FirstFT: Today’s top stories | Financial Times

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US president Joe Biden has imposed sweeping sanctions against Russia, including long-feared measures targeting its government debt in a sharp escalation of Washington’s confrontation with Moscow.

The first anti-Russian measures from the Biden administration also included the expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats and sanctions against 38 entities, individuals and companies accused of taking part in efforts to interfere in US elections and conducting cyber attacks.

Biden said the sanctions were a response to the “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States posed by specified harmful foreign activities of the government of the Russian Federation”.

On Wednesday, the US for the first time formally blamed SVR, Russia’s foreign intelligence service, for the SolarWinds hack, which affected at least nine federal agencies and 100 companies.

Foreign analysts and investors expect Russia to dodge more lasting damage. The rouble initially fell more than 2 per cent when news of the sanctions broke, but the currency had almost fully recovered by markets close, trading at just above 76 to the dollar.

Biden is striking a balance between democratic values and pragmatic engagement, writes Philip Stephens. (FT)

Coronavirus digest

  • The UK’s “slow” response to Oxford/AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine side-effects, including blood clots, has alarmed experts. Surge testing has been expanded to four London boroughs as concern grows over a virus variant.

  • Covid-19 has exposed longstanding grievances about pay and conditions among European health workers.

  • The Norwegian government has resisted advice from its public health authority to drop the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after blood clot related deaths.

  • India has again broken its record for daily infections, reporting 200,000 cases on Thursday.

  • US data suggested vaccines are proving at least as effective in the real world as in medical trials.

  • Pfizer chief executive Albert Bourla said people will “likely” need a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of getting fully vaccinated.

  • Activist hedge fund Elliott Management has built a multibillion-pound stake in GSK after the UK drugmaker underperformed lagged behind its peers in the Covid-19 vaccine race. (FT)

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In the news

UK pushes cars and whisky in India trade deal Boris Johnson will urge Narendra Modi to cut import tariffs on British whisky and cars as part of a plan to negotiate an interim free trade agreement in under a year. Two European parliament committees also approved the UK-EU “trade and co-operation” agreement on Thursday, raising hopes of final ratification and the easing of tensions in Northern Ireland. (FT)

Shadows over Europe’s bond market Budding optimism over Europe’s coronavirus recovery could spell trouble for the region’s government bonds, which have parted ways with US Treasuries after riding 200’s choppy markets together as some investors move beyond peak pessimism on the continent’s economy. (FT)

Line chart of 10-year debt spread (percentage points) showing Gap between US and German bond yields narrows

Chinese economy grows a record 18.3% China’s economy expanded 18.3 per cent in the first three months of 2021, its fastest year-on-year rate for any quarter on record, highlighting the extent to which the country has rebounded from the coronavirus pandemic. (FT)

Global stocks hit record highs on strong economic data Equities hit heights and Treasuries rallied sharply on Thursday following the release of upbeat economic data in the US and reassurances that the Federal Reserve will continue to support financial markets. (FT)

Citigroup to exit most Asia consumer businesses The US bank has put its consumer operations in 13 markets across Asia and eastern Europe up for sale to boost profitability by cutting costs in its underperforming retail network. Rival Bank of America more than doubled net income in the first quarter. Separately, Wirecard’s administrator has agreed to sell a chunk of the defunct business’s operations in Asia. (FT)

Jane Fraser, Citigroup chief executive
Jane Fraser became Citigroup chief executive in February © Bloomberg

Dell to get $10bn dividend in VMware spin-off Shares in Dell Technologies jumped 9 per cent in after-market trading on Wednesday after the US computer maker said it would receive a cash dividend of almost $10bn in connection with the spin-off of its stake in data centre software company VMware, easing pressure on its balance sheet. (FT)

GE ruling deals blow to HMRC General Electric has won a crucial legal victory in its fight with HM Revenue & Customs, the UK tax authority, which had accused it of “fraudulently” underpaying $1bn in taxes. (FT)

M&S-Aldi cake clash Marks and Spencer is taking legal action against Aldi, saying it has infringed multiple trademarks with its “Cuthbert the Caterpillar” cake, in the latest in a series of such complaints against the discounter. (FT)

‘Colin the Caterpillar’ from M&S, left, and Aldi’s ‘Cuthbert the Caterpillar’ © Alamy, @DaleyAFC/Twitter

The day ahead

Raúl Castro cedes power Cuba’s last Castro is set to leave the political stage on Friday when Fidel’s 89-year-old brother Raúl is expected to cede power to a younger generation in the country’s Communist party congress. (FT)

Earnings round-up Honeywell, Morgan Stanley and Bank of New York Mellon report. (FT)

Yoshihide Suga visits the White House Japan’s prime minister will become the first foreign leader to meet US president Joe Biden. (FT)

What else we’re reading

Prince Philip’s funeral marks shift for UK’s royals For loyal supporters, there remains an almost religious element to devotion to the royal family, including for the Duke of Edinburgh, who died last Friday at the age of 99. Despite this, there is a sense that his muted funeral should accelerate the monarchy’s modernisation. (FT)

New KPMG UK chief’s overflowing in-tray Bill Michael’s straight talking and off-the-cuff remarks were admired by some, but were ultimately his undoing. Jon Holt, installed as UK chief executive on Monday, will need all of his quarter of a century of experience at KPMG to revive the group’s fortunes. (FT)

Column chart of Profit before tax and members' profit shares (£m) showing KPMG UK recent performance

‘Global Britain’ can’t ignore Cairn’s India debt The prime minister is headed to India, keen for an accord on “Global Britain”. It’s a shame the government isn’t as eager to defend past agreements on behalf of UK plc, as oil and gas explorer Cairn Energy prepares to seize Indian government assets under a long-running dispute, writes Helen Thomas. (FT)

Another week, another data-scraping leak Is there anything left to be revealed about the extent and the frequency with which large volumes of personal data leak from Facebook? While the latest breach might look like a misdemeanour without any real victims, it raises more troubling questions as the incentives and opportunities for harvesting valuable personal information multiply, writes Richard Waters. (FT)

We love animals — so why do we treat them badly? If you are a non-human mammal in the 21st century, you have a greater chance than your ancestors of living on a factory farm. Pick a wild animal — a lion, a puffin, a cigarette beetle — and they probably have a greater chance than ever of being squeezed off the planet by humans’ relentless expansion. It’s time for this to change, writes Henry Mance. (FT)

Video of the day

How London’s West End will bounce back Property reporter George Hammond looks at how the tourism and entertainment hub can recover from rolling lockdowns after plummeting visitor numbers put landlords, retailers and entertainment venues under strain. (FT)

Video: Covid-19: how London’s West End will bounce back

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