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TUI AG Reg Shs (DI) (TUI) seeks personal touch to prosper where Thomas Cook failed. Anglo-German package tour operator not immune to pressure on travel sector
Former boss Tinkler plans £75m Eddie Stobart Logistics (ESL) rescue. UK logistics group at risk of collapse without new cash to support its operations
Volex (VLX) looks on the up but challenges remain. Cord maker has declared its first dividend for 6 years but its fortunes are closely tied to the US and China
Short sellers swarm around Hargreaves Lansdown (HL.) and St James’s Place (STJ). Leading UK financial services providers face scrutiny over links to Neil Woodford’s failed empire
Hedge funds have laid hundreds of millions of pounds of bets against companies that could come under attack if Jeremy Corbyn gains power. More than £700million of shares have been ‘shorted’ across major companies that could face nationalisation or the loss of public sector contracts. Data from the Financial Conduct Authority shows that 9%, or £225million, of the shares of Babcock International Group (BAB) – a defence industry outsourcer that could lose work under Labour – are being shorted. Water firms Severn Trent (SVT) and United Utilities Group (UU.) have bets of £157million and £62million respectively taken out against them. Royal Mail (RMG) has a £114million short against it. Others that could be affected include British Gas owner Centrica (CNA) and outsourcer Capita (CPI).
Former Stobart Group Ltd. (STOB) boss Andrew Tinkler is pressing forward with a rescue plan for struggling haulier Eddie Stobart Logistics (ESL), which faces a cash crunch and a fight to save 6,500 jobs. Mr Tinkler, who ran the logistics fleet as part of Stobart Group until 2014, is preparing a £75m deal for the trucking company. On Friday, Eddie Stobart recommended to shareholders a £55m loan from investment firm Dbay Advisors that would give it a majority stake and saddle existing shareholders with losses.
He has been exceedingly successful for decades in Britain, but Mr Kipling has a new ambition: to conquer America. The move is part of efforts by owner Premier Foods (PFD) to recover from crisis and fend off pressure from activist investors. Chief executive Alex Whitehouse said it wanted to replicate its success in Australia, where it now has a 10pc share of the cake market. He said: “We’ve got a 1,000-store experiment that we’re running in the US to see if we can gain some traction for Kipling cakes in the States.” Premier Foods’ ambitions come as it prepares to unveil the results of its strategic review, which could see it announce the sale of one or more brands.
Saudi Arabia has placed a price tag of up to $1.7 trillion on its oil producer Aramco, significantly lower than its original target, after lacklustre demand from overseas investors. The kingdom plans to raise between $24 billion and $25.6 billion by selling a 1.5% stake in the energy giant on the local stock exchange. The proceeds are about a quarter of the $100 billion Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly known as MBS, had once hoped to reap from the listing.
The owner of Primark has defended the fast-fashion industry and said that shopping on the high street was more environmentally friendly than online delivery vans “puffing their way up and down a street”. George Weston, chief executive of Associated British Foods (ABF), said that the scale of Primark’s global operations meant that it had “one of the world’s best supply chains and we don’t air freight the goods, we ship them, which has far lower emissions”. “Far from being a problem we are a solution,” Mr Weston said, referring to concerns that environmental awareness among young shoppers would hurt Primark. He said that if shoppers “order clothes online and collect in store then that is more environmentally sustainable”.
Bond markets have saved the government at least £140 billion since 2010 in debt interest, sparing Britain even deeper cuts during the years of austerity, an analysis of official figures shows. Falling market interest rates since the coalition came to power nine years ago brought down the state’s borrowing costs relative to original forecasts in every year. Between April 2010 and last year, for which there are final numbers, the total saving was £143.4 billion. The sum, which was £17.5 billion a year on average, provided the single biggest support to the public finances during the coalition and the Conservative governments. The saving was realised despite national debt rising faster than expected as the economy struggled.
He may have Italian blood in his veins but Sir Rocco Forte is no lover of the European Union. The veteran hotelier is an ardent Leaver and if he gets his wish — a Conservative majority at the election followed swiftly by Brexit — he plans to kick-start expansion in the UK. Two of his 14 luxury hotels are in Britain — Brown’s, in Mayfair, and the Balmoral, in Edinburgh — but he used to have two more, in Manchester and Cardiff, and once the political uncertainty of the past three years is over, he will start buying hotels in tourist destinations such as the Cotswolds, Oxford, Cambridge and Bath.
“Corporate abuse” . . . “gross negligence” . . . “extortion”. These are some of the insults that the governor of New York has hurled at National Grid (NG.) as a dispute over the state’s gas supply has turned sour. Andrew Cuomo’s spat with the utility company began in May when New York rejected an application for a new $1 billion, 37-mile pipeline to connect natural gas fields in Pennsylvania to New Jersey and New York. The company immediately imposed a moratorium on new gas customers in downstate New York, having warned for months that it would do so. Mr Cuomo was furious.
People who worked at the former AstraZeneca (AZN) drugs factory near Bristol are still waiting for their money from the £12 million fund promised after it collapsed. In July the company agreed to set aside the money to cover enhanced redundancy payments at the Avlon site amid criticism from employees, MPs and union leaders after The Times brought the dispute to light. The site employed about 230 people and produced Crestor, a statin, and Seroquel, an antipsychotic. In February, two years after the site was sold for £1 by Astrazeneca to the drugs manufacturer Avara, David Rubin & Partners was appointed as administrator.
The former boss of Eddie Stobart Logistics (ESL) is said to be working on a takeover bid for the struggling haulage company. Andrew Tinkler, who ran Stobart Group, the logistics group’s former parent company, until 2017, is drawing up a deal worth as much as £125 million for the haulier, according to reports last night. The bid would break apart an agreed rescue by Dbay, a private equity fund, which has proposed injecting £55 million into the haulier. Shares in Eddie Stobart were suspended in the summer after an accounting scandal. Mr Tinkler, 56, was forced off the Stobart Group board last year in acrimonious circumstances.
Crypto-assets are legally equivalent to property, a panel of judges and lawyers has declared, clearing the way for businesses to use currencies backed by blockchain technology. The panel, led by the senior High Court judge Sir Geoffrey Vos, issues a legal statement today that takes “significant steps” to address uncertainty around crypto-currencies and their underpinning systems. It says that crypto-assets “have all of the indicia [signs] of property”. It explains that in the view of the senior legal figures, the “novel or distinctive features possessed by some crypto-assets — intangibility, cryptographic authentication, use of a distributed transaction ledger, decentralisation, rule by consensus — do not disqualify them from being property”.
The Labour party has pledged to overhaul the public appointments system after one of the government-appointed commissioners who sets the UK minimum wage joined the board of G4S (GFS), the security company facing allegations of systematic violations of migrant workers’ human rights. Clare Chapman has served since March 2015 as one of nine commissioners on the government’s Low Pay Commission tasked with setting the national living wage, the legal minimum hourly rate. She was appointed as a G4S director in September. G4S has faced repeated controversies over its treatment of workers and users of government services. In September, it said it will end its involvement in the immigration and asylum sector following a scandal at a detention centre near Gatwick.
Almost £1.6billion was wiped off the value of the UK’s three biggest telecoms companies after Labour’s latest nationalisation pledge. Party leader Jeremy Corbyn has unveiled plans to create a ‘British Broadband’ public service, which would take BT Group (BT.A) fixed-line network under state control. It would also mean the Government would have to come to arrangements with broadband providers such as TalkTalk Telecom Group (TALK), which use BT’s infrastructure. BT’s shares had a rollercoaster day before closing at 193p, wiping £221million off its market value. Vodafone Group (VOD) dropped to 154.6p, losing £1.3billion in the process, while Talk Talk shed 3p, to close at 105.6p. Talk Talk boss Charles Dunstone lost more than £10million as the company’s shares stumbled, as he owns a 29.6% stake in the firm. As well as causing general alarm, Labour’s plan has stalled discussions Talk Talk has been having with interested parties to buy its Fibre Nation business. Corbyn’s announcement overshadowed Talk Talk’s half-year results, which showed it swung back into the black with profit of £1million, compared with a £4million loss last year.
Non-Standard Finance (NSF) shares dived to a record low of 26.6p after a poor third-quarter performance, weighed down by one of its branches in Buckinghamshire, meant its annual profits could be as much as 13% lower than expected.
Fuller Smith & Turner (FSTA) warned the market its full-year profit before tax will be about the same as last year, when it made £31million – far short of forecasts it would make more than £40million this year. It said the costs associated with selling its brewing business to Japan’s Asahi had been much higher than it anticipated.
Almost 6,000 Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY) shareholders who claim they were ‘mugged’ by the bank’s takeover of HBOS at the height of the financial crisis have suffered a High Court defeat. Some 20 months after the trial in London ended, a judge finally dismissed the £385million case brought by a group of 5,803 former Lloyds TSB shareholders who were hit by heavy losses. The investors – many pensioners and Lloyds employees – claimed bosses recommended the deal in September 2008 without disclosing that HBOS was riddled with bad mortgage debt.
Kier Group (KIE) was given a bloody nose as investors staged a major revolt over executive pay. Almost 54% of shareholders voted against the salaries the troubled construction group handed to top staff during the last financial year at the company’s annual general meeting. The contractor paid its board a total of £2.1million in the year to June, when the firm reported losses of £245million. This was down from £5.5million the year before, because Kier did not pay any bonuses in 2018-19. Investor advisory groups ISS and Glass Lewis had both urged shareholders to vote against approving executives’ pay.
Midas: Put some power in your portfolio – with the North Sea’s oil and gas. Midas verdict: Rockrose Energy (RRE) has come a long way in a short time and should continue to make progress. Austin is a 27% shareholder too so he is committed to success and keen to triple the size of the business over the next few years. At £17.35, the stock is a buy.
MIDAS SHARE TIPS UPDATE: Storage giant has growth plans all locked up. Midas verdict: Midas recommended Lok’n Store Group (LOK) in 2015, when the shares were £3.07. They have more than doubled since then but there should be more gains to come. Peal has been a director since 2007 and clearly believes the stock has potential. Jacobs founded the business in 1995 and still owns 18 per cent of the shares. Brokers believe they should rise to nearly £7. A strong hold.
Labour and BT Group (BT.A) have denounced each other’s claims in a war of words over the party’s pledge to nationalise swathes of the former state telecoms giant and offer free broadband. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said chief executive Philip Jansen’s £100bn estimate for the cost of nationalising BT was “ludicrous”. Labour has said it would cost £20bn to roll out full-fibre broadband across the UK by 2030, although that does not take into account the cost of compensating BT investors with gilts. A source close to BT said Labour’s £20bn figure was “ridiculous”, warning that the policy had “not been thought through at all”.
easyJet (EZJ) boss Johan Lundgren will warn investors to expect slower growth in capacity when he reports on a bruising year this week. He is also expected to relaunch its holiday business to capitalise on the collapse of Thomas Cook and Monarch, alongside results that will show a slide in profit. Brexit uncertainty has hit demand at Europe’s second-biggest airline, affecting its “load factor” — a measure of how full its planes are — and revenue per seat. The carrier, founded in 1995 by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, is expected to say that its load factor fell by 1.4 percentage points to 91.5% in the year to the end of September, while revenue per seat shrunk 2.7%.
Sports Direct International (SPD) founder Mike Ashley is demanding that all new rent deals across his high street empire are linked to store sales, making landlords’ income less stable. The sportswear billionaire is demanding deals that link up to 15% of the rent payable to turnover in new stores and those where leases are being renewed. Ashley’s businesses, which include Sports Direct, House of Fraser and the upmarket department store Flannels, operate from a total of about 700 sites, making him one of the biggest players on the high street. In a declining market, turnover rents help tenants by transferring some of the risk of future falls in sales to landlords, which have enjoyed the security of leases stretching for as long as 25 years.
In its quest to take cars into the sky, the Chinese developer EHang chose a surprising partner: Vodafone Group (VOD). The telecoms giant is to create a drone air-traffic control system for EHang in Germany, but behind the futuristic move there is a desire on the part of chief executive Nick Read to change Vodafone’s image and move it in a new direction. Since taking the top job in October last year, Read has set out to position Vodafone as a technology company that can usher in revolutionary services, as opposed to being an operator of the dumb pipework behind mobile phones and broadband.
The publisher of magazines FourFourTwo and Classic Rock is investigating how £770,000 worth of shares held by its boss were sold without her consent. Investment managers acting on behalf of Zillah Byng-Thorne, the chief executive of Future (FUTR), sold 160,770 shares in the group in October last year. Some of her shares in Flutter — the owner of Paddy Power — and GoCompare were also sold without her knowledge. She is a non-executive director of both. Byng-Thorne, 45 tomorrow, was made aware of the sales only last week when she got in touch with the managers, Future said. It added that it was an “administrative error” and the sales were carried out without her “consent, knowledge or involvement”.
Activist investor Edward Bramson has extended a complicated loan deal used to back his stake in Barclays (BARC) by a year, suggesting he plans to continue his siege. Bramson, 68, who runs Sherborne Investors, has pushed back the expiry date on the loan deal, made with Bank of America Merrill Lynch, to July 2022. The activist has put pressure on Barclays to shrink its investment bank.
The bosses of Britain’s biggest broadband providers have warned that a £100bn Labour plan to nationalise the BT Group (BT.A) network and provide free broadband threatens to “completely crater the whole market” and choke off investment. Lutz Schueler, the chief executive of the Virgin Media, which owns its own cable network and faces City claims it would go bankrupt if Labour’s plans are implemented, told The Sunday Telegraph the “competition is good for the customer and this is good for the country”. Mr Schueler said: “Nationalisation is the opposite. That’s a threat to investment. If competition is dead then clearly the role of Virgin Media has to be reconsidered, that’s for sure.”
Scandal-hit Eddie Stobart Logistics (ESL) has been forced to accept an emergency high-interest loan to avoid a collapse before Christmas that would put more than 6,500 jobs at risk. The firm is taking a £55m loan from investment firm Dbay Advisors – with interest charged at an initial rate of 25pc. The deal will give Dbay a majority stake in the company, saddling existing shareholders with massive losses. The cash injection came after Eddie Stobart’s banks refused to lend it more money, as it grapples with a multimillion-pound accounting black hole. One insider said: “If the deal doesn’t happen extremely soon, it could be curtains.”
Edward Bramson, the corporate raider targeting Barclays (BARC) has angered his own shareholders after extending a controversial loan arrangement used to bet on the bank. The New York-based activist who runs Sherborne Investors, has made clear that he has no plans to drop his siege after US filings revealed he has lengthened by a year a loan used to build a stake in the lender, to July 2022. The extension of the deal with Barclays’ rival Bank of America, a move said to have broken a “gentleman’s agreement” that banks do not take action against each other, has angered Sherborne’s backers even though it limits how much the fund can lose on its stake.
Good Energy Group (GOOD) one of the country’s leading energy challengers, is turning away from the household market to escape a “price war” that has left the sector littered with casualties. Good Energy, which supplies renewable energy to about 250,000 homes and firms, says it will instead focus on business clients and helping customers with renewable energy subsidies. The shift, outlined in annual accounts, reflects increasing wariness in the industry towards domestic energy, amid tighter regulation such as the cap on bills, which has contributed to loss-making tariffs and a rising toll of failed challengers. More than a dozen have gone bust this year.
Tony Pidgley, one of Britain’s top housebuilders has backed radical reform of property laws to reverse the decline of home ownership by ending the hoarding of land and triggering a new wave of development. The founder of Berkeley Group Holdings (The) (BKG), said landowners and developers should be forced to share “planning uplift” with local authorities. The move would upend the residential construction industry but Mr Pidgley said the system is “in dire need of reform” to meet demand for hundreds of thousands of new homes. “We need a central body that buys land, awards planning permission, then passes on the returns to the local community,” he said.
Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY) has seen off a landmark £600m lawsuit from shareholders over the disastrous acquisition of HBOS in 2008. Almost 6,000 retail shareholders and 300 institutions claimed they were misled about the financial health of HBOS before voting to approve the deal 11 years ago. The deal to buy the toxic lender almost sank Lloyds by landing it with billions of pounds worth of bad loans, forcing it to eventually beg for a £20bn bailout from taxpayers. The decision to back the bank means the investors will get no compensation. Many were pension savers whose retirement nest eggs were wiped out by a collapse in the lender’s share price.
Questor: unperturbed by rivals or the economy, Workspace Group (WKP) is growing fast. Hold on. Questor share tip: the FTSE 250 real estate investment trust remains a good way to play the London property market
Some of the world’s biggest consumer companies have revealed the cost of doing business in Hong Kong, which is beset by anti-government protests, after Burberry Group (BRBY) led a series of warnings. The fashion retailer said yesterday that it had taken a £14 million writedown on the value of its shops in the territory and that it was negotiating with landlords about rent reductions over fears that the escalating levels of unrest will not end soon. Cathay Pacific, the Hong Kong-based airline, said that the protests had “severely impacted demand and operations”, with a 35% drop year-on-year in the number of passengers arriving in Hong Kong last month.
Losses at FirstGroup (FGP) have widened after it booked a £124 million charge on the struggling American coach service that it is seeking to offload. The transport group blamed a lower level of immigration in southern US states and increased competition for the hit to Greyhound, but said that plans to sell the business remained on course as part of a wider shake-up. Matthew Gregory, chief executive of First, said that the auction and talks with a number of prospective bidders were “well advanced”. However, apparent investor unease about the progress of the shake-up sent its shares down by as much 22%.
G4S (GFS) is being boycotted by one of the world’s biggest and most influential investment funds after being accused of serious and systematic human rights violations. Norway’s $1.1 trillion sovereign wealth fund said yesterday that it could no longer hold shares in G4S on ethical grounds because of its treatment of migrant workers in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. In late 2018, it held a 2.3% stake in G4S valued at $90 million, according to its own figures, while as recently as last month it still owned a 0.34% holding. The fund’s ethics council said it was concerned about the so-called “recruitment fees” that migrant workers were required to pay to join the company.
National Grid (NG.) boss has insisted that he will be able to address the concerns of the governor of New York over gas supplies and that his company met regulatory standards in Britain during the blackouts in August. John Pettigrew, 51, acknowledged that both issues had led to disruption for customers but said that the company had been operating appropriately. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, warned the energy supplier in a letter this week that it could be stripped of its licence in New York City and Long Island after it failed to provide “adequate and reliable service”. The reprimand comes after months of difficulty for National Grid in its attempts to update its gas supply systems on America’s east coast.
The boss of Purecircle Limited (DI) (PURE) has stepped down temporarily after an investigation of the book-keeping found signs of possible wrongdoing. Pure Circle, which produces stevia, a natural sugar substitute, said yesterday that Magomet Malsagov, its chief executive, had “voluntarily agreed to stand aside on a temporary basis” after an examination of the company’s accounts identified “potential impropriety”. He will remain involved in the company as an adviser to John Slosar, the chairman, who has taken the role of chief executive on an interim basis. The disclosures mark a deepening of a crisis that began almost two months ago.
The private equity group 3i Group (III) has rejected suggestions it might have too many eggs in one basket after lifting its stake in Action, the fast-growing continental discount chain, to almost 50%. The listed group is spending more than €600 million (£515 million) to raise its stake in Action from 45% as part of a deal to give third-party investors in the retailer the choice of an exit or the chance to reinvest. 3i declined to put a precise value on its holding after the deal, which will complete in early January, but its stake was worth £3.2 billion in September, suggesting the enlarged holding could be worth £4 billion or more.
Eddie Stobart Logistics (ESL) announced last night that it has entered into a conditional sale and purchase agreement with Dbay Advisors, an Isle of Man-based private equity group. Under the deal Dbay, formerly Laxey Partners, will inject £55 million of new financing into Eddie Stobart. Dbay is Eddie Stobart’s second biggest shareholder, with about 10 per cent. It owned 51% of the group before it was listed on Aim in 2017 at 160p a share, which valued the company at £572 million. Eddie Stobart had been taken private in 2014 when it was spun out of Stobart Group.
Strong performances at its South African and Middle Eastern businesses and a regulatory change at its Swiss business helped Mediclinic International (MDC), the private healthcare group, to increase profits. The company, which is also listed in Johannesburg, said revenues rose 9 per cent year-on-year in the six months to the end of September while earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (ebitda) rose 4% to £222 million. On a statutory basis, Mediclinic reported pre-tax profits of £111 million, compared with a loss of £150 million last year after a writedown in the value of its investment in UK hospital group Spire Healthcare.
The newly appointed boss of , the world’s biggest miner, has been described as “a really straight up-and-down guy,” who will bring “great diligence” to the role when he takes over in the new year. Canadian-born Mike Henry, who has 30 years’ experience in mining, including 16 at BHP and the past three at the head of its Australian business, was named as successor to Andrew Mackenzie, 62, on Wednesday night. He will earn a base salary of $1.7 million and receive a pension contribution of 10% of his basic wage. Mr Henry, 53, is responsible for the mining group’s vast iron ore, coal, copper and nickel assets in the country, leading almost 40,000 people.
Two companies with substantial interests in Hong Kong have announced figures that underline the damage being inflicted on the economy by the continuing anti-government protests. Burberry Group (BRBY) said its sales were down more than 10% and it had slashed £14m off the value of its 12 stores in the territory. Separately, the airline Cathay Pacific said it expected second-half profits to be significantly below its first half, after a 35% decline in the number of passengers arriving in Hong Kong in October. It is the second time in a month the company has cut its profits guidance. Cathay Pacific is delaying the delivery of four new Airbus A320 aircraft due to “significant pressure” on its earnings. In August, the chief executive, Rupert Hogg, resigned after the company came under pressure from Chinese authorities to rein in employees who were supporting the pro-democracy demonstrators. Burberry’s underlying operating profits slipped 4% in the first half after the one-off £14m charge. Julie Brown, the chief operating and financial officer, said Hong Kong now accounted for 5% of Burberry’s sales, down from 8%. The company temporarily closed some stores during the protests.Gross profit margins for the group will also fall – by 0.5 percentage points more than expected – due to the poor Hong Kong sales, because the company rings up some of its most profitable transactions in the former UK colony. Lower sales affect the value of the group’s properties.
National Grid (NG.) has ploughed a record of almost £2bn into its booming US-based business this year as increasing political pressure raises questions over the multinational’s future in the UK. The energy network provider spent nearly £1.6bn growing its regulated US business over the first six months of the year, and also invested £200m into its US-based renewables company Geronimo. Over the same period, National Grid spent less than £650m running the gas and electricity networks in the UK, where policymakers are squeezing energy company profits and proposals to renationalise utilities have won public support. The London-listed company has built its US presence in recent years amid growing calls for UK utilities to be renationalised. It distributes gas and electricity to businesses and homes in New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. John Pettigrew, National Grid’s chief executive, said the record spending was in response to strong demand from north-eastern US states to transform their energy system to run on renewables. There was also healthy investor appetite for infrastructure projects, he said.
Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has blacklisted shares in British security company G4S (GFS) because of the risk of human rights violations against its workforce in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Norway’s Council of Ethics, which monitors investments in the country’s £860bn Government Pension Fund Global (GPFG), said there was an “unacceptable risk of the company contributing to systematic human rights violations”. Up to 30,000 staff, mostly working in security and construction, could be affected. The council said it had not officially considered whether G4S had used forced labour – a form of modern slavery – but it said “the company’s practice – in the worse cases – could place workers under constraint”. At the end of 2018, the GPFG owned 2.33% of G4S’s shares, worth around £66m, but has since sold most of them.