The Business Matrix: Wednesday 30 March 2011

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The Independent Online

Veteran banker Costa leaves Lazard

Ken Costa, the veteran banker who brokered Mohamed al-Fayed’s sale of Harrods to the Qatari royal family, is leaving Lazard after three-and-a-half years with the investment bank. Mr Costa had been chairman of Lazard International since October 2007.

Rambourg cleared by the FSA

Guillaume Rambourg plans a return to fund management after the FSA ended its inquiry into his activities. Gartmore suspended Mr Rambourg, its star manager, a year ago on suspicion he broke internal rules but its own investigation found “no suggestion of dishonesty”.

Savory steps down from SuperGroup

The fashion retailer SuperGroup said its chief operating officer Diane Savory has decided to step down from the board and leave the company for personal reasons. Ms Savory will leave the company on 6 May once she has handed over her responsibilities.

Loney to head Royal London

Phil Loney, the head of Lloyds’ life, pensions and investment business, is joining the mutual life and pensions company Royal London as chief executive. News of his departure follows hot on the heels of two other Lloyds Banking Group executives, Helen Weir and Archie Kane.

Merlin’s visitor numbers on the up

Merlin Entertainments’ visitor numbers rose by 2.5 million last year as people flocked to its theme parks and attractions – such as Legoland and Alton Towers – to escape the economic gloom. Merlin said visitor numbers to its worldwide sites rose by 6.5 per cent to 41 million in 2010. In the UK, numbers were up 8 per cent.

Thomas Cook in holiday cuts gloom

Thomas Cook is cutting back its summer holiday programme from the UK amid a drop in demand as the economic uncertainty puts off holidaymakers. The tour operator also said its winter bookings from the UK were down by 5 per cent on a year ago after the crisis in Egypt and Tunisia caused bookings to be cancelled.

S&P marks down Greece, Portugal

Standard & Poor’s has downgraded credit ratings on Greece and Portugal again, sending borrowings costs for both countries sharply higher. The downgrades left Portugal’s rating at BBB-, one notch above junk, and Greece’s at BB-, below that of Egypt. Analysts said that a debt restructuring was likely for Greek government bonds by 2013. Portugal said again that it had no intention of requesting an international bailout.

Essar buys Stanlow refinery for $1.3bn

Stanlow, the UK’s second-biggest oil refinery, has been sold to India’s Essar Energy in a $1.3bn (£812m) deal which is the latest example of Western oil majors withdrawing from the refinery business, citing low profit margins. China’s PetroChina bought Grangemouth refinery in Scotland from Ineos earlier this year, while Total’s UK refinery at Lindsey is on the block. Stanlow produces one-sixth of the UK’s petrol.

Hugo Boss looks to demand in China

Hugo Boss has forecast that China’s ongoing love affair with luxury would drive double-digit sales and earnings growth this year. The German fashion house, backed by the private equity group Permira, reported an 82 per cent jump in profits to a record €189m (£166m) last year thanks to growth in China and the US, and predicted that sales would grow by at least 12 per cent this year.

35% ‘face poverty’ in retirement

More than a third of people retiring this year will be living off incomes that put them below the poverty line, according to research by Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The charity found that 35 per cent of people set to retire in 2011 will do so on less than £14,400, the minimum it estimates a single person needs. Women were significantly more likely to retire in poverty than men.

RBS chief warns of regulation risks

Royal Bank of Scotland’s chief executive, Stephen Hester, has warned that over-regulation threatens his bank’s recovery. Mr Hester said yesterday that apart from risks to economic recovery, the major dangers for his nationalised bank’s shareholder- return target were from regulation.

‘Super-complaint’ over card charges

Which? will today submit a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading asking it to investigate excessive credit and debit card surcharges. The consumer body said it cost a company only about 20p to process a debit payment and no more than 2 per cent of the transaction value for a credit card.

Porridge helps Pret to hot up its profits

Pret A Manger has credited porridge and an expanded range of hot food for a 10 per cent rise in underlying sales last year. The sandwich chain said its hot food lines, such as toasties, helped 2010 sales rise 17 per cent to £323m. Porridge has become its best selling new product, and it now sells more than 50,000 bowls a week.

Sales sweetener for food firm

The Real Good Food Company has blamed reforms of the EU’s sugar regime for a 7 per cent fall in sales to £200m last year. The group, however, reported its best Christmas for its Hayden’s business, which makes patisserie and desserts for grocers including Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.