Wednesday newspaper round-up: North Sea oil, Opec, supermarkets
The industry revolt over George Osborne’s North Sea tax raid intensified yesterday as a leading oil company warned that £6.25bn of investment in two fields was now under threat. Norway’s Statoil said that it was freezing investment decisions on the Mariner and Bressay fields as it reviewed its spending plans in light of the Chancellor’s £2 billion windfall tax on the sector, reports the Times.
Opec, the oil producers’ cartel, will reap $1,00bn in export revenues this year for the first time if crude prices remain above $100 a barrel, according to the International Energy Agency. The cartel has been one of the main beneficiaries of high oil prices, which have soared in recent weeks amid the civil uprisings in the Middle East and north Africa. Brent crude was trading at $115 a barrel on Tuesday, the Financial Times reports.
The high price of petrol has dramatically reduced the amount shoppers have to spend on their weekly food trip, causing sales growth to tumble at the big four supermarkets. The latest figures from Kantar Worldpanel show grocery sales have slowed to 2.6% in the 12 weeks to March 20, down from 3.9% growth as Britons cut back on their groceries in a desperate attempt to conserve cash. Morrisons marginally increased its share to 12.2% compared with 12.1% a year earlier. Tesco and Asda saw slight declines, to 30.2% and 17pc respectively, while Sainsbury's held firm with a 16.3% share, reports the Daily Mail.
The coldest winter in the UK for 31 years helped Pret A Manger sell up to 50,000 bowls of porridge a week as Britons sought to keep warm. The sandwich chain said that Pret Porridge – which sells for £1.99 a pot and uses a recipe that took three years to formulate – was its highest selling new product last year. Strong sales helped the company to report a 17pc increase in total sales over the year December 30, the Telegraph reports.
Elsewhere in the world of sandwiches, the private equity firm Lyceum Capital has acquired Eat, the sandwich and coffee chain, in a management buyout deal and vowed to triple its number of UK shops to more than 300 and launch overseas. The 110-store chain's previous backers, Penta Capital, put Eat up for sale for about £100m in early 2010 and the grocer Waitrose is thought to have considered a bid but a deal never materialised, according to the Independent.
The Chancellor, George Osborne, told the Treasury Select Committee yesterday that any let-up in his plan to reduce the fiscal deficit would result in an almost immediate rise in borrowing costs and mortgage bills. Mr Osborne also defended the Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, from accusations that he had grown too political; refused to rule out petrol at over £1.50 a litre; and also took the opportunity to confirm that he was prepared to further review Private Finance Initiative projects, the Independent reports.
The Serious Fraud Office has raided a Luxembourg bank belonging to the family of David Rowland, the Tory donor who almost became the Conservative Party's treasurer last year. About 70 investigators descended on three business premises and two homes in Luxembourg as part of an investigation into failed Icelandic bank, Kaupthing, the Telegraph reports.
Bart Becht, the chief executive of Cillit Bang makers Reckitt Benckiser, took home more than £18m last year after long-term performance deals cashed in. The sum is substantially lower than the £90m he cashed in during 2009, when he broke all records for executive pay as share and options awarded since the company was created by Reckitt & Coleman's takeover of Benckiser a decade ago vested, the Guardian reports.