QinetiQ in $160m contract win for US Army reconnaissance robots. British defence contractor QinetiQ Group (QQ.) won a contract on Friday worth up to $164 million (£124 million) with the US military to develop portable reconnaissance robots which can be carried in backpacks. The company, which makes a similar robot called the Dragon Runner, will build prototypes for a new range of machine weighing less than 25 pounds. They will be used for clearing buildings, caves and other tight spots where hand-to-hand combat is likely, according to army specifications. The seven-year contract, awarded to the firm’s subsidiary QinetiQ North America, will start with an initial two-year development phase worth $20 million.
The likes of Alexander McQueen and Burberry Group (BRBY) will face another hike in business rates next month, putting further strain on London’s West End brands, new data showed on Friday. Shops in Old Bond Street and New Bond Street will be paying more than £90 million in business rates this year, nearly £50 million higher than before the revaluation in 2017, property agent Colliers International said. Luxury brands face the rises due to their property values climbing. Burberry’s business rates bill was £935,770 in 2016. It will now be £2.6 million, up from £1.8 million last year. Dior paid £1.1 million before the overhaul and is now set to pay £2.7 million, up from £2.2 million last year. High Street retailers have blamed the steep rises in business rates that followed the 2017 revaluation for their financial travails, calling for an overhaul as online competitors such as Amazon pay much less.
Profits drop at Wetherspoon (J.D.) (JDW) as Tim Martin renews call for no-deal Brexit. Wetherspoon’s chairman Tim Martin on Friday took another swipe at the Government’s handling of Brexit, as his pubs firm reported a plunge in profits. The firm, which has 879 venues, said pre-tax profits fell 19% to £50.3 million in the 26 weeks to January 27. It was hit by higher wage and business rates costs, and warned that costs will also be up in the second half. But investors focused on strength in like-for-like sales — up 6.3% in the first half, and 9.6% in the six weeks to March 10. Martin used the update to fire more salvos at Brexit. “Previous referendum results… have always been respected in the UK, but if Parliament votes either for Theresa May’s ‘deal’ (which keeps us in the EU by the back door) or to remain in the EU, the referendum result will not have been respected.” He told the Standard: “I think a no-deal is much better. We can end tariffs and save £39 billion [in divorce costs].”
Restaurant Group (RTN) dishes up sales growth figures. The owner of Wagamama and Frankie & Benny’s had some cheer for the City on Friday as it showed signs of weathering the difficult climate in casual dining. The Restaurant Group managed like-for-like sales growth of 2.8% in the 10 weeks to March 10, much improving on the trend of a 2% fall during 2018. Wagamama’s numbers were the star performer, after the firm only just scraped through a controversial £559 million takeover of the noodles chain following a major shareholder rebellion. Some were concerned about the firm taking on £202 million of net debt in Wagamama and the price paid, but sales at branches open for a year or more jumped 9.1% in the 12 weeks to February 3.