Business week in review


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The Independent Online

In profit...

A top Tuesday for Sir Richard Branson who provided some of the best evidence yet that money goes to money. The hot air balloon-flying tycoon stands to pocket more than £200m from the £10.3bn sale of Virgin Media to Liberty Global – the news that the pair were in talks was revealed earlier this week.

Branson already earns £10m a year for the use of his brand. He also used Virgin Media to polish his profile, starring in its ads with the likes of sprint king Usain Bolt.

Alanis Morissette would no doubt think it's ironic that the founder of Hargreaves Lansdown is called Peter Hargreaves. Fortunately, the man who was, we are reliably informed, Bristol's first billionaire businessman, has a rather better grasp of the English language, describing his company as the "largest investment supermarket". On Wednesday, he announced that the group's pre-tax profit jumped 30 per cent to £93.7m in the six months to December.

Paul Jardine, boss at insurer Catlin, unveiled a near-fivefold rise in annual profit to £216m, despite paying out more than expected on Superstorm Sandy and Costa Concordia claims.

... at a loss

On Monday, Centrica chief executive Sam Laidlaw finally confirmed the news the British nuclear industry had known for the best part of a year: the British Gas owner doesn't want to get involved in building the new power stations.

While this was good news for investors, who wanted greater clarity over Laidlaw's nuclear non-ambitions, it does mean the group will have to write-off the £200m it has invested in the programme, as revealed in these pages last year. French group EDF will have to find a new partner to develop its nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, with the Chinese understood to still be circling.

Ouch! HSBC boss Stuart Gulliver admitted to MPs that the bank had been too slow to establish money-laundering controls. This appearance came three months after HSBC paid £1.2bn to settle a criminal investigation into allegations that the bank had become a conduit for "drug kingpins and rogue nations".

On Thursday, Ocado finance director Duncan Tatton-Brown mounted a strong defence of the online grocer's numbers, having posted a loss for the 11th year running.