The Guardian warned staff to expect heavy losses as it forecasts to burn £90m in cash this year

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Wed, 1 Feb, 2017) London, Uk – –

The Guardian has warned staff to expect further heavy losses, as the newspaper said it expects to burn through another £90m in cash this year.

It has recorded negative cash flow of £60m so far in the current financial year and is on track for another £30m by April, executives told a meeting at its King's Cross headquarters.

The outflow so far is roughly equivalent to last year, when Guardian Media Group, the publisher of the Guardian and the Observer, went on to report a loss before tax and exceptional items of £68.7m. After tax and one-off charges, the company’s losses topped £200m.

The Guardian is seeking to sharply cut its costs by laying off staff, reducing the size of its office and scaling back its overseas ambitions. The cuts have not yet staunched the flow of red ink, however.

Staff were told, however, that the newspaper’s management, led by editor Katharine Viner and chief executive David Pemsel, remain confident they can deliver a turnaround in the next two years. The plan is ahead of schedule so far, the meeting heard.

Sources inside The Guardian said there was nevertheless widespread concern about the financial health of the publisher.

Its losses are funded by the Scott Trust, a charitable trust set up to secure the future of the Guardian. The cash reserve was depleted by £95m last year to leave a reserve of £743m. The further negative cash flow this year is likely to erode the endowment again.

Executives are considering increasingly radical options to cut costs, including potentially reducing the size of the newspaper and outsourcing printing to Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper publisher, News UK.

The move would mean The Guardian would shut down its own ‘Berliner’ printing presses, in which it invested around £80m in 2005.

Ms Viner and Mr Pemsel are seeking to boost revenues from readers by asking them for voluntary donations online, while so far maintaining free access to all articles. Executives have refused to rule out the introduction of compulsory charges for some material and are currently recruiting a head of subscriptions with a brief to consider “what are realistic targets for [subscriber] acquisition, retention and overall revenues; how should products be priced”.

The Guardian faces a particularly acute costs challenge in a tough print and online trading environment for all newspapers, following a period of aggressive expansion under its previous editor, Alan Rusbridger. He was due to return to the publisher last year as chairman of the Scott Trust but was ousted in a boardroom coup amid concerns about governance and strategic missteps.

Mr Rusbridger has pointed to the growing dominance of Google and Facebook in online advertising as a major factor in the Guardian’s failure to hit digital revenue growth targets.

The latest non-executive appointment to the Guardian Media Group board is Coram Williams, the chief financial officer of the struggling education publisher Pearson, which has given five profit warnings in four years.

Mr Rusbridger has pointed to the growing dominance of Google and Facebook in online advertising as a major factor in the Guardian’s failure to hit digital revenue growth targets.

The latest non-executive appointment to the Guardian Media Group board is Coram Williams, the chief financial officer of the struggling education publisher Pearson, which has given five profit warnings in four years.

By Christopher Williams,

Starbucks plans to hire 10,000 refugees over five years

Noirescent/flickr

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 31 Jan, 2017) London, Uk – –

Coffee chain unveils plan to hire staff as top US companies express ‘deep concern’ over president’s order.

Starbucks has promised to hire 10,000 refugees over five years in response to Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees access to the US and banning entry for anyone from seven majority Muslim countries.

Starbucks has promised to hire 10,000 refugees over five years in response to Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees access to the US and banning entry for anyone from seven majority Muslim countries.

The move came as leading US companies including Alphabet, Amazon, Ford, Goldman Sachs and Microsoft came out against the policy.

Howard Schultz, the coffee chain’s chief executive, said he had “deep concern” about the president’s order and would be taking “resolute” action, starting with offering jobs to refugees.

“We are developing plans to hire 10,000 of them over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business,” he told employees in a strongly worded note.

He added that the move was to make clear the company “will neither stand by, nor stand silent, as the uncertainty around the new administration’s actions grows with each passing day”.

Schultz said the initial focus would be in the US and for refugees who had served as interpreters for the US military, but it is not yet clear when the five-year period would begin, or whether people would be employed directly by Starbucks or by suppliers. Schultz added that the Seattle-based company had also contacted employees who had been affected by the immigration ban.

The move met with both support and a backlash on social media. The hashtag #BoycottStarbucks was trending on Twitter on Monday morning, with people praising and condemning the company’s move.

Starbucks’ move came as leading banks, car companies and technology firms voiced concern at the executive order. On Sunday, the Goldman Sachs chief, Lloyd Blankfein, left a voice message for staff that warned the plan could create “disruption” for the bank and its staff, according to a transcript seen by Reuters.

“This is not a policy we support, and I would note that it has already been challenged in federal court, and some of the order has been enjoined at least temporarily,” Blankfein said.

Ford’s executive chairman, Bill Ford Jr, and chief executive, Mark Fields, also condemned the travel ban in a statement to staff. “We do not support this policy or any other that goes against our values as a company,” they said.

Technology firms were the first to come out publicly against Trump’s plans. Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO, said that as an immigrant himself, he would “continue to advocate” on the issue. “As an immigrant and as a CEO, I’ve both experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world,” he wrote on LinkedIn, the business networking site owned by the group.

Microsoft’s president, Brad Smith, said 76 employees had been affected by the 90-day ban on entry for citizens from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

In an email to Microsoft staff, he said: “We believe that immigration laws can and should protect the public without sacrificing people’s freedom of expression or religion. And we believe in the importance of protecting legitimate and law-abiding refugees whose very lives may be at stake in immigration proceedings.”

On Sunday, the Google co-founder and Alphabet president, Sergey Brin, was photographed among people protesting at San Francisco international airport over the immigration measures. Brin said he was there in a personal capacity, but reportedly told one journalist: “I’m here because I’m a refugee.”

A Google spokeswoman said: “We’re concerned about the impact of this order and any proposals that could impose restrictions on Googlers and their families, or that could create barriers to bringing great talent to the US. We’ll continue to make our views on these issues known to leaders in Washington and elsewhere.”

On Monday, the billionaire investor Mark Cuban added his voice to Trump’s critics. Cuban, who campaigned for Hillary Clinton during the election, told CNBC that in person Trump seemed reasonable and open-minded. “But all that is thrown out the window when he tweets and when he communicates with the media,” he said. “This dichotomy makes things very difficult for business.”

Cuban said that Google, Microsoft and others had already had their businesses disrupted by Trump’s travel restrictions and that they were making life more confusing for employers of foreign-born workers.

“Now you have to give consideration to where they’re from, what their circumstances are, what type of travel that person is doing. Are they a risk? How does that impact my future hiring?”

By Adam Vaughan and Dominic Rushe

Fitbit disappointing fourth quarter sees six percent cut in workforce

Fitbit has announced that it will be conducting a “reduction in force, that will impact approximately 110 employees.” That comes out to about six percent of the company's workforce. The decision is coming after a disappointing fourth quarter for the wearables company. Fitbit's 2016 Quarter four revenue expectations were as high as 750 million dollars, but it now estimates an earned range between 572 million and 580 million dollars. Company CEO James Park said the missed goals are not necessarily indicative of a large weakness in the company. Fitbit's 2016 year-end report will be released in February.

Johnson & Johnson to pay $30 billion for Europe’s biggest biotech company Actelion

US healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson is to buy Actelion, Europe's biggest biotech company – paying $30 billion (28 billion euros).

The purchase gives Johnson & Johnson access to the Swiss group's highly profitable range of medicines for rare diseases.

The deal represents a 23 percent premium to Actelion's closing price on Wednesday and is more than 80 percent above the November 23 closing price before takeover reports first emerged.

Royal Bank of Scotland sets aside 3.92 billion pounds to settle claims of U.S. loan mis-selling

Royal Bank of Scotland
morebyless/flickr.com

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) has taken a 3.1 billion pound ($3.92 billion) provision as it prepares to settle claims in the United States that it mis-sold toxic mortgage-backed securities in the run up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The provision means that state-backed RBS is unlikely to make a profit in 2016, the ninth straight year the bank has failed to make an annual profit.

RBS is preparing to start negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice over a settlement of the mis-selling claims, the timing of which is still uncertain.

“This bank, and of course the British taxpayers, have paid a very heavy price for the decisions that were made at RBS before the crisis,” RBS Chief Executive Ross McEwan said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

“Today's announcement is yet another painful example of that legacy,” he said.

This is the first time that RBS has set aside any money to directly cover a settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice over the alleged decades-old mis-selling of mortgage-backed securities.

RBS is the latest European bank that needs to reach a settlement with U.S. authorities. Credit Suisse (CSGN.S) earlier this month agreed to pay $5.3 billion and Deutsche Bank agreed to pay (DBKGn.DE) $7.2 billion to settle their respective mis-selling cases.

These settlements stem from an initiative launched in 2012 by former U.S. President Barack Obama to hold Wall Street accountable for misconduct in the sale of the securities that helped to trigger the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Analysts said investors would welcome the first signs of clarity over the eventual size of RBS's settlement even as the final total remains unclear.

“RBS shares are up a touch today, perhaps as investors decide that things might not be as bad as feared,” Neil Wilson, senior market analyst at trading firm ETX Capital in London, said.

RBS shares were up 1.7 percent by 0850 GMT.

Analysts have estimated the bank could have to pay the U.S. Department of Justice as much as 9 billion pounds in the next few months. Even the lowest estimate of 2 billion pounds would make it the largest fine in the bank's history.

UBS said in a research report this week that RBS sold around 35 percent more volume of the toxic securities than Deutsche Bank, but also said there had so far been little correlation between the volume sold and the size of a final settlement.

RBS said the total misconduct bill for mis-selling these securities might exceed its provisions.

CEO McEwan has been trying to clean up RBS's balance sheet and end an array of legal cases so the government can sell its more than 70 percent stake in the bank after a 45.5 billion pound bailout during the financial crisis.

McEwan said the bank was unable to clawback any banker bonuses in relation to the U.S. mortgage securities because they were sold before the financial crisis and there were no laws in place at the time that would allow RBS to recoup any of the money

The British government has said that the uncertainty about the scale of the U.S. penalty is one of the reasons why it halted plans to sell any further shares in the bank.

RBS said in its statement it continued to cooperate with the Department of Justice, although it remained uncertain when a settlement might be reached.

By Andrew MacAskill and Lawrence White

 

Santander warns of economic uncertainty following Brexit vote as UK profit falls

Santander Bank
Mike Mozart/flickr

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com- – Wed, 25 Jan, 2017) London, Uk – –

Santander has warned on “significant” economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote after the slump in the pound helped UK profits fall sharply.

The Spanish lender also said a tax hike had taken its toll as attributable profit fell 15% to €1.7bn (£1.4bn), while profits for the wider group rose 4% to €6.2bn (£5.3bn).

Santander has 14 million customers and more than 800 branches in the UK.

It said the UK profit fall was driven by the introduction of the 8% bank corporation tax surcharge as well as “the weakening of the pound against the euro following the outcome of the referendum”.

The pound has fallen by more than 10% against the single currency since the poll.

Santander also said there was “significant uncertainty about UK economic outlook following the EU referendum and global issues”.

The lender added that house price growth in the UK showed signs of slowing while inflation – which is being pushed higher thanks to the fall in the pound – would squeeze real terms income growth.

However, it said some of the risks were mitigated by Bank of England action and the wider strength of the banking sector.

Foreign-owned companies earning sterling revenues are adversely affected by the fall in the pound as it means they translate to lower sums in their home currencies.

Santander said that stripping out tax and currency effects, UK profits were higher, as customer numbers and lending grew.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc’s credit rating downgraded by Standard & Poor

Rolls Royce
Cedric Ramirez/flickr.com

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bloomberg.com – – Tue, 24 Jan, 2017) London, Uk – –

Standard & Poor’s downgraded Rolls-Royce Holdings Plc’s credit rating to three levels above junk after factoring in 670 million pounds ($836 million) in fines for bribery and corruption charges.

The aircraft engine-maker’s long-term investment rating has been downgraded to BBB+ from A-, S&P said in a statement Monday, cautioning that a new mandatory accounting system could weigh on reported revenue and profit. The ratings agency also said further investigations may follow the Jan. 16 fines.

The downgrade is the latest fallout after an agreement with U.S., U.K. and Brazilian regulators. Rolls was accused of paying bribes and using middlemen to secure contracts in countries including India, Indonesia and Nigeria. The company reported the incidents to the U.K.’s Serious Fraud Office in 2012.

Rolls-Royce shares fell as much as 3.4 percent Tuesday and were trading down 2 percent at 678 pence as of 9:13 a.m. in London.

Rolls-Royce said last week it expected earnings to be ahead of expectations for 2016. The company is due to report annual results Feb. 14.

The engine-maker in November detailed the initial impact on its books from a switch to a new accounting system that prevents Rolls from booking revenue for contracts far in advance. The impact on the company’s earnings is under review and has not been factored into the latest forecast, S&P said.
By Benjamin Katz

Stamp duty making the UK’s housing crisis worse, says property chief

 

Chinese Developers
Gareth Williams/flickr.com

(qlmbusinessnews.com via telegraph.co.uk – – Mon, 23 Jan, 2017) London, Uk – –

Stamp duty is making the UK’s housing crisis worse by distorting the market and harming long-term development, the head of one of the world’s biggest property groups has warned.

Christian Ulbrich, global chief executive of Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), said homebuyers were “paying for nothing” in a system that penalised landlords and second homeowners while doing little to address a lack of housing supply.

Britain has the highest property taxes of any developed country, figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development show. Mr Ulbrich said the current system, where stamp duty jumps from 5pc to 10pc of a property’s value above £925,000, was “politically motivated”.

While the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, cut the rate of tax for the vast majority of house purchases with a big overhaul of the system in 2014, Mr Ulbrich said, the policy still made it “prohibitive” to build more houses.

“For long-term development, stamp duty is definitely harmful, because the stamp duty in itself doesn’t create any value. It’s an additional cost that makes development more unattractive and it has to be considered in the pricing,” he said.

Mr Ulbrich also hit out at the 3 percentage point surcharge that landlords and families pay when buying second homes, which he said had “a very strong dampening impact on the market”. He said he understood aims to reduce the influx of foreign money into the British property market, which Mr Ulbrich said would remain a haven for overseas investors, even after the Brexit vote.

However, he said, increasing supply would help to “create an environment where that demand finds a home”. “We need more building,” he said. “That is good for the economy”.

Mr Ulbrich cited the Crossrail scheme in London as an example where “focus on building the right infrastructure” helped to “enlarge the spectrum of commutable areas around London where people can still live and come to work every morning. “Stamp duty doesn’t help to build one single apartment, it just makes it more expensive.”

Mr Ulbrich also warned that JLL would be hit by a “double whammy” this year from rising business rates and the subdued commercial property market. Research shows that business rate bills in London are likely to soar by £9.4bn over the next five years. The JLL chief criticised the system as counter-cyclical, as he suggested that more frequent revaluations were necessary.

“The [commercial property] market is currently cooling down, at the same time, business rates are going up because they were reflective of values before the Brexit vote. But the impact is happening after the Brexit vote,” he said. “We were very much hit by the overall loss in sentiment in the property market in London, and then we got the increase in business rates, so it’s a real double whammy.”

By Szu Ping Chan