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RUSSIA ALLOWS FREE FLOAT OF RUBLE IN MARKETS

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MOSCOW (AP) – Russia’s central bank says it is scrapping daily controls on the value of the ruble, allowing the weakening currency to trade freely in financial markets.

The bank said that effective Monday it will stop setting daily limits for the ruble’s fluctuations and will not have any obligation to intervene in markets to support the currency, which has lost nearly half its value against the dollar this year.

The bank added it will stand ready to intervene if necessary to fend off “threats to financial stability.”

The ruble has nosedived in recent months amid the financial uncertainty created by Western sanctions over the Ukrainian crisis, and, more recently, a plunge in oil prices.

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UK insurers estimate to pay up to 2.5 billion pounds for coronavirus claims

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UK insurers estimate to pay up to 2.5 billion pounds for coronavirus claims 1

(Reuters) – The Association of British Insurers (ABI) said on Saturday insurers are likely to pay up to 2.5 billion pounds ($3.50 billion) for UK’s COVID-19 insurance claims incurred in 2020.

The latest estimates include 2 billion pounds for COVID-19 business interruption claims and 500 million pounds for COVID-19 related protection insurance claims, travel insurance claims and other general insurance products.

ABI’s Director General Huw Evans said in a release that the pandemic illustrated some uncomfortable gaps between what people expected to be covered for and what their policy was designed for.

“We need to learn lessons from this unprecedented event and redouble our efforts to improve consumers’ trust in insurance products,” he added.

The insurance trade body said 123,000 claims have been settled with payment so far and a further 9,000 have received partial payments as of mid-January 2021.

($1 = 0.7139 pounds)

 

(Reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

 

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output after freeze

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Oil extends losses as Texas prepares to ramp up output after freeze 2

By Devika Krishna Kumar

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Oil prices fell for a second day on Friday, retreating further from recent highs, as Texas energy companies began preparations to restart oil and gas fields shuttered by freezing weather and power outages.

Brent crude futures ended the session down $1.02, or 1.6%, at $62.91 a barrel while U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell $1.28, or 2.1%, to settle at $59.24.

For the week, Brent gained about 0.5% while WTI fell about 0.7%.

This week, both benchmarks had climbed to the highest in more than a year.

“Price pullback thus far appears corrective and is slight within the context of this month’s major upside price acceleration,” said Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch and Associates.

Unusually cold weather in Texas and the Plains states curtailed up to 4 million barrels per day (bpd) of crude production and 21 billion cubic feet of natural gas, analysts estimated.

U.S. energy firms this week cut the number of oil rigs operating for the first time since November, according to Baker Hughes data.

Texas refiners halted about a fifth of the nation’s oil processing amid power outages and severe cold.

Companies were expected to prepare for production restarts on Friday as electric power and water services slowly resume, sources said.

“While much of the selling relates to a gradual resumption of power in the Gulf coast region ahead of a significant temperature warmup, the magnitude of this week’s loss of supply may require further discounting given much uncertainty regarding the extent and possible duration of lost output,” Ritterbusch said.

Oil prices fell despite a surprise drop in U.S. crude stockpiles last week, before the big freeze hit. Inventories fell 7.3 million barrels to 461.8 million barrels, their lowest since March, the Energy Information Administration reported on Thursday. [EIA/S]

“Vaccines and the impressive rollouts we’ve seen have delivered strong gains, as have the efforts of OPEC+ – Saudi Arabia, in particular – and the big freeze in Texas, which gave oil prices one final kick this week,” Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA, said.

“With so many bullish factors now priced in, it seems we’re seeing some of these positions being unwound.”

The United States on Thursday said it was ready to talk to Iran about returning to a 2015 agreement that aimed to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Still, analysts did not expect near-term reversal of sanctions on Iran that were imposed by the previous U.S. administration.

“This breakthrough increases the probability that we may see Iran returning to the oil market soon, although there is much to be discussed and a new deal will not be a carbon-copy of the 2015 nuclear deal,” said StoneX analyst Kevin Solomon.

(Additional reporting by Ahmad Ghaddar in London and Roslan Khasawneh in Singapore and Sonali Paul in Melbourne; Editing by Marguerita Choy, David Gregorio and Nick Macfie)

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FTSE 100 ends higher on improving economic activity; gains for the third week

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FTSE 100 ends higher on improving economic activity; gains for the third week 3

By Shivani Kumaresan, Amal S and Shashank Nayar

(Reuters) – London’s FTSE 100 ended higher on Friday after the economy showed signs of improvement this month and was set to gain for the third consecutive week as investors bet that vaccine rollouts would spur economic growth.

British firms fared less badly during February’s lockdown than feared and are upbeat about the prospects for growth later in 2021 when they hope the roll-out of vaccines will allow a major relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions, a survey showed.

The blue-chip FTSE 100 index ended 0.1% higher with miners and banking stocks gaining the most, while the mid-cap index gained 0.5%.

“There is optimism and hope that the vaccine rollouts will eventually help the economy improve while the market is awaiting the government’s lcokdown easing plans to be revealed next week,” said Keith Temperton, an equity sales trader at Forte Securities.

However, data on Friday showed British retail sales tumbled much more than expected in January as non-essential shops went back into coronavirus lockdowns.

The FTSE 100 has recovered nearly 35% from its March 2020 lows and is nearly 13% away from its highest level last year as record stimulus measures and massive vaccine rollouts helped improve investor confidence.

NatWest gained 5.2% and was the third biggest gainer on the FTSE 100 index after it said it would wind down its Irish arm Ulster Bank, as Chief Executive Alison Rose continues to slash away at underperforming parts of the state-owned lender after it swung to a loss in 2020.

Segro Plc rose 1.5% after the real estate investment trust reported a near 11% jump in annual profit for 2020.

Banking group TBC Bank fell 6.1% after a slump in annual underlying profit due to lower interest rates and limited lending growth in the fourth quarter from the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

(Reporting by Shivani Kumaresan and Amal S in Bengaluru; Editing by Vinay Dwivedi, Krishna Chandra Eluri and Jonathan Oatis)

 

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