IN BRIEF

Business News In Brief

Old Interflora board warns of legal action

Lawyers acting for the ousted board of directors of Interflora have warned they will begin legal proceedings against the rebel board on Monday if the new directors continue to refuse to hold a postal ballot of the organisation's full membership over the row. The new board, appointed at a mass meeting of Interflora members less than a fortnight ago, was still meeting yesterday to consider its own legal advice on the issue.

The original 11-strong board, led by chairman David Parry, argues the 1,000 members at the mass meeting were not representative of the full 2,600 membership. The old board's solicitors have written to lawyers acting for the rebels insisting that a ballot must be announced by Sunday. They said Interflora's articles of association specifically stated that a ballot must be called if supported by more than 10 per cent of members.

C&W wins Panama telephone bid

Cable & Wireless has won its bid to share in the privatisation of the Panama telephone network. C&W's pounds 408m offer was chosen after international competition, giving the group 49 per cent of shares in the company Instituto Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (Intel). The company was attractive because of its high growth potential, with just 12 per cent of households in Panama currently connected to the network. Intel made profits of $153m last year on revenues of $246m.

TUC moves into domestic energy market

The Trades Union Congress announced a push into the domestic energy market as competition for electricity and gas gets under way next year. Union Energy, launched yesterday, will market to union members initially, offering discounts over the incumbent suppliers. However the company warned it would not match some of the "suicidal" price cuts seen in trials of domestic gas competition in the South of England. Union Energy is in talks with several potential partners, including regional power groups, which will be responsible for providing the fuel.

US exports reach record $76.5bn

Record exports shrank the US deficit on trade in goods and services by $2bn (pounds 1.2bn) to $8.51bn in March. Total exports increased by 4.1 per cent during the month to a record $76.48bn thanks to strong demand for aircraft, capital goods such as telecommunications equipment and consumer goods. Imports grew by a more modest 1.2 per cent to $84.99bn, which was also a record. The value of imports of cars and parts declined. There was a sharp improvement in the monthly deficit with China. The bilateral gap narrowed from $3.34bn in February to $2.59bn in March, the lowest since the $2.3bn recorded in April last year. But the deficit with Japan expanded to $4.61bn in March, an 8.3 per cent increase from the previous month's $4.26bn gap.

Pillar Property buys Fort Retail Park

Wilson Bowden is selling Fort Retail Park, its 128,000 square feet retail warehouse development in Edinburgh, to Pillar Property Investments for pounds 41.8m. Construction of the park was scheduled for completion later this year and would comprise fashion retail warehouse accommodation in 12 units, the majority of which had already been pre-let, it said.

Operating margins down at Bowthorpe

Investors at Bowthorpe's annual general meeting were told that the company's operating margins had been declining. Anthony Vice, chairman, said: "So far this year sales and orders have shown modest underlying growth but weaker markets, especially in Europe, have led to a decline in operating margins, although we have seen some recovery during April." He said the strength of sterling, particularly against European currencies, had continued to impact profits through translation. "Management figures indicate that the translation cost so far this year, in terms of pre-tax profits, has been running at an annual rate of pounds 7m-pounds 8m."

OFT investigates Canadian gas company

The Office of Fair Trading is investigating the activities of a Canadian company which is offering gas customers in the North-west guaranteed reductions in their bills in return for paying a one-off fee. An OFT spokesman confirmed a report in the magazine Utility Week that it had launched an inquiry after receiving complaints about Atlantic Gas Alliance. In return for a fee of pounds 30 AGA promises to secure gas at a lower price than that offered by rival suppliers to British Gas. Utility Week said the local gas consumers council had branded the scheme "a waste of money".

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