Sunday News Round-up
Boom in farming as UK demand quality, Michaels says it is investigating possible data breach affecting customer cards, Gambling on the High Street bookies, Mothercare in secret talks to shed struggling Early Learning Centre, ItÂ’s all animal magic, Flotation fever rages in the City as high street confidence returns
The horse meat scandal built ties between food producers and retailers but will it last? A year ago, with the horse meat crisis in full flow, only a brave man would have predicted that the McDonald’s burger chain would enjoy a record year in the UK in 2013. But that is exactly what happened. Last week, despite a mixed performance in the rest of the world, the fast food chain reported a “mid-single digit” increase in like-for-like sales in the UK for the last 12 months. This meant that 2013 was the biggest ever year for McDonald’s in the UK, with December 21 its biggest day.
Arts and crafts retailer warns over payment card information, FBI and outside forensics firm investigate possible cyber attack. Michaels, the biggest US arts and crafts retailer, said on Saturday it was working with federal law enforcement officials to investigate a possible data breach on its systems that process payment cards. "We are concerned there may have been a data security attack on Michaels that may have affected our customers' payment card information and we are taking aggressive action to determine the nature and scope of the issue," said the chief executive, Chuck Rubin, in a statement emailed to Reuters. The company said it has also hired an outside forensics firm to investigate the matter.
Mail on Sunday
Investors know the next few months will be a crunch time for the future of high stakes betting machines for firms such as Ladbrokes and William Hill. These machines are likened to crack cocaine and allow punters to wager up to £100 every 20 seconds on games such as roulette. Critics like anti-gambling charities and the Labour party say these machines exploit problem gamblers in the poorest parts of the country. Bookmakers deny there is any link between addictive gambling and these machines. They add that these higher stake machines were first brought in after the Labour government relaxed rules in 2001. Since then these machines have grown to contribute a significant proportion of bookmaker’s sales.
Mothercare is in secret talks to sell its Early Learning Centre chain as part of a plan to revive its fortunes. Discussions are being held with several suitors about a cut-price sale of the toy shops. Its poor performance was one of the contributors to Mothercare’s latest profit warning a fortnight ago. Lazard, the investment bank, is believed to be advising Mothercare. A sale of its sister brand would be embarrassing for the high street retailer. The two chains came together seven years ago when Mothercare paid £85m for the toy retailer, but it has been a failed marriage as Mothercare has lurched from one disaster to another in recent years.
Nick Wood was hired by KKR to expand Pets at Home. Has he done enough to tempt the American buyout giant to make a £1.5bn dash for the market? One of the great things about private equity, Nick Wood enthuses, is that staff get a slice of the action. Pets at Home is owned by KKR, the American behemoth, but there are almost 500 small shareholders — most of them store managers. Many are sitting on a juicy profit but can only sell if the company is listed on the stock market or sold to another buyout firm. Might they get a chance this year? The chief executive turns a rich shade of fucshia. “You know I can’t comment on that,” he says.
With consumer spending expected to recover, private equity owners of retail chains are keen to launch them on the market – but analysts are wary of the debt they carry Roll up, roll up for the sale of the century. A parade of retailers with a potential value of £6bn is hoping to join the London stock market this year, cashing in on hopes of economic recovery and improving consumer confidence. Appliances Online, McColl's, Pets at Home and Boohoo.com are thought to be at the head of a pack of as many as 15 retailers looking to go public, with talk that some could formally announce their intentions within weeks.
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