Sector News - November 2013

Banking and Financial Services

Sir Hector Sants resigns from Barclays

Sir Hector Sants, Barclays’ head of compliance and government and regulatory relations, and former head of the FSA, has resigned with immediate effect from his position with the bank just one month after taking sick leave for stress. In a statement, the bank said that Sir Hector had concluded he would not be able to “return to work in the near term.” He will be replaced on an interim basis by Allen Meyer, head of compliance for the bank’s corporate and investment banking arm.

HSBC makes $1m donation to typhoon relief effort

British bank HSBC has made a $1m (£630,000) cash donation to help those affected in the typhoon-stricken nation of the Philippines. The bank, to date the biggest UK business donor to help victims of typhoon Haiyan, paid the money to the Philippine Red Cross. Its Philippines arm donated a further £14,500, and employees have raised a further £37,700. HSBC's chief executive, Stuart Gulliver, said: “We hope our donation and the efforts of our staff will go some small way to making a difference to the communities that now urgently need help.”

Concerns grow as financial watchdogs haemorrhage staff

The rate of resignations at the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) – the two bodies established to replace the Financial Services Authority (FSA) on April 1 – have almost doubled since the original watchdog was split, raising concerns over the organisations’ ability to retain staff capable of carrying out tougher, more interventionist rules.  According to data, staff have been leaving the FCA since its formation at an annualised rate of 12pc and the PRA at a rate of 11pc. By contrast, staff turnover in the final year of the now-defunct FSA was 6.9pc, with an average of 7.8pc turnover per year for the past five years.

Construction and Property

Construction output highest since September 2007

Construction companies have enjoyed their fastest upturn in business since before the financial crisis, according to the latest Markit/CIPS UK Construction PMI output measure, which came in at 59.4 for October – up from 58.9 on the previous month. Housebuilding was the biggest driver, but civil engineering and commercial projects also enjoyed a boost. Companies have been hiring workers at their fastest pace for six years, with the majority expecting output to continue to grow over the year ahead.

Help to Buy scheme boosting house sales

Housebuilder Barratt Developments has experienced a continued rise in sales in the wake of the Government’s launch of its Help to Buy scheme. The group said the value of its order book reached £1.1bn in the 19 weeks to November 10 – up almost 47pc on a year ago. More than 2,800 homes have been reserved using the Help to Buy shared equity scheme, leading to fears that the programme could cause another housing bubble.

New tenants flock to Walkie Scorchie

Would-be tenants of Land Securities’ landmark 37-storey “Walkie Scorchie” office building in the heart of the City have not been blinded to the efficiency and location of the property, despite the solar glare issue of the summer in which reflected sunlight was blamed for scorching the panels of a Jaguar car and the seat of a bicycle parked on the street below. Fifty-six per cent of the scheme has now been pre-let, with a further 20pc in the pipeline ahead of the building opening to users next April. Land Securities believes it is close to solving the solar glare problem, and have stressed it will not delay occupation, nor inflate the budgeted cost.

Energy and Utilities

Co-op Energy part reverses price rise

Co-operative Energy has announced it is “putting customers before profits”, reducing its planned price rise to just 2.5pc. On October 18, the group, which is part of Midcounties Co-operative, announced it intended to increase gas and electricity bills by 4.5pc, but had a change of heart after the government “clearly indicated it will remove the mandatory energy companies obligation (ECO) green taxes on gas and electricity bills.” The lower price rise will affect long-standing customers January 8, 2014. Customers who switched to the Co-op after the 4.5pc increase was announced will see their bills cut by 2pc immediately.

Npower boss refuses to give up bonus amid rising energy costs

The boss of energy firm npower has dismissed calls to give up his bonus amid widespread anger over rising energy prices, saying the gesture would amount to little more than a “gimmick”. Chief executive Paul Massara earns around £600,000 a year, of which £150,000 is a bonus. Mr Massara said: "I think the issue is, are we doing absolutely everything we can to keep costs down and to make sure it's affordable? My bonus is linked to my performance, is linked to getting it right for customers, is linked to employee satisfaction. All of my team are linked to that. If we don't deliver on that, we don't get a bonus.” Conversely, Centrica boss, Sam Laidlaw, announced at the recent CBI conference he would forgo his £1.7m bonus in order to help rebuild trust with consumers.

MoD engineering services group looking for nuclear expansion

Babcock International, the FTSE-100 engineering services group, is looking at taking an equity stake in new UK nuclear power plants. The company, which has half of its business with the Ministry of Defence, has held talks with Japan’s Hitachi over a stake in the new Advanced Boiling Water Reactor stations planned for sites at Oldbury, Gloucestershire and Wylfa on Anglesey. Babcock is also leading a consortium bidding for the £5bn 20-year contract to decommission Britain’s Magnox reactors, due to be awarded in April.

IT and Telecommunications

Taskforce to review UK’s IT skills gap

British IT firms filling staff shortages from outside the EU will be required to take on a full-time British apprentice for each overseas recruit under a Labour government, party leader Ed Miliband has announced. The move is aimed at bridging the growing IT skills gap developing in the UK, as more British firms become increasingly dependent on overseas workers. An independent taskforce, headed by former Tomorrow’s World presenter Maggie Philbin, is to review the situation. The report will be available to all political parties.

Vodafone adds extra £1bn to investment plan

Vodafone is to plough an extra £1bn into upgrading its network in anticipation of a strengthening European recovery, despite the tough trading conditions of the first half of the year. The company will now spend £7bn on its “Project Spring” investment programme over two years rather than three in an attempt to outmanoeuvre rivals. The project will include 75,000 new 4G mobile broadband stations in 14 markets and upgrades to older 2G networks to ensure “perfect” voice calls.

Mobile uploads exceed downloads

Mobile data uploads have overtaken downloads for the first time as a result of the growing popularity of social media, the boss of Britain’s biggest network has said. Olaf Swantee, chief executive of EE, said events like Glastonbury and Andy Murray’s Wimbledon win had driven a huge surge in photograph and video uploads, illustrating the increasing need for faster network speeds, like 4G.

Life Sciences, Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare

Johnson & Johnson settles hip implant lawsuits

Healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson is reported to have paid $4bn to settle thousands of lawsuits over its recalled defective hip implants. The deal will resolve more than 7,500 lawsuits in federal and state courts by patients who have already had the defective devices removed. The company declined to comment.

AstraZeneca to invest £120m in Macclesfield site

AstraZeneca has announced it is to invest £120m upgrading facilities at its Macclesfield site as part of plans to produce one of its bestselling cancer drugs, Zoladex. The decision to invest will secure 300 manufacturing jobs and create 200 temporary construction roles until 2017. Earlier this year, AstraZeneca announced it would cease all R&D at the historic Alderley Park laboratories in Cheshire, with the loss of 550 jobs. A new £330m R&D centre is to be created in Cambridge, to where the company headquarters will also relocate.

Shire buys ViroPharma for $4.2bn

London-listed drugs group Shire has boosted its rare-disease portfolio with the $4.2bn (£2.6bn) acquisition of US group ViroPharma. Shire is to pay $50 per share in cash for the group. Biopharmaceutical group ViroPharma manufactures Cinryze, the leading preventive treatment for the rare genetic disease hereditary angioedema that causes sudden life-threatening attacks of swelling in bodily parts. The deal is expected to produce annual cost synergies of approximately $150m by 2015.

Media

News Corp hit by falling ad sales

Advertising sales at Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper empire have fallen more rapidly than expected, with revenues shrinking to $2.07bn in the three months to the end of September. Analysts had forecast $2.18bn after the company, which retained the News Corp name was hived off from the film and television arm of the business. The newspaper operation was the worst performing division at the company, with revenues slumping 10pc to $1.5bn.

Sky lobbied UEFA to reopen Champions League talks

BSkyB lobbied UEFA to revive negotiations over the live television rights to the Champions League matches after it was knocked out of the bidding process at the first round of sealed bids by BT, it has been revealed. The satellite broadcaster saw more than £1.3bn wiped off its value after the company lost out in the auction. BT secured the rights for £900m.

U2 and Madonna management in talks with Live Nation

Two management companies representing U2 and Madonna are believed to be in negotiations with the live events company Live Nation Entertainment. The deal, between Paul McGuinness of Principle Management and Guy Oseary's Maverick would establish the company's shift towards artist representation, with the new venture joining Artist Nation, Live Nation's artist management company. If the deal goes ahead, Mr McGuinness stands to make approximately £18.8m.

Retail

Companies looking to hire to cope with Christmas rush

Almost a quarter of companies are planning to take on seasonal staff in the run up to Christmas in an attempt to cope with the festive rush, according to a survey carried out by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC). Of those questioned, one in 10 said they would be hiring more seasonal staff than last year, and 27pc said they planned to keep some of the recruits on as permanent staff after the seasonal rush subsides.

Own-brand and online business behind Sainsbury’s 7pc profits increase

Sainsbury’s has posted a 7pc rise in its first-half profits following good performance in its own-brand products and rapid growth in its online and convenience store channels. The supermarket has enjoyed 35 consecutive quarters of sales growth and is holding a market share of 16.8pc – its highest for a decade. Rival Tesco last month posted a 1.5pc fall in first-half UK trading profit. Sainsbury's online grocery sales rose by 15pc in the first half, while convenience store sales increased by over 20pc. The firm has also benefited from the success of its "Brand Match" price comparison scheme and increased sales of non-food products.

Starbucks told to pay Kraft $3bn over coffee contract

Coffee giant Starbucks has been ordered by an arbitrator to pay Kraft Foods almost $3bn after ending a contract early. Starbucks ended the agreement – which saw Kraft selling bags of Starbucks coffee in its stores from 1998 – in 2011, accusing Kraft of breach of contract and mismanaging the brand. Kraft denied any breach and said that Starbucks must pay it fair value for the business, which brought in sales of $500m a year, if it wanted to break the contract. Starbucks said in a statement that it disagrees with the arbitrator’s decision.

Transport

Flybe’s majority owner sells entire stake

Shares in the embattled airline Flybe have taken a nosedive after its majority shareholder, Rosedale Aviation Holdings, sold its 48.1pc stake in the company. The Exeter-based regional airline is to cut 500 jobs as part of its extended cost-cutting operation under new chief executive Saad Hammad. The new round of job cuts will save Flybe £7m this year and £26m next year, the company said. The number of routes flown by the airline will also be reduced.

BA continues pensions dispute battle

British Airways has said it will continue to fight former employees battling to recoup money from the airline’s pension fund, despite the first case coming to court being judged in the employee’s favour. The dispute dates back to 2011, when BA switched the APS index-linked pension fund from the retail prices index (RPI) to the lower consumer prices index (CPI). The change typically left APS members worse off by around £1,000 a year. Fifty claimants are to challenge the airline in the small claims court in the first wave of complaints over the next three months, but BA has said it hasn’t settled any claims and “will continue to contest them all.”

Sales of electric cars at UK record high

UK sales of electric cars jumped by 25pc to a record high in the third quarter, according to government figures. New registrations under the government’s £5,000 grant scheme reached 1,149 – the highest number since it was launched in January 2011. However, Renault-Nissan has admitted the company will miss its target of selling 1.5m electric vehicles by the end of 2016, and would be more likely to hit it in 2020 or 2021.

To find out more about what LexisNexis does for in-house lawyers, click here.

Area of Interest