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The Business Matrix: Wednesday 23 February 2011

Verena Ross to head EU watchdog

The new EU markets watchdog, the European Securities and Markets Authority, has named Verena Ross as its first executive director. Ms Ross who currently heads the FSA’s international division, will be responsible for day-to-day management of the ESMA.

Merkel ready to revisit Greek debt

The German Chancellor Angela Merkel told a joint news conference with the Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou, that rescheduling the repayment period of Greece’s EU/IMF aid package could be considered within a comprehensive euro rescue package.

Croda’s continuing turnover hits £1bn

Croda International, which makes specialist ingredients for hair and skincare products, said turnover from continuing operations topped £1bn for the first time, while underlying profits rose 78 per cent to £192m in 2010. The firm, headquartered in Goole, East Yorkshire, said that it expected to buy back shares worth about £50m this year.

Williams cuts listing price range

The Formula One racing team operator Williams Grand Prix Holdings has narrowed the price range for its Frankfurt listing to €25 to €27 a share from €24 to €29. Sir Frank Williams will remain the majority shareholder following the initial public offering, which is expected to net his co-founder, Patrick Head, about £54m.

William Hill seeks Playtech injuction

William Hill has taken out an injunction on Playtech, its joint venture partner in William Hill Online. Playtech, which supplies technology to the Tote, has been trying to amend the deal. There is market talk that rival Ladbrokes could bid for Playtech.

BA staff to hold newstrike ballot

British Airways cabin crew are to hold a new ballot over strike action after their union said it feared a recent vote would be ruled invalid. Unite said the new balloting would take place between 1 March and 28 March.

Drax calls for more aid for biomass

The owner of Drax power station in North Yorkshire said its biomass operations generated about 7 per cent of the UK’s renewable power last year, twice as much as any other plant. But it said it was not using its renewable facilities at full capacity because of low government support for biomass. Drax’s underlying earnings rose 10 per cent to £391m as pressure on coal-generation margins was offset by tight cost controls.

Mickey Mouse insider trading

Bonnie Hoxie, a former assistant to Disney’s head of communications, has been sentenced to three years probation, including four months home detention, after admitting to engaging in an insider-dealing scheme. Hoxie gave her then-boyfriend Yonni Sebbag inside information about Disney’s corporate results, which he offered to dozens of hedge funds and investment firms.

Record profits as Leeds ups lending

Leeds Building Society unveiled record operating profits yesterday as it announced plans to increase its mortgage lending by 25 per cent this year. Britain’s fifth-largest building society said that it hoped to lend £1.25bn in 2011, after savings balances increased to a new high during the past 12 months.

Virgin plans to be force in banking

Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Money is opening headquarters in Edinburgh and recruiting 300 staff under plans to become a major force in high-street banking. Virgin Money wants to launch full scale banking in late 2011 or 2012. It aims to start by offering deposit accounts, followed by mortgages and current accounts.

‘Ageing population affects economy’

Britain is exposed to a huge fiscal risk from its ageing population as a result of the high levels of public money that will need to be spent on pensions and health services, the research firm Maplecroft warned yesterday. In the group’s analysis of 163 countries and their exposure to low birth rates, high life expectancies and government promises to look after the elderly, the UK ranked 10th. Belgium, France and Sweden topped the list.

Spotify deal values

More signs of a new dot.com boom emerged yesterday amid reports that the music streaming website Spotify had secured a funding deal that valued it at $1bn (£616m). The Anglo-Swedish service is understood to be seeking about $100m from the Facebook investor Digital Sky Technologies and Silicon Valley firm Kleiner Perkins for a combined 10 per cent stake.

House prices fall for sixth month …

Key US house prices dropped for a sixth consecutive month in December, bringing them close to lows hit in 2009. Eleven of the 20 cities in the S&P/Case-Shiller house price index hit new lows since home prices peaked in 2006-7. On an annual basis, house priceswere down 2.4 per cent in December.

... but consumer confidence rises

US consumer confidence climbed to a three-year high in February, with the Conference Board industry group saying that its index of consumer attitudes had climbed to 70.4 in February. Consumers’ assessment of the labour market improved modestly, but the overall view of employment conditions was mixed.

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