Business News

RBS and Santander rapped by watchdog over PPI customer failures

2019-08-23 19:03:44 admin

The Competition and Markets Authority on Friday ordered RBS and Santander to appoint independent auditors after a probe found they had botched PPI communications to customers. 

Banks must legally send out letters to customers who have PPI every year setting out how much they have paid and their right to cancel. RBS failed to do this for around 11,000 customers for up to six years, the CMA found, which meant many customers may not have been aware they even had PPI. 

Santander also sent incorrect information to 3,400 mortgage PPI customers between 2012 and 2017. 

The CMA’s Adam Land said it was “unacceptable” and the banks must “now play by the rules”.

“These are serious issues that, in the future, may result in fines if the Government gives us the powers we’ve asked for.”

The CMA said it expected RBS to repay affected customers and for RBS and Santander to make sure the breaches do not occur again.

RBS, which apologised, has paid £1.5 million in refunds to customers who didn’t receive a reminder.

Santander apologised and said no customers suffered financially. 

The FCA has run a high-profile campaign featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger ahead of the deadline for PPI claims on August 29.

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Neil Woodford's bizarre bet on cold fusion hit by writedown

2019-08-23 19:03:36 admin

One of Neil Woodford’s most controversial investments, cold fusion company Industrial Heat, had its valuation slashed by 35% on Friday in an embarrassing U-turn on the firm’s prospects.

Woodford’s investment in the nuclear energy tech start-up, founded by eccentric Italian inventor Andrea Rossi, raised eyebrows as many scientists poured scorn on cold fusion technology.

It prompted further confusion when it was written up by 357% on Woodford’s books last September by valuation firm Link despite not making any money. 

On Friday Woodford Patient Capital Trust, the listed vehicle run by Woodford, indicated that the Industrial Heat stake of £88 million had been written down by £30 million, or 35%, analysts estimate. 

Link said this was because the firm’s development “had not progressed at the rate upon which previous reviews were based”.   

Shares in the £715 million Patient Capital Trust, which has Industrial Heat as its top holding, fell 6% to a record low of 40p.

That means a client who put £10,000 into the trust when it launched in 2015 have lost £6,000.

Woodford Equity Income Fund, the shuttered £3.5 billion fund, also owns a £115 million stake according to December 2018 data.

That would have fallen to £75 million today. A Woodford spokesman said: “Woodford is not responsible for unquoted valuations across any of its funds.”

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Market report: ITV leads the risers as chatter over US predators gets louder

2019-08-23 19:03:28 admin

The Square Mile was alive with merger and acquisition fever today as traders speculated that broadcaster ITV could be next to be snapped up a US media giant. 

Traders were buoyed by news that Peppa Pig owner Entertainment One, which ITV unsuccessfully tried to buy in August 2016, had been bought by US toymaker Hasbro.

One trader said: “US companies are content hungry and ITV has plenty to offer. Its production arm is strong and its Britbox launch has the potential to be a game changer.”

ITV, whose latest drama is Deep Water starring Anna Friel, was the top riser among the blue-chips this session, up 5%, or 5.4p, to 120p. The FTSE 100 climbed 50.88 points to 7179.06.

It comes as traders scurry around trying to find stocks which could be potential takeover targets, given that the weak pound has made London-listed stocks significantly cheaper for foreign companies.

Other companies suggested as targets by brokers included tobacco giant Imperial Brands and shopping centres owner Intu. 

Imperial Brands is vulnerable as more people quit smoking and its vaping brand is not yet fully established. Intu’s stock has fallen 90% in the past five years amid a scrapped takeover by Hammerson, making it a target for a foreign commercial property landlord. Imperial Brands was up 20p to 2068p, while Intu climbed 1p to 34p. 

CRH was another notable riser after the Irish cement maker announced it was extending its share buyback programme. 

CRH will buy another €350 million (£318 million) of shares, which sent its shares up 60p at 2664p. But the move is unlikely to appease Sweden’s very own Gordon Gekko, Cevian owner Christer Gardell, who has built up a 3% stake in the firm this year. 

Gardell’s firm takes industrial companies and whips them into shape. His track record includes steel giant Thyssenkrupp and car manufacturer Volvo. 

CRH has been on a £8 billion acquisition spree over the past four years and Gardell wants to see some of these shed. 

A boost in oil prices was doing little to help BP and Shell, which lost 0.5p to 493p and 6p to 2272p.  

Brent crude prices nudged above $60 a barrel. The combination of upcoming Opec cuts, the worsening supply disruptions in Iran and Venezuela, and a slowdown in US shale has helped to push up prices. 

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Sports Direct eyes 'challenger' MHA Macintyre Hudson as next auditor

2019-08-22 19:00:19 admin

MHA Macintyre Hudson has become the latest firm to hold talks with Sports Direct to become the troubled retailer’s auditor, the Standard can reveal. 

The accountancy firm said it had spoken with the sporting goods retailer after Grant Thornton stepped down last week, adding that it expects to tender for the business in the coming weeks. 

Yesterday it was revealed that Mazars is also pitching for the business run by Mike Ashley and wants a big increase in fees to do the work. 

The rush to be Sports Direct’s next auditor is turning into a scrap among so-called “challenger” practices after the Big Four accountancy firms — PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY — all claimed to be conflicted, while BDO is also understood to have turned down the work.

Sports Direct — which has battled a string of corporate governance issues — has had to rethink after it said in its annual report that only a Big Four firm could cope with its audit.  

MHA chairman Rakesh Shaunak said: “We have had initial conversations not with Mike Ashley but his emissaries. We expect to take part in the tendering process, although we want to know the full reasons why Grant Thornton quit.”

Grant Thornton is expected to submit a letter to Companies House explaining why it stood down after 11 years as the company’s auditor.

MHA is no stranger to controversial clients, having recently taken on Ukrainian pellet producer Ferrexpo. It took over in July after Deloitte resigned following the company’s issues with a Ukrainian charity called Blooming Land. Deloitte found that money paid to the charity by Ferrexpo could have been misappropriated.

There have been suggestions the Government could step in and appoint an auditor if Sports Direct cannot find one, although Shaunak does not believe it will get that far. 

Sports Direct must file audited accounts by February next year.

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Market report: NMC looking healthy as two suitors battle for a 40% stake

2019-08-22 19:00:09 admin

Private healthcare is often met with a raised eyebrow in the UK but in the Middle East it is big business. 

Today NMC Healthcare, which owns private hospitals across the United Arab Emirates, saw its shares rocket after it confirmed it had received two separate bids to buy a 40% stake in the company.

One of the offers is understood to be from Chinese conglomerate Fosun, which also has stakes in Thomas Cook and Club Med. 

The target 40% stake, worth £1.6 billion, is jointly owned by the chairman of Abu Dhabi-based investment firm KBBO Group, Khalifa Butti Bin Omeir, UAE-based businessman Saeed Bin Butti Al Qebaisi, and Infinite Investment, a vehicle linked to the two men. 

One broker said: “The Middle East healthcare market is big business as there is no public NHS. The bidders are also taking advantage of a sharp fall in NMC’s share price over the past year.”

NMC Healthcare’s share price has dropped 37% since the turn of the year after poor trading but this session it was up 28%, or 553p, to 2489p.  

But NMC proved to be a rare bright spot as the FTSE 100 struggled, down 42.15 points to 7161.82, after US Federal Reserve minutes released overnight provided little clarity on the future course of monetary policy.

Miner Antofagasta led the blue-chip fallers, down 2.7% to 796.3p, despite reporting better half-year profits than last year, as the company said it expects copper demand to be hit by the US and China trade war. 

Cigarette companies were knocked as US lawmakers dragged e-cigarette manufacturers before the House Energy and Commerce Committee panel yesterday evening to grill them on the health impacts of their products. This includes Reynolds American, a unit of British American Tobacco.

The US has stepped up its scrutiny of the e-cigarette manufacturers, amid a slew of recent lung damage cases. British American Tobacco was down 50p to 2974p and Imperial Brands lost 54p to 2048p. 

On the FTSE 250 Ferrexpo tumbled 6%, or 13.2p, to 202.6p after the iron-ore pellets producer was downgraded by analysts at Liberum.

Liberum has turned negative on the iron ore industry and believes prices could fall from $84 per tonne today to just $50 per tonne next year as Chinese consumption dries up. 

Iron ore is the main ingredient in steel and is used to build houses but there are signs that the Chinese property market has slowed. 

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