity in their homes, with options also increasing for first-time buyers at 95 per cent loan-to-value and the first properties being sold under the government’s First Homes initiative. This is just as well given that rising property prices are not good news for first-time buyers, and will make getting on the housing ladder even more of a struggle.’
Here’s Bloomberg’s take on the UK housing boom:
U.K. house prices grew at their strongest pace in almost seven years as consumers unleashed pent-up savings to gain more space after coronavirus lockdowns, Halifax Building Society said.
Prices grew 1.3% in May, driving the annual pace of growth to 9.5%, the mortgage lender said in a statement on Monday. That put the average cost of a home at £261,743 ($369,895).
The report confirmed findings of Nationwide Building Society, which also showed prices growing at the fastest since 2014. The market is benefitting from a temporary tax-break on property purchases, a buildup in savings by consumers and confidence in recovery from the virus.
Covid-19 travel restrictions might also keep house prices hot this summer, reckons Lucy Pendleton, property expert at independent estate agents James Pendleton.
The housing market usually takes a breather over the summer months, as some potential buyers head off on holiday.
But this year, most popular overseas destinations are the UK’s ‘amber’ or ‘red’ lists (meaning arrivals must quarantine), and France is restricting non-essential travel from the UK altogether. So more people will be at home…and perhaps looking to move house instead.
“The inability of Britons to go on holiday means there’s no distraction now from executing that ambitious move to a larger home. We’re entering a time of year when school holidays and foreign trips normally force the market to drop to a slightly slower pace.
“That’s not necessarily going to happen this year and sustained, strong demand over the next few months could have ramifications when the market cools in the autumn, delivering on paper what might look like a more rapid slow down.
She also argues that the relatively sluggish figures for London (annual growth of 3.1%) don’t tell the full story.
House price growth in the capital is not exceptional as a whole, but it is still being powered by the same race for space that is driving the national market. Many buyers just can’t get what they want within budget after a relatively strong decade of gains. Location has become less important and space more so.
UK estate agents predict that the housing market might cool slightly after May’s boom, as the stamp duty freeze is being reduced at the end of the month (from £500k to £250k).
Radstock Property, says the government’s ‘meddling’ has pumped up prices.
“May was a month of two halves. The first half was extremely busy as there was still a chance to purchase before the June Stamp Duty deadline. The second half of May and first week of June have been quieter, perhaps due to sunny weather, half term or everyone fleeing to Portugal. More likely, though, it is because there is no urgency as people have resigned themselves to missing the Stamp Duty deadline.
“Buyers now appear to be waiting to see what happens to the market after the end of June, possibly in the hope that prices will start to fall. This is especially the case in the sub-£800k bracket. It might take a few months to see how things pan out from July onwards. It will not be as simple as reducing asking prices, or indeed offers, by £15,000, as the Stamp Duty holiday was about sentiment as much as money and the fundamentals remain strong.
“I don’t believe the property market is in a bubble, but it has certainly benefited from Government meddling in the form of the Stamp Duty holiday and mortgage guarantee scheme. We’ve effectively had two years rolled into one due to Government intervention. Looking forward, the fundamentals have not changed, namely money is cheap, it’s still cheaper to own than to rent and there is a profound lack of stock.”
Jeremy Leaf, north London estate agent, says the market is calming down slightly, but still “very busy on the ground”.
We notice too from connected chains that activity is even stronger in areas outside London where affordability is greater.
’Those who have little chance of making the stamp duty deadline are already considering ways of negotiating their way to completing transactions. We expect activity to settle but not drastically change in the next few months.’