UK plumbing firm exploring modifying employment contracts to include COVID-19 vaccine

( via — Thur, 14th Jan 2021) London, UK —

LONDON (Reuters) – A firm of London plumbers is looking at changing its employment contracts to include a requirement for workers to have a COVID-19 vaccine, its founder said on Thursday, though he added that no one would get fired for refusing to have the shot.

Pimlico Plumbers, with a workforce of more than 400, has been talking to its lawyers about making the vaccine mandatory for new hires within a few months, founder Charlie Mullins said.

The firm was also exploring how it might modify existing staff contracts, he said, although he insisted no one would be forced to receive a vaccine or be fired over the issue.

“We wouldn’t dream of forcing anybody but I’m pretty much certain that 99% of our staff would jump at the opportunity,” Mullins told Reuters in a telephone interview.

“Who in their right mind would turn down one needle or one jab that could save your life?” he added.

Asked whether there was a contradiction between saying contracts could be modified to require vaccines while also saying no one would be forced out, Mullins presented the issue as one of persuasion rather than coercion.

“It’s not a contradiction because I think you’ll find if you encourage people and advise them … I’m happy to pay for anyone that works for us to have the vaccine,” he said, adding that this could take place during working hours.

As things stand, people in Britain can only receive the vaccine from the state-run National Health Service, which is gradually rolling them out free of charge, following an order of priority with elderly and vulnerable people top of the list.

Mullins said he believed that within a few months it should be possible to pay to obtain vaccines privately, and he also thought it would become the norm for proof of vaccination to be required for things such as air travel or going to the theatre.

In that context, he said, he did not believe many people would find a “no jab, no job” policy controversial.

“Nobody moans now you’ve got to get on a plane with a negative COVID test,” he said, referring to a new requirement for passengers arriving in Britain to provide proof of a negative test taken less than 72 hours before travel. Many other countries have had such requirements for months.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon

Lidl and food courier Just Eat sales surged by lockdown living

( via – – Thur, 14th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Restaurant and pub closures fuel trading boom over Christmas period

Lockdown living has driven a surge in demand at Lidl and the food courier Just Eat, with both companies posting strong sales for the final weeks of 2020.

With restaurants and cafes closed to diners, the boom in home eating led Just Eat to report a 57% spike in orders across Europe during the final three months of last year, compared with a year earlier.

The leap in trade reported by the continent’s biggest food delivery service was a further acceleration in growth from the 46% jump in the third quarter.

In the UK, delivery orders surged by almost 400% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared with the same period of 2019, as many consumers were once again asked by the government to stay indoors.

Just Eat Takeaway, based in the Netherlands and one of the world’s largest online food delivery firms, said it had put “tremendous effort” into improving its British business, including a doubling of its UK sales force.

In 2021, we will continue to invest in price leadership, improving our service levels and expanding our offering to restaurants and consumers,” said Jitse Groen, the chief executive.

Lidl also reported a record Christmas, as customers celebrated with panettone and pink prosecco.

Sales at the chain rose by 17.9% in the four weeks to 27 December, compared with the same period a year earlier. The increase was larger than those at the UK’s four biggest supermarkets – Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda and Morrisons – and Aldi.

British supermarkets notched up their biggest month on record in December, with consumers spending £11.7bn on take-home groceries, according to analysts at the research group Kantar, as coronavirus restrictions led to the closure of many restaurants, pubs and cafes during the key trading period.

Lidl said shoppers bought more goods – with basket size increasing by almost 25% year on year – and British households switched £34.7m of spend to Lidl from other supermarkets.

Customers’ taste for premium food and drink over the Christmas period boosted their spend, and sales of Lidl’s Deluxe range climbed by 22%.

Lidl shoppers bought more than 1m bottles of pink prosecco during the festive period, as well as 2.7m panettones. An average of 17,000 Deluxe mince pies an hour were sold during December.

Christian Härtnagel, chief executive of Lidl GB, said its record sales and basket size growth demonstrated the strength of the chain’s appeal.

And the store’s first branded Christmas jumper, featuring the logo as part of a festive design, appears to have topped the charts, with one sold every minute in the month to 27 December.

“Despite this Christmas being a difficult time for many across the country, we are pleased to have been able to help our customers enjoy themselves by offering high-quality food at the lowest prices on the market,” he said.

Car loan lenders can seize vehicles from February

( via – – Wed, 13th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

People falling behind on credit payments for cars and other products may soon have their items seized by lenders, under the regulator's plans.

A ban on repossession of goods and vehicles is due to expire at the end of January.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) said that extending the ban could leave people owing much more over time.

However, the FCA is proposing that no homes are repossessed before the start of April.

The coronavirus pandemic meant the ban on repossessions of homes, vehicles and other items in the UK was put in place and extended to the end of January

Normally, lenders can seize homes and goods if somebody falls too far behind on loan repayments.

Deferrals on payments are available for an agreed period of time, but the FCA is now proposing that repossessions of items bought on credit – such as cars – can resume from the start of February.

“This should only be as a last resort, and subject to complying with relevant government public health guidelines and regulations, for example on social distancing and shielding,” the FCA said.

“Firms will also be expected to consider the impact on customers who may be vulnerable, including because of the pandemic, when deciding whether repossession of goods or vehicles is appropriate.”

It argued that interest over a longer period, combined with the depreciating value of the goods or vehicles, would leave people with a potentially unsustainable bill.

The popularity of car finance has fallen amid the pandemic. New figures from the Finance and Leasing Association show a fall in new business volumes of 24% in November compared with the same month in 2019.

Home repossession ban

The picture for homes is different, owing to the government restrictions on movement and the transmission risks of coronavirus.

The FCA's repossession ban on properties is proposed to be extended to April.

Last week, governments in England, Wales and Scotland all extended their ban on bailiffs enforcing evictions of tenants who have fallen behind on rent.

The FCA's proposals for homeowners covers the whole of the UK, and is subject to consultation for the next five days.

There are no changes to the rules on mortgage holidays available to homeowners. Some two-and-a-half million homeowners have taken a mortgage holiday since the start of the pandemic.

That means they have deferred the payment, but will probably have to pay more each month when repayments resume.

Anyone can still request a mortgage holiday, unless they have already had one for six months, the FCA said. A new one can last for six months. An existing one can be extended to last for six months in total.

Applications can be made before the end of March 2020.

When the six month deferral has been used, lenders assess the borrower's circumstances and devise an arrangement that could include extending the mortgage term, accepting partial payments, or – only in the short-term – another deferral.

This will show up on their credit record.

By Kevin Peachey

John Lewis suspends click-and-collect in latest tightening rules for shoppers

( via– Wed, 13th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The retailer said it was responding to a “clear change in tone” from governments on the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

John Lewis has suspended click-and-collect services at its department stores in the latest tightening of rules for shoppers as the coronavirus crisis intensifies.

The department store chain said it was responding to a “clear change in tone and emphasis” from governments across the UK urging the public to stay at home.

It came as Britain's major supermarket chains said they would deny entry to customers not wearing face coverings unless they had a medical excuse.COVID vaccine tracker

Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Asda – which unlike non-essential retailers have remained open throughout the pandemic – set out their rules after vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi expressed concerns about the behaviour of store customers.

Two other supermarkets, Aldi and Waitrose – the latter which is also part of the John Lewis Partnership – also said they would enforce the policy.Advertisement

Meanwhile Kingfisher, owner of DIY chain B&Q, revealed that while stores remain open as it is classed as an essential retailer, it has had to close its kitchen and bathroom showrooms.

Last week, Topps Tiles said it had been advised to close its tile aisles to prevent browsing under tightened restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In its latest update on Tuesday, John Lewis Partnership said it was “conscious of the increased need to remove reasons for non-essential travel during the current lockdown”.

Click-and-collect orders from department stores were being “switched off to new orders” from the close of business on Tuesday, the company said.

However click-and-collect will still be available from sister retailer Waitrose.

JLP also said new bookings for in-home services such as appliance installation and bathroom fittings would be paused when “not essential to the health and wellbeing of customers and their families”.

At Waitrose, it will station marshals at entrances with disposable masks available to anyone who has not brought their own.

Admission will be denied to anyone refusing to comply and marshals will also ensure that only one member of each household is allowed to shop.

Meanwhile, staff at the supermarket will have to wear face coverings even when behind protective screens or when working at the back of the store away from customers, in addition to the areas where the rule currently applies.

Andrew Murphy, executive director of operations at JLP, said: “We are acutely aware that the country is at a critical point in the pandemic.

“We've listened carefully to the clear change in tone and emphasis of the views and information shared by the UK's governments in recent days.

“While we recognise that the detail of formal guidance has not changed, we feel it is right for us – and in the best interests of our partners and customers – to take proactive steps to further enhance our COVID security and related operational policies.”

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Trump dropped by Deutsche Bank for future business – NYT

( via — Tue, 12th Jan 2021) London, UK —

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – Deutsche Bank will not do business in the future with U.S. President Donald Trump or his companies in the wake of his supporters’ assault on the U.S. Capitol, the New York Times reported.

Deutsche Bank is Trump’s biggest lender, with about $340 million in loans outstanding to the Trump Organization, the president’s umbrella group that is currently overseen by his two sons, according to Trump’s disclosures with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics dated July 31 last year, plus banking sources.

The move, reported by the NYT and citing a person familiar with the bank’s thinking, comes as Signature Bank – where Trump’s ethics disclosures show he has checking and money-market accounts – called for him to step down.

“The resignation of the president … is in the best interests of our nation and the American people,” Signature Bank said on its website.

A spokesman for Deutsche Bank declined to comment on Tuesday on the NYT report.

The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment outside normal business hours, and the White House press office did not answer the phone.

Christiana Riley, the head of Deutsche Bank’s U.S. operations, condemned the Jan. 6 violence in Washington in a post on LinkedIn last week.

“We are proud of our Constitution and stand by those who seek to uphold it to ensure that the will of the people is upheld and a peaceful transition of power takes place,” she wrote.

Reuters reported in November that Deutsche Bank was looking for ways to end its relationship with Trump after the U.S. elections, as it tires of the negative publicity stemming from the ties.

Trump’s loans with Deutsche are for a golf course in Miami and hotels in Washington and Chicago.

The president was handed a rebuke by the world of professional golf this week, with the PGA of America and the R&A both announcing they would shun two courses owned by the President in the wake of the Capitol storming.

Twitter and Facebook have shut down Trump’s social-media feeds.

Reporting by Tom Sims

Dr Martens UK footwear brand planning £3bn stock market debut in London

( via – – Tue, 12th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Footwear brand expected to float at least 25% of business as sales surge during pandemic

First popularised by the skinheads in the 1960s, Dr Martens later becoming fashion staples among punks, goths and schoolgirls.

The British footwear brand Dr Martens is planning a £3bn flotation, more than 60 years after its first pair of boots were stitched together in Northamptonshire.

Best known for its 1460 boot featuring its trademark yellow stitching and chunky soles, the company expects to float at least 25% of the business on the London stock market.

It comes nearly seven years after Dr Martens was bought for £300m by the private equity group Permira. Sales under its ownership have surged, rising from £160m in 2013 to £672m in the year to March 2020. Sources close to the plans said the shoe company expects to seek a valuation of about £3bn.

The brand, which sells 11m pairs of shoes and boots a year across more than 60 countries, managed to grow throughout the pandemic, despite lockdowns that forced its 130 high street stores to close. Dr Martens reported an 18% rise in sales to £318m in the six months to September, while profits grew by a third to £86.3m. The majority of sales come from the wholesale business, which sells to third-party retailers.

The first pair of Dr Martens made in the UK was in 1960 at its original factory in Northamptonshire, where one of its two main offices is still based. The boots grew in popularity over the following decades, first adopted by skinheads in the 1960s, and later becoming fashion staples among punks, goths and schoolgirls.

However, Russ Mould, the investment director at broker AJ Bell, said there were some “red flags”, including consumer complaints over the quality of Dr Martens footwear.

“Could it be that the business has suffered under private equity ownership? Many investors are sceptical about backing companies that are being sold by private equity, for fear they might have suffered from underinvestment and subjected to a ‘quantity over quality’ approach for production,” Mould said.

However, some critics have said the alleged deterioration came after it shifted the bulk of its production from the UK to Asia nearly 20 years ago, he said.

Dr Martens said it rejected allegations of declining standards, and said Permira had continued to invest in the business since its takeover.

The footwear firm also said on Monday it had diversified its supply chain, and reduced the proportion of shoes made in China from 46% to 32% between 2019 and 2020, but did not link the changes to quality concerns.

Mould said Dr Martens’ IPO was coming at an interesting time for UK markets, hot on the heels of a Brexit deal and the best-ever start to a calendar year for the FTSE 100. “If ever there was a good time to market a well-known British name to investors, it is now,” he said.

By Kalyeena Makortoff

BT hires Harmeen Mehta to become the company’s first digital chief

( via– Mon, 11th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

BT chief executive Philip Jansen has hired Harmeen Mehta to become the company's first digital chief, Sky News learns.

The chief executive of BT Group is accelerating his drive to modernise the former state monopoly by poaching one of India's most highly regarded technology executives to lead the company's digital transformation.

Sky News has learnt that Harmeen Mehta, who has spent the last seven years at Bharti Airtel, the telecoms giant, is to join BT as chief digital and innovation officer.

The post has been created by group chief executive Philip Jansen in order to capitalise on the surging shift towards digital consumption and demand during the coronavirus pandemic, according to people briefed on the appointment.

Ms Mehta, who has also held roles at HSBC and Bank of American Merrill Lynch, will report directly to Mr Jansen.

An announcement is expected to be made on Tuesday.

Insiders said her responsibilities would include BT's IT, digital innovation and the company's data and product strategy.

Her arrival will come as Mr Jansen stamps his mark on a company which has for many years been regarded as slow to embrace shifts towards digital technology.

The BT chief, who arrived in 2019, is keen to accelerate the pace at which BT delivers innovative products and services to residential and business customers.

That will include greater investment in cloud-focused activities as well as digital platforms operating in areas such as health and security, which have not traditionally been bedrocks of BT's strategy.

Insiders said that as part of Mr Jansen's shake-up, which will include the creation of a dedicated Technology Advisory Board, Mike Sherman, BT's chief strategy and transformation officer, would be leaving the company.

BT is understood to have seen a sharp improvement in customer metrics such as its Net Promoter Score in the last year, suggesting that Mr Jansen's efforts are starting to pay off.

He is restructuring the business as it continues to contend with pressure from rivals – including Sky News' immediate parent company – to speed up reforms relating to Openreach, its broadband infrastructure arm – and the industry regulator, Ofcom.

BT's board has discussed in the last six months the prospect of the former state-owned company receiving an unsolicited takeover bid from a rival such as Deutsche Telekom, or a private equity firm.

The company's vast pension deficit is seen as the major obstacle to such an approach, while BT's shares have recovered in recent months.

On Monday afternoon, shares in BT were trading at just over 142p, giving it a market capitalisation of just over £14bn.

BT declined to comment.

By Mark Kleinman

Ocado warns customers of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks

( via – – Mon, 11th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Online supermarket Ocado has become the first big retailer to warn of shortages of some products.

It told customers in an email that there may be “an increase of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks”.

Staff sickness and self-isolation means some food producers are cutting the number of product lines they offer.

While customers might not get their exact product choice, plenty of food should be available, Ocado said.

“Staff absences across the supply chain may lead to an increase in product substitutions for a small number of customers as some suppliers consolidate their offering to maintain output,” a spokesperson said.

The news comes after a rush of online food orders for supermarkets, as shoppers try to stay at home after the new lockdown started.

Within a couple of hours of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's speech to the nation on Monday, shoppers reported problems with Sainsbury's and Tesco, while Ocado customers were placed in a virtual queue.

Ocado told its customers that from Friday “changes to the UK supply chain have affected some of our suppliers and may result in an increase of missing items and substitutions over the next few weeks.”

It added: “We apologise for any inconvenience caused and we are working hard to mitigate any impact.”

Food suppliers are grappling with staffing problems, hospitality clients who have closed their doors and delays at the border with the EU.

Wholesalers the BBC spoke to this week said they faced throwing away thousands of pounds worth of food because of cancelled orders following new restrictions.

The UK meat industry has called for the early vaccination of its workers to keep food supplies running smoothly during the coronavirus crisis.

It warned earlier this week that absences during the pandemic, coupled with disruption at ports, could hit food supply chains.

An early vaccination call for supermarket staff was also made by the boss of Sainsbury's on Thursday.

The government said the food industry remains “well-prepared” to make sure people have the food they need.

The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) said coronavirus and disruption at ports due to new systems brought in after the Brexit transition period were “a severe challenge to the industry and to the smooth running of the nation's food supply chain”.

How Self-Storage Industry Continues to Outperform During The Pandemic to Make Billions

Source: CNBC

Americans collectively have more than five billion items sitting at home that they no longer use, according to a 2019 survey by online marketplace Mercari. One-click shopping and the globalization of overseas manufacturing has made it easier than ever for consumers to acquire goods. According to the Self Storage Association, an industry trade group, more than 10% of households in the U.S. rented a self-storage unit in 2020, 18% more than in 2005. The self-storage industry has continued to outperform during the pandemic, with several companies reporting strong occupancy and healthy demand, according to the research site Yardi Matrix. But with headwinds threatening the economy will self-storage companies like Public Storage and Extra Space Storage be able to maintain their momentum? And what will new disruptors like Neighbor and Clutter mean for the future of the industry?

Changchun Ice And Snow World 2021

Source: Chun Ming Ng

Changchun Ice and Snow World 2021 (or Changchun Ice and Snow Xintiandi 长春冰雪新天地) debuted with a new image this year. It is the world's biggest ice and snow festival, bigger than the Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival. It covers an area of 1.38 million square meters, and the amount of ice and snow used exceeds 200,000 cubic meters. It is a veritable “Ice Kingdom”. As the first million-square-meter “Ice Kingdom” in the country to light up, Changchun Ice and Snow Xintiandi have built 142 ice and snow buildings.

ASOS new fulfilment centre to employ 2,000 people

( via– Fri, 8th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The news comes a few months after ASOS reported a 329% rise in annual profits thanks to demand for casual clothing in lockdown.

Online fashion retailer ASOS will invest £90m in a new fulfilment centre in Staffordshire.

The 437,000sqft centre just outside Lichfield will employ 2,000 people over the next three years, the business said.

It will open within the next 12 months and is expected to reach peak trade by 2023.

The Lichfield fulfilment centre will be the company's fourth. It already has sites in Barnsley, Berlin and Atlanta.

In October, ASOS reported a 329% rise in annual profits after sales held up thanks to demand for casual clothing and sportswear during lockdown.Advertisement

Revenues rose 19% for the year to the end of August – a slight slowdown compared to the 21% growth in the first half of the year, with smart and “going out” clothes becoming harder to shift.

The group faced higher costs to implement safety measures at warehouses but saved money as “more deliberate purchasing behaviour” from customers meant fewer items were returned.

ASOS saw slowing growth over the summer and government restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the coronavirus pandemic resulted in lower demand for occasion wear.

The retailer said it had instead expanded its casual wear offering to adapt to the “shift in 20-something lifestyle”.

Marks & Spencer sales of sleepwear soared as people spend more time at home

( via – – Fri, 8th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Marks & Spencer says sales of sleepwear have soared as people spend more time at home because of Covid restrictions.

The retailer sold 20% more women's pyjamas during the 13 weeks to 26 December, with many of them being bought as Christmas presents.

“The great British public are back in their pyjamas,” said chief executive Steve Rowe.

Despite this, clothing sales as a whole fell nearly a quarter, although food sales showed modest growth.

M&S said its trading was “robust” over the Christmas period, but UK revenues for the quarter were £2.52bn, 8.2% lower than last year.

M&S blamed “on-off restrictions and distortions in demand patterns” due to the coronavirus crisis.

International revenues also took a big hit, falling 10.4%.

M&S also said that potential post-Brexit tariffs on part of its range exported to the EU, together with “very complex” administrative processes, would “significantly impact” its businesses in Ireland and the Czech Republic, as well as its franchise business in France.

Mr Rowe said the chain's popular Peppa Pig sweets, made in Germany, were one product that could face tax rises.

It said it was “actively working to mitigate” those effects.

Mr Rowe thanked staff for “a first-class execution of Christmas for our customers in near impossible conditions”.

The High Street stalwart said customers had responded to its “innovative seasonal product” during the four-week run-up to Christmas.

Like-for-like food sales had risen 2.6% during the period, it said.

However, clothing and home sales fell by 24.1%, and UK sales overall were down 7.6% on a like-for-like basis.

Trading was hit particularly badly in November by the national lockdown in England, with clothing and home sales slumping 40.5% in the month and food sales down 4.5%.

“Near-term trading remains very challenging, but we are continuing to accelerate change under our Never the Same Again programme to ensure the business emerges from the pandemic in very different shape,” Mr Rowe said.

Multi-brand shift

On the positive side, M&S said its tie-up with online firm Ocado had produced “very strong” results, while customers had responded to its “innovative seasonal product” during the four-week run-up to Christmas.

Ross Hindle, retail sector analyst at Third Bridge, said: “Despite the pressure faced by their clothing division, the M&S food division is expected to deliver solid results, propelled by both stockpiling and its Ocado partnership.

He pointed to reports that M&S was poised to acquire the Jaeger clothing brand as a possible way forward, saying it “hints at the potential for a more aggressive shift into the multi-brand space”.

“M&S have numerous large stores which could be filled with non-M&S merchandise in order to drive their top-line. The risk here is whether such brands might cannibalise M&S branded products,” he added.

Emily Salter, retail analyst at GlobalData, said M&S was “paying the cost for its inability to adapt fast enough to changing shopping habits”.

“M&S's recovery is slow versus other apparel players, as it continues to be hurt by an online platform unable to make up for lost store sales,” she added.

She saw little point in a potential purchase of Jaeger, as it would be “costly to turn around and do little to boost the retailer's fortunes”.

However, she said M&S's focus on value in food had “started to pay off, with decent sales growth, especially considering dampened footfall on High Streets”.

Ryanair to roll-out 737 MAX with UK market – CEO

( via — Thur, 7th Jan 2021) London, UK —

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ryanair plans to begin deploying its Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in the United Kingdom following its first deliveries in the coming months, CEO Eddie Wilson said on Thursday.

The airline has said it expects to receive around 30 of the MAX aircraft, which were ungrounded in the United States late last year after a 20-month safety ban that followed two fatal crashes.

“We will deploying those probably initially in the UK,” Eddie Wilson told Newstalk radio.

Reporting by Conor Humphries

Sainsbury’s annual profit forecast raises by £60m after a surge in online sales

( via– Thur, 7th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The company's performance is lifted by a surge in online sales, topping one million Christmas orders for the first time.

Sainsbury's has credited a surge in sales in the run-up to Christmas for an upgrade to its annual profit forecast.

The UK's second-largest supermarket chain by market share said underlying pre-tax profits for the year to March were now tipped to hit £330m – a rise of £60m on its previous expectations.

That came despite the company's decision to follow Tesco and its other grocery rivals in handing back business rates relief thanks to the industry's essential status during the COVID-19 crisis that has boosted business during tiered restrictions and national lockdowns.

In Sainsbury's case, it gave up £410m of government aid.

The group, which includes Argos, reported a like-for-like rise in sales of 8.6% in the 15 weeks to 2 January – hitting 9.3% over the core Christmas season.

The company, which has hired 68,000 staff during the crisis to date to help manage demand for orders, said its online business was up 128% as 1.1 million orders for food were delivered in the 10 days leading up to Christmas.

Non-food sales grew by 6% over the 15 week period. Shares rose by 5% in early deals.

It updated the market days after Aldi and Morrisons revealed similar uplifts for sales over the festive season.

Industry data has suggested the latter was the only one of the so-called ‘big four' chains to grow its market share over Christmas amid signs that the price war of recent years is to set to intensify.

Sainsbury's chief executive Simon Roberts said of the performance: “We made a strong start to delivering our Food First plan and we are also clear on the opportunities to further improve our offer as we look ahead for 2021.

“At Christmas we focused on offering our customers great prices, great quality and great service and I feel really proud that Sainsbury's customer satisfaction scores were the highest ever in the key Christmas week.

“We have started the new year with a strong value offer, with Price Lock currently on over 2,500 everyday products.”

John Moore, senior investment manager at Brewin Dolphin, said of the company's outlook: “Sainsbury's appears well placed given the self-help measures it has taken and investment the company continues to administer to its core business and wider offering, which remains open and highly relevant to consumers in the present circumstances.”

By James Sillars

Neil Young sells half of the rights to his song catalogue to Hipgnosis

( via – – Wed, 6th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Publishing house makes third major deal in a week, following acquisition of catalogues by Jimmy Iovine and Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsay Buckingham

Neil Young has sold half of the rights to his song catalogue to Hipgnosis, in the same week the publishing house has acquired catalogues by former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Lindsay Buckingham and super-producer Jimmy Iovine.

The deal comprises Young’s entire song catalogue of 1,180 compositions, with Hipgnosis taking on 50% of the worldwide copyright and income from the catalogue in exchange for an undisclosed cash sum that will certainly run into nine figures.

Hipgnosis Songs Fund was founded in 2018 by Merck Mercuriadis, who has previously managed artists including Elton John, Guns N’ Roses and Beyoncé. In December, after floating the company on the London Stock Exchange in 2018, he announced the company’s market value had reached £1.25bn. In the first six months of 2020, the company generated £50m in revenue, twice the amount for the same period in 2019.

Part of that growing Hipgnosis income is from use of its song catalogue in film and television, as well as advertising. Young is famously resistant to his music being used on adverts, singing in 1988 on This Note’s for You: “Ain’t singing for Pepsi / Ain’t singing for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke.”

Mercuriadis acknowledged Young’s stance, saying: “We have a common integrity, ethos and passion born out of a belief in music and these important songs. There will never be a ‘Burger of Gold’ but we will work together to make sure everyone gets to hear them on Neil’s terms.”

“Burger of Gold” is a reference to a 1973 Neil Young concert, where he revealed he’d been asked by an unnamed company to use hit song Heart of Gold on an advert, and joked he would have had to rename the song Burger of Gold if he’d agreed.

Mercuriadis said he had been a Young fan since the age of seven when he bought the album Harvest. He referred to his albums as “part of who I am, they’re in many ways responsible for who I’ve become and they’re most certainly in my DNA”.

Earlier this week, Hipgnosis also acquired 100% of Lindsay Buckingham’s 161-song catalogue, including hits he wrote for Fleetwood Mac such as Go Your Own Way, plus 50% of any as-yet unreleased songs. Mercuriadis hailed him as “one of the greatest guitarists, songwriters and producers of all time yet is still so underrated”.

He also acquired the worldwide producer royalties from 259 songs by Jimmy Iovine, who produced artists including Bruce Springsteen, U2 and Patti Smith before founding the Beats Electronics technology firm that was bought out by Apple for $3bn in 2014. Iovine said his work had found “the right home”, and that he would use the proceeds to fund the building of a high school in Los Angeles.

Hipgnosis started out buying the catalogues of star songwriters and producers such as Timbaland, The-Dream, TMS and Rodney Jerkins, before acquiring artist catalogues including Mark Ronson, Barry Manilow, Steve Winwood and Blondie.

Stars selling their catalogues has become a major music industry trend in recent years, including Buckingham’s former bandmate Stevie Nicks, who sold 80% of her song publishing rights to a rival publishing house, Primary Wave, in December.

Later that month came the most eye-catching deal of all: Bob Dylan selling his entire catalogue to Universal Music Group for a sum believed to be over $300m (£225m). Universal called it “the most significant music publishing agreement this century and one of the most important of all time”.

By Ben Beaumont-Thomas

Greggs forecasts first annual loss up to £15m since the 1980s

( via – – Wed, 6th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

Greggs expects up to a £15m loss for the year, which would be its first annual loss since it floated in the 1980s.

The bakery chain said it does not expect profits to return to pre-Covid levels until 2022 at the earliest.

It has been battling a sales slump due to the coronavirus pandemic, but sales declines have been lessening.

Greggs made 820 job cuts at the end of last year, after its sales were hit by coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

Chief executive Roger Whiteside said the impact of the Covid-19 crisis had been “enormous” and that a fresh lockdown meant “significant uncertainties remain in the near term”.

Coronavirus restrictions towards the end of last year led to “variable trading conditions across the UK”, he said.

Sales in the final three months of the year fell by nearly a fifth, but this decline was less than its sales slump in the third quarter.

In September, the bakery business said it was in talks with staff to cut hours in an effort to minimise job losses.

But it still decided to cut 820 jobs because of “lockdown levels of business” as High Streets were hit by the crisis.

“Looking ahead, the significant uncertainty over the duration of social restrictions, along with the impact of higher unemployment levels, makes it difficult to predict performance,” the firm said.

“However, we do not expect that profits will return to pre-Covid levels until 2022 at the earliest.”

Greggs said on Wednesday that total sales for the year were down nearly a third to £811m, but government support had helped to limit pre-tax losses.

It said it had developed its takeaway business and a delivery tie-up with Just Eat, and had also seen “strong sales” through its partnership with retailer Iceland.

“We have taken action to position Greggs to withstand further short-term shocks and are optimistic about our prospects for growth once social restrictions are lifted,” Mr Whiteside added.

Greggs wants to open about 100 new stores, on a net basis, over the year ahead.

Julie Palmer, a partner at insolvency consultants Begbies Traynor, said: “The latest national lockdown will be unwelcome news for Greggs, which has operated shrewdly during the past year in spite of a lack of footfall, with non-essential stores forced to close and millions working from home.

“The bakery chain has had to adapt its business model and invest digitally to accommodate for the rapid change in shopping habits, offering click-and-collect purchases, as well as a nationwide delivery service through its partnership with Just Eat.

“This should provide a solid base for the business to expand when government restrictions are eased and the world returns to some normality.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveils £4.6bn relief package for UK retail and hospitality sectors

( via – – Tue, 5th Jan, 2021) London, Uk – –

Retail, hospitality and leisure sectors to be given one-off grants worth up to £9,000

Larry Elliott Economics editor

Firms in those sectors of the economy hardest hit by stringent new lockdown measures will receive grants of up to £9,000 in a £4.6bn Treasury package designed to keep them afloat to the spring.

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, said he expected 600,000 business properties in retail, leisure and hospitality to receive financial support from the government through a one-off grant.

Acknowledging that the period ahead would be “difficult”, the chancellor said the government was bolstering its efforts to protect jobs and to prevent businesses from collapsing.

In addition to grants worth £4bn, a further £594m will be made available to local councils to assist businesses impacted by the lockdown but not eligible for the new payments. As part of the package, the Scottish government will receive £375m, the Welsh government £227m and the Northern Ireland executive £127m.

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Adam Marshall, said: “While this immediate cash flow support for business is welcome, it is not going to be enough to save many firms. We need to see a clear support package for the whole of 2021, not just another incremental intervention.

“The government must move away from this drip-feed approach and set out a long-term plan that allows all businesses of all shapes and sizes to plan, and ultimately survive.”

Sunak, who has already spent close to £300bn tackling the economic fallout from the Covid-19 crisis, said: “The new strain of the virus presents us all with a huge challenge – and, while the vaccine is being rolled out, we have needed to tighten restrictions further.

“Throughout the pandemic we’ve taken swift action to protect lives and livelihoods and today we’re announcing a further cash injection to support businesses and jobs until the spring.A

“This will help businesses to get through the months ahead – and crucially it will help sustain jobs, so workers can be ready to return when they are able to reopen.”

The Treasury said there would be a £4,000 grant for businesses with a rateable value of £15,000 or under, £6,000 for businesses with a rateable value of between £15,000 and £51,000, and £9,000 for businesses with a rateable value of more than £51,000.

Some business groups have been calling on the government to extend a business rates holiday for a further year to help firms with their cashflow or to prolong the temporary cut in VAT, which is due to end this month.

Treasury sources did not rule out further announcements but said the grants were intended to tide the worst-affected businesses over until it was clear whether the new lockdowns had been effective. Sunak dropped strong hints that the budget on 3 March would provide the opportunity for a more comprehensive package of economic support.

Many analysts are forecasting that after collapsing by almost a quarter in the first half of 2020 the UK economy will again contract in both the final three months of last year and the first three months of 2021 – thus meeting the definition of a double-dip recession.

Sunak expects more employees to be placed on the furlough scheme – which runs until the end of April – as a result of the measures deemed necessary to control the spread of the virus.

The Treasury said the new one-off grants came on top of existing business support, including grants worth up to £3,000 for closed businesses, and up to £2,100 a month for impacted businesses once they reopen.

Roger Barker, the director of policy at the Institute of Directors, said: “This new grant package is welcome, and will go some way to reassuring the worst affected businesses.

“We are particularly pleased the Treasury has taken on board our recommendation to increase the discretionary local authority grant fund. This policy has helped to reach those who haven’t been able to access other support. The government should be prepared to top up the fund if necessary.

“The chancellor must remain wary of a spring cliff-edge in business support as the furlough scheme and other support measures unwind.”

By Larry Elliott Economics editor

Next’s to close 90% of stores after £58m lockdown hit to profits

( via– Tue, 5th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

The fashion retailer says 90% of stores will be closed in January after latest restrictions announced by the government.

Next has pencilled in a £58m lockdown hit to profits – taking the shine off a better than expected sales performance over Christmas boosted by demand for children's clothes and casual wear.

The closure of 90% of stores this month is expected to knock £18m off its bottom line with a further £40m hit on the assumption that closures continue into February and March.

Next reported a 1.1% fall in full-price sales for the nine weeks to 26 December – with a 43% collapse in demand in stores nearly made up for by a 38% increase for online.

That was much better than the 8% overall decline for the period that the retailer had expected.

Shares rose 8% in early trading.

Next sounded a further gloomy note about the performance of stores, saying it has previously been “overly optimistic” about them.

It now expects to see annual sales declines “for the foreseeable future” and will take a further £40m charge against the value of its stores, taking the total to just under £100m for the year.

The retailer also revealed that it had seen supply disruption as the pandemic affected shipping from the Far East – with many deliveries currently running two to three weeks late – but said it had not experienced problems due to Brexit.

A week-by-week breakdown of the latest sales period showed how demand bounced back after November's lockdown in England ended but took a further hit as Tier 4 restrictions came into force days before Christmas.

Next said products that did well were children's clothes, home ware, loungewear and sportswear while those that did badly were work and party outfits – mirroring trends seen earlier in the year.

The group is now pencilling in a full-year pre-tax profit of £342m for the year to January, less than half of the £728m reported for the previous year, with sales expected to be 16% down.

For 2020/21, Next expects annual profits to recover to £670m with sales returning to the same levels of two years before.

The retailer is the latest to try to put a figure on the impact of lockdowns on business with Primark owner Associated British Foods saying last month that it expected a £650m sales hit and Mike Ashley's Frasers Group – owner of House of Fraser and Sports Direct – issuing a profit warning.

Both of those came ahead of the January lockdown announcements.

By John-Paul Ford Rojas

Peugeot shareholders gave the green light for mega-merger with Fiat Chrysler

( via – – Mon, 4th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

PARIS (Reuters) -Shareholders in Peugeot owner PSA gave the green light on Monday to the French company’s merger with Fiat Chrysler (FCA), one of the last steps towards creating the world’s fourth largest automaker.

At a special shareholder meeting, the deal to form the new company called Stellantis was first backed by top investors with double voting rights, including the Peugeot family, China’s Dongfeng and the French state, via Bpifrance.

All other PSA shareholders backed the deal at a second meeting held online with a 99.85% approval rate among votes cast. FCA investors are due to give their verdict later on Monday.

“We are ready for this merger,” PSA Chief Executive Carlos Tavares said, adding that the date for the closure of the deal would be announced shortly if all shareholder approvals were granted. He said the deal had now passed all regulatory tests.

The shareholding structure will be altered as part of the merger, and existing double voting rights – which are accrued over time and give investors more weight in decisions – will not be carried over.

Tavares, who will take the helm of the merged group, will have to revive the carmaker’s fortunes in China, rationalise a sprawling global empire and address massive overcapacity, as well as focus like rivals on creating cleaner cars.

Stellantis will have 14 brands, from FCA’s Fiat, Maserati and U.S.-focused Jeep, Dodge and Ram to PSA’s Peugeot, Citroen, Opel and DS. PSA has traditionally been more focused on Europe.

Reporting by Gilles Guillaume and Sarah White

Ladbrokes owner Entain offered $11bn by MGM Resorts

( via – – Mon, 4th Jan 2021) London, Uk – –

US casino giant MGM Resorts has made an $11bn (£8.1bn) offer for British gaming company Entain, which owns Ladbrokes.

The move is the latest attempt by a casino operator to move into the online gambling business.

In addition to its chain of High Street betting shops, UK-based Entain also owns a number of online sports betting and gambling sites.

Entain confirmed the offer, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, but said the price was too low.

It had recently rebuffed an earlier $10bn (£7.3bn) all-cash approach from MGM, the newspaper said.

In a statement, Entain said the latest bid approach “significantly undervalues the company and its prospects”.

MGM Resorts, which runs the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, now has until the beginning of next month to decide whether to make a formal bid or to walk away.

FTSE 100-listed Entain. which renamed itself from GVC Holdings last month, describes itself as “one of the world's largest sports betting and gaming groups operating in the online and retail sector”.

Along with Ladbrokes, it also owns brands such as Bwin, Partypoker, Coral, Eurobet, Gala and Foxy Bingo.

After news of the latest offer for the firm, investors started betting on Entain, pushing its share price up by more than 25% to £14.30 a share – above MGM's offer of roughly £13.83 a share – a sign that market watchers are expecting a higher bid.

If the two firms do reach an agreement, it would follow another deal in September when MGM rival Caesars Entertainment agreed to buy UK-based William Hill for £3.7bn.

“Following Caesar's offer for William Hill last year, a bid by MGM for Ladbroke's owner Entain isn't exactly a surprise,” said Nicholas Hyett an analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The two are working together to take advantage of the recent legalisation of sports betting in the US, a market worth many billions of dollars a year.”

Analysis: By Dominic O'Connell

Predictions about the stockmarket have a habit of making the person trying to guess the future look foolish. No such problem for Laura Foll, a fund manager at the investment firm Janus Henderson. On the Today programme on Monday, she forecast more takeover offers for household names in Britain, noting that the UK markets remained unloved by investors and so – perhaps – undervalued.

An hour after the prediction a big offer duly landed, with Entain, the London-listed company that owns Ladbrokes and other gambling brands, saying it had received a takeover proposal from MGM Resorts, an American rival.

The US company is offering to pay shareholders in Entain not in cash, but in new MGM shares – an obvious move given the sky-high rating of US shares compared to those listed in London.

It looks a carbon copy of last year's deal where Caesars, best known for its Las Vegas properties, bought another venerable name in British bookmaking, William Hill. Get ready for more acquisitive foreign companies looking for deals in bargain basement London.

Covid headwinds

The new bid for Entain comes with financial backing from MGM's largest shareholder, InterActiveCorp (IAC), which took a 12% stake in MGM Resorts last August.

At the time, IAC's chief executive Barry Diller said it planned to work with MGM to expand its online gambling portfolio.

The attempted acquisition comes as the casino industry faces headwinds from the Covid-19 pandemic.

Bricks-and-mortar casino operators have struggled under travel restrictions.

The economy of Asian casino hub Macau shrank 49% in the first quarter of this year, while unemployment in Las Vegas reached 30% earlier in the year and remains well above the US average.

MGM Resorts, which is the operator of the Bellagio casino in Las Vegas, laid off 18,000 furloughed employees in the US in August.

Many online gambling companies, by contrast, saw a boost during Covid-19 restrictions, prompting many casino owners to pivot their businesses towards online.