Thursday , November 15 2018
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Chris Nuttall

Chris Nuttall

Award-winning journalist with more than 35 years' experience in newspapers, magazines, radio, TV and the internet at local, national and international levels. At the BBC for 17 years and has spent the past 15 with the Financial Times. Served as a foreign correspondent in Sri Lanka, Washington and Turkey as well as in a roving role for the BBC. Turned a late 1980s geeky interest into a professional focus on the internet and technology and was founding World Editor of the BBC News website and the BBC 's first Internet Correspondent.

Articles by Chris Nuttall

FT Opening Quote – Unilever meets targets after failed bid

February 1, 2018

Does Unilever have a Facebook feed? Does the consumer goods group upload images to Apple Photos? If so, Paul Polman, chief executive of the Anglo-Dutch giant, is probably not finding the “Memories From One Year Ago” function terribly enjoyable, writes Matthew Vincent. It can only be showing him selfies of Kraft Heinz and Warren Buffett – and reminding him that we’re just a year on from their aggressive £115bn bid for the entire Unilever business.Unilever was able to fend off the approach with promises of increased margins and profitability. So this morning’s full-year results needed to show attractively filtered images of both – and more.Thankfully, they do – just about.Underlying sales growth in 2017 was 3.1 per cent – or 3.5 per cent excluding the soon to be sold spreads business –

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FT Opening Quote – Capita suspends dividend, warns on profits

January 31, 2018

What’s the most frustrating job in corporate Britain today? Apart from middle manager at Carillion asking why on earth did the directors keep bidding for contracts? And keep overlooking the pension deficit? And keep reassuring the so-called auditors?Arguably, it’s middle manager at at any other UK outsourcer, trying to address similar questions, writes Matthew Vincent.This morning, those at Capita – and those still holding its shares – got an answer. Capita issued a profit warning for 2018 and new chief executive Jonathan Lewis – who only started in December – admitted that the outsourcing group had become “too complex” and “driven by a short-term focus” while “lacking operational discipline and financial flexibility”. Its shares fell 31 per cent at the open.Mr Lewis has suspended the

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FT Opening Quote – Zoopla’s right moves on the home market

January 30, 2018

If the wider public likes to joke about estate agents in order to feel a bit superior, do property portals do the same? ZPG, owner of the Zoopla portal, does not – but some analysts almost think it should, writes Matthew Vincent.In a trading update this morning, ahead of its annual general meeting, ZPG simply said that in the three months to December 31 it “signed multiple new long-term portal listing and data services agreements with some of the UK’s largest estate agents”.But Berenberg analysts recently suggested ZPG might have the last laugh on any estate agents who left Zoopla to join online rival OnTheMarket. Last week, OnTheMarket, the property portal set up by estate agents to compete directly against Zoopla and Rightmove, raised only £30m ahead of its float on February 9, rather

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FT Opening Quote – Pension and audit probes at Carillion

January 29, 2018

If Carillion’s former directors, pension trustees, auditors or even pension regulators were hoping the news agenda might have moved on by now, Opening Quote has news for them. And it’s not good news, writes Matthew Vincent.This week, the Work and Pensions Select Committee is turning its attention to the collapsed construction group’s pension scheme funding – and the committee chairman has already accused the management of spending ten years trying to “wriggle out” of its pension obligations.Written evidence submitted by Robin Ellison, chair of Carillion’s pension scheme trustees, claims that the trustees had been concerned about underfunding for years – and tried to secure more money from the company in 2008, 2011 and 2013.But his letter shows that Carillion refused, citing cash flow

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FT Opening Quote – Crest margins slip as London sales slow

January 24, 2018

Crest Nicholson shareholders: big-time winners, or small time-losers?It depends on whether you look at the housebuilder’s absolute or relative return, writes Matthew Vincent. Crest’s share price rose by 20 per cent in calendar year 2017, which is an extraordinary 12-month performance… until you realise that its rivals shares rose by an average of 43 per cent.But, either way, this morning’s full-year results leave both absolute return and growth investors with a decision to make. Do those who feel like winners want to double down? And do those who feel like losers fancy playing double or quits?Crest Nicholson has reaffirmed the positive numbers in its November trading update. Full-year property completions were up 2.3 per cent year-on-year to 2,935 units, and the open market average selling

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FT Opening Quote – CMA says Fox/Sky deal ‘not in public interest’

January 23, 2018

Good morning. Here is the news. Which could very likely soon not be news. But there is a chance that it might not be non-news. So, for now, it is very big news, writes Matthew Vincent.This morning the Competition and Markets Authority has sensationally ruled that the takeover of Sky by the Murdoch family’s 21st Century Fox is not in the public interest because of its likely effect on media plurality in the UK.It has therefore proposed that the deal be blocked entirely, or allowed only with a spin off or divestiture of the Sky News operation, or allowed only with behavioural remedies “to insulate Sky News from the Murdoch Family Trust’s influence”.However, with Walt Disney having already agreed to acquire 21st Century Fox – including Sky – for $52.4bn last month, the CMA admits these

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FT Opening Quote – Dixons Carphone lowers profit guidance

January 22, 2018

How was your Sunday? Church in the morning… roast lunch… walk to the pub… sudden desire to recalculate the value of your order book, phone your PRs and have them issue a press release…? No?That last activity was probably not top of the list for many of you, writes Matthew Vincent. But you’re not all head of GKN’s automotive division and facing a hostile takeover bid from Melrose, are you? Spare a thought, then for Phil Swash, who seems to have foregone the sermonising, the horseradish and a few swift halves in favour of a spreadsheet.He needed it to help convince shareholders of GKN’s potential as an independent company, rather than a £7bn acquisition for Melrose. Even though those shareholders may have been in the pews or getting outside a Yorkshire pudding and an IPA at that precise

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FT Opening Quote – Christmas delivers for Royal Mail

January 18, 2018

Breaking news alert: a private-sector company providing previously state-run services is not about to collapse, require refinancing, or pay massive bonuses to its former bosses… er, in fact, it has just reported a stronger than expected financial performance. Don’t tell Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell.Yes, Royal Mail, the privatised logistics utility that the Labour party leadership and two-thirds of the population think should be renationalised, has issued a nine-month trading update slightly ahead of market expectations, writes Matthew Vincent.And, given it includes the Christmas period – which is so vital to the group’s full-year performance – that is something to write home about.Letter revenues were down 3 per cent in the nine months to December 24. However, this anticipated decline

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FT Opening Quote – Interserve on financial health watch

January 17, 2018

Another 24 hours into the liquidation of Carillion, and the crisis seems to spread wider by the minute, writes Matthew Vincent.Last night came news that another contractor, Interserve, has been put on financial health watch by government, as concerns about outsourced contracts grow. And, this morning, thousands of Carillion’s former employees are still waiting for clarity over their jobs – as a government guarantee to keep paying workers on private-sector contracts expires.All this just two working days after Carillion told the market it was hoping refinancing talks would “deliver an outcome that will ensure that the group emerges considerably strengthened and able to continue delivering excellent service to its many public and private sector customers”.Interserve, the government

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FT Opening Quote – Bovis builds better balance sheet but fewer homes

January 12, 2018

Bovis Homes this morning became the latest housebuilder to update on its 2017 performance, emphasising its quality over quantity as it reported 3,645 completions, down from 3,977 in 2016.“There has been a step change in the quality of our homes delivered on completion and I’m pleased to see this reflected in our level of customer satisfaction which continues to improve,” said Greg Fitzgerald, chief executive.Overall average selling prices increased 7 per cent to £272,000 (2016: £254,900k). There are total forward sales of 2,656 units with a value of £518m. Profits before tax, exceptional and one-off items are said to be in-line with management expectation. Bovis reports “excellent progress with balance sheet restructuring resulting in a £145m year end net cash balance”.Analysts at Davy

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FT Opening Quote – M&S sales fall, Tesco’s festive rise

January 11, 2018

Marks and Spencer’s latest innovations in clothing and food show it is still trying to be all things to all people, writes Matthew Vincent. This week, it launched an eclectic plus-size women’s fashion range called ‘Curve’, while at the same time proposing customers lunched on an ascetic vegetarian dish, called ‘Cauliflower Steaks’ (yes, basically two slices of the low-calorie vegetable in a lemon drizzle, costing £2.50).This morning’s third quarter trading update suggests M&S needs the curvature to sell more than the cauliflower. Clothing and home like-for-like sales fell for another quarter – by 2.8 per cent. This was a lot worse than the second quarter’s -0.1 per cent, significantly worse than the first quarter’s -1.2 per cent, and even worse than Deutsche Bank estimates of -2.0 per

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FT Opening Quote – Argos boost for Sainsbury profits

January 10, 2018

J Sainsbury has spent much of the week explaining its policy on packaging up various items to confused shoppers. This morning, it may find it easier to explain the same principle to shareholders, writes Matthew Vincent.On Tuesday, the supermarket group had to address a series of questions on Twitter about the #pointlessplastics apparently used to wrap its “organic” coconuts. As one customer asked: “Was a coconut shell not good enough protection?” Just a day earlier, it had been asked to clarify how its pikelets – think hybrid pancake/crumpets – had turned up in Sainsbury’s wrappers but on Asda’s shelves, and for 10p less than in its own stores.Today, however, its third quarter trading update has packaged together food, supermarket and Argos general merchandise and clothing sales – and

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FT Opening Quote – Persimmon tops out 2017 with 9% sales rise

January 9, 2018

Finding it hard to get back to work, after the festive break? Then just imagine how Jeff Fairburn, Persimmon’s chief executive, feels.On New Year’s Eve, he received the first £50m chunk of his controversial £110m bonus. Another 150 executives were due to share some £400m. It’s not likely to make any of them feel a need to leap out of bed this freezing January morning, is it? Or, as Numis prefers to express it, it could lead to problems with senior management retention.It has certainly led to problems with boardroom retention: chairman Nicholas Wrigley and senior non-executive director Jonathan Davie both resigned over their failure to instil pay restraint.Still, none of this is likely to affect Persimmon in the short-term. Indeed, Mr Fairburn seems sufficiently motivated to host a

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FT Opening Quote – Mothercare warns on profits

January 8, 2018

Like discarded Christmas trees, they will start piling up this week: more trading updates from UK retailers – those melancholic January reminders of another festive season passed, writes Matthew Vincent.Last week, just a few hit the pavement: remnants of cheer from Next and John Lewis, until Debenhams reminded everyone that the fun’s over, with a profit warning.This week, like all those Norwegian firs that somehow find their way onto street corners overnight, loads more will appear: from Marks & Spencer, Tesco, Sainsbury, Morrison and more.Overall, the signs aren’t good. Visa’s UK consumer spending index, which is compiled by data company IHS Markit, shows that households’ expenditure was 1 per cent lower, after adjusting for inflation, in December 2017 than in the same month a year

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FT Opening Quote – Debenhams sales decline, Fat Cat Thursday

January 4, 2018

Still got the back-to-work blues? What’s wrong with you? It might only be January 4, but the City’s finest have already successfully implemented – or partly waived – 1.7m paragraphs of new Mifid II regulations, and earned as much as the average employee does all year, writes Matthew Vincent. And it’s almost the weekend again!Yes, rejoice, rejoice: the biggest regulatory shake-up of European markets in a decade passed without a glitch yesterday. Trading volumes in some markets dropped and the clearing industry was granted a last-minute reprieve from certain rules – but fears that markets would seize up under failing IT systems proved unfounded. Bankers and brokers had worked around the clock to be ready, apparently.And how the bosses have been rewarded for others’ work. According to the

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FT Opening Quote – Christmas chill warms Next sales

January 3, 2018

Next always seems to go first in reporting what’s happening to retail sales, writes Matthew Vincent. This is perhaps nominally appropriate – and moderately helpful to rivals. In early January 2017, the clothing chain was first to forewarn that rising inflation would hit consumer spending – knocking £948m off its own market capitalisation, but making it easier for Marks & Spencer and others to break their own bad news later on. In 2018, however, it may be easier to be Next than next.This morning, Next reported that its own retail sales in the 54 days to Christmas Eve had been much better than it had expected – and much better than wider industry forecasts.Analysts (at Numis) had suggested the chain would report an overall 0.5 per cent fall in sales over those two months – a period when it

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FT Opening Quote – Cousins gave City its compass

January 2, 2018

Compass Group will not be the only company to feel the loss of Richard Cousins, its chief executive who died on Sunday, writes Matthew Vincent. When, last September, Cousins announced his intention to step down as chief executive of the FTSE 100 caterer after 11 years, the FT Lombard column was not alone in suggesting others could have benefited from his food for thought. Not least Tesco, from which he had earlier resigned over an objection to its proposed Booker acquisition.At that time, institutional shareholder Schroders praised “this demonstration of integrity” and bemoaned its rarity:We welcome Richard’s honest and forthright actions and would encourage other FTSE non-executive directors to follow his lead if they see fit.Yesterday, executives and non-executives alike paid tribute to

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FT Opening Quote – Let the star content wars begin

December 14, 2017

Thursday December 14 will go down in history as the day that the Walt Disney Company wrote a new chapter in the history of a once feared empire, and settled the destiny of one who was taught to wield mysterious power by a wise and wizened old master. But enough of Star Wars, Luke Skywalker and his mentor Yoda, writes Matthew Vincent. In other news, Disney is buying the entertainment assets of the 21st Century Fox empire, and deciding the destiny of James Murdoch, who had run the business for his father: the legendary media mogul Rupert.At around 12 noon GMT/7am EST/4am PST, the long awaited $60bn deal is due to be premiered in a much-hyped press release and subsequent media call.If the previews are to be believed, the plot will centre around a $29-a-share price for the Fox entertainment

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FT Opening Quote – Dixons Carphone profits fall 60%

December 13, 2017

Customers are used to be being put on hold by retailers. Retailers are less used to being put on hold by customers, writes Matthew Vincent. But that is exactly what has happened to Dixons Carphonethis year: customers decided to put their mobile phone upgrades on hold, refusing to choose expensive new models, and forced the electricals retailer to ring up a profit warning.This morning, Dixons Carphone showed how much half-year profit it managed to hold on to. Or rather how little. Pre-tax profit fell 60 per cent in the period, from £154m a year ago to just £61m now – worse than consensus estimates for a 56 per cent fall.But what shareholders, as well as customers, really wanted to hear was what will happen to its 700 Carphone Warehouse outlets. Analysts had suggested that the lack of

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FT Opening Quote – Unibail-Rodamco’s $25bn Westfield shopping spree

December 12, 2017

Did you think Local Shopping REIT selling 142 retail properties for £19.3m was dealmaking? No, that’s not property dealmaking. Did you think UK shopping centre owner Hammerson offering £3.2bn for rival Intu was proper dealmaking? No, it’s really not.Unibail-Rodamco, the largest commercial property company in Europe, buying Westfield Corporation for $24.7bn. Now that is property dealmaking, writes Matthew Vincent.This morning, Paris-based Unibail-Rodamco – which owns Les 4 Temps, Forum des Halles and Carrousel du Louvre centres – said it would pay shareholders in Australia’s Westfield the equivalent of $7.55 per share in a mix of cash and shares – an 18 per cent premium to Monday’s closing share price. Together, the combined entity would become a global leader with 104 shopping malls and a

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FT Opening Quote – BAE gets £5bn Qatar order boost

December 11, 2017

Theresa May is not the only one to secure a political deal in the nick of time, and breathe a sigh of relief, writes Matthew Vincent. Charles Woodburn, chief executive of BAE Systems has managed no less a negotiating feat, but in the Middle East rather than Europe: finalising a £5bn order from Qatar for 24 Typhoon fighter jets – a deal that will safeguard British jobs and ensure UK production of the aircraft into the mid-2020s.It represents the largest UK export order for the Eurofighter in a decade, and will bring some relief to BAE’s aerospace workers, who were facing an end to Typhoon production in 2019 if no new order materialised. It could also avert a crisis at BAE’s facility at Brough in Yorkshire, where the Hawk Trainer aircraft is manufactured, as Qatar also indicated it intends

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FT Opening Quote – Bet is back on for GVC-Ladbrokes Coral merger

December 7, 2017

For Ladbrokes Coral shareholders this morning, it is not so much a case of Christmas coming early, as a bid coming early, writes Matthew Vincent. GVC Holdings’ wish to buy the High Street bookmaker has been known for months – it has been the worst kept secret in the the FTSE 250. But most people expected the two companies would wait until the outcome of the government review of fixed odds betting terminals – the high-stakes machines that deliver a majority of Ladbrokes’ retail revenues.Indeed, GVC recently tried to propose a deal conditional on the government’s decision: valuing Ladbrokes Coral at roughly £2.7bn if the government review imposed a big cut to FOBT stakes, or £3.6bn if the crackdown was not so draconian. But those talks – the second time that Isle of Man-based GVC has

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FT Opening Quote – Hammerson goes Christmas shopping for Intu in £3.4bn deal

December 6, 2017

Carillion’s full-year trading statement was always going to be the news this morning, whether it happened or not, writes Matthew Vincent. And those betting on further falls in the stricken construction group’s shares probably had money on “not”. In fact, as of last night, Carillion’s own financial calendar still said: “There is no event/s available for current selection” and the company had not confirmed to news websites that any announcement would be forthcoming today.Given that recent profit warnings have had to be accompanied by supportive messages from the Cabinet Office – so critical is Carillion as a manager of military bases, a High Speed Two rail contractor and employer of 43,000 people – this is perhaps not surprising.Still, the fact that – as of 7.30 am – there was no news seems

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FT Opening Quote – Long and the short of new corporate code

December 5, 2017

Long-term incentive plans are about to get longer – but long-term board appointments will have to get shorter, writes Matthew Vincent. That’s the (extremely) short and sharp version of the new UK Corporate Governance Code, as published by the Financial Reporting Council this morning. And it seems to be aimed at removing two long-standing reasons for public mistrust of business: money for old rope and jobs for the boys.Under the new Code, executives at UK-listed companies will be required to hold on to LTIPs, or bonuses paid as shares, for at least five years – rather than the shorter periods that still apply at a third of FTSE 100 companies. But, just as significantly, remuneration committees will be able to reject pay and bonus packages when a company’s performance has been artificially

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FT Opening Quote – Sky still under Magic Kingdom’s spell

December 4, 2017

Sky’s future ownership looks uncertain (again), as news that 21st Century Fox may yet sell its 39 per cent stake to Disney means Isleworth could still end up as part of the Magic Kingdom, writes Matthew Vincent.Reports at the weekend suggested that Rupert Murdoch’s Fox had resumed talks over the sale of its entertainment and international assets — including its holding in the UK and European pay-TV company. Although initial discussions between the two sides ended last month, they are now back on, according to people with knowledge of the situation. And, if a deal were agreed for Disney to buy Fox’s entertainment assets, these would include the Sky stake but not preclude the continuation of a Disney-owned Fox’s bid for the rest of the shares.In practical terms though, a UK regulatory

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FT Opening Quote – Provident Financial chief dies, William Hill Oz merger talks

November 24, 2017

The Bradford-based subprime lender Provident Financial has announced the sudden death on Thursday of its executive chairman Marjit Wolstenhome at the age of 53.Malcolm Le May, Senior Independent Director at Provident said: “We are deeply shocked and saddened. The thoughts of everyone at Provident are with Manjit’s family and friends, and we extend our deepest sympathies to them.“She has shown exceptional leadership in stepping up to the role of Executive Chairman over the last few months. Manjit was known and respected for her achievements and championing diversity in British business, and we would like to pay tribute to her contribution to the business landscape.”Mr Le May has become Interim Executive Chairman with immediate effect.Ms Wolstenhome took control in August when Provident

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FT Opening Quote – Severn flooded with incentives

November 23, 2017

Water company Severn Trent hit the headlines (or should that be the ley lines?) earlier this week when it emerged that its engineers still used ancient divining, or “dowsing”, rods to find underground pipes – despite widely held scientific opinion that they don’t actually work. And, this morning, Severn Trent investors will be trying to divine the likely outcome of an upcoming regulatory price review – despite widely held opinion that these don’t work, either, writes Matthew Vincent.A Financial Times editorial recently concluded: “the hurdles [the regulator] has set — above which the utilities keep the winnings — have proved too easy to clear”.Severn Trent has provided some evidence for this notion in its half-year results. It said its so-called “outcome delivery incentives” – financial

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FT Opening Quote – Thomas Cook suffers Spanish price war, Budget day, Whitman to quit HP

November 22, 2017

Thomas Cook, the FTSE 250 tour operator, has been offering so called Black Friday discounts a few days early, according to tabloid newspaper bargain hunters, writes Matthew Vincent. And, given every Friday from now until May is forecast to be largely black from 3:00pm to the following 2.55pm, one can see the appeal of £200 off a sunshine break. But such early price cutting is normally a warning sign, according to broadsheet newspaper profit-warning hunters. So does it mean red ink, rather than black, for the company?Not so, Thomas Cook announced this morning, as full-year revenues showed good growth: rising 9 per cent to £9bn on a like-for-like basis, adjusted for foreign exchange – against analyst estimates of £8.5bn.And it says the outlook for holiday bookings to the Middle East and

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FT Opening Quote – easyJet’s last call for McCall

November 21, 2017

EasyJet boss Dame Carolyn McCall is presenting her last set of annual results this morning – before she leaves the budget airline for broadcaster ITV, writes Matthew Vincent. So this is the last time she will have to endure aeronautical puns and metaphors in every single report of the company’s numbers. That said, with some reports suggesting she’s heading to the departure gate with £5m in salary and shares, she may not mind that at all. So, Opening Quote is happy to offer both treatments/(final) approaches.In the full-year to September 30, easyJet’s revenues increased/soared by 8 per cent to £5bn – better than/cruising at an altitude just above UBS analysts’ estimate of £4.8bn. Much of this improvement/rate of climb reflected a similar 8 per cent increase in capacity, to 86.7m seats, as

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FT Opening Quote – William Hill books 30% US growth

November 20, 2017

Bookmaker William Hill is fancied to extend a recent run of good results, writes Matthew Vincent. Analysts at Investec reckon the FTSE 250 group’s low level of hedging on the recent boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor will have helped it to outperform rival Ladbrokes Coral.Analysts at Barclays reckon a less draconian government crackdown on fixed odds betting terminals could mean it loses nearer £55m than £284m in revenue – and the odds are shortening. And all analysts are looking forward to 2018’s quadrennial festival of punter stupidity known as the football World Cup. Expect an extremely “low level of hedging” on any England victory. Or even a goalless draw against Costa Rica. In fact, get a result in the government review, and William Hill may be off to the

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