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The Business Matrix: Wednesday 26 January 2011

PEOPLE



Friends poaches Widows' MD

Scottish Widows' managing director, Andy Briggs, has been named as the new boss of pensions firm Friends Provident. Mr Briggs, above, will replace Trevor Matthews, who plans to return to his native Australia with his family.



NewsCorp given longer in BSkyB bid



Rupert Murdoch's NewsCorp has been given another six months to offer undertakings to the Government on its proposed buyout of BSkyB. Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary, said he was prepared to delay referring the deal to the Competition Commission.



MONEY



People head into retirement in debt



A fifth of people planning to retire this year are still paying off debts, according to research from Prudential. The average person who expects to be in the red when they retire owes £33,100, but one in 20 people owes more than £50,000. Such people are most likely to owe money on credit cards, though more than half will still have a mortgage.



Shoppers shun store cards on high street



Consumers continued to avoid borrowing to fund high street spending during November, but there was a big jump – 34 per cent – in demand for personal loans, according to the Finance & Leasing Association's latest figures. Lending through store cards dived by 25 per cent during the month, compared with a year ago, with just £202m advanced.



UTILITIES



Light dawns on London Eye



EDF Energy has marked the start of its three-year sponsorship of the London Eye with a dawn light show designed to draw attention to both its sponsorship of the 2012 Olympics and its commitment to low carbon energy. From yesterday, the Eye officially took the name of the French energy giant, EDF Energy London Eye.



Severn Trent hitby bad weather



Severn Trent said that last month's severe weather and an increase in leakage impacted its investment programme. The utility firm now expects its capital expenditure for the year to 31 March to be in the range of £400m to £410m, assuming temperatures remain closer to average for the rest of the winter.



PROFIT WARNINGS



Hornby results derailed by snow



Shares in Hornby slumped by 10.6 per cent yesterday after the model-train maker warned its profits had been hit by December's snow. The company, which also makes Scalextric, said its profits for the year to 31 March are "likely to be below market expectations", thanks to "the impact of the inclement weather" and supply-chain issues in Europe. The company's shares fell 14.5p to 123p.



Psion warns of forex hit



Psion warned it would post an underlying loss for the full year after being hit by foreign-exchange losses. Shares in the technology group, best known for its Organiser pocket computers launched in the 1980s, fell 5 per cent, even though Psion said it remained confident of strong growth this year. The company, which posted an operating profit of £4m last year, said this year's loss would be £1.5m to £2m.



ENTERTAINMENT



Staff cuts hit Games Workshop



The fantasy war games retailer Games Workshop has admitted its sales went into retreat after it cut back on staff in its hobby centres to reduce overheads. The company, which makes collectable figurines for Warhammer and Lord of the Rings battle games, said the staffing changes led to shortfalls in its Northern Europe division. Its half-year profits fell 15 per cent to £6.7m as sales fell 4 per cent.



ECONOMY

Fears of double-dip recession grow

The UK economy unexpectedly contracted by 0.5 per cent between October and December, ending a year of growth, the Office for National Statistics said yesterday. The severe weather last month was almost entirely to blame for the unexpected plunge between October and December, which ended a year of economic growth in the UK and fuelled fears of a double-dip recession.

PAYMENTS

PayPoint cashes in on mobile market

PayPoint has reported a 7 per cent rise in quarterly sales to £22m, helped by growth in bill payments, retail services and its acquisition of PayByPhone. PayByPhone, which allows consumers to use their mobile phones to pay for their parking by credit or debit card, was acquired by the company in March last year.



SOAP

PZ Cussons warns over rising costs

Imperial Leather maker PZ Cussons warned about its outlook yesterday as it grappled with the rising cost of key ingredients such as palm oil and discounting by rivals. Stronger profits in Asia helped the group post a 3 per cent rise in underlying half-year profits to £46m, even though profits at its European arm fell 5 per cent.



DEFENCE

Babcock confirms £12bn order book

Babcock International said the integration of VT Group, which it acquired for £1.3bn last year, was progressing speedily. The group, which maintains Navy submarines, said its order book remained stable at £12bn.



REFINING



Asian demand boosts metals



International Ferro Metals said sales of ferrochrome more than doubled in its second quarter on strong Asian demand for the stainless steel ingredient. The firm warned last week furnace closures would hit production.

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