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The Business Matrix: Saturday 4 June 2011

Laura Ashley hit by 1.3% sales fall

The fashion and furnishings chain Laura Ashley said like-for-like sales were down 1.3 per cent in the 17 weeks to May 28, but added that sales improved as the period wore on. The company, which operates 214 stores in the UK, expects strong overseas growth and cost cutting will help it meet expectations for the year.

Halfords in £7.5m hit from Focus

Halfords has been landed with a £7.5m hit from the collapse of Focus DIY. The charge relates to guarantees given in the 1980s to landlords of properties leased by Payless DIY, which became a part of Focus DIY when both Halfords and Payless were under the ownership of the conglomerate Ward White Group.

Hornby ‘resolves’ supply problems

Hornby has insisted the supply-chain problems which caused its annual profits to slump 21 per cent to £4.1m have been resolved in time to meet demand for London Olympics merchandise, such as its model Scalextric Velodrome. The model train and car maker has also won a licence to produce Star Wars models.

Jane Norman put up for sale

Jane Norman has kicked off a process to sell the young fashion chain, which was formerly owned by the defunct Icelandic retailer Baugur and the collapsed Icelandic bank Kaupthing. Pricewaterhouse- Coopers is handling the sale, which is thought to have been driven by the banks.

Rothschild’s firm aims to raise £1bn

An acquisition vehicle backed by financier Nat Rothschild and the former BP boss Tony Hayward could announce its intention to float as early as next week after its board approved its pathfinder prospectus. Vallares, set to be a sequel to Rothschild’s £2.5bn mining investment vehicle Vallar, is aiming to raise £1bn to invest in oil assets.

WPP investors stage pay revolt

Nearly 42 per cent of WPP investors have voted against the advertising group’s executive pay plans at its annual meeting in Dublin. The company, which is based in Ireland for tax reasons, has been critised by investor advisory groups such as Pirc for paying excessive executive bonuses and not explaining the targets that triggered them.

US job figures fuel recession fears

US employment rose far less than expected in May, fuelling fears of a double-dip recession in the world’s largest economy. The US jobless rate rose to 9.1 per cent in May, with the non-farm payrolls increasing by a mere 54,000 last month, as high energy prices and the effects of Japan’s earthquake hampered the American economy.

Opec may raise its oil output target

Opec will consider raising its oil output target at its 8 June meeting due to forecasts for rising oil demand in the second half of the year, a Gulf delegate for the oil cartel said yesterday. The International Energy Agency (IEA), the global energy watchdog, has warned that global markets urgently need extra oil as refinery demand is about to rise.

First-class boost for BA and Iberia

International Airlines Group, the owner of BA and Iberia, posted a rise in passenger traffic for May thanks to continued growth in first-class and business-class travel. Traffic, measured in revenue passenger kilometres, rose 14.1 per cent versus May 2010, while its load – how it fills its planes – was up at 78 per cent.

Greece to get aid to avoid default

Greece is likely to get a vital slice of aid in July to avoid default, its international lenders said yesterday, while the European Union also raised the prospect of expanding the state’s bailout. The European Commission, the ECB and the IMF yesterday ended a month-long review of their €110bn (£98bn) bailout.