The Business Matrix: Saturday 22 October 2011

Big Four auditors investigated

The big four accountants’ near monopoly of auditing Britain’s biggest companies faces breakup under a Competition Commission inquiry announced yesterday. The Office of Fair Trading referred auditing of large companies following criticism of auditors’ failure to warn about banks’ mounting risks in the run-up to the financial crisis.

Thomas Cook in new loan deal

Thomas Cook has unveiled a short-term loan deal with its banks that will provide the holiday giant with an extra £100m of headroom for its seasonal cash low point of December and January. It has also amended the terms of bank facilities to increase flexibility. The moves came as a relief to investors after three profit warnings in a year.

Rank dealt bad hand as sales slide

A winning streak for casino punters and a quieter summer at Mecca bingo halls as more people gamble online have knocked sales at the gaming firm Rank in recent months. The group, recently taken over by Malaysian- run gambling group Guoco, said its 11 Spanish bingo halls continued to suffer following the introduction of the smoking ban.

Groupon seeks $540m from IPO

Groupon plans to raise as much as $540m (£339m) in an initial public offering next month, as the daily-deals website grapples with a weak market, executive departures and questions about its accounting and business model. It aims to sell less than 5 per cent of the company in New York in an IPO that is expected to value Groupon at about $11bn.

Scottish Power ends field sales

Scottish Power has become the fifth of the big six power companies to end or suspend selling energy contracts on the doorstep. The company’s field agents will cease doorstep sales on 30 November. Scottish Power said the traditional doorstep sales process is no longer relevant to today’s energy market.

Caution pays off for Provident

The doorstep lender Provident Financial declared itself on track for a “good result” this year after it cut back on lending to new customers. The group, which sells short-term loans to people who have trouble borrowing from mainstream lenders, said its cautious approach to lending meant that business was stable.

North Sea field ‘equal to Qatar’

Norway’s Statoil hailed potentially the biggest oil find of 2011 yesterday, saying part of a newly discovered North Sea oilfield was twice as large as thought, holding as much as 3.3 billion barrels. Statoil said the oil reservoir might turn out 800,000 barrels per day, as much as the Opec member Qatar.

Borrowing boost for Osborne

George Osborne’s deficit reduction plans received a boost yesterday after Government borrowing fell by more than expected in September. Public sector borrowing, excluding financial interventions such as bank bail-outs, dropped to £14.1bn in the month, down from £15.4 bn in September 2010.

Barsky leaves Fridman heirless

The Russian oligarch Mikhail Fridman is to serve until the end of 2013 as chief executive of the TNK-BP after his heir apparent, Maxim Barsky, yesterday left the joint venture between the four Russian billionaires’ AAR and BP. The British oil major will nominate a chief executive to succeed Mr Fridman.

Faith in German business falls

German business sentiment slid for the fourth month in a row in October, dipping to its lowest level since mid-2010 and compounding fears the eurozone debt crisis could push Europe back into recession. The Ifo economic think tank said its business climate index fell to 106.4 in October from 107.4 in September.