The Business Matrix: Wednesday 11 May 2011

Osborne turns key to open LSE trading

The London Stock Exchange’s version of the NYSE opening bell was launched yesterday with the use of a giant countdown clock and key. The inaugural event saw a timer on a giant globe mark the 8am opening, before the Chancellor, George Osborne, triggered trade by “unlocking” the market with a plastic key. The ceremony will become a regular event with companies and celebrities set to turn the key on occasions such as flotations.

Greece denies new £53bn bailout talks

Greece denied it was discussing a new €60bn (£53bn) bailout with international lenders yesterday after German politicians questioned whether the country had failed to meet conditions to release the next tranche of its €111bn aid package. Sources close to the EU/IMF inspectors working in Athens said they were not discussing any new aid programme, and that it was too early for a decision on the next tranche.

Profits race ahead at Williams

Williams Grand Prix Holdings has reported a 33 per cent rise in underlying profits to £7.7m in 2010. The company, which listed its shares in Frankfurt in March, has been struggling on the racetrack, but said it hoped to build on its partnership with Jaguar. The pair are working on a 320kph electric hybrid supercar.

Overseas boost eases TUI losses

TUI Travel, the tour operator behind Thomson Holidays and First Choice, said strong performances at its Canadian and northern Europe operations helped it to shrug off a weak UK market and unrest in Egypt to post a small improvement in interim losses. TUI made an operating loss of £307m, £15m better than last year.

America falls for Intercontinental

Intercontinental Hotels, the world’s largest hotel company by number of beds, has reported a 35 per cent increase in operating profits to $112m (£68m) in the first quarter of 2011. Revenues at the hotel group rose by 9 per cent to $396m, with the help of the highest income from the United States for five years.

Profits rise 2% at Imperial Tobacco

The Lambert & Butler and Golden Virginia group, Imperial Tobacco, has reported a rise in first-half profits after “excellent” growth in emerging markets. The world’s fourth-biggest cigarette maker said its profits rose by 2 per cent to £1.5bn after it increased sales in markets such as Africa and the Middle East.

N Brown plans Simply Be stores

The catalogue group N Brown has announced plans to develop its Simply Be womenswear brand as a high-street business. The group, which also owns Figleaves and High & Mighty, will trial three stores in the North-west this year before deciding whether to carry out a full roll-out of the brand, aimed at the plus-size market.

Increase in car sales at Pendragon

The car dealer Pendragon said it had outperformed the market in the three months to 31 March after sales volumes of used and new vehicles increased by 16 per cent and 9 per cent respectively. However, turnover declined marginally in after-sales, which remain the biggest source of profits for the company.

Many households stretched for cash

More than one in five Britons are so financially stretched they are struggling to make ends meet, according to financial website Households have seen their outgoings rise by an average of £54 a week in the past six months. People blame the rising cost of petrol, food and utility bills.

Landlords benefit from buy-to-let rise

The number of buy-to-let mortgages available has reached a two-and-a-half-year high as lenders return to the market. Investment landlords have 463 deals to choose from, up from 312 six months ago and just 299 in May last year, with availability now at its highest level since October 2008, according to