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Fri 14th Jan 2022 - Caffe Nero refinancing, Welsh covid restrictions, KFC, Cineworld
Caffe Nero refinancing kills off Issa brothers takeover hopes: Caffe Nero has killed off the takeover hopes of the billionaire Issa brothers after completing a £330m debt refinancing with a syndicate of three banks. Last April Mohsin and Zuber Issa, the owners of EG Group, acquired £160m of Nero Holdings’ mezzanine debt from Partners Group and tried to wrest control of the coffee shop chain from Gerry Ford, its founder and chief executive. EG then tried to buy the senior debt from the banks, only to be rebuffed. The brothers used their debt position to launch a legal challenge to the chain’s company voluntary arrangement, but in September a High Court judge dismissed their case, rejecting their allegations of “material irregularity and unfair prejudice”. The Times reports that after this week’s refinancing, Nero has a six-year loan package provided by HSBC, Santander and Carlyle Group, as well as an undrawn facility of £85m to fund its expansion into a global player. Its equity remains majority-controlled by Ford, together with family and friends. The group, founded in 1997, has 1,025 stores in ten countries, of which 255 are outside the UK. While most carry the Nero brand, it also owns the premium Harris + Hoole fascia and has a majority holding in Coffee#1. It has 7,600 employees, of whom 5,600 are in the UK. By last month Nero had rebuilt its trade to about 90% of pre-pandemic levels, though it has since dropped back to just over 80%. Ford is hoping to be back to 100% by spring and has restarted expansion, with four stores to open next month.

Next edition of Turnover & Profits Blue Book to feature more than 500 companies with 48 new additions: The next edition of Propel’s Turnover & Profits Blue Book, which is updated monthly for Premium subscribers, will see 48 companies added, taking the total number to 507. Among the companies being added are Daisy Green Food, Flight Club and AG Restaurants. The next edition, to be published at midday today (14 January), will also feature group editor Mark Wingett’s next quarterly pick of the companies well-placed to grow in the post-pandemic era. His latest pick of companies are Brakspear, Simmons Bars, Hub Box, Park Holidays, Vaulkhard Leisure, Hostmore, QFM Group, Caprice Holdings and Ivy Collection. The picks are also accompanied by a 2,100-word report. The Blue Book, which is produced in association with Mapal Group, shows the full damage done to the sector by the pandemic, with 321 companies making a combined loss of £8.17bn compared with 186 companies in profit – making a combined £797m. Losses now outstrip profits in the sector ten times over. Total turnover of the companies stands at £28.5bn. The Blue Book provides a five-year overview of turnover and profit, ranking companies according to turnover, pre-tax profit and profit conversion. It also provides details of directors’ earnings and highest paid directors. Premium subscribers also receive two other databases – the New Openings Database, produced in association with StarStock, and the Multi-Site Operators Database, produced in association with Virgate, which are also updated each month. Companies can now have an unlimited number of people receive access to Propel Premium for a year for £895 plus VAT – whether they are an operator or a supplier. The single subscription rate is £445 plus VAT for operators and £545 plus VAT for suppliers. Email jo.charity@propelinfo.com to upgrade your subscription. Subscribers also receive access to Propel’s library of lockdown videos and Friday Wrap interviews and now also have access to a curated video library of the sector’s finest leaders and entrepreneurs, offering their insights on running outstanding businesses in the sector. Premium subscribers also receive their morning newsletter 11 hours early, at 7pm the evening before our 6am send-out, regular video content and regular exclusive columns from Mark Wingett.

Drakeford to ease Wales’ restrictions: Welsh covid restrictions on large events and businesses brought in to tackle the omicron variant will be scrapped in two weeks under new plans. It follows mounting pressure from opposition parties demanding an exit plan, and falling case numbers. Rules limiting outdoor activities will be lifted first. The Welsh government said the success of the booster campaign meant it was able to lift restrictions, with 1.8 million having received an extra dose. The Welsh Conservatives accused the Welsh Labour government of having overreacted to omicron after tighter restrictions were brought in on 26 December. The BBC reports that first minister Mark Drakeford will announce the details of the plan, following the latest review of covid rules, at a press conference at lunchtime today. He will set out plans to move from alert level two to alert level zero by the end of the month, which would allow nightclubs to reopen and would see social distancing in businesses scrapped. However, the Welsh government said the move to ease measures would depend on the public health situation continuing to improve. Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA, said: “Finally a common-sense approach from the Welsh government! Following intense campaigning from the industry and trade bodies we have put an end to the uncertainty. While we are relieved that we finally have clarity on the Welsh government’s intentions, it has come at a cost to businesses, staff and supply chain. It is difficult to accept that we remain subject to covid passes for nightclubs in Wales. They were sold as the solution to nightclubs and similar settings remaining open, and that they are an effective way of managing transmission within these environments. It is clear from the period of closure and restrictions that this is not the case, it is also clear that there is no evidence base that has been presented by the Welsh government to support this decision. I would urge the Welsh government to realise the farcical basis of this mitigation, with no scientific evidence or data to support it, and end it in line with the date that restrictions for nightclubs are withdrawn on the 28 January. This policy seems only to have exacerbated market distortion, segregation, impact on trade and compromise staff and customer safety.”

KFC seeks 500 new UK sites: KFC has announced plans to open up to 500 new restaurants across the UK. The fast-food giant has released plans to add to its circa 900-strong estate by adding more drive-thrus and stores to its portfolio. According to KFC’s official website, drive-thrus are the most popular assets to the company and only require 0.3 acres to fit into vacant sites, with existing building conversions also considered. Restaurant options are also being considered were drive-thrus cannot be accommodated, while “small boxes” can fit “into 1,000 sq ft with a unique design while still offering customers a great experience”. The company has also invited developers to get in touch if they have a space that could be of interest, and says the company will pay £20,000 “for all recognised introductions”.

Box office and concession revenue at 89% of 2019 levels at Cineworld last month: Cinema chain Cineworld has this morning reported that its box office and concession revenue across its UK and Ireland estate reached 89% in December 2021 versus the same month in 2019. In July, box office and concession revenue stood at 54%, reaching as high as 127% in October, against 2019 levels. The company said: “Performance and attendances have steadily grown and this has resulted in revenue growth. Changes in the film slate for November mainly due to ‘Top Gun: Maverick; moving to May 2022 impacted the gradual recovery seen since reopening. December was particularly strong supported by the success of ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ across all territories, becoming the first film to gross more than $1.5bn at the box office since the onset of the covid-19 pandemic. Whilst there remains challenges ahead relating mainly to covid-19 situation, there is a strong film slate for 2022.” Mooky Greidinger, chief executive, said: “We are pleased to see continued strong demand amongst audiences for cinema experiences, supported by a slate of high-quality and high-performing movies. This demonstrates that fans are continuing to choose the unrivalled theatrical experience. We have seen recovery in theatre attendances across our geographies, which generated a positive cashflow performance for Q4. ‘Spider-Man: No Way Home’ has shown the importance for studios of cinematic releases. Whilst there are challenges ahead, we are excited to welcome customers to our cinemas to enjoy the highly anticipated slate of movies throughout 2022. We are continuing to implement guidelines to ensure our cinemas are a safe environment for our customers, and I want to thank everyone across our team who make it possible for our customers to experience the best place to watch a movie.”

The City is ‘toxic’ for tech companies, says Deliveroo investor: London’s markets have been accused of being “toxic to tech companies” by an investor in Darktrace and Deliveroo, two of last year’s biggest digital floats. Hussein Kanji, a partner at London-based venture capital fund Hoxton Ventures, said that the City was dominated by an “old world mentality” that prevented listed technology companies from being valued at the same levels as those in the US. London enjoyed a bumper year for tech floats in 2021, with Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, hailing the listings as a sign that Britain was luring more high-growth tech start-ups, but companies including Deliveroo, Darktrace and money transfer service Wise have slumped in recent months. Executives and venture capital investors have repeatedly complained that technology companies traded in London are undervalued compared to those in New York, where shareholders are said to appreciate growth more than profits and dividends. Kanji wrote on Twitter: “I think the exchange is toxic to tech companies and being honest about why is the only way to solve it. If the exchange continues to believe it’s great and markets only that, it stays a problem.” He told The Telegraph: “I think it’s an old-world mentality. Given that these are flagship tech companies that decided to list in the UK, the UK market has not been very kind towards them.” He said recent history suggested that start-ups currently looking at floating should “maybe be looking in another place”. Neil Shah, the LSE’s tech sector specialist, said there were “lots of good companies achieving robust valuations in London”. He said many of the technology companies that had listed in Britain last year had seen shares soar since going public.

The Green Planet immersive experience to launch next month in London: The BBC’s latest nature docuseries The Green Planet will launch as an immersive experience led by a Sir David Attenborough hologram next month, in London. The Green Planet Experience has been developed and built by a consortium including virtual agency Factory 42, EE, BBC Studios, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and production companies Talesmith and Dimenson. A virtual Attenborough will take visitors through six digitally-enhanced biomes including rainforests, freshwater and saltwater worlds, deserts and changing seasons. Digital seeds, butterflies, and birds will be seen in the sky and fish will be swimming in the sea. The Green Planet Experience opens on 11 February at 55 Regent Street, Piccadilly Circus. The experience is free to attend, with visitors given a device enabling them to enter the immersive space. Factory 42 founder and chief executive John Cassy said: “This ground-breaking sustainable experience blends physical and digital worlds together, creating an extraordinary encounter that provides knowledge [and] entertainment, and in turn builds empathy with the natural world.” Etch acted on the Piccadilly letting.

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