The Business Matrix: Friday 4 February 2011

‘Recovery could still take years’

Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, warned last night that he would not consider the US recovery to be fully established until unemployment – expected to rise to 9.5 per cent today – began to fall sharply, which could take several years.

Global food prices at record high

World food prices hit a record high in January, according to the United Nations, which also warned that bad weather meant a looming era of food volatility, an issue that has already helped spark protests across the Middle East. The UN’s food price index rose for a seventh month to hit its highest since records began in 1990.

Signs of growth and inflation

Services sector activity surged in the US and Europe in January, but the growth brought with it signs of inflationary pressure. Business surveys in the US, the eurozone and UK mirrored similar reports about global manufacturing that showed increased growth was accompanied by steeply rising prices.

ECB holds rates despite rise in prices

There is no need for higher interest rates despite the likelihood of inflation remaining above the 2 per cent target this year, Jean-Claude Trichet, president of the European Central Bank, said yesterday as the ECB held rates at 1 per cent. Eurozone inflation edged up to 2.4 per cent last month.

China and India boost Unilever

Unilever said strong sales in emerging markets such as China and India had cushioned the blow of soaring commodity prices. The Dove soap to Magnum ice cream consumer goods giant posted an 18 per cent rise in full-year profits to £5.2bn, but said raw material costs – such as corn and palm oil – hit margins at the end of the year.

Eaga targeted by potential bidder

The energy efficiency firm Eaga, which is installing solar power stations in social housing projects, saw shares jump more than 20 per cent after it confirmed it had received an approach which may lead to a takeover offer.

Harrods welcomes China’s credit card

Harrods started accepting Union- Pay, the only domestic Chinese debit and credit card, yesterday. Its decision – together with the installation of 75 point-of-sale terminals in its Knightsbridge shop – shows the growing importance of Chinese shoppers.

Up beat Hugo Boss enjoys record year

Hugo Boss said it enjoyed the best performance in its 88-year history in 2010 andwas “very confident” for the future. The fashion house, backed by the private equity firm Permira, posted an 82 per cent leap in net income to €189m (£161m).

Newstores boost Go Outdoors’ sales

The retail chain Go Outdoors delivered a 52 per cent rise in sales to £114.9m for the year to 30 January. The uplift was driven by a 10.6 per cent rise in underlying sales and the opening of 10 shops, bringing its total to 27.

EDF adds to UK’s fuel bill woes

EDF Energy has become the last of the big six suppliers to announce a tariff rise as it called an end to its winter price freeze on 2 March. Standard tariffs for electricity will rise by an average 7.5 per cent and gas bills by an average 6.5 per cent. EDF, with 5.5 million UK customers, held prices through the coldest December on record. But Consumer Focus noted that it raised electricity prices in October, and its March rises were higher than most rivals.

Compass sees good start to the year

Compass served up a 5.5 per cent rise in first-quarter sales and said North America and other overseas markets were continuing to drive growth. The world’s biggest catering firm,which had sales of more than £14bn last year, supplies the catering for events such as the Wimbledon tennis championships as well as office canteens.

Travis Perkins buys 505 JCB excavators

JCB has won an order for 505 compact excavators from the builders merchant Travis Perkins. The company said the machines will be produced by subsidiary JCB Compact Products in Cheadle, Staffordshire.

GSK unveils buyback scheme

GlaxoSmithKline cheered investors yesterday by unveiling a new long-term share buyback scheme – the first since 2008 – alongside annual results showing a fourth quarter loss. The pharmaceutical giant, whose shares rose on news of the buyback, lost 7.5p a share, before major restructuring, in the final three months of 2010 after taking a massive legal charge of £2.2bn in the quarter.

BT’s broadband boosts profits

Profits at BT soared by almost a third in the final three months of last year to £531m as new customers flocked to sign up to its broadband service. The company also revealed that the worst of the problems at its Global Services arm were over. The troubled division should make money a year earlier than expected.

Vodafone unveils surge in revenue

Vodafone shrugged off bad publicity over its tax bill to post its highest quarterly earnings rise in the UK for more than three years, thanks to demand for the latest smartphones. Domestic revenues rose 7 per cent to £1.2bn in the three months to the end of December. Total revenue was up 3 per cent to £11.8bn.