Mike Lynch UK entrepreneur loses $5bn fraud case over sale of Autonomy to HP in 2011

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 28th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

UK entrepreneur Mike Lynch has lost a multi-billion pound fraud action brought over the sale of software company Autonomy to Hewlett Packard (HP) in 2011.

The High Court judge found that HP had “substantially” succeeded in its bitter civil case but indicated that the US firm would get considerably less than the $5bn it had sought in damages.

The ruling follows years of bitter wrangling over Autonomy's value, which HP cut by almost $9bn after buying the firm for $11bn.

Mr Lynch has always denied any wrongdoing and said the failure of the acquisition was due to HP's mismanagement.

He is also due to learn later on Friday whether Home Secretary Priti Patel has approved an extradition request to the US where he faces criminal charges, including wire fraud and securities fraud, relating to the deal.

His Autonomy colleague, former chief financial officer Sushovan Hussain, was convicted in the US in 2019 and jailed for five years. He has subsequently lost an appeal against that conviction.

Apple sales skyrocket despite chip supply shortages

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri 28th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Apple sales soared in the key Christmas shopping season, despite constraints due to a global shortage of microchips.

Sales at the iPhone giant rose 11% to a record $123.9bn (£92.6bn) in the October to December period, beating forecasts.

Shares jumped more than 4% in after-hours trade, as the report suggested the firm's pandemic boom is continuing.

Apple has seen purchases skyrocket during the pandemic as people spend more time online.

The firm's market value briefly hit the $3tn milestone in early January though its share price has slipped more recently amid weeks of market turmoil.

Sales boom

Executives had warned last year that the global shortage of microchips might limit its sales, but the firm's quarterly update to investors on Thursday showed it brushing past those concerns.

Mac sales were up 12%, while iPhone sales jumped 9%.

With few rival phones debuting in the holiday shopping season, the iPhone 13, which started shipping days before the quarter began, led to worldwide phone sales revenue for Apple of $71.6bn.

Revenue from the company's services unit – which includes Apple Pay, the App store and its TV streaming service – was up more than 23%.

The iPad, which executives said was particularly affected by the supply issues, was the one product that showed weakness, with sales slipping 14%.

Demand in China, where sales rose 20%, propelled the firm's growth in the quarter.

Apple said profits were $34.6bn, up 20%.

The company, which has more than 1.8 billion active devices in the market, has been able to put pressure on suppliers and manufacturers to produce big quantities of iPhones and other devices despite shortages brought on by the pandemic and most recently the Omicron variant.

“They've navigated the supply chain better than everybody, and it's showing in the results,” said Ryan Reith, who studies the smartphone market for industry tracker IDC.

Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri said that supply constraints would decrease in the current quarter, which ends in March.

“The level of constraint will depend a lot on other companies, what will be the demand for chips from other companies and other industries. It's difficult for us to predict, so we try to focus on the short term,” he said.

Indian ride-hailing app Ola challenge Uber with new £100m electric car facility in Coventry

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 27th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

New boost to UK auto industry after tech giant and scooter maker invests in R&D plant to develop electric vehicles

Indian tech company Ola has announced plans to invest £100m in the UK to open a research and development facility for a planned electric car, in a significant boost to the UK automotive industry.

Ola launched its taxi app that rivals Uber in cities including London, Birmingham and Cardiff in 2018, but it is pushing into electric vehicles with a recently launched road-going scooter and a planned electric car.

The new facility will be based in Coventry, the traditional West Midlands centre of the UK automotive industry. It will create 200 jobs in design and engineering. Workers at the plant will also research battery technology.

Ola was founded in India in 2010 by Bhavish Aggarwal, and it now claims to be the world’s third-largest ride-hailing app. This week its electric vehicle arm, Ola Electric, raised $200m in funding at a reported $5bn (£3.7bn) valuation, and previous backers include Softbank, the major Japanese technology investor. It is also reportedly planning a stock market float to raise as much as $2bn.

The scooters are currently designed and manufactured in Bangalore, but Ola said the new UK facility, dubbed its “Futurefoundry”, will work closely with the headquarters. The company did not detail where it would build its electric cars, although wage costs are significantly lower in India than in the UK.

The investment will likely be seen as a vote of confidence in the UK automotive industry, which has seen a recent jump in investment following years of underperformance as big firms awaited clarity on the crucial trading arrangement with the EU.

Traditional carmakers such as Volkswagen are racing against newer companies led by America’s Tesla to invest in facilities to build new battery electric vehicles. However, EVs still only accounted for about 12% of UK sales in 2021.

The alliance between Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi announced on Thursday became the latest traditional carmaker to outline plans for major investments. The alliance said it would spend €23bn (£19.2bn) over the next five years to launch new electric models, including a new Nissan compact car in Europe – built at a Renault factory in northern France – to replace the Micra.

Ola would be a relatively late entrant to the electric car market, but its scooters have initially targeted its home market which is dominated by cheaper models.

Ola’s Aggarwal said: “Ola Futurefoundry will enable us to tap into the fantastic automotive design and engineering talent in the UK to create the next generation of electric vehicles. Futurefoundry will work in close collaboration with our headquarters in Bangalore, India to help us build the future of mobility as we make electric vehicles affordable across the world.”

The company last year recruited Wayne Burgess, a former Jaguar and Geely designer, to lead the UK vehicle design efforts. Burgess said Ola wanted to create a “world-class design and R&D team with global sensibilities”.

He added that the company will look at “two-wheeler, four-wheeler and other form factors.”

By Jasper Jolly

Mattel reclaims rights for Disney Princess toys from Hasbro

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 27th Jan 2022) London, UK —

Mattel Inc (MAT.O) on Wednesday won the rights to produce dolls based on Disney royalty like Elsa and Jasmine, snatching back a highly lucrative license from archrival Hasbro Inc (HAS.O).

The reunion sent Mattel's shares surging 11% and is part of Chief Executive Ynon Kreiz's plan to turn the company around by getting more entrenched in big entertainment properties.

Mattel did not disclose the financial terms of the deal, which came seven years after it lost the rights and will also allow it to make dolls based on the “Frozen” movie franchise.

“This is a defining moment in our transformation,” Kriez said in an interview.

“This has been a key priority as part of our turnaround and we worked very hard to win it … the way we see it Disney Princess and Frozen are back home where they belong.”

The toymaker has in recent years seen a resurgence in sales of the traditionally blonde Barbie doll thanks to new models with different skin tones, professions and attires that have struck a chord with a more diverse customer base.

Hasbro declined to comment but said it had renewed its licensing deal with Disney-owned Lucasfilm for “Star Wars” and would restart making products based on “Indiana Jones”.

Mattel will start selling the toys that would also feature dolls based on popular movies such as “Aladdin”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Brave”, and “The Little Mermaid” from 2023.

The toymaker has struck similar deals with Disney for Pixar Animation Studio's “Toy Story” and “Cars” franchises, as well as “Lightyear.”

Reporting by Praveen Paramasivam 

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Sainsbury’s asks shoppers and staff to keep wearing masks

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 26th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Sainsbury's has said it will continue asking customers and staff in England to wear masks in its shops when Plan B rules end on Thursday.

The supermarket chain said safety remained its “highest priority”.

The legal requirement for face coverings in public places and Covid passports will be dropped after infections peaked nationally.

The government has advised people to still wear masks in enclosed or crowded spaces and when meeting strangers.

The BBC has contacted other big supermarkets to ask if they also plan to keep the policy.

Morrisons said it would continue to follow the latest government guidance, so will not take the same stance as Sainsbury's.

In a statement to the BBC, Sainsbury's said it would ask customers and staff in England to “continue to wear a face covering in our stores if they are able to”.

“In Scotland and Wales face coverings remain mandatory for those who can wear them in our stores, in line with the latest government restrictions,” the supermarket added.

“We continue to have a range of safety measures in all of our stores, including screens and sanitising stations.”

When the previous mask-wearing mandate ended in July last year, Sainsbury's and its rival Tesco both asked shoppers to continue wearing face coverings.

At the time, Sainsbury's said its strategy reflected feedback from customers and colleagues, the majority of whom supported keeping the policy in place.

When the government re-imposed a mask mandate in November to battle Omicron, unions warned that shop workers had no power to make customers wear them.

Those who tried were also sometimes subject to abuse, with the shop workers' union Usdaw warning that it attracted “so much aggression” from a minority of customers.

Why use a face covering?

Scientific evidence has suggested coronavirus transmission mainly happens indoors where people are closer together.

Covering the nose and mouth can help reduce the spread of virus droplets from coughs, sneezes and while speaking.

The main purpose is to protect others although there is some evidence masks offer protection to wearers.

Fortnum & Mason in talks to open outlet in Qatar

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 26th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

The Queen’s favourite grocer is in talks with prospective franchise partners about establishing a presence in the Gulf state ahead of the World Cup, Sky News understands.

Fortnum & Mason, the upmarket London department store, is in talks to open an outlet in Qatar amid growing interest from international brands in the tiny Gulf state ahead of this year’s football World Cup.

Sky News understands that executives at the 315-year-old grocer are in talks with potential franchise partners in Qatar about the move.

If the project proceeds, it would represent Fortnum & Mason's first store in the country, although it did briefly have a presence in the Gulf with an outlet in Dubai which closed in 2017.

Owned by a branch of the Weston family, which recently sold Selfridges for £4bn, Fortnum still has a limited international presence, with its own store in Hong Kong, and partnerships in Australia and Japan.

Expanding into Qatar could augment the brand's global profile ahead of the FIFA World Cup, which gets underway in November.

Fortnum's business was badly affected during the initial phase of the pandemic, forcing it to furlough hundreds of staff, but it has since seen strong growth in its online business.

The recent Christmas trading period saw digital sales surge by more than 60%.

The company's store on Piccadilly is one of the world's best-known retail outlets, and it holds royal warrants from The Queen and The Prince of Wales.

A spokesman for Fortnum said: “As part of our strategy, we are exploring opportunities to expand both online and internationally, the Gulf being a region we'd like to look at again.”

By Mark Kleinman

Royal Mail to cut 700 jobs amid growing competition from rivals

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Tue, 25th Jan 2022) London, UK —

Royal Mail plans to cut around 700 management jobs as it tries to cut costs amid growing competition from rivals.

The move, part of a restructuring plan, comes as the firm faces heavy criticism amid ongoing postal delays.

The company has been struggling to cope with Covid-related staff absences.

Those have led to severe delays in some areas and the regulator, Ofcom, has said it may impose fines where services have fallen short.

Some customers have complained of waiting up to a month for important deliveries, including prescriptions.

Ofcom, the regulator, said recently that is was “concerned about these delays and have made it clear to Royal Mail that it must take steps to improve its performance as the effects of the pandemic subside”.

Large parts of London, Manchester, Hertfordshire, Wales and Scotland, have been particularly affected by the delays.

In early January around 15,000, more than one in 10 of Royal Mail's staff, were off sick or isolating, but Simon Thompson, who took over as chief executive of the delivery firm a year ago, said the situation was now improving.

Mr Thompson said absences had been “a headwind” in delivering productivity targets.Between April and December last year the firm had spent more than £340m on overtime, additional temporary staffing and sick pay, he said.

Analysis: By Dharshini David

Royal Mail has seen deliveries particularly hard hit by staff sickness and absences with the advent of Omicron, with around one in eight staff affected over the Christmas period. But even before that, it had repeatedly failed to meet delivery targets.

With pressure from customers, the regulator and shareholders for more efficient operations, Royal Mail is undertaking an overhaul. And its managers that will bear the brunt.

The company says that losing 700 posts will enable it to streamline its structure and improve local performance and ultimately, save £40m per year. It will now have to consult unions on the proposals.

In the first year of the pandemic Royal Mail saw rising demand for its services as people switched to shopping online at home.

Over the past year, with High Street stores open again, that demand has fallen back, but Royal Mail chairman Keith Williams said the trend for higher numbers of parcels being delivered remained.

The volume of domestic parcels being delivered by Royal Mail between October and December was 33% above pre-pandemic levels in 2019, but 7% lower than in 2020. However the number of letters Royal Mail handled in the October to December period declined in both 2020 and 2021.

“The past few months have demonstrated that the challenge for Royal Mail is to improve both quality and efficiency,” Mr Williams said.

“Looking forwards, the delivery of our transformation and modernisation plans remain incredibly important in light of the fast‐paced change we are seeing and ongoing inflationary pressures.”

Royal Mail said the latest planned job cuts would incur a charge of £70m but would deliver annual savings of around £40m.

The company axed a fifth of its managers – around 2,000 posts – in June 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic.

Vodafone announced plans to switch off its ageing 3G network next year

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Tue, 25th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Vodafone plans to axe its service next year to focus on 4G and 5G, which could affect coverage

Vodafone has announced plans to switch off its ageing 3G network next year to focus on using the freed-up spectrum to expand its 4G and 5G networks. Here we explore what impact the move might have.

What is 3G?

Launched at the turn of the century, 3G spectrum heralded the start of the transition of the simple mobile phone to the bells-and-whistles smartphones most of the public own today.

From video-calling and accessing services such as banking and online shopping to watching Premier League highlights, 3G spectrum ushered in the mobile enabled-era of the wider digital revolution.

Mobile operators spent a staggering £22.5bn at the auction of the UK spectrum in 2000, as the promise of billions in new revenues from enhanced usage beyond texts and phone calls fuelled a furious bidding war. The Hutchison-owned Three launched the UK’s first 3G network in 2003.

Why is it being switched off?

The UK’s 3G networks were state of the art two decades ago, but the technology has been superseded by more powerful and efficient 4G and 5G networks.

As most mobile phone users have upgraded to smartphones over the years, 3G is becoming obsolete. Today less than 4% of the data used by Vodafone customers is on its 3G network, and at BT-owned EE it is just 2%, compared with about 30% as recently as 2016.

Mobile operators are seeking to retire 3G networks and use the spectrum to bolster 4G and 5G services.

Who will be affected?

BT, which owns mobile brands including EE and Plusnet, has previously said that there are between 2 million and 3 million people using 3G handsets across all UK mobile networks.

Many of these are older phone owners who have preferred to stick with simple-to-use devices rather than be enticed by smartphones. Some have kept a 3G-enabled version as a fallback option in case they lose their main phone.

In 2017, there was a resurgence in the popularity of simple phones, with Nokia’s 3310 3G selling 13m handsets worldwide and making it the UK’s third most popular phone brand that year.

Will turning off 3G affect mobile phone coverage across the UK?

Based on coverage data approximately 2.2% of the UK is only covered by a 3G signal. For the most part this in remote locations such as rural Scotland, parts of North Norfolk, Wales and Cornwall.

However, all of these locations still have a basic 2G signal, which enables voice calling but has extremely limited access to internet data, which is not being switched off. However, EE has said it hopes that as coverage of 4G and 5G is rolled out it hopes to be able to switch off 2G networks as soon as 2025.

By Mark Sweney

Cathay Pacific annual loss narrows to as little as $720m far less than analysts forecast

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Mon, 24th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Cathay Pacific has said its annual loss for last year narrowed to as little as HK$5.6bn (£530m; $720m) even as Hong Kong remained under tight coronavirus travel restrictions.

It is much smaller than 2020's loss and far less than analysts forecast.

The improvement was driven by strong cargo demand and cost cutting measures.

However, the company said it expects to burn up to HK$1.5bn of cash a month starting February, after aircrew quarantine rules were tightened again.

“While passenger travel continued to be acutely affected, cargo demand was strong throughout the year,” Cathay Pacific's chief executive Augustus Tang said in a statement.

The airline forecast it would post an annual loss of HK$5.6bn to HK$6.1bn for 2021. That was much better than market expectations of a loss of more than HK$10bn as well as the HK$21.65bn loss seen in 2020.

Looking ahead to this year, Cathay forecast it would lose between HK$1bn to HK$1.5bn a month due to stricter aircrew quarantine regulations which will force it to further reduce cargo and passenger capacity.

The airline said for this month it is operating about 2% of its pre-pandemic passenger capacity and around 20% of its pre-pandemic cargo capacity.

“Regrettably, the capacity reduction will have an impact on Cathay Pacific's business and we have been evaluating the potential impact of these measures on our operations and cost base,” Mr Tang said.

Hong Kong, which has been pursuing a zero-Covid strategy in line with mainland Chinese policies, has suspended transit flights from most of the world.

Last month, the Asian financial hub's government announced even stricter quarantine rules after two Cathay aircrew members who broke self-isolation measures were blamed for a Covid-19 outbreak.

Last week, Hong Kong police said that the two former flight attendants have been arrested and charged for allegedly breaking the city's coronavirus restrictions.

The airline they worked for has not been named but the news came after Cathay fired two aircrew who were suspected of breaching Covid rules.

Cathay pilots have previously told the BBC how the rules have affected their mental health and put a strain on their personal lives, with one saying that he was “in a perpetual state of quarantine.”

How Real Swiss Chocolate Is Made

Source: FI

Making chocolate may look simple. After all, you only need a few ingredients: cacao beans, sugar, and milk. Yet mixing them correctly to achieve a smooth, velvety texture took centuries to achieve. And it's all thanks to Swiss chocolate makers.

They were the first ones to achieve a smooth, sweet, creamy chocolate. But, most importantly, they invented the conching machine, the most important machine in making chocolate. We visited Favarger in Geneva, Switzerland, for a tour of its chocolate factory.

Britishvolt secures millions in funding for mass production of electric car batteries in the UK

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Fri, 21st Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

A firm planning mass production of electric car batteries in the UK has secured government funding for its proposed factory in Northumberland.

Britishvolt announced plans for the so-called gigafactory in Cambois two years ago, saying it would create 3,000 jobs.

The BBC understands the government has committed about £100m through its Automotive Transformation Fund.

Britishvolt also announced backing from investors Tritax and Abrdn, that should unlock about £1.7bn in private funding.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng described the support as “reindustrialisation”. He told the BBC's Today programme that the “huge investment” would give people the “opportunity to have highly-paid, well-paid, high-skilled jobs”.

“We're bringing industry, we're bringing manufacturing to an area that has been under invested in frankly and we're bringing thousands of jobs,” he said.

“Well paid jobs, which represent a huge economic opportunity for people in this area. This is exactly what levelling up looks like. “

Analysis By: Theo Leggett

The government wants the UK to become a major force in the fast-growing market for electric cars.

But if it wants manufacturers to build them here, then having gigafactories in the UK as well is vital.

Not only are battery packs big and heavy, making local production desirable, they also make up a large proportion of the value of an electric car.

And under the Brexit deal, cars made in the UK and sold in Europe will soon have to contain a significant amount of UK or European parts.

Put simply: If batteries aren't made here, the chances are carmakers won't set up shop here either.

Experts say the Britishvolt plant will have to be the first of many. The future of the entire UK car industry depends on it.

The sale in the UK of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned by 2030, with manufacturers switching to making electric vehicles and requiring huge battery production.

The government has set aside more than £800m to attract battery investment to the UK. Mr Kwarteng said Britishvolt would help put the UK at the front “in this global race between countries to secure vital battery production”.

At full capacity, expected to be achieved by the end of the decade, the factory will produce enough battery cells for more than 300,000 electric vehicle battery packs per year.

The gigafactory is being built on the site of the former Blyth Power Station. In addition to the 3,000 people at the site, Britishvolt estimates at least another 5,000 jobs will be created in the supply chain.

Peter Rolton, Britishvolt's executive chairman, told the BBC's Today programme that he would like all of the new jobs at the plant to go to people living in the area, and said the company was setting up a training centre in nearby Ashington.

“Our policy is going to be to try and not to say no to anybody,” he added.

Mr Rolton said the first batteries ready for use would roll off the production line in 2024.

He said: “This announcement is a major step in putting the UK at the forefront of the global energy transition, unlocking huge private sector investment that will develop the technology and skills required for Britain to play its part in the next industrial revolution.

“This is a truly historic day and marks the start of a truly exciting move towards a low carbon future.”

Last year, Nissan's partner, China's Envision AESC, announced it would build an electric battery plant to supply an expansion of electric vehicle production at the Japanese carmaker's plant in Sunderland.

December retail sales suffered their worst on record as sales slump by 3.7%

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Fri, 21st Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

The month-on-month fall was the biggest since January and the worst for the festive period on records going back to 1996. A fall in demand for petrol and diesel, due to more people working from home under Plan B rules, also contributed to the slump.

Retail sales suffered their worst December slump on record last month as the Omicron variant was blamed for keeping shoppers away.

The 3.7% month-on-month decline in sales volumes reported by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) follows a strong November, when some consumers chose to make Christmas purchases early.

A fall in demand for petrol and diesel, due to more people working from home under Plan B rules, also contributed to the slump.

It was significantly worse than the 0.6% drop that had been pencilled in by forecasters and was the biggest December decline on records going back to 1996.

The fall was also the worst for any month since last January when Britain was coming under a tough new lockdown.

It highlighted the pressure on businesses created by the Omicron variant – and restrictions designed to tackle its spread – over the key festive season.

They will be now hoping for a boost as the Plan B rules are lifted – though separate figures published on Friday by GfK show a sharp drop in consumer confidence blamed on the surge in the cost of living.

The ONS data showed that in December, retail sales even failed to match last year's COVID-hit festive period, charting a 0.9% year-on-year decline.

The figures showed that fashion stores saw an 8% decline and department stores dropped 6.3%, while food store volumes were off by 1%.

Online sales were slightly higher as a proportion of the total, at 26.6%, than they were in November, at 26.3%, according to the ONS.

For 2021 as a whole, retail sales were up by 5.1% – a level of growth that has not been higher since 2002.

However that follows a 1.8% decline in 2020 when the pandemic took hold. Compared with 2019, annual retail sales last year were up by a more modest 3.2%.

Bethany Beckett, UK economist at Capital Economics, said the retail sales data added to evidence of Omicron dragging on GDP in December.

She added: “With encouraging signs that the Omicron outbreak may have turned a corner and the government's Plan B restrictions due to be lifted next week, retail sales may recoup a bit of this fall in January and probably all of it in February and March.

Households are facing the highest rate of inflation for nearly 30 years as energy bills soar while other products such as food and clothing also become more expensive as firms pass on price pressures.

They are also due to be hit by a national insurance rise in the spring while expected Bank of England rate rises will add to the cost of monthly mortgage payments.

A GfK survey published on Friday showed consumer confidence this month falling to its lowest level since last February when the country was under lockdown.

GfK client strategy director Joe Staton said: “The UK's financial pulse weakened further this January driven by concerns over personal finances and the general economic situation.

“Despite some good news about the easing of COVID restrictions, consumers are clearly bracing themselves for surging inflation, rising fuel bills and the prospect of interest rate rises.”

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Primark to axe 400 managers jobs across the UK in response to rising costs

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Thur, 20th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Move to simplify management structure comes despite significant bounce in sales

Primark is to axe 400 jobs across its UK business as the fast fashion retailer cuts back its store management roles in response to rising cost pressures, despite a significant bounceback in trading in recent months.

Primark, which operates 191 stores in the UK and more than 400 in total internationally, said it was creating a new management level role as part of the reorganisation but overall expected the changes to leave it with about 400 fewer retail managers in the UK.

The company added that although supply chain pressures had now eased it still expected that longer shipping times would “continue for some time”.

Primark said that while sales at its UK stores in the 16 weeks to 8 January had been “well ahead” of last year, despite an impact from the spread of Omicron, they remained 10% below pre-pandemic levels.

“The changes we are proposing will deliver a simplified and more consistent management structure across all of our stores,” said Kari Rodgers, the UK retail director at Primark. “[It will] provide more opportunities for career progression and offer greater flexibility, all of which are designed to help us provide the best possible experience for both our customers and colleagues. We are now focused on supporting our colleagues who are affected by these proposed changes and will be going through the consultation process.”

The cuts come as Primark reported a Christmas boom, with sales at £2.6bn in the 16 weeks to 8 January, a 36% increase over the previous year when the retailer saw widespread closures of stores in the UK and Europe because of the pandemic.

The company said that while sales at stores in retail parks had surpassed pre-pandemic levels, sites in city centres continued to show a lag in the rate of recovery.

Overall, Primark said sales were down 5% compared with the same period in 2019, pre-Covid, helped by the opening of 25 stores since the start of the pandemic, and 11% on a like-for-like basis stripping out the impact of the expansion. Looking ahead, Primark expects sales up to April to be “significantly better” than last year.

Primark’s business in the US, where it plans to open 100 stores, continues to be a “standout” performer with sales up 4% on pre-Covid levels on a like-for-like basis and 37% compared with total levels two years ago.

“If the shackles continue to loosen on the vital Primark arm, the group should be poised for stronger prospects and the market consensus of the shares as a strong buy echoes this possibility,” said Richard Hunter, the head of markets at Interactive Investor.

Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods (ABF), which owns brands including the hot drinks firms Ovaltine and Twinings as well as a sugar business, said that margins had been squeezed at its other businesses as inflation pushed costs higher, with price rises on its products taking time to feed through to the bottom line.

“All businesses have experienced inflationary pressures in raw materials, commodities, supply chain and energy,” the company said. “Margins in grocery and ingredients were impacted where sales price actions have lagged the effects of input cost inflation.

“All businesses have been focused on mitigating the effects of significant cost input inflation, particularly in energy costs.”

Overall, ABF reported a 16% rise in total group revenues to £5.5bn.

By Mark Sweney

Solana Could Become the Visa of Digital-Asset World: Bank of America

(qlmbusinessnews.com via coindesk.com — Thur, 20th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

How The Right 5-10 Cryptocurrency Coins
Could Make You A Fortune

Solana and other blockchains may snag market share from Ethereum over time, the bank said in a research note.

The Solana blockchain could become the “Visa of the digital asset ecosystem” as it focuses on scalability, low transaction fees and ease of use, Bank of America told clients in a research note after hosting Solana Foundation member Lily Liu.

Solana has experienced strong adoption since launching in 2020. It has settled over 50 billion transactions (Visa, the global payments giant, processed 164.7 billion transactions in the year ended Sept. 30), has more than $11 billion in total value locked and has been used to mint more than 5.7 million non-fungible tokens (NFTs), analyst Alkesh Shah wrote in the note published Tuesday. Solana is optimized for consumer use cases such as micropayments and gaming, the bank said.

“Solana prioritizes scalability, but a relatively less decentralized and secure blockchain has trade-offs, illustrated by several network performance issues since inception,” Shah said. “Ethereum prioritizes decentralization and security, but at the expense of scalability, which has led to periods of network congestion and transaction fees that are occasionally larger than the value of the transaction being sent.”

Bank of America said Solana and other blockchains could grab market share from Ethereum over time, and will begin to distinguish themselves through user adoption and developer interest.

By Michael Bellusci

Deliveroo reports gross transaction value of orders on its platform rose 36% in Q4

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Thur, 20th Jan 2022) London, UK —

 Food delivery company Deliveroo (ROO.L) said the gross transaction value (GTV) of orders on its platform rose 36% year-on-year in the fourth quarter, resulting in it hitting the top of its guidance range with a 70% rise for the year.

Food delivery boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic when pubs and restaurants were closed, and the popularity of the platforms has not faded since hospitality reopened.

Deliveroo said its monthly customer base had continued to grow despite the easing of lockdown restrictions, with 8 million active monthly customers in the quarter, up 37% year-on-year and up 123% on pre-pandemic levels.

The number of orders grew 10% compared to the previous quarter, it said, and the average value stabilised, up by 1% in constant currency on Q3 to 21.40 pounds.

Deliveroo, which listed in London in March 2021, said its guidance for gross profit margin as a percentage of GTV was maintained at 7.5-7.75%.

Reporting by Paul Sandle

Inflation hits 30 year high as rising food prices and energy increase intensifies cost of living, official figures show

(qlmbusinessnews.com via news.sky.com– Wed, 19th Jan 2022) London, Uk —

The higher than expected increase in the cost of living in December came ahead of further pressure from a likely energy price cap hike in the spring.

Inflation climbed to 5.4% last month, its highest rate since March 1992, as Britain's cost of living squeeze intensified, official figures show.

The consumer price index (CPI) measure of inflation, up from 5.1% in November, was higher than economists had expected – as food, furniture and clothing prices surged, as well as restaurant and hotel bills.

That added to continued pressure caused by energy bill hikes seen in October, fuel prices that have climbed to record levels, and a spike in demand for used cars – on average costing 28% more than in January – as chip shortages squeeze the supply of new vehicles.

The ONS recorded a measure of household utility bills inflation at its highest since November 2011.

Its latest figures come a day after official data showed wage rises for UK workers are already being wiped out by the surge in prices, even before the latest uptick.

Further upward pressure on inflation is expected in April when a new energy price cap could see bills for millions of households hiked by 50%.

The surge in the cost of living is putting pressure on the Bank of England to take further action – having already raised interest rates from 0.1% to 0.25% last month.

CPI has never been higher than it is now since the ONS started reporting price rises using this measure in 1997.

But using a statistical model extrapolating back to previous years it estimates that inflation was last higher in March 1992 at 7.1%.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in response to the latest data: “I understand the pressures people are facing with the cost of living, and we will continue to listen to people's concerns as we have done throughout the pandemic.”

He said the government was providing £12bn in support to help, citing changes to the Universal Credit benefit, freezes in alcohol and fuel duties and targeted support to help households struggling with energy bills.

Alpesh Paleja, lead economist at the CBI, said: “We've not seen the end of rising inflation yet.

“We expect it to peak in the months ahead, not least if, as expected, the energy price cap is raised.

“With prices on the rise and real wages already falling, it's likely households will face a cost-of-living crunch for much of this year.”

Kitty Ussher, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “We already knew that the rise in the price of energy, fuel and second-hand cars was likely to keep inflation way above the Bank of England's 2% target in December.

“What is of particular concern is that the change from November has come mainly from an increase in the price of food.

“Not only does this provide additional evidence that inflation is becoming endemic rather than transitory, it also bodes ill for households facing multiple rises in the cost of living this spring.”

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Sony shares fall after Microsoft plans to buy mega games company Activision Blizzard in $68.7bn deal

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Wed, 19th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Shares in Japanese technology giant Sony have slumped in Tokyo trade after Microsoft said it plans to buy mega games company Activision Blizzard.

The deal worth $68.7bn (£50.5bn), would be Microsoft's biggest ever buyout and the largest deal in gaming history.

It would see the US firm owning popular gaming franchises including Call of Duty, Warcraft and Overwatch.

The deal would be a major step for Microsoft's Xbox gaming brand in its battle against Sony's PlayStation.

It also comes a year after Microsoft bought another influential gaming company, Bethesda for $7.5bn.

Buying the troubled but successful Activision would turn Microsoft into the world's third-biggest gaming company by revenue, behind China's Tencent and Sony, marking a major shift for the industry.

Microsoft said the Activision-Blizzard deal would help it grow its gaming business across mobile, PC and consoles as well as providing the building blocks for the metaverse.

The purchase of the Call of Duty maker comes as Microsoft is also aggressively expanding its Game Pass subscription service.

“We're investing deeply in world-class content, community and the cloud to usher in a new era of gaming that puts players and creators first and makes gaming safe, inclusive and accessible to all,” Microsoft's chief executive Satya Nadella said in a statement.

In the battle for popularity with gamers, Sony's PlayStation 5 is widely seen as having the lead over Microsoft's fourth generation Xbox models.

In recent years, Sony has strengthened its network of in-house games studios and delivered a string of exclusive hits including in its Spider-man franchise, which has left its US rival playing catch-up.

The Japanese firm is also a pioneer in virtual reality and this month teased some details its next generation headset.

However, it faces tough competition in that area from non-traditional rivals such as Facebook owner Meta Platforms, which is investing heavily in its metaverse offering.

Sony Group's shares closed 12.8% lower in Tokyo on Wednesday, which helped to pull down the benchmark Nikkei 225 index by 2.8%.

Aldi opens its first checkout-free supermarket

(qlmbusinessnews.com via bbc.co.uk – – Tue, 18th Jan 2022) London, Uk – –

Aldi has opened its first checkout-free supermarket where people can shop without having to scan a product.

The grocer is operating a “trial” store in Greenwich, London, which allows customers to complete their shop and pay without going to a till.

Instead, customers can download the Aldi Shop&Go app, and will then be automatically charged for their purchases once they leave the store.

Aldi's new store follows similar moves by Tesco, Sainsbury's and Amazon.

The supermarket's new site will also allow customers to buy alcohol, using facial-age estimation technology, to check whether they appear to be over the age of 25.

People who cannot or choose not to use this system can have their age verified by a member of staff.

A series of hi-tech cameras will track customers as they do their shopping, and then bill them when they leave.

Giles Hurley, chief executive of Aldi UK and Ireland, said he was “looking forward to seeing how customers react” to the trial, which he said used the “very latest in retail technology”.

Lewis Esparon, Greenwich store manager, added: “We have been working towards this day for several months now so it will be great to see how our customers react to the new technology.

“For us, steps like this are always about improving the customer experience and the whole team are looking forward to being on-hand and ready to help to ensure that experience is as smooth as ever.”

Before the service was launched, Aldi trialled the format with employees.

Aldi is Britain's fifth largest supermarket with more than 950 stores and about 38,000 staff.

Wayve UK self-driving startup raised $200 million to scale up autonomous driving technology

(qlmbusinessnews.com via uk.reuters.com — Tue, 18th Jan 2022) London, UK —

British self-driving technology startup Wayve said on Tuesday it has raised $200 million from investors to scale up its autonomous driving technology globally and launch more pilot projects with commercial fleet partners.

The Series B funding round brings the startup's total fundraising to $258 million and includes new investments from venture capital firms D1 Capital Partners, Moore Strategic Ventures and Linse Capital, plus fresh capital from investors including Microsoft (MSFT.O).

Making taxis autonomous has proved more difficult and expensive to develop than expected, but investors have been pumping money into self-driving technology for trucks and other commercial vehicles where automation could be viable sooner. 

London-based Wayve's technology relies on machine learning that uses camera sensors fitted on the outside of the vehicle, instead of the conventional method of relying on detailed digital maps and coding to tell vehicles how to operate.

“Instead of telling a car how to drive we've built a system that learns to drive and can learn to do intelligent things,” Wayve CEO Alex Kendall told Reuters.

He said that, for instance, the company's test vehicles have learned how to correctly navigate “very robustly” through traffic lights in London – knowing how traffic lights function, which lane to be in and how to interact with other vehicles even if they are breaking the rules. Last year Wayve took vehicles to five other UK cities and drove through traffic lights without ever having operated in those cities before.

“Our system was able to take the concept of traffic lights from London and apply it everywhere,” Kendall said. “That's why we'll be the first company to deploy in a hundred cities (worldwide),” he said, without giving a timeframe.

UK online grocery technology company Ocado (OCDO.L) has invested in Wayve and has announced an autonomous delivery trial with the startup. 

Wayve is also running an autonomous delivery trial with British supermarket chain Asda in London.

(This story corrects to remove word “existing” from second paragraph to show Microsoft is a new investor)

Reporting by Nick Carey

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