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What to Watch: Sainsbury's boss retires, Ted Baker stock warning, digital tax battle

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
Shoppers are seen outside Sainsbury's supermarket in London. Photo: Dinendra Haria/SOPA Images/Sipa USA

Here are the top business, market, and economic stories you should be watching today in the UK, Europe, and abroad:

Sainsbury's CEO Mike Coupe to retire

The chief executive of Sainsbury's (SBRY.L), one of Britain’s largest supermarkets, is set to retire after six years in charge.

Sainsbury’s said Wednesday that CEO Mike Coupe will retire from the group in May. Simon Roberts, the current head of retail and operations, will take over at the helm.

Coupe said it was a “very difficult” decision to leave but said it was “the right time for me to hand over to my successor.”

“Sainsbury's is a very different business today to the one I took over in 2014,” Coupe said in a statement. “I have focused on setting the business up to deal with the strategic challenges of our industry.”

Coupe oversaw Sainsbury’s £1.4bn takeover of catalogue retailer Argos in 2016, transforming Sainsbury’s from a supermarket group into a retailer of everything from clothing to watches. The deal also expanded the range of ways people could shop with Sainsbury’s.

Ted Baker warns stock issues twice as bad as first thought

Problems continue at troubled Ted Baker (TED.L), with the fashion brand warning investors on Wednesday an issue with overvalued stock is more than twice as bad as first thought.

The retailer said a review by accountants Deloitte had found stock held by the company was overvalued by £58m ($75.7m).

The number is “materially higher” than the initial estimate of £25m given in December, Ted Baker admitted. Shares in the company fell 15% when the problem was first announced in December and the stock shed another 5% on Wednesday.

Ted Baker reiterated that the stock issues were non-cash items, so would affect accounting rather than reserves, and related to past years.

The company said in a brief statement it would provide a further update when it delivers full-year results in March.

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UK told to ‘hold fire’ on big tech digital tax

The intergovernmental Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has asked Britain to “hold fire” on a digital tax that would hit the world’s biggest tech companies.

The planned levy is a 2% tax on the UK sales of search engines, social media companies, and online marketplaces from April this year. It would likely hit US tech firms the hardest due their size and scale.

The OECD’s Secretary General Angel Gurria told press at the World Economic Forum (WEF) that there needs to be a global agreement otherwise it could spark countries implementing their own version of the tax as and when they want in a non-standardised way.

The OECD, which is tasked with brokering a global compromise on how tech companies get taxed, is trying to prevent a transatlantic trade war and further warned that without a global agreement, it could risk "a cacophony" with countries doing their own thing amid "tensions rising all over the place.”

UK property sales on the rise in 'Boris bounce'

Property sales jumped immediately after the Conservatives’ decisive election victory last month, according to a new industry survey.

A majority of chartered surveyors interviewed across Britain reported a jump in the number of sales agreed in December compared with the previous month. It was the first time since May last year the monthly survey has seen more respondents predict growth than decline.

Expectations of greater sales over the year ahead soared among members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), which released its latest residential market survey on Thursday.

It showed 66% of members expected sales to increase, up significantly from 35% last month.

Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at RICS, said it was a fresh sign that greater certainty over Brexit from the decisive win for prime minister Boris Johnson had boosted confidence.

UK rental growth hits three-year high

UK rental growth went up 2.6% annually to £886 ($1,156) per calendar month in the last quarter of 2019 — the highest rate in three years, according to a new report by property website Zoopla.

This growth can be put down to a scarcity of supply and rising demand for rented homes. There has been a 4% drop in the number of homes coming to the market for rent over the last two years while the demand rose by 8% over 2019, creating upward pressure on rental values.

Some UK cities are seeing rents increase by 5% or more annually, with Nottingham seeing the steepest rise at 5.8%. Bristol comes in second with a 5.5% rise, followed by York at 5%.

European stocks up slightly

The pan-European Stoxx 600 index (^STOXX) made small gains on Wednesday, and was up 0.06%.

Germany’s DAX (^GDAXI) rose by 0.08%, while the FTSE 100 (FTSE) was up 0.23% in London. The French CAC 40 (^FCHI) was on the level.

Sterling was up 0.11% against the dollar (GBPUSD=X) to around $1.306 in morning trading on Wednesday. The currency was also up slightly against the euro (GBPEUR=X).

What to expect in the US

Futures are pointing to a higher open for US stocks.

S&P 500 futures (ES=F) are up by 0.36% and Dow Jones Industrial Average futures (YM=F) are up by 0.29%. Nasdaq futures (NQ=F) are up by 0.6%.

Companies reporting later on Wednesday in the US include:

  • Abbott Laboratories (ABT)

  • Netflix (NFLX)

  • Texas Instruments (TXN)

  • Johnson & Johnson (JNJ)