The Business Matrix: Friday 6 May 2011

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The Independent Online

Matalan hires new chief executive

The discount fashion retailer Matalan has hired Darren Blackhurst, a former executive at Asda, as its next chief executive. Mr Blackhurst quit his post as chief merchandising officer at Asda in 2010. The headhunter firm Flint Hyde placed Mr Blackhurst.

Music firms sue Gorton for $1.4bn

Mark Gorton, a former Credit Suisse trader who founded the filesharing website LimeWire, is facing a $1.4bn (£853m) claim for damages from the music industry. The case, the latest in a series of legal actions against the now defunct site, began yesterday.

St James’s Place founder to retire

Mike Wilson one of the founders of St James’s Place, is to step down as chairman of the financial services group at the end of the year. Charles Gregson, Icap’s chairman, will replace him. Mr Wilson, Sir Mark Weinberg and Lord Rothschild set up the group 20 years ago.

Change in M&S boardroom

Sir David Michels is stepping down as deputy chairman of Marks & Spencer next February after six years, while Louise Patten, who joined as a non-executive director in 2006, will stand down following the retailer’s annual meeting on 13 July.

London office rents stall

Rental growth in the UK’s central London office sector slowed in first quarter, weighed by cooling demand for City offices. The property services group CB Richard Ellis said prime rents in the City were flat at £55 a square foot, while office lettings across central London were down by almost half on the previous quarter.

Minerva takeover talks continue

Minerva, the property developer behind The Walbrook in the City of London, has reported quiet office leasing activity in the first quarter. The firm said talks with a number of bidders – revealed in January – were ongoing and that it had also begun discussions with its banks about renewing its loan facilities which expire later this year.

Blavatnik ready to buy Warner Music

Warner Music’s board met last night amid expectations that the world’s third-largest music company could be sold for about $3bn to the Russian-American industrialist Len Blavatnik’s Access Industries. Mr Blavatnik is a long-time associate of Warner’s chief executive, Edgar Bronfman. If the deal goes through, a bid to buy EMI, the UK music group that is home to the Beatles catalogue, is expected.

Box Clever deal saves 400 jobs

The TV and white goods rental business Box Clever has been bought by an investment company for an undisclosed sum, in a deal that safeguards 300 jobs. Weight Partners has purchased all the shares of Boxclever – created by the merger of Radio Rentals and Granada Rentals – from the US private equity firms Cerberus and Fortress. Boxclever no longer has stores, but the online operation delivers sales of £40m a year.

GM poised to regain top spot

General Motors posted stronger-than-expected quarterly profits yesterday, driven by a recovery in the US market and strong sales in Asia, leaving the US giant in pole position to reclaim the title of the world’s largest car maker from Toyota this year. But even though GM’s total sales rose 15 per cent to $36.2bn (£22bn), shares in the company slipped as analysts worried about its aggressive price cuts.

Poundstretcher buys Alworths

Poundstretcher has stepped in to salvage Alworths, dubbed the “son of Woolworths”, which tumbled into administration last month. The stores’ administrator, Leonard Curtis, said it had sold the entire business as well as 15 of the 17 stores put into administration at the end of March. Alworths was set up in 2009 by a former Woolworths executive, Andy Latham.

US jobless rises as productivity slows

New claims for unemployment benefits in the US have climbed to an eight-month high, while productivity growth slowed over the first three months of the year. Initial benefit claims rose by 43,000 to 474,000, while productivity rose at an annual rate of 1.6 per cent in the first quarter, down from the 2.9 per cent seen at the end of 2010.

Euro rates set to be held again in June

The European Central Bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, indicated that eurozone interest rates were unlikely to rise next month but left the door firmly open for an increase in July. Mr Trichet did not use the phrase “strong vigilance” – which has heralded previous rises – after the ECB’s decision to leave rates at 1.25 per cent.

Flybe introduces fuel surcharge

The regional airline Flybe warned demand for leisure travel has slumped as the consumer spending squeeze moves in on the airline industry. The carrier said while business travel, which makes up 45 per cent of its passengers, was resilient and said it was adding a £3 fuel surcharge to combat soaring costs.

Lufthansa positive on flying higher

The German carrier Lufthansa insisted it could still achieve higher profits this year despite the impact of soaring fuel prices, which account for a third of its costs. The airline hedges its exposure to oil prices, has installed lighter seats on some planes and plans to replace older aircraft with newer, more fuel-efficient ones.