Wednesday Newspaper round up.

BHP Billiton has named its new chief executive on the same day that it revealed its worst half-year figures for more than a decade. The Australian global mining company has appointed Andrew Mackenzie, the head of its base metals division, to replace Marius Kloppers, who will step down in May. The announcement last night came as BHP reported a 43 per cent fall in half-year profits after being hit badly by weak metals prices. Mr Mackenzie, 56, who joined BHP from Rio Tinto in 2007, will be taking over as the company struggles to protect margins by reining in costs amid weaker commodity pricing. [The Times]

Sainsbury’s hailed a “significant milestone” yesterday as non-food sales reached £1 billion a year for the first time. The group was helped by its best ever Christmas, when general merchandise sales grew by a third compared to the previous year. Sales from its cookware range have grown at 16 per cent in the last year, and the company shifted 100,000 frying pans in the run up to Pancake Day. A collaboration with celebrity stylist Gok Wan […] helped the group’s clothing sales, while small electrical items are another growth area. [The Scotsman]

A rebound in Japan’s exports in January failed to keep pace with growth in imports, leaving a record Y1.63tn trade deficit for the month. The provisional data released on Wednesday shows exports for the world’s third-biggest economy rose 6.4 per cent to Y4.8tn in January from a year earlier, the first year-on-year increase in eight months, while imports jumped 7.3 per cent to Y6.4tn. A weakening in Japan’s currency over the past few months has helped boost export shipments by making its products more price competitive overseas. But it has also inflated the value of resource-scarce Japan’s imports of crude oil and other commodities, which offset a recovery in demand for Japanese-made vehicles and machinery. [Financial Times]

Banks are continuing to hold assets that are wrongly valued, the new financial regulator has told The Times, in a warning that the problems that led to the 2008 financial crisis are not yet resolved. Andrew Bailey, who was appointed chief executive of the Prudential Regulation Authority yesterday, has used his first interview to mount a robust defence of a decision by banking supervisors to re-examine the health of the sector. The Cambridge-educated economist, who first joined the Bank of England in 1985, has his signature on many of Britain’s banknotes as a former chief cashier in Threadneedle Street. He delivered a warning that British banks continue to be too big to fail, putting taxpayers’ money at risk if there is another collapse. He also believes that the industry faces a small “tail risk” that fines for Libor, mis-sold interest rate hedging products and other wrongdoing could cause institutions to “keel over”. [The Times]

The retail industry has charged the Chancellor to use the Budget to save the beleaguered high street by calling for business rates to be frozen and bureaucracy to be cut. More than one in seven shops on high streets in Britain are empty after a wave of retailers have collapsed into administration in the last year, including Comet, HMV and Jessops. However, the British Retail Consortium, the trade body, said that George Osborne can support retailers by cutting business costs and rebuilding fragile consumer confidence. The costs of doing business on the high street have risen by 21pc since 2006, the equivalent of £20bn across the industry, the BRC warns in its submission to the Government ahead of next month’s Budget. [The Telegraph]

Regus, the global office supplier, has lifted its offer by nearly two-thirds to £65.6m in the bidding war to acquire troubled rival MWB Business Exchange. This was marginally above the £65m offered by Pyrrho Investments. Regus, which provides office space in more than 100 countries, said it would now pay 101p a share for each of MWB’s, a significant premium to its previous offer of 61.6p a share back in December. [The Independent]

Britain’s restrictive visa system for Chinese visitors could be “solved tomorrow” and would help put the UK “back on the path to growth”, according to the boss of the world’s biggest hotels group. Simplifying the rules for Chinese nationals who want to visit Britain could be done at “no cost” to the Treasury and would “easily” allow tourism businesses to help grow UK GDP, Richard Solomons, chief executive of InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), said. The head of IHG, the FTSE giant behind the Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza brands, said encouraging more Chinese tourists to Britain would result in more “export dollars, jobs, wealth and GDP in the UK”. [The Telegraph]

European banks are facing the threat of having to reveal their taxes and profits on a country-by-country basis in the latest twist to the EU negotiations over rules to make banks safer. The European parliament is pressing for the tougher disclosure regime along with a demand for strict curbs on bankers’ bonuses as part of the law implementing the Basel III international accord. While the demanding transparency requirements have the full support of the European Commission, EU member states are largely resisting the initiative, introduced into the overhaul of bank capital rules. Under the proposal, Barclays, for instance, would be required to publish its profits and taxes in every national jurisdiction – from the UK to Zimbabwe. [Financial Times]

One month before easyJet launches its new routes from London and Manchester to Moscow, the airline still does not have a flight permit from the Russian authorities. The budget carrier started selling tickets for the flights in January, and although an advertisement on its Facebook page contains the disclaimer “subject to government approval”, the airline’s own website offers no such warning. A spokeswoman for the airline said its lack of a flight permit would not put its first flight on the route, planned for 18 March, at risk. [The Independent]

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