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Thursday newspaper round-up: Peacocks, Housing, RBS

Thu, 23rd Feb 2012 06:26


Edinburgh Woollen Mill yesterday emerged as the saviour of 6,000 jobs after acquiring part of the failed Peacocks discount fashion chain. EWM has bought 338 stores out of administration but 3,100 staff lost their jobs as 224 stores were closed with immediate effect. In Scotland, 15 stores will remain open while 30 have closed with an estimated loss of around 400 jobs. The price EWM paid for the stores was undisclosed. EWM was a surprise bidder for Peacocks, a private equity-backed company which collapsed into administration under its 700m debt mountain in the biggest retail failure since Woolworths, placing 9,000 jobs in jeopardy. Administrator KPMG had renewed talks with EWM in recent days after a potential 25m deal fell through with Pakistani textile billionaire Alshair Fiyaz, who was thought to be the sole bidder for the chain just last week, The Scotsman reports.

Britain's housing market is heading for a "lost decade" and Government aid to support the industry is based on "bunkum" projections of a property shortage in the UK. Collins Stewart, who put a 0p target price on housebuilders Taylor Wimpey and Barratt Developments following the collapse of Lehman Brothers, warned of "at least two or three years of steady house price erosion". Mr Stewart said one of the main reasons for the prediction of falling prices is that the "decades old near-mantra" that there is a structural shortage of housing in the UK is based on "flimsy evidence", according to The Telegraph.

Royal Bank of Scotland has frozen the pay of its 10,000 most senior staff as the state-backed lender prepares to report a loss for 2011. Top staff, including Stephen Hester, the bank's chief executive, along with every member of his executive committee, will not receive any pay rises for the coming year. The move comes as RBS is set to distribute about 500m in bonuses to its employees, of which around 400m will go to staff in its investment banking arm. Bonuses are expected to be less than half of their level last year. The predicted total averages out at just over 21,000 for each of the 18,900 staff in RBS's global banking and markets (GBM) division, The Telegraph reports.

Businesses are being asked to pay for the council tax freeze, damaging their ability to generate new jobs, a leading lobby group claims today. In a forthcoming Budget submission, the British Chambers of Commerce will call for George Osborne to abandon a swinging 5.6% increase in business rates that is due to come into force this year. The planned rise in business rates is determined by September's 5.6% inflation rate, which was the highest in 20 years. Since then inflation, as measured by the retail prices index, has dropped sharply, standing at 3.9% in January. Adam Marshall, director of policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said the increase would threaten the survival of businesses that are already suffering from a squeeze on cash-flow. It would cost the Treasury 2.2bn to cancel the 5.6% rise and improve empty property relief, according to the BCC's calculations, writes The Times.

A High Court judge has backed Vincent and Robert Tchenguiz in their attempt to force the Serious Fraud Office to explain why it raided their homes and arrested them last year. At a hearing yesterday, Judge Sir John Thomas and Mr Justice Silber granted a judicial review into the conduct of the SFO and the manner in which it carried out the dawn raids on the brothers last March. Sir John said that the SFO and the City of London Police should provide a detailed explanation for their actions. A three-day hearing for two joined cases will be heard in May. The brothers were arrested and their homes and offices raided by more than 130 officers from the SFO and City of London Police as part of a long-running investigation into the collapse of Iceland's Kaupthing Bank. They were detained for several hours in separate police stations before being released without charge, The Times says.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has reportedly asked European officials to raise Spain's debt reduction target to 5%, claiming that reducing it to 4.4% will be impossible. The ongoing damage of the debt crisis - and the German-led austerity drive - could be laid bare on Thursday if the European Commission (EC) unveils a wholesale revision of the Eurozone's growth forecasts, as expected. Experts said the EC is preparing to cut its growth forecasts following the radical spending cuts, tax increases and job losses across Europe. The figures could force politicians to revise the deficit targets and strict budgetary rules in the fiscal pact just agreed by the European Union, The Telegraph says.

Aegis Group has begun to invest the proceeds of last year's disposal of its market research unit with the purchase of Roundarch, a US digital agency. The London-based marketing services group will initially pay $125m for Roundarch, expected to rise to $250m by 2017 depending on performance. The maximum consideration could reach $360m if performance beats expectations, The Financial Times reports.

AB




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