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The Business Matrix: Wednesday 16 February 2011

Katainen to host EU debt crisis talks

Finland’s finance minister Jyrki Katainen is to host a meeting of 14 European leaders, including Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Nicolas Saroky, to prepare a response to the eurozone debt crisis. A full EU summit is scheduled to start on 24 March.

Payne listed as Yell’s new COO

The troubled Yellow Pages directories company, Yell, has named Mark Payne as its chief operating officer. Mr Payne, who previously headed Cisco System’s home networking division Linksys, will be responsible for day to day activities at the company.

Sir Ian Prosser to chair JKX Oil & Gas

The oil and gas explorer JKX has named Sir Ian Prosser, the former chief executive and chairman of the hotels and brewery giant Bass, as chairman. He will succeed Lord Fraser of Carmyllie on 1 March when Lord Fraser retires.

Ian Axe swings into LCH.Clearnet

LCH.Clearnet has named Ian Axe, Barclay Capital’s former head of global operations, as its chief executive. The Anglo-French clearing house is facing new competition in Europe from the NYSE Euronext. Its major client, the London Stock Exchange, is also reviewing its relationship with the LCH.Clearnet.

Foster’s wine and beer units to split

Foster’s has confirmed plans to demerge its beer and wine businesses in May, in a move that could tempt bidders for either unit. Australia’s largest brewer spent A$6bn creating the world’s second largest wine company, with vineyards from the Napa to the Hunter valleys, but was hit by a global wine glut and rising Australian dollar.

British Land enjoys profits rise

British Land, whose portfolio is dominated by prime retail and offices, reported a 10 per cent rise in underlying profits to £64m in its third quarter to 31 December as demand and trends improved in its core markets.

Firms look for help to create jobs

The Federation of Small Businesses has called on the Government to introduce measures to help firms create jobs. With the latest unemployment figures expected to show another jump in jobless numbers today, the FSB warned that the number of firms looking to take on new staff has fallen in recent months. It wants the national insurance contributions holiday to be extended from new businesses to exisiting small firms.

Brewin Dolphin restructures

Brewin Dolphin is selling its corporate advisory and broking division to focus on wealth management and lessen the capital cushion demanded by regulators. The firm is selling the unit to a new partnership named N+1 Brewin for £5m, comprising £1m cash and a 14 per cent stake. The deal will leave Brewin structured more like other mid-sized investment houses such as St James’s Place and Rathbone Brothers.

Albemarle posts rise in revenues

Albemarle & Bond reported soaring demand for its pawnbroking and gold-buying business yesterday as it attracts new customers looking to free up cash in the economic gloom. Albemarle, which is Britain’s largest pawnbroker, said revenues rose 24 per cent to £48.8m in the half-year, but profits were down 1 per cent to £11m after it paid to open 16 shops and 23 gold-buying outlets.

City airport staff face strike ballot

Ground staff at London’s City airport are to be balloted on taking strike action in a dispute over pay and working conditions, their trade union, the GMB, said yesterday. The workers, employed by the agency Aviation Resources, provide checking-in and dispatch services for CityJet, Air France and KLM airlines, the union said. Talks are scheduled at the mediation service Acas for 21 February.

EDF reports 74% drop in earnings

The French energy giant EDF, which has 5.5 million customers through EDF Energy in the UK, reported a 73.9 per cent drop in group earnings to €1.02bn (£853m) last year as demand for electricity and gas did not return to levels seen before the downturn. Sales in the UK fell 4.9 per cent to €10.7bn.

Premier slims down its debt

Premier Foods has revealed its debt mountain is now below £1bn as the maker of Mr Kipling cakes posted better-than-expected profits. The UK’s biggest food manufacturer has recently sold its Quorn meat-free business and its canned grocery operation for £387m. Its net debt, which stood at £1.4bn is now less than £900m.

Pennon weathers winter storm

Pennon said the severe winter weather hurt operations at both its water and waste units, though trading since October had been in line with its expectations. Pennon – which supplies customers in Devon and Cornwall via South West Water – said the weather had led to a surge in burst pipes, but this would not impact on results.

Danone warns of rising prices

The French food group Danone is planning to raise some of its prices this year to help combat an expected 6 to 9 per cent rise in raw material costs. The world’s largest yoghurt maker, with brands like Actimel and Activia, posted a 6.9 per cent rise in sales at the end of 2010 and said rising costs had not affected its profits margins.