United Kingdom

Treasury plans to prioritise debt repayments to the government in company insolvencies represents a “cash grab” that will have “serious consequences” for the economy, industry bodies have warned, The Times reported. In a joint letter to Sajid Javid, the chancellor, accountancy, investment and legal trade groups said that the proposed legislation would make it harder to rescue businesses, limit access to finance across the economy, increase the impact of insolvencies on other businesses and undermine government tax receipts.

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Nearly 10m households in the UK are paying their energy bills via standard variable tariffs. These are the rates customers default to when any special energy deal runs out and are usually the most expensive around, the Financial Times reported. A customer could be put on a standard variable tariff if their fixed-term tariff contract ends and they have not chosen a new one; this usually occurs after around a year. The average price of a standard variable tariff from the largest six suppliers for a typical dual fuel customer is £104.50 a month, or £1,254 a year.

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Losses at Topshop, once considered the jewel in the crown of Philip Green’s Arcadia group, widened to £498m for the year to September 2018 after taking significant exceptional charges relating to property leases and brand value, the Financial Times reported. The company accounts for around half of Arcadia’s overall sales and along with six other group entities has used insolvency procedures to secure lower rents at many of its UK stores. Topshop’s loss in the previous year was £15.6m.

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Concerns over PPI, which was supposed to protect customers if they fell ill or lost their jobs, first surfaced more than two decades ago. But the unprecedented scale of what has become by far the UK’s biggest mis-selling scandal has not lost its power to shock, The Irish Times reported. A flood of last-minute claims was widely expected before an August 29th deadline, but the scale of the rush has been little short of astonishing.

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Billionaire Mike Ashley failed to appoint an auditor in time for Sports Direct’s annual general meeting on Wednesday, throwing the UK retailer deeper into chaos, The Irish Times reported. Sports Direct has been racing to find a replacement for Grant Thornton, which quit as auditor last month following the company’s delayed posting of annual results because of a last-minute €674 million tax bill. The big four auditing firms have turned down the role, citing conflicts of interest.

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Grocery retailer Iceland again boosted sales across its estate in the Republic, but profit slipped further into the red as costs spiked almost 62 per cent, The Irish Times reported. The UK frozen foods retailer posted a rise in sales of 17 per cent to €57.7 million as it continued to expand its store network here in the year to March 29th, 2019. Iceland now has 26 outlets spread across the country in locations such as Donegal, Cork, Dublin and Galway.

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Thomas Cook Rescue to Be Challenged

Holders of credit insurance on Thomas Cook Group Plc are drawing up plans to potentially block the U.K. travel agent’s $1.1 billion rescue in order to ensure they get a payout, Bloomberg News reported. The group of hedge funds, including Sona Asset Management and XAIA Investment GmbH, may vote against a bailout led by Fosun Tourism Group at a creditor meeting on Sept. 18 if they don’t secure their payment before then, according to people familiar with the plan. Fosun’s rescue includes a debt-for-equity swap that could prevent compensation on their default insurance.

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The number of UK companies including warnings over Brexit in their annual reports has more than doubled in the past six months as the threat of a no-deal exit from the EU has increased, according to filings from medium and large businesses to Companies House, the Financial Times reported. Companies operating in the manufacturing and retail sectors have mentioned Brexit the most, highlighting the impact that potential tariffs and border delays could have on businesses that rely on “just in time” delivery of supplies.

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Shares in Britain’s Intu Properties surged as much as 22% on Monday on speculation a private equity group could buy out the shopping centre operator, which has been hit by high-profile retail failures and a hefty debt burden, Reuters reported. The Sunday Times reported that private equity firm Orion Capital Managers, founded by Aref Lahham, is in the early stages of finding partners for a buyout of Intu, which owns the Trafford Centre in Manchester.

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A run of three profit warnings is frequently followed by boardroom firings and the arrival of administrators at U.K. firms, according to a 20-year study by EY, Bloomberg News reported. Within a year of issuing three or more profit warnings, 18% of U.K. companies will face a restructuring event such as insolvency proceedings, EY said. It also found that by the morning of a third warning, a quarter of chief executive officers have left the firm.

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