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The Business Matrix: Wednesday 5 December 2012

Zhu Zhu hamsters cause profits drop

Character Group has blamed unloved Zhu Zhu hamsters for a sharp fall in annual profits, as it warned of a "disappointing" Christmas as retailers delayed new orders while they cleared old stock. The toy maker's annual profits fell 22 per cent to £7m. But it said its Peppa Pig, Fireman Sam and Scooby-Doo toys "performed well".

Northgate stalls as demand slows

Northgate, the van-hire firm seen as a barometer of the smaller business end of the economy, saw profits slide 13 per cent to £28m in the last six months as demand slowed. "Against the backdrop of a fragile economy trading remains challenging," the company said. Overall revenues fell 16 per cent to £3,314m in the half year.

Berkshire seeks £600m damages

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway is seeking up to $1bn (£600m) in damages from Swiss Re over a 2010 deal between the companies. Swiss Re disclosed the dispute with its third-quarter earnings update. The reinsurer accepted a $3.3bn emergency loan from Berkshire during the financial crisis.

Fastjet may bid to purchase 1time

The African low-cost airline Fastjet said it is in talks with the provisional liquidator of 1time, the South African low-cost airline, over a possible bid. The carrier, the brainchild of easyJet founder Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, would pay a nominal fee for the purchase of 1time.

Datong profits increase five-fold

Datong, a provider of covert-intelligence-gathering equipment, reported a five-fold increase in its annual profits to £269,000. The Leeds-based group saw revenues fall from £11.7m to £9.7m, reflecting the economic and political climate in the US and Europe.

Old EDF plants to stay open longer

The French energy giant EDF is to extend the lives of two of the UK's oldest nuclear power stations by seven years until 2023. The company said the extension of the lives of the Hinkley Point B and Hunterston B plants has no bearing on the outcome on its proposed £10bn investment in a new nuclear generator in a joint venture with Centrica.check.

Wolseley sees profits rise to 8%

Wolseley, the plumbing and heating specialist, has hailed a recovery in the US construction market for a jump in first-quarter profits, although it has shed more jobs in the UK, where it owns the Plumb Center, after challenging trading. The firm, which is holding a strategic review to consider its future, saw profits rise 8 per cent to £198m.

AstraZeneca signs deal with HSCIC

AstraZeneca has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Health and Social Care Information Centre to improve the usefulness of data in healthcare decision making. Astra said the collaboration is the first of its kind with the HSCIC, England's central source of health and social care information.

Bramson to take back seat at F&C

Edward Bramson, the American investor who staged a boardroom coup at F&C Asset Management, is preparing to move to more of a back seat. Mr Bramson will give up the executive part of his executive chairman role in March when Richard Wilson becomes CEO.

Postmen threaten Christmas boycott

Postmen are threatening to disrupt Christmas mail by refusing to deliver post sent via anyone other than the Royal Mail. Unions will hold a consultative ballot in the new year with the intention of boycotting competitors' mail.

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