PRESS DIGEST – British business – July 10

The Times

MINING GIANT POISED TO SWOOP ON BP’S MEXICO ASSETS

BHP Billiton (BLT.L: ), the mining company, has expressed
interest in BP’s (BP.L: ) assets in the Gulf of Mexico should the
energy company be forced into a firesale as a result of the
Deepwater Horizon accident. Speculation has indicated that BP
could be forced to leave the Gulf in order to raise additional
finance or appease American regulators. It is the first time
that BHP has publicly indicated interest in BP’s assets, with
the firm understood to have nine billion dollars in cash readily
available. An analyst said: “They made it clear that nothing was
happening with BP yet, but BHP certainly has the firepower
should that change.”

ADMINISTRATORS MOVE IN TO DECIDE FUTURE OF ALEXANDRA

Uniform maker Alexandra (AXD.L: ) moved to suspend its shares
on Thursday after the company cited having insufficient funding
to “enable it to continue to trade on a going concern basis”.
The firm, which counts airline EasyJet as one of its biggest
customers, said its lenders Barclays (BARC.L: ) and HSBC (HSBA.L: ),
which owed more than 30 million pounds by Alexandra, had
prevented a rights issues in favour of a distressed sale in
June. Lenders are now anticipated to appoint administrators to
Alexandra on Monday, raising concern that hundreds of jobs could
be at risk at the firm, which employs about 500 staff at its
head office in Thornbury and at its workshops and retail outlets
around the UK.

INNKEEPER’S LODGES MAKE WAY FOR MORE FOOD ON MENU

Pub operator Mitchells & Butlers (MAB.L: ) has announced the
sale of 55 Innkeeper’s Lodges to property investment firm Prupim
for about 90 million pounds to enable the firm to focus on
food-led concepts. The asset disposal forms part of expansion
plans announced by chairman John Lovering, who was parachuted
into the pub group in January. Lovering has unveiled plans to
boost six of the company’s food-led brands including Harvester,
by extending sites operating under the names from 913 to 1,900
in less than five years. It is expected that Prupim, part of
Prudential, will lease its newly acquired lodges to the budget
hotel operator Travelodge.

COMPARATIVELY LOWER

Price comparison website Moneysupermarket.com (MONY.L: ) has
reported a fall in its first half interim earnings for 2010 to
18 million pounds, down from 18.6 million pounds in 2009. The
website operator said the fall in earnings was due to
investment, such as 2.5 million pounds spent on advertising
featuring a campaign with comedian Omid Djalili. Shares in
Moneysupermarket.com fell 0.3 percent to 69 pence following the
company’s earnings update.

TEMPUS

Lloyds Banking Group (LLOY.L: ) (buy)

The Daily Telegraph

HSBC CHIEF ATTACKS PUBLIC SECTOR GROWTH

Michael Geoghegan, the chief of HSBC (HSBA.L: ), has
criticised the growth of the public sector in the UK. He called
on politicians to reaffirm the UK’s credentials to attract and
maintain businesses. He is optimistic about the future of the UK
and London as a financial centre but said the country needed to
work harder to promote itself overseas. When asked if HSBC would
still be headquartered in the UK in ten years time, Geoghegan
said the bank reviewed its position on tax, security and
communications every three years. Speculation has grown the bank
would move outside the UK to avoid potentially tough banking
industry regulations.

PROJECT NEW BANK IN “ADVANCED TALKS” TO HIRE MANAGERS

Project New Bank, the retail acquisition vehicle, is in
advanced talks to appoint senior banking industry (Read more about the banking industry recovery.) figures. The
vehicle, led by Lord Levene of Lloyd’s of London insurance and
government adviser Sir David Walker, could list as early as next
month on AIM. Completion of the listing will see the company
launch bids for sections of UK retail banking assets, including
Northern Rock (NRKx.L: ) and parts of Lloyds Banking Group
(LLOY.L: ). Retail branches being sold by Royal Bank of Scotland
(RBS.L: ) are also a potential bid target.

EMERGING ECONOMIES DRIVE GROWTH AT WHITE-COLLAR RECRUITER

Michael Page (MPI.L: ), the British recruitment company,
reported that income from fees rose 33 percent to 111.5 million
pounds in the second quarter, with growth in Asia Pacific
increasing 85 percent to 18 million pounds. The company’s income
growth in the UK during the past three months was 14.4 percent,
with income increasing to 32.2 million pounds. Steve Ingham,
Michael Page chief executive, said the company was benefiting
from diversifying the group internationally and that it was
looking at further expanding its reach.

QUESTOR

Petropavlovsk (POG.L: ) (buy)

Northern Foods (NFDS.L: ) (buy)

HSBC (HSBA.L: ) (buy)

National Express (NEX.L: ) (buy)

The Independent

BOVIS TO RESTORE DIVIDEND AS HOUSING MARKET IMPROVES

Housebuilder Bovis (BVS.L: ) has announced plans to restore
its dividend in 2011 after reporting rising sales and property
prices. The company suspended its dividend 18 months ago during
the recession, when it had to cut its workforce by 40 percent
and restructure its debt. Over the six months to the end of
June, Bovis made 803 home sales, a six percent rise on the same
period last year. In spite of the positive news, Bovis said that
“ongoing liquidity” problems faced by first-time buyers meant
the new homes market continued to be “subdued”.

INTERSERVE FEELS THE PINCH AFTER BUDGET

Support services firm Interserve (IRV.L: ) has seen two of its
schemes hit by government cuts following the coalition’s
decision to scale back its 55 billion pound Building Schools for
the Future programme. The company’s 150 million pound BSF
project in St Helens, Merseyside, has been cancelled. A 280
million pound scheme at Sandwell in the West Midlands has also
had funding reduced. Interserve relies on the public sector for
a third of its profits, but predicted that it would meet
full-year expectations. Orders fell from 6.5 billion pounds to
six billion pounds in the first six months of 2010.

The Guardian

BT HEADS OFF STRIKE THREAT WITH LONG-TERM SETTLEMENT

Planned industrial action at BT (BT.L: ) has been averted
after the telecoms firm agreed a pay deal with the Communication
Workers Union. Under the terms of the 39 month settlement BT
staff will receive pensionable pay rises of three percent each
year, backdated to run from January 2010. The package, which the
CWU described as a “fantastic deal”, will now be recommended to
union members in a ballot in the next few weeks.

Prepared for Reuters by Durrants

PRESS DIGEST – British business – July 10