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  1. Get in touch:
  2. FTSE 100 closes at its lowest level for more than a week
  3. Crude oil prices have continued to fall on record US stocks
  4. Chancellor defends National Insurance move
  5. Shadow Chancellor: 'Angry about budget'
  6. UK heading for 15 years of lost pay growth - report
  7. Co-op Bank reports £477m annual loss

Live Reporting

By Karen Hoggan

All times stated are UK

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US markets end flat

US traders
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Wall Street stocks ended broadly flat despite a late rebound in energy shares.

The Dow Jones gained 0.01% to 20,858.19, the S&P500 rose 0.08% to 2,364.87, and the Nasdaq gained 0.17% to 5,847.39.

Investors are feeling tentative ahead of a highly anticipated US monthly jobs report on Friday. Strong figures will lend weight to expectations that the Fed will raise interest rates next week. 

Feeling peaky?

Person with cold

Some 137.3 million working days were lost due to sickness or injury in the UK last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. 

This is equivalent to 4.3 days per worker - the lowest recorded since the series began in 1993.

Minor illnesses such as coughs and colds were the most common reason for absence in 2016, accounting for approximately 34 million days lost. 

This was followed by musculoskeletal problems, including back pain, neck and upper limb problems, at 30.8 million days.

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'We made difficult decisions' for Budget - Theresa May
The prime minister says a rise in National Insurance for the self-employed will make things fairer.

What is AirBnB?

Dan Macadam

BBC business reporter

Ashton Kutcher

The accommodation site lets people rent out their properties, often at prices undercutting hotels and traditional Bed and Breakfasts.

It was started by university friends Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia in 2008 to help pay the rent on their San Francisco flat.

As the site expanded into more and more cities - helped by the use of professional photographers - it attracted backers included Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and actor Ashton Kutcher.

It is now available in more than 65,000 cities in 191 countries.

But its disruptive model has come under pressure and is facing tighter regulations in New York, Berlin and many of its other major markets.

NI rise 'fair' says PM

Theresa May in Brusselsg
Getty Images

More on that press conference the Prime Minister has been giving in Brussels. 

Theresa May has defended the National Insurance increase for self-employed workers - saying it will make the system "fair".

The Budget announcement prompted criticism that the government had broken a manifesto pledge on tax rises.

The change will see millions of self-employed workers pay an average of £240 a year more.

But Mrs May said the poorest workers would pay less and the change would "close the gap in contributions".

Amid criticism from some Conservative MPs, the prime minister was asked about the policy at a press conference following an EU summit.

"We did make some difficult decisions in the Budget yesterday," she said, adding that those decisions had allowed them to fund an ambitious approach to issues like technical education, opening new free schools, as well as social care and the long-term productivity of the economy.   Read more here

Sterling down against euro

Pound, euro and dollar notes
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On the currency markets, the pound dropped 0.33%  against the euro  to 1.1507 euros.

The fall came after the European Central Bank kept eurozone interest rates on hold and President Mario Draghi said the Bank would continue its monetary stimulus programme - including bond purchases - until the end of 2017, 

However, he added the ECB no longer felt a "sense of urgency" about taking further steps to support growth and price inflation in the eurozone.

Meanwhile, sterling rose by 0.2%  against the dollar  to $1.2190.

Pay boosts for bosses despite profits slide

Warren East

The chief executives of UK titans Shell and Rolls-Royce will receive pay boosts despite profits falling last year.

Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden will see his pay package rise 54% to 8.59 million euros (£7.5m) due to a long-term bonus scheme.

Warren East ( pictured ), the boss of aircraft engine maker Rolls-Royce, will be handed a pay rise and a £916,000 bonus.

It comes after Rolls-Royce posted its biggest ever loss last year, although underlying profit beat expectations. Read more here

Theresa May to address NI tax hike in Brussels

BBC political editor tweets

Oil price under pressure

Graphic showing one month West Texas price movements

Let's quickly check on the oil price, now which has fallen still further since our earlier post at 2:58pm.

Brent Crude is now 2.6% lower at $51.73 a barrel, while West Texas Intermediate is down by 2.8% at $48.85 a barrel. 

On Wednesday oil prices fell by about 5%.

The downward movement is being driven by record US stocks of crude oil which have led to fears that OPEC production cuts won't cut global oversupply. 

Airbnb raises $1bn

Airbnb logo
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Online accommodation website Airbnb has completed a $1bn (£820m) fundraising round, meaning the company is now valued at about $31bn, according to media reports. 

The funding round began last June.

Airbnb operates in more than 65,000 cities, with homeowners advertising their rooms or properties for long or short term rental. It's now expanding into other areas.   

Your calls on the budget: Unfair on the self-employed?

BBC Radio 5 live

Is the 2017 budget unfair on the self-employed? We took your calls

'Technology at root of nearly all organised crime'

BBC World Service

Europol headquarters

The European police agency, Europol, says technology is now at the root of nearly all organised crime - and law enforcement agencies must adapt rapidly to counter it, reports BBC World Service.

Europol says police have to be prepared to chase criminals across the "darknet", the secretive criminal use of the internet to trade everything from drugs and weapons to child pornography. 

The report says that although migrant and drug smuggling remain Europe's largest criminal activities, the online trade in illicit goods and services may come to eclipse them in size and profits. 

Europol says it's identified some 5,000 criminal gangs which are active across Europe.

Conservative MP calls for NICs U-turn

Sterling pounds and coins
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The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has insisted his plan to increase National Insurance Contributions for millions of self-employed people is a fair and modest measure. He says nobody earning less than £16,250 a year will pay more - and six out of ten people who work for themselves will see a reduction in their contributions. 

But some Conservative MPs are urging Mr Hammond to rethink the changes. 

What we're gonna do is we're gonna stop this happening. You know, my priority is to help those ordinary working families who want to set up their own small businesses, as I say, many of them are entrepreneurs, they're taking risks those families, they really are the backbone of our economy. I think this is just something that's slipped through the net and what we've gotta do is make sure it doesn't get through the net, we've got to make sure it gets stopped. The chancellor needs to do a U-turn, he needs to do it quickly

Stephen McPartland Conservative MP for Stevenage

Trump has 'woken up the animal spirits'

Jamie Dimon (L) with President Trump
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President Trump’s economic agenda has ignited US business and consumer confidence and he expects at least some of the administration’s proposals to be enacted, according to the chairman and chief executive of JP Morgan Chase.

In an interview with Bloomberg Television  Jamie Dimon ( seen here left with President Trump ) said: “It seems like he’s woken up the animal spirits,” adding that confidence had “skyrocketed because it’s a growth agenda,” 

Mr Dimon said: "If he gets it done, even part of it, it will be good for growth, good for jobs, good for Americans. I’m really confident he will get that done.”

Chunk taken out of Domino's Pizza shares

Sleeve of Domino's Pizza uniform

The FTSE 250  closed down by 0.21% at 18,891.54%.

The biggest faller on the index was Domino's Pizza, which ended the day 13.2% lower after the chain reported a slowdown in sales at the start of the year.

Like-for-like sales in the UK rose by 1.5% in the first nine weeks of 2017, compared with 10.5% growth a year earlier.

The news overshadowed Domino's Pizza's full-year results, which showed that underlying pre-tax profits had risen by 17% last year to £85.7m.

FTSE 100 closes down again

London Stock Exchange sign on exterior of building
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The  FTSE 100  has closed at its lowest level in more than a week, down by 20 points or 0.27% at 7,314.96. 

IT's the sixth trading day in a row that it has fallen. 

The biggest faller was supermarket chain Morrisons, which reported its first jump in profits for five years, but warned of "uncertainties" ahead, particularly price rises of imported food if sterling stays at lower levels. It closed down by 6.2%.

"Supermarket shares have jumped a bit, but there is this wider concern that they're not going to be in a position to fend off the higher prices - they're going to try and keep prices low because of the price war... but input prices are rising," said Jasper Lawler, senior market analyst at London Capital Group. 

The other four biggest declines were in mining stocks which were hit by a fall in the price of metals including copper. 

BHP Biliton fell by 6.6%, Anglo American by 5.8%, Glencore by 3.7% and Antofagasta by 3%. 

The biggest climb was seen by insurer Aviva which rose by 6.5% following a strong set of results. 

NICs hike 'unfair' on self-employed

More reaction to those changes to National Insurance contributions for self-employed people which were announced in the Budget...

The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed says it will be lobbying Government to reverse the plans. 

We feel that the self-employed are the engine of the UK economy, that they enable the businesses that they work for to be more innovative and to ultimately create more jobs and to single them out in the way that they've done here for a tax hike feels unfair and doesn't give them the credit they deserve.

Andy Chamberlain Association of Independent Professionals and Self-employed

Somalia to get new banknotes

BBC World Service

The Somali government has announced it will print new banknotes for the first time in more than a quarter of a century. 

After Somalia descended into violence and anarchy in 1991, warlords printed their own money and most of the country's banknotes were known to be fake. 

Somalis used US dollars instead and high inflation resulted. The new banknotes, will be introduced by the end of the year, with the help of the International Monetary Fund, at a cost of about $60m (£50m)   

 The BBC spoke to Nairobi-based financial analyst Ally Khan Satchu about the plans.  

Old banknotes to be taken out of circulation in Somalia to combat counterfeiting,

Up in the air?

BBC World Service

          Scott Pruitt being sworn in to lead the Environmental Protection Agency

The new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, has said he does not agree that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to global warming, reports BBC World Service.

Speaking to the American news channel CNBC, Mr Pruitt said more analysis was needed. 

He also described the Paris Climate accord - which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions - as a bad deal. He added it was a concern that the deal had not been subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Mr Pruitt's remarks contradict data published in January by NASA and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. His appointment by President Trump caused controversy because of his close association with the fossil fuel industry and battles with the EPA when he was Oklahoma's attorney general.

Tune into Trumponomics

A new BBC World Service series on Friday evenings at 21:30 GMT

Why are there so few women pilots?

International Women's Day may have been yesterday but it's not too late for this revealing commentary on the gender make up of crews on flight decks...

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'No more self-employed tax rises needed'

Kamal Ahmed

Economics editor


The man reviewing the new world of work for Number 10 has told the BBC that controversial tax increases for the self-employed go far enough.

Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, said it was "fair" that self-employed people paid more tax.

But there still needed to be a "small differential" as there were differences in rights over issues such as pensions and parental leave.

That would rule out further National Insurance rises for the self-employed.

Mr Taylor also said it was likely there would be reform of employment laws to change the way companies such as Deliveroo and Uber, which use self-employed workers, operate. Read more from Kamal here

Tim Farron condemns 'attack on business'
The Liberal Democrat leader accuses the government of an "attack on business" in the Budget.

Wall Street quiet ahead of jobs figures

Wall Street sign in front of several US flags
Getty Images

It's been a quiet start to Thursday's trading on Wall Street. 

The  Dow Jones  is at 20,876.22, a rise of 20 points or 0.10%.

The  S&P 500  is at 2,366.97. a rose pf 4 points or 0.17%.

And the  Nasdaq  is at 5,846.28, that's up  9 points or 0.15%.

Analysts say investors are keeping their powder dry ahead of Friday's jobs figures, which could set the seal on a rise in US interest rates next week.  

Another factor is the falling price of oil, with Brent Crude dropping 0.8% to $52.71 a barrel.

West Texas Intermediate also dipped by 0.8% to $49.87 per barrel.

Shares in Exxon Mobil is down 0.68% and Chevron was down by 0.39%, having closed down by nearly 2% on Wednesday.

Director of Institute for Fiscal Studies says earnings growth looks 'dreadful'

The World at One

BBC Radio 4

Paul Johnson, the Director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, has told Radio 4's World at One that the potential for growth in earnings had been "dreadful" over the last decade.

Mr Johnson said that to have no growth in earnings over such a long period was "pretty much historically unprecedented".  

Just 1 in 50 Pret applicants British

Exterior of Pret a Manger branch
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Sandwich and coffee chain Pret A Manger has suggested it will struggle to staff its outlets after Brexit because just one in 50 job applicants is British.

Its director of human resources, Andrea Wareham, said UK job seekers did not see it as a desirable place to work.

She said about 65% of its staff came from the European Union.

It would be possible to shift the balance of nationality to British workers, she added, but that would take place "over a long period of time".

Ms Wareham said she was "absolutely concerned" about the government's focus on skilled workers when looking at consequences of Brexit. She said it needed to focus on low-skilled as well. Read more here

NI tax rise for self-employed is 'progressive'

The World at One

BBC Radio 4

Last year the government asked Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts and former policy chief for Tony Blair to carry out a review of modern employment practices. 

Matthew Taylor told The World at One's Martha Kearney that the tax rise announced in the budget yesterday, to increase National Insurance contributions for some self-employed, was progressive and "economically rational". 

Mr Taylor said that had this change not been made, there would have been a further increase in the "differential" between the self-employed and the employed.  

What does it all mean?

BBC personal finance reporter tweets

Draghi: 'Underlying inflation remains low'

ECB chief Mario Draghi sounds relaxed about Europe's inflation situation.

He says the Eurozone economy still needs a "substantial degree" of monetary policy support.

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Bull market birthday

'No need to have a row about this now'

BBC Radio 4

The Conservative MP Bernard Jenkin chairs the Commons Public Administration Committee. He is asked about the row over raised National Insurance contributions for the self-employed.

"There's no need to have public row about this now," he says.

"There's going to be months before we even see legislation during which... circumstances continually change and circumstances may change.

"This is only going to affect a small number of people," he points out.

Conservative NI manifesto pledge 'was silly'

The Conservatives should not have made a manifesto pledge not to increase National Insurance contributions, says Paul Johnson of the institute for Fiscal Studies.

"As we said at the time these were silly pledges. To commit yourself to not raising the three main taxes – income tax, NI and VAT – ties your hands to an absurd extent. No party should repeat these sorts of promises."

'Dreadful' growth in real incomes expected

BBC Radio 4

"Earnings [wage] growth looks dreadful," says the chief of Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, on the World at One.

"If you look out to 2020 it looks like earnings will be no higher than they were in 2008. This is all the overhang of the 2008/2009 recession and we've literally never had a decade like that, not just in living memory, but a long way past living memory."

ECB press conference: What to watch

ECB chief Mario Draghi

"In the press conference (13:30 GMT), President Draghi is likely to highlight the weakness of core inflation," writes Jennifer McKeown, chief european economist at Capital Economics.

"He has previously explained that core inflation would need to be on a clear, sustainable upward path throughout the region (not just in Germany) before the Bank would consider starting to normalise policy.

"This is still not the case and we doubt that it will be for some time," she said.

National Insurance 'needs reform' says IFS

Employers are heavily incentivised to class people who work for them as self-employed, rather than as employees, says Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

"A tax system which charges thousands of pounds more in tax for employees doing the same job as someone else needs reform. It distorts decisions, creates complexity and is unfair.

"The incentives for companies to claim that people who work for them are self-employed rather than employees are huge."

IFS: Self-employed still better off

Philip Hammond
Getty Images

The self-employed will still be thousands of pounds better off compared to people with an employer even after the changes to National Insurance contributions, Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said.

"The maximum loss, affecting those with profits over £45,000, will be £589 per year. The tax advantage to being self employed will still run into the thousands of pounds."