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Engineer Wood Group rejects £1.4bn bid from Dubai rival; TSB to shut 36 branches – business live

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John Wood Group is under pressure from a London-based activist investor, Sparta Capital Management, which is pushing for a sale of the business, or a move of its stock market listing to the US.

Franck Tuil, who founded Sparta in 2021, said in a recent letter to Wood’s board that he was “frustrated by the continued underperformance of the shares . . . [which] languish at 130p — 140p, which, with the exception of just one occasion in the last five years, are the all-time lows,” the Financial Times reported.

Tuil, a former senior portfolio manager at the New York hedge fund Elliott, added:

If the UK public markets are unwilling or unable to engage in Wood’s story, we believe you should undertake a strategic review and actively seek alternative solutions.

He said the US would “seem a logical potential listing venue”. He also said there had been an increase in M&A activity this year and that financing markets “appear to be supportive of public to private transactions”.

Tuil added that it was “time to recognise that the next chapter of Wood’s journey could be best supported by different owners”, and urged the group to “explore the best way to maximise shareholder value, including a sale of the company”.

Boeing cargo plane forced to land in Istanbul without front landing gear

Jasper Jolly

A Boeing cargo plane was forced to land at Istanbul airport on Wednesday without its front landing gear.

Nobody was hurt in the incident, in a flight operated by delivery company FedEx, according to Turkey’s transport ministry.

The Boeing 767 aircraft, flying from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, informed the traffic control tower at Istanbul Airport that its landing gear failed to open and it landed with guidance from the tower, the ministry said in its statement. Emergency services were standing by for the landing. The ministry did not give a reason for the landing gear’s failure.

Video of the incident shows the plane’s back wheels touching down, followed by its fuselage, with sparks and smoke streaming from its underside. The plane then skidded to a halt, remaining on the runway.

The runway where the cargo plane landed has been temporarily closed to air traffic, but traffic on the other runways at the airport was continuing without any interruption, the airport operator IGA said.

The incident comes at a time when Boeing’s safety record is under intense scrutiny, after a string of crises and safety issues.

Boeing said yesterday that it had informed regulators about possible failures to carry out mandatory safety inspections on its 787 Dreamliner planes. The US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration, said it was “investigating whether Boeing completed the inspections and whether company employees may have falsified aircraft records”.

TSB to close 36 branches with 250 job cuts

Kalyeena Makortoff

Kalyeena Makortoff

High street bank TSB has revealed plans for 250 job cuts, prompting anger from unions including Unite, which called the move a “grave mistake”.

The cuts will primarily affect staff in fraud operations, central operations, as well as staff in 36 branches, which are now set to be closed. Most of the decisions will be made by June, with staff leaving the bank from September onwards, according to Unite.

It is part of wider plans to cut costs and streamline the bank, announced earlier this yea. TSB said in a statement that it was part of efforts to meet “changing customer needs” and stay competitive.

Unite regional officer Andy Case said:

The decision by TSB to cut 250 roles is a grave mistake. These workers perform essential work in the fraud departments and across the branch network….TSB customers will rightly be concerned by today’s news and they will undoubtedly suffer a downgrade in service from these job cuts.

Case said Unite would hold fresh negotiations with TSB about ways to further reduce job losses.

Accord, another union representing TSB staff, said it had a number of concerns, including:

  • remaining staff having to cope with increased workloads

  • the impact of experienced staff leaving the business

  • changes to business areas, shift patterns and reporting lines

  • reduced career opportunities

  • And for those working in branches that are closing or reducing hours, dealing with customers who will be disappointed with these changes plus branch clusters expanding with potential increases in travel time and costs

A TSB Spokesperson said:

To meet changing customer needs and for TSB to remain competitive, we are making changes to simplify the way we operate. These decisions are never taken lightly. Our priority is to consult with impacted colleagues to ensure they’re fully supported, maximising redeployment opportunities where we can.

A list of the branches that are closing is here.

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John Wood Group rejects £1.4bn offer from Dubai rival Sidara

John Wood Group has rejected a takeover offer from its Dubai-based engineering rival Sidara, formerly called Dar Group, as too low.

Shares in the FTSE 250-listed company jumped as much as 26% earlier after a Bloomberg News report on the approach, and are now up 14% at 188.6p, valuing the company at £1.3bn. They are down 15% in the past year.

The engineering firm, one of the North Sea’s biggest services companies, said it received an “unsolicited, preliminary and conditional” proposal from family-owned Sidara worth 205p per Wood share on 30 April. This valued the company at £1.42bn.

The board carefully considered the proposal, together with its financial advisers, and concluded that it fundamentally undervalued Wood and its future prospects. Accordingly, the board rejected the proposal unanimously on 8 May 2024.

There can be no certainty that any offer will be made for the company, nor as to the terms of any such offer, should one be made.

Sidara’s official name is Dar Al-Handasah Consultants Shair and Partners Holdings.

Early last year, the Aberdeen-based firm rebuffed three takeover approaches from the private equity group Apollo Global Management.

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CMA urges grocery stores to ensure accurate pricing

Some grocery retailers are displaying inaccurate prices or failing to display prices at all for certain products, Britain’s competition watchdog has found, leading to shoppers spending more than they should.

Missing prices, conflicting prices – when prices on products conflict with those on shelf labels – and prices not being displayed close to products, were the most common problems found by the Competition and Markets Authority in a review of 139 grocery stores in England and Wales.

There were also issues with prices not being clearly legible, the selling price being obscured, and multibuy promotion labels that didn’t specify the price of the items individually.

The CMA conducted on-site inspections and looked at a sample of products, such as fresh fruit and vegetables and products on promotion.

Most of the issues were found at independent food stores and symbol convenience stores (small, independent retailers that operate under a symbol brand name).

The percentage of pricing errors found at each type of store were:

Overall, 60% of the errors resulted in a higher price being charged at the till.

George Lusty, interim executive director for consumer protection and markets at the CMA, said:

We know how frustrating it can be when you get to the till only to find the price doesn’t match what was advertised. While lots of grocery retailers – particularly supermarkets – are complying with pricing rules, this needs to consistently be the case across all types of stores.

It’s important that shoppers can make well-informed choices based on accurate information, especially at a time when lots of people are looking to save money. That’s why we are reminding businesses of the importance of complying with consumer law.

The watchdog has published compliance materials aimed at helping grocery retailers understand what they need to do to comply with the law. The CMA is also calling on the relevant trade associations to share these materials with their members.

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London Eye can remain permanently on London’s South Bank

Jane Croft

The London Eye, one of London’s most recognisable tourist attractions, can permanently remain on London’s South Bank after the local council confirmed the long term future of the iconic structure.

Lambeth councillors have agreed to discharge a condition attached to the attraction’s original 2003 planning permission that had required the local authority to decide whether the attraction could be retained beyond 2028.

Lambeth Council has agreed that the London Eye can remain in place – with current arrangements continuing beyond 2028. This includes a requirement for 1% of the attraction’s annual turnover to be paid towards the maintenance and management of the public area surrounding the site.

Merlin Entertainments – the UK-based owner and operator of the attraction now known as the Lastminute London Eye – welcomed the decision.

Scott O’Neil, chief executive of Merlin, said:

It is impossible to imagine the London skyline without the iconic structure of the London Eye, and with its long-term future secure, we will continue to invest and expand Merlin’s presence.

The London Eye. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

AstraZeneca withdraws Covid-19 jab worldwide

AstraZeneca’s share price rose 1.6% after Britain’s biggest drugmaker announced it is withdrawing its Covid-19 vaccine around the world.

The Anglo-Swedish drugmaker said it has begun the worldwide withdrawal of its Covid-19 vaccine due to a “surplus of available updated vaccines” that target new variants of the virus.

The announcement comes after the pharmaceutical firm in March voluntarily withdrew its European Union marketing authorisation, which is the approval to market a medicine in member states. On 7 May, the European Medicines Agency issued a notice that the vaccine is no longer authorised for use.

AstraZeneca said the decision was made because there is now a variety of newer vaccines available that have been adapted to target Covid-19 variants. This had led to a decline in demand for the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is no longer being manufactured or supplied.

According to independent estimates, over 6.5 million lives were saved in the first year of use alone and over 3bn doses were supplied globally.

Our efforts have been recognised by governments around the world and are widely regarded as being a critical component of ending the global pandemic. We will now work with regulators and our partners to align on a clear path forward to conclude this chapter and significant contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other countries have already stopped supplying the vaccine. It has not been available for use in Australia since March 2023, though its use was already being phased out from June 2021 due to the widespread availability of newer vaccines.

Although the vaccine was found to be safe and effective overall, it carried the risk of a rare but serious side-effect, known as thrombosis with thrombocytopenia, or TTS. The rare syndrome occurred in about two to three people per 100,000 who were vaccinated with the Vaxzevria vaccine.

Brewdog boss steps down after 17 years

The boss of Brewdog, James Watt, is stepping down from the top job 17 years after he co-founded the Scottish brewer and pub group.

He is handing over the reins to chief operating officer James Arrow.

Watt will stay on the board as a non-executive director, and advise the group on strategy. He first told the board last year that he wanted to focus on his other interests. He takes on a newly created non-executive role of “captain and co-founder” and retains his 21% stake in the firm.

BrewDog chairman Allan Leighton said:

James Watt, alongside Martin Dickie, created this great business from a garage in Fraserburgh.

Few have accomplished what he has.

From very humble beginnings under his leadership, BrewDog has grown to become the world’s leading craft brewer, employing 2,530 people across its head office, four breweries and over 120 bars.

I am especially pleased he will continue to offer his insight, creative genius and energy to the board.

However, in 2021 the firm was accused by former workers in an open letter of having a “culture of fear” within the business, with “toxic attitudes” towards junior staff.

And in January, BrewDog faced anger from its employees after dropping out of the accredited real living wage scheme – hiring new staff on the legal minimum instead and freezing pay for bar staff in London as the company tries to reduce costs amid continuing losses.

Train maker Alstom launches €1bn capital raise to cut debt

Jane Croft

France’s Alstom has announced a €1bn capital raise to help cut debt as the world’s second largest trainmaker struggles with delayed orders amid concerns about the future of its Derby factory.

The Paris-listed company plans to raise €1bn from investors which it hopes to complete by September as well as a €750m bond issue, as part of a €2bn deleveraging plan to cut debt.

Alstom has already announced disposals as part of the plan. These include the sale of its stake in railcar manufacturer TMH for €75m in January and offloading its North American signalling business to Germany’s Knorr-Bremse for €630m.

Alstom said it had net debt of €2.99bn at the end of March, up from €2.13bn a year earlier.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer prepares to drive a new train at Alstom, formerly Bombardier, in Derby in March 2021. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/PA

Its debt pile and cashflow problems have raised concerns about the future of its train factory in Derby which it bought from Canada’s Bombardier in 2021, in a deal that made it the world’s second largest train manufacturer after China’s CRRC.

A slowdown in orders last year led to fears about the future of the Derby site where 1,300 jobs were put at risk but there are now hopes that the future of the historic site, where manufacturing has taken place since 1876, could be safeguarded.

Last month transport secretary Mark Harper met with Alstom officials and announced that the UK’s Department of Transport had reached “agreement in principle” with Alstom to support funding for a further five Elizabeth Line trains, in addition to the five trains confirmed in March. He added that he was confident “a solution is now in sight”.

James Smith, developed markets economist at ING, said:

The Riksbank has cut rates for the first time but is treading carefully amid ongoing concerns about the risk of a weaker currency. However, with Sweden’s interest rate-sensitive economy coming under greater pressure, further rate cuts look inevitable later this year.

The fact that the Riksbank has chosen to move today – and crucially ahead of the ECB – is telling. The Riksbank has been very sensitive to the value of the currency and this was one of the principal reasons for hiking aggressively over the past couple of years. Policymakers went as far as saying that they needed to stay out in front of the ECB during the hiking cycle.

These fears about the krona have clearly not evaporated entirely. Governor Thedeen has repeatedly signalled that a weaker currency is the major risk to inflation, a line repeated in the latest policy statement. Presumably for this reason, the committee is pushing back on the idea that it could cut rates at back-to-back meetings, continuing to signal its intention to cut rates just twice more this year.

Yet to some extent we think actions speak louder than words, and the fact the Riksbank has cut rates today tells us that domestic economic concerns are starting to dominate the debate within the policy committee. Sweden’s economy has contracted for four quarters in a row now, while the jobs market is cooling more appreciably than elsewhere. By one measure, corporate bankruptcies are the highest since 1996. Core inflation, while still high in some domestically-focused areas, is now much closer to target.

Daniel Kral, lead economist at Oxford Economics, said about the Riksbank’s interest rate cut today:

The Riksbank cut the policy rate by 0.25bps to 3.75% at its May meeting, in line with our expectations. Inflation has surprised on the downside recently and is close to target, longer-term inflation expectations remain anchored, wage rises are moderate, and the economy is weak. These were the factors that tilted the balance for the Riksbank to start the easing cycle.

The Riksbank expects to lower the policy rate twice more this year, while we expect three more cuts. As before, the language remains cautious, highlighting risks related to the strength of the US economy, geopolitical tensions, and a weak krona, which has weakened this year.

There are no new forecasts accompanying the decision. We think inflation will continue to develop favourably although the Riksbank is likely to stay on hold at its next meeting at the end of June. We expect one rate cut in third quarter and two in the fourth quarter, with an end-year policy rate of 3%.

Wetherspoon ups profit outlook on strong Guinness and ale sales

Strong demand for Guinness and ale has pushed up sales at the UK pub chain JD Wetherspoon and prompted it to upgrade its profit outlook.

The company’s founder and chairman Tim Martin said the firm now expects annual profits to be “towards the top of market expectations”.

Wetherspoons, which runs 809 pubs across the UK, said like-for-like sales climbed by 5.2% over the 13 weeks to April 28 compared with a year earlier, with total sales up 3.3%. This marked a slight slowdown in growth and means the company has seen a 6.5% sales increase in the year so far.

However, Wetherspoons explained it was impacted by the timing of the bank holiday weekend, which fell outside of the latest quarter this year in contrast to last year.

Founder and chairman of JD Wetherspoon, Tim Martin. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Martin said the group has benefited from the popularity of Guinness among younger punters, and a revival for some traditional ale.

Sales in the period continued the steady recovery from the pandemic. Traditional ales, which were very slow in the aftermath of the lockdowns, are increasing momentum, with Abbot Ale, Ruddles Bitter and Doom Bar showing good growth, as indeed are ales from the many small and micro brewers with which we trade.

The gods of fashion have smiled upon Guinness, previously consumed by blokes my age, but now widely adopted by younger generations.

The group also saw strong sales of Au Vodka and XIX vodka among its younger customers. Martin said wine is “on the comeback trail” and highlighted “increasing” sales of the pub chain’s Lavazza coffee refills, adding:

Free refills are thought to be responsible for spontaneous exhibitions of breakdancing among retired customers.

🍺Tim Martin, boss of Wetherspoons, is a one-off:
Today’s comments to the stock market: the gods of fashion have smiled on Guinness and free coffee refills have led to pensioners breakdancing
Ales are back. pic.twitter.com/3G89emWefo

— Ashley Armstrong (@AArmstrong_says) May 8, 2024

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The Swiss National Bank was the first major central bank in the developed world to cut borrowing costs, lowering its key rate from 1.75% to 1.5% in March, in a surprise move. The Czech and Hungarian central banks have also cut interest rates.

Sweden’s Riksbank has now also reduced rates, as inflation and economic activity have weakened. The question is which central bank moves next.

The European Central Bank has signalled a rate cut at its next meeting on 6 June if price pressures continue to wane as expected.

With US inflation remaining higher than expected, the US Federal Reserve has signalled that it is likely to keep interest rates higher for longer.

In the UK, financial markets are pricing in the first rate reduction by August, and another cut before the end of the year, probably in November. The Bank of England base rate is at 5.25%. Some on its monetary policy committee are concerned that the improving economy could trigger a return to inflation later in the year. Inflation slowed to 3.2% last month, but remains above the Bank’s 2% target.

Riksbank cuts policy rate to 3.75%, flags two more rate cuts this year

Sweden’s Riksbank has cut its policy rate to 3.75% from 4%, its first interest rate reduction in eight years.

Financial markets had been expecting the move. The central bank said it expects to reduce rates two more times in the second half of this year. Its statement said:

Inflation is approaching the target while economic activity is weak. The Riksbank can therefore ease monetary policy. The executive board has decided to cut the policy rate by 0.25 percentage points to 3.75%. If the outlook for inflation still holds, the policy rate is expected to be cut two more times during the second half of the year.

You can read the statement in full here.

Governor Erik Thedéen and Åsa Olli Segendorf, head of the monetary policy department, will explain the decision and the outlook at a press conference at 11am local time (10am BST). The minutes of the meeting will be published on 15 May.

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Milo Bussell, associate analyst for consumer and media at Edison Group, said:

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how consumer demand evolves in the coming year. Management noted improving momentum in sales… Having opened its new US distribution centre to target a key market and completed its automation project in Sheffield, the company believes it is well-positioned having invested for sustainable and profitable growth.

With greater cost savings and lower capital expenditure having completed these two projects, management is confident in achieving its medium-term Ebitda margin target of 6%-8% and expects to be free cash flow positive in 2024/25.

Boohoo cuts over 1,000 jobs after 13% sales slump

Sarah Butler

Sarah Butler

Boohoo has cut more than 1,000 jobs and dived into debt after losses soared and sales slumped 13% amid heavy competition from Chinese online seller Shein and the revival of the high street after the pandemic lockdowns.

The online fashion specialist, which owns Debenhams, Warehouse, Dorothy Perkins and Pretty Little Thing, said it had built up net debts of £95m in the year to the end of February from nearly £6m of net cash a year before after losses widened 76% to £160m.

John Lyttle, the chief executive of Boohoo blamed “difficult market conditions, caused by high levels of inflation and weakened consumer demand,” for the group’s problems and said it planned to make savings of £125m in the year ahead after putting more automation into its Sheffield warehouse, closing one in Daventry and opening a new warehouse in the US.

The latest accounts show that Boohoo, which was founded in Manchester in 2006, has already cut more than 1,000 jobs in the year as it faced an 11% drop in the number of active customers using its site each of whom spent less and visited less often.

Boohoo’s share price fell 4.6% and is less than a tenth of its value three years ago when it was riding high on a shift to online shopping during the pandemic when high streets were affected by government lockdowns.

The poor performance meant the company did not hand 16m shares to shareholders of Pretty Little Thing who are led by Umar Kamani, son of the Boohoo co-founder and chairman Mahmud Kamani.

Guy Lawson-Johns, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said:

Boohoo’s full-year results were a painful read for investors. Revenue declined at high double-digit rates across all regions, including an 18% in the US, which is seen as the group’s pathway to major growth.

For now, it remains a struggling company with a tarnished reputation, reflected in the group’s valuation, which has come down significantly over the last few years.

Executing its back-to-growth strategy hasn’t been easy. And, as part of the drive for profitability, Boohoo has heavily invested in expanding capacity abroad where there’s greater room for growth. International markets, especially the US, hold the key to the group’s future growth, but extensive investment has so far yielded weak results. And with customer KPIs continuing to trend in the wrong direction, it doesn’t look like a miraculous recovery is around the corner.

Fast fashion firm Boohoo. Photograph: Ian West/PA
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ASLEF members are on strike today at Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains.

Solidarity to all those seeking a fair deal at work.#ASLEFStrike pic.twitter.com/qLYxySVDlp

— ASLEF (@ASLEFunion) May 8, 2024

During a week of rail strikes, in nearly 2 years of this industrial action, I spoke to commuters, the ASLEF union, and those involved in pay deal negotiations for train drivers. More on ⁦@BBCLondonNewspic.twitter.com/4oZjOjOoCF

— Luxmy Gopal (@luxmy_g) May 7, 2024

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Introduction: Train strikes halt most services in west of England, Midlands and routes to Scotland and Wales

Good morning, and welcome to our rolling coverage of business, the financial markets and the world economy.

There’s more disruption for rail passengers in England today, after train drivers began another round of industrial action on Monday to push for better pay and conditions.

In a three-day strike, drivers in the Aslef union will strike for 24 hours at each of England’s national train operators over the course of three days from Tuesday until Thursday, and an overtime ban will apply nationwide from Monday until Saturday.

The first wave yesterday affected commuter routes into London. Today, there’s a 24-hour strike at Avanti West Coast, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry, East Midlands Railway, Great Western Railway and West Midlands Trains – halting most services in the west of England, Midlands and routes to Scotland and Wales. Tomorrow, drivers will strike at LNER, Northern and TransPennine Express.

The union is pushing for an improved pay offer, with some of its members not having had a pay rise for five years. The last talks broke down a year ago.

The Rail Delivery Group, representing train operators, emailed Aslef late last week to suggest discussions about a framework for formal talks, which the union said it welcomed.

Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, has forecast a near-20% drop in annual profit, after safety scandals forced it to cut back production. The Japanese carmaker plans to invest 1.7tn yen (£8.8bn) in electric vehicle and artificial intelligence technology to keep up with rivals.

Honda and Nissan, Japan’s second- and third-largest carmakers, recently joined forces to work together on electric vehicle technology.

Toyota said operating income will fall by 19.7% to 4.3tn yen in the year to March 2025, which is worse than expected. It also said it would buy back up to 1tn yen, around 3% of its shares.

The Agenda

  • 8.30am BST: Sweden Riksbank rate decision (forecast: cut from 4% to 3.75%)

  • 9am BST: Italy Retail sales for March

  • 12.00pm BST: US MBA Mortgage applications for week of 3 May

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