Business in brief

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The united front of the Co-operative Wholesale Society board against the threatened break-up bid by Andrew Regan's Lanica Trust may have cracked with the departure of one of the five-man executive team. John Owen will step down as controller CWS regions and specialist retail at the AGM on 17 May. CWS chief executive Graham Melmoth denied reports that Mr Owen's departure was part of a witch-hunt against executives who had been willing to talk to Mr Regan. Mr Owen was a candidate for chief executive last year.

Neil Pykett, former managing director of Cowie Financial Holdings, has resigned. An emergency general meeting at Cowie Group, the Sunderland- based car distributors, was due to discuss on Wednesday whether to dismiss Mr Pykett. He had intended to challenge allegations of misconduct at the meeting. In his letter to chairman Sir James McKinnon he is reported to have said he would pursue his claim of unfair dismissal as an executive through the courts. He is expected to claim compensation of more than pounds 1m for his three-year contract.

Spain has overtaken Britain to have the least pessimistic managers, according to a survey of small and medium-sized enterprises in Britain, France, Spain, Germany and Italy by 3i. Managers in Spain and Britain are less pessimistic than their European colleagues about their economies and more optimistic about the commercial environment than they were six months ago. However, managers are much more worried about competition than they were previously. The twice yearly survey asked managers about their expectations both for the economic climate beyond their control and for their own companies.

Rental values for out-of-town retail warehouse investments have seen a dramatic increase, according to the latest Richard Ellis Monthly Index, based on valuations of 430 properties. In March, the index showed a rental increase of 3.5 per cent, bringing the total increase in retail warehouse rents for the full year to 8 per cent. Capital growth in the sector was 9.7 per cent for the year. Rents of in-town high street shops increased by just 0.2 per cent in March, and by just 3 per cent for the year.

RJB Mining has won an 18-month extension of its subscription agreement with CIM Resources, the Australian coal mining business. RJB is to have the right to subscribe A$113.6m for a further 110 million shares until December 1998. It can also increase its stake to 43 per cent. It will not take any other direct interests in the Australian coal industry during this period. RJB first bought into CIM last May, when CIM placed 12.5 per cent of its issued capital.