By Powerscourt on 03/05/2020
Powerscourt Coronavirus Briefing – 03 May 2020
It is reported that major employers will today receive draft guidelines from the UK government setting out how companies can resume working safely.
Plans for a return to work will be revealed this week, with some reports suggesting workers will begin to return from Monday, May 25.
Boris Johnson is said to favour a plan to ease lockdown very gradually across the country and then hit hard any COVID-19 hotspots that emerge after that.
With many businesses facing restrictions for months to come the British Chambers of Commerce says the Government should extend financial support “for the foreseeable future”.
WHAT ARE COMPANIES SAYING?
Consumer and Retail
The Times reported Vue Cinemas’ chief executive has broken ranks with industry peers and sided with the American film studio Universal in the row over its move to release Trolls World Tour via streaming services. Tim Richards, Vue CEO, said he understood Universal’s decision: “They had already spent very heavily on marketing the film and suddenly there were no screens to actually play it.” AMC, the world’s biggest cinema chain and owner of Odeon, last week vowed to stop showing Universal films after they showed “zero concern” for cinema operators.
Mike Ashley’s future son-in-law, Michael Murray, who runs the property side of Frasers Group (formerly Sports Direct), has confronted shopping centre giant Westfield, warning that its properties will turn into “ghost towns unless shopping centre giant Westfield shows more flexibility in dealing with tenants suffering from the coronavirus fallout.” Murray said the bosses of Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield had “their heads in the clouds” and did not comprehend the scale of disruption sweeping through retail.
The Financial Times reported that the UK burger chain, is considering a sale of the business by auction this week as it explores ways to survive a complete shutdown of its restaurants. Byron which closed two days before the UK government required all restaurants to shut in late March, has asked KPMG to begin looking for possible buyers, as well as refinancing options.
Zizzi and Ask Italian’s owner, Azzurri Group, has drafted in KPMG to help them find a way through the crisis according to The Times. The call was made to KPMG after a syndicate of Azzurri’s lenders hired advisers from FTI. The Group has so far suspended payments to landlords and is using the furlough scheme for most of their staff. The Company is still waiting to find out whether it is eligible for a business interruption loan.
The fast-food chain has written to landlords asking for up to 50% off rent for the June quarter, even as it begins to reopen some outlets for deliveries on May 13. The Company paid full rent for the current quarter.
The Times reported that better monitoring on Amazon was needed after excessive prices continue to appear on their website despite the Company’s pledge to remove crisis profiteers. A packet of 45 Andrex toilet rolls rose in price from under £24 to more than £95, the prices of some thermometers almost tripled and 1kg self-raising flour usually £1.50 was seen selling for £24.99 on April 30. Amazon says it has removed hundreds of thousands of products for “price gouging”.
The Times wrote about Ocado’s upcoming AGM on Wednesday where they are facing a row over boardroom pay after awarding a £59m long-term shares bonus to CEO, Tim Steiner. Advisory group ISS is urging investors to vote against Ocado’s pay report, citing a “highly levered variable pay structure and pay rises for the executive team.” It is also directing investors to oust Andrew Harrison, head of the company’s pay committee.
Financial Times published an interview with CEO, James Timpson, as he tries to work out how 5,4000 employees and more than 2,100 stores will reactivate after the pandemic.
Financial Services & Real Estate
US billionaire Warren Buffett admitted at his company’s virtual annual meeting that “he had got it wrong on airlines” during the pandemic. He announced he sold Berkshire Hathaway’s entire stakes in four US carriers, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Southwest and United Airlines in April. “It turns out I was wrong….the airline business — and I may be wrong and I hope I’m wrong — I think it has changed in a very major way.”
Industrials & Transport
The train operator will require passengers to wear masks or covering starting from Monday. Eurostar warned that passengers could face fines if caught without a mask.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that Shell is facing calls from major investors to line-up potential successors to Ben van Beurden, the chief executive, after cutting its dividend for the first time since the Second World War. Two top 20 investors told The Sunday Telegraph that, while they understood why the company was forced to trim its dividend due to the falling oil prices during Covid-19, “it needs a clearer path into the future as the energy system moves away from fossil fuels”.
The City is bracing for a cut to BT’s £1.5bn dividend according to The Times. The board meets this week to decide whether to keep the dividend, one of the 20 biggest in the FTSE 100 index. More than 40 leading companies have cancelled £16.5bn of payouts this year, according to the broker Peel Hunt, including all the banks.
IN THE NEWS
The science is becoming clear: lockdowns are no longer the right medicine – Sunday Times
Brutal comedown for firms numbed by furlough ‘heroin’ – Sunday Times
UK pledges extra funds for businesses that share office space – Financial Times
Boris Johnson aims to calm nation’s fears as he prepares to unveil ‘new normal’– The Telegraph