Economy

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Credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s on Friday retained its AA status with negative outlook for the United Kingdom, citing “significant risk” due to Brexit.

The agency also noted risk to London’s dominant financial sector, “which is a major contributor to employment and public receipts”.

It said Brexit will continue “to create challenging political and constitutional issues… especially if it results in a second referendum on Scottish independence or increases tensions around Northern Ireland”.

The vote to leave the European Union also led to a less predictable and less stable institutional and policy framework, “highlighted by the snap election called for June”, a statement said.

Prime Minister Theresa May took the country by surprise last week by calling for a general election to be held on June 8, hoping to increase her Conservative Party’s slim parliamentary majority.

She is seeking to shore up her mandate ahead of two years of gruelling negotiations over the country’s divorce from the EU.

S&P said that although a stronger majority would give May more legitimacy and space to strike a “viable deal with the EU”, there are still risks surrounding “both the election and the Brexit negotiations”.

Scottish whisky exports returned to growth for the first time in five years in 2016 thanks to a weaker pound after Britain voted for Brexit, official figures showed Friday.

The exports, which account for 90 percent of total sales, increased in value by £153 million ($198 million, 181 million euros) to more than £4.0 billion last year, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.

By volume, exports rose to more than 1.2 billion bottles.

“This is the first time since 2011 that both value and volume of Scotch exports recorded positive annual growth rates,” the association said in a report, crediting the cheap value of sterling following Britain’s vote in June to exit the European Union.

“The value of sterling depreciated considerably, effectively making UK products sold abroad more attractive from a pricing perspective,” said the report.

However, it warned that leaving the EU would present challenges.

“Both ensuring a deal which allows smooth movement of goods from the UK to Europe and securing the benefits from existing EU trade deals are major objectives.”

Leaving without a trade deal would risk losing benefits, including lower tariffs, in markets representing around 10 percent of exports, said the report.

Scottish whisky was directly exported to 182 countries in 2016, up from 174 in 2015.

More than 10,000 people are directly employed in the Scottish industry — up six percent in the past three years — while a further 30,000 people work in its supply chain from bottling to distribution.

Scottish whisky accounted for 1.3 percent of the total value of British export goods in 2016, with the United States, France and Singapore the top markets.

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Britain’s bailed-out Royal Bank of Scotland rebounded into a first-quarter profit on cost-cutting, it said Friday, but the year-earlier loss was skewed by a vast exceptional payment to the government.

The lender — which is still 73-percent owned by the government — has now chalked up its first quarterly profit since the third quarter of 2015.

Profit after taxation stood at £259 million ($334 million, 305 million euros) in the first three months of 2017, RBS said in a statement.

That contrasted with a net loss of £968 million in the same part of the previous year, when it exceptionally paid the government just under £1.2 billion.

“This bank has a very strong core with great potential, and we believe that, by going further on cost reduction and faster on digital transformation, we will deliver a simpler, safer and even more customer-focused bank, with a compelling investment case,” said Chief Executive Ross McEwan.

The bank cut costs by £278 million in the reporting period — and added it was on target to achieve a £750-million reduction for the full year.

RBS was rescued with £45.5 billion of taxpayers’ cash during the global financial crisis in the world’s biggest banking bailout.

Last week, British finance minister Philip Hammond declared that his Conservative government was prepared to sell its stake at a loss.

Separately on Friday, the Treasury announced that the government has cut its holding in state-rescued peer Lloyds Banking Group to just below one percent.

Lloyds was also bailed out at the top of the crisis at a cost of £20.3 billion, handing the state a 43-percent stake — but it has since held numerous share sales.

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