Sector News - September 2013

Banking and Financial Services

UK’s global financial transaction ranking slips

New research carried out by law firm Allen & Overy has revealed that the UK has fallen from second place to sixth in the global rankings of financial transaction values in the five years since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Financial transactions in the UK, including bond and equity sales, were valued at £1.1 trillion five years ago, but have decreased by two-thirds since the credit crunch crisis. The UK now ranks below China, Japan and Canada, with transactions in the last 12 months amounting to £403m. The US remains in the top spot, but overall global volumes remain depressed, and are down 30pc on pre-Lehman bankruptcy levels.

Lloyds and RBS given green light to sell branches

The Government is expected to sell around a quarter of its holding – worth around £50bn - in Lloyds Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland after the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) agreed that plans to offload a combined total of 946 branches would be sufficient to boost competition in the sector. Lloyds will spin off 631 sites under the TSB brand, while RBS has lined up three bidders for its network sale of 315 branches.

Icap facing £70m fine for Libor rigging

The money broking firm Icap looks set to become the fourth major financial services company to be penalised for its role in the Libor rigging scandal, and is facing fines of up to £70m from regulators in both the US and UK. Icap insists that none of its senior management were ever aware of or involved in any improper activities regarding the manipulation of Libor. From next year, Libor will be overseen by the body that runs the New York stock exchange rather than the British Bankers’ Association.

Construction and Property

Welsh public sector bodies show blacklisting construction firms the red card

The Welsh government has unveiled plans that will allow public sector bodies, from schools and hospitals to councils and the police, to bar from multi-million construction contracts companies that are known to have blacklisted workers for taking part in trade union activity. The Welsh Finance Minister, Jane Hutt, has told 103 public sector bodies that they can exclude such companies unless the firms have “self-cleaned” by taking measures such as compensating victims of blacklisting. Annual public procurement spending in Wales is £4.3bn, with around £1bn a year spent on construction.

Housing recovery “spreading across UK”

The housing market is picking up across the UK, with the average selling price increasing by 8pc to £194,800 – up from £180,500 in the previous year. House builder Barratt Developments has attributed the recovery to improved consumer confidence and the greater availability of mortgage finance, driven by Government schemes such as Help to Buy. Unveiling a 74pc rise in annual profit before tax to £192.3m, Barratt’s chief executive Mark Clare said the housing market recovery is starting to spread beyond London and the south east.

Walkie Talkie architect admits mistakes were made

The architect of the Walkie Talkie building in London’s financial district, Rafael Viñoly, has admitted that “a lot of mistakes have been made [with this project]” after it was found the concave design of the structure was channelling sun rays hot enough to singe carpets, blister paintwork and even melt parts of a car’s bodywork into a concentrated beam onto the street below. The temperature of the beam, nicknamed the death ray, is believed to be 72 degrees – twice that predicted during the design process. A two-storey scaffolding structure covered in netting has been erected to absorb the concentrated rays, while the developers Land Securities and the Canary Wharf group evaluate longer term solutions.

Energy and Utilities

Centrica risks controversy with £500m buy back plans

The owner of British Gas, Centrica, is to buy back £500m of shares, returning surplus capital to investors while risking controversy as customers are hit with rising bills – and it has announced it has enough cash to fund a similar buyback programme again next year. The group reported a 3.2pc increase in profits last month in its residential energy arm to £356m as it cashed in on the big freeze in the first half of the year, but has hinted that further price rises could be inevitable after environmental costs escalated by 37pc as a result of its new duty to pay for energy efficiency measures in customers’ homes.

Southern Water fined for dumping sewage

Southern Water has been fined £200,000 after pleading guilty to causing avoidable releases of untreated raw sewage into the sea. The company failed to inform the Environment Agency or local food authority after it discharged untreated sewage into the sea on several occasions between January and June 2011. Defective pumps meant Southern Water was unable to pump the sewage to Weatherlees Works for treatment.

Energy bills to soar as fixed rate tariffs end

Thousands of householders can expect their energy costs to increase from next month as fixed rate tariffs from major suppliers come to an end. The increase could be as much as £280 on an annual bill, according to price comparison website MoneySuperMarket.com. Those affected will be automatically switched back on to their supplier’s standard tariffs, which are often substantially more expensive.

IT and Telecommunications

EE renews contract with Virgin Mobile

Britain’s largest mobile operator, EE, has renewed a contract to provide services to Virgin Mobile in a deal which could see the company reap £400m in revenues over four years. The agreement is likely to make EE, which currently operates the Orange and T Mobile brands, one of the largest ‘virtual operators’ in Europe.

Vodafone in talks to sell Verizon Wireless

Vodafone has confirmed it is in “advanced discussions” to sell its stake in Verizon Wireless for £84bn. The sell-off, if it goes ahead, will be the largest corporate transaction in a decade. Sales in Vodafone rose 3.5pc to 231.5p at the news.

Dyson sues Samsung over vacuum cleaner rip off

British engineering company Dyson is suing Samsung over claims that the South Korean electronics manufacturer has “ripped off” technology found in the steering system of two Dyson appliances, the DC37 and DC39, and copied it in its new Motion Sync vacuum cleaner. Samsung has dismissed the claims as “groundless”, claiming its new appliance is the outcome of their own “extensive research and development”.

Life Sciences and Pharmaceuticals

GSK sells drinks brands to Japanese firm

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has sold its British drinks brands Ribena and Lucozade to a Japanese company for £1.35bn, announcing it intends to focus on its core portfolio of healthcare brands. Global rights to the brands, as well as GSK’s Coleford manufacturing site in the Forest of Dean, will be transferred to Suntory Beverage and Food, the world’s fourth largest supplier of soft drinks. The vast majority of the 700 employees working at the site will also transfer to Suntory.

GSK considering Chinese withdrawal

GlaxoSmithKline is reported to be considering a withdrawal from China after becoming embroiled in allegations that it funnelled £323m in kickbacks to Chinese doctors in an attempt to win market share. The on-going criminal investigation has left the company facing a potential £2bn fine and the severance of ties with major hospitals.

Private patients paying over the odds for healthcare - report

New research carried out by the Competition Commission has found that private patients are paying over the odds – to the tune of £200m – for healthcare in the UK’s leading private hospitals. The main culprits accused of holding monopolies to the detriment of consumers have been identified as HCA, BMI, Spire, Ramsay and Nuffield, which between them account for 70pc of the UK’s private healthcare market.

Media

Ministry of Sound sues Spotify over copyright infringement

The Ministry of Sound has filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the music streaming service, Spotify, after it refused to take down copies of Ministry of Sound compilations being posted on the site by users of the service. Spotify claimed there was no infringement, despite not licensing official playlists from the record label, and said it held no responsibility to police its users. The dispute will now be settled in court.

PM sees no way around post-Leveson press impasse

Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted he cannot see how the question of press regulation in the wake of the Leveson inquiry can be resolved after the newspaper industry decided to reject a Royal Charter on press behaviour in favour of its own scheme. Mr Cameron described the industry-drafted charter as ‘deficient’, but has been given legal advice that it should be considered by the Privy Council before the cross-party version.

LA mayor to appoint Hollywood tsar

The new mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, has expressed concern at the on-going haemorrhaging of film and television production from its traditional Hollywood home. The city’s pre-eminence in the entertainment industry is facing increasing pressure from other US and international locations, with many of the past year’s most high-profile films being shot in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Mr Garcetti plans to introduce a Hollywood ‘tsar’ to try and attract more film and TV to LA, and is considering setting his sights on premium cable TV productions and commercials to reinvigorate the flagging industry.

Retail

Tesco settles on solution in Fresh & Easy fiasco

Tesco has finally settled on an unsavoury solution to rid itself of US chain Fresh & Easy – by lending US billionaire Ron Burkle £80m to take the loss-making venture of its hands. Burkle’s Yucaipa investment vehicle has agreed to take on 150 Fresh & Easy stores, as well as 4,000 staff and a distribution centre and production facility east of Los Angeles. The arrangement will cost Tesco £150m in total, including the loan, payoffs for 400 permanent staff and the closure of 50 stores not included in the deal.

Figures reveal real retail victims of economic crisis

The latest figures from the retail research firm, Local Data Company, have revealed that shopping centres and out-of-town retail parks are the real victims of the economic downturn, and not the small town high streets, as previously believed. Shopping centres have the highest proportion of empty shops, at 16pc, compared with 9.2pc in small towns, and out-of-town retail parks experienced the fastest rate of decline in the first half of this year compared to the first six months of 2012. The collapse of electricals firm Comet is believed to have contributed to an 18pc rise in the proportion of vacancies at out-of-town parks.

Sports Direct heads for FTSE 100

The sports retailer, Sports Direct, has reported an 18.2pc surge in sales to £613m in the 13 weeks to July 28, with gross profits up 23pc to £260m. The company has experienced a 14.5pc upturn in sportswear sales, and has also benefited from a near doubling of sales in its growing premium lifestyle arm, which includes fashion retailer, Republic. An increase in shares to 729p places the market value of the company at £4.4bn, enough to put it into the FTSE 100 in the latest reshuffle.

Transport

Ford focuses on launch of electric model

Car manufacturer Ford has unveiled an electric version of the world’s best-selling car. The Ford Focus Electric runs entirely on battery power, can travel up to 100 miles between charges and has a top speed of 85mph. However, at a price of £28,500 – even after a government grant – it costs twice as much as the cheapest petrol-powered Focus, and is more expensive than its competitor, the BMW i3, which will cost £25,680 after the government grant. The government has said that every new car sold by 2040 should be an electric or hydrogen vehicle, to cut carbon emissions.

Jaguar Land Rover’s sporting ambition creates 1,700 UK jobs

UK-based car maker Jaguar Land Rover is to create a further 1,700 jobs at its Solihull factory in Birmingham to facilitate the manufacture of a new range of sports and cross-over cars which will feature the latest in lightweight aluminium technology. The company plans to invest £1.5bn to introduce the new one-piece ‘aluminium vehicle architecture’ into its range. The first vehicle to feature the technology – a Jaguar sports sedan – will be launched in 2015.

Ryanair ordered to reduce Aer Lingus stake

Ryanair chief Michael O’Leary has accused the Competition Commission of carrying on a “politically biased charade” after it ordered the company to sell down its 29.8pc stake in Aer Lingus to 5pc, crushing the airline’s ambitions to take over its Dublin-based rival. The Competition Commission’s final ruling declared that Ryanair’s shareholding in Aer Lingus would reduce competition on air routes between Britain and Ireland. The report was welcomed by Aer Lingus.

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