The Business Matrix: Friday 20 September 2013


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Billabong keeps head above water

Billabong has been thrown a lifeline with a new loan and a new boss. The Australian surfwear chain suffered a £507m loss last year and looked like collapsing. However, it has negotiated a refinancing with Centerbridge and Oaktree Capital to reduce their repayments. Neil Fiske, from the US chain Eddie Bauer, is joining as chief executive.

RBS sells fifth of Direct Line

Royal Bank of Scotland last night sold 20 per cent of Direct Line in the second major financial share placing in London this week. The bank first floated 30 per cent of the insurer at 175p, valuing it at £2.63bn, in October. The shares closed at 218p last night, making the stake worth close to £600m, though such book builds require some discount.

Republic climbs out of recession

The Republic of Ireland is out of recession, according to official data. The Central Statistics Office said the country’s economy edged up 0.4 per cent over the second quarter, having fallen into recession – its second in five years – in late 2012. However, GDP for the three months remained 1.2 per cent lower than a year ago.

Profits buoyant at United Utilities

Water group United Utilities, which supplies seven million people in the North-west, said underlying first-half profits will be “moderately higher” than the same time last year thanks to cost-cutting efforts. This comes despite a rise in revenues on the back of a regulator price increase that United said was not as high as it could be.

Windfall for Poke London founders

Four digital-advertising  executives are set to become millionaires after selling their agency, Poke London, for an estimated £10m to the French giant Publicis. Poke London chief executive Nick Farnhill and three co-founders each owned a 12.5 per cent stake in the agency, which they set up in 2001.

Booker prizes summer heat

The hot summer boosted footfall at newsagents and restaurants, and that fed through to more customers and fuller trolleys at cash-and-carry Booker. The wholesale group, which also owns Makro and Chef Direct, said “the warm summer weather helped our customers”. Underlying sales rose 3.5 per cent.

Beales suffers drop in sales

Beales blamed volatile weather and its pulling out of unprofitable TV and audio markets as it reported a 7.7 per cent slide in like-for-like sales in the 19 weeks to 14 September. The department-stores group said profit margins held up thanks to a stock overhaul and less discounting.

Farnell feels Raspberry ripple

Premier Farnell said strong sales of its Raspberry Pi mini-computer boosted its half-year results, with profits up nearly 20 per cent to £38m after sales rose by about 1 per cent to £498m. The Leeds-based electronics distributor said sales fell 1.4 per cent, excluding Raspberry Pi.

Lufthansa buys Rolls engines

Lufthansa has ordered  £934m worth of Rolls-Royce’s Trent XWB engines to power 25 Airbus aircraft. The Trent XWB is the fastest-selling  member of the Rolls-Royce Trent engine family, with more than 1,400 ordered.

Northgate vans purring along

The van-hire firm Northgate said demand increased between 1 May and 19 September, with the number of vehicles hired across the UK rising from 43,100 to 44,700, against falls seen a year earlier. The company is expanding with new branches.