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Newspapers: The Times, Independent, FT, Telegraph, Guardian, Mail, Express, Herald 050118

The Times

Sports Direct agency Transline Group is chased for £1.3 million: The administrators of the collapsed recruitment agency that failed to pay the minimum wage to more than a thousand Sports Direct workers are pursuing debts owed by its Directors.

Walgreens Boots Alliance profits fall by more than a fifth: Profit at Walgreens Boots Alliance, the world’s largest pharmacy operator and the owner of the U.K. pharmacy chain, fell by more than a fifth to $821 million in the three months to November as the American company took a charge linked to an investment in a Chinese pharmaceuticals wholesaler.

Whitbread appoints Adam Crozier as Chairman after Richard Baker steps down: Adam Crozier has been handed the job of reigniting investor enthusiasm for Whitbread after being appointed as Chairman of the Premier Inn and Costa Coffee operator.

Toshiba sells troubled Westinghouse after costs jump at U.S. nuclear reactor sites: Toshiba has sold Westinghouse Electric Company, the nuclear unit that sought bankruptcy protection last year, to investors led by Brookfield Business Partners in a $4.6 billion deal.

Monsanto’s profits are growing: Monsanto, the U.S. giant seeds and agrochemicals company being bought by Germany’s Bayer in a $66 billion deal, has forecast a strong year and expects higher prices for glyphosate, the Chief ingredient in Roundup, its popular weed killer.

The Independent

U.K. car sales expected to drop for two years, warns motor industry body: Britain is set to experience a two-year fall in car sales of around 11% in total, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has warned.

Philip Morris says it wants to stop selling cigarettes in latest advertising campaign: One of the world’s biggest tobacco companies has said it is “trying to give up cigarettes”. Philip Morris, which makes Marlboros and a host of other brands, placed full-page adverts in U.K. national newspapers this week promoting its “ambition to stop selling cigarettes in the U.K.”

McDonald’s workers ‘over the moon’ about pay rise but vow to fight on for living wage: McDonald’s workers are “over the moon” after the fast-food chain gave workers an above-inflation pay rise following the first U.K. strike action in the company’s history.

Tesla delays Model 3 production target for second time: Tesla delayed a production target for its new Model 3 sedan for the second time on Wednesday, disappointing investors even as it claimed “major progress” overcoming manufacturing challenges that have hampered the vehicle’s rollout.

Uber sued over payment for ‘fraudulent’ mobile phone ads: A British mobile advertising agency has sued Uber to force the ride-hailing company to pay millions of dollars of bills that Uber had refused to pay after claiming that ads being generated were fraudulent.

Financial Times

Oil giant Saudi Aramco to change its legal status: Saudi Arabia is changing the legal status of state energy giant Saudi Aramco in a sign it is pressing ahead with plans for a 2018 initial public offering that is tipped to be the biggest ever.

 

Court challenge to Arctic oil drilling in Norway defeated: Norway has defeated a lawsuit brought by environmental groups trying to block drilling for oil in the Arctic on the grounds the exploration was unconstitutional.

 

U.S. proposes dramatic expansion of offshore drilling: The Trump administration is overturning a longstanding tenet of U.S. energy policy by proposing to open a huge swath of federal waters to oil and gas drilling, a move likely to spark a drawn-out battle between oil companies, environmentalists and politicians.

 

Value Partners shares drop 4% after takeover talks end: The Hong Kong-based asset management firm said in a stock exchange filing on Thursday that discussions with an unnamed bidder – widely reported as acquisitive Chinese conglomerate HNA – had been terminated with no legally binding deal reached.

 

Apollo and Värde take $1.4 billion stake in U.S. subprime lender: Apollo Global Management and Värde Partners are making a big bet on America’s subprime borrowers, spending $1.4 billion on Fortress’s stake in OneMain, a consumer lender that has been expanding rapidly.

 

Vanguard retains title as world’s fastest-growing asset manager: Vanguard has broken its own record as the world’s fastest-growing asset manager for a sixth successive year after pulling in more than $1 billion in new business every day during 2017.

 

Insurers faced record $135 billion in costs from natural disasters in 2017 – Munich Re: German reinsurer Munich Re says that natural disasters in 2017 exposed the global insurance industry to a record level of costs which give “a foretaste of what is to come”.

 

Volkswagen partners with Silicon Valley’s Aurora on self-driving cars: Volkswagen is partnering the Silicon Valley company headed by Google’s former self-driving Chief Chris Urmson on autonomous car research, underscoring how traditional carmakers are looking to the technology industry to help them adapt to a self-driving future.

 

Spotify touts 70 million subscribers as it prepares for public listing: The streaming-music service said in a tweet on Thursday that it now has 70 million subscribers, passing the 60 million milestone it reached in July.

 

Lower traffic saps Barnes & Noble’s holiday sales: Barnes & Noble failed to turn the page this holiday season, the U.S. book chain announced on Thursday, blaming lower traffic as it struggles in the shadow of dominant digital book sellers like Amazon.

 

Sears Holdings plans more than 100 new store closures: The U.S. retailer — which operates Sears department stores and the discount Kmart chain — said on Thursday that it expects to close roughly 100 additional stores by spring 2018, building on hundreds of stores it shuttered last year as it attempts to cope with the rise of e-commerce.

 

Steinhoff CFO steps down amid probe into accounting irregularities: The Chief Financial Officer of South African furniture retailer Steinhoff International, Ben la Grange, stepped down from his role on Thursday in the latest blow to the stricken group since it became embroiled in an accounting scandal in December.

Nintendo Switch becomes fastest-selling gaming console in U.S.: Nintendo has beaten its own record for the fastest-selling home console in the U.S. with the Switch, as the Japanese video games group raises its sales targets for next year.

Apple confirms all Mac and iOS devices affected by ARM, Intel chip flaw: Apple has said all iPhones, iPads and Mac computers are affected by a pervasive flaw in chip design that has led to two vulnerabilities, dubbed Meltdown and Spectre.

Sprint appoints former Altice Chief Michel Combes as new CFO: Sprint, the U.S. mobile phone network controlled by Softbank, has named Michel Combes as its new Chief Financial Officer less than two months after he left his role as Chief Executive of Altice.

Lex:

Apollo/OneMain: consumer preference: On Thursday, Apollo and Värde Partners announced they would pay $1.4 billion for the 40% stake of subprime lender OneMain held by another financial sponsor, Fortress. Consumer lending has been one of the bright spots of the U.S. financial services sector in recent years. It now looks a more risky bet as the U.S. economic expansion gets longer in the tooth.

Non-Executive chairs: going overboard: After a career of midnight phone conferences and early morning wake-up calls, what could a former FTSE 100 Boss want more than a portfolio of non-Executive roles? Former Asda head Allan Leighton came up with the phrase “going plural” to describe his career of Directorships. Overboarding may be a more accurate definition.

Saudi Arabia: gas lite: Saudi Arabia produces a lot of the world’s energy; it consumes a terrific amount, too. Its economy is an eighth the size of Japan’s, its population a quarter. Yet it uses nearly as much natural gas. The kingdom’s Vision 2030 economic plan envisions a diversified economy utilising more than double its current 109 billion cubic metres. It cannot meet this target without imports.

Lombard:

Debenhams’ costly problems are bricks, not clicks: Are Britain’s bricks-and-mortar retailers in terminal decline? Two days, two answers. No, suggests clothing to homeware chain Next, where Christmas sales rose 1.5%, pushing its shares up four times that amount. Yes, suggests occasionwear to dishcloth store Debenhams, where festive sales fell 1.3%, and its shares by 11 times as much.

Ocado’s can-do attitude: Speculators have long doubted the viability of Ocado’s online grocery technology — and many continue to short-sell its shares, to profit from future falls. But can anyone question the quality of Ocado’s customer service, after this endearing Twitter exchange between a share trader and an eager employee, on Wednesday?

The Daily Telegraph

Profits at Simon Cowell’s X Factor business knocked by drop in international sales: Profits at Simon Cowell’s entertainment business dropped last year as a fall in overseas revenues dragged down its bottom line.

Bosch and Continental take 5% stakes in digital mapping group: German technology giants Bosch and Continental will each take 5% stakes in Here Technologies, the digital mapping services company which is set to play a leading role in self-driving cars.

Small business confidence plunges as inflation hurts customer spending: A record number of small businesses are planning to close down or sell up as inflation and weak demand from customers dents their prospects.

The Questor Column:

Questor’s trust bargain of the year: a 30% discount – and why it should disappear in 2018: We have chosen a trust that not only trades at an eye-catching discount of almost 30% but has embarked on a course that could result in shareholders receiving close to the full value of the assets before the year is out. This is because the trust, Macau Property Opportunities, has decided to wind itself up: it will aim to gradually sell all its assets during 2018 and return the proceeds to investors. Should those assets, mid-market or upmarket flats in the Chinese-controlled territory of Macau, fetch anything like the valuation given to them by the trust in its accounts, from which its net asset value (NAV) and hence the discount are derived, an appreciable capital gain for investors is all but assured. We can say that the discount represents doubt that the trust’s properties will fetch their official valuations. But there are reasons to be optimistic, according to Nick Greenwood, in whose Miton Worldwide Opportunities fund Macau Property Opportunities is the second largest holding. Greenwood suggested two of Questor’s best-performing trusts last year. Questor says “Buy”.

The Guardian

Debenhams job cuts and store closures likely after disappointing sales: Debenhams is to cut jobs and consider more store closures after a poor festive trading period led to a major profits warning. Shares in the department store dropped by 15% to 30p, the lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis, after it warned that sales of seasonal gifts and clothing had fallen despite heavy discounting.

U.K. services grow faster than forecast despite growing Brexit concern: Britain’s services sector, including hotels and banks, grew at a faster rate than expected last month, setting the economy on course for its strongest quarter in 2017 despite mounting fears over the challenges ahead from Brexit.

Aldi gives pay rise after U.K. sales exceed £10 billion for first time: Aldi is increasing pay for store staff after it enjoyed a bumper Christmas with sales up 15% in December. The German grocer said its sales in the U.K. and Ireland would exceed £10 billion for the first time in 2017, after it opened a further 76 stores, taking its total to 762.

Waitrose bans sale of energy drinks to under-16s: Waitrose has become the first U.K. supermarket to ban sales of so-called energy drinks to under-16s, amid concerns about high levels of sugar and caffeine and their impact on children’s health and behaviour.

Daily Mail

IVF clinics give 6% lift to private sector healthcare firm NMC Health as it leads FTSE to record highs: A £161 million swoop to bolster its growing fertility business helped shares in hospital operator NMC Health surge. Leading the FTSE 100 to record highs, the best-performing stock on the blue-chip index last year said it had snapped up the outstanding shares in two Middle East operations.

Posh drinks help Slug and Lettuce owner toast a 5.5% festive sales boost: Slug and Lettuce owner Stonegate Pub Company enjoyed a 5.5% increase in sales over Christmas as customers splashed out more on posh drinks.

Over 50s insurer Saga in management shake-up after last month’s profit warning: Saga, the insurance and travel firm targeted at people over 50, announced a restructuring of its travel business and a management shake-up today after a profit warning sent its shares sliding last month.

Daily Express

Colman’s Mustard to leave historic Norwich factory: Unilever, which has owned the iconic English brand since 1995, confirmed that 113 jobs will be affected when production moves to Burtonon-Trent and Germany. But it said it will “protect the historic link between Colman’s and Norwich” by opening a new mustard seed milling factory near the city.

Merrill Lynch bans cryptocurrency trading due to ‘high’ risks: Bitcoin trading has been banned due to the “high risk” the volatile yet surging cryptocurrency poses for investors, according to a memo from Merrill Lynch to its own traders.

The Scottish Herald

Brodies gears up for management change as Drummond steps back: The longstanding managing partner of Scotland’s largest independent law firm is preparing to stand down at the end of April, bringing a close to a 20-year stint in the position.

Loganair set to fly into losses as route competition takes its toll: Loganair has warned it expects to make a loss in the current financial year as a result of Flybe launching competing routes into six Scottish airports.

Profits fall at specialist personal injury law firm Digby Brown: Profits at personal injury law firm Digby Brown fell in the year to March 2017 despite the firm posting a 5% increase in turnover. Overall, the amount of profit available for distribution among the firm’s partners fell by 3.5% from £8.6 million to £8.3 million.

The Scotsman

Mountain Warehouse sees sales climb: Outdoor goods and camping retailer Mountain Warehouse has scaled new heights with record festive trading, boosted by a sharp rise in online sales, chilly weather and the opening of more stores.

Costa Coffee introduces vegan-friendly coconut milk drinks: Costa will now offer a Coconut Flat White and a Coconut Mocha, which will be available for £2.95. Additionally, coconut milk will be available in Costa’s core range of drinks, including the Cappuccino, White Americano and Cortado, for an additional 45p.

City A.M.

Parent company of MusicMagpie eyes up London float: The parent company of MusicMagpie, the website that sells unwanted phones and other electricals, is looking to list on the London stock exchange, according to reports.

Wealth manager Full Circle has fallen into administration after losing a court battle: Wealth manager Full Circle Asset Management has slipped into administration, after losing a court battle with a client who was seeking £1.8 million in damages.

TfL faces funding crunch as Bosses say end of government subsidy isn’t sustainable for London: London’s transport funding crunch has been put back in the spotlight after Transport for London (TfL) Bosses said yesterday that the withdrawal of government subsidy will not be sustainable for the capital in the long-term.

A.G. Barr defends reduced sugar Irn Bru recipe after thousands sign petition: A proper brouhaha has broken out over proposed changes to the recipe of iconic Scottish soft drink Irn Bru.

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Disclaimer: Statements in this article should not be considered investment advice, which is best sought directly from a qualified professional.