BUSINESS LIVE: Pay rises set to slow; Heathrow slams 'tourist tax'; Frasers lines-up fresh buyback

The FTSE 100 is flat in early trading. Among the companies with reports and trading updates today are Heathrow Airport, Frasers and SSP. Read the Monday 12 February Business Live blog below.

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Upper Crust owner SSP buys Australian airport bar and cafe group

Upper Crust owner SSP Group has struck a deal to buy an airport bar and restaurant firm in Australia to further expand its global footprint.

SSP – which runs food outlets at transport sites including airports and railway stations – has agreed to take over privately-owned Airport Retail Enterprises (ARE) for an undisclosed sum.

It will see SSP add ARE’s 1,500 staff and 62 sites across seven airports, largely bars, casual dining restaurants and cafes.

The deal will give SSP access to four new airports in Australia where it does not already have a presence – Canberra, Gold Coast, Townsville and Mount Isa.

The acquisition is expected to complete by the end of June.

SSP has been operating in Australia since 2007 and already runs 40 sites across seven airports and one railway station.

After the deal, it will run around 100 sites across 11 of the largest 19 airports in Australia.

Patrick Coveney, chief executive of SSP Group, said: “The acquisition will increase our portfolio of brands and concepts, give us entry into new prime air locations, enhance our position as a leading airport food and beverage operator in the country, and create significant value for shareholders.”

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Heathrow Airport: Tourist tax has ‘shut the door’ on economic growth

Britain has ‘shut the door on home-grown growth’ following its abolition of VAT-free shopping, Heathrow Airport has warned.

Europe’s busiest airport said the UK’s exports were flourishing but warned that the ‘tourist tax’ was driving away inbound travellers and harming the country’s business environment.

UK pay hikes expected to slow for the first time since the pandemic

UK wage growth in 2023 is expected to be lower than the previous year for the first time since the pandemic, according to a closely-watched industry survey.

British employers expect to raise basic pay by an average of 4 per cent this year, down from an expected jump of 5 per cent through 2023 and late 2022, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) said.

The Bank of England ‘has a negative obsession’ with Brexit

The Bank of England has been accused of having an ‘obsession’ with Brexit, as it continues to ask companies to rate the level of ‘uncertainty’ caused by the 2016 referendum.

A monthly questionnaire sent to thousands of chief executives and finance directors continues to ask about the impact of the vote eight years ago.

Body Shop prepares for insolvency process

Evri private equity owner Advent preparing £2bn sale of delivery firm

Parcel delivery firm Evri is reportedly being prepared for a sale valuing it at £2billion by its private equity majority owner.

Advent International is working with advisers from investment bank Rothschild to explore options for the company, including a potential sale, The Sunday Times reported.

Busy week for UK markets amid inflation, growth and unemployment data

Richard Hunter, head of markets at Interactive Investor:

‘There will be rather more to capture investors’ attention in the UK this week, as unemployment, inflation, retail sales and economic growth will all be updated, providing a reasonably comprehensive overview to the state of the economy at present.

‘The more domestically focused FTSE250 has struggled hitherto, down by 3.2% so far this year, while hopes for any interest rate cuts from the Bank of England now seem to have settled for August in terms of the market consensus.

‘NatWest will kick off the UK banks’ full-year reporting season on Friday. There is much going on at present at the group, with an ongoing search for a replacement CEO and the possibility of the sale of the remaining government stake to retail investors capturing the headlines.

‘In the meantime, the results will be scrutinised for any signs of an increase in customer defaults should further credit impairments be implemented, while the expected strength of the balance sheet could result in another set of punchy shareholder returns, either through share buybacks or an increase to the dividend payment.

‘A head of this busy week, the premier index hovered around flat in opening exchanges, helped along by a gain in Frasers after the group launched a share buyback programme and some bargain hunting in Burberry after a torrid period which has seen the share price decline by 42% in the last six months alone. Gains were capped by some weakness in NatWest ahead of their results.’

£74bn savings gap threatens family finances

Britain has a £74billion savings shortfall with more than half of working age families not having enough set aside to cover a major hit to their finances, according to a report.

A study by the Resolution Foundation found that 51 per cent did not have savings worth three months of income, in case of major problems such as unemployment, illness or relationship breakdown.

They would need to have a combined £74billion extra saved up to meet that threshold, the think-tank calculated.

Frasers lines-up £80m share buyback

Frasers has instructed its broker to prepare a fresh share buyback programme.

The retailer will buy back up to 10 million shares for up to £80million, it told shareholders on Monday.

‘The purpose of the programme is to reduce the share capital of the company,’ Frasers added.

Heathrow: ‘Britain has shut the door on home grown growth’

Heathrow Airport has reiterated criticism of the so-called ‘tourist tax’, telling investors on Monday that Britain has ‘shut the door on home grown growth’ by ‘turning away international shoppers…and tarnishing the UK’s reputation as a competitive country to spend and do business with’.

Britain’s busiest airport added it had ‘joined forced’ with the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small businesses to make the case for ‘and internationally competitive tax-free shopping incentive’ in the upcoming Spring Budget.

Heathrow also reported that just shy of 6 million people travelled through the hub in January, a 9.4 per cent increase on the same time last year.

Heathrow CEO Thomas Woldbye said: ‘The year has got off to a strong start, retaining Heathrow’s crown as the best UK airport.

‘We are ready for the first passenger peak of the year, with February half term fast approaching. Whether you are travelling to ski, soak up the sun, or visit friends and family, Heathrow has you covered.’

Recession set to be confirmed and inflation up too in double blow to economy

Britain’s economy looks set for a double setback this week – with figures expected to confirm a recession at the end of last year and a rise in inflation at the beginning of 2024.

That would deliver a blow to ministers’ hopes of reviving growth and bringing the cost of living squeeze to an end as the election nears.

However, experts think the setbacks will prove temporary. And a business survey, from accountants BDO, suggests that output bounced back at the start of this year to its strongest level in 18 months.

UK pay rises set to slow

The rate of UK pay growth is expected to slow this year for the first time since the pandemic, potentially easing pressure on the overall rate of inflation, according to a closely-watched survey.

British employers expect to raise basic pay by an average of 4 per cent over the next 12 months, down from an expected rise of 5 per cent through 2023 and in late 2022, according to a survey by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

This is the first fall since early 2020 amid the fallout of the pandemic.

Wage growth has been a key concern for the Bank of England and its efforts to tame inflation, amid fears of a wage-price spiral.

UK pay before bonuses was up 7.3 per cent in the three months to October, according to the most recent Office for National Statistics data, down from a summer peak of 8.5 per cent.

The BoE continues to keep a close eye on the rate of wage growth as it considers when to begin cutting interest rates.


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