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The Business Matrix: Monday 6 June 2011

Asda mulls bid for Iceland Foods

Asda has appointed investment bank advisers to help it mount a potential £1.6bn bid for Iceland Foods. Britain’s second-biggest grocer has hired Lazard to advise it on the financing of a possible offer for Iceland, the 780-store frozen food specialist. But Walmart-owned Asda faces tough competition for Iceland from the chain’s founder Malcolm Walker, as well as from rival Morrisons.

HMV checks out refinancing deal

HMV, the troubled entertainment retailer, is close to agreeing a refinancing deal that will safeguard its immediate future. HMV is thrashing out a two-year loan deal for £210m with its lenders led by Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group. The debt-laden retailer sold its book chain, Waterstones, last month for £53m to the Russian billionaire Alexander Mamut.

Royal Mail to cut up to 40,000 jobs

Royal Mail is preparing to slash nearly 40,000 jobs over the next five years as it seeks to combat the inexorable decline in postal volumes and privatisation. The postal operator has already agreed a three-year deal with the Communication Workers Union to cut head count by 8,000 a year until 2013. But Moya Greene, who became chief executive last July, is expected to drive through a further 15,000 by 2016.

Recruiters not ready for temp law

Many companies that regularly use agency workers hired on a temporary basis have done no preparation for new rules on the rights of such staff that are due to come into force on 1 October, suggests new research. The recruitment agency de Poel reports that 40 per cent of businesses have yet to plan for the Agency Workers Directive.

Southern Cross fights for future

Southern Cross plans to offload up to 200 homes, seek emergency funding of £100m and change its name, as it fights to stave off collapse. The UK’s biggest provider of care homes intends to overhaul its business and financial structure, as it struggles to keep up with its annual rental bill of £250m.

Ipsos eyes £500m bid for Synovate

The French group Ipsos has made an unsolicited bid for Synovate that values the market research firm at about £500m. Synovate is part of Aegis, the UK advertising group, and the parent could confirm the approach today. But talks are at an early stage and a takeover by Ipsos, which owns Ipsos Mori, could be months away.

Home Retail Group

Argos and Homebase owner Home Retail Group, which reports quarterly figures on Thursday, will be under pressure to show that its fortunes have improved since it posted a 13 per cent plunge in annual profits in April. It has already warned of an uncertain year ahead as consumers are squeezed. But its sales of garden goods in particular could have benefited from April’s sun.

Punch Taverns

Analysts will be looking for an update on Punch Taverns’s £3bn debt mountain when it posts third-quarter sales on Wednesday. The group plans to sell 2,500 outlets over the next three to five years, as well as demerging its estate of managed pubs by the end of the summer. The demerger should boost prospects for the faster-growing Spirit managed pubs.

Wincanton

Analysts will be looking to see how Wincanton’s restructuring plans, unveiled in December, are progressing when the haulier posts annual results on Thursday. It will also be quizzed about the collapse of Focus DIY. Wincanton stored 28 million cases of DIY products and handled internet orders for Focus from a site in Tamworth, which served the firm’s stores.

Halfords

Halfords will report back on a tough year on Thursday after a poor Christmas for sales of bicycles and satellite navigation systems more than offset a boost to demand for car maintenance products during a harsh winter. The retailer has revised down its forecasts for annual profits to £124m-£127m, and the City expects its figures to come in at the lower end of the range.

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