Marks & Spencer was thrown into chaos on Wednesday night after it rushed out worse than expected Christmas trading figures because they had been partially leaked, intensifying the scrutiny of chief executive Marc Bolland. M&S said that like-for-like sales in general merchandise, primarily clothing, fell by 3.8pc, worse than even the most pessimistic analysts had predicted. Like-for-like food sales rose 0.3pc, which was also below expectations. The trading update for the 13 weeks to December 29 was due to be issued on Thursday morning. However, M&S published the figures at just before 8pm on Wednesday and then hastily convened a management conference call after the like-for-like sales data was leaked to Sky News. [The Telegraph]
Apple is reportedly developing a budget version of the iPhone that could cost half as much as its latest handset, in an attempt to push back against arch-rival Samsung and increase sales in Asia. With competitors producing touch-screen devices for under $100 (£62) without subsidy, analysts say that to make an impact Apple would need to price its budget model at around $300, half the price of the latest iPhone. Scheduled for launch in the second half of this year, according to manufacturing sources, a second model would mark a major shift in strategy for Apple, which has produced just one handset a year since it first appeared in 2007. [The Guardian]
Chinese exports and imports rebounded strongly in December, pointing to solid economic growth both in China and abroad. Exports rose 14.1 per cent from a year earlier, the fastest in seven months and well above November’s 2.9 per cent pace. Imports increased 6 per cent in December from a year earlier after flatlining in November. Both outstripped most forecasts. China registered a $31.6bn trade surplus for the month, up from $19.6bn in November. For 2012 as a whole, China had a trade surplus of $231bn, more than 50 per cent larger than a year earlier, breaking a streak of three straight annual declines. [Financial Times]
The decline in North Sea oil and gas production will be halted temporarily after investment by the industry last year reached the highest level since the mid-Seventies, according to the energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie. The news will be a boost for the Chancellor, who has blamed paltry tax revenues in part on a slump in North Sea output.
The consultancy said that capital spending would remain high over the next three years as companies developed new oil and gasfields and increased production from existing operations. Analysts warned, though, that investment and output would start to tail off soon unless oil companies got better at making discoveries. Last year the sector made only two discoveries, despite drilling 66 wells — a 40 per cent increase on 2011. The two finds have 20 million barrels of oil in total reserves, almost a tenth of the oil found in 2011 and represent an all-time low. [The Times]
The FTSE 100 index reached its highest level since before the 2008 banking crisis on Wednesday, boosted by renewed optimism about the global economy. After two days of mild declines the January stock market rally resumed with the FTSE 100 rising 45.02 points to 6098.6, having earlier hit a high of 6112. That marked its highest close since 22 May 2008, well before the collapse of Lehman Brothers helped fuel the worldwide financial crisis. [The Guardian]
The Obama administration on Wednesday publicly signalled its growing concern about a possible British exit from the EU, just days before David Cameron sets out plans for a referendum on the issue. US diplomats have privately warned for months that Mr Cameron risked putting Britain on a path to exit with his plan to renegotiate Britain’s EU membership terms and put the “new settlement” to a referendum. But Washington has now taken the unusual step of publicly briefing British journalists that it firmly believes the “special relationship” is best served by the UK remaining at the heart of Europe. [Financial Times]
Bank of Scotland veteran Alasdair Gardner is to take the reins of Lloyds’ commercial banking arm in Scotland as it looks to grab a bigger slice of the SME market. Gardner, who joined the bank in 1987 and was previously head of energy at its corporate arm, will be responsible for all of the group’s SME clients north of the Border, on top of his existing role as head of its Scottish mid-market business, which supports firms with a turnover of up to £750 million. [The Scotsman]