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Daily Mail, London, Business Briefs

Daily Mail, London — Daily Mail, London

May 22-- May 22--CLARKS is axing another 900 head office jobs as it searches for funding options in the battle for survival against the coronavirus lockdown.

The 195-year-old shoe chain was already struggling before the pandemic broke out, and had said that some of its stores would permanently close after lockdown was lifted.

Bosses yesterday announced 160 redundancies, including 108 at its Somerset headquarters, adding that 700 will leave the company over the next 18 months and 200 roles will be created.

It had already furloughed more than 5,000 staff in the UK after the lockdown led to the closure of its 550 UK stores, as well as some of its outlets in the US.

The company also pointed to more closures as it promised to 'review its stores in line with changing consumer needs'.

Chief executive Giorgio Presca said: 'There are exciting opportunities ahead for our business, and we are having to make some difficult decisions to get there.

'We thank all affected staff for their contribution to our business and they leave their roles with our heartfelt respect and support.'

£10BN LOAN BILL FOR TAXPAYERS

TAXPAYERS could be saddled with bad loans worth almost £10bn after the coronavirus crisis because more than two thirds of small businesses that have borrowed an emergency loan do not expect to be able to pay it back.

The Business Banking Resolution Service (BBRS), which was set up after a review into complaints against major lenders, has surveyed 500 small- and medium-sized enterprises since the pandemic began. Of those who had taken one of the Government's taxpayer-backed loans, 43pc said they did not expect to repay it.

This could leave the Treasury with a headache, as it has agreed to bear 80pc of any losses under the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and 100pc of losses under the Bounce Back Loan Scheme for smaller businesses. As of Tuesday this week, the two schemes had lent out £21.4bn to 505,000 businesses.

The BBRS' said customers must understand 'they will be required to repay 100pc of the money they borrow'.

CAT ROCK GETS CLAWS OUT OVER DELIVEROO TIE-UP

AMAZON has been accused of peddling 'patently false' information to boost its case for investing in Deliveroo.

The internet shopping groups's bid to take a minority stake in the food delivery firm has been provisionally cleared by the Competition and Markets Authority, which fears the British firm will otherwise go bust because of a hit to its revenues from the coronavirus crisis.

But Cat Rock Capital, a top investor in rival Just Eat Takeaway.com, yesterday poured scorn on that suggestion and said the pandemic was having the 'exact opposite' effect on sales of takeaways.

A source close to Deliveroo said it was considering taking legal action against the investment firm.

But Alex Captain, Cat Rock's founder and managing partner, said: 'Amazon and Deliveroo have told the CMA that it needs to approve their deal because Covid-19 has caused a "significant decline" in Deliveroo's revenue.

'Now it is clear that Covid-19 is actually increasing revenue for online food delivery companies all over the world, exactly the opposite of what Amazon and Deliveroo have claimed.'

He added that 'Amazon's dominance of e-commerce and local delivery has never been greater'. He warned: 'UK consumers will lose if Amazon and Deliveroo do not independently compete.'

A Deliveroo spokesman said Cat Rock's 'panicked attempt to desperately lobby the CMA is not surprising'.

WHITBREAD LAUNCHES £1 BILLION CASH CALL

THE owner of Premier Inn hotels is asking shareholders to raise £1bn, just two years after making four times as much through the sale of Costa Coffee.

Whitbread sold the chain to Coca Cola in 2018 for £3.9bn and returned £2bn to shareholders after contributing to the pension fund.

Now the coronavirus crisis has forced Whitbread, which saw revenues plunge 97pc in the last seven weeks, to go back to its investors for more cash.

Whitbread yesterday said the rights issue would 'return its balance sheet to a position of strength that will give it a real competitive advantage' and 'allow it to invest with confidence and flexibility'.

The business hopes to increase the number of rooms in the UK and Germany by 170,000 and boost its market share. But shares slumped by 13.4pc, or 382p, to 2461p.

The hospitality chain also confirmed it had furloughed 27,000 staff and was eligible for a loan of up to £600m from the Bank of England.

Several other firms including Boohoo and Compass have gone to the markets this month to raise additional equity, while the likes of M&S have asked lenders to relax their loan covenants. Whitbread also warned yesterday that British holidaymakers are unlikely to go on bucket-and-spade staycations until September. It is not expecting the Government to relax the rules for leisure travellers until well beyond July 4 -- when hospitality businesses are scheduled to start opening. But it stressed it is ready to open whenever lockdown is lifted.

Whitbread chief executive Alison Brittain said: 'I'm confident we'll be open for business travellers, but less confident we'll be open for leisure.'

Revenues rose 1.1pc to £2bn in the last year, and profit before tax rose 28.4pc to £280m.

AVIVA COVER WARNING

AVIVA has warned the 'vast majority' of its business interruption insurance policies will not cover the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving firms desperate for cash.

The insurer said yesterday it expected to take a £160m hit from Covid-19, mainly due to claims under business interruption, travel and construction insurance policies. But in a blow to small firms which bought the insurance policies to protect themselves if they are forced to shut down, Aviva said most would not have a valid claim. It said: 'The vast majority of our commercial policies do not cover business interruption claims arising from Covid-19.'

Aviva is facing a lawsuit from businesses which are set to lose out.

WOE FOR UK'S CAR DEALERS

TURNOVER at Inchcape plummeted by 76pc in April as the coronavirus crisis hammered sales.

The car dealer, which sells new and used vehicles in more than 30 countries, had warned of a small drop in February as it struggled with lower demand in Hong Kong, Chile and Australia. But chief executive Stefan Bomhard said the impact of closures because of lockdown restrictions would have a 'pronounced' impact on profits.

Sales fell by almost a third, to £2.1bn, between January and April.

Bomhard will leave Inchcape at the end of the month for a job at tobacco giant Imperial Brands.

45,000 DOGS WAITING TO BE GROOMED BY PETS AT HOME

PETS at Home is reopening its puppy parlours for grooming as it prepares to work through a waiting list of around 45,000 dogs.

The retailer closed its salons after lockdown due to the increased risk of infection, but is now starting to make its way through its vast waiting list.

The retailer's groomers usually cut the hair of around 1,000 dogs per day across the country, and there are hundreds of dogs sitting on waiting lists at some of its 300 salons.

The firm -- which announced it had notched up £1bn in annual sales for the first time -- will test safety measures on staff's dogs before opening to the public.

These include putting up screens and halving the number of pets coming into salons. Chief executive Peter Pritchard said: 'There are many dogs that need to be groomed, and we have a long waiting list.'

In the year to the end of March, Pets at Home's group revenues passed £1bn for the first time, while profit grew 11pc to £99.5m. It has not used the furlough scheme, but does benefit from business rates reductions.

SPACE RACE HEATS UP

SERCO and Inmarsat are among the companies that have formed a UK national space team.

The pair will work with the British arm of American defence giant Lockheed Martin and CGI UK on the project, which has been called Athena.

The group's work will focus on developing space technology that will enable things like driverless transport, secure communications for defence and 5G networks. The Government is keen for the UK's space industry to grow rapidly to a £500bn sector.

It is pushing for a bigger role in the global industry after the UK was shut out of the EU's £10bn Galileo satellite programme after the Brexit vote.

STOCK WATCH

TRADING at estate and lettings agent Belvoir held up much better than the company expected in April.

The AIM-listed property franchise said fewer than 5pc of tenants were in arrears, compared with 2pc normally, which was 'considerably less' than it had estimated.

Offices are open again and it believes there is pent-up demand from people who are looking to move. Shares jumped 6.1pc, or 7.5p, to 130p on the update, released ahead of its annual meeting.

1,000 JOBS GO AT CARLUCCIO'S

MORE than 1,000 staff at Carluccio's have been laid off after the Italian restaurant chain was bought out of administration.

It has been rescued by Giraffe and Ed's Easy Diner owner Boparan Restaurant Group (BRG), controlled by 'chicken king' Ranjit Boparan. But only 800 staff at 30 restaurants will keep their jobs, after administrators could not find a buyer for the remaining 40.

Carluccio's collapsed into administration in March after the coronavirus exacerbated its long-standing financial issues. It was previously owned by Dubai-based Landmark Group, which bought the business for £90m in 2010.

Satnam Leihal, managing director of BRG, said: 'We welcome Carluccio's colleagues to BRG.

'We believe the quality hospitality businesses will recover in the long term as people return to eating out.'

COACH HOLIDAY FIRM GOES BUST

THE firm that owns coach holiday provider Shearings has collapsed with the loss of 2,500 jobs, in the latest blow to the travel industry.

Administrators at EY were unable to find a buyer for Specialist Leisure Group, which also owns brands such as Country Living Hotels and UK Breakaways. Its hotel chains are not expected to reopen.

EY said it had made around 2,500 staff who had been furloughed redundant -- adding to a grim toll of cuts in a sector which has seen firms including Tui, British Airways and Virgin axe jobs.

Thousands of customers face holidays being cancelled. EY said the 'vast majority' are protected financially through industry bodies or their credit card providers.

Specialist Leisure Group had been on the brink for several weeks. Joint administrators Sam Woodward said: 'The group has been significantly impacted by the pandemic as all tours, trips and events have been cancelled and the hotels closed to the public, leading to a significant cash shortfall.'

DIRECTOR DEALS

RENTOKIL'S human resources director sold almost £580,000 of shares in the pest control specialist this week.

Vanessa Evans sold 115,890 shares in the FTSE 100-listed company for 499p.

Evans has been at Rentokil for four-and-a-half years and was previously the group human resources director at insurer RSA.

POPULAR SHARES

WITH most white collar employees working from home, commercial landlord Land Securities reported that 90pc of its offices were empty earlier this month.

The picture could be similar at rival British Land, which will report its full-year results on Wednesday. Its £11.7bn portfolio is 55pc London offices, while 41pc is retail properties.

It is likely to face questions about what the future holds for offices -- with some companies now mulling over cuts in the space they use -- while it will also be under pressure from a loss of rent from retail tenants.

That is because many retailers have refused to pay rent while lockdown measures force them to stay shut, straining their finances. At the same time, British Land investors will be looking for information about the dividend.

As a real estate investment trust, it is obliged to pay 90pc of its profits to shareholders.

But it has already cancelled its third-quarter dividend because of the coronavirus pandemic and some analysts expect it to cancel the fourth-quarter divi too.

If that happens, it means British Land's yearly payouts will total just 16p, compared to 31p a year ago.

PUNT OF THE WEEK

Diversified Gas & Oil owns and operates gas and oil wells in the US, mainly located in the Appalachian region.

This month it announced a quarterly dividend of 3.5 cents a share. Having just been promoted from AIM to the Main Market, it may be lining up to join the FTSE 250 this year.

Axa, JO Hambro, HSBC, Standard Life Aberdeen and Premier Miton are major shareholders.

Tom Sieber, market analyst at broker AJ Bell, said: 'With a dividend yield of 12pc, a low-cost model, strong balance sheet and robust cash generation, this could be the stock income investors are seeking at the moment.'

But, Sieber adds: 'The company's borrowings stand at just over two-times earnings, plus there's currently weak sentiment towards the wider oil and gas sector.'

TRUST WATCH

THE trust invests in the very smallest companies which are traded on a stock exchange in the UK. It aims to grow savers' investment over the long-term.

Run by Gervais Williams and Martin Turner, it has a vast portfolio. Top holdings include Avacta, which is developing coronavirus tests, telecoms outfit Cerillion and Frontier IP Group, which invests in new technologies.

Ben Yearsley, of Shore Financial Planning, says: 'Buy this and tuck it away for the next decade.' He is a big fan of Williams, an investor in small cap stocks for more than 30 years, and notes there are more opportunities at the smaller end of the market.

A 1.5pc charge. Yearsley adds: 'It's very exposed to the UK, which could be a positive or negative.'

HS2 CHIEF WAIVES BONUS

THE boss of the controversial HS2 rail project Mark Thurston is to waive his bonus for 2019-20.

Thurston has told the board it was inappropriate to accept the £38,000 performance award in the middle of the pandemic when so many other people have been making sacrifices.

The chief executive came under fire from the Public Accounts Committee over his bonus in 2018-19 when HS2 was beset with cost overruns, which he argued were inherited when he took over in 2017.

In spite of pressure on its finances the Government last month gave the go-ahead for work to begin on the £100bn-plus high speed line from London to Birmingham and Manchester.

HS2 CHIEF WAIVES BONUS

THE boss of the controversial HS2 rail project Mark Thurston is to waive his bonus for 2019-20.

Thurston has told the board it was inappropriate to accept the £38,000 performance award in the middle of the pandemic when so many other people have been making sacrifices.

The chief executive came under fire from the Public Accounts Committee over his bonus in 2018-19 when HS2 was beset with cost overruns, which he argued were inherited when he took over in 2017.

In spite of pressure on its finances the Government last month gave the go-ahead for work to begin on the £100bn-plus high speed line from London to Birmingham and Manchester.

QUARANTINE SHOES TO HELP REOPEN KURT GEIGER SHOPS

KURT Geiger shoes will be quarantined for 24 hours after customers try them on, as part of plans to reopen some stores next month.

Shoppers will also have to wear disposable 'pop socks' when they put on shoes, which retail for up to £275, to limit the risk of infection.

Other items such as clutches, handbags, and purses will also be quarantined for 24 hours before being returned to shelves.

The firm (which features actress Liz Hurley -- pictured -- in its recent campaign) will also install perspex screens, increase cleaning, offer antibacterial gel and ban cash payments. All staff will wear masks and gloves.

The measures are part of its plans to reopen up to 20 of its 70 stores from June 1, and will cost each store £75,000 a year to implement.

Retailers are desperately trying to reassure shoppers that it will be safe to return once social distancing measures are relaxed.

Shop sales of clothing and footwear are down by around four-fifths in April, according to official figures.

MARSTON'S £780M TIE-UP

MARSTON'S has put six historic breweries into a £780m joint venture which will be controlled by Danish giant Carlsberg.

The independent brewer and the UK arm of Carlsberg will form a business that will merge operations and save costs.

Carlsberg will take a controlling 60pc stake and pay £273m to Marston's, which is struggling while its 1,700 pubs are shut.

Carlsberg UK will put its Northampton brewery and its distribution centre into the venture, while Marston's will put in six breweries and 11 distribution depots. It comes after Marston's secured £70m to see it through the crisis.

VODA'S NEW CHAIRMAN

VODAFONE has recruited the outgoing boss of beer giant Heineken to be its next chairman.

The British mobile operator said Jean-Francois Van Boxmeer will succeed Gerard Kleisterlee, who has been in post since 2011, in November.

The 58-year-old Belgian will first join as a non-executive director on July 28. He is seen as one of Europe's most prominent businessmen and has been Heineken's chief executive since 2005, presiding over a near-threefold increase in its share price.

His experience in the European and Africa markets is seen as useful, with Vodafone focusing on those areas under current chief executive Nick Read.

STOCK WATCH

HURRICANE Energy has slumped after it suffered a setback at one of its oilfields in the North Sea.

A second well it was testing at the Lancaster field interfered with the output from the existing one.

It has decided to shut down the first well to run more tests on the new one -- but has had to scrap guidance that it will pump out 17,000 barrels of oil a day this year.

Shares in the AIM-listed group plunged 46.2pc, or 5.63p, to 6.57p.

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