Weekend and Morning Financial Press Review 09/09/19
Paul Kettle
AM Press Round-Up -4 min read
06:34, 9th September 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.

Morrison (Wm) Supermarkets (MRW) FOLLOW is making aggressive price cuts in an attempt to win back customers, it has been claimed. Analysis of Kantar data by Barclays suggested that 46.2% of Morrisons’ revenues in the 12 weeks to August 11 came from discounted goods. This compared with the sector average of 32.3% and was 5.3 percentage points higher than any other retailer. A sharp rise in promotions at Britain’s fourth largest supermarket comes amid warnings that it is vulnerable to a foreign takeover, with a slump in its share price and the weak pound making it a target.

Stripping National Grid (NG.) FOLLOW of its responsibility for keeping the lights on would cause “massive” disruption to the wider energy industry, its boss has claimed. The utility giant is under scrutiny after blackouts on August 9 and Kwasi Kwarteng, the energy minister, said last week the government would look again at whether it should keep its role as Britain’s Electricity System Operator (ESO). Speaking to The Times shortly before Mr Kwarteng’s comments, John Pettigrew, National Grid’s chief executive, insisted the current construct was a “sensible structure both for the industry and National Grid”. Mr Pettigrew, 50, said there would be “a massive amount of disruption in the industry if you move to an independent system operator”.

The rivalry between Britain’s two biggest budget hotel operators is to crank up after Premier Inn started trialling premium rooms aimed at the corporate market. Premier Inn, owned by Whitbread (WTB) FOLLOW, has given over an entire floor in two of its London hotels, in Islington and Holborn, to a new class of bedroom carrying the working title Premier Plus and costing an extra £15 to £20 a night on top of the price of a standard room. The move follows the launch a year ago by Travelodge, its biggest rival, of Super Rooms with “additional creature comforts” including a new decor, a Lavazza coffee machine, a choice of pillows, a more powerful shower and “a comfy armchair to relax in”. By the end of this year, it will have 1,800 SuperRooms across its 584 hotels.

Dechra Pharmaceuticals (DPH) FOLLOW is set to launch a pain relief medication for piglets, lambs and calves that promises to significantly improve welfare for these animals. It will launch Tri-Solfen in the UK and Europe and then the rest of the world in the next 18 months. It is a gel that contains both a short-acting and a long-acting anaesthetic, adrenaline to stop blood flow and an anti-infective to promote healing and create a protective barrier against infection. It is inexpensive and easy to use as it can be sprayed on to a wound by farmers without the help of a vet. “It’s a very simple idea but hugely effective,” said Ian Page, chief executive of Dechra. “There are injectable pain killers and some other topical anaesthetics, but nothing specifically developed for animals. The bizarre thing about this is that for many years I don’t think we realised how painful these procedures are to animals and now animal welfare is becoming more and more important.”

A private equity tycoon is exploring a deal to take the struggling owner of the Trafford Centre and other retail properties private as it faces a £1bn debt crunch. Orion Capital Managers, run by Aref Lahham, is understood to be in the early stages of seeking partners for a buyout of Intu Properties (INTU) FOLLOW, which has been battered by a string of insolvencies from retailers such as Debenhams and Sir Philip Green’s Arcadia Group. Intu’s rental income fell by almost 18% in the six months to June and the value of its portfolio, which also includes Lakeside in Essex, was slashed by 9.6%.

One of Britain’s biggest car dealers has sounded out restructuring experts as it grapples with plummeting sales. Pendragon (PDG) FOLLOW conducted a beauty parade of financial advisers earlier this year, only for the process to be paused in the wake of the shock departure of chief executive Mark Herbert in June.Car dealers such as Pendragon are at the centre of an existential crisis facing the automotive sector. They are exposed to huge risks from only a small downturn, running big balance sheets but generating only wafer-thin profit margins. Figures published last week underlined the car industry’s ongoing downward spiral. New car sales fell 1.6% in August despite a flood of dealer registrations prior to the Government’s low-emissions deadline. It is understood that Pendragon had narrowed the field of restructuring advisers down to a “couple of firms” including Alvarez & Marsal, the boutique consultancy headed up by former KPMG advisory head Richard Fleming.

Sainsbury (J) (SBRY) FOLLOW is preparing a major overhaul of its bank as it pursues a “back to basics” approach following its botched attempt to merge with Asda. The grocer is understood to be examining options for its loss-making financial services arm as it prepares to lay out a new strategy to City analysts and investors later this month. Sainsbury’s could seek to offload its mortgage book, as rival Tesco did last week. One senior source close to Sainsbury’s suggested such a move was more likely than a sale. Sainsbury’s Bank has been weighing on the supermarket chain’s profits and consuming cash for years. It made a loss of £34m last year compared to a profit of £25m the year before. Its total income edged up 1.8% to £332m from £326m.

Reports that the American-based group Brinks is preparing to make a £1 billion bid for the cash-handling division of G4S (GFS) FOLLOW lit up shares in the London-listed security business. The company’s stock jumped after Sky News reported that Brinks was one of several players to have approached G4S about buying its cash-solutions business, which was put under review for a possible spinoff in February. The broadcaster also cited Prosegur of Spain as a potential buyer, prompting speculation that the level of bid interest could spark an auction.

Standard Chartered (STAN) FOLLOW faces a high-profile court battle that will lay bare allegations it helped facilitate deadly attacks on British and US troops. The 166-year-old bank is accused of helping companies connected to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and enabling the pariah state to sidestep sanctions. The Mail on Sunday revealed the impending legal battle earlier this year and a court hearing over a potentially embarrassing whistleblowing claim for compensation under US law is expected in the coming months. Briton Julian Knight, a former senior figure at Standard Chartered, has agreed to go public for the first time after years of legal battles in the US hit the bank with fines of nearly $2 billion (£1.6 billion). The former RAF pilot told of his reaction when he first realised the bank was breaking sanctions: ‘I was angry. ‘I served in the military for eight years and I was taught that terrorists were bad people yet here was a British bank allowing Iran to circumnavigate sanctions.’

City sources said Premier Foods (PFD) FOLLOW had appointed Wall Street bank Morgan Stanley to run a ‘strategic review’ under pressure from activist investors. Its share price has nearly halved since directors rejected a 65p-a-share takeover bid from America’s McCormick in 2016. Last month, Premier Foods announced a boardroom shake-up following a nine-month search for a chief executive. It named the head of its UK arm, Alex Whitehouse, 50, as its new chief executive, and appointed Colin Day, a former Reckitt Benckiser finance director, as its new chairman. Premier Foods looked at selling its Ambrosia rice pudding brand, but abandoned the sale in February after failing to get a good price from bidders. A spokesman said: ‘The strategic review is ongoing and we will update the market when it is completed.’

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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