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The Business Matrix: Monday 28 March 2011

Ford idles Belgian factory after quake

Ford is the latest car giant to cut production as the industrial fallout from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami ripples through the automotive industry. The US company said it will idle its factory in Genk, Belgium, for five days in early April, to conserve supplies of parts shipped from Japan. Toyota, Honda, GM and Peugeot Citroen have already adjusted production at factories across the world following the disaster.

Bonuses soar to offset salary rises

Salary increases for executives will remain at a modest 3 per cent – compared with 6 per cent before recession struck – but bonuses are set to soar at almost a third of firms, says PricewaterhouseCoopers. Around 30 per cent of companies are planning to increase the maximum potential bonus for bosses, as a sweetner for executives unhappy about effective pay freezes, the consultancy says.

‘Vocational skills gap hurts economy’

Four in five businesses see a failure to invest in vocational education as jeopardising economic growth, says research commissioned by Pearson. A bare 16 per cent of respondents think the UK education system “equips young people with the right mix of academic knowledge and practical skills”, says the poll. Just over half of respondents said academic skills are not more important than vocational qualifications.

Britons look for bargains abroad

With the Spanish and Irish economies teetering, and Germany proving a financial rock to the tremulous eurozone, British investors’ interest in foreign property is booming. Enquiries rose by 53 per cent last month, said Rightmove Overseas and Moneycorp, with Spain continuing to be the most popular, followed by France, the US and Australia. Germany, France, Italy and Ireland showed the biggest spikes in interest.

First green trade mission sets off

In tune with government efforts to boost British business, six companies including energy efficiency expert Mark Group and Adnams – brewer of zero-carbon beer – will accompany the Climate Change Minister, Greg Barker, to the US today on the UK’s first green trade mission. They will try to drum up business for the firms and also attract investment in the UK energy market.

ECB finalises bank liquidity scheme

The European Central Bank is set to announce a new liquidity facility for troubled eurozone banks, to coincide with the results of the latest round of stress tests on troubled Irish lenders on Wednesday. The scheme will replace the Emergency Liquidity Assistance currently being provided by the Irish central bank, and although tailored to Ireland, it will be available across the eurozone.

Mothercare

The market will be hoping for better trading news from Mothercare when the babycare retailer posts a trading update on Thursday. The group said in January that the big freeze would knock 10-15 per cent off year-to-April profits, as shoppers could not reach out-of-town stores before Christmas.

Thomas Cook

Investors will learn if consumer confidence has hit bookings at Thomas Cook when it unveils second-quarter figures on Tuesday. The tour operator says cancellations in Tunisia and Egypt will knock £20m off its second quarter. Most analysts expect full-year profits of £410m, but HSBC says that rising oil prices could cost it £30m.

Bellway

Bellway will shed more light on the health of the housing sector on Wednesday when it publishes half year results. The UK’s fourth-largest house builder recently reported an increase in sales for the six months to 31 January as well as an increase in its average selling price to £168,000.

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