The Business Matrix: Thursday 3 February 2011

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The Independent Online

Wheatley to run new regulator

Martin Wheatley, the head of Hong Kong’s Securities and Futures Commission, is to run the new Consumer Protection and Markets Authority protection body that is being created as part of the shake-up of British financial regulation.

Slark takes the helm at Grafton

The Irish building supplies group Grafton has named Gavin Slark as chief executive, with executive chairman Michael Chadwick taking a non-executive role. Mr Slark headed the plumbing company BSS before it was bought by Travis Perkins in 2010.

Sales of Freeview HD boxes hit 1.2 million

Sales of Freeview high-definition set top boxes have passed 1.2 million, nine months after the service, allowing subscription-free HD television, was launched. The service estimates that 642,000 homes are now watching television via a Freeview HD box, with sales of the boxes jumping 378 per cent in the week after Christmas.

Ofcom frees mobile firms to sell spectrum

Ofcom, the communications watchdog, has revealed plans to allow mobile phone operators to trade their valuable radio spectrum with each other, to make the services faster and more reliable. The operators rely on spectrum to provide customers with coverage, as it carries the information between the devices and the mobile masts around the UK.

Sugar prices soar over cyclone fears

Sugar prices have hit a record $840 a tonne amid fears about the impact of Cyclone Yasi on Australian exports. The country accounts for 11 per cent of world sugar, with about a third of its sugar cane crop in Queensland in the path of the cyclone. The industry is expecting losses of about A$500m (£310m).

Controls on grain and energy prices

The European Commission is set to tackle speculation in commodities with new controls on trading to stop runaway prices for grain and energy. Brussels yesterday published an outline of plans that could see traders forced to disclose their positions and let regulators impose limits to tame the speculators.

Gas use falls by a fifth in four years

Demand for household gas has fallen sharply in four years mainly due to improved home-energy efficiency, according to a report published by the Centre for Economics and Business Research for British Gas’s owner Centrica. Saving energy through better insulation and more efficient boilers has already contributed to a 17 per cent decline in gas demand since 2006, and similar measures could save another £6bn by 2015.

IFS: Budget must carry on austerity

The Government should not relax its austerity programme in next month’s Budget, even though borrowing this year is likely to be less than officially forecast, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said yesterday. But it also said the Chancellor should make it clear what he will do if the economy grows more slowly than expected. Public-sector net borrowing would probably be £145.6bn for 2010/11, the IFS said. MORE

Manufacturing wages rise by 4%

Average pay deals have remained “stable” in recent months, although settlements in manufacturing firms are increasing in the wake of rising inflation, according to a study by Income Data Services (IDS) today. Average awards remained at 2.4 per cent in the final few months of 2010, but more than a third of increases in manufacturing were worth 4 per cent or more, IDS said.

MSPs vote against ‘Tesco tax’ law

The UK’s biggest supermarkets were “hugely relieved” yesterday after the Scottish Parliament blocked a substantial tax increase. The Scottish government had planned to introduce the Large Retailer Levy, a rates supplement that would have been added to all stores with a rateable value of more than £750,000. The so-called “Tesco tax” had been due to come into force on 1 April.

Nestlé snaps up CM&D Pharma

Nestlé has bought CM&D Pharma, the London-based firm behind an innovative chewing gum to help kidney-disease sufferers. CM&D makes products such as Fostrap gum, which is in late stage trials. The gum helps to remove high levels of phosphate from kidney-disease patients, collected in the saliva as they chew.

US cheered by rise in recruitment

US private employers added more jobs than expected in January, underscoring views the employment picture is slowly improving. The private sector added 187,000 jobs in January compared with a downwardly revised gain of 247,000 jobs in December, a report by payrolls processor ADP Employer Services showed.

Sale fuels hopes of GSK buyback

GlaxoSmithKline has stoked hopes that it might restart its share-buyback programme after announcing the sale of its stake in Quest Diagnostics in a $1.7bn (£1.05bn) deal. Hopes of a return of capital to investors had faded after GSK, which is due to issue full-year results today, warned of a £2.2bn legal bill for the last quarter.

Spain says jobless figures a priority

Tackling Spain’s “dramatic” unemployment rate is a priority for the country, Jose Manuel Campa, Secretary of State for the Economy, said yesterday. The number of registered jobless rose by 3.2 per cent from December to 4.2 million, while the overall jobless rate, at 20.2 per cent, is the highest in the EU.