FT Opening Quote
Theresa May is not the only one to secure a political deal in the nick of time, and breathe a sigh of relief, writes Matthew Vincent. Charles Woodburn, chief executive of BAE Systems has managed no less a negotiating feat, but in the Middle East rather than Europe: finalising a £5bn order from Qatar for 24 Typhoon fighter jets – a deal that will safeguard British jobs and ensure UK production of the aircraft into the mid-2020s.
For Ladbrokes Coral shareholders this morning, it is not so much a case of Christmas coming early, as a bid coming early, writes Matthew Vincent. GVC Holdings’ wish to buy the High Street bookmaker has been known for months – it has been the worst kept secret in the the FTSE 250. But most people expected the two companies would wait until the outcome of the government review of fixed odds betting terminals – the high-stakes machines that deliver a majority of Ladbrokes’ retail revenues.
Carillion’s full-year trading statement was always going to be the news this morning, whether it happened or not, writes Matthew Vincent. And those betting on further falls in the stricken construction group’s shares probably had money on “not”. In fact, as of last night, Carillion’s own financial calendar still said: “There is no event/s available for current selection” and the company had not confirmed to news websites that any announcement would be forthcoming today.
Long-term incentive plans are about to get longer – but long-term board appointments will have to get shorter, writes Matthew Vincent. That’s the (extremely) short and sharp version of the new UK Corporate Governance Code, as published by the Financial Reporting Council this morning. And it seems to be aimed at removing two long-standing reasons for public mistrust of business: money for old rope and jobs for the boys.
Water company Severn Trent hit the headlines (or should that be the ley lines?) earlier this week when it emerged that its engineers still used ancient divining, or “dowsing”, rods to find underground pipes – despite widely held scientific opinion that they don’t actually work. And, this morning, Severn Trent investors will be trying to divine the likely outcome of an upcoming regulatory price review – despite widely held opinion that these don’t work, either, writes Matthew Vincent.
Thomas Cook, the FTSE 250 tour operator, has been offering so called Black Friday discounts a few days early, according to tabloid newspaper bargain hunters, writes Matthew Vincent. And, given every Friday from now until May is forecast to be largely black from 3:00pm to the following 2.55pm, one can see the appeal of £200 off a sunshine break. But such early price cutting is normally a warning sign, according to broadsheet newspaper profit-warning hunters. So does it mean red ink, rather than black, for the company?
EasyJet boss Dame Carolyn McCall is presenting her last set of annual results this morning – before she leaves the budget airline for broadcaster ITV, writes Matthew Vincent. So this is the last time she will have to endure aeronautical puns and metaphors in every single report of the company’s numbers. That said, with some reports suggesting she’s heading to the departure gate with £5m in salary and shares, she may not mind that at all. So, Opening Quote is happy to offer both treatments/(final) approaches.
Bookmaker William Hill is fancied to extend a recent run of good results, writes Matthew Vincent. Analysts at Investec reckon the FTSE 250 group’s low level of hedging on the recent boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor will have helped it to outperform rival Ladbrokes Coral.
Marketing types have seized on a quiet Friday for corporate reporting to make an attention-grabbing announcement on the London Stock Exchange’s RNS company news service this morning: “Opportunity to advertise on an iceberg”. “Be the first ever company or individual to have your advertising appear on a real North Atlantic Iceberg and watch as your message goes viral. You’ve heard the expression “it’s only the tip of the iceberg;” be the first to own this expression,” it reads.
Royal Mail’s best result in the last half year has arguably been staving off industrial action ahead of the vital Christmas period, writes Matthew Vincent. It seems the Communication Workers Union – which was disputing pension changes and pay – had not realised a pre-strike mediation agreement was legally binding.
Last week at the London Palladium, ITV showcased the best of its televisual talent and new content for an audience of advertisers – as well as for soon-to-start chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall, writes Matthew Vincent. Then, yesterday, Amazon announced its new blockbuster TV productions as it seeks to lure more viewers away from traditional broadcasters. Their respective offerings can perhaps be summed up as Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan, and the cast of Loose Women versus a multi-season adaptation of JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit-laden fantasy Lord of the Rings.
Ladbrokes Coral is updating the market in week two of a 12-week regulatory consultation period that will decide the future of UK betting shops, writes Matthew Vincent. If the government listens to campaigners rather than bookies, and imposes the maximum cut to stakes on fixed-odds betting terminals, hundreds – possibly thousands – of high-street outlets could close, so reliant are they now on these in-store machines.
Some Sainsbury’s staff have been complaining to the Sun newspaper about cutbacks in the free toast and conserves that accompany their tea breaks – at store managers’ discretion, writes Matthew Vincent. But with 112 of the group’s supermarkets now containing an Argos outlet full of toasters, sandwich makers and other bread-related appliances, one would think this problem hardly insoluble. Indeed, given the sales growth these Argos stores achieve relative to food, they have also been the company’s best hope of jam today.
Marks & Spencer’s seemingly ever-earlier launch of its Christmas TV advert has long been a source of delight to the middle classes and indignation to middle-aged commentators, writes Matthew Vincent. In fact, first sightings of ‘Paddington and the Christmas visitor’ on November 6, a new ad featuring the Peruvian emigre bear, caused one contemporary of Opening Quote to despair: “Just thrown away the Halloween pumpkins and the Christmas ads have started…”.
Is there nothing Disney cannot do? writes Matthew Vincent in this morning’s FT Opening Quote. It has held talks about taking over Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, including the US group’s stake in UK-based Sky. It has rescued the Star Wars film franchise from the cringe-inducing antics of Jar-Jar Binks in all those tedious prequels. And now, it seems, it has helped Primark-owner Associated British Foods boost its annual profit by 22 per cent, with a range of keenly-priced Minnie Mouse accessories and strangely persistent press coverage.
HSBC, having just been accused of “possible criminal complicity” in money laundering, must be glad to be fielding questions on a positive clean-up story today, writes Matthew Vincent in FT Opening Quote. This morning, it has promised $100bn of finance for low-carbon technology and sustainable development by 2025 as part of a package of measures to strengthen its commitment to tackling climate change and other “green” goals.