(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.
(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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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”.
(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.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Mon, 28th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –
Uber to get London licence as court rules it ‘no longer poses a risk'
Ride-hailing service wins appeal a year after TfL refused extension over safety concerns
Uber has been granted the right to a fresh licence in London after an appeal found it was a “fit and proper” firm to run private hire car services.
Westminster magistrates court ruled in favour of Uber almost a year after Transport for London refused the ride-hailing firm a licence extension over safety concerns.
The deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram said he had “sufficient confidence that Uber London Ltd no longer poses a risk to public safety … despite historical failings,” after hearing three days of arguments this month.
He said Uber had tightened up review processes to tackle document and insurance fraud and it now “seems to be at the forefront of tackling an industry-wide challenge”.
TfL’s safety concerns included the discovery that up to 14,000 trips by Uber passengers had been served by non-licensed drivers fraudulently logging on to the app using other people’s IDs.
Before the hearing, Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager, said: “We have worked hard to address TfL’s concerns over the last few months, rolled out real-time ID checks for drivers, and are committed to keeping people moving safely around the city.”
The firm argued that it had fundamentally changed in the three years since TfL first refused it a licence, in September 2017, when TfL deemed it not “fit or proper” to operate in the capital. On that occasion Uber won a provisional extension on appeal, but it was again refused a licence last November over the identity concerns.
The exact length of Uber’s next licence and any conditions attached are yet to be decided. Uber had been allowed to continue to run services in London pending the appeal.
Steve McNamara, the general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, which represents black-cab drivers, called the decision “a disaster for London”.
He said: “Uber has demonstrated time and time again that it simply can’t be trusted to put the safety of Londoners, its drivers and other road users above profit. Sadly, it seems that Uber is too big to regulate effectively, but too big to fail.”
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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.
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Fri, 25th Sept 2020) London, Uk – –
Wave of ‘reverse commuters’ in prospect as number of jobseekers looking further afield jumps 27%
Londoners are increasingly looking for jobs outside the capital as the city’s economy stalls, one of the UK’s largest recruitment sites has found, raising the prospect of a wave of “reverse commuters” or a continued exodus of residents.
Figures from Indeed, based on millions of job adverts and searches, show that on 18 September, the number of posts advertised in London was down by 55% on the same date in 2019.
The sharp decline reflects the impact of closed offices and reduced hospitality services on the city’s jobs market.
Many restaurants, hotels and shops in business and tourist areas remain closed or are operating at a reduced capacity.
With vacancies thin on the ground, Indeed said more jobseekers living in London were now looking for work elsewhere. In August, the number looking outside London was up by 27% year on year, and by 30% compared with the start of the year.
The most popular search locations were parts of the home counties, with Essex top of the list, followed by Kent and Surrey, suggesting that people were willing to commute to work, at least in the short term.
The roles being searched for were typically lower-paid, with the top five being cleaner, customer service representative, warehouse worker, retail assistant and sales assistant.
However, jobseekers may struggle to find work in those areas. When the website looked at the areas recording the biggest fall in adverts, Scotland followed London with a 51% drop, but next on the list was the south-east of England with a similar-sized fall.
Jack Kennedy, Indeed’s UK economist, said the prolonged absence of commuters and tourists from central London was “weighing down” the pace of job creation in the capital.
“While London’s flagship financial and tech sectors are still recruiting, the types of job that Londoners are searching for most commonly outside London tend to be roles that were long abundant in the capital – from retail to cleaning work – but which are now scarcer,” he said.
“Most are looking for work in areas within commuting distance of London. This raises the prospect of a new type of worker: the reverse commuter who lives in London but travels out of the capital for work.”
High London rents and house prices mean that many people previously working in these roles in the centre of the city could be living in boroughs near to where they are now looking for work.https://www.theguardian.com/email/form/plaintone/3887Sign up to the daily Business Today email or follow Guardian Business on Twitter at @BusinessDesk
Letting agents and property websites have reported a surge in the numbers of tenants and homeowners looking to move out of London, and the jobs market could be driving some of this movement.
Neal Hudson, a housing market analyst, said there was evidence that people in so-called elementary jobs lived in the affordable boroughs, typically on the outskirts.
“There is a question over whether these people will stick with where they live or look to move out closer to the work (if it exists) and also whether the transport infrastructure can support these reversals in commuting patterns,” he said.
(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”.
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.”
(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.”
(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Wed, 23rd 2020) London, Uk – –
Michael Gove has written to hauliers to warn that if they do not prepare now for Brexit they could face queues of up to 7,000 trucks in Kent, confirming internal cabinet analysis of the potential disruption caused by the UK’s departure from the single market in January.
The letter also warns of two-day delays for cargo travelling to the EU through Dover or Folkestone ferry or Eurotunnel trains in what it is describing as the “reasonable worst-case scenario”.
“The biggest potential cause of disruption are traders not being ready for controls implemented by EU member states on 1 January 2021,” Gove wrote in the letter seen by the Guardian. “It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”
The warnings were contained in confidential government documents revealed by the Guardian earlier this month.
Gove is due to outline the scenario work, which the Cabinet Office stressed was not a forecast, in the Commons on Wednesday.
The letter has enraged industry leaders and the haulage industry, which has been begging for details of the preparations they will have to make as a matter of urgency for the last six months.
It came the day both Logistics UK, which represents the freight industry, and the Port of Dover said the government’s efforts to shift blame for lack of Brexit preparations on to the industry was wrong-headed.
Tim Reardon, the head of EU exit policy, told the Treasury select committee that government funds had yet to be released for vital infrastructure at Dover port.
The money needed to be “issued rather than talked about”, he said.
The chair of the committee, the Conservative MP Mel Stride, said the government appeared to be leaving it “incredibly tight” and questioned why “in the latter part of September” there was still “talk about money being available for spades in the ground”.
While industry leaders were protesting that the technology for hauliers may not be ready for beta-testing until the end of November, a succession of government leaders have been pushing a narrative that it will be industry or the EU that will be to blame if there are queues in Kent.
On Tuesday, the environment secretary, George Eustice, claimed it would be down to “slipshod” EU planning even though France put the first spades in the ground for no-deal Brexit infrastructure 18 months ago.
Dover port confirmed on Tuesday that trucks without the complete paperwork for EU requirements would be turned away and not allowed on ferries, fuelling fears of queues on the British side.
Gove warned changes were coming with or without a deal.
The Cabinet Office document, reported by the Guardian prevrously, states that, in its reasonable worst-case scenario, 30-50% of trucks crossing the Channel will not be ready for the new regulations coming into force on 1 January, while a “lack of capacity to hold unready trucks at French ports” could reduce the flow of traffic across the strait to 60-80% of normal levels.
“This could lead to maximum queues of 7,000 port-bound trucks in Kent and associated maximum delays of up to two days,” the documents said..
Such delays could be in place for at least three months, hauliers have been warned, as alternative routes are sought and supply chains get to grips with the new systems and requirements.
In his letter, Gove said: “Irrespective of the outcome of negotiations between the UK and EU, traders will face new customs controls and processes. Simply put, if traders, both in the UK and EU, have not completed the right paperwork, their goods will be stopped when entering the EU and disruption will occur.
“It is essential that traders act now and get ready for new formalities.”
But sector chiefs have accused the government of failing to do enough in recent weeks over the threat of post-Brexit border delays.
The Road Haulage Association (RHA), meanwhile, said its meeting on Thursday with Gove was a “waste of time” as it did not engage with the detailed actions needed to be taken.
Responding to the worst-case scenario document, the RHA chief executive, Richard Burnett, said: “We’ve been consistently warning the government there will be delays at ports but they’re just not engaging with industry on coming up with solutions.
“Traders need 50,000 more customs intermediaries to handle the mountain of new paperwork after transition but government support to recruit and train those extra people is woefully inadequate.
“The answers to the questions that we raised in our letter to Mr Gove and subsequent roundtable meeting last Thursday still remain unanswered – and our concern continues to grow.”
(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.
(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.
(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.
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.”
(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.”
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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.
(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.