Political turmoil over UK’s draft agreement with the EU creates fresh uncertainty for currency and share traders

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Thur, 15 Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

A series of resignations over the UK's draft agreement with the EU have created fresh uncertainty for currency and share traders.

The pound has fallen sharply while banking and house building stocks are also under pressure after a draft Brexit deal was hit by political turmoil.

Sterling was more than two cents lower against the dollar at less than $1.28 in the wake of Dominic Raab's resignation as Brexit Secretary while it was also down by two cents versus the euro, at €1.13.

In the stock market, Royal Bank of Scotland and Barclays led the fallers, dropping 7%, while big house builders such as Baratt Developments and Persimmon each slumped by 6%.

But the wider FTSE 100 was less heavily affected, with the pound's fall providing a boost to the sterling value of the top-flight's multinationals, whose earnings are largely in foreign currencies.

However, the index turned negative by mid-morning when Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey announced that she would follow Mr Raab in quitting the Cabinet.

The second-tier FTSE 250 Index, which has more of an exposure to the UK economy, was down by around 1%.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG, said: “As the steady drip of resignations hits the government, the UK's deal with the EU appears to be dead in the water already.

“Risk appetite has taken a hit across the board.”

The falls for banking stocks came after state-backed RBS revealed last month that it was putting aside £100m to guard against a “more uncertain economic outlook” ahead of Brexit.

House builders have also revealed their exposure to the uncertainty, with Taylor Wimpey saying earlier this week that there were “signs of customer caution” and that it expects sales volumes will fail to grow next year.

At the same time, house price growth has slowed sharply.

Currency markets have been in volatile mood in recent weeks amid the changing prospects for a Brexit deal.

The pound had crept above $1.30 against the dollar on Wednesday after it emerged that UK and EU officials had agreed a draft deal, with gains only muted given the difficult task of winning political backing for it.

Ratings agency Moody's has described the agreement as a positive step but warned that it was “far from the end of the process” and that its passage through Parliament was far from certain.

Colin Ellis, Moody's chief credit officer for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said: “If the UK parliament does not support the agreement then – in the absence of further developments – the EU and the UK will be heading for a no-deal Brexit by default.

“As we have said previously, that would have significant negative consequences for a range of issuers.”

Experts including the Bank of England expect a sharp shock to the economy if there is a no-deal withdrawal and the UK's independent fiscal watchdog has drawn comparisons with the impact of the three-day week in 1974.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

 

 

Pirate Studios of Bristol raises $20m for ‘self-service’ recording, live stream and sharing music

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Thu, 15 Nov, 2018) London, Uk – –

Bristol-based startup creating 24-hour production studios, where artists can record, live stream and share their music, has raised $20m (£15m), benefitting from growing demand among musicians for more control of their content.

Pirate Studios has raised the cash from venture capital firm Talis Capital, taking its total valuation to around $46m.

It has previously received backing from Eric Archambeau, an investor in Spotify, as well as partners at Hong Kong-based fund Gaw Capital.

The company operates the studios in a similar way to how The Gym Group runs its gyms, providing those using its sites with codes they can then use to unlock and access the studios.

Since it was founded in 2015, Pirate has grown to around 350 studios across the UK, Germany and the US. It had initially only offered recording studios, but now also has facilities for DJs and producers, and those using the sites can automatically record their content and live-stream it to social media platforms.

“We wanted to create studios that were more affordable, so we did this by opening up our sites for a 24-hour booking period per day,” said David Borrie, co-founder and CEO of Pirate Studios.

“And what most people don’t see is that we’re half construction company, half music studio company, so all our designs are effectively flat pack which we can build very quickly and, because we’re in industrial buildings, our rates can be cheaper.”

The latest fundraise comes amid growing interest in the music production space, with companies such as Spotify launching artist development programmes and allowing artists to upload their own music to the platform. Apple Music, meanwhile, in October took on staff from smaller business Asaii, which uses algorithms to predict which artists will be popular.

Spotify and Apple Music have been battling for market share in music streaming space, although Spotify, which launched first, is still thought to be well ahead. In May, Apple’s subscription service had 50 million active users, while Spotify has around 87 million paying subscribers and 110 million unpaid users.

“Interestingly the Spotifys and the Apple Musics are doing a great job in pushing bands and artists to record their content and either they pay to record their own content or they have a label paying for them,” Mr Borrie said.

“But we’re really more at the grass roots, so we’re looking at the artists who are trying to make it. They are just starting their journey or trying to push on to that next level, where they can then go up, record or start producing material which can go on to the likes of Spotify or Apple.”

“As to whether Spotify or Apple would ever be interested in having their own studios, from our perspective we want to make it so that we’re not pushing artists down one particular channel. We want to give artists as much choice as possible and by entertaining discussions with any particular provider in terms of how their music is distributed it would be pigeonholing ourselves,” he said.

“I guess maybe at some point these companies might want to look at stuff that's more in the grass-routes area, but we're very happy with the support we give those artists at the moment and we'll try to continue that choice and freedom.”

By Hannah Boland

 

Regional carrier Flybe announce it’s up for sale

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 14th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

The regional carrier announces a review of its future weeks after it stunned investors with a major profit warning.

Shares in struggling airline Flybe have surged after it put itself up for sale amid turbulence caused by currency volatility and higher fuel costs.

Flybe's stock soared by as much as 39% in early trading after it said it was “in discussions with a number of strategic operators about a potential sale of the company”, confirming a move first reported by Sky News.

The airline said it was part of a comprehensive review of its options “to address the current challenges facing the airline industry”.

It added that Brexit remained a major uncertainty for the sector and the wider economy and that a no-deal scenario would “put at risk, or damage, parts of the business”.

The carrier did not disclose the names of any potential buyer, though one is likely to be Stobart Group, the owner of Southend Airport, which abandoned a previous bid earlier this year.

Flybe also said it was also looking at “further capacity and cost saving measures”.

The announcement came as the carrier reported a fall of more than half in pre-tax profits to £7.4m for the six months to the end of September, compared to £16.1m in the same period last year.

Last month Flybe warned that it expected to report a £12m loss for the full year following weaker consumer demand over recent weeks – together with the impact of oil prices and the weaker pound.

That warning sent shares in the company plunging by 40%. It has lost more than 60% of its value over the year to date, prior to the start of trading on Wednesday.

Flybe has been trying to turn around its fortunes by reducing capacity and focusing on its most popular routes, as well as cutting hundreds of jobs and closing unprofitable sites – amid an intensifying industry price war.

In its latest update it reported a 7.2% rise in the key measure of revenue per seat.

Chief executive Christine Ourmières-Widener said continued improvements were being seen into the current third quarter – with a higher portion of seats sold than last year – that showed “the popularity of Flybe for our customers”.

“However there has been a recent softening in growth in the short-haul market, as well as continued headwinds from higher fuel and currency costs,” she said.

“We are responding to this by reviewing every aspect of our business.”

Flybe, which retained a fleet numbering 78 aircraft at the end of September, carries thousands of passengers between regional British airports and European destinations.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect union. said the airline's announcement meant more uncertainty for the staff it represents.

“We are offering our full support to those affected and hope that whatever happens Flybe can continue as a going concern with jobs protected,” he said.

“Urgent talks have already begun between Prospect and the company.”

 

 

Pfizer loses long-running drug patent fight in UK Supreme Court

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Wed, 14th Nov 2018) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Pfizer (PFE.N) lost the final round in a long-running patent battle in Britain on Wednesday after the country’s highest court ruled against it in a case involving its $5 billion-a-year pain drug Lyrica.

The Supreme Court decision is a blow for the U.S. drugmaker — which had sought to affirm a secondary medical use patent for the product — and a win for generic drug companies Actavis, now renamed Allergan (AGN.N), and Mylan (MYL.O).

Lyrica, known generically as pregabalin, was originally developed for epilepsy but further research showed it could also help patients suffering from neuropathic pain, which soon became its main market.

In a bid to protect this lucrative section of the market, Pfizer secured a secondary patent, valid beyond the life of the original one.

The Supreme Court, however, ruled that the secondary patent claims relevant to neuropathic pain were invalid.

For Pfizer, the legal fight had become a point of principle, following years of battles in lower courts, since its key secondary pain patent has now expired in Europe.

Pfizer said it was disappointed by the ruling and the decision would have a significant impact on incentives for innovation in public health.

“The period that a medicine is under patent is a critical phase in its lifecycle that fuels innovation — as science evolves and knowledge grows, patients increasingly benefit from ongoing research into new uses for existing medicines,” the company said.

“As situations such as these are expected to become more common, it’s important for patients that pharmaceutical companies are able to protect patents, including second medical use patents.”

The expiry of the basic patent on Lyrica five years ago had allowed generic drugmakers to launch cut-price versions of Pfizer’s medicine, which carried a “skinny label” limiting their use to epilepsy and general anxiety disorder.

Pfizer sued, arguing it was inevitable that the copycat versions would be dispensed for pain as well as other conditions.

The U.S. group took the case to the Supreme Court after a appeal in the case was rejected in 2016. Since then Pfizer’s secondary neuropathic pain patent in Britain has also expired, in July 2017.

In the United States, by contrast, Pfizer is only expecting generic competition to Lyrica in 2019.

The Supreme Court is the final court of appeal in Britain for civil cases. Pfizer said it was “too early” for it to determine or comment on any possible next steps.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler

 

 

Premier Foods in talks to sell Ambrosia rice pudding brand

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 13th 2018) London, Uk – –

Premier Foods also says chief executive Gavin Darby is to leave in January

Ambrosia began making custard and rice puddings in Devon in 1971.
Premier Foods is in talks to sell its Ambrosia brand as the group announced that its chief executive, Gavin Darby, is to leave the company in January, months after a spat with activist investors.

The foods group said it was “in discussions with a number of interested parties” about the sale of Ambrosia, its custard and rice pudding brand originally created in 1971 in Devon and still manufactured there today.

Premier said a sale would allow the firm to focus on its growing brands, such as Batchelors, and to accelerate the rate at which it pays down debt.

Darby, who has been chief executive for six years, said he would step down on 31 January as the company took on a new strategy.

“The board has determined that it should focus resources on areas of the business which have the best potential for growth through accelerated investment in consumer marketing and high return capital projects,” he said.

In July Darby faced a shareholder revolt after 41% failed to back his re-election. At a stormy annual meeting, the activist shareholder Oasis Management called on Darby to step down regardless of the outcome of the vote, accusing him of driving Premier into a “zombie-like state” because of his failure to drive growth.

Darby, however, secured the backing of a majority of shareholders and the board.

The company announced his departure alongside the firm’s first-half results. Pretax losses in the six months to 29 September widened to £2.2m from £1.2m in the same period a year earlier.

Revenue rose 1.3% £358m, boosted by the relaunch of its Mr Kipling cakes brand and by growing demand for its Batchelors convenience pots range.

Premier Foods said Mr Kipling had a “storming” first half, with revenue up 13% after a revamp that included an updated brand logo, improved packaging and TV advertising, as well as new product development such as Unicorn and Flamingo slices.

The company said food brands had largely been protected from a wider slowdown in consumer spending.

“The group recognises the challenging time experienced by the wider consumer sector in recent months. However, it notes a clear disparity between revenue trends in the food sector compared to the non-food sector of the UK consumer goods market, with food sector sales demonstrating stronger trends over several months,” Premier Foods said.

“In addition, while the rate of general inflation previously ran ahead of average earnings approximately a year ago, this trend has now reversed and accordingly purchasing power for consumers has strengthened.”

By Angela Monaghan

 

 

Apple market valuation loses $50bn as iPhone sales fall

(qlmbusinessnews.com via cityam.com – – Tue, 13th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

Apple's shares fell five percent tonight after a major supplier cut its financial outlook, leading to fears demand for the iPhone has plateaued.

The fall slashed $50bn (£38.9bn) from Apple’s market valuation with shares falling $20.30 to $194.17.

The losses mean Apple’s market capitalisation has fallen $190bn since October, more than the entire market value of US bluechips such as McDonalds, Walt Disney and Oracle.

Lumentum Holdings, a supplier of 3D sensors used in the iPhone’s facial recognition technology, cut its financial guidance for the second quarter today, citing a fall in orders from an unnamed major customer.

Chief executive Alan Lowe said: “We recently received a request from one of our largest industrial and consumer customers for laser diodes for 3D sensing to materially reduce shipments to them during our fiscal second quarter for previously placed orders that were originally scheduled for delivery during the quarter.”

Separately, Japan Display, which supplies iPhone liquid crystal display screens, also cut its full-year guidance today, blaming volatile demand from customers. Apple warned earlier this month that its Christmas sales would miss market expectations, blaming the fall on weakness in emerging markets and foreign exchange costs.

Elazar Capital analyst Chaim Siegel said: “Many suppliers have lowered numbers because of their unnamed ‘largest customer,’ which is Apple. Apple got cautious in their guidance and it’s hitting their suppliers.”

JP Morgan analysts cut their target price for Apple by $4 to $270, citing poor orders for the new iPhone XR.

Apple’s fall led a larger retreat across US equities tonight with the S&P 500 closing down two per cent at 2,726.22 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq dropping three per cent to 210.05.

Fellow tech giants Facebook and Google parent Alphabet also fell 2.3 per cent and 2.5 per cent respectively.

By  James Booth

 

Pound falls as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to broker an agreement on Brexit

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 12th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

The pound has fallen against the dollar amid political uncertainty as Prime Minister Theresa May struggles to broker an agreement on Brexit with her cabinet.

In early trading, sterling fell nearly 1% against the dollar to $1.2845.

Against the euro, it was down 0.2% at €1.1422.

Analysts said the fall was partly a reaction to the latest news concerning Brexit talks, but also reflected a stronger dollar.

Mrs May is trying to rally support among cabinet ministers for her Brexit proposal in time for a hoped-for summit in Brussels later this month.

However, media reports suggest that her efforts have been delayed by increasing disarray in her cabinet over the issue.

On Friday, Transport Minister Jo Johnson became the latest government figure to quit his post over Brexit, arguing that UK was “on the brink of the greatest crisis” since World War Two.

Simon Derrick, head of currency research at Bank of New York Mellon, said the pound's drop was “obviously related to the uncertainty over the weekend”, but noted that sterling had largely “held its own” against the euro.

He told the BBC: “At least half of it is actually about dollar strength and the expectation that the Federal Reserve will hike interest rates in December.”

Connor Campbell, financial analyst at Spreadex, said: “Sterling's early November rebound continued to unravel on Monday, the currency coming down with a nasty case of the Brexit blues.

“With her most ardent anti-EU MPs opposed to her customs arrangement plans, and a potential Remain rebellion brewing following the resignation of Jo Johnson, Theresa May appears to have been forced to abandon the emergency cabinet meeting that was pencilled in, after a supposed breakthrough last week.”

 

 

Takeda Pharmaceutical set to hold investor votes on its $62 billion acquisition of Shire

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Mon, 12th Nov 2018) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical (4502.T) will hold an investor vote on its $62 billion acquisition of Shire (SHP.L) next month and aims to close the deal on Jan. 8, signaling its confidence in securing the required support.

Shares in London-listed Shire rose 3 percent on the news, hitting their highest level since Takeda first disclosed its interest in buying the rare diseases specialist in March.

The deal would be the biggest-ever overseas acquisition by a Japanese company – but it needs two-thirds support from shareholders, some of whom are worried about the enlarged company’s resulting debt burden.

Takeda said on Monday it would hold an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of shareholders to vote on the transaction on Dec. 5.

Previously, Takeda had said it hoped to hold the EGM early in 2019, leaving uncertain the level of backing for the deal, which has been opposed by some members of the founding Takeda family.

“With the date of our extraordinary general meeting of shareholders now set, we are looking forward to continue our dialogue with shareholders regarding the compelling strategic and financial benefits of this transaction,” Chief Executive Christophe Weber said.

Weber — a Frenchman and the first non-Japanese CEO of the company — believes that buying Shire will accelerate Takeda’s growth and increase its international reach, boosting earnings.

The transaction is still awaiting approval from European regulators, although two people familiar with the matter told Reuters last week that Takeda was set to win conditional EU antitrust approval.

Takeda has offered to divest Shire’s experimental drug SHP647 to address concerns about overlap in inflammatory bowel disease treatments.

The takeover has already secured clearance from regulators in the United States, Japan, China and Brazil.

Weber said last week he was confident of securing investor backing for the purchase of Shire, but until now it has not been clear when exactly Takeda would call its EGM.

Takeda, which has a market value of around $32 billion, has secured a $30.9 billion bridge loan to help finance the Shire acquisition and some investors are concerned as to how well it will cope with debt repayments.

The Japanese company struck its agreement to take over Shire in May, in a deal that will propel it into the top 10 rankings of global drugmakers by sales.

However, the enlarged group faces significant challenges, particularly in hemophilia, where a new drug from Roche (ROG.S) and the prospect of new gene therapies now in development threaten a key part of Shire’s existing business.

Reporting by Ben Hirschler

 

The Billionaire Still Betting Big on The Malls of The Future

 

Forbes
Rick Caruso won't tell you that traditional retail is dying because he doesn't believe it. The creator of The Grove, LA's famous shopping and dining destination, discussed the state of retail in America and why he is one of few developers still betting big on the malls of the future.

 

 

How Diamond Engagement Rings Became Part of Smart Advertising

 

Bloomberg

Most of us presume proposing with a diamond engagement ring is just part and parcel of getting married, but this tradition hasn't actually been around all that long. It was dreamt up by some smart advertising and has since changed the entire diamond market.

 

Uk retailers shut 2,700 shops in the last six months in toughest trading climate in five years

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 9th Nov, 2018) London, Uk – –

About 14 shops are closing every day as UK High Streets face their toughest trading climate in five years, a report has found.

A net 1,123 stores disappeared from Britain's top 500 high streets in the first six months of the year, according to the accountancy firm PwC.

It said fashion and electrical stores had suffered most as customers did more shopping online.

Restaurants and pubs also floundered as fewer people go out to eat or drink.

London was the worst-hit region, PwC said, while Wales had the lowest number of closures.

“Looking ahead, the turmoil facing the sector is unlikely to abate,” said Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC.

“Store closures in the second half of the year due to administrations and company voluntary arrangements [a form of insolvency] already announced will further intensify the situation.”

According to PwC, 2,692 shops shut across the UK in the first half of 2018, while only 1,569 new stores opened. The data looks at retail chains with more than five outlets.

Which sectors were hit hardest?
Electrical goods stores were among the biggest casualties, largely due to the collapse of Maplin in February that resulted in 50 stores being closed.

Italian restaurants also struggled, as Jamie's Italian and Prezzo both shut stores after striking rescue deals with their creditors, while Strada also made closures.

PwC said there was net decline of 104 fashion shops and 99 pubs as openings failed to replace closures “at a fast enough rate”.

There were some bright spots, however, with supermarkets, booksellers, ice cream parlours and coffee shops all seeing slim net gains in their store counts.

Which regions suffered most?
According to PwC, Greater London had the largest number of store closures of any UK region, with a fall of 716, while only 448 were opened.

None of the UK regions analysed by PwC recorded a net gain in store count in the first six months of the year.

Newcastle fared worst in the North East, with a net decline of 17 stores, while Nottingham fell by 35.

Other cities that suffered included Leeds, which opened nine stores but closed 35, and Reading where there were 39 closures and only 18 openings.

What's causing the problem?
Retailers are facing a perfect storm of pressures as consumers rein in their spending and do more of their shopping online.

As a result, many retailers have found themselves struggling to pay their rents and other overheads, such as a rising minimum wage and business rates.

In last month's Budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond promised to spend £900m on reducing the business rates bill of 500,000 small retailers by a third.

He also promised a new tax for online firms that employ fewer staff and pay far lower business rates.

However, the British Retail Consortium said the chancellor was “tinkering around the edges” and called for “wholesale reform” of the business rates system.

Jake Berry, the minister responsible for High Streets, said the government was determined to make them thrive.

“We have created a £675m fund to help high streets adapt, slashed business rates … and are creating a task force guided by Sir John Timpson, one of the UK's most experienced retailers, to ensure that High Streets are adapting for rapid change and are fit for the future,” he said.

By Daniel Thomas & Daniele Palumbo

 

 

Disney reveals name of planned television streaming service to take on Netflix

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Fri, 9th Nov, 2018) London, Uk – –

Walt Disney has revealed that its planned television streaming service is going to be called Disney+ and confirmed that it would be showing television shows spun off from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Speaking on an earnings call chief executive Bob Iger said that a TV series about the Marvel character Loki is in development for the service, featuring the actor Tom Hiddleston.

There will also be TV shows based on the Star Wars franchise and other Disney movies including Monsters Inc and High School Musical.

The planned family oriented streaming service is going to be a direct competitor to the streaming superpower Netflix, which said last month that it had 135m subscribers paying monthly fees.

Beginning in 2019, all of Disney's movies will be removed from Netflix as the two companies prepare to compete for subscribers.

To help it bulk up its web-based programming ahead of the looming faceoff Disney is buying 21st Century Fox’s entertainment assets in a $71.3bn deal.

The acquisition, which include Marvel’s X-Men and Avengers franchises, was approved by European Union authorities earlier this month.

Ahead of the earnings call, Disney reported a record annual profit of $12.6bn.

Fourth quarter earnings beat analyst estimates, with the studio-entertainment division and theme park unit driving profit growth.

Films including “Ant-Man and the Wasp” and “Incredibles 2” helped to more than double movie earnings during the quarter.

The California-based company’s theme parks and resorts benefited from a busy summer season and saw profit rise by 11pc.

Disney said its ESPN cable network continued to shed subscribers as viewing moved to digital platforms.

To counter that ongoing shift, Disney this year released a streaming service called ESPN+ with live college sports, documentaries and other programming that does not run on television.

By Wil Crisp

 

 

Sainsbury’s report a huge drop in profits ahead of crucial Christmas period


QLM Image

(qlmbusinessnews.com via cityam.com – – Thur, 8th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

Sainsbury’s posted a huge drop in profit for its half-year results today as it issued a warning about the impending Christmas period.

The figures
The supermarket delivered a mixed shopping bag of rising sales growth and pre-Christmas warnings in its half-year report for the six months to mid-September.

Like-for-like sales climbed 0.6 per cent year on year during the six months, rising from the 0.2 per cent growth it reported for the first quarter of the year. That helped revenue hit £16.8bn, up 3.5 per cent on the same period in 2017.

Sainsbury's also posted a 20 per cent rise in underlying pre-tax profits, which rose to £302m largely as a result its recent acquisition of Argos, which was delivered ahead of schedule.

But profit before tax plunged by 40 per cent to £132m.

Why it's interesting
The firm blamed store management restructuring and its planned merger with rival Asda for the fall in profit.

Sainsbury's, which is the second largest supermarket chain in the UK, added that consumer outlook remained “uncertain” in the run-up to the grocer’s crucial Christmas trading period, with the market remaining “highly competitive and very promotional”.

Lee Wild, head of equity strategy at Interactive Investor, said: “Sainsbury’s shares are not far off a 16-month high and up over 40 per cent since March, thanks in large part to April’s Asda announcement. Margins have suffered at the hands of the German discounters and, although the worst is over, business remains tough. Tesco was punished last month for missing half-year expectations, and Morrisons suffered a similar fate this week following a third-quarter slowdown.”

Wild added: “Sainsbury’s admits that consumer uncertainty will make the crucial second-half difficult, and that clothing is fiercely competitive. However, its confidence in meeting forecasts for underlying full-year profit of £634m is reassuring.”

Shares climbed 1.6 per cent in early morning trading.

What Sainsbury's said
Boss Mike Coupe said: “The market remains very competitive and we are transforming our business to meet rapidly changing customer needs. We have fundamentally changed how our 135,000 Sainsbury’s store managers and colleagues work and I would like to thank them for their ongoing hard work through this period.”

In comments to the Today programme, he added that he was positive about Sainsbury's merger with Asda getting the nod from the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which is currently probing the deal.

“They're going into a lot of detail and looking at all aspects of it but we are confident in our case,” he said.

“We believe that by bringing the two organisations together there is a unique opportunity to lower costs and ultimately those costs will be passed back to customers in the form of lower prices.”

The CMA is expected to publish its findings in late January.

By Sebastian McCarthy

 

 

KPMG to cease undertaking non-audit work for the FTSE

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Thur, 8th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

KPMG's UK chairman Bill Michael informed partners of the landmark decision in a memo seen by Sky New

KPMG is to cease undertaking non-audit work for the FTSE-350 companies whose accounts it supervises, becoming the first of the ‘big four’ firms to make such a pledge in the aftermath of scandals surrounding the collapse of Carillion and BHS.

Sky News can exclusively reveal that KPMG told its 625 UK partners on Thursday that it would phase out all but essential non-audit services for the 90 FTSE-350 companies where it serves as the auditor.

The move was disclosed in a briefing note circulated by Bill Michael, KPMG's UK chairman, to update the firm's partnership on its responses to two inquiries which have the potential to radically reshape the accountancy profession.

A copy of the note has been seen by Sky News.

Sir John Kingman, the former Treasury mandarin, is reviewing the role and remit of the audit regulator, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC), while the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is probing the audit sector at the request of Greg Clark, the Business Secretary.

As the auditor to Carillion, KPMG is facing intense scrutiny for its oversight of the construction giant, which went bust in January with debts of more than £5bn.

KPMG earned roughly £1.5m annually as the company's auditor, with millions of pounds more earned from non-audit work.

At the retailer BHS, PwC has been accused of failing to conduct sufficient oversight of its accounts at a time when it was earning significant sums from non-audit work.

Mr Michael told KPMG partners that “to remove even the perception of a possible conflict, we are currently working towards discontinuing the provision of non-audit services (other than those closely related to the audit) to the FTSE-350 companies we audit”.

“We have also been clear that this would be most impactful if implemented within a regulatory framework for all FTSE350 companies and we will be discussing this point with the CMA in due course.”

The commitment is a significant one, and if adopted more widely across the ‘big four' firms would potentially affect billions of pounds of revenue earned each year by the quartet of Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC.

Mr Michael's pledge may also be seen, however, as an attempt to position KPMG ahead of a tide already rushing towards his profession.

 

 

The FRC said last month that it was engaged in a separate piece of work that would decide “whether further actions are needed to prevent auditor independence being compromised, including whether all consulting work for bodies they audit should be banned”.

KPMG's response to the Kingman and CMA inquiries also sets out its belief that FTSE-350 companies' audit reports should include ‘graduated findings' as standard practice.

Such a development, already deployed by KPMG, provides greater detail to investors on auditors' views of a company's accounts, lifting a veil on opinions currently shared only privately with audit committees.

“We tell the audit committees whether a particular audited area is ‘cautious' or ‘optimistic' but the published opinion currently only says whether the full statements are true and fair,” said one senior audit firm executive.

Mr Michael's note to partners emphasised that significant reforms to the audit market required a global response, given the multinational nature of most large companies.

And he warned against a break-up of the ‘big four', arguing that “multidisciplinary firms are the only realistic model capable of carrying out complex, multi-faceted, global audits”.

“This will continue to be the case as the business landscape grows in complexity and audits come under even more scrutiny,” he wrote.

The leading quartet are braced for substantial structural change, with formal ring-fencing between audit and non-audit services a potential outcome from the CMA probe.

“We are increasingly driving a more separate governance and performance management of the audit function, including clear specialisation of auditors delivering audit for public interest entities,” Mr Michael said.

The KPMG chairman added that talks with industry bodies and regulators had not produced a “silver bullet” to address concerns that the audit market is too concentrated.

“Notwithstanding the significant implementation challenges, the measures we anticipate looking at include: market share limitations; shared audits; sharing of skills and resources; removing barriers to mid-tier expansion/reducing financial disincentives; and measures to strengthen the demand side, including the transparency of the tendering process and the position of audit committees,” he wrote.

Mr Michael also said that regulators and other stakeholders bore part of the “responsibility for rectifying the erosion of trust”, labelling the current regulatory landscape “complex and unclear”.

“The FRC has, over time, acquired powers and responsibilities that do not make for a coherent or clear overall role and purpose,” he wrote.

Last week, the regulator confirmed a Sky News report that Stephen Haddrill, its chief executive, would step down next year.

KPMG has endured a bruising year, with multimillion pound fines handed out to it in relation to audit clients including Ted Baker, the fashion retailer, as well as scrutiny of its Carillion role.

However, the firm is expected to produce a strong set of financial results when it publishes them next month.

KPMG declined to comment on Mr Michael's briefing to partners.

By Mark Kleinman

 

Marks & Spencer report falling clothes and food sales

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 7th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

Marks & Spencer has reported falling clothing and food sales and warned that it sees little improvement in sales this year.

Like-for-like sales, which strip out the impact of new stores, were down 2.2% for the six months to the end of September.

Food sales were down 2.9% and clothing and home sales slid 1.1%.

M&S warned trading conditions for the remainder of the financial year will remain “challenging”.

“We are expecting little improvement in sales trajectory,” the firm said.

M&S chief executive Steve Rowe told the BBC that food was “trading behind our expectations”, but the retailer was “reshaping” its business with prices lowered on hundreds of food items.

“What we are doing is making sure we protect the magic of M&S,” he said.

However, he said the retailer was “continuing to review” its store closure programme and did not rule out further closures, especially as one-third of its business would be online in future.

Analysis
By Dominic O'Connell, Today programme business presenter

Marks & Spencer has an organisation that is “silo-ed, slow and hierarchical”. Not the words of a hedge fund looking to short the shares of one of the nation's favourite retailers, but the verdict of the company's own chief executive, Steve Rowe.

The damning judgement is delivered in the company's half-year results. They show the same pattern of trade of recent years – clothing in a slow slide, food a bit worse than expected, with like-for-like sales down nearly 3% – but are remarkable for their clear-eyed view of what needs to be done to break that pattern.

Fewer stores – 100 will close – a better online offering, and in general a tightening-up of management and structures that should save £350m a year.

Some critics will say that Mr Rowe is not going far enough, or fast enough, with some advocating a break-up of the company or other radical surgery.

There is a clue, though, in the half-year figures as to why stronger medicine has not been adopted. The average leasehold commitment that M&S has on its stores is 20 years. Going faster in closing stores or shrinking them would be extremely expensive.

Mr Rowe said 32 million people visited M&S stores every year, so the retailer had “a broad range of customers”.

“What we have to do is have a broad range of merchandise available that suits all their tastes,” he added.

Retail analyst Steve Dresser, director of Grocery Insight, tweeted: “You can't run a business on meal deals and 25% off wines forever eg but these things take time to back out of.

“Closures of established stores will also impact food as it's not always the case they didn't perform – onerous leases also impacted.”

In all, M&S plans to close 100 shops by 2022, as announced in May. It says the turnaround is “vital” for its future.

Retail woes
Under its plan, M&S intends to have fewer, larger clothing and homeware stores in better locations.

It says it is facing competition from online retailers, as well as discounters such as Aldi, Lidl and Primark.

Its directors were not awarded bonuses this year because of the disappointing results.

M&S is attempting to reshape itself at a time when the High Street is under unprecedented pressure.

Since the start of this year, a number of retailers have collapsed, including Toys R Us, Maplin and Poundworld.

Other stores, such as clothing chain New Look, have announced restructuring plans of their own that involve closing large numbers of outlets.

 

 

London’s Grosvenor House hotel sold to Qatari firm for undisclosed sum

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Wed, 7th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

Katara Holdings which owns the Savoy and Connaught pays undisclosed sum for hotel on Park Lane

A Qatari state-backed company is to buy the Grosvenor House hotel on London’s Park Lane, the latest in a string of acquisitions of the capital’s trophy assets.

Katara Holdings, which is owned by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), has bought Grosvenor House for an undisclosed price from private American property investment firm Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, Reuters first reported.

Ashkenazy bought the Mayfair property, which overlooks Hyde Park, in 2017. The firm had previously owned a stake in New York’s Plaza, for which Qatar paid a reported $600m earlier this year.

The Qatari fund, which is estimated to have more than $300bn in total assets, owns London’s luxury Savoy and Connaught hotels, the Harrods department storeand the Shard, London’s tallest skyscraper, as well as luxury hotels across the US, Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

The oil-rich state has been boosted by higher oil prices during the past year and a recent Qatari buying spree also includes stakes in Volkswagen and Glencore. The purchases have been made in spite of a blockade on the country by Middle Eastern rivals led by Saudi Arabia.

Ashkenazy did not respond to a request for comment. The QIA declined to comment.

By Jasper Jolly

 

UK customers to save 1 billion pounds a year in energy price cap from January 1st 2019

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 6th Nov 2018) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – A British price cap on the most widely used domestic energy tariffs will come into force on Jan. 1, 2019, saving households a total of around 1 billion pounds a year, energy regulator Ofgem said on Tuesday.

The regulator was tasked by parliament with setting a cap after a committee of lawmakers called Britain’s energy market “broken”. Prime Minister Theresa May said the energy tariffs were a “rip-off”.

The cap, set at 1,137 pounds per year for a dual fuel bill – gas and electricity – is in line with an indicative level announced in September.

It will give 11 million customers cheaper prices and save a typical customer on the most expensive tariff up to 120 pounds a year, with the average saving expected to be 76 pounds a year, Ofgem said.

The level of the temporary cap will be updated in April and October each year to reflect the latest costs for suppliers such as wholesale energy prices and policy costs, and is expected to run until 2023.

Britain’s big six energy suppliers are Centrica’s (CNA.L) British Gas, SSE SSE, Iberdrola’s (IBE.MC) Scottish Power, Innogy’s npower (IGY.DE), E.ON (EONGn.DE) and EDF Energy (EDF.PA).

Average fuel bills fell for UK households last year, but the government is still concerned by the large disparity in prices. Ofgem said the fall was due to factors such as lower wholesale energy prices and lower margins for the suppliers.

The difference between the average standard variable price and the cheapest tariff offered by Britain’s big six energy suppliers was 320 pounds between June 2017 and June 2018, an Ofgem report in October showed.

All of the big six suppliers have increased their prices this year, and since a law to cap prices was introduced to parliament in February.

“In the past few months loyal energy customers have continued to be hit by unjustified price rises on their already rip-off tariffs,” Britain’s energy and clean growth minister Claire Perry said in a statement.

“Today’s final cap level brings greater fairness to energy prices,” she said.

Some energy suppliers have warned the price cap could hamper competition in Britain’s energy market, which has around 70 suppliers.

“It is crucial that the cap doesn’t halt this growth of competition and choice and still enables energy companies to both invest and attract investment,” Lawrence Slade, chief executive of industry group Energy UK said in a statement.

Analysts have also warned rising wholesale prices mean Ofgem is expected to raise the cap next April.

By Susanna Twidale

 

 

Tesla to pay millions in compensation to car owners over delayed Autopilot features

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Tue, 6th Nov 2018) London, Uk – –

Tesla has agreed to pay out millions in compensation to car owners over delays to its Autopilot feature.

The electric car company settled for $5.4m (£4.2m) with customers who complained that they had paid $5,000 for the Enhanced Autopilot technology but had been forced to wait months longer than promised.

Customers will receive between $25 and $280, depending on when they bought their car.

The extra features in Enhanced Autopilot included automatic lane changing, parking and assisted steering software.

Tesla announced the new feature in October 2016 and said it would be launched in December that year, but some customers still did not have it by September 2017.

The company has become notorious for failing to meet optimistic deadlines for new features and products.

The Autopilot system itself has also attracted controversy, with lead plaintiff Dean Sheikh complaining in the original lawsuit that once installed, it was “unpredictable” and unsafe.

Drivers who take their hands off the wheel when Autopilot is enabled are prompted to put them back on with visual and audible warnings, but there have been fatal accidents where drivers have appeared to ignore these.

In March a driver in California died after his Tesla slammed into a concrete barrier while Autopilot was enabled, the second fatal crash in the US which involved the system.

Research suggests that semi-autonomous cars can pose risks to drivers who put too much faith in the technology.

A study published earlier this week by Australian company Seeing Machines found that drivers using Autopilot in a Tesla Model S had slower reaction times than if they were fully in control of the car.

By Olivia Rudgard