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Boeing’s tanks fuel new concerns, house prices on the up, Lloyds in the doldrums, hazardous chemicals a pest in poorer countries

Boeing’s faulty plane woes have worsened after ‘foreign object debris’ (FOD) was found in the fuel tanks of two ground 737 Max aircraft – that’s the model that has had two fatal crashes and become the subject of Congressional investigation in the United States.

The manufacturer had to ground the entire fleet of the new model last year due to safety concerns and this news, revealed by a specialist aircraft blog called Leeham News, does not help the firm’s already battered reputation.

The blog said that every plane’s fuel tanks must be drained and vapours released and cleared before the tanks can be opened for inspection. The process is going to take three days per plane. The general manager of the 737 division of the company has emailed staff to say, rather superfluously, that the situation was “absolutely unacceptable” – a faintly euphemistic appraisal of what amounts to another PR disaster this morning.

It’s worth noting that the planes in question had not yet been delivered to airline carriers, and the problem was found as a result of the normal inspection routine at Boeing premises in Washington state and also in Texas, a key storage location for the model. It did not say how many planes have been found to have the problem – presumably because it doesn’t yet know.

House prices have risen everywhere in the UK for the first time in two years according to the latest figures from the Land Registry. Data showed the average house price increased by 2.2% in December (an annualised figure), which was a significant growth rate increase from the 1.7% recorded in November. The Land Registry put the figures down to the Tory election victory and the ensuing economic confidence that has emerged as a result of a more stable political situation.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says the decline in house prices since the 2016 referendum had already been arrested in the summer in a handful of northern and eastern regions of the UK, but December represented the first country-wide increase in house prices – with no exceptions – since the beginning of 2018.  It takes the average price to £235,000.

A campaign group has found chemical companies are flogging harmful pesticides in poorer countries, and making billions from doing so. Unearthed – the group which exposed the analysis – said large pesticide makers are selling a much higher proportion of HHPS (highly hazardous pesticides) in poorer countries than in the rich ones where they also operate. For comparison, in India 59% of chemical sales in this category were HHPs, versus only 11% in Britain.

The original research came from Phillips McDougall, the top agricultural industry analysts firm, and was derived from surveys of buyers of the most common products in the top 43 nations by volume of pesticide purchased. Unearthed is a journalist group funded by Greenpeace UK as well as an NGO called Public Eye in Switzerland, which obtained and then published its analysis of the data.

So what kind of hazardousness are we talking about? The analysis showed that more than a fifth of product sales by the five biggest producers comprised products containing carcinogens, another 10% of them contained compounds which are poisonous to bees, and 4% were severely dangerous for humans. The UN reckons around 200,000 suicides per year are attributable to hazardous pesticides, too. Not a pretty picture for these firms.

The boss of Lloyds has smoked 28% of his pay packet after the bank’s profits fell dramatically in its full year 2019 financial results. António Horta-Osório’s remuneration was set at £6.5m but he has foregone 28% of that after pre-tax profit dropped to from £6bn to £4.4bn.

It’s not entirely his fault – the bank is still dealing with the fallout from the PPI scandal, which cost it £2.5bn during the period in question, and the result are actually better than City analysts were expecting – they thought £3bn in profits was more the order of the day.

In any case, the CEO’s pay will now be more like £4.7m, and the bonus fund has been cut by 33% and now totals £310m. I won’t be shedding any tears.

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