Morning Financial Press Review
Paul Kettle
AM Press Round-Up -3 min read
07:01, 15th March 2019

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

Sky courts Openreach rivals as ultrafast broadband race accelerates. Sky (SKY)FOLLOW has opened exploratory talks with upstart rivals to BT Group (BT.A)FOLLOW network infrastructure arm Openreach in an attempt to accelerate the rollout of ultrafast “full fibre” broadband. Britain’s second-largest broadband provider has positioned itself as a potential kingmaker for new network owners as they race Openreach to connect homes with faster and more reliable fibre-optic lines. Ventures such as CityFibre Infrastructure Holdings (CITY)FOLLOW, backed by Goldman Sachs, and Gigaclear, owned by M&G, plan to build millions of new lines but need retailers to sign up consumers.

Interserve on knife edge before key investor vote. Last-minute bid to get restructuring deal over the line. The future of Interserve (IRV)FOLLOW , the contractor that employs 45,000 people in the UK, is on a knife-edge before a crucial shareholder vote today. Investors will gather in the City to decide whether to back contentious restructuring plans for the troubled outsourcing company under which lenders will write off about £485 million of debts and inject £110 million into the business in return for the vast majority of the company’s equity. Interserve generates annual revenue of £2.9 billion, about two-thirds from state contracts such as maintaining schools, stations, Whitehall departments and hospitals.

Martin Sorrell to earn £2m bonus from WPP (WPP).FOLLOW Sir Martin Sorrell, former WPP boss, is poised to receive a £2.1m bonus, despite leaving the firm last year. The advertising giant said the reward is part of its long-term incentive plan and that it would not challenge Sir Martin’s right to benefit from the scheme. WPP reportedly took independent legal advice and found ‘there was no basis to withhold or adjust his bonus’, which covered the period between 2014 and 2018. He will receive payouts as part of the scheme for a further three years. Sir Martin was awarded £70.4m in 2015, £48.1m in 2016 and £13.9m in his last year at the firm. The company added that in recent weeks he had repaid personal expenses owed to the company.

Alan Jope shakes up management team at Unilever (ULVR) FOLLOW. The new boss of Unilever has shaken up its senior management and promoted one of his former rivals for the top job to a newly created role. Alan Jope, who succeeded the long-serving Paul Polman as chief executive in January, has made a series of changes in its product and international divisions. They include the appointment of Nitin Paranjpe, 56, as chief operating officer, a new position. As president of the foods and refreshment division, last year Mr Paranjpe was considered to be among the candidates to succeed Mr Polman, 62, but missed out on the position when Unilever appointed Mr Jope, 54, who was head of the beauty and personal care division, its largest.

DFS sitting pretty after late show by customers. Profits surged at DFS Furniture (DFS) FOLLOWas customers who stayed out of its furniture shops during the hot summer came back to purchase sofas in the last five months of 2018, the company said. The retailer, which also owns Dwell and Sofa Workshop, said its profits before tax more than doubled in the 22 weeks to January, rising from £6.2 million to £14.1 million. Revenues gained 29% to £422.3 million compared with the same period the previous year, thanks to the deferred purchases and a rise in online sales. The latest results followed a downbeat year in which profits fell by more than a fifth to just over £50 million. In June, DFS issued its first profit warning since it floated in 2015 after a drop in footfall at its stores and a slowdown in the housing market that dampened sales.

Cineworld boss marvels at rising Regal benefits. Cineworld Group (CINE) FOLLOWhas found an extra $50 million of synergies from its $5.8 billion swoop on the American market and the cinema operator’s boss reckons there is more to come. The acquisition of Regal Entertainment had been forecast to generate $100 million of savings — $60 million in cost cuts and $40 million in extra revenues — but yesterday Cineworld upped that to $150 million, 60% in cost-cutting. However, Mooky Greidinger, 66, chief executive, said: “There’s still more potential on synergies. We are aiming higher.”

Political uncertainty will hit property deals, warns Savills. A leading estate agency has forecast a slowdown in property dealmaking this year because of global macroeconomic and political uncertainties. Savills (SVS) FOLLOW, whose deals advisory work accounts for almost half the property agency’s business, is expected to be hit by declines in transaction volumes in a number of markets. The UK-based company, which has offices around the world, said it was “difficult to predict the impact of [the uncertainty] on corporate expansionary activity and investor demand for real estate”. However, as a result of expected growth in other areas, including property management and investment management, Savills maintained its guidance for this year. The FTSE 250-listed company, best known for its residential estate agency business, was founded in 1855 and employs more than 35,000 people in 60 countries.

Capita revival on track, new chief insists despite pain. The chief executive parachuted in to turn around Capita (CPI)FOLLOW insisted the overhaul was on track yesterday despite a sharp fall in profits. Jonathan Lewis, 57, is a third of the way through a three-year restructuring of the outsourcing group and said that its annual results showed it had “delivered precisely what we said”. The FTSE 250 company was recently thrown into crisis by botched contracts, competitive tendering and the downturn in the outsourcing sector, particularly the collapse of rival Carillion. It led to profit warnings, a slump in its share price and a clearout of executives.

Fat cat pay row at Shell with boss scooping £18m as rising oil price hits drivers in the pocket. Royal Dutch Shell ‘B’ (RDSB)FOLLOW sparked a fresh row over fat-cat pay after its chief executive was handed £17.8million last year. As the rising oil price hit drivers in the pocket, Ben van Beurden saw his pay more than double from £7.8million in 2017 thanks to a generous bonus scheme. It means the Dutchman, who joined the oil group in 1983, has been paid nearly £60million since becoming boss in 2014. Critics attacked Shell’s ‘warped culture’ and said motorists hit by price rises at petrol pumps would be infuriated by the payout. Blue-chip firms have been rocked by shareholder rebellions over staggering bonuses handed to bosses, with Astrazeneca, WPP and Unilever all attracting investors’ ire in the past year.

Aston Martin Holdings (AML) FOLLOWboss lands a £3m jackpot despite luxury car firm’s disastrous stock market debut. Aston Martin’s boss pocketed £3million last year as he steered the luxury car maker to its stock market debut. Andy Palmer, 55, was awarded a £1.7million bonus on top of a £1.2million salary. The remainder of his pay package was made up of benefits and pensions payments. Details of his pay came after Aston Martin suffered full-year losses of £68.2million, sending shares crashing to all-time lows. The James Bond car maker was hit by £136million one-off costs relating to its listing in October when shares floated at 1900p.

Property investment trust Capital & Regional (CAL) FOLLOWsaw shares plunge after it swung to a loss of £25.5million. The blow came after the company, which owns seven shopping centres, took a £52.5million writedown on the value of its properties in the year to December 30. Capital & Regional previously made a £22.4million profit in 2017. The business’s shares fell 11.6%, or 3.7p, to 28.2p following the announcement. They have fallen 25% in the past year.

Shares in Just Group (JUST) FOLLOWtumbled after the pensions provider swung into the red, cancelled its dividend and sought £380million of fresh funding. The group said it made £86million of losses in 2018 having notched up a profit of £181million the previous year. At the same time, Just Group said it had decided to scrap its annual dividend and went to investors with a call for cash. It said it needed the extra money to cope with changes to mortgage regulations made by the Prudential Regulation Authority. The fundraising included a £300million debt offering and an £80million stock placing, with shares sold at 80p each.

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