The Business Matrix: Friday 10 June 2011

Network Rail profits pass £2bn

Network Rail said it had continued to make “steady progress” in reducing costs when it announced increased operating profits of £2bn, adding that it was on target to achieve “challenging” efficiency savings. The infrastructure firm said it had cut the cost of running the railway by £400m in the past year and by £600m since 2009.

Imperial Leather bars to shrink

The size of a bar of Imperial Leather soap is set to shrink by a fifth to 100g as its maker, PZ Cussons, opts to reduce the size rather than raise the price to cope with higher raw material costs. Cussons, which has no plans to downsize other products, has put prices up 7 per cent over the past year, without passing on the whole rise in its costs.

Heat puts Halfords in the driving seat

Halfords thanked the hot spring weather for a boom in demand for bikes and travel goods, giving it a boost after a challenging year when sales came under pressure. The car parts and bicycle group reported an 8 per cent rise in annual profits to £118m, but warned tough trading conditions are likely to continue as consumer spending is squeezed.

UK Coal sells land for £10m

UK Coal has sold 764 acres of farmland to the housebuilder Taylor Wimpey for £10m as the miner looks to cut its debt. The company, which has raised £34m by selling about a tenth of its property assets this year, also told its annual meeting it had completed a strategic review on schedule and action was being taken to resolve its problems.

Welsh Water cuts bills

The not-for-profit company that owns Welsh Water said turnover in the past year fell 1.6 per cent to £677m after the regulator forced it to slash bills for its 1.3 million customers. Glas Cymru said its average bill was £4 lower at £398. Its profits rose 11 per cent to £70m and will be reinvested in the company.

Begbies Traynor disappointed

The corporate insolvency specialist Begbies Traynor said its performance over the past year was disappointing after the number of companies going into administration failed to keep pace with indicators of financial stress. The company said the market had stabilised in recent weeks but was still challenging.

RBS to cut 200 in investment bank

RBS will axe about a fifth of its 1,000-strong global banking team, which houses the bank’s corporate finance and advisory divisions. The bank has already cut the unit back since it was bailed out by taxpayers, and turned its back on riskier leveraged financing, typically used to fund private equity-led buyouts.

Lloyds to axe 300 staff

Lloyds Banking Group, which is about 41 per cent-owned by the government, is axing 300 jobs across its retail, wholesale and wealth units. The bank has shed 27,000 jobs over the past two years, as it continues an integration programme following its 2009 takeover of troubled lender HBOS.

Fall in demand narrows deficit

Britain’s goods trade deficit with the rest of the world narrowed more than expected in April, though the improvement was driven by a sharp fall in demand for consumer goods. Overall, including services, the trade deficit was stable at £2.8bn in April, with the March deficit revised from £3bn to £2.8bn.

US jobless-benefit claims climb

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefit edged unexpectedly higher last week, stoking fears of a stalled economic recovery even as a separate report showed record US exports in April. Initial claims for state jobless benefits increased 1,000 to a total of 427,000.