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FTSE CLOSE: Interserve to file for administration; UK stocks in the green

Boohoo boss enters fray

The new chief executive of Boohoo, John Lyttle, has joined the online fashion chain's board with immediate effect.

Mr Lyttle will take the top job following an eight-year stint as chief operating officer of Primark.

He will replace Mahmud Kamani and Carol Kane, previously both joint CEOs, who are going on to assume the roles of group executive chairman and executive director respectively.

Boohoo fashion

Welsh construction firm Dawnus goes bust

Dawnus, a building company based in Swasnsea employing 700 workers, has gone into administration.

Administrators Grant Thornton said the company had struggled 'with a wide variety of challenges'.

'Whilst the financial difficulties of the group were not a consequence of Brexit, there is no doubt that Brexit uncertainty impacted the ability to rescue the business,' they added.

Dawnus was working on 44 construction sites across the UK - where workers downed tools earlier this week after not being paid. 

Wall Street opens higher

US stocks rose on Friday as investors took heart from positive signs regarding trade talks between the US and China and after MPs voted to delay Brexit.

The Dow rose at the open, although it was now 12 points lower at 25,697.

The S&P 500 was  4 points higher at 2,812, while the Nasdaq rose 55 points to 7,686.

FSB on Interserve: 'Lessons still need to be learnt'

The chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses National, Mike Cherry, commenting on Interserve:

The collapse of Interserve highlights once again the dangers of relying on a handful of outsourcing giants. At a time when political uncertainty is weighing heavily on small business confidence, this development will spark further fears across its supply chain.

A year on from Carillion’s demise, lessons still need to be learnt. We have to move to an environment where Project Bank Accounts are the norm for large public procurement projects, and big contracts broken up to provide opportunities for smaller firms. Doing so will diversify and de-risk supply chains, meaning higher performance.

Thankfully – following FSB’s tireless campaigning in this space – Interserve is one of a few big outsourcers with a living will in place. That means work should be handed straight on to new suppliers, helping to avoid a Carillion-style meltdown.

GMB slams Interserve's 'shambolic mismanagement'

Kevin Brandstatter, GMB national officer, commenting on Interserve's collapse:

Ministers have learnt absolutely nothing from the Carillion fiasco and are hell-bent on outsourcing public-sector contracts.

Shambolic mismanagement is putting jobs on the line and services in jeopardy. Our public services can't go on like this.

Interserve shares have been in decline

Here's a graph of the shares' decline over the past five years.

Interserve statement here

Further to the announcement made on 27 February 2019 in respect of the Deleveraging Plan, Interserve announces that, at the General Meeting held earlier today, the resolution set out in the Notice of General Meeting was not passed.

The board of directors of the Company is convening an urgent board meeting to consider its options.  In the absence of any viable alternative, it expects to implement an alternative deleveraging transaction, which is likely to involve the Company making an application for administration and, if the order is granted, the immediate sale of the Company's business and assets (i.e. the entire Group) to a newly-incorporated company, to be owned by the existing lenders.  

The alternative transaction will be implemented very quickly and via a carefully-managed process and the administration and sale is expected to be completed this evening, ensuring that the business will continue to operate as normal for customers and suppliers.  

BREAKING: Interserve to go into administration

Outsourcer Interserve has failed to secure investor backing for a restructuring plan and is set to fall into administration.

Some 60 per cent of shareholders voted against a bailout plan that would have handed 95 per cent of Interserve ownership to lenders and leave shareholders with just 5 per cent.

The firm added that the administration and sale is expected to be completed this evening and the business will continue to operate 'as normal for customers and suppliers'.

Shares will be suspended from trading on the London Stock Exchange immediately.

Sir Philip Green's retail empire in trouble?

Sir Philip Green's Arcadia, which includes fashion brands Topshop and Dorothy Perkins, is mulling an urgent restructuring process known as a CVA to exit under-performing stores. 

According to Sky News, the besieged retailer will launch the store closure plan as soon as next month. 

Read more about Arcadia's woes here... 

Bank set to hold interest rates next week

Next Thursday is the Bank of England's monthly meeting. And policymakers are likely to leave the base rate unchanged, according to Howard Archer, chief economic advisor to the EY ITEM Club.

He said: With Brexit uncertainties at a peak, the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) is almost certain to sit very tight on interest rates at their March policy meeting this week.

Anything other than a 9-0 vote within the MPC for unchanged interest rates at 0.75% on Thursday is inconceivable.

The current state of the economy fully justifies the Bank of England adopting a 'wait and see' approach on interest rates, regardless of the current heightened uncertainties.

Housebuilder Berkeley shares rise

FTSE 100 listed housebuilder Berkeley said trading between November and the end of February was in line with the past two years. 

The firm also reiterated that profits for the current financial year would rise by about 8 per cent. 

Shares rose 1.6 per cent to 3,969p following the trading update.

'While very mindful of the potential for short-term market dislocations from the current political back-drop, we remain steadfast in our belief in the long-term resilience and attraction of our markets of London, Birmingham and the South East,' the group said. 

SThree's profits rise despite troubles at UK arm

Recruitment firm SThree's quarterly profits rose thanks to growth in international markets which offset a weak UK performance.

85 per cent of its profits came from markets outside of the UK and Ireland. Profits in the UK and Ireland declined 7 per cent. 

The company, which specialises in staffing for the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) industries, said there was good momentum in contract recruitment, which rose 12 per cent. Permanent recruitment rose 1 per cent.

Morning walk around the markets

SpreadEx analyst Connor Campbell says: 'Granting something of a Brexit respite, ahead of a hella hectic economic and political calendar next week, the pound was fairly quiet at Friday’s open. 

'Another chaotic, fractured evening for UK politics eventually saw MPs back an extension to Article 50, the length of which will be dependent on whether or not a deal is secured – namely Theresa May’s twice-rejected withdrawal agreement, which will likely go to a third vote – by March 20th.

This was the expected outcome on Thursday, and led to little movement from the pound, which appeared to have already factored in the result.

This contributed to the FTSE’s increase, the UK index sitting at a 3-ish week peak of 7215.

Though the session is arguably set to be quieter when compared to the rest of the week, the pound is still going to be sensitive to any signs of which way the Brexit winds will be as we head towards the next key date of March 20th.'

The Restaurant Group shares jump

Frankie and Benny and Wagamama owner Restaurant Group shares have jumped sharply in early trade after the company reported its final results.

Total sales rose 1 per cent to £686m, even though profits were sharply lower, due to a £39.2million exceptional pre-tax charge.

Like for like sales also declined 2 per cent, but this was above market expectations, which may well account for this morning’s jump in the share price.

Interserve faces crucial vote

Interserve shareholders are voting on a rescue deal that would see Interserve lenders take a 95 per cent stake, cutting current investors' stake to just 5 per cent.

If the deal doesn't get through, the company will collapse into insolvency.

Interserve holds crucial Government contracts for a range of services in prisons, schools and hospitals.

Vote set to take place at 11am.

Wetherspoon profits drop and boss lashes out on Brexit

Profits at JD Wetherspoon tumbled 19 per cent in the first half of the year as rising sales failed to offset an increase in labour costs at the pub group.

Chairman Tim Martin warned that costs would continue to rise in the second half.

Brexit-backing Mr Martin also used the update to wade into politics: "Previous referendum results on major constitutional issues have always been respected in the UK, but if parliament votes either for Theresa May's 'deal' (which keeps us in the EU by the back door) or to remain in the EU, the referendum result will not have been respected.'

Meanwhile, the pound is slipping from its post-vote highs

CMC Markets analyst Micheal Hewson explains: 

The pound has taken a tumble in early trading as traders cash in some of this week’s strong gains, ahead of the weekend.

There’s still a significant amount of tail risk in being overly exposed to sterling even now given that while MPs have shown they have no appetite for a no deal Brexit, they haven’t as yet taken any steps to reverse the current legal default position which is we leave without a deal on the 29th March.

Ultimately talk is cheap, and markets require certainty, something that still remains in short supply.

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