BUSINESS LIVE: Co-op Bank takeover agreed; Abrdn boss to exit; Washout April for retail

The FTSE 100 is down 0.4 per cent in afternoon trading. Among the companies with reports and trading updates today are Coventry Building Society, Co-Op Bank, Abrdn John Wood Group and GSK. Read the Friday 24 May Business Live blog below.

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Energy bills WILL fall in July but standing charges will remain high

Energy bills will fall by 7 per cent for millions of households from July, regulator Ofgem has confirmed.

However, this is based on average usage and the exact amount they pay will vary.

Abrdn boss Stephen Bird quits asset manager

Abrdn’s boss has quit after four challenging years at the helm, having overseen a controversial rebrand, the ‘simplification’ of the asset manager and disappointing results.

Stephen Bird has stepped down as the investment group’s chief executive, but will remain at the company until the end of June to enable a smooth handover.

Twelve ways YOU can make money from the Wall Street boom

Warren Buffett, the legendary US investor known as the Oracle of Omaha, says that you should never bet against America.

This adage from the revered 93-year-old billionaire has held true recently.

Which energy firm is offering the cheapest way to get a heat pump?

British Gas has unveiled a new energy deal that claims to save heat pump owners up to £450 a year on their energy bills – joining a slew of rival incentives to get households to replace gas boilers.

The National Audit Office said in March the high cost of heat pumps and a lack of understanding were preventing more households from choosing the energy-saving devices.

Why haven’t house prices fallen despite mortgage rates rocketing?

When mortgage rates began shooting upwards in the latter months of 2022, many expected house prices to fall dramatically.

Simple logic assumed that higher borrowing costs would mean buyers wouldn’t be able to afford the same mortgage they could before, and prices would therefore plummet.

AJ Bell shares slip as founder Andy Bell flogs £28.1m stake

AJ Bell shares fell on Friday after the investment platform’s co-founder sold a large chunk of shares.

Regulatory filings show Andy Bell, who founded the business with Nicholas Littlefair in 1995, has sold 7,500,000 shares in the group at 375p each, raking in £28.1million.

Coventry’s £750m takeover of Co-op Bank confirmed

Coventry Building Society said it does not require members to vote on approving its takeover of Co-operative Bank, which the pair fully confirmed on Friday.

The West Midlands group agreed to buy the Co-op Bank last month in a £780million deal to create Britain’s seventh-largest lender, with millions of customers and around £89billion of assets.

Qinetiq sales soar 21% as boss warns global threats are ‘accelerating’

The boss of defence group Qinetiq said global threats are ‘accelerating’ as it reported a 21 per cent rise in annual sales and shares hit a record high.

UK-based Qinetiq has – like other defence firms – been boosted by heightened government spending amid conflict in the Middle East and Ukraine as well as tensions over Taiwan.

What the general election means for the economy and your finances

On Wednesday, Rishi Sunak announced the next general election will be on 4 July.

The economy is likely to take centre stage as both major parties ramp up campaigning.

Hargreaves Lansdown founder eying ‘all options’ after takeover bid

The co-founder of Hargreaves Lansdown last night said he was ‘looking at all options’ after a shock foreign takeover bid threw the investment platform’s future into doubt.

Peter Hargreaves said he was ‘watching with interest’ after the board rejected a £4.67billion approach from a consortium including private equity group CVC and Abu Dhabi investors.

Market Open: FTSE 100 down 0.9%; FTSE 250 off 0.4%

London-listed stocks are down by almost 1 per cent this moring, tracking losses in Asian markets after robust US economic data spurred worries of interest rates staying high for longer, while National Grid has kept yesterday’s losses in check.

US showed business activity in May accelerated to the highest level in over two years, while investors also take profits following a near 8 per cent climb in London stocks over the past five weeks.

AJ Bell shares are down 4.5 per cent after the investment platform’s founder sold 7.5 million shares in the company.

National Grid has jumped 7.7 per cent after a nearly 11 per cent drop on Thursday.

Intertek Group is up 3 per cent after the product testing firm reconfirmed its forecast for 2024.

Royal Mail delays results as it heads towards £3.5bn takeover

Royal Mail last night came under fresh scrutiny after its owner delayed the publication of its latest accounts as it heads towards a £3.5billion takeover by a Czech billionaire.

In an announcement that took the City by surprise, International Distributions Services (IDS) said that accountants at KPMG needed more time to assess its financial results.

It came as Daniel Kretinsky, the West Ham United co-owner dubbed the ‘Czech Sphinx’, mulls whether to make a formal offer before a deadline next week.

John Wood Group rejects third takeover proposal

British oilfield services and engineering firm John Wood Group has rejected a third buyout proposal from Dubai-based company Sidara, as the unsolicited offer continued to ‘significantly undervalue’ the group.

Shares of the London-listed John Wood Group, which have surged more than 25 per cent over the last 12 months, are down around 2 per cent in early trading. to 176.80p

The latest proposal for a cash offer of 220p per share, received on Tuesday, represented an increase of about 3.8 per cent to the previous proposal submitted on 14 May.

John Wood, which provides consultation, asset management and engineering services for the energy and materials sector, received in April the initial 205p per share proposal.

Bunq Bank looks to relaunch in Britain – can it compete?

‘The banking scene in the Netherlands has always felt a little bit like Broadway. If you can make it here you can make it anywhere’ Bunq chief executive Ali Niknam tells This is Money.

While Amsterdam’s DeLaMar theatre might not be Broadway, in attendance for its latest update – Bunq25 – are around 450 customers, investors and stakeholders waiting to hear about its new features, so that’s certainly what Bunq is going for.

GSK welcomes US court ruling on Zantac

‘GSK welcomes today’s jury verdict in the Valadez case in Illinois state court finding in GSK’s favour in the first Zantac case to go to trial. This outcome is consistent with the scientific consensus that there is no consistent or reliable evidence that ranitidine increases the risk of any cancer, supported by 16 epidemiological studies looking at human data regarding the use of ranitidine. GSK will continue to vigorously defend itself against all other claims.

‘Prior to this verdict, the court rejected the Plaintiff’s ability to request punitive damages.

‘Separately, the company welcomed the recent court ruling dismissing the next Zantac trial (Williams) that was due to start on 23 May 2024. In the Williams case, the Illinois state court dismissed the case before trial on the basis that GSK was not the brand manufacturer of over-the-counter Zantac at the time the Plaintiff allegedly used it and should not be liable for any subsequent over-the-counter Zantac use.’

‘UK consumer isn’t out of the woods’

Charlie Huggins, manager of the Quality Shares Portfolio at Wealth Club:

‘Retail sales volumes came in much worse than expected in April. Wet and dull weather looks to be the major culprit causing consumers to hunker down, rather than venture out to the High Street.

‘However, I’m not sure the finger can be pointed entirely at the weather Gods. Although online sales held up better than those in stores, they still fell by 1.2%. And there were declines across nearly every category, including food and fuel.

‘While we should be careful not to over-interpret these weather-impacted figures, they do indicate that the UK consumer isn’t out of the woods. Inflation may have moderated, but prices of most goods and services remain much higher than a couple of years ago. This continues to instill a sense of caution in consumer behaviour.”

‘With a looming general election likely to add to the uncertainty, retailers could be in for a tricky few months.’

Washout April for retail sales

UK retail sales fell by more than any economist predicted last month, as wet weather kept shoppers away from clothing retailers and sports stores, the Office for National Statistics said on Friday.

Sales volumes dropped by 2.3 per cent in April alone after a 0.2 per cet fall in March, which was downwardly revised from a flat reading.

A Reuters poll of economists had pointed to a drop of around 0.4 per cent on the month.

‘Sales volumes fell across most sectors, with clothing retailers, sports equipment, games and toys stores, and furniture stores doing badly as poor weather reduced footfall,’ the ONS said.

The stats agency was confident that it had adjusted the figures for the timing of the Easter holidays.

The earlier date of Easter this year meant spending in the run-up to the holiday took place in March not April, which affected British Retail Consortium data published earlier this month.

Top Tesla investor Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust backs Musk’s £44bn pay package

Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust is set to back Elon Musk’s £44billion pay package next month.

Tom Slater, who manages the £14.1billion trust, said he believes the award should be paid after it was agreed in 2018.

As one of Tesla’s longest-standing investors, it is a vote of confidence for Musk as he faces a potential backlash at the car company’s annual meeting on June 13.

Abrdn boss to exit

Chief executive of asset manager Abrdn Stephen Bird will step down, the group has told shareholders.

His departure, which comes after four years in the role will see finance chief Jason Windsor take the helm on an interim basis.

Following a significant strategic repositioning of the company, the board and Bird agreed that it is time for the executive ‘to hand over the reins to the team he has assembled over the last four years to drive the business forward,’ abrdn said in a statement.

The Edinburgh-based company named Windsor as the CFO last July.

Bird, a former Citigroup executive who took over as chief executive in 2020, has sought to drive a turnaround by shedding jobs, reducing its range of funds and expanding into mass-market investing, following the takeover of online platform interactive investor in 2022.

Coventry Building Society’s Co-op Bank takeover agreed

Coventry Building Society will acquire Co-operative Bank for £780million in cash, the pair said in a joint statement on Friday, as the lender prepares to return to mutual status.

The latest attempted tie-up among UK lenders jostling for market share is expected to complete in the first quarter of 2025, the statement said.

And the building society finally concluded that its members will get no vote on the deal.

It said: ‘The CBS Board has considered carefully whether a member vote is required.

‘Having had regard to the requirements of the Building Societies Act 1986, and, following thorough and detailed assessments and professional advice, the Board has conclusively determined that a member vote is not required.

‘In coming to this decision, the CBS Board has been informed by member surveys and focus groups which clearly signalled their priorities as maintaining our value proposition and service quality.’

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