Sector News - October 2013

Banking and Financial Services

Workplace stress is growing problem, reveals survey

The most recent annual absence survey carried out by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development / Simplyhealth has identified stress in the workplace as a growing problem just days after Barclays announced its head of global compliance, Sir Hector Sants, will take a leave of absence from the bank after being diagnosed with exhaustion and stress. Sir Hector is the second high-profile banking executive to be signed off work with the condition in recent years, after Lloyds Banking group’s chief Antonio Horta-Osario took a three-month break in 2011.

JP Morgan to settle charges in Whale trading scandal

JP Morgan Chase has agreed with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to pay $100m to settle charges relating to the bank’s ‘London Whale’ trading scandal in which it recklessly used so-called manipulative devices, according to media reports. The latest fine follows last month’s pay-out of $920m in penalties to four US and British regulators to resolve the biggest civil probes of the bank’s $6.2bn

London set to become renminbi hub following groundbreaking deal

City institutions will be able to invest directly into Chinese stocks and bonds from London and Chinese investment banks are to be allowed to set up branches in Britain following a groundbreaking deal with Beijing that promises to make the City the world’s biggest renminbi trading hub outside of China. The deal will make London the first overseas territory from which investment can be made directly into China. Investors will have the right to buy up to RNB80bn (£8bn) of stocks, bonds and money market instruments. Currently all deals must be routed through Hong Kong.

Construction and Property

China to invest millions in Manchester’s airport city

Beijing Engineering Construction Group (BCEG) has agreed to pump millions of pounds into the £800m development of Manchester’s Airport City as part of a joint venture with Manchester Airports Group (MAG), UK construction group Carillion and the Greater Manchester Pension Fund. The development is expected to create around 16,000 jobs and attract international business. Construction work will begin by the end of the year, and the scheme, which will include 5m sq ft of offices, hotels, advanced manufacturing space, logistics and warehousing, is expected to take 15 years to complete.

Balfour Beatty wins £77m US bridge building contract

Construction group Balfour Beatty has been awarded a $124 (£77m) infrastructure contract in the US, signalling an upturn in the country’s market for major projects. Balfour will build the I-140 Wilmington Bypass in North Carolina, which will include a 7,185ft bridge over the Cape Fear River and one-and-a-half miles of a four-lane road. Work is scheduled to begin this month and complete in April 2018.

House buyers rush to take advantage of Help to Buy scheme

The Royal Bank of Scotland has booked mortgage appointments with thousands of would-be home buyers within hours of the launch of the second phase of the government’s Help to Buy scheme, it has reported. In all, the bank took 10,000 calls in the first four working days of the scheme – double the amount it would typically expect to receive – and expects to see demand for the 95pc mortgages continue. The bank launched a 2-year fixed rate mortgage under the scheme at 4.99pc which is available nationwide. Santander, HSBC and Barclays have also confirmed their intention to take part in the scheme.

Energy and Utilities

UK solar installation hits record high

Installations of solar panels in the UK look set to top records this year with investment rising to £1.6bn, but the global outlook for clean technologies remains gloomy as energy bills continue to grow. Global investment in clean energy fell to £29bn in the third quarter of 2013 – a 14pc drop on the second quarter and a reduction of a fifth compared with the same period last year – and in the UK, rising energy bills have prompted calls for green subsidies to be scrapped. According to Michael Liebrich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), this would be a mistake: “Gas prices have risen more than 8% – we know that it is gas prices that are pushing up bills. I don't follow the logic of how that has to do with green subsidies,” he said.

Union calls off Grangemouth oil refinery strike

A planned strike at the Grangemouth oil refinery has been called off, despite the failure of peace talks to resolve a bitter row over a union convenor. Union members were due to walk out for 48 hours over the treatment of Unite convenor Stephen Deans, but the union called off “all industrial action with immediate effect” after lengthy talks at Acas ended without agreement. Unite said it has called off the strike to “protect this national asset from the scandalous behaviour of its owner,” Ineos. Ineos chairman, Jim Ratcliffe, instructed his management representatives to demand an apology on his behalf, causing the collapse of talks after 16 hours of negotiation.

Ex-Network Rail boss to head up Centrica

Rick Haythornthwaite, a former chairman of Network Rail, is to take up the same position at British Gas owner, Centrica. Mr Haythornthwaite, who was criticised for presiding over a “gravy train” of executive pay excess at Network Rail, will also hold a position on Centrica’s remuneration committee which decides pay levels for the top team. Mr Haythornthwaite will join the board of Centrica in mid-October as a non-executive director, and will succeed the current chairman, Sir Roger Carr, at the turn of the year.

IT and Telecommunications

Facebook pays no corporation tax despite 70pc rise in UK income

The chairwoman of the Commons public accounts committee, Margaret Hodge, has accused Facebook of deliberate manipulation of accounts of economic activity in an attempt to deprive the British taxpayer of a rightful tax contribution after it paid no corporation tax in Britain last year, despite taking an estimated £223m share of the digital advertising market. The social network’s tax bill fell from £238,000 in 2011 to zero, while its reported UK income rose by 70pc. Facebook, like Google and Apple, is taking advantage of a tax loophole that allows it to funnel the vast majority of its income from advertisers targeting British users through Ireland. A Facebook spokesman said: “Facebook pays all taxes required by UK law and we comply with tax laws in all countries where we operate and have employees and offices. We take our tax obligations seriously, and work closely with national tax authorities around the world to ensure compliance with local law.”

Internet entrepreneurs call for more support for innovators

The founders of the music streaming service Spotify have called upon European governments to transform their thinking on how to support technology start-ups if they are to nurture talent and prevent brain drain to the US. Daniel Ek and Martin Lorentzon have said a “change in mentality” is needed to capitalise on the “once in a generation” opportunity to create new jobs and wealth presented by the digital revolution, and have urged political leaders to look to the US’s historic support for innovators for inspiration.

Twitter chooses NYSE for highly anticipated flotation

Twitter has chosen the New York Stock Exchange for its initial public offering on November 14, confounding expectations that it would head for the Nasdaq exchange usually favoured by technology companies. The social media business is hoping to raise up to $1bn in a flotation that could value the company at far more than $10bn. Net losses at the company have increased to $64.6m from $21.6m a year earlier, although in an amended IPO filing it reported a doubling in revenues to $168.6m in the quarter to the end of September.

Life Sciences, Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare

GSK’s former head of Chinese operations barred from leaving country

The British former chief of GlaxoSmithKline’s operations in China, Mark Reilly, has been barred from leaving the country while he helps the Chinese police with bribery investigations. Chinese authorities are looking into claims that the pharmaceutical giant paid up to £300m in bribes to doctors and hospital managers to persuade them to prescribe its drugs. Dozens of other GSK employees, all Chinese, are in detention over the matter.

German drugs maker suspends US shipments amid execution fears

The German drugs manufacturer Fresenius Kabi has revealed it suspended shipments of a widely used drug to a US distributor earlier this year after 20 vials were mistakenly sent to the state of Missouri to be used in executions. Shipments of the anaesthetic propofol were halted to a Louisiana distributor for four and a half months because the company feared the EU would ban exports if it was used in executions. “We felt it was important to make sure it was restricted to the healthcare professionals,” said Geoffrey Fenton, a US spokesman for the firm.

Cancer experts call for global private-public cancer fund

The medical and pharmaceuticals industry must take the lead on establishing a multibillion-dollar private-public fund if global governments are to avoid being overwhelmed by the rapidly growing burden of cancer, experts have warned. “Many parts of the world are already unable to cope with the current situation and are totally unprepared for the future growth of the cancer problem,” Professor Peter Boyle, lead author on the State of Oncology 2013 report, has said. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the disease will kill more than 13.2 million people a year by 2030, almost double the number in 2008, with the vast majority of deaths in low- and middle-income countries.

Media

ASA bans Sky catch-up TV advert

The Advertising Standards Authority has banned a Sky advert for TV and broadband after rival BT claimed it was misleading. The advertisement for Sky TV bundles was headed “Brand new Sky Bundles... Award-winning TV that revolves around you from £21.50 a month. Your bundle comes loaded with free award-winning Sky+HD box, Catch Up TV, Exclusive Sky Go”, but failed to make clear that by adding free broadband, customers would be significantly limited in the amount of catch-up TV they could view.

British festival scene big draw for overseas visitors

A new report by the government’s tourism agency, Visit Britain, has revealed that 6.5million people travelled to music festivals and concerts in Britain last year, spending £2.2bn in the process. Overseas visitors accounted for 6pc of those music fans, but accounted for 20pc of the money spent attending festivals and gigs. £1.3bn was spent on tickets, transport and accommodation, while a further £914m was spent on food, drink and other purchases.

Adele brings it home for record label execs

The record label execs behind Adele are enjoying a £24m windfall after her global chart-topping album 21continued to sell in its millions throughout last year. The album, released in January 2011, accounted for a “significant proportion” of XL Recordings’ £78.6m turnover and £25.4m pre-tax profit in 2012. The album reached number one in more than 30 countries and is the biggest seller of the 21st century. Industry figures show it had sold more than 26m copies by the end of 2012, making it the second biggest British album in pop history behind The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Retail

Sales at luxury designer label fall below forecasts

Sales in the world’s largest luxury goods group, LVMH, grew just 4pc in the first nine months of the year, well below some analysts’ forecasts. Share prices dropped 6pc on France’s CAC 40 index as investors digested reports of a slowdown in sales of the company’s designer clothes and monogrammed handbags. The slowdown comes amid a major shake-up at the top of Louis Vuitton following the departure of designer Marc Jacobs.

Burberry chief moves to Apple

Burberry chief Angela Ahrendts is to leave the fashion company to lead Apple’s retail operation. Shares in the group have continued to fall since the announcement of Ms Ahrendts’ departure, dropping 2.5pc to £14.28 after a 6pc fall on the previous day’s trading.

Amazon to create 800 permanent jobs

The online retailer Amazon is to create 800 jobs in the run-up to Christmas on a non-zero-hours basis, and is to make changes to shift patterns at its distribution centres which will give workers three days off every week. The company’s temporary workers will be offered the opportunity to take up the permanent posts on guaranteed hours rather than zero-hours contracts, and will work four 10-hour shifts rather than five eight-hour shifts.

Transport

Government accused of cutting corners over HS2

The government has been accused of cutting corners in pushing through its plans for HS2.Campaigners trying to block the £50bn scheme have taken their complaint to the Supreme Court, claiming the government failed to carry out its legal obligation to perform a Strategic Environmental Assessment of not only the route it chose, but of at least two alternatives as well. The Supreme Court is expected to deliver its ruling next month.

Which? urges government to stop airlines charging premium rates for complaints

The government is being urged to end high charges imposed by airlines when a customer calls to make a complaint or inquiry. Consumer group Which? found that seven out of 10 travel firms use premium rate numbers starting with 09, 087 and 084for customer services or complaint lines, leaving customers making even basic inquiries facing charges of at least 10p a minute from a landline and far more from a mobile phone. The research found that of 76 travel firms the worst offender was airline Jet2.com, which charges 60p a minute on an 09 number for its general inquiries helpline.

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