BUSINESS LIVE: Royal Mail takeover agreed; Anglo American bid delay; Bloomsbury buys US publisher

The FTSE 100 is down 0.3 per cent in afternoon trading. Among the companies with reports and trading updates today are International Distribution Services, Anglo American, BHP, Bloomsbury Publishing and Pets at Home. Read the Wednesday 29 May Business Live blog below.

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Farmers ‘are being booted off their land in drive for solar power’

The former head of Britain’s farming union yesterday spoke out against large-scale solar farms, declaring ‘there’s a huge amount not to like’.

But Minette Batters warned they will continue to be built while her members faced uncertainty about the future of dairy and arable farming – and while wealthy investors are free to buy up large chunks of the countryside.

Pets at Home insists growth plans are ‘not threatened’ by CMA vet probe

Pets At Home has insisted its veterinary growth strategy is not threatened by an ongoing probe into the sector by Britain’s competition watchdog.

The Competition and Markets Authority investigation, which could result in a forced cap on vet prescription fees, was launched amid concerns that pet owners are being overcharged after a period of rapid sector consolidation.

But the group told shareholders on Wednesday that the probe should not be a concern because Pets at Homes’ ‘key building blocks for growth support competition and deliver better outcomes for consumers’.

Off-plan sales share falls to lowest level since 2013

The share of new homes being sold before they’re built has dropped to a decade-low, according to Hamptons.

Fewer than a third of new homes sold in England and Wales last year were bought by a buyer before they were built, marking the lowest level since 2013, when the help to buy scheme was introduced, the estate agent says.

BHP calls for more time as it weighs £39bn Anglo American takeover

BHP is calling on Anglo American to agree to extend the deadline for the Australian miner to firm-up its proposed takeover bid for its FTSE 100 mining rival.

The Australian natural resources giant had until 5pm today to make another formal bid for its rival or walk away from the deal, which would be the largest mining industry deal in history if successful.

Flora and Branston maker Princes Group sold to Italians in £700m deal

The British maker of Flora sunflower oil and Branston Beans has been bought by an Italian food giant for £700million.

Liverpool-based Princes Group has been sold by Mitsubishi Corporation to Newlat Food.

Do men called Muhammad pay more for car cover than men called John?

It was one of the more bizarre claims in a list of demands issued to Keir Starmer by a fringe Muslim group, which earlier this month threatened to stand against Labour MPs at the General Election.

Pro-Gaza activist group the Muslim Vote handed the opposition leader an extraordinary list of 18 demands at the beginning of May, which it claimed he must agree to carry out to win the support of the four million Muslim voters in the UK.

Bloomsbury boosts academic offering

Fiona Orford-Williams, director of TMT at Edison Group:

‘Bloomsbury has announced the acquisition of Rowman & Littlefield and that it has done a sizeable deal on the academic side of the business should not come as a surprise given the accumulation of cash on the balance sheet to £65.8m at the last year- end (February) and the recent £30m three-year term loan put in place.

‘The clearly articulated M&A priorities had been for US-based assets with a strong academic offering and digital potential and Rowman & Littlefield ticks all those boxes.

‘The fit on subject matter also looks strong, with an emphasis on the arts, humanities and social science, giving a compelling combined offering for the enlarged group to propose to academic institutions.’

Bloomsbury snaps up US academic publisher for £65m

Bloomsbury Publishing shares rose on Wednesday after the group revealed its biggest acquisition to date.

The London-listed independent publisher behind the Harry Potter series has acquired US group Rowman & Littlefield’s academic publishing business for £65million.

Bloomsbury’s boss Nigel Newton hailed the deal as a ‘game-changer’ for the publisher, which upon completion will publish around 97,000 titles globally.

Royal Mail owner IDS agrees Kretinsky’s £3.6bn takeover bid

Royal Mail owner International Distribution Services has agreed terms for a £3.57billion takeover by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky’s EP Group.

Kretinsky said he had the ‘utmost respect’ for the history and tradition of the service, which employs around 150,000 people, as he made a series of commitments to secure Royal Mail’s future.

Market open: FTSE 100 down 0.1%; FTSE 250 flat

London-listed stocks have inched lower at the open at higher US bond yields pressure equities globally, while fresh US data reignites inflation worries and casts doubts about the timing of rate cuts by the Federal Reserve.

All eyes are now pinned on the Fed’s preferred inflation gauge – the Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index data – due on Friday. The Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey’s speech on Thursday will also be monitored closely.

International Distributions Services has gained 3.1 per cent after the Royal Mail owner agreed to a £3.6billion takeover offer by Czech billionaire Daniel Kretinsky.

Fresnillo shares are the top gainers in the FTSE 100 with a 2.5 per cent jump after RBC upgraded the stock to ‘outperform’ from ‘sector perform’.

Shamed Woodford told to hand back his CBE after fund collapse

Frustrated investors who lost out in the collapse of Neil Woodford’s firm have called on the Government to strip the disgraced investment guru of his CBE.

The campaign group, called Transparency Task Force, works with around 700 people who were left nursing losses in the collapse of the stock picker’s Woodford Investment Fund five years ago.

UK diesel drivers are paying more to fill up than the rest of Europe

If you drive a diesel car or van you are paying more to fill up than any other nation across Europe.

The UK now has the most expensive diesel, despite the current 5p-a-litre fuel duty discount introduced in March 2022 and extended for another 12 months in the Spring Budget.

Is it a good time to buy Scottish Mortgage shares?

Scottish Mortgage was once the go-to fund for UK investors wanting access to high growth technology stocks.

Its former manager James Anderson, who left in 2022, was renowned for making a series of successful bets in the tech sector, including Tesla and Amazon.

Pets at Home: ‘The more difficult backdrop is masking some fundamental strengths’

Sophie Lund-Yates, lead equity analyst, Hargreaves Lansdown:

‘Pets at Home has come good on downgraded expectations. The group’s not immune to a challenging consumer environment and has been hit hard by the need to keep prices low in order to stoke growth.

‘Convincing pet owners to part with additional cash for money-makers like accessories has been a far more arduous task then when people feel flush with cash.

‘The more difficult backdrop is masking some fundamental strengths though. Pets at Home remains in a more resilient position than the average retailer.

‘The group is primed to benefit from the huge boost in pet ownership, and a broader step change in ways of life, which includes putting our four-legged friends at the centre of our lives.

‘There’s an element of guaranteed income, in that pet-owners will continue to buy food and medicine for their cats and dogs, regardless of how tough times get. Along the same vein, the vet business is doing well too.

‘There is, of course, the overhang from the CMA’s ongoing investigation into the veterinary sector, which is denting sentiment. This has arguably been overdone though, with the current valuation not fully reflecting Pets at Home’s resilient market position and enviable net cash hoard.

‘Apart from the CMA investigation, investors will now be assessing Pets at Home’s ability to restart the engines on more lucrative areas of the business, like discretionary pet accessories.

‘A lot of this will be governed by the economy, but there is the risk of online competition too. The group is helped by the fact that many people want face-to-face advice for things like pet gear, and Pets at Home has some exclusive licenses which helps stop customers simply going elsewhere.

‘All in, there should be confidence in the group’s strategy, but restarting more meaningful growth may take a touch longer than expected.’

Crypto rush fuels money laundering fears: FCA approves just 1 in 7 firms

Fewer than one in seven cryptocurrency firms that tried to register with the City watchdog were approved after it found high risks of money laundering.

Just 47 companies were successfully registered between January 2020 and April this year, figures from the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) show.

Out of 344 applications received by the FCA, 233 were withdrawn and 48 rejected – while 16 were still pending at the time the figures were compiled.

Pets At Home profits slip on weaker accessories demand

Pets At Home has posted a lower annual profit after inflationary pressures and lower purchasing power dented demand for pet accessories such as collars and bedding.

The company, which also offers grooming and veterinary services, posted an underlying profit before tax of £132million for fiscal 2024, compared with £136.4million the previous year.

‘FY24 has been a pivotal year for the business, having delivered some key building blocks of our platform for long term growth.

‘I am proud of the progress we have made in the year; we relaunched our brand, opened our new DC, built our new digital platform, made progress in our sustainability agenda, and enhanced our physical estate.

‘The business has come together brilliantly to navigate any challenges faced this year, and we have delivered some key milestones of our strategy.’

New lung cancer drug boosts AstraZeneca as trials show improved survival rates

AstraZeneca’s lung cancer drug has showed improved survival rates in trials.

The results were a boost for the pharma giant as it seeks to bolster its pipeline.

The British firm said yesterday that the drug, being developed with Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo, could be ‘an important new treatment for patients’.

Bloomsbury buys US publisher in ‘game-changer’ $83m deal

Bloomsbury has acquired US academic publisher The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group for up to $83milllion (£65million).

The London-listed Harry Potter publisher said the deal is a ‘significant milestone’, making Bloomsbury ‘a leading US academic publisher’.

Bloomsbury’s biggest acquisition to date will see $76million satisfied in cash on completion and up to $7million, in escrow, to be satisfied in cash post completion.

‘This acquisition is a game-changer for Bloomsbury. Rowman & Littlefield is one of the few independent US academic publishers of such scale and it is great that our discussions with Jed Lyons have led to this acquisition.

‘Their 40,000 academic titles added to ours will make us a significant US academic publisher, growing Bloomsbury’s academic and digital publishing presence in North America, opening new markets and publishing areas to Bloomsbury, and is a key milestone in the delivery of our long-term growth strategy.

‘Following the exceptional performance in our Consumer division in our recently announced Preliminary Results, the acquisition accelerates our Non-Consumer division, underlining our portfolio of portfolios strategy.’

Anglo American bid delay

BHP Group has said it needs more time to engage with Anglo American, a week after the London-listed miner rejected the Australian firm’s £38.6billion offer ahead of a final bid deadline later in the day.

The group has outlined commitments to reduce regulatory risk in South Africa blocking the deal.

It said it was sure it had quantified and managed risk surrounding the deal and that it would offer a break fee to Anglo American if the deal was blocked due to anti-trust reasons or failed to gain regulatory approvals.

Those commitments included job security for employees in South Africa. BHP also said it would shoulder the costs of increased South African employee ownership that is expected to be required in any demerger.

Nick Train vows to back ‘world-class’ British businesses after apologising for a dismal performance

Star stock picker Nick Train apologised yesterday for the poor performance at his Finsbury fund – but said he was betting on a pick-up for the UK market.

Train expressed frustration about the ‘malaise’ gripping undervalued London-listed shares.

However, he said that over the past year the fund has been deliberately reducing the size of overseas holdings.

Royal Mail takeover agreed

Royal Mail’s parent company International Distributions Services has agreed to a £3.57billion formal takeover offer by Czech billionaire Daniel Křetínský , who has pledged to maintain the universal service obligation and maintain its headquarters in the UK.

The board of IDS, which also owns international parcels network GLS, said it had ‘negotiated a far-reaching package’ as it approved the 370p per share deal.

It will also secure the maintenance of employee benefits and pensions.

Kretinsky’s investment vehicle EP Group sweetened its bid earlier this month to buy IDS after a previous bid of 320p was rejected by the London-listed firm in April.

Křetínský said in a statement:

‘IDS, and Royal Mail in particular, form part of the national infrastructure of the countries they operate in. More than that, Royal Mail is part of the fabric of UK society and has been for hundreds of years.

‘The EP group has the utmost respect for Royal Mail’s history and tradition, and I know that owning this business will come with enormous responsibility – not just to the employees but to the citizens who rely on its services every day.

‘The scale of the commitments we are offering to the company and the UK Government reflect how seriously we take this responsibility, to the benefit of IDS’ employees, union representatives and all other stakeholders.’

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