Ocado stock market value soared to £21.66bn overtaking Tesco as UK’s most valuable retailer

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Wed, 30th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Delivery-based supermarket’s value rises to £21bn despite selling 1.7% of UK’s groceries

Ocado has overtaken Tesco to become the UK’s most valuable retailer after its stock market value soared to £21.66bn.

Tesco is worth £21.06bn despite controlling nearly 27% of the UK grocery market. By comparison Ocado, which is already worth more than double the combined value of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons, sells just 1.7% of the UK’s groceries.

Former Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy once famously described Ocado as a “charity” due to its track record of losses during the noughties.

Ocado has eclipsed Tesco just as the supermarket’s new chief executive, Ken Murphy, prepares to take charge on Thursday. He replaces Dave Lewis who has been running the UK’s biggest retailer since 2014.

Murphy faces a baptism of fire as Tesco grapples with recession, running supermarkets during a pandemic and a potential no-deal Brexit. He also needs to get the share price, which has gone sideways under Lewis, moving.https://www.theguardian.com/email/form/plaintone/3887Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk

The Tesco board is painfully aware of the march of the Ocado share price. In the summer the company suffered one of the biggest-ever shareholder revolts over executive pay. Shareholders objected to a late change to part of an executive pay plan, which handed an additional £1.6m to Lewis and £900,000 to finance director Alan Stewart.

The change involved removing online grocer Ocado from a comparator group against which Tesco’s share performance was measured. With Ocado included the two men would not have qualified for the extra payout.

Investors have fallen in love with Ocado on the back of the success of its tech business Ocado Solutions, which sells its grocery-picking expertise to foreign supermarkets. The coronavirus pandemic has also triggered a boom in online shopping. At the height of the pandemic online food sales nearly doubled but, despite the recent slowdown, they now account for 12.5% of total grocery sales versus about 7% pre-crisis.

By Zoe Wood

TSB to close 164 branches cut cutting 900 jobs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 30th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

TSB will close 164 of its branches and cut 960 jobs, blaming “a significant shift in customer behaviour” as more customers bank online.

The figure is in addition to the 82 branches it said it would close in November, when it set out plans to save £100m by 2022.

Union Unite described the move as “a dark day for the finance sector”.

The bank said the closures were not an “easy decision” and had been accelerated by the pandemic.

From the end of next year the bank will have 290 branches – down from 540 currently.

It hopes most of the job cuts will come through voluntary redundancies, and said it would also create 120 new positions.

TSB did not name which branches would shut, but said those with the lowest footfall would go.

“Our customers are banking differently – with a marked shift to digital banking,” said boss Debbie Crosbie.

“This means having the right balance between branches on the high street and our digital platforms, enabling us to offer the very best experience for our personal and business customers across the UK.”

The bank said it was seeing 1,200 new registrations for online and mobile banking every day back in November – but that had risen to more than 4,000 during the pandemic.

‘Beggars belief'

Unite's national officer Dominic Hook said: “Unite has argued for some time that the financial services industry has a social responsibility not to walk away from its local customers who continue to need access to banking in bank branches.

“It beggars belief that just seven years ago TSB had 631 local branches and this announcement will reduce that number to merely 290 branches. “

Analysis: Kevin Peachey

Today, TSB has 475 branches. By the end of 2021, it will have 290.

They are stark numbers for a bank that has always promoted itself as a community service, and once attacked rivals for cutting branches.

The closure plan will be a blow to staff, aware of the wider economic outlook as they consider whether to volunteer for redundancy.

It will also be a blow to customers who still like to use a branch, and to small businesses that hope to keep travel times to a minimum when depositing cash.

Partnerships with the Post Office and cash collection services aim to mitigate these problems.

But, while customer behaviour is changing across the bank sector, some people are being forced to bank in a different way – and they may not feel comfortable doing so.

TSB is the latest bank to announce closures during the pandemic.

In August the Co-operative Bank has said it will cut 350 jobs and close 18 branches due to the current “economic uncertainty” and the shift to online banking.

Natwest Group also said it would cut 550 jobs in branches and close one of its remaining offices in London.

Technical problems

TSB, which is owned by Spanish lender Banco Sabadell, has been dogged by technical problems, with an IT failure in 2018 leaving up to 1.9 million customers unable to bank online for several weeks.

Customers were moved on to a new system, but an investigation found it had not been tested properly before going live. It cost TSB a total of £330m for customer compensation, fraud losses and other expenses.

As recently as last month users were unable to access online banking. And last year, a “processing error” meant wages and other payments were not paid into some TSB customers' accounts.

Nokia wins contract with BT to supply 5G radio equipment

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 29th Sept 2020) London, UK —

STOCKHOLM/HELSINKI (Reuters) – Nokia NOKIA.HE has clinched a deal with Britain's biggest mobile operator BT BT.L to supply 5G radio equipment, the Finnish company said on Tuesday, in one of the first major wins under new CEO Pekka Lundmark.

The deal will make Nokia BT’s largest equipment provider and comes just months after Britain said it would ban China’s Huawei Technologies from next-generation 5G telecom networks.

The size of the contract was not disclosed.

Nokia has won 63% of the BT contract, or about 11,600 radio sites, a source familiar with the matter said.

Nokia currently powers BT’s network in Greater London, the Midlands and rural locations, but the new contract will add multiple towns and cities across the United Kingdom.

BT Group CEO Philip Jansen said the agreement would allow it to continue the rollout of fixed and mobile networks, with digital connectivity critical to the UK’s economic future.

Under the current ban, UK operators will not be able to purchase 5G components from Huawei from the end of this year and must remove all existing Huawei gear from the 5G network by 2027, offering opportunities for for Nokia and Sweden's Ericsson ERICb.ST.

Nokia had a 21% share of the global radio access network (RAN) market in 2019, versus 29% for Ericsson and Huawei’s 31%, according to data from Moody’s.

While Nokia has been winning contracts from operators across the world, it suffered a setback earlier this month when it lost out to Samsung Electronics 005930.KS on a part of a contract to supply new 5G equipment to Verizon VZ.N.

Nokia is under new management with Lundmark taking the top job last month and telecoms veteran Sari Baldauf becoming the chairwoman in May.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Anne Kauranen

Greggs warns of job cuts as furlough scheme ends

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Tue, 29th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Bakery chain Greggs has hinted at possible job cuts as the government's furlough scheme ends.

The company, which employs 25,000 workers, expects business activity to “remain below normal for the foreseeable future”.

It said it had reviewed staff costs and was currently consulting with unions and employee representatives.

Greggs said it wanted to reduce the risk of job cuts by putting people on reduced hours.

However, it is not clear if the company will use the government's new Job Support Scheme where employers and the state top up workers' pay who are on fewer hours.

The scheme will replace the existing furlough programme which is coming to an end on 31 October. The vast majority of Greggs 25,000 workforce had been placed on furlough during lockdown and a quarter remained on the scheme when the company announced its interim results in July.

In a trading statement, Greggs said: “With the Job Retention Scheme planned to end in October we are taking steps to ensure that our employment costs reflect the estimated level of demand from November onwards.”

The company said that since reopening all its shops in July, like-for-like sales in the three months to 26 September have averaged 71.2% of the levels recorded in the same period last year.

Greggs said sales in September were above that average, with a recovery in customer visits.

However, it said August was a difficult month because of high temperatures and it was unable to take part in the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme because its shops with seating were closed.

In addition, average sales remain below the 80% level which Greggs said in July was needed for the company to break even.

Nevertheless, Greggs is moving ahead with opening a net 20 new shops this year, which it said will be “predominantly in locations accessed by car”.

The company said it had increased its digital investment during lockdown and “click & collect” – which allows customers pre-order and pay online before picking up food at a shop – has now been rolled out at all its stores.

It has also launched food deliveries with delivery app Just East and said it is “seeing encouraging participation levels”.

The company has more than 2,000 outlets in the UK across city centres, high streets and travel locations such as train stations and airports.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that the number of people using public transport or flying has drastically fallen, while a change in government guidance on workers returning to offices will affect footfall for retailers.

Analysis: Navigating a minefield

By Dearbail Jordan, business reporter

Greggs is facing a dilemma that many businesses are currently grappling with. Act now to deal with the current trading environment? Or hang on to see if the trends started by the pandemic – such as the accelerated shift to online – become permanent?

It is little wonder that the bakery chain hasn't given any figures on how many jobs it may cut or how many workers will be placed on reduced hours.

When it began consultations with its staff, the government's Job Support Scheme hadn't even been announced. Greggs was still working on the assumption that the furlough scheme would end on 31 October.

Throw in the government's changed stance on people working from home and the spectre of a second wave of coronavirus cases and it is nearly impossible for companies to get a steady enough footing on which to make long-term decisions.

Hotel Chocolat's boss Angus Thirlwell says the pandemic has simply sped up changes in the way that people are shopping.

But that doesn't mean running a company at the moment is any less precarious. For Hotel Chocolat, that means avoiding knee-jerk reactions. For businesses everywhere, it will mean navigating a minefield.

“Greggs will undoubtedly survive and be able to thrive once again,” said Julie Palmer, partner at business consultancy Begbies Traynor. “But its struggles tell the story of every business in the UK.

“What worked before the pandemic may not work during it. It, like many others, must adapt and change to the way that the world now works.”

‘A lasting legacy'

Separately, confectioner Hotel Chocolat announced that after a strong first half, sales and profits tumbled in the second six months of its financial year as lockdown was imposed.

Overall annual sales for the year to 28 June rose by 3% to £136.2m. Revenue grew 14% in the first six months before sinking by 14% in the second half.

Lockdown meant Hotel Chocolat's physical shops were closed for Easter, one of its key trading periods. It reported a £6.4m pre-tax loss compared with a £10.9m profit in the previous year.

The company said that it had been able to react quickly to the changing circumstances.

When its shops – which typically generate 70% of sales in the second half of its financial year – were closed two weeks before Easter, it recalled its inventory to its distribution centres and was able to grow sales online and through partners who sell its goods.

But Angus Thirlwell, Hotel Chocolat's co-founder and chief executive, said that since reopening its shops, “we are seeing a very patchy picture”.

He told the BBC's Today programme that while tourist spots such as Shrewsbury, Hitchin, Truro and Chichester were doing well, “the places that are tougher are city centres, transit and tourist-based locations… which is no surprise”.

“All we're trying to do is disentangle the very short-term kind of impact from the more longer-term shift towards online,” he added.

Asked whether the shift from High Street shops to online was permanent or not, and whether retailers should be changing their business models, Mr Thirlwell said: “I think there is going to be a lasting legacy from this which is that five years of what was going to happen anyway has just happened in five months.”

He said it could have implications on “where we should have our Hotel Chocolat locations”, but the company was also trying to “avoid doing knee-jerk reactions”.

Aldi plans to create 4,000 new jobs in 2021

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Mon, 28th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

The German-owned chain says it is opening new stores and refurbishing others, as well as investing in click and collect services.

Discount supermarket Aldi has said it expects to create 4,000 new jobs in 2021 as part of a £1.3bn two-year investment plan.

The German-owned chain, now the UK's fifth biggest by market share, said the investment would include new and upgraded stores and distribution centres as well as a recently announced “click and collect” service.

Under the plan, a total of 7,000 jobs will have been created over this year and next.

Aldi's expansion is set to add 100 new stores in the UK over 2020 and 2021, taking it closer to its long-term target of 1,200 by 2025.

Its announcement came as it reported an 8.3% rise in sales to £12.3bn to 2019, which it said compared with a more sluggish 1% for the grocery market overall.

Aldi said pre-tax profits – which had dipped the year before – rose by 49% to £271.5m as it benefited from “efficiencies of scale” while continuing to invest in keeping prices low.

The chain, together with discount rival Lidl, has been gnawing away at the market share of larger rivals Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Morrisons with its lower-price model.

But they have lagged behind the bigger chains in the development of online delivery, missing out on the surge in that market during the coronavirus pandemic.

However they have both now invested in “click and collect” offerings.

In May, Aldi revealed plans to deliver groceries to homes in the UK for the first time through a partnership with Deliveroo.

Giles Hurley, chief executive for Aldi UK and Ireland, said the supermarket's response to the pandemic had been “heroic and historic”, adding that its commitment to low prices was “more important than ever”.

Mr Hurley last week reassured customers that stores remained fully stocked and urged them to “continue to shop considerately” as fears about a rise in panic-buying prompted some rivals to ration key products.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

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How Palantir Built Data-Mining Empire

Source: CNBC

After 17 years, data analytics company Palantir is making its public market debut. Best known for its sometimes controversial work with U.S. government agencies like the CIA, the DoD and ICE, Palantir has increasingly been working with commercial customers as well, which investors hope will put it on a path to profitability.

Tesco becomes the latest supermarket to limit sales of some items

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 25th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Tesco has become the latest supermarket to place limits on the number of items shoppers can buy, following a similar move by rival Morrisons.

It has introduced a three-items per customer limit on flour, dried pasta, toilet roll, baby wipes and anti-bacterial wipes.

The supermarkets are acting to prevent a repeat of the panic-buying that led to shortages in March.

Tesco said it had “introduced bulk-buy limits on a small number of products”.

It said this was “ensure that everyone can keep buying what they need”.

“We have good availability, with plenty of stock to go round, and we would encourage our customers to shop as normal,” it said.

The supermarket has introduced additional limits for a small number of products online, such as rice and canned veg.

Morrisons introduced a limit of three items per customer on some ranges on Thursday, including toilet rolls and disinfectant products.

It said stock levels “were good”, but it wanted to “make sure they were available for everyone”.

No shortages

In March, UK supermarkets were forced to take steps to prevent shoppers from panic-buying around the height of the pandemic.

Many introduced limits on the number of certain items that customers could buy, such as flour, pasta or toilet roll.

Enhanced measures introduced in recent weeks have not triggered stock-piling by customers, according to several supermarkets approached by the BBC earlier this week.

Asda said it still had good availability in-store and online, while Waitrose said it had “good levels” of stock and that it had also looked at the items people bought early in lockdown and planned ahead accordingly.

“We would like to reassure customers that there is no need to worry about buying more than they need,” a spokesperson said.

An Iceland spokesperson said: “There are no shortages and there will be no shortages so long as people continue to shop responsibly for what they actually need.”

The British Retail Consortium said supply chains were good and has urged consumers to “shop as you normally would”.

Director of food and sustainability at the BRC, Andrew Opie, said: “Supply chains are stronger than ever before and we do not anticipate any issues in the availability of food or other goods under a future lockdown.

“Nonetheless, we urge consumers to be considerate of others.”

Aldi boss Giles Hurley has written to customers saying: “There is no need to buy more than you usually would. I would like to reassure you that our stores remain fully stocked and ask that you continue to shop considerately.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak gives businesses extra flexibility on repaying COVID-19 loans

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 24th Sept 2020) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak said on Thursday he would introduce a new scheme to give businesses flexibility to repay loans taken out during the coronavirus crisis, giving them up to 10 years to repay the loans rather than six.

Under the government’s Bounce Back Loan Scheme, 1.3 million small businesses have taken out a total of 38.0 billion pounds ($48.4 billion) in loans worth up to 50,000 pounds each, from banks which have received a 100% state guarantee.

“To give those businesses more time and greater flexibility to repay their loans, we are introducing Pay-as-you-Grow. This means loans can now be extended from six to 10 years, more than halving the average monthly repayment,” Sunak told parliament.

“Businesses who are struggling can now choose to make interest only payments, and anyone in real trouble can apply to suspened repayments altogether for up to six months.”

Reporting by David Milliken and Andy Bruce

Nike sportswear giant expects permanent shift to online sales

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 23rd Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Sportswear firm Nike has seen a huge rise in online sales as it bounces back from a coronavirus slump.

The US company saw digital sales rocket 82% during the June to August quarter, offsetting falling revenue in its stores.

On Tuesday, Nike posted revenue of $10.6bn (£8.3bn) as many of its key markets recovered including China.

For its previous quarter revenues were down by more than a third as it tackled store closures and lockdowns globally.

Nike chief executive John Donahoe said the shift to online sales could be a permanent trend.

“We know that digital is the new normal. The consumer today is digitally grounded and simply will not revert back,” Mr Donahoe said.

Sales are growing in its major markets including China, Japan, South Korea and the UK, while its core North American market is declining.

Nike's shares rose more than 10% in late trading in the US, as the results were better than Wall Street had expected.

Direct selling

Nike has been using its website and shopping apps to release limited edition footwear.

The sportswear giant has been transforming itself to sell directly to customers over the past few years, reducing its store presence and retail partners.

While many gyms have been closed during the pandemic, sportswear makers have reported strong demand for more casual attire as more people work and exercise at home.

Rival Adidas said last month that it was seeing improving sales trends while yoga pants maker Lululemon posted a 157% jump in its online business.

Like many other retailers, Nike is still limiting the number of people who can come into its stores at once to try to help curb the spread of the virus.

But when people do visit, they're coming with the intent to buy, Nike said.

B&Q and Screwfix to return £23m of furlough pay after reported increase in sales and profits

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 22nd Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Kingfisher’s shares rise as it reports increase in sales and profits during the pandemic

The DIY group behind B&Q and Screwfix has said it intends to return £23m of furlough pay to the government after sales and profits at its UK business climbed during the pandemic.

Sales rose 3.7% at Kingfisher’s UK business in the six months to 31 July – despite several weeks during which stores were closed or only partially open – as families snapped up garden decking, vegetable seeds, paint and other decorating materials to improve their homes during the national lockdown.

Retail profits in the UK rose more than 47% to £411m as the company benefited from £45m in business rates relief and cut spending on non-essential store maintenance, marketing and IT.

Thierry Garnier, the Kingfisher chief executive, said: “The crisis has prompted more people to rediscover their homes and find pleasure in making them better. It is creating new home improvement needs, as people seek new ways to use space or adjust to working from home. It’s also clear that customers are becoming more comfortable with ordering online.”

Shares jumped 9% after the update on Tuesday morning, making Kingfisher the top riser on the FTSE 100.

The group, which also owns the Castorama and Brico Dépôt DIY chains in France and home improvement stores in Poland, Romania, Russia, Spain and Portugal, said it had made £55m in total furlough claims across all its markets in the first half of the year.

It intends to pay back the £23m received in the UK unless there are any “material changes in the trading environment” and has also said it will not be claiming the £1,000 per staff member bonus for rehiring workers on the furlough scheme.

Kingfisher told shareholders it would not be paying a half-year dividend as it hoards cash to see it through potentially tougher times towards the end of the year.

Total sales for the group slid 1.1% to £5.9bn in the half year as growth in the UK, Poland and Romania was offset by continued declines in France, Russia and southern Europe. But pretax profits jumped 62.4% to £398m after cost savings, government bailouts and the cancellation of the dividend.

Online sales rose 164% to account for nearly 20% of total sales – up from 7% a year ago – as the group stepped up its plan to pick and deliver orders from stores.

Fears of a slowdown because of economic hardship caused by the pandemic are yet to be felt at the DIY group. Sales rose nearly 17% between the end of July and 19 September.

The company said availability in its stores had been affected because suppliers were struggling to keep up with “exceptional demand” for paint, decorating materials, outdoor and building materials ranges.

By Sarah Butler

Premier Inn owner Whitbread to cut 6,000 jobs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 22nd Sept 2020) London, UK —

(Reuters) – Premier Inn owner Whitbread WTB.L plans to cut up to 6,000 jobs at its hotels and restaurants as the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the travel and hospitality industries and the British government winds down a job support scheme.

The company said on Tuesday it had begun formal consultations on the cuts, which equate to 18% of its workforce, and expected a large proportion of them to be voluntary.

“We expect demand to remain subdued in the short to medium-term and the UK Government’s furlough scheme to come to an end in October,” Whitbread said in a statement, explaining the cuts.

Its shares were down 2.9% to 2,047 pence at 0709 GMT.

Travel and leisure businesses have been among the worst hit by the pandemic, with billions of dollars in business trips and holidays cancelled.

Britain’s pubs and restaurants are also bracing for a new round of restrictions to tackle a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.

The owner of the Beefeater, Brewers Fayre and Bar + Block chains, Whitbread had already said last month it would cut around 15%-20% of head office roles.

Holiday-Inn owner InterContinental Hotels IHG.L announced a 10% reduction in jobs at the corporate level last month, while Pret A Manger and PizzaExpress are among food chains to have announced layoffs.

Total sales for Whitbread’s UK and international businesses plunged 76.8% in the six months ended Aug. 27, as it closed hotels and restaurants during national lockdowns.

Since reopening, the company said its UK accommodation sales had been ahead of the market and it had seen strong demand in tourist spots, although demand had remained subdued in metropolitan areas and London.

It added its UK restaurants were boosted by the government’s Eat Out To Help Out subsidy scheme and hotel occupancy rates had recovered from March lows to average 51% in August, still far short of industry norms from before the crisis.

Whitbread, which sold its Costa Coffee chain to Coca-Cola KO.N in 2018, expects one-off costs from the layoffs to be about 12-15 million pounds.

Reporting by Tanishaa Nadkar in Bengaluru

Lockdown fears cause shares to fall sharply in travel, hotel and pubs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 21st Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

Leading shares across Europe have fallen sharply in morning trading amid fears that a renewed rise in coronavirus cases will blight economic prospects.

In London, the benchmark FTSE 100 share index was down more than 3%, with airlines, travel firms, hotel groups and pubs leading the rout.

Worst hit was British Airways owner IAG, which slumped more than 12%.

Similar falls were seen on markets in Paris, Frankfurt and Madrid.

Banking shares were affected by an extra set of concerns as allegations of money-laundering surfaced in leaked secret files.

HSBC, the bank at the centre of the scandal, saw its share price fall more than 5% in London, but the revelations dragged down the entire sector, with Barclays, Lloyds and NatWest all dropping about the same amount.

The downward trend affected all but a handful of stocks on the UK's 100-share index. Only online delivery service Just Eat, supermarkets Tesco and Morrisons and miner Fresnillo made it into positive territory.

The FTSE 250 index, seen as a better reflection of the health of the UK economy, was down 4% by lunchtime.

One of its biggest fallers was pub and restaurant owner Mitchells & Butlers, which dropped more than 15% as concerns grow that the hospitality industry would have most to lose from a fresh lockdown.

The pound also lost ground against the dollar, falling 0.47% to $1.2863 by lunchtime. It fell marginally against the euro to €1.0910.

Why does all this matter to me?

Many people are more affected by stock market falls than they might think.

There are millions of people with a pension – either private or through work – who will see their savings (in what is known as a defined contribution pension) invested by pension schemes. The value of their savings pot is influenced by the performance of these investments.

Pension savers mostly let experts choose where to invest this money to help it grow and a proportion will be in shares.

Widespread falls in share prices are likely to be bad news for these investments, although pension investors stress these are long-term investments and are designed to ride out bouts of weakness.

Analysis: By Theo Leggett

There has certainly been an element of European unity on the markets today, with the FTSE 100 index in London, the Cac 40 in Paris, the Dax in Frankfurt and the Ibex in Madrid all suffering similar falls.

The reason behind the gloom seems pretty clear. With the number of Covid-19 cases multiplying rapidly here and in many European countries, there's a real prospect of new restrictions on daily life. In some regions – such as Madrid, for example – they're already in place.

The fear is that although these measures are unlikely to be as severe as the lockdowns in spring, they will nonetheless weigh on economic activity and could stifle the post-lockdown recovery.

Shares are down across the board, but inevitably, the companies which rely on people being able to get out and about and mingle are among the worst affected.

Airlines, tourism firms and hospitality businesses have already had a dreadful year – and investors know they can ill afford further setbacks.

‘Bitter pill'

Coronavirus cases have been surging in many European countries, as governments strive to avoid another round of national lockdowns.

In the UK, top scientists are warning that the country is at a “critical point” in the pandemic and “heading in the wrong direction”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is understood to be considering a two-week mini-lockdown in England – being referred to as a “circuit-breaker” – in an effort to stem widespread growth of the virus.

Susannah Streeter, senior investment and markets analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: ”The FTSE 100 is worst hit among its European peers with a storm of pessimistic news swirling, affecting sectors across the board.”

She added that concerns for the travel industry had had a “domino effect”, with aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce hit, as investors saw no end to the falling demand for new planes.

At the same time, the prospect of evening coronavirus curfews, after a summer of recovering sales, was “a bitter pill to swallow” for the hospitality industry,

If you add the prospect of a no-deal Brexit into the murky mix, there is little surprise so many investors seem to have caught a severe case of the jitters today.”

£215m in furlough cash voluntarily returned by UK firms

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 21st Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

UK firms have voluntarily returned more than £215m to the government in furlough scheme payments they did not need or took in error.

According to HMRC figures, some 80,433 employers have returned cash they were given to help cover workers' salaries.

The money returned is a tiny part of the £35.4bn claimed under the scheme up until 16 August, the latest date for which statistics are available.

Officials believe £3.5bn may have been paid out in error or to fraudsters.

HMRC said it welcomed employers who have voluntarily returned grants.

Under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) – or furlough scheme – workers placed on leave have received 80% of their pay, up to a maximum of £2,500 a month.

At first this was all paid for by the government, but firms are now having to make a contribution to wages as well.

As of 15 September, companies and other bodies had returned £215,756,121 in grants, according to data obtained by the PA news agency through a freedom of information request.

Some of the money was returned, while other firms simply claimed smaller payouts the next time they were given furlough cash.

HMRC said: “HMRC welcomes those employers who have voluntarily returned CJRS grants to HMRC because they no longer need the grant, or have realised they've made errors and followed our guidance on putting things right.”

The CJRS was launched in April to support businesses that could not operate, or had to cut staffing levels, during lockdown. But companies have been urged to repay the taxpayer cash they receive if they feel they can afford to do so.

Choosing to repay

Housebuilders Redrow, Barratt and Taylor Wimpey have both returned all the furlough money they have claimed. So too have Games Workshop, distribution giant Bunzl and the Spectator magazine.

Others such as Primark and John Lewis have said they will not claim money under the Jobs Retention Bonus, which pays firms £1,000 for every employee they bring back from furlough and keep employed until the end of January.

The government has rejected calls to extend the furlough scheme when it ends on 31 October, despite warnings that it could trigger a wave of job cuts.

HMRC said: “To tackle the impact the pandemic had on people's jobs, businesses and livelihoods, the government introduced one of the most generous and comprehensive packages of support in the world, including the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

“So far, the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has helped 1.2 million employers across the UK furlough 9.6 million jobs, protecting people's livelihoods.”

US Richest Zip Code In Miami’s Exclusive Members-Only Island

Source: BI

Just three miles from Miami sits an exclusive, members-only island that's home to millionaires and celebrities. Here, residents drive around in golf carts, lounge on beaches with sand imported from the Bahamas, and easily get COVID-19 antibody tests. Business Insider tours the richest zip code in America, where condos can cost up to $40 million.

Why Eye-catching car colors are still mainly found on sports cars

Source: CNBC

A common complaint in today's automotive press, and often among buyers, is that all cars these days look the same. A few colors are trendy both in the United States and around the world, and they are, well, not colorful. Eye-catching car colors are still found on sports cars, halo vehicles, and limited editions. But they are vastly outnumbered by sober, conservative, achromatic colors. So how did these colors get popular? It has to do with practicality, human psychology, and technology.

UK retail sales increase boosted by spending on household goods and DIY -ONS

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 18th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

British retail sales have continued to increase for the fourth consecutive month, boosted by spending on household goods and DIY, according to official figures.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said retail sales volumes rose by 0.8% between July and August.

Sales are now 4% higher than in February, when a pandemic was declared.

“Retail sales continued to grow, further surpassing their pre-pandemic level,” the ONS said.

“Sales of household goods thrived as the demand for home improvement continued and, despite a dip this month, online sales remained high,” said Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics at the ONS.

Spending on household goods was particularly strong in August, with retailers reporting a 9.9% jump in sales of homeware products compared with the pre-pandemic levels seen in February.

But August's increase was smaller than the post-lockdown rebound seen in July, when retail sales volumes grew 3.6%.

High Street ‘under pressure'

Online sales also fell by 2.5% in August when compared with the previous month. But the strong growth in the number of customers shopping online during the pandemic has meant that sales were still 46.8% higher than in February.

Although online retailers might have seen higher numbers of clicks in recent months, many High Street stores are still struggling to attract customers after lockdown measures were eased nationally.

The volume of items sold in clothing shops, for example, still stood 15.9% below February's pre-pandemic levels in August.

“Clothing stores continued to struggle with sales still well below their February level. Overall, the switch to greater online sales means the High Street remains under pressure,” Mr Athow added.

‘Mixed bag' recovery

Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, said: “The recovery remains a mixed bag, with high growth in online sales, while city centre shops suffered as a result of low footfall.”

She added: “With further lockdowns looming, the government must provide clarity on the impact it will have for shops.

“Retailers have invested hundreds of millions making stores safe and secure for customers during the pandemic; this includes perspex screens, social distancing measures and additional hygiene measures. As such, retail remains a safe space for consumers, even under local lockdowns.”

While August saw some consumers returning to city centres to take advantage of the government's Eat Out to Help Out scheme, industry figures have suggested those areas might struggle to reach pre-pandemic levels of footfall.

Entrepreneur and ex-Dragons' Den star Theo Paphitis told the BBC's Today programme: “It's really interesting as you see the confidence in the consumer in travelling outside their house. Our business outside the metropolitan areas… is remarkably stronger than it is within.

“It's the fact that people lose the confidence to go far outside their normal area of habitat,” he said.

“It will never be the same again – I really can't see our stores ever reaching the levels in metropolitan areas that they did before, because I think the genie's out of the bottle.”

Several High Street chains also announced job cuts in August as they battled to shore up their businesses during the pandemic.

Sandwich chain Pret A Manger announced it would cut 3,000 jobs, or more than a third of its workforce, while department store chains Debenhams and M&S said they would be cutting 2,500 and 7,000 jobs.

Lisa Hooker, consumer markets leader at PwC, said that the run-up to Christmas would be crucial for retailers.

“Retailers will be hoping that the fragile recovery is not derailed by more widespread lockdowns, rising unemployment or dented consumer confidence,” she said.

Pinewood studio blockbuster visitor attraction set to create 3,500 jobs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Thur, 17th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

The company said the strategy comes at a time when the need for investment in economic recovery has never been higher.

Film studio Pinewood has announced a £450m expansion, including a blockbuster visitor attraction, which it says could create around 3,500 new jobs.

The announcement, details of which were first reported by Sky News, “comes at a time when the need for investment in economic recovery has never been higher”, the company said.

Pinewood, which has played host to many instalments of the James Bond and Star Wars franchises, will open Screen Hub UK on a 77-acre site next to the existing studio.

It will include a 350,000 sq ft “film-inspired international visitor attraction” called Pinewood Studio Experience.

Pinewood group chairman Paul Golding said: “We have been looking at a visitor experience for some time and feel that now is the right moment to bring it forward.

“The project will strengthen UK film and bring much needed jobs and spending.”

Pinewood said it would start consultation on its planning application for the scheme next week.

Its new visitor attraction is likely to feature many of the most famous films made at the site during its 84-year history.

Among those at least partly shot at Pinewood during the last year have been Rocketman, Mary Poppins Returns, 1917, Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker and the 25th James Bond film, No Time To Die, which is due to be Daniel Craig's final outing as 007.

The latest instalment of the Jurassic World series is currently filming at the Buckinghamshire studio.

Pinewood's plans will deliver a huge shot in the arm to a film industry which, like many others, has been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Filming across the television and movie sectors has been postponed or cancelled during the last six months, resulting in substantial delays to film releases and in turn dealing a heavy blow to the finances of cinema chains around the world.

Other big investments in UK film production capacity include a state-of-the-art film and TV studio being developed by Sky, the immediate owner of Sky News, at Elstree.

Next clothing retailer raises profit forecast again as sales increase

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 17th Sept 2020) London, UK —

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – British clothing retailer Next NXT.L raised its profit outlook for the second time in two months as it reported strong recent trading, helped by cooler weather and shoppers having more spare cash because they aren't spending on foreign holidays.

Shares in Next were 2.3% higher at 0935 GMT as it followed the positive trend set this week by H&M HMb.ST and Inditex ITX.MC, the owner of Zara, as retailers start to recover from the mass closure of shops caused by coronavirus lockdowns.

“Even in the event of another (national) lockdown it looks like the company will still make a significant profit and still reduce its year-end debt,” Next Chief Executive Simon Wolfson told Reuters.

What Next calls its central guidance now assumes a pretax profit of 300 million pounds in the year to the end of January 2021. That is up from its view in July of 195 million pounds but less than half the 729 million made in 2019-20.

Inditex, the world’s largest clothing retailer, said on Wednesday it had returned to quarterly profit in the May to July quarter and that current trade showed a progressive return to normality.

H&M on Tuesday beat quarterly profit forecasts, helped by more full-price sales and strong cost control.

SALES GROWTH TO SLOW

Next, which trades from about 500 stores in the UK and Ireland, as well as 184 overseas outlets, and its Directory online business, said full-price sales in the last seven weeks were up 4% year-on-year.

Next, which does more than half of its business online, does not expect to sustain that growth. Its central scenario assumes that sales will be down 12% for the rest of the year.

That factors in the end of the UK government’s furlough job support scheme in October, colder weather worsening the effects of the pandemic and tightened social distancing rules depressing demand for gifts and clothing associated with traditional Christmas family gatherings.

The group forecast a 462 million pound reduction in net debt for the current financial year and Wolfson said it was looking for more small acquisition opportunities thrown up by the crisis.

The impact of coronavirus was stark in the six months to the end of July, when Next reported profit of only 9 million pounds, with full price sales down 33%.

Reporting by James Davey

UK inflation fell to a five-year low by Eat Out to Help Out scheme

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 16th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –

The UK's inflation rate fell sharply to a five-year low of 0.2% in August as the effect of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme pushed down restaurant prices.

July's Consumer Prices Index (CPI) inflation figure had been 1%.

The VAT cut in the hospitality sector from 20% to 5% was also a factor, said the Office for National Statistics.

Low inflation – the rate at which prices of everyday goods and services rise – is good for consumers and borrowers, but can be bad for savers.

That is because it affects the interest rates set by banks and other financial institutions.

The eating out scheme, which ran from Monday to Wednesday in August, offered 50% off food up to the value of £10.

Discounts for more than 100 million meals were claimed through the scheme.

Prices in restaurants and cafes were 2.6% lower than in August last year, the first time they had been negative since records began in 1989, the ONS said.

Did anything else get cheaper?

The cost of clothing and footwear also fell significantly. And in an indication of the severe effect of the pandemic on travel and tourism, air fares dropped in price as fewer people travelled abroad because of quarantine restrictions.

The ONS said this was unprecedented for August, which is usually the peak month of the holiday season.

“The cost of dining out fell significantly in August thanks to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and VAT cut, leading to one of the largest falls in the annual inflation rate in recent years,” said ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow.

“For the first time since records began, air fares fell in August as fewer people travelled abroad on holiday. Meanwhile, the usual clothing price rises seen at this time of year, as autumn ranges hit the shops, also failed to materialise.”

It was the lowest inflation rate since December 2015.

What is inflation?

Inflation is the rate at which the prices for goods and services increase.

It affects everything from mortgages to the cost of our shopping and the price of train tickets.

It's one of the key measures of financial well-being, because it affects what consumers can buy for their money. If there is inflation, money doesn't go as far.

What does this mean for the economy?

Analysis: By Faisal Islam

A five-year low in the rise in consumer prices reflects the extraordinary action taken to try to get Brits back into town centres. The fall to 0.2% is overwhelmingly the result of the impact of Eat Out to Help Out and the temporary VAT cut for the hospitality sector.

It is a statistic that reaffirms what we already know, but also reflects some freakishly temporary factors. The chancellor's restaurant subsidy scheme is already over, the VAT cuts expire in January.

Inflation is likely to remain lower than its 2% target, except in the case of a further sharp fall in the value of the pound – for example, after a disorderly end to the post-Brexit trade talks. Either way, the Bank of England has more space for extra support to the economy in the coming months, without risking a surge in inflation.

Are prices going to fall any lower?

Probably not. Before the latest figures were published, there had been fears that the UK inflation rate might turn negative, giving rise to what is known as deflation.

Economists fear deflation because falling prices lead to lower consumer spending, as shoppers put off big purchases in the expectation that they will get cheaper still.

Thomas Pugh, UK economist at Capital Economics, said August's figure was probably “the low point” for inflation, but pointed out that it was unlikely to hit the Bank of England's 2% target within the next few years.

“The big picture is that it will be a few years before the economy is strong enough to sustain CPI inflation at the 2% target,” he said.

“The big risk to this view is a no-deal Brexit, which could cause a slump in the pound and, in turn, a temporary sharp rise in inflation to above 3.5%.”

Does this put more money in my pocket?

Not necessarily. Although prices went up very little in August, a look at the figures over the past three months shows that on average, inflation has outstripped growth in pay.

Inflation is calculated by looking at a “basket” of commonly purchased goods and comparing how much they cost now with last month and with the same time last year.

During the pandemic, the ONS has been unable to identify prices for many of the 720 items it usually monitors.

In August, the ONS said prices for only eight items were still unavailable, reflecting parts of the economy still unable to operate normally including cruises, live music, theatre, swimming pools and soft play sessions.