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The Business Matrix: Saturday 15 December 2012

Laura Ashley lifts high street gloom

Laura Ashley proved one of the high street's best performers with a leap in sales ahead of the crucial Christmas trading period. The clothing and interiors chain grew its total sales by 4.2 per cent in the 19 weeks to 8 December. This was ahead of City forecasts, while its sales jumped by 4.9 per cent on a like-for-like basis.

300,000 late filers face court action

More than 300,000 people who have not filed their tax returns for 2011 could face court proceedings and asset seizures if they continue to ignore the Revenue's approaches next year. HMRC said yesterday it was writing to self-assessment workers whose tax returns were so late that their penalties had now reached £1,300.

Growth in output 'could boost GDP'

Output in Britain's beleaguered construction industry grew in October, raising the prospect that the sector will boost gross domestic product in the fourth quarter and help the economy to avoid the predicted contraction. The annual decline in construction output slowed to 5.1 per cent – the lowest since February.

LSE must review LCH.Clearnet deal

The London Stock Exchange will renegotiate its deal to buy LCH.Clearnet after regulators demanded it hold more cash. The LSE's agreement to buy 60 per cent of the clearing house for €463m (£376m) was backed by the Office of Fair Trading. But new European rules could leave the business needing another €375m.

Aquiline snaps up Red Star for £87m

Aquiline Capital Partners, a private-equity firm led by the son of former AIG boss Hank Greenberg, has snapped up the Lloyd's of London insurer Equity Red Star for £87m. The deal will see Equity's owner Insurance Australia Group dispose of an asset that has been loss-making for several years.

Germany's health starts to improve

Light emerged at the end of the tunnel for the eurozone yesterday as Germany showed signs of dragging the region out of its double-dip recession. The latest snapshot of the eurozone's manufacturing and services firms revealed a shallower economic decline than feared during the first half of December.

Punters shun pubs and stay at home

Punch Taverns blamed a 5 per cent fall in sales in four months on the fact that drinkers were staying at home. The UK's largest pubs operator said the slip was in line with its forecasts and predicted a return to growth next year. It expects to sell about 400 of its non-core pubs.

Losses widen at Geldof's TV group

Sir Bob Geldof's TV production company Ten Alps fell further into the red despite attempts to improve its fortunes. The firm behind such shows as Hugh Grant: Taking on the Tabloids made a £1.7m loss in the six months to 30 September, up from a £1.1m loss a year earlier.

G4S grows South Africa operations

G4S is back on the acquisition trail after its Olympics debacle in the summer. The security giant has agreed to pay £8.2m for South African rival Deposita and could expand into nearby markets such as Botswana, Malawi, Kenya and Namibia.

Rockhopper does deal with Premier

Pierre Jungels, chairman of the Falkland Islands oil explorer Rockhopper, said he could "begin to address the under-performance of the current share price" following a deal to partner Premier Oil on its key Sea Lion development in July.

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