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Tesco Profits Plunge 92% In Accounting Chaos

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Jumat, 24 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

Tesco's chief executive has told Sky News he will not take an axe to prices in the short term to win back shoppers, after first-half profits fell 92%.

Dave Lewis was speaking after the supermarket chain revealed its latest results and the conclusions of an inquiry into an accounting scandal.

Its chairman Sir Richard Broadbent confirmed a plan to quit as the probe identified a £263m profit overstatement.

Tesco said the internal investigation by Deloitte into its procedures had found historic failures in its UK food business going back a number of years, having previously suggested the error was a one-off.

The overstatement reflected profits in previous reporting periods too, Tesco confirmed, not just in the first half of its financial year.

Its share price fell 7% when the FTSE 100 opened for business in the wake of the statement but later eased back.

Analysts said it could be explained by UK sales continuing to fall and Mr Lewis' decision not to launch an immediate discount challenge to rivals - especially hard discounters at the bottom and Waitrose at the top end, who have eaten away at its market share.

Video: Ex-Investor Wants Tesco Redress

Mr Lewis told Sky's Business Presenter Ian King: "Our promotional intensity is very high."

He said: "The critical thing is that I and 320,000 other people give great service, make sure everything's available in a really good, quality way, and then price will be part of the equation."

But he added he might think about price in a "different way" once his business review was completed.

Thursday's results statement was delayed by a month because of the investigation.

Eight senior executives have been suspended pending the outcome of the inquiry, which examined how Tesco logged suppliers' rebates and if they were reported in the correct accounting period.

Tesco said there was no evidence anyone at Tesco had sought to gain personally but the findings raise questions about the leadership of former chief executive Philip Clarke, who stepped down in the summer before the accounting issues were made public.

Tesco said his pay-off - and that of former finance chief Laurie McIlwee - was being delayed until such time as inquiries were complete.

Sir Richard said his decision to stand down reflected "the important principle of accountability."

The accounting scandal failed to overshadow the spotlight on Tesco's turnaround efforts.

Pre-tax profits fell 92% to £112m in its first six months while UK trading profit was down 55.9% to £499m.

Video: Waitrose Wins As Tesco Struggles

UK like-for-like sales were 4.6% lower - slightly better than expected.

Mr Lewis said: "We know that we have got a lot of work to do.

"We know what it is we need to do to turn the business around".

Tesco's market value - which has lost £17.6bn in the last five years - has plunged more than 50% in the past 12 months alone.

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Profit Fall Points To Scale Of Tesco Chief’s Task

There's no getting away from it: today's numbers from Tesco are horrible, whichever way you look at them.

First, the positive spin.

A 4.6% fall in UK like-for-like sales was - astonishingly - better than many analysts had forecast, while a £937m group trading profit was substantially higher than the City expected.

But those glimmers of light will not put the underlying task facing Tesco's new boss Dave Lewis in the shade.

The UK performance in the six months to August 23 was dreadful, and it will take a miraculous transformation to show a significant improvement by the time the company reports full-year results next spring.

Video: Ex-Investor Wants Tesco Redress

Tesco said the like-for-like sales fall was the result of "strong competition across the grocery market, headwinds from price cuts and fewer untargeted promotions".

For most of the last 20 years we became accustomed to hearing those gripes from Tesco's rivals, not the market leader: in itself, that illustrates just how far Tesco has fallen amid intense competition from much smaller rivals in the shape of Waitrose, Marks & Spencer (at the premium end of the market) and discounters Aldi and Lidl.

By one measure - statutory pre-tax profit, which includes one-off nasties - earnings slumped by almost 92%.

Under Philip Clarke, who was sacked as chief executive in the summer, profit declines became wearily familiar to Tesco shareholders, but not on this scale.

Improving things will be made much harder by the absence of eight key executives from the business during the most crucial trading period of the year.

Their enforced (temporary?) departure is the result of an accounting scandal now being probed by the Financial Conduct Authority and other regulators.

Video: Waitrose Wins As Tesco Struggles

Tesco disclosed today that profits had been overstated by a total of £263m, the majority of which relates to the current financial year but some of which dates to prior periods.

That casts a pall over the reign of Mr Lewis's predecessor, Mr Clarke, and explains why the board has decided to delay 'liquidation' payments to him and the former chief financial officer, Laurie McIlwee.

"To be clear, we are not saying that they won't be paid, but the board has made a decision to withhold those payments until the investigations are concluded".

There's further boardroom upheaval in store. Tesco confirmed Sky News' report from earlier this week that chairman Sir Richard Broadbent is to step down next year.

The arrival of a new chief executive and chief financial officer (Alan Stewart, most recently of Marks & Spencer) would, Sir Richard said, "mark the beginning of a new phase for the company".

Tesco shareholders certainly hope so.

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Homebase: A Quarter Of Stores To Be Closed

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Kamis, 23 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

The owner of the DIY chain Homebase is to close a quarter of its stores over the next three years, leaving thousands of jobs hanging in the balance.

Home Retail Group (HRG), which made the announcement as it confirmed its half-year results, said it planned to shut 25% of its 323 stores by 2018 through scheduled lease expirations and sales.

It said a review of the business had found Homebase was saddled with "inconsistent store operating standards" as well as "a large estate with low sales densities that result in a challenged financial model."

The chain, which currently employs 17,000 people, is to lose its managing director Paul Loft in the wake of the findings.

A spokesperson told Sky News: "HRG has announced a three-year plan for Homebase to revitalise the business for the future.

"Part of the plan will be to right-size the store estate through scheduled lease expiries and a series of sales to other retailers.

"Once they are identified, our colleagues will be the first to be informed about any of the affected stores, and where possible we will redeploy colleagues to other stores within the Group, or encourage retailers buying our leases to offer roles within their businesses locally".

The transformation to a greater digital offering was confirmed against a backdrop of rising sales at Homebase.

Home Retail said group underlying first-half profit rose 13%, particularly reflecting sales growth at Argos.

Profit before tax reached £30.9m in the six months to 30 August though its full-year result would depend on Argos' Christmas trading, HRG said.

Argos has itself undergone a turnaround, with Home Retail moving away from its traditional catalogue store offering towards digital click & collect.

Argos saw sales from mobile and tablet devices rise by 45%.

Homebase like-for-like sales grew by 4.1% over the six-month period while its improved website helped multi-channel sales rise 12%.

John Walden, chief executive of HRG, said "Homebase is a good business with the basis for future growth.

"In this context, Homebase will pursue a three-year plan through to the end of 2018 to improve the productivity of its store estate, strengthen its propositions and accelerate its digital capabilities by leveraging Argos' investments.

"This will position Homebase as a smaller but stronger business, ready for investment and growth."

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Lloyds To Cut 9,000 Jobs In Three-Year Plan

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor

Lloyds Banking Group is to cut approximately 9,000 jobs - equating to just over 10% of its workforce - as part of moves to automate consumer-facing services at the UK's biggest high street lender.

Sky News has learnt that Lloyds will disclose plans for the cuts, which will take place over a three-year period ending in December 2017, alongside its third-quarter results next Tuesday.

The numbers are still being finalised ahead of next week's announcement, but sources confirmed that 9,000 was the most likely jobs figure to be outlined by the bank.

A target for branch closures would also be announced, according to one insider, but this was likely to be smaller than some reports had suggested.

"This is about responding to customer behaviour and ensuring that Lloyds is in the right shape for the next 20 years of consumer banking," they said.

Lloyds is understood to have more than 10 million customers who actively use online banking services, including 4.5 million mobile banking users - a level which has quadrupled during the last three years.

All of the major high street banks are shedding jobs and pruning branch networks, a trend exacerbated by the explosion in the number of banking transactions now conducted online and on mobile devices.

Earlier this year, the British Bankers' Association (BBA) published research showing that UK-based customers conducted almost 40 million mobile and internet banking transactions each week in 2013, a huge increase on the previous year.

The job cuts at Lloyds, which employs roughly 80,000 people, will be on a far smaller scale than the cull which has taken place since the merger of Lloyds TSB and HBOS during the banking crisis of 2008.

Since then, tens of thousands of jobs have been axed at the combined group, and at rivals including Barclays, HSBC and the state-backed Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

It was unclear on Wednesday how many of the 9,000 roles affected would be in branches and how many in support roles at, for example, call centres.

Lloyds, led by chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio, has also shed hundreds of branches as part of a state aid settlement with Brussels during the last five years.

His strategy update, which will be unveiled alongside results for the third quarter of 2014, is unlikely to include details of a return to the dividend list, with Lloyds - alongside other banks - facing European and UK stress tests between now and mid-December.

A spokesman for Lloyds, which is 25%-owned by taxpayers, declined to comment.

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Range Rover Evoque Now Made in China

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Rabu, 22 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

By Mark Stone, Asia Correspondent

For the first time in its history, the iconic Land Rover brand is no longer exclusively 'Made in Britain' but now 'Made in China' too.

Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has opened its first factory in China and production of a Chinese-made Range Rover Evoque will begin within a few months.

The factory, in Changshu, north of Shanghai, is the consequence of a joint venture with Chinese automobile firm Chery.

Built over two years, the 40,000 square metre site represents a £1.9bn investment plan which JLR hopes will significantly increase its profits.

The opening came as the company acknowledged that its China sales growth this year was 20% up, compared to a 40% figure last year.

Company bosses attribute that to a slightly slower Chinese market and point out that sales in China remain strong.

Since the Range Rover Evoque was launched, one in five of the cars have been sold to Chinese customers.

The company will be wary though of the fickle nature of the Chinese consumer; always searching for something new and different.

If too many people drive Range Rovers, their popularity could wane quickly.

JLR dismisses concerns that the decision to make cars in China represents a shift in production from its plants in the UK.

It says it represents an expansion which will benefit the wider company.

At the plant inauguration, Dr Ralph Speth, CEO of JLR, said: "The opening of this world-class facility is an important milestone for Jaguar Land Rover.

"Our decision to manufacture the Range Rover Evoque in Changshu is a result of our commitment to bringing more Chinese vehicles to Chinese customers."

The company says the plant is the most efficient, advanced car manufacturing facility in China. British control processes, health and safety standards and the company's corporate culture are all to be replicated at its Chinese operation.

By 2016, a total of three JLR-badged vehicles will be built at the plant with a total capacity of 130,000 vehicles a year.

JLR has seen extraordinary sales across China.

In the 2013-14 financial year, the company sold more than 100,000 cars to Chinese customers.

China is now JLR's largest market.

Chris Bryant, president of the Chery Jaguar Land Rover joint venture, said:  "The plant opening marks the completion of our start-up phase of which we are incredibly proud, and now we will continue to build."

In Beijing it is not possible to drive more than a few hundred metres without passing a Range Rover, most with gaudy paint jobs.

JLR is by no means the first automobile company to build its cars in China. Audi, Mercedes and Volkswagen all have huge Chinese manufacturing facilities.

Last year, the boss of Mercedes' China operation told Sky News that survival in the automotive industry was based on success in China.

By manufacturing cars in China, JLR can cut out heavy import duties and price its vehicles more competitively in a luxury car market dominated by Audi and Mercedes.

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China Growth Weakest Since Financial Crisis

The slump in China's property market contributed to a further slowdown in the country's economic output in the third quarter of the year.

Official figures showed GDP growth at its weakest level since early 2009 during the period, rising by 7.3% on an annual basis.

The performance, while better than some analysts had expected, followed growth of 7.5% in the previous quarter, and the slowdown reinforced expectations that Beijing would announce more targeted stimulus measures.

Communist leaders are trying to steer China toward growth based on domestic consumption instead of over reliance on trade and investment but the deterioration in output growth raises fears of politically dangerous job losses.

Premier Li Keqiang has stated repeatedly that the country can tolerate slightly lower growth.

The Chinese economy - while still growing an an enviable rate - has a number of problems with the collapse in property values currently at the top of the list.

The government took action to help arrest house price declines and falling construction last month by cutting mortgage rates for some home buyers for the first time, though it was too early for the impact of those measures to be felt in the third quarter.

Developers have huge inventories of unsold homes, and increasingly risk-averse banks are wary about financing new mortgages which would only increase their exposure to the weakening sector.

Separate property data for September also released on Tuesday showed that the slowdown had deepened in the quarter, with real estate investment falling compared with a year ago, while revenue from property sales dropped 8.9%.

High infrastructure spending has helped maintain robust employment but that mini-stimulus is now fizzling out - hence the focus now on Beijing's policymakers.

A majority of economists do not see aggressive action, in the form of interest rate cuts, in the short term.

Leaders have previously ruled out massive stimulus as China is still struggling with a mountain of local government debt built up in 2009 when Y4trn (£401bn) was spent to cushion the impact of the global financial crisis.

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Price Comparison Sites: 'Don't Count On Them'

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Selasa, 21 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

By Dharshini David, Business Presenter

If you don't want your entire budget to go up in flames as energy bills soar, the key, we're told, is to shop around.

And those comparison websites can, they claim, find you a far cheaper deal.

But are they guilty, too, of leaving us in the dark when it comes to their commercial arrangements? For while they might save you money, they aren't charities but businesses, set up to make money.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with that - after all even those cuddly meerkats need to eat. But could the thirst for profits - last year the five biggest comparison websites made a total of £170m -  be detrimental to customers?

Earlier this year, we at Sky News reported on claims that the commission paid to such sites by energy providers (which is likely passed on to customers in bills) was excessive.

Video: Comparison Sites: The Best Deals?

One energy boss told us that he was charged about £60 per customer or about 5% of the average dual fuel bill. He reckoned that a centralised switched website, funded by the industry and run by, say, the regulator would cost a fraction of that - less than £10.

What about the regulator? There is an Ofgem Confidence Code for comparison sites. Under this, sites do not have to declare how much commission they earned but are meant to display an easily accessible list of  who their commercial partners are (although we found some don't) and display tariffs in a "fair and unbiased way".

But now it has been revealed that customers may not be shown perhaps cheaper tariffs on comparison sites from suppliers who weren't paying a commission. Of the sites criticised - uSwitch, MoneySuperMarket, GoCompare, Confused.com and ComparetheMarket - only the first two are signed up to Ofgem's code.

But even if they were signed up, is the code fit for purpose?

Ofgem says it is "proposing tougher new rules to the code to make commission arrangements clearer". Is it?

It tells me that it wants a list of those suppliers who are paying websites commission to be "within two clicks of the homepage", which is, in practice, barely different to the current set up. And no, they won't request sites to reveal how much commission they're paid as that could "damage competition between sites". So much for transparency and consumer choice.

What about the practice of websites filtering results to leave out those tariffs which don't pay commission?

Ofgem say: "We want the sites to be more transparent about their commission arrangements with suppliers and make sure that consumers understand the impact these have on the results they will see."

In other words, it's ok to give priority to the suppliers you're being paid by - as long as you tell customers you're doing that.

Not surprisingly, critics claim these changes don't go far enough, and ultimately, the code will still be voluntary.

So the message to those tempted to use comparison websites to shop around is this: they may well give you a better deal, just don't count on them to give you the best one.

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Comparison Sites Under Fire Over 'Kickbacks'

Price comparison websites have been accused of hiding the best energy deals from consumers.

Instead, tariffs are promoted from providers who are paying the sites up to £60 commission when a user switches, according to consumer group The Big Deal.

It claimed CompareTheMarket, uSwitch, Confused.com, GoCompare and MoneySuperMarket use search options that filter out the best non-commission offers.

The Big Deal, which uses an alternative of collective bargaining to negotiate with providers, said some websites have option boxes such as switch "now" or "today", showing only providers that pay commission.

The group's Will Hodson told Sky News: "We're calling on the competition authorities to crackdown on this kickback culture."

"The claim that they are consumer champions has to be challenged - these guys put commission first and consumers second."

It said better switching offers are available that can save consumers up to £200 a year.

The websites said their services were transparent, operating within existing guidelines and saving consumers money.

Uswitch's Ann Robinson told Sky: "The people who use our site save an average £200, and 10% of our users save over £300."

MoneySuperMarket said filter results were "not a loophole" and CompareTheMarket added that "suppliers sometimes stipulate which tariffs they wish to sell on price comparison websites".

Confused.com added that it was "committed to transparency in everything we do".

A spokesman for GoCompare said: "Consumers have to bear in mind that this is a highly orchestrated PR campaign being run by a company with a vested interest in moving customers away from comparison sites to their own collective switching model.

"The Big Deal also makes its money by being paid a commission by the energy supplier to which its customers switch."

The energy watchdog Ofgem said it was considering a regulation overhaul of the sector.

In January, the boss of Co-operative Energy told Sky News comparision websites were misleading customers and pushing up energy bills.

Profits for the so-called big five comparison sites have climbed 400% since 2005, reaching a combined total of £170m last year.

The Big Deal said it has written to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) over the hidden cost claims of the comparison firms.

The CMA is currently investigating the energy market over concerns of tariff and previously said the big energy providers could be split up, separating retail arms from their supply divisions.

The big six providers currently supply around 92% of all consumers - down from 99% five years ago - according to recent estimates.

Energy costs for consumers have more than doubled in the last decade, despite falling inflation and a squeeze on wages since the financial crash.

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PM: I'll Cut Benefits To Fund Apprenticeships

Written By iwan Jundaedi on Senin, 20 Oktober 2014 | 11.46

By Anushka Asthana, Political Correspondent

Benefit cuts hitting 100,000 families will be used to fund a £1bn commitment to deliver three million apprenticeships over the next Parliament, David Cameron has revealed.

The plans show that 70,000 households will be affected by further reducing the benefit cap to £23,000. 

That saves £135m per year, while taking housing benefit off 18 to 21-year-olds will cut £120m a year and hit 30,000 young people.

The Prime Minister is calling on all FTSE 100 companies with a significant workforce in Britain to provide apprenticeships by 2020.

He has received the backing of a number of major companies including Fujitsu, National Grid, Nestle, Airbus, Balfour Beatty and Ford. 

Video: Apprentice Boost Is 'Great' Idea

Mr Cameron said: "Because of difficult decisions we will make on welfare, we will deliver three million apprenticeships by 2020. This is a crucial part of our long-term economic plan to secure a better future for Britain.

"It will help give us the skills to compete with the rest of the world. And it will mean more hope, more opportunity, and more security for our young people, helping them get on in life and make something of themselves.

"We have already doubled apprenticeships this Parliament. We will finish the job in the next and end youth unemployment."

Video: Osborne Pledges Fair Welfare System

The way Mr Cameron is planning to pay for the jobs boost is likely to draw criticism from the Labour party and the Lib Dems.

Nick Clegg has accused the Conservatives of funding tax cuts for the wealthy on the back of the least well off.

In his conference speech, Mr Clegg said: "The young and the working poor are hit time and time again as George Osborne takes his axe to the welfare budget with no regard for the impact on people's lives."

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Equal Parental Pay Deal For Civil Servants

Both male and female Civil Service employees will be offered equal parental pay and support from next year, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg is set to announce.

Mr Clegg hopes the move will encourage other public and private sector organisations to follow suit.

The change means that fathers will now be able to benefit from enhanced pay for shared parental leave - if both parents decide to split the time up - as mothers currently do.

It follows an announcement by the Liberal Democrat leader last year that new parents will have the choice over how they split their statutory entitlement from April next year.

But there will be no onus on employers offering occupational maternity schemes above and beyond that to do so on an equal basis.

Video: Shake-Up In Parental Leave Laws

In a speech this week, Mr Clegg is expected to say: "For me, it's critical that people who choose to work in the public sector know that they're working in modern, progressive workplaces.

"I pushed for the introduction of shared parental leave in the first place because I fundamentally believe it's time for us to sweep away the outdated regulations and prejudices which still limit the choices of too many people in this country.

"Evidence shows promoting flexible working patterns like this can help boost employee productivity, loyalty and retention.

"To help get that revolution started in the public sector, working with the Cabinet Office, I've been pushing hard for radical reforms to the way in which the Civil Service pays and supports its staff after their children are born.

Video: Single Dads Start Families Alone

"So, I'm pleased to confirm that from April 2015 the Civil Service will be offering equal parental pay and support to all its employees - male and female.

"As a result, it will no longer just be new mums working in the Civil Service who can take maternity leave at full pay. Dads will also be able to benefit from enhanced pay for shared parental leave, if both parents choose to carve up their time between them.

"This means more fathers will be able to afford to take time off to spend caring for their new born children.

"More widely, I want to see this change blaze a trail for other public and private sector organisations to follow - making this option the norm for more working families and increasing the opportunities available to both sexes to earn and care across our society."

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