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Chase Bank Limits Cash Withdrawals, Bans International... Before you read this report, remember to sign up to for 100% free stock alerts Chase Bank has moved to limit cash withdrawals while banning business customers from sending...

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Richemont chairman Johann Rupert to take 'grey gap... Billionaire 62-year-old to take 12 months off from Cartier and Montblanc luxury goods groupRichemont's chairman and founder Johann Rupert is to take a year off from September, leaving management of the...

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Cambodia: aftermath of fatal shoe factory collapse... Workers clear rubble following the collapse of a shoe factory in Kampong Speu, Cambodia, on Thursday

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Spate of recent shock departures by 50-something CEOs While the rising financial rewards of running a modern multinational have been well publicised, executive recruiters say the pressures of the job have also been ratcheted upOn approaching his 60th birthday...

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UK Uncut loses legal challenge over Goldman Sachs tax... While judge agreed the deal was 'not a glorious episode in the history of the Revenue', he ruled it was not unlawfulCampaign group UK Uncut Legal Action has lost its high court challenge over the legality...

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Royal mail sale is sign of Conservatives’ desperation, says Labour

Category : Business

Chuka Umunna, shadow business secretary warns the £3bn sale of the postal service could lead to sub-standard services

Labour has accused the government of desperately pushing ahead with the £3bn “fire sale” of Royal Mail in order to “raise funds to cover the gaping hole in George Osborne’s failed economic plan”.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, said there was a “distinct whiff of desperation” surrounding the privatisation of the world’s oldest postal service. He accused the government of rushing into a saleout of a desire to quickly reduce a £245bn overshoot in government borrowing. He warned that a rushed sell-off could lead to “sub-standard services and people being ripped-off”.

“This timing of this privatisation has the distinct whiff of desperation from a government that has borrowed £245bn more than it planned and is eager to dig itself out of that hole at any price,” he said. “Ultimately it is the taxpayer who will lose out.”

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) said: “As business minister Michael Fallon said last week, the decision will not be based on ideology. It will be a practical, logical and commercial decision. Royal Mail will only be sold if it gets maximum value for the taxpayer.”Fallon has said that unless Royal Mail passed into private hands, it would not be able to access equity markets, without which “every £1 it borrows is another £1 on the national debt”. He said at least 10% of the shares would be allocated to Royal Mail employees, but refused to say whether staff would get free shares or have to buy them at a discount.

The flotation, which the government hopes to get away before April 2014, will be the largest employee share scheme since the privatisation of British Gas 26 years ago. About 140,000 staff are expected to each collect shares worth about £1,500 on average.

However, Labour questioned why “just 10%” of the shares in the initial public offering are earmarked for Royal Mail employees.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said postal workers would not “sell their soul” for a 10% stake in the company. Billy Hayes, general secretary of the CWU, said: “We don’t want our prize assets to be flogged at bargain basement prices just to cover up George Osborne’s mess.

“Privatisation is an old-fashioned idea from Thatcher’s era. We’d like to see a little more imagination and positivity when it comes to our postal service. We firmly believe it can and should continue to flourish in full public ownership.”

Umunna also warned that privatisation risks undermining the universal service obligation ensuring mail delivery six days a week to villages as well as cities at the same prices.

Fallon has already promised that “Royal Mail will remain the UK’s designated universal postal service provider and must continue to provide a six-day-a-week service throughout the UK”.

There was also renewed speculation over the weekend that the government is preparing to sell off the student loan book. It is to test the water with the sale of a £900m tranche of loans announced in March and is considering a wholesale privatisation, said the Sunday Times.

The Student Loans Company, which administers about £5.5bn of state loans a year, is part of the BIS. The department’s 2011 annual report showed £28bn of loans are outstanding, but it is suggested the total is likely to rise to near £40bn because of the increase in tuition fees.

A sale might be difficult due the sensitivities of a new owner cracking down on graduates to repay loans. The department declined to comment.

The government is also understood to be preparing for the sale of the taxpayer’s stakes in Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) next year.

Judicial review expected into handling of small firm loan scheme

Category : Business

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills accused of retrospectively rewriting rules of loan scheme

The government is facing the threat of a judicial review into its handling of an investigation into Barclays’ involvement in a state-backed loan scheme.

An investigation into a loan made by the bank in 2006 under the small firms loan guarantee scheme was extended last month by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills after an intervention by Michael Fallon, a business minister.

However, questions have been raised about the latest examination of evidence by the auditors RSM Tenon on behalf of the department. The loan was made to a company owned by Yorkshire businessman Jeffrey Morris who has alleged Barclays did not comply with eligibility rules imposed by the loan guarantee scheme.

“The new report makes no sense to me,” Morris said. “It is selective in the information it relies upon, it is inconsistent with itself and the evidence, it rewrites the scheme rules and it is inconclusive. The only way I can get justice for myself and the taxpayer is to seek a judicial review. I have spoken to my lawyers who believe there is a case for a much wider and fully independent judicial enquiry.”

The scheme for startup businesses, which guaranteed banks a return if their investment defaulted, has cost the taxpayer at least £200m in compensating banks. The Guardian reported on the loan in September, prompting the department to commission RSM Tenon. Papers seen by the Guardian show, allegedly, that Barclays sought collateral for the deal and gave the loan to a long-established business – actions that contravened the scheme’s terms. Morris defaulted on the loan in 2006, but Barclays reclaimed most of the balance owed – £91,667 – from the taxpayer.

Morris argues that an internal email sent by Barclays in May 2006 shows the bank had arranged a loan under the guarantee scheme for his business, Diamond Shape, even though he still had available collateral. Under the terms of the scheme, a loan could be guaranteed by the government only if the borrower had exhausted all other forms of collateral.

The new investigation examined a key email from Barclays, discussing a meeting with Morris, which indicates that the bank sought collateral for the loan. Referring to the department’s former guise as the Department for Trade and Industry, it says: “Looking for NewCo SFLG of £200k asap – this has been sanctioned by DTI. We advised we would need to see at least either share charge or property charge in place prior to drawdown.”

This suggests Barclays was seeking further collateral before making the money available to Morris, in direct contravention of the scheme’s rules. However, the new RSM Tenon report makes no mention of this part of the email. Instead, it focuses on the shares and property Morris was offering to Barclays as additional collateral. The reports admits that Mr Morris had further collateral available at the time the loan was made.

The new RSM Tenon report also appears to suggest that although the bank was seeking further personal collateral from Morris, this did not breach the key rule that any such loan could be made only when all other personal collateral had been exhausted. Barclays has said that the crucial email does not relate to Diamond Shape and had no relevance to the SFLG application.

Referring to the email, the report says: “The extent to which he was being asked to support the borrowing … personally does not, in itself, invalidate the making of an SFLG loan.” The department could not explain how this apparent retrospective rewriting of the scheme’s rules was justified. A department spokesperson said: “The department is satisfied that all relevant and necessary evidence from the loan application process, from all parties, has been properly considered.”

Barclays said: “Barclays co-operated fully with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills and RSM Tenon during their thorough audit of the loan made to Diamond Shape Limited by Barclays in 2006. Weare pleased to acknowledge the findings of the final report which found that ‘the loan and business appear to meet the eligibility criteria of the scheme at the time’. Barclays remains committed to lending and will utilise government schemes, where appropriate, to help make funds available to our customers and clients.”

RSM Tenon declined to comment.

US growth is faster than expected

Category : Business, World News

The US economy grew at a faster than expected 0.4% in the fourth quarter, the Department of Commerce says, but the overall picture remains sluggish.

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John Lewis staff celebrate bonus of nine weeks’ pay

Category : Business

Retailer says staff will all receive bonus worth 17% of salary, higher than last year

The John Lewis retail chain has handed its 84,700 staff an annual bonus worth 17% of their salary – the equivalent of nine weeks’ pay – as the employee-owned company continues to outperform its rivals.

Staff at John Lewis’s Oxford Street store whooped and clapped as the better-than-expected bonus – which is handed to all employees, from cashiers to chairman Charlie Mayfield – was revealed on Thursday against a gloomy backdrop for some other retailers. The bonus for an employee on average salary would be £4,000.

But the John Lewis Partnership warned it was reviewing its pension, one of the few non-contributory final-salary schemes left in the country. It said: “During the next year the partnership will be undertaking a review of the pension scheme to ensure that it can remain fair to partners and sustainable from a business perspective.”

The £210.8m bonus payout, up from £165.2m last year, followed a 9.1% rise in sales to £8.47bn. Profits for the group, which owns the Waitrose supermarket chain as well as 39 department stores, were up 15.8% on last year to £409.6m, before accounting for tax and the bonus.

The latest burst of growth brings the partnership within a whisker of Marks & Spencer’s UK sales of £8.9bn for the year to March 2012. A big part of that growth came online, with sales up 40.8% at Waitrose’s online business rose 49%, compared with 19% for the grocery market as a whole. Both the group’s chains have gained market share over the year.

Natalie Jempeji, section manager in lingerie at John Lewis Oxford Street, said: “It’s a bit more than I was expecting so I’m happy with that. I’m going to spend the money on a holiday to Turkey for my birthday later in the year.”

George Young, section manager of furnishing fabrics, who has been in the partnership for 45 years and helped open the outsized envelope containing the bonus figure, said: “This is the last bonus before I retire. I’m going to take my wife to Cornwall to enjoy a nice holiday that will set me up for retirement.”

The company said it had reaped the benefit from its investment in technology and lower prices, as well as shoppers’ trust in its brands during the horsemeat scandal and tough times on the high street that have seen the demise of rivals.

Mayfield, whose most recently disclosed salary was £825,000, said: “These results have been achieved against a market that remains subdued, but we believe the market is stabilising and there are some opportunities out there.”

The chairman added that the outlook for the economy was becoming clearer as fears about the collapse of the eurozone subsided.

This year, John Lewis will be investing over £200m, more than ever before, in store refurbishments, a new warehouse and future stores, although no new outlets will open this year.

Waitrose, meanwhile, is planning to open 20 stores this year and a new distribution centre in Lancashire to support growth in the north of England and Scotland.

The two sides of the partnership will also be looking at more ways to work closer together after launching a service that allows shoppers to pick up goods ordered at at Waitrose stores.

Andrew Murphy, director of retail operations, said the group would be opening another Waitrose inside a John Lewis, as it has done in Oxford Street and Bluewater, and was looking for at least two more sites where John Lewis and Waitrose could open neighbouring stores.

In Ipswich, where such co-location is already operating, sales are running 30% above expectations four months after the stores opened.

Neil Saunders, managing director of retail analyst Conlumino, said: “One of the most impressive features of John Lewis over the past year has been its ability to keep many plates spinning simultaneously. The pace and quality of innovation and initiatives has been extremely strong and is one of the central reasons for its outperformance.”

A 29% surge in sales of electrical goods such as iPads and TVs boosted sales at John Lewis last year as major high street rival Comet collapsed. Waitrose saw its market share rise from 4.7% to 4.9% after it opened 19 new stores and promised to match Tesco’s prices on branded goods and expanded its Essential range of low-price basic foods.

Mark Price, managing director of Waitrose, said the chain’s prices were now on average 1% cheaper than Sainsbury’s. He said the Little Waitrose convenience store chain made a profit for the first time in 2012, its third year in existence, and he plans to open at least 10 more of the small shops this year.

Both Waitrose and John Lewis experienced a gradual rise in the pace of growth over the year and that momentum has continued in 2013.

Gross sales rose 10.5% in the first five weeks of the year, with like-for likes sales up 13.7% at the department stores and 6.4% at the supermarket compared with the same period in 2012.

Overseas plans

John Lewis is seeking partnerships with overseas department stores after a successful trial in South Korea.

Andy Street, its managing director, said the company wanted relationships with “other prestigious department stores around the world on a wholesale or licence model”.

He said John Lewis had no intention of opening its own stores abroad but is planning dedicated websites in France and Germany this year. It launched a version of its English site in 33 countries in 2011.

The Waitrose chain is also expanding abroad. It now has seven licensed shops in the Middle East and plans four more this year. The supermarket’s exports rose 20% in 2012 as it expanded into South Korea, Taiwan, Gibraltar and Trinidad, making a total of 30 countries. This year, Waitrose has started delivering to Ibiza and several Caribbean islands.

John Lewis announces 17% staff bonus

Category : World News

Department store group John Lewis announces a 17% bonus for staff after reporting a rise in annual profits.

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Revision takes US economy to growth

Category : Business, World News

The performance of the US economy in the last three months of 2012 is revised from a 0.1% contraction to 0.1% growth by the Commerce Department.

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‘Bedroom tax’ rules re-examined

Category : Business

Welfare secretary Iain Duncan Smith instructs his department to “look again” at how the “bedroom tax” will affect disabled people.

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Touchstone Gold Announces Commencement of Stage 4 Drilling Program and the Identification of a New Target Zone at the Segovia Gold Project in Colombia

Category : World News

TORONTO, ONTARIO–(Marketwire – Feb. 19, 2013) - Touchstone Gold Limited (“Touchstone Gold” or the “Company”)(TSX:TCH)(AIM:TGL) is pleased to announce the commencement of the Stage 4 Drilling Program, as scheduled, and the identification of a new drill-ready target zone at its Segovia Gold Project in the Department of Antioquia, Colombia.

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Recent Trade Press Articles Inaccurately Depict TWIC Program

Category : World News

WASHINGTON, DC–(Marketwire – Jan 17, 2013) – The International Biometrics & Identification Association (IBIA) strongly disagrees with recent media articles that conclude that the Transportation Worker Identification Credential (TWIC) program “doesn’t work” or is “broken.”1 Several recent media articles have cited a public notice by the Department of Defense (DOD) as evidence supporting their conclusion. 

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Promotions boost Debenhams sales

Category : Business, World News

Department store chain Debenhams reports record December sales, thanks in part to additional promotions.

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