Weekend Financial Press Review
Paul Kettle
W/E Press Round-Up -3 min read
08:53, 24th March 2019

Below are the key headlines from Saturday's and Sunday's papers, featuring the The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail & more - see the full Press section here

Burger King backer takes slice of Dominos. US fund that sits on the board of the fast-food giant behind Burger King is building a stake in FOLLOWDomino’s Pizza Group (DOM) as the chain hopes to break the deadlock in a spat with franchisees. Representatives from Asteya Partners, whose co-founder Ali Hedayat is on the board of Restaurant Brands ­International (RBI), have met with Domino’s management to discuss the situation, The Sunday Telegraph can ­reveal. The fund is building up a stake in Domino’s with the aim of becoming a substantial institutional backer of the £1bn chain. Mr Hedayat has sat on the board of RBI, the $29bn (£22bn) behemoth that also owns Tim Hortons and Popeyes, since 2016.

Marks & Spencer Group (MKS) FOLLOW is sizing up ambitious growth targets that could see the company double the amount of food it sells and propel it into the ranks of Britain’s biggest supermarkets. The surge would capitalise on the firm’s new home delivery deal with Ocado and its plan to offer a full range of food in more stores to attract additional family shoppers. City sources said the newly pencilled targets could see M&S’s food sales soar to £12billion over the next five years. That is larger than the company’s total sales at present, which include food, clothing and international sales. Success would result in the firm sailing past arch rivals Waitrose and Co-op and perhaps even start to challenge Morrisons as it seeks to return to its roots as a store with broad appeal.

Sainsbury’s and Asda accuse watchdog of ‘impossible’ conditions for merger. Sainsbury (J) (SBRY) FOLLOW and Asda have accused the competition watchdog of issuing a “prohibition in all but name” and said its proposals to overcome concerns about their £12bn tie-up were “impossible to implement”. The chains have told the Competition and Markets Authority they are willing to sell between 125 and 150 supermarkets in an effort to appease competition fears, but analysts do not believe this will come close to overturning the watchdog’s provisional findings. The CMA believes there is an overlap of supermarkets in 629 areas. It thinks the deal should be blocked unless a significant number of stores are sold to one buyer and could even order the sale of one of the brands.

GVC starts search for new chairman. GVC Holdings (GVC) FOLLOW, the owner of Ladbrokes, has launched a search for a new chairman after the fallout from the sale of almost £20 million of shares by two senior board members. The company is expected to confirm at its annual meeting in June that a process is under way to find a replacement for Lee Feldman, the chairman since 2008. However, it could be well into next year before he relinquishes the reins. Two weeks ago Mr Feldman, 51, and Kenny Alexander, the chief executive, sold a big slice of their holdings at a discount only three days after Mr Alexander had claimed at its full-year results that the company was “significantly undervalued”.

Trade deal signed with Caribbean islands. Supermarket shelves will still be stocked with bananas and rum from the Caribbean after Brexit, ministers said last night, after they signed Britain’s latest trade deal. Officials have secured an agreement with nations including Barbados, Grenada and Jamaica which will preserve the terms of their trade with Britain after it leaves the European Union. It is the eighth of about 40 EU accords that the UK government is seeking to replicate in time for a no-deal Brexit. European leaders pushed back the deadline this week from March 29 to April 12 if the House of Commons fails to agree the deal negotiated with the EU.

The chairman of Kingfisher (KGF) FOLLOW has put his money where his mouth is by spending almost £160,000 buying shares in the DIY group, days after insisting he backed the company’s unification plan despite the departure of its chief executive, Véronique Laury. Andy Cosslett, 63, insisted this week that the company behind Screwfix and B&Q was “wedded” to the “One Kingfisher” plan as it announced a 13% fall in underlying pre-tax profit and the departure of Ms Laury, the architect of the strategy. The plan aims to unify and simplify the range of products in its European DIY businesses. The company said it wanted this plan to help to deliver an additional £500 million of profit a year by 2021, although this target has now been abandoned.

Bosses at doorstep lender Provident Financial (PFG) FOLLOW have launched a furious defence against a smaller rival’s hostile takeover attempt, dismissing the offer as ‘risky and flawed’. Provident yesterday published a 47-page report urging shareholders to reject a £1.3billion all-share offer from Non-Standard Finance (NSF) FOLLOW. The firm also announced a number of senior hires, including a new boss for its bank, Vanquis, and two new board members. But NSF chief executive John van Kuffeler – a former boss of Provident – derided the new board directors as ‘specialists in failure’ following their roles at other struggling firms. Provident Financial shareholders have until May 8 to accept Non-Standard’s takeover offer. Provident’s report yesterday urged investors not to ‘allow your company’s future to be put at risk’.

Corporate raider Melrose Industries (MRO) FOLLOW has quietly dropped its executive pay adviser Deloitte in a move that may quell shareholder concerns about its primary role as auditor of the firm. Big Four accountant Deloitte had been Melrose’s auditor since 2003 and had also, since 2013, raked in tens of thousands of pounds in remuneration advisory fees. At Melrose’s AGM last May, Deloitte suffered a 10.6% investor vote against its re-election as auditor after concerns were flagged by shareholder advisory groups Pirc and ISS.

The oil and gas giant Royal Dutch Shell ‘B’ (RDSB) FOLLOW is poised to start selling gas and electricity to UK households under its own brand for the first time as it shifts towards the power industry. The Anglo-Dutch company changed the name of its energy supplier First Utility to Shell Energy Retail on Friday, Companies House filings reveal. Shell recently said it planned to be the world’s largest power company by the 2030s — a huge shift in strategy as it copes with changes in energy demand. The company declined to comment.

Vernon Hill’s Metro Bank risks losing £120m as it struggles to grow. “Unrealistic” growth targets have put Metro Bank (MTRO) FOLLOW at risk of losing £120m of funding as it scrambles to recover from a huge accounting error, analysts have warned. The money is the biggest grant from a £775m funding pot designed to boost competition in the market, which Metro won last month despite the discovery of the blunder over its loan book earlier in the year. The accounting debacle has forced Metro to accelerate a £350m cash call, which it hopes to raise within three months.

Debenhams (DEB) FOLLOW will scrap leases that have weighed it down for more than a decade as part of plans likely to be unveiled within weeks. If successful, the strategy will torpedo the machinations of billionaire Mike Ashley who wants to install himself as boss. Ashley is understood to have been travelling back and forth to his mansion in Miami, Florida in recent weeks as he hatched plans with lieutentants to seize control of the chain. Debenhams’ former owners signed scores of onerous contracts which at the time helped line the pockets of private equity firms CVC, Texas Pacific and Merrill Lynch Private Equity. But they left the chain starved of cash. Sources said Debenhams will secure £200 million in short-term loans this week in an ‘orderly reorganisation’

Phones retailer Dixons Carphone (DC.) FOLLOW has sealed a landmark agreement with mobile network operators over contracts it had described as ‘unsustainable’. The deals had forced the Currys PC World and Carphone Warehouse group to meet strict sales targets to satisfy contracts signed with the telecoms giants years ago when sales were higher. The group, which employs 42,000 people and has sales of £10.5billion, has struggled to meet the targets it agreed with firms such as EE, O2, Vodafone and Three as phones have become dearer and consumers have replaced them less frequently. Dixons Carphone had faced strict penalties if it failed to hit contractual targets and had been forced into offering discounts to meet them. Chief executive Alex Baldock made solving the issue a priority when he took over a year ago with a vow to turn the business around.

Software giant Micro Focus International (MCRO) FOLLOW faces a mounting backlash over a move to give bosses more time to win £268million of bonuses. Two more shareholder advisory groups have joined Glass Lewis in attacking the FTSE 100 software giant’s remuneration report ahead of Friday’s annual meeting. They oppose changes that give 30 bosses until September 2020 instead of September 2019 to hit a share price of £34 (up from £19 currently).

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