What made the business and financial headlines this week

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The Prime Minister’s love of Greens, slowing consumer spending, and cost-cutting retail bosses have led the business and financial headlines over the past seven days.

1. Workers returned to the January grindstone with little relief to be found in the economy pages. The much-lauded recovery of the British economy over the past 12 months appears to be losing its steam. The Markit/CIPS UK Services Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) re-ported a fall in growth in the services sector during December compared to November. Re-flecting its slowest rate of expansion in 19 months, the survey also predicted the fall in growth will cause annual GDP growth to sink to 2.7%, significantly lower than the Bank of England forecast.

2. Even the once-rocketing housing market offered cold comfort. Despite UK homeowners enjoying an 8% growth in their property prices last year, the market has cooled as prices have failed to reach the dizzy heights of the summer. Experts point to a combination of rising prices, low earnings growth and speculation about an interest rate rise as the cause.

3. Still, at least the spectre of deflation has been avoided (so far!). Yet financial directors from the UK’s biggest companies are tentatively looking over their shoulder at the very real possibility of deflation in the troubled Eurozone, as well as the uncertainty of the fast-approaching General Election. On the bright side, however, financial chiefs remain buoyant about their company’s earnings growth, expecting it to rise by 2.9% this year, more than most economists expect.

4. Speaking of the General Election, David Cameron has caused uproar by threatening to pull out of the TV debates unless the Green Party is able to participate. Supporters argue Cameron is merely showing respect for the Green Party, which is not a “major political party” in the eyes of regulators Ofcom. But critics accuse Cameron of using the situation as an excuse to bail out of a head-to-head with Labour’s Ed Miliband on national TV. With just four months to go, the Conservatives continue to trail Labour in most polls by a narrow margin.

5. One person who may be glad he isn’t up for election is Marks & Spencer boss Marc Bolland – who blamed the warm October and early November weather for a 5.8% drop in merchandise sales during the final quarter of 2014. The reduced need for an overcoat and woolly jumper contributed to the “dismal” figures, heaping the pressure on Bolland as he tries to halt the falling clothing sales of the past three and a half years.

6. Fellow high street giant Tesco reported better-than-expected sales figures during the last three months of the year. Nevertheless, boss Dave Lewis refuses to rest on his laurels and has ended the firm’s generous pension scheme. He is also closing 43 stores and its Cheshunt headquarters, and is selling its Blinkbox streaming service and Dunnhumby data business.

Enjoy keeping up to date on the news agenda? We’ve covered a few more stories on the introduction of paternity leave and AAT’s victory over HMRC’s DRD proposal.

Jermaine Haughton is a journalist and digital media professional.

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