A sign of the times: Pawnbroker Ramsdens cheers ‘milestone’ year as cash-strapped Brits flog valuables

Pawnbrokers Ramsdens recorded ‘milestone’ full year profits as it was helped by Brits flogging their goods amid the cost of living crisis. 

Board members told the market this morning that profit before tax topped a record high of £10.1m, up 22 per cent on last year’s figures. 

Revenues also surged 27 per cent to £83.8m, driven by demand for second hand jewellery and watches. 

A national cash crunch also drove up demand for small sum short term credit,  leading its pawnbroking loan book to increase to £10.6m from the year end position of £10.3m.  

Peter Kenyon, chief executive, said: “Ramsdens has had a great year..

“While we are very conscious of the tough economic conditions and the cost pressures of energy pricing, increased interest rates, and paying the RLW, we have confidence that our long-term strategy, which remains unchanged, will deliver long-term benefits for all stakeholders.”

“While the business is very well positioned to build upon its achievements, the Board remains cognisant of the macroeconomic challenges currently impacting consumer-facing businesses in the UK.”

He added: “The group’s diversified income streams provide defensive qualities in the current environment characterised by higher interest rates and levels of inflation.”

The pawn industry is a sector that tends to perform well in times of economic downturn as people grow desperate to shore up extra cash. 

Fellow broker, H&T has also enjoyed a buoyant year,  reporting a 31 per cent rise in profit before tax to £8.8m back in August.

Crest Nicholson: Housebuilder issues profit warning over runaway costs and readies for legal bill over 2021 fire

Housebuilder Crest Nicholson has lowered its profit guidance for the year due to issues at its Brightwells Yard regeneration scheme in Farnham, and warned of an unexpected legal bill for a fire at one of its sites in 2021.

The developer told markets this morning, it now expects adjusted profit before tax to reach £41m, down from November’s £45m update.

It is the third profit warning posted by the group in this financial year.  

The developer also told markets it was now expecting a £13m charge related to a 2021 fire at one of its low-rise apartment sites. The charge is not cash in financial year in 2023.

Crest blamed “incremental cost movement” of approximately £11m in the second half of FY23 as the group worked on completing this and other ‘legacy’ sites. 

The Farnham development includes a shopping centre, a six-screen cinema and a host of apartments.

The FTSE 100 builder won a contract to build a mixed use development site in the area back in 2003 but after struggling to find financial backing it is only now close to completion two decades later. 

Shares fell by over five per cent his morning as the market responded to news.

Crest Nicholson said: “The group has subsequently conducted a comprehensive review of the costs associated with the work required on this project as well as our other legacy sites.”

“Consequently, further additional costs have been identified which will impact FY23 and the Group now expects the adjusted profit before tax to be £41m for FY23.”

Despite this, board members cheered a recent reduction in mortgage rates for improving the outlook for the house building market. 

They said: “The recent reduction in mortgage rates has provided a more constructive backdrop for house buyers and the wider housing market. “

“Although it is too early to gauge customer behaviour, we have been encouraged by an increase in customer interest levels and inquiries this calendar year.”

House prices make biggest January leap since 2020 amid mortgage price war

House prices made their biggest month-on-month leap from December to January since the pandemic, rising by 1.3 per cent to £359k. 

Analysts at Rightmove, who conducted the reading, said the jump gave a “tentatively promising” start to the new year but cautioned that prices are still 0.7 per cent lower than at this time last year. 

In London, house prices contracted by four per cent on a monthly basis, with the average cost of a home now £664k. 

Buyer demand in the first week of 2024 is also five per cent higher than last year, however, the number of new properties coming to market is still outpacing the rise in demand. 

Rightmove said the number of sales agreed is 20 per cent higher than during the first week of last year, as falling mortgage rates have lifted the spirits of prospective buyers. 

January kickstarted with a mortgage price war as a slew of high street lenders lowered their deals to below four per cent.

Tim Bannister, Rightmove’s director of property science said today’s reading indicated a return of confidence when “compared with the unsettled post-mini-Budget period”. 

He said: “The number of properties coming to market for sale is also 15 per cent higher than at the start of last year, following a record number of sellers launching on Rightmove on Boxing Day. 

“The North East and South West have seen the greatest addition of new choice for the increased number of new buyers. There remains no glut of homes for sale, with the total number of available properties just one per cent above the more normal market levels of 2019.”

Sunak’s climate rowback depends on an anti-net zero populism that may not exist

Ten days ago, Chris Skidmore, the former climate change and clean energy minister who chaired the government’s Net Zero Review in 2022-23, surprised Westminster by announcing his immediate departure from the House of Commons. He had already decided not to stand at the general election, but he brought the move forward in protest at the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which was scheduled to be debated last Monday.

The proposed legislation invites applications for production licences on an annual basis, which the government argues will provide “clarity and certainty” for the fossil fuel industry in the North Sea. Skidmore was adamant in his opposition: “there is no case to be made for increasing fossil fuel production at a time when investment should be made elsewhere”. He added that “history will judge harshly” those who supported the bill.

Skidmore is not some radical tree-hugging outlier. He was the minister in charge of energy and climate change when, in 2019, he signed the government’s formal commitment to achieve a 100 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050. His appointment to chair the Net Zero Review was made during Liz Truss’s brief premiership by the then-BEIS secretary Jacob Rees-Mogg, a politician at the robustly sceptical end of the climate change debate. But he has been caught out by Rishi Sunak’s reset of net-zero policies last September, when the prime minister promised “a more pragmatic, proportionate, and realistic approach to meeting net zero that eases the burdens on working people”.

The prime minister has thrown aside a number of environmentally friendly measures: the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles was deferred by five years; obligations on landlords to improve the energy efficiency of their properties were scrapped; and a ban on fossil fuel heating for off-gas-grid homes was pushed back from 2026 to 2035. At the same time, he placed a much greater emphasis on energy security and the resilience of supply and distribution networks, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine drove up the price of wholesale natural gas and therefore energy costs in the UK.

Last week the energy security secretary, Claire Coutinho, announced “the biggest expansion of nuclear power for 70 years to reduce electricity bills, support thousands of jobs and improve UK energy security”. Essentially, the Civil Nuclear Roadmap promises a fourfold increase in generation from nuclear sources, £300m invested in the domestic production of high-assay, low-enriched uranium fuel and a review of the planning and development of nuclear projects.

A recent study identified a tendency it called “anti-net zero populism” favoured by the section of the Conservative Party that also wants tough immigration measures and swift tax cuts.

To an extent Coutinho is an avatar of the prime minister. The 38-year-old East Surrey MP was Sunak’s special adviser at the Treasury, promoted to cabinet last August and is heavily tipped as a future chancellor or party leader. This has the imprimatur of Downing Street, and fits into a wider framework of moving away from an overarching focus on green targets to a broader strategy which accommodates immediate financial costs and UK energy security.

The government has not had much success in articulating it, but there is in fact an intellectual policy coherence here. At Westminster, however, it has been subsumed into deeper sectarian divisions: a recent study from the University of Manchester identified a tendency it called “anti-net zero populism” which is favoured by the section of the Conservative Party that also wants tough immigration measures and swift tax cuts.

If the prime minister is hoping to build an electoral coalition out of these strands, he may end up disappointed. Polling last September showed 47 per cent of those surveyed agreed with Sunak’s changes to net zero policies, while 46 per cent thought they were mistaken. Tellingly, around two-thirds of Conservative voters thought he had done the right thing, while a similar proportion of Labour voters was opposed.

In purely electoral terms, all of these changes seem not to have moved the needle at all. Of course the government will say that was not their motivation. But this is an election year, and in practical terms every syllable uttered will be weighed for any effect it might have when people come to vote. The fierce arguments between and within the parties may in the end be sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Eliot Wilson is co-founder of Pivot Point Group

Ocado: Are price cuts and M&S magic enough to help shares recover?

Ocado will update investors on its fourth quarter trading on Tuesday, to see if a barrage of price cuts has managed to win over more customers amid the cost of living crisis. 

The supermarket technology business, which owns an online grocery venture with Marks and Spencer, enjoyed big wins during the pandemic but has struggled to keep up momentum since. 

As a result, most of its gains are expected to come from its robotics arm which reported a 35 per cent surge in growth during the half year. 

Its retail division has managed to drag some customers back in recent months, reporting a 7.2 per cent leap in revenues back in September. 

Ocado began slashing prices on its groceries to compete with rivals and appeal to cash strapped Brits.

In January, it announced it would add more than 1,700 products to its ‘Big Price Drop’ campaign. 

While this campaign has managed to claw back customers, it still has a way to go before it is performing to the standards that Mark and Spencer chief Stuart Machin expects. 

In November, the retail bigwig, responsible for the recovery of the high street darling, said Ocado Retail won’t reach its full potential for another three years. 

“We’re very positive about the potential of Ocado (Retail) but to be quite frank … that potential is going to be realised in three plus years, not in the next 12 months or 24,” the chief told Retuers. 

Shares in the firm are down by three-quarters from their short lived lockdown peak of early 2021.

Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, said that analysts will be checking if its retail revenues have had any lift on last year’s reading of £548m. 

He explained: “All of the focus will be on the fourth-quarter numbers, how they stack up relative to the guidance given for fiscal 2023 and whether there is any change to that guidance for the full-year to November from chief executive Tim Steiner and team.”

“Analysts and investors will then dig deeper, looking at order run rates and basket size.”

“At the third quarter stage, the order run rate was some 381,000 a week on average, with a basket size of £120.72,” he added. 

“Basket size peaked at £147 during the pandemic but has continued to come in above the pre-pandemic run rate of £110. Some of this is down to inflation, however, and comments on the mix between price and volume will be of interest.”

Battersea Power Station welcomes 11 million visitors in boost for retail

Battersea Power Station welcomed over 11 million visitors last year, as shoppers flocked to the once derelict building. 

In December, the attraction, which opened less than two years ago, reported a 30 per cent increase in visitors year-on-year. 

Over 40 new stores and dining outlets opened at the Grade II listed space last year, leading to a 52 per cent jump in overall sales. 

Fashion sales leaped 33 per cent aided by the arrival of new brands such as Massimo Dutti. 

Boots also opened its first concept store which was solely dedicated to beauty and skincare. 

Simon Murphy, head of Battersea Power Station Development Company said: “The strong footfall over the Christmas period is further testament to the unique and constantly evolving offering at Battersea Power Station, and provides a fitting conclusion to a successful 2023. 

“The unique mix of shops, bars, restaurants, leisure venues and engaging cultural activities have attracted groups of all ages, whilst the homes and offices within and around the Power Station bring a continuous buzz to the estate.”

The £9bn regeneration scheme is also home to a host of luxury flats and restaurants. 

In 2024, further retail, leisure, food and beverage brands will open at the riverside neighbourhood including Mexican restaurant, El Pastor and the latest luxury health club from Third Space.

Celebrate Burns Night by smelling of Scotland – yes, seriously

This Burns Night, which takes place on 25 January, you can even smell Scottish

Once, if you smelled of whisky in the morning you could expect a trip to the HR department – now it might be the source of water-cooler compliments. Imogen Russon-Taylor is the founder of Scotland’s first perfume house, Kingdom Scotland, making contemporary, gender-neutral fragrances which, she hopes, encapsulate the country’s history, landscapes and distilling traditions.

With Burns Night around the corner, it’s the perfect time find your Scottish expression, even if you’re celebrating in the capital.

“I wanted to bottle Scotland’s natural beauty and elemental weather,” says the Manchester-born graduate of Edinburgh University. Russon-Taylor worked in the film and beauty industries before moving back to Scotland with her family in 2006.

“My grandfather worked as a maltman. My ancestors exported salmon and imported leather, cloth, and luxury goods including art, claret, books, timber and perfume. I worked in the whisky industry for many years and when I worked at LVMH, I had the chance to experience the perfume side of the business, and learn how perfumes are created.”

Read more: It’s not Burns’ night without the right dram

It’s safe to say whisky has been a huge inspiration. There are many parallels between whisky and perfume: both are produced using traditional distillation methods, both evoke a complex sensory experience and both rely on innovative use of ingredients to stand out in a busy market. The language of ‘nosing’ whisky and of ‘notes’ in perfume have many similarities.

The eau de parfums are created by hand in Edinburgh alongside classically trained Scottish perfumer Stephanie Anderson, who was mentored by revered perfumer Dominique Ropion.

Kingdom Scotland perfume

“I wanted my brand to be luxury, niche and high-end,” says Russon-Taylor. “Our scents contain around 50 ingredients. Metamorphic is the one that probably means the most to me. Scotland has this complex and rich rock spectacularly woven into the landscape. The intense notes within Metamorphic are smouldering earth, peat, minerals, spices, wood resins, leather and tobacco. There’s a hint of smoky peat in the scent. And maybe a splash of Islay malt!”

Read more: How to host a lockdown Burns Supper, from haggis to whisky

Russon-Taylor worked closely with Dr Dawn Hollis from St Andrews University and the archivists at The Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh, the National Library and National Records. 

“Delving into Scotland’s perfumed past, we discovered the pioneering Scottish botanists and explorers,” says Hollis. “ I can smell the fruits of my own research. Not many historians can say that.”

Kingdom Scotland’s Albaura fragrance was inspired by Arctic explorer and Scottish botanist Isobel Wylie Hutchison. “She was born at Carlowrie Castle in West Lothian,” explains Russon-Taylor. “She challenged the norms of her time first by making a 260-mile solo trek across Iceland, and later by travelling north of the Arctic circle into Greenland and Alaska, where she collected botanical floral and grass samples for the Royal Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh and Kew. 

Read more: Burns night boost for haggis and whisky worth billions to UK

Working with Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden, new fragrance Botanica is already in good perfume retailers. It celebrates the garden’s 350th anniversary, comprising of 35 natural and sustainable ingredients including the sequoiadendron conifer, making it one of the world’s most bio-diverse fragrances. 

“I wanted to create a sense of place in my fragrances and transport people to Scotland by scent alone.”

For more information visit the website here.

Find out where to go on Burns Night here

Read more: Haggis fans step up fight to end US ban on Burns Night favourite

‘Urgent’ action required as London jobs market falls at steepest rate since Covid

The jobs market in London has stalled, prompting calls for “urgent” action by the government to help boost growth in the capital ahead of the March Budget. 

Calls comes as a new study shows the number of vacancies in London fell for the tenth month in a row with a pulse reading of 47.0 which is weaker than the rest of the country. 

Any figure below 50 signals a contraction.

The research conducted by KPMG and REC London labour-market pulse check, also revealed the number of permanent placements in the capital decelerated over the fourth months to December. 

 This marked the steepest drop in the capital since May 2020.

Muniya Barua, deputy chief executive of BusinessLDN, said that the protracted slowdown in London’s jobs market is “sending a clear message to the Chancellor”. 

He [Jeremy Hunt] needs to deliver a bold pro-growth package in the March Budget.

“Reversing the decision to scrap VAT-free shopping on goods for international visitors would provide an immediate economic boost. 

“Going further to  make childcare more affordable and accessible would help more people return to work. And providing the clarity needed to accelerate housebuilding would help to unlock jobs, growth and more homes for Londoners.”

It comes as today’s GDP rating showed the UK economy grew 0.3 per cent in November but the UK remains on a recession knife-edge.

 Neil Carberry, REC chief executive, added:“The London job market has remained remarkably resilient in the face of economic headwinds in the past 12 months, but it is clear that permanent hiring has slowed markedly recently. 

“Employers in the capital are tapping into the flexibility of temporary working to keep offering jobs and bring in vital new skills despite the economic uncertainty they face. Pay for both temps and perms is growing, but not at the rates we were seeing a year ago.

He added: “A spring Budget that includes a proper plan for workforce capacity, embraces better welfare-to-work support and reforms the Apprenticeship Levy cannot come soon enough because any return to growth in 2024 will put strain on a labour market with embedded shortages.”

City A.M has contacted the Treasury for a comment. 

John Lewis brings back former fashion boss in bid to turn fortunes around

John Lewis is bringing back its former director Peter Ruis to lead the department chain, in its latest efforts to turnaround the business. 

Ruis will return to the ailing retailer as executive director after a near decade long hiatus. 

Peter Ruis

The high street heavyweight has had senior level stints at some of the world’s most recognised fashion brands, including Jigsaw, Anthropologie, Marks and Spencer. 

Most recently he was chief executive at Indigo plc in Canada, leading the business as it transitioned out of the pandemic over the past three years. 

Ruis will join next week and replace Naomi Simcock, who was handling the role on an interim basis following an abrupt exit from Pippa Wicks last March. 

As for Simcock, she will take up a new position as operations director for John Lewis. 

Ruis said: It’s a great privilege to return to the John Lewis Partnership after 10 years.

Naomi Simcock

The John Lewis brand is iconic, loved and trusted by millions of customers across the UK and I’m excited to lead the next phase of the transformation. 

“As the biggest employee-owned business in the UK, we have a huge opportunity to make even more of the unique Partner difference to provide exceptional products and service for our customers.”

The shakeup comes amid a period of losses for the John Lewis Partnership, which also owns supermarket Waitrose.

Frontwoman for the struggling brand, Sharon White will exit the role next February, leaving behind her a troubled balance sheet. 

White, the former boss of Ofcom, enacted a turnaround strategy during the pandemic  to grow the business profits to £400m in five years but this is now expected to be completed in 2027/28. 

Hello Fresh whacked with £140k fine over millions of spam emails

Meal-kit delivery company Hello Fresh has been whacked with a £140k fine for a campaign of 79 million spam emails and one million spam texts over a seven-month period. 

Customers were not given sufficient information that their data would continue to be used for marketing purposes for up to 24 months after cancelling their subscriptions, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said.

An investigation by the ICO began in March 2022 following complaints made directly to the regulator, as well as to the 7726 spam message reporting service. 

As part of this investigation, it was also discovered that the company continued to contact some individuals even after they had requested this to stop. 

The marketing messages were sent based on an opt-in statement which did not make any reference to the sending of marketing via text. 

Whilst there was a reference to marketing via email, this was included in an age confirmation statement which the ICO said was “likely to unfairly incentivise customers to agree”. 

Andy Curry, head of investigations at the ICO, said Hello Fresh breached the “trust of the public”.

“Customers weren’t told exactly what they’d be opting into, nor was it clear how to opt-out,” he said. 

“From there, they were hit with a barrage of marketing texts they didn’t want or expect, and in some cases, even when they told Hello Fresh to stop, the deluge continued.”

He added:  “In issuing this fine, we are showing that we will take clear and decisive action where we find the law has not been followed. We will always protect the right of customers to choose how their data is used.”