Currys' Worries: 10 Things We Learned This Week

From Jim Ratcliffe’s blistering attack on the CMA to that same regulator’s own exhortations over petrol prices, it’s been a busy week for the great and good of business

Emma Simon 7 July, 2023 | 3:54PM
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Musk’s Facebook Fight Has Already Begun

The Vegas cage fight probably won’t happen (or will it? Perhaps not. But maybe it will. You never know). But Musk versus Zuckerberg is still likely to be a major event in a different arena: the courts. Twitter owner Musk has threatened to take legal action again Meta after it launched Threads, a rival text-based social media app. More than 10 million users have already signed up to Threads since its launch on Wednesday. So far, it appears to be capitalising on Twitter user anger about new limits on the number of posts they can see per day. In typical bombastic style Musk says “competition is fine, cheating is not” – forcing Meta to deny claims in a legal letter that it hired ex-Twitter staff to create the service. Go get the popcorn.

The Royal Bank has Ditched Farage

Coutts has closed Nigel Farage’s accounts. That much is clear, but the reasons have been subject to much debate. Is it an anti-Brexit conspiracy, over-zealous due diligence checks, woke banking gone mad, or simply the fact Farage doesn’t have the £1 million in cash to qualify for a Coutts account in the first place? Answers weren’t initially definitive, but then the BBC reported Farage just wasn’t wealthy enough to remain a customer. For one, Coutts may be many things – it’s the Royal Family’s bank for one – but “Woke” is not high on the list. Either way, the bad PR Farage thought would amass for the institution upon publication of the so-called revelations hardly seems to have materialised. If anything, all he’s achieved is further interest in his own finances…

Curries Has Worries

Sales of smart speakers have “fallen off a cliff” as cash-strapped customers limit themselves to only buying basic home appliances. That’s the apparent reason Curry’s latest results are so poor. After many people upgraded their homes during the pandemic, the boot is now very much on the other foot at the retailer, which boasts among the only remaining chain stores in the UK where you can actually walk in and physically purchase a telly. It now reports a £450 million loss and has scrapped its final dividend payment.

NS&I is Not Smiling & Infinite

Government-backed savings vehicle National Savings & Investment has bumped up the prize rate on premium bonds again – the sixth such increase in just over 12 months – after one of its worst fundraising months on record. Money raised through NS&I helps swell Treasury coffers, but there was just £460,000 of new bonds in July’s draw compared to the previous month. In contrast, there were an additional £315.9 million new bonds in June’s draw compared to May. These figures suggest people are cashing in holdings, and that few have enough surplus cash to think about saving. Since 1994 there have only been 15 months where NS&I has raised less money, and this is the worst month where there was still a positive inflow. Still, for those who can afford to keep their premium bonds, the return has now been raised from 3.7% to 4%. That’s not guaranteed, though. It’s just what you might expect to get with “average” luck.

And Investors Are Cashing in Holdings

It’s not just premium bond savers cashing in their holdings. Increased numbers of investors are also pulling money from equity funds. We learned this week that the number of withdrawals from equity funds hit £662 million last month. This is being fuelled by some investors needing to access their cash, alongside a flight to “safer” assets such as fixed income and money market funds, amid volatile markets, and a bleak economic outlook. The figures from Calastone, the global funds network, showed particularly high withdrawals from UK equities, with investors pulling £612 million out of this market – the 25th consecutive month of net selling. There were also net outflows of £369 million from ESG funds, the worst month for the sector since the sustainable boom began in 2020.

Hard Landings Are Ahead

Interest rates might have to rise to 7% in order to tackle stubborn inflation, according to one particularly bleak forecast from JP Morgan. Although the bank said its “central” prediction is for rates to peak just below 6%, it adds the Bank of England could be forced to take more drastic action if inflation does not fall rapidly. This is likely to put further strain on homeowners – with the average five-year fixed rate mortgage already topping 6%. The economist France Coppola told delegates at our annual Morningstar Investment Conference this week that the UK housing market faced “widespread tragedy” with house prices falling, a credit crunch and (potentially) rising repossessions. And delegates thought higher interest rates would only make things worse. They might not be wrong.  

Shareholders Are Voting Down Virtual AGMs

Shareholders have blasted Marks & Spencer (M&S) for continuing with its digital AGMs after the pandemic. Like many large companies, M&S switched to virtual events during Covid-19, but this week’s AGM was still a “fully digital” event, despite pandemic restrictions being lifted a long time ago. Shareholders could attend in person but were told there would be no refreshments and questions should be submitted via phone or laptop. Chairman Archie Norman admitted the “feedback” to these arrangements meant changes would probably in store for next year’s AGM. “This is not just a tail between the legs…”

Ratcliffe is The Latest Commentator to Hate the CMA

Ineos founder Jim Ratcliffe is the latest businessman to criticise the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) for being “overly aggressive” and “hostile” to UK business. The comments follow the CMA’s decision to block Ineos’s acquisition of Swiss chemicals firm Sika AG. Ratcliffe’s comments follow a similar blistering attack on the regulator by Microsoft after its takeover of Activision Blizzard was blocked by the CMA. Fair comment or sour grapes? Ratcliffe, who remains in the running to buy Manchester United, didn’t stop there. He went on to lambast the UK government for its alleged lack of support for manufacturing, uncompetitive approach to energy policy and “ridiculous” North Sea windfall tax.

Pump Prices Are in The Spotlight

So-called “greedflation” isn’t just affecting prices on supermarket shelves. Petrol forecourts are feeling it too. This week we learned supermarket profit margins on fuel rose by 6p per litre between 2019 and 2022, with major players – including Asda, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons – failing to pass falling wholesale costs back to customers. The report, by the same Competition and Markets Authority Jim Ratcliffe seems to hate, said while Asda typically remained the cheapest place to buy fuel, its target margin was now three times higher than four years ago. Morrisons’ had doubled over that period. Rather than compete on price to grab market share, other supermarkets had also done the same. The CMA is now calling for government action to address this inevitable consumer pain. In the meantime, drivers are recommended to use one of a number of apps to help them find cheap fuel. As if they didn’t already have enough on their plate! 

It Might be The End For Liquid Lunches

The business lunch looks like it is becoming a thing of the past. Lunchtime dining remains significantly below its pre-pandemic levels – particularly in the City of London and other office hotspots like Canary Wharf. According to one major restaurant chain this isn't just down to fewer offices workers in these areas, it’s about a broader change of habits, as people quit lunchtime booze in favour of a quick drink down the pub at the end of the day before they head for the train.

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About Author

Emma Simon

Emma Simon  is a financial journalist, specialising in investment and consumer issues, writing for

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