Eurotunnel, Russell Hobbs, Facebook: Business news in brief, Thursday 2 March

Channel Tunnel owner hails best ever year; kitchen gadgets maker reveals stock market flotation; social network beefs up suicide protection

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Eurotunnel owner boss hails ‘best year in our history’

The boss of Channel Tunnel owner Eurotunnel has cheered its “best year” ever as the group shrugged off Brexit fears and the impact of terrorist attacks to post a surge in profits.

Eurotunnel said impressive growth in car and truck shuttle traffic helped offset a 4 per cent drop in passengers on the high-speed Eurostar rail, which it said was “badly affected” by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and Nice.

The group saw net consolidated profit nearly triple to €200m (£171m) last year, from €75m euros (£64m) in 2015, as it recovered from a tough 2015 and early 2016, when services were disrupted by the Calais migrant crisis.

Underlying earnings rose 7 per cent to €514m (£438m).

The group's trading cheer confirms that last summer's worries in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote were overdone.

Eurotunnel warned last July that the Brexit-hit pound would impact earnings in 2016 and 2017 amid fears the plunging pound would put Britons off travelling abroad.

But on unveiling annual results, chairman and chief executive Jacques Gounon said: “2016 was the best year in our history.”

He added the group had improved its earnings outlook for the next two years, pencilling in earnings growth to €530m (£542m) this year and €560m (£477m) in 2018.

Eurotunnel said car traffic on the passenger shuttle reached its highest level since 2000, up 2 per cent at 2.6m cars in 2016, while its truck services enjoyed an “exceptional” year, with traffic up 11 per cent to a record 1.6m.


Ultimate Products reveals £105m stock market flotation

The firm behind a raft of kitchen gadgets and household goods hailed an “important step” for the group as it unveiled its £105m stock market flotation.

Ultimate Products, which owns the Beldray brand and holds the licence to sell Russell Hobbs and Salter kitchenware ranges in the UK, has priced its initial public offering (IPO) at 128p a share, valuing the firm at £105.2m.

Manchester-based Ultimate – chaired by former Poundland boss Jim McCarthy – is floating around 50 per cent of its share capital and plans to raise £52.6m from the move to fund expansion.

Conditional dealing in shares started on Wednesday and the group said full admission to the stock market was expected on 6 March.

The move comes after Ultimate Products had put plans for a listing on ice prior to the EU referendum.

Simon Showman, chief executive and co-founder of Ultimate Products, said the firm had seen “strong interest” from investors for the IPO.

He added: “We are delighted to be welcoming new shareholders to the register as we take the business forward with this important step in Ultimate Products’ story.”

The group develops, designs, sources and distributes a wide-range of products, from kitchen gadgets such as juicers and spiralizers to headphones and ironing boards.

It owns Beldray – the UK's first manufacturer of steel ironing boards – as well as audio specialist intempo, which is targeted at the teenage market, and luggage brand Constellation.


Facebook beefs up suicide prevention focused on live video 

Facebook is beefing up its suicide prevention tools, including new options for people to report if someone might harm themselves while broadcasting on Facebook Live. 

Facebook said Wednesday that it's in a “unique position”, through personal connections people have on Facebook, to help connect those in distress with people who can support them. 

To this end, people watching a Facebook Live broadcast will be able to report the video for an escalated response from Facebook. Facebook can reach out to emergency workers if the person is in imminent danger. Separately, the person filming will also be shown a set of resources pop up on their phone screen, so they can contact a friend or a help line. 

The company is also streamlining the process to report posts about suicide or self-injury. And someone feeling depressed will have easier ways to contact crisis workers through Messenger. 

Last month, a 14-year-old Florida girl livestreamed her suicide on Facebook. Nakia Venant, who had been in and out of foster care for more than seven years, killed herself several hours after she wrote on Facebook: “I Don't Wanna Live No More”, adding three sad-faced emojis. She was at least the third person to live-stream a suicide in the previous month. 


Foreigners sell UK bonds but probably not due to Brexit concerns

Foreign investors sold British government bonds in January at the fastest pace in nearly three years, probably reflecting how funds are adjusting gilt holdings after a buying spree late last year rather than nerves about Brexit, analysts said.

Overseas investors sold a net £7.59bn of gilts in January, the biggest monthly drop since March 2014 and following on from £2.97bn of sales in December, Bank of England data showed on Wednesday.

The central bank is watching closely for signs that foreign investors - responsible for plugging Britain's big current account deficit - are starting to shy away from British assets as the process of leaving the European Union gets underway.

January's outflow scythed the rolling three-month total purchases from foreign investors down to £5bn. Two months ago that measure stood at £39.43bn, the highest since BoE records began in 1986.

Overseas central banks and sovereign wealth funds devoured gilts late last year to top up sterling portfolios battered in dollar terms by the pound's post-Brexit vote plunge, and January's sell-off was likely linked to sterling's 2 per cent rise against the dollar during the month.

“There is often a correlation between what overseas investors do with gilts and what sterling is doing,” said John Wraith, UK economist and fixed income strategist at UBS.


Investment fund launches legal challenge to UK Green Investment Bank sale

Investment firm Sustainable Development Capital has launched a legal challenge to the British government's choice of preferred bidder for a stake in its green energy bank, it said on Wednesday.

The Green Investment Bank was created by the state as a commercial venture at the end of 2012 to back projects and spur private sector investment. It invested more than £2bn in projects such as offshore wind farms and waste management.

The Government decided to sell a majority stake in the GIB in 2015, saying it would give the bank greater freedom to borrow, removing state aid restrictions, and allow it to attract more capital.

SDCL, one of the bidders for the bank, said it had launched proceedings in the High Court for a judicial review of the government's decision to award "preferred bidder status" to another party in the privatization of the GIB.

A deal was expected to be reached in 2016 but the preferred bidder has yet to be publicly announced.

“SDCL understands that the preferred bidder's bid was not compliant with the criteria set out by the government,” it said in a statement.

“The fact that no deal was completed within the targeted timetable attests to the fact that the preferred bid was neither deliverable within the timeframe nor acceptable,” it added.


BP buys Clean Energy's US green gas business for $155m

BP agreed on Wednesday to buy Clean Energy Fuels biomethane business for $155m (£126m), expanding its huge gas supply portfolio in the United States and showing its shift to less carbon-intensive projects.

BP will take over Clean Energy's existing and two new biomethane production sites as well as supply contracts to third parties, the companies said. As part of the deal, the US company has also signed a long-term biomethane supply contract with BP.

Clean Energy captures biomethane gas emitted from landfill waste sites and then processes and purifies it to pump through pipelines. It is mainly used as a fuel for transport.

“Demand for renewable natural gas is growing quickly and BP is pleased to expand our supply capability in this area,” Alan Haywood, chief executive officer of BP's supply and trading business, said.

Clean Energy sold 60 million gasoline gallon equivalents of the biomethane fuel last year to customers including logistics firm UPS and the City of Santa Monica's transit agency, it said.

BP said in a strategy update on Tuesday that it was exploring new investments in low-carbon forms of energy, a part of the industry in which it sees significant future business potential.


Twitter adds more safety tools, will curb abusive accounts 

Twitter is adding more tools to curb abuse on its service as part of its ongoing effort to protect users from hate and harassment. 

It is the second time in three weeks the company has released new ways to root out abusive content in a sign Twitter is getting more serious about the issue. It has faced criticism for not doing more to deal with abuse in the decade since its founding. 

Twitter said Wednesday that it's working to identify accounts engaging in abusive behaviour even if no one has reported them. Previously, abuse had to be reported for Twitter to do anything. 

Twitter will place restrictions on accounts that repeatedly engage in abusive behaviour. For example, tweets from such accounts will be visible only to followers or other users who deliberately search them out. 


China's CC Land buys London skyscraper for £1.15bn

CC Land, a firm run by Chinese property magnate Cheung Chung-kiu, has agreed to pay £1.15bn to buy London's “Cheesegrater” skyscraper, owners British Land and Oxford Properties said on Wednesday.

The sale of the Leadenhall Building, known as the Cheesegrater because of its wedge shape, will be slightly dilutive to British Land's earnings per share but accretive to its net asset value per share, the property company said.

British Land and Oxford Properties each own 50 per cent of the building. Oxford Properties invests in real estate for one of Canada's largest pension plans.


New York City's Waldorf Astoria closing for major makeover 

The word “grand” matched few hotels in the world better than New York City’s Waldorf Astoria, but this bastion of gilded splendour is now closing for two to three years for a transformative makeover. 

The last guests were to check out by noon Wednesday after enjoying the rich Art Deco style of the old Waldorf one last time. 

When the building reopens it will still have a hotel, but hundreds of its 1,400 guest rooms will have been converted into privately owned condominiums, according to a spokesman for the Anbang Insurance Group, the Chinese company that bought the storied hotel for nearly $2bn in 2015.