Weekend Financial Press Review
Paul Kettle
W/E Press Round-Up -3 min read
08:35, 17th 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

Domino’s Pizza, led by David Wild, accused of misleading the City. Franchisees ramp up row with pizza delivery giant. The £1bn food giant that runs Domino’s Pizza in Britain has been accused of misleading the City over the state of relations with the powerful franchisees who run most of its 1,100 stores. Domino’s Pizza Group (DOM) FOLLOW, run by former Tesco executive David Wild, received a letter from a group of angry store owners last week. It warned that comments suggesting a resolution to an ongoing dispute could be found were “extremely misleading”, because Wild and the board were “at total odds with the franchisees”. The letter marks a sharp escalation in a row between the plc and its entrepreneurial partners, who have refused to open new stores until they are granted a greater share of its profits. About 90% of the 67 store owners are members of the Domino’s Franchisee Association, which says their share of profits has fallen from 61% to 50% over the past four years.

Rivals Serco and Mitie circle in bid to clean up at Interserve. Rival outsourcing giants have approached Interserve’s administrator, EY, about buying its services business. Serco Group (SRP) FOLLOWand Mitie Group (MTO) FOLLOWare understood to have made inquiries about Interserve’s support services arm, which has a turnover of £1.7bn. Industry insiders expect a wave of consolidation across the outsourcing sector, which has been hit by botched contracts, government pressure and rising costs. However, a sale of the services division, said to be valued by the company’s lenders at about £300m, would leave Interserve focused on construction and equipment hire, posing a dilemma for the lenders. “Those players [rivals] only want the best bits,” said a source close to the talks.

Debenhams in race against time to secure lifeline. Debenhams (DEB)FOLLOW must raise emergency funds by the end of this week or the ailing chain could face administration. Without a refinancing of its debt mountain and access to fresh capital, the embattled retailer will be unable to pay a looming £50m quarterly rent bill. The payment to landlords is due on Monday March 25, meaning an agreement with lenders would need to be in place by the end of the week. Failure to secure a deal could force banks to call in their loans, pushing Debenhams into administration, sources close to the talks said. Lenders would then take control of the business.

Discount retail giant B&M European Value Retail S.A. (DI) (BME) FOLLOW is attempting to wriggle out of strict rules designed to stop major chains exploiting food and drink suppliers. The company, which has about 600 stores and annual sales of £2.6billion, claims a decision to force it to sign up to the Groceries Code Adjudicator would lead to ‘irreparable financial harm’. GCA rules ensure that major companies make timely payments to suppliers and that the correct procedures are followed when contracts are terminated. But B&M has claimed it would cost £1million to implement the changes required as it works with 1,600 suppliers. GCA membership is applied to any retailer that has more than £1billion in sales of food and drink, although exceptions can apply. Many suppliers are said to be angry that Amazon and Boots have not been added.

Battle to save Alitalia amid concerns over EasyJet rescue. Italian officials have crossed the Atlantic in a bid to resurrect a rescue deal for Alitalia as concerns mount that easyJet (EZJ) FOLLOWis about to walk away from a deal to save the bankrupt carrier. US airline Delta hosted Italian state rail company Ferrovie dello Stato in Atlanta, Georgia, on Friday, sources said. EasyJet and Delta announced in February that they are in talks to inject up to €400m (£341m) and create a “new Alitalia”. But easyJet’s interest cooled last week, with it reportedly only interested in short-haul slots from Milan’s Linate airport. Some €900m of government funding is due to be repaid by April. Refinancing this will trigger a EU state aid review.

Hedge funds have dialled up their bets against Vodafone Group (VOD) FOLLOWshares to a record £1billion after the telecoms giant raised billions of pounds in debt to fund a megadeal in Europe. Speculators swooped on Vodafone’s shares last week, with major short positions hitting an all-time high, according to disclosures by the Financial Conduct Authority. At least 2.7% of Vodafone’s shares were on loan to short-sellers, meaning bets worth more than £1billion were placed against the stock. Sources said it was most likely hedge funds were shorting the shares after a major convertible bond launch – although there are also fears Vodafone could be forced to cut its dividend, which is one of the biggest in the country.

One of Britain’s best-paid female bosses has handed her daughter more than £4million in shares. Avril Palmer-Baunack, who runs WeBuyAnyCar owner BCA Marketplace (BCA) FOLLOW, gifted her daughter Iona two million shares in the FTSE 250 company last week. Palmer-Baunack, 54, faced a backlash last year after pocketing a share bonus worth £29million, making her one of the best-paid women in the country. Shareholder advisors Glass Lewis called the bonus ‘exceptionally disproportionate’, claiming the used car company’s value may have been inflated by general stock market swings rather than by her management. Now stock market filings indicate she has handed some of those controversial shares to her daughter who graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2017 and is now studying for a PhD.

A massive bonus scheme which could see Ocado Group (OCDO) FOLLOWboss Tim Steiner pocket up to £100million is ‘excessive’ and should be rejected by shareholders, according to an influential investor group. The payouts, revealed by The Mail on Sunday, are based on the online grocer boosting its share price over the next five years. Steiner’s payout is capped at £20million a year and four senior executives could each get a maximum of £5million a year. But Glass Lewis, which advises shareholders on corporate governance and pay, said the targets were too short term and could see Ocado bosses get rich from buoyant market forces rather than management strategy.

Aston Martin’s £62m gift to boss Andy Palmer. Aston Martin Holdings (AML)FOLLOW chief executive was handed £62m in shares as a reward for turning around the luxury car maker before its stock market float. Former Nissan executive Andy Palmer was given 3.27m shares worth £62.2m at Aston’s float price of £19. Palmer sold £29.2m of the shares to settle tax liabilities and kept the proceeds from a further £6.6m that he sold. The remaining 1.39m shares will be released progressively until 2022, although they have fallen in value to £16.1m. The disclosure in the annual report comes after its much-hyped stock market float last October. Its shares have fallen since then by 39% to £11.62, valuing James Bond’s car maker at £2.7bn.

Intu mulls £860m Spanish malls sell‑off. The owner of the Trafford Centre in Manchester is eyeing the sale of its £860m Spanish portfolio as it tries to cut its debts in the wake of two failed takeover bids. Intu Properties (INTU) FOLLOW, which tried to merge with Hammerson last year and then received an approach backed by the Canadian giant Brookfield, is considering selling stakes in its three Spanish shopping centres — Xanadu near Madrid, Puerto Venecia near Zaragoza and Asturias near Oviedo. Intu owns 50% of each of the three centres, which are worth a total of €700m (£596.3m), and could look to sell to its joint venture partners. Intu also has a significant development site near Malaga on the Costa del Sol.

Computer games developer Team17 (TM17) FOLLOWis set to report a surge in profits amid strong demand for its titles. Analysts expect the company behind the popular Worms franchise to boost pre-tax profits by 64% to £12.1m when it announces full-year results on Tuesday. The company, which floated last May and is now valued at £279m, has more than 100 games spanning computer consoles and mobile phones. Sales are set to be up from £29.6m to £40m over the year.

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