Afternoon Financial Press Update
Paul Kettle
PM Press Review -2 min read
16:40, 13th March 2019

Below are the key headlines from today’s updated papers, featuring the Financial Times, The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail & more - see the full Press section here

Martin Gilbert loses out in Standard Life Aberdeen boardroom shake-up. Standard Life Aberdeen (SLA) FOLLOWtoday ditched a co-chief executive management structure the City had always thought unwieldy as it fights to turn around sluggish investment performance. Keith Skeoch, the Standard Life man, becomes sole chief executive, leaving Aberdeen’s Martin Gilbert as vice-chairman, a role that will allow him to focus on charming clients. Today’s figures suggest they will need plenty of charm. SLA saw outflows of nearly £41 billion last year, 7% of its assets, funds under management overall plunging from £608 billion to £551 billion. Profits were flat at £860 million. Critics of the merger always felt that the co-chief executive scheme could not work and questioned whether Standard and Aberdeen were the right partners in the first place.

Dixons Carphone fined £30 million for mis-selling phone policies cover. Dixons Carphone (DC.) FOLLOWon Monday was slapped with a £30 million fine by the watchdog for mis-selling phone insurance to customers. The Financial Conduct Authority said the company’s sales staff didn’t have the right training and sold the Geek Squad insurance to people who didn’t need it between 2008 and 2015. During that period, Dixons raked in £444.7 million from selling the insurance policies. FCA’s Mark Steward said: “Without whistleblowers coming forward these practices may never have come to light. “The high-level of cancellations should have been a clear indicator to the management of mis-selling.” The electrical and mobile phones seller, which discovered a huge data breach last year, today said it has put the episode behind it.

Litigation funder Burford Capital (BUR) FOLLOWhas been the star performer on the markets today unveiling profits up 23% to $354 million for 2018. Returns are the most important figure with litigation financiers as it reveals whether or not they are winning or losing the cases they back. Burford returns on the core litigation finance investment portfolio rose to a net 85% return on invested capital against 76% the previous year showing that not only can the firm grow but it can increase returns at the same time.

After resuming trading, recruitment company Staffline Group (STAF) FOLLOWsaid this session that it had won new contracts worth £35 million from the Education and Skills Funding Agency’s European Social Fund. Work starts next month. Yesterday Staffline said an inquiry into whether it had failed to pay some workers the minimum wage was ongoing.

Everyman Media Group (EMAN) FOLLOWwhich has been expanding rapidly reported a 27.7% jump in revenue to £51.9 million in the 53 weeks to January 3, boosted by a spate of new openings. Five new cinemas opened in the 12 months to date, taking the total to 26 sites with 84 screens. Underlying earnings were up 38.2% to £9.2 million. Everyman has committed to at least 14 more venues, including seven which are scheduled to open this year. Speaking to the Press Association, chief executive Crispin Lilly said he was actively looking at even more new sites and could see potential for between 50 and 60 cinemas nationwide. “I was very much brought in to oversee the expansion,” he said. “Because we just all felt that this lovely little return to cosy, magical cinema was something that wasn’t the preserve of north London.” Lilly joined four years ago when the chain had just 10 sites

Manx Telecom (MANX) FOLLOWhas recommended shareholders accept a takeover offer from Basalt Investment partners following a year in which revenues rose. The Isle of Man-based telco, which operates landline, broadband and mobile services, said “robust” performance across its core divisions and its Vannin Ventures international growth unit, led to the increase from £78.5 million to £81.5 million. The offer values the company at 215p per share.

Morrison (Wm) Supermarkets (MRW) FOLLOWhas dished out its third special dividend of the year to shareholders, as it ploughs ahead with its turnaround plan and enjoys growth across its wholesale arm. The Bradford-based supermarket will pay out a special dividend of 4p a share on top of 4p per share last March and 2p a share in September. In its latest annual results published today, the supermarket, which is the fourth biggest in the country, posted an 8.6 per cent rise in underlying pre-tax profit to £406million. In total, the full-year ordinary plus special dividends for the last year come out at 12.6p a share, marking an increase of 24.9% on a year earlier. The supermarket saw like-for-like retail sales growth slow to 0.6% in the final three months of the year, down from 1.3% in the third quarter. But like-for-like sales overall rose 3.8% in the fourth quarter thanks to a 3.2% contribution from the wholesale division, which includes tie-ups with McColl’s and Amazon. On a statutory basis, the group’s pre-tax profit fell by 15.8% to £320million after exceptional costs, with the group closing a pension scheme and paying off loans.

The chief executive behind one of Europe’s biggest technology floats of 2018 has stepped down only ten months after listing on the London Stock Exchange. Vincent Steckler, who has led anti-virus software provider Avast Software (AVST) FOLLOWsince 2009, said that he plans to retire this year. He will be succeeded by the president of the company’s consumer business, Ondrej Vlcek. In May 2018, Mr Steckler led Avast to its debut as the largest UK technology float on the London Stock Exchange, with a market value of more than $3bn (£2.5bn). Mr Steckler also led the Czech company through its major acquisition of AVG and is credited with growing its revenues from $20m to $800m in a decade.

Hikma Pharmaceuticals (HIK)  FOLLOW has swung back into profit after putting the hefty costs associated with an acquisition two years ago behind it. The Jordanian generic drug maker made a $293m (£223m) pre-tax profit in 2018, compared to a $738m loss a year earlier, when it booked a massive impairment charge and paid restructuring costs for its acquisition of Roxane Laboratories, now renamed West-Ward Columbus. Siggi Olafsson, Hikma’s Icelandic chief executive, said 2017 had been a tough year, but that the teething problems related to Roxane were now behind it. “We have a new team in place and are on track with our plan for growth,” he added

Britain’s biggest insurer has shifted billions of pounds worth of assets into Luxembourg ahead of Brexit, joining the long list of banks, asset managers and insurers that have moved nearly £1 trillion out of the UK. Prudential (PRU)FOLLOW revealed that it had spent £27m preparing for Brexit, which includes setting up an operation in Luxembourg, and has transferred £37bn in customer assets to the EU hub. The figures emerged days after think tank New Financial identified more than 275 firms that have moved or are moving some of their business, staff, assets or legal entities from the UK to the EU in preparation for Brexit.

Troubled Provident Financial (PFG) FOLLOWswung to a profit as it prepares to convince City investors that a £1.3bn hostile takeover bid is a bad idea. Chief executive Malcom Le May is set for a series of one-on-one meeting with top shareholders to convince them that the doorstep lender has a “very compelling story” and does not need to be bought. “I’ll keep articulating that to whoever wants to listen to me, including those shareholders who initially saw merit [in a takeover by Non-Standard Finance],” he said. Non-Standard Finance (NSF) FOLLOWlaunched its surprise attack on the business last month, when Provident chairman Patrick Snowball received a voicemail at 6.45am giving him a 15-minute warning of the offer.

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