Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:
Reopening plans spur UK service sector
The UK's dominant service sector returned to growth in March, according to a closely watched private sector survey of activity.
IHS Markit's service sector purchasing managers index (PMI) registered at 56.3 in March, the company said. The figure was slightly down on an earlier flash estimate of activity but up sharply on February's figure of 49.5.
PMIs are measured on a scale of 0 to 100. Anything above 50 signals growth, while anything below means contraction.
"UK service providers were back in expansion mode in March as confidence in the roadmap for easing lockdown restrictions provided a strong uplift to new orders," said Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit. "Total business activity increased at the fastest rate since August 2020 and this return to growth ended a four-month sequence of decline."
The service sector accounts for an estimated 80% of the UK economy.
Saga's profits sink
Shares in over-50s specialist Saga (SAGA.L) surged on Wednesday even as the company reports a slump in underlying profits.
Saga, which provides insurance and cruises to the over-50s, said underlying pre-tax profits sunk 85% to £110m last year. The business saw its reported losses widen to £301m ($427m).
"We knew this was coming," said William Ryder, an equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown. "Saga’s key travel division was prevented from trading by the pandemic and the resulting financial damage was as predictable as it was unpleasant.
Investors were cheered by a rosy forecast from Saga's chief executive Euan Sutherland, Saga's chief executive, who said the company's customer base had now mostly been vaccinated.
"Saga has made significant progress in a year of unprecedented challenge, during which our key focus has been on serving our customers and keeping our colleagues safe," Sutherland said.
"Looking ahead, while we are mindful of economic headwinds and the potential ongoing impacts of COVID-19, it is clear that there is significant pent-up demand among our customer base, the vast majority of whom have now been vaccinated and are ready to enjoy post-lockdown freedom."
Shares rose 13% on the hopes of a bounce back.
Ryder said: "Customer retention in the Travel division seems to be strong, which bodes well for a recovery later this year if the vaccine rollout continues to be as effective as hoped."
Ryanair (RYA.L) said it expects a net loss for the 2021 financial year (ending 31 March 2021) to be slightly less than its previous estimates, but lockdown restrictions and a slow EU rollout of the COVID vaccine means in 2022 it will just about break even.
Shares in the company were down almost 1% on Wednesday morning as markets opened in London before paring losses and ticking up 0.6%.
Just last month, the airline had expanded the schedule for its summer flights, which includes 26 new routes, in hopes that travel will open up soon amid a successful vaccine rollout in the UK, even as coronavirus cases were rising across Europe.
Now, however, it expects "to report a pre-exceptional FY21 net loss" of between €800m (£687m, $949m) and €850m, slightly better than the previously guided range of €850m to €950m.
The FTSE 100 (^FTSE) continued to outperform continental rivals on Wednesday, boosted by reopening hopes.
The bluechip index in London opened 0.4% higher on Wednesday, extending strong gains seen in the prior session. The early rise propelled the index to three month highs.
The pound came under early selling pressure, which helped the FTSE 100. Sterling was down 0.2% against the euro (GBPEUR=X) to €1.1615 and down 0.2% against the dollar (GBPUSD=X) to $1.379. Around 70% of FTSE 100 company earnings are in dollars, meaning a weak pound flatters their income statements.
However, the more domestically-focused FTSE 250 (^FTMC) also rallied. The index was up 0.4%.
Shares in takeaway delivery app Deliveroo (ROO.L) rallied on Wednesday as unconditional trading began.
Deliveroo's shares were officially admitted to the London Stock Exchange on Wednesday following a period of "conditional" trading that began last week. Only institutional investors can exchange blocks of shares during this period.
Wednesday marked the first time retail investors could buy and sell shares in the company, including the 70,000 who invested money in Deliveroo's initial public offering.
Shares in the company rose 3.2% to 289.05p in early trade. The stock remained well below Deliveroo's IPO price of 390p per share, following last week's disastrous first day performance. The stock dropped as much as 30% on its first day of trading.
Shell (RDSB.L) said the Texas winter storm earlier this year will cost it an estimated $200m (£145m) in the first quarter but the company its outlook still showed signs of recovery.
Texas experienced a series of of back-to-back winter storms in February, plunging large areas of the state into subfreezing temperatures and overwhelming its electricity infrastructure.
Shell said its upstream total adjust earnings took a hit of about $40m, while its oil products and chemicals segments were impacted by up to $80m each.
The company's shares were up roughly 0.6% on Wednesday morning.