Morning and Weekend Financial Press Review
Paul Kettle
AM Press Round-Up -3 min read
06:11, 12th August 2019

Below are the key morning and weekend press headlines, featuring the The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail & more - see the full Press section here.

The government has announced an inquiry into the power cut on Friday that left people stuck in trains for up to nine hours and almost a million people in England and Wales without electricity. The outage, the biggest in a decade, caused chaos during the evening rush hour, plunging Newcastle airport into darkness and causing gridlock in some areas as traffic lights stopped working. Describing the disruption as “enormous”, the business secretary, Andrea Leadsom, said: “National Grid (NG.) FOLLOW  must urgently review and report to Ofgem. I will also be commissioning the government’s energy emergencies executive committee to consider the incident.” The energy watchdog, Ofgem, had already demanded an “urgent detailed report” from the National Grid to better understand what went wrong, and threatened enforcement action.

SSE (SSE) FOLLOW which supplies almost 6m households, is in talks to sell its household supply business to upstart Ovo Energy. If a deal is finalised, it would catapult Ovo – founded a decade ago in Bristol by Stephen Fitzpatrick – into the ranks of the big energy suppliers, in a major shake-up of the industry. The SSE deal would add 5.7 million household customers to Ovo’s existing 1.5m, putting Ovo in second place after British Gas, which has 12m domestic customers. Ovo has offered £250m for SSE’s struggling household division, called SSE Energy Services. Ovo has grown into a medium-sized firm after taking on half a million customers from smaller rivals Economy Energy and Spark, which collapsed in January, boosting its market share to nearly 5%. SSE’s chief executive, Alistair Phillips-Davies, has been under pressure to dispose of the retail division since the group’s embarrassing failure to merge it with rival npower in December. Both companies blamed the government’s cap on energy prices and growing competition for their failure to reach a deal.

Standard Chartered (STAN) FOLLOW  is preparing for a charm offensive roadshow in an attempt to patch things up with investors following a high-profile row over the its chief executive’s pay. Shareholders told The Telegraph that they have been invited to a meeting with the chairman and remuneration committee in September to discuss the uproar caused by the pay of boss Bill Winters. This included his controversial pension pot, which is worth £474,000 this year alone. More than a third of investors voted against the bank’s pay policy in May, but the row deepened last month when Mr Winters called those who had protested “immature”. “We’ve been invited to a meeting with the remuneration committee, and we’ve made our views pretty clear: sort this pension problem out and get the return on equity up,” said one top 20 shareholder. “It’s a bit surprising that he said that [“immature” line] to be honest.” Another large investor said he has been told that chairman José Viñals is “going on tour to fix the pay issue” adding that he expects a “conciliatory stance” in next month’s meeting.

A second American short-seller has taken aim at Burford Capital (BUR) FOLLOW , claiming it is “inappropriately financed” and that public scrutiny was “long overdue”. Gotham City Research waded into the controversy surrounding the litigation financing company yesterday, issuing a statement saying Burford has enjoyed an “absurdly high valuation” and defending the contentious methods of Muddy Waters and other activist short-sellers, saying they “should be applauded for their work”. In an intervention which increases the pressure on Burford, Gotham said: “Litigation assets — whose associated cashflows’ size and timing are notoriously unpredictable — should not be financed with debt. This poses a real risk of an eventual asset/liability mismatch nightmare.”

Britain’s largest insurer has launched a new, artificial intelligence-driven health app, handing more than hundreds of millions of customers across Asia free access to online medical consultations, symptom checkers and a platform designed to predict dengue outbreaks. Prudential (PRU) FOLLOW  launched Pulse in Malaysia, after previously announcing a new partnership with Singapore-based digital healthcare provider MyDoc. MyDoc’s services, which also include doctors consultations, electronic prescriptions and electronic medical certificates, will be integrated into Pulse as the app launches across 11 markets in Asia, targeting a potential 245m customers. Datuk Seri Dr Haji Dzulkefly bin Ahmad, Malaysia’s health minister, said: “Digital technology is revolutionising healthcare.” He called Pulse “a great example” of public in healthcare.” Mike Wells, Prudential group chief executive, said: “Pulse marks a step change in health management in Asia by making healthcare more inclusive.”

The timetable that Sirius Minerals (SXX) FOLLOW  has set itself for building a giant fertiliser mine under the North York Moors looks “almost impossible”, according to an established industry player. The company is trying to secure a $3.8 billion financing that it says would pave the way for the Woodsmith mine near Whitby to produce ten million tonnes of polyhalite a year by 2024. Eurochem, a privately owned fertiliser company with annual revenues of $5.6 billion, said that such big projects usually took far longer. It also questioned the market for polyhalite. Clark Bailey, Eurochem’s head of mining, said: “There’s no way in my mind they’ll be able to get there in five years.”

Legal & General Group (LGEN) FOLLOW  has jumped the gun on the government’s plans for a state-backed service enabling people to see all their pension entitlements on one web page and snapped up a private financial technology company attempting to provide a dashboard service. The insurer said it had bought the company behind My Future Now for an undisclosed sum and would be making its service available to customers and financial advisers. My Future Now was founded in Poole, Dorset, and enables users to trace old pension entitlements they have lost track of and to display them all on one page. Its customers include Scottish Widows, part of Lloyds Banking Group. L&G said it hoped the service could ultimately be used to consolidate various pots into a single retirement savings solution.

HSBC Holdings (HSBA) FOLLOW ran two separate board processes before deciding to oust John Flint as chief executive — one of which excluded its chairman. Mark Tucker asked the HSBC board to hold a parallel process on Flint’s future, led by Jonathan Symonds, deputy chairman. The highly unusual move will fuel speculation about a breakdown in relations between Flint, 51, and Tucker, 61, who, in effect, recused himself from part of the decision-making. Verdicts on executives are typically taken by the board in a single process led by the chairman. The news of Flint’s exit after barely 18 months at the top of the bank shocked the City. HSBC grooms chief executives who tend to stay in the job for years.

Eve Sleep PLC (EVE) FOLLOW and Simba are in early-stage merger talks as the loss-making online mattress retailers look to shore up their struggling businesses. Simba is said to be driving talks over a deal that would enhance their buying power and allow them to cut costs. Senior executives have held discussions, with further talks scheduled this week, although a source cautioned they may come to nothing. Chief executive James Sturrock tapped investors for £12m in January to support his refocus on the UK, Ireland and France. Eve posted losses of £19.2m on £34.8m sales last year. Questions linger over Simba and Eve, given that Amazon has entered the market.

Carphone Warehouse is suing the Spanish owner of O2, claiming the mobile network caused it to suffer a £21.7m shortfall in profits by breaching its obligations. The retailer has issued a High Court writ accusing Telefonica of failing to make enough special offers available, refusing to hand over customer data and offering “uncompetitive” standard tariffs. Carphone Warehouse — part of Dixons Carphone (DC.) FOLLOW — alleges that this stopped it hitting sales targets agreed with O2. As a result, the retailer claims, it lost £9.6m of profits plus £4.5m it would have received from Telefonica for achieving targets. Telefonica allegedly said it would make special-offer tariffs available only if Carphone Warehouse accepted a cut in its share of sales, which it refused to do. In addition, Carphone Warehouse claims that Telefonica reneged on a deal to pass on details of customers eligible for upgrades so the retailer could target them with advertising. It claims this cost it another £7.6m in lost profits.

Disclaimer & Declaration of Interest

The information, investment views and recommendations in this article are provided for general information purposes only. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation to buy or sell any financial product relating to any companies under discussion or to engage in or refrain from doing so or engaging in any other transaction. Any opinions or comments are made to the best of the knowledge and belief of the writer but no responsibility is accepted for actions based on such opinions or comments. Vox Markets may receive payment from companies mentioned for enhanced profiling or publication presence. The writer may or may not hold investments in the companies under discussion.

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