The Business Matrix: Wednesday 23 November 2011


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Oil and gas sector boost for Smiths

Smiths Group, whose products range from bomb detectors to medical devices and fuel hoses, reported higher sales and profits in its latest quarter, helped by strong demand from the oil and gas industry. The group was boosted by its John Crane unit, which makes mechanical seals for the oil and gas industry and accounts for 30 per cent of sales.

Merck to pay $950m over Vioxx

Merck is to pay $950m to settle criminal and civil charges that it promoted the painkiller drug Vioxx for use by rheumatoid arthritis sufferers before getting regulatory approval. The fine will conclude a long-running investigation by the US Justice Department into Merck's promotion of the drug, which was withdrawn in September 2004.

Mercedes F1 links up with Autonomy

The Mercedes GP Petronas Formula One team has asked the data group Autonomy to help improve the performance of its drivers Nico Rosberg and Michael Schumacher. The F1 team will use Autonomy's Virage software to analyse video footage of the drivers and their rivals in real time. Previously, the videos were indexed manually.

Surge in profits at Nationwide

Nationwide credited a strong performance in its key markets as its underlying half-year profit rose by 17 per cent to £172m. But pre-tax profits fell 9 per cent to £238m. The mutual pointed to positive figures from its mortgage and savings business, with mortgage advances up 48 per cent to £8.9bn and savings deposits up 250 per cent to £1.4bn.

Misselling fears hit HomeServe

HomeServe said profits this year and next would be hit by the cost of restructuring and a drop in customers as it deals with the impact of misselling concerns. The home repairs and insurance company suspended telesales operations in October to review sale scripts, marketing mail, and customer complaints.

London supports Big Yellow

The self-storage company Big Yellow forecast a 15 to 20 per cent rise in earnings this year thanks to continued demand for its branches in London and the South-east. The company rents storage space for merchandise, goods, equipment and furniture for people moving home or for businesses downsizing.

Nationwide sees drop in claims

Nationwide Accident Repair Services reported a decline in insurance claims in the second half of the year because of the milder-than-usual weather. The group warned that the decline in claims would mean that profits for the full year to 31 December were likely to be below market expectations.

Paragon re-enters buy-to-let market

The specialist lender Paragon reported a 12.5 per cent increase in pre-tax profits to £81m in the year to the end of September. The group, which stopped lending during the financial crisis, said it had "re-established" its buy-to-let mortgage business and that it saw opportunities for acquisitions next year.

Education pays in the private sector

Workers with degrees earn more in private firms than in the public sector, while the opposite is true for staff with lower level or no qualifications. Analysis by the TUC found people with degrees earned 4.7 per cent more than in the public sector; staff without qualifications earned 3.2 per cent less in the private sector.

Wage rises fall back to 2.3%

Wage rises have fallen back to 2.3 per cent following lower awards in leisure, retail, fast food and other private services firms. The average rise in the three months to October fell from 2.4 per cent the previous month, even though 2.5 per cent rise in the minimum wage came in in September, Incomes Data Services found.