Marks & Spencer is preparing to reveal worse than expected Christmas trading despite large price cuts aimed at supporting sales, the Sunday Times and other papers reported. Citing City sources, the Sunday Times said clothing and homeware sales fell by as much as 1.5% over the quarter covering Christmas. M&S's offer of 20% reductions on non-food items in early December backfired after shoppers stopped buying when the offer ended. M&S then cut prices by 30% on the weekend before Christmas. The trading update on January 9th will put pressure on Chief Executive Marc Bolland, the paper said.
Britain's big four supermarkets were beaten by German discounters Aldi and Lidl in pre-Christmas trading, the Mail on Sunday reported. The groups are said to have increased combined sales by about 20% in the festive quarter and their success will force Tesco, Sainsbury's, Morrisons and Asda to issue disappointing trading statements in January. In its update to investors on January 9th, Tesco is likely to say like-for-like sales fell at least 2% in the past six weeks, according to estimates by the group's house broker Barclays.
An independent investigation of RSA Insurance's troubled Irish operation is expected to say the unit's capital shortage was an isolated incident and that no further write-downs are needed, the Sunday Telegraph said. The PwC report, due on January 9th, is likely to say mistakes at the Irish business happened despite strict group governance controls. Investors have been concerned that the investigation could find problems elsewhere in RSA's operations.
Shoppers refused to pay top prices at retailers in the run-up to Christmas, the Mail on Sunday reported, citing data from Barclaycard. Consumer spending growth almost stopped in mid-December and only picked up slightly in the days immediately before Christmas. Sales then rose sharply on December 25th and 26th when retailers offered big reductions online. Sales in late November rose healthily but dropped off straight after discounts were offered on the last Friday of the month. The paper said the Barclaycard figures were the most comprehensive picture so far of consumer activity.
Gold miner Avocet Mining is looking for a merger partner to ward off a cash crisis that could send it into liquidation, according to the Sunday Times. Sources close to the situation said Avocet could run out of money within 90 days after it was hit by the sharp fall in the gold price. It has hired Investec to find a buyer or another rescue route after Avocet revealed last week it could not repay a $15m loan from its biggest shareholder, the vulture fund Elliott Advisors.
Renishaw will resist attempts by the pension regulator to make the FTSE 250 engineer put more money into its pension scheme, the Sunday Telegraph said. Sir David McMurtry, Renishaw Chairman and Chief Executive, said an alternative would be to offer the trustees group-owned buildings for security to cover the £41.7m pension deficit. "We have better use for cash within the business," he told the Telegraph.
The Bank of England (BoE) is preparing to change its forward guidance on interest rates by revising its unemployment threshold for considering an increase in borrowing costs, the Sunday Times said. Citing City economists, the paper said Governor Mark Carney would reduce the threshold to 6.5% or lower to enable the BoE to keep rates on hold this year. The expected move has been prompted by unemployment falling quicker than the BoE expected.
Albemarle & Bond's chairman was paid £100,000 for his work on the pawnbroker's failed £35m rights issue, the Sunday Times said. Greville Nicholls was paid the bonus for "engaging with and working with professional advisers" for the cash call, which was abandoned in October, the company told the paper. He became executive chairman in April after former Chief Executive Barry Stevenson left.