Business news in brief
Stella Artois brewer AB InBev sells less beer despite World Cup
The world’s largest brewer, AB InBev, has posted its first slump in beer volumes since the pandemic despite the benefit of the football world cup. The Stella Artois and Budweiser maker said bad weather impacted its US business, while its Chinese operation was still impacted by Covid-19 restrictions. It revealed that volumes decreased by 0.6 per cent over the final quarter of 2022, compared to the same period last year. However, profits were slightly higher than expected after price increases.
Underlying profit hit £1.4bn for the quarter despite continued pressure from cost inflation.
RBC analyst James Edwardes Jones said: “We hope this is no more than a speed bump on AB InBev’s road to rehabilitation, but Q4 was not great.”
National Express profits boosted by train strike chaos
Train strikes have helped National Express more than triple annual profits as passengers switched to buses and coaches to avoid rail disruption. Shares in National Express soared 13 per cent as the group reported underlying pre-tax profits of £145.9m, up from £39.7m in 2021, with annual revenues surpassing pre-pandemic levels for the first time since Covid hit. The group saw revenues jump to a record £2.8bn, higher than 2019 levels and a more than 24 per cent increase on 2021 on a constant currency basis. It also resumed shareholder dividends for the first time since 2020, with a 5p-a-share annual payout.
Ignacio Garat, group chief executive, said the economy “remains challenging” but he expects to see “momentum” continue through the year ahead. On a statutory basis, National Express reported pre-tax losses widening to £209.9m from £84.9m the previous year and a £9.7m hit from costs including fees relating to its failed takeover plans for rival Stagecoach.
Metro Bank ‘on its way to being profitable’ after hard 2021
Metro Bank has narrowed its losses and said it is well on its way to being profitable after cutting costs and seeing its finances bolstered by higher interest rates. It still posted pre-tax losses of £70.7m over last year, but it was significantly lower than the £245.1m reported at the end of 2021. The lender had suffered heavy losses during Covid and had to put cash aside in previous years to cover historical global sanctions as well as fines from the UK regulator over an accounting blunder.
But the bank insisted it has drawn a line under its legacy issues and has “greatly improved” its reporting processes and controls
since. Like other lenders, it has benefitted from the Bank of England raising interest rates over the past year, cashing in on the higher cost of borrowing.
WH Smith hit by second IT hack in a year
Stationery chain WH Smith has been hit by its second cyber attack in less than a year after hackers accessed company data, including personal information for current and former employees. The books and stationery chain confirmed the hack has seen a possible breach of staff payroll data such as names, addresses, dates of birth and national insurance numbers, though it does not believe banking details have been accessed.
WH Smith said only its UK workers have been affected but did not say how many. The company said the hack has not affected trading or seen customer information accessed. It follows less than a year after the firm’s Funky Pigeon online card business was hacked, which left it unable to take orders for some weeks last April and over the Easter weekend.
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