Europe

More than 20 U.K. retail chains instructed accountancy firm Deloitte LLP in the past two months to assess whether they are able to restructure their debt, the Sunday Times reported, without saying where it got the information, Bloomberg News reported. The accountancy firm is considering whether the chains -- mostly fashion and homeware retailers -- can use a so-called company voluntary arrangement to close stores. The process allows businesses to leave behind lease liabilities and keep operating, but puts a financial burden on landlords.

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Britain’s Ovo Energy said on Friday it had taken over the customers of independent power supplier Economy Energy, which ceased trading this week. Economy Energy became the ninth supplier to stop trading in the past year, after an attempt to increase competitiveness prompted the launch of dozens of independent traders in Britain, Reuters reported. Ovo said it now had 1.5 million retail customers in Britain after taking over Economy Energy’s 235,000 clients as well as the 290,000 customers of Spark Energy, another small company that stopped operations last year.

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Norwegian offshore drilling rig firm Seadrill Ltd said on Thursday that Chief Financial Officer Mark Morris will step down following completion of the company’s financial restructuring, Reuters reported. The company, controlled by Norwegian-born billionaire John Fredriksen, said it has begun a formal search process and that Morris will remain in the role until the end of June to make the transition possible. Separately, Seadrill Partners said Morris would step down as chief executive officer of that firm at the end of June.

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French manufacturing output fell in November, a further indicator that trade uncertainty and political tension in Europe could be cooling the eurozone, the Financial Times reported. The 1.3 per cent month on month slide in industrial output was worse than the forecast in a Reuters survey of no change, following two months of growth. Manufacturing was also down 1.4 per cent in November, a 1.2 per cent decrease from November last year, the French National Institute for Economic Studies reported on Thursday. Manufacturing output remained down 1.0 per cent over the quarter.

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France’s top central banker has warned the European Central Bank to take a “gradual and pragmatic” approach to ditching its crisis-era stimulus, as the world’s monetary policymakers react to fears of a global economic slowdown, the Financial Times reported. In dovish remarks François Villeroy de Galhau, the Banque de France governor and a member of the ECB’s governing council, said in Luxembourg on Thursday that the ECB should keep its “options open in the face of current uncertainty”.

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Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told Theresa May the whole world wants to avoid a no-deal Brexit even as she faces likely defeat when Parliament votes on her plan next week, Bloomberg News reported. Following a day of meetings between the two leaders in London Thursday, Abe publicly backed May’s agreement and offered her his “deepest respect” for the work she has done in securing an agreement with the European Union. “We truly hope that a no-deal Brexit will be avoided and in fact, that is the whole wish of the whole world,” Abe said at a press conference in Downing Street.

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Staff at struggling dockless bike-sharing start-up Ofo’s international subsidiaries are “prepared for bankruptcy or acquisition” after the company shut its overseas department, the Financial Times reported. A person familiar with the company said that Beijing-headquartered Ofo’s international arm, which managed the global subsidiaries, had closed this week but employees abroad still had their jobs. The division’s closure was first reported by local Chinese media.

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The Norwegian markets regulator has censured Nasdaq’s commodities exchange in Oslo for supervisory failures after a trader blew a €114m hole in the stability fund that ensures the safety of derivatives trading last year, the Financial Times reported. The business failed to adequately monitor its trading members or the traders’ positions limit the regulator had set, a report on Thursday from Finanstilsynet, the Norwegian financial supervisory authority, said.

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Struggling children's goods retailer Mothercare has continued to suffer from declining sales, with no reversal in its fortunes over the crucial Christmas trading period. Sales at its UK stores that have been open for more than a year fell by 11.4 per cent in the 13 weeks to January, compared to the same period a year before, the Financial Times reported. Online sales dropped by 16.3 per cent as fewer people visited its website and its toy range was smaller than a year ago.

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The High Court has appointed an interim examiner to a group of companies that provides 70 online education courses to more than 4.5 million students globally, The Irish Times reported. Shaw Academy Ltd, and two related firms – Shaw Education Group plc and Academy of Financial Trading Education Ltd – sought the protection of the courts after its largest creditor made demands last week on the group to repay loans of €5.7 million.

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