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The Business Matrix: Wednesday 19 February 2014

Japanese shares speed ahead

Shares in Japan roared higher yesterday as the central bank maintained its money-printing efforts and extended special loan programmes to help buoy the economy. The Bank of Japan, which remains upbeat despite growth slowing to 0.3 per cent, extended loan facilities by one year, sending the Nikkei up more than 3 per cent.

FirstGroup extends franchise

FirstGroup is to run the First Capital Connect franchise for an extra six months until 14 September. By that time the Department for Transport will have chosen the winner of the Bedford to Brighton via King's Cross/St Pancras new franchise, bundled with other rail links under the £6.5 billion Thameslink programme.

Paragon makes virtue of banking

The buy-to-let mortgage lender Paragon has launched the first new UK bank granted a licence this year. Paragon Bank is the first applicant approved by the Prudential Regulatory Authority under its new lower capital regime for start-up banks launched last April. Paragon applied for a licence last July.

Gamble pays off for billionaires

Icap's founder Michael Spencer and the billionaire Joe Lewis added a few more millions to their wealth after a gambling software firm they both backed agreed to a takeover worth £18 million. GTech is offering 50p a share for the Aim-listed Probability, valuing Mr Spencer's 17 per cent stake at £2.9 million, and Mr Lewis's holding at £1.6 million.

Kier's veteran boss steps down

Kier, the contractor which recently won the Ministry of Defence brief to turn RAF Lyneham into colleges, is saying farewell to its chief executive Paul Sheffield, who has been with the business for more than 30 years. He hands over to finance director Haydn Mursell at the start of July.

Met Life sells assets to Rothesay

The US insurance giant Met Life has sold £3 billion of assets to Rothesay Life, the annuity provider set up by Goldman Sachs. The deal comes three years after Rothesay paid £260 million for rival Paternoster. Rothesay said its assets under management will stand at £10 billion, once the deal is sealed.

Share buyback hint from BHP

BHP Billiton hinted it could launch a share buyback this year as its first-half profits topped City expectations yesterday. The mining giant said it was making annual cost savings of $4.9 billion (£2.9bn). Profits, excluding exceptionals, rose 31 per cent to $7.8 billion.

Socialbakers raises £15m

Socialbakers, a social media analytics company which monitors online conversations, has raised $26 million (£15 million) in a deal that values the business at close to $200 million. The group helps clients such as LVMH understand their fans' behaviour on Facebook and Twitter.

Sony beats sales target for PS4

Sony has already beaten its sales target for the PlayStation 4. The electronics giant had aimed to sell five million consoles by the end of March and has now sold 5.3 million. The PS4 launched in the West before Christmas.

Pernod toasts British drinkers

Pernod Ricard saw a 7 per cent jump in first-half sales in the UK as the Beefeater gin-to-Absolut vodka maker grew its market share here by 9.2 per cent. The Paris-based group's overall net sales fell 7 per cent due to weakness in China.

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