Everybody seems to be talking about breakups at Whitbread, the group that owns the likes of Costa Coffee, Premier Inn and Brewers Fayre.
Take these three recent headlines, for example: “Furious wife confronts her ‘cheating’ husband and ‘his mistress’ at a seaside Premier Inn,” said Mail Online last Tuesday.
A day later and the Sun screamed: “Fromage a Trois,” as it informed us about two chefs and a waitress at Brewers Fayre getting themselves entangled in a love triangle (and a potential knife fight).
And, finally: “Time to revisit those Whitbread breakup models,” from the Financial Times, during a breathless spell of reports from last month.
Still, as Whitbread prepares to face investors for its trading update this week, the City’s number crunchers will be concentrating less on the tabloid coverage, and more on whether the FT is correct and the company itself feels it is finally the time for a split.
Last month, Sachem Head Capital Management, a New York activist investor, revealed it had a 3.4% stake in the leisure group, which merely added to the already long-running speculation that the firm might spin off Costa or sell its pubs business. Alison Brittain, Whitbread’s chief executive, says the group is “enormously open-minded” about its structure. Developing...
The upside of Man U’s poor form
Astonishing as it may seem, not everybody despises José Mourinho, the Manchester United manager. Take Philip Bowcock, the chief executive of bookmaker William Hill, who must feel rather fond of the cantankerous old Portuguese at the moment.
The bookmaker had been suffering from a rather dodgy spell of form over the past few years, but its fortunes may be about to improve – with a small contribution from the Special One.
Just before Christmas, Man U went on its own questionable run, and surprise draws against Leicester City, Burnley and Southampton – plus a League Cup defeat to Bristol City – look likely to have swelled bookmakers’ coffers slightly.
This is timely, as William Hill is preparing for a trading statement this week. Analysts at Canaccord muse: “There are enough glimmers of light to suggest sunnier prospects for [William Hill’s] long-suffering shareholders. First, and least, a favourable run of sporting results over Christmas... points to scope for a modestly positive surprise in FY17. There have also been signs of recuperation in the online business following a period of heavy medicine.” Happy days (possibly).
Cheap remark haunts Burberry
A year ago Christopher Bailey correct, then chief executive of Burberry and still the luxury brand’s creative director, was banging on about how he was looking forward to a “wonderfully collaborative relationship” with Marco Gobbetti.
Gobbetti arrived in July last year to relieve Bailey of the chief exec gig but, by October, it was apparent that the collaboration was not wonderful enough to keep the pairing together: Bailey will step down as president and creative director in March – and will be out of the company entirely by the end of this year, following 17 years at the fashion house.
Gobbetti hasn’t waited long to leave other marks, too. Most memorable so far was his November announcement signalling that a company selling rain macs at more than £1,500 a pop was a bit on the cheap side, so the Italian planned to take Burberry, er, upmarket. The shares did the opposite, however, and have yet to really recover.
Which brings us to this week and Burberry’s trading statement, when Barclays predicts the firm will post a 3% rise in third-quarter like-for-like sales. Still, questions might be asked about Gobbetti’s plans to fill the gaps left by Bailey, plus the £850m that got knocked off the company’s value following his upmarket comment.
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