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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn

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UK delays review of business rates tax until autumn 1

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s finance ministry said it would delay publication of its review of business rates – a tax paid by companies based on the value of the property they occupy – until the autumn when the economic outlook should be clearer.

Many companies are demanding reductions in their business rates to help them compete with online retailers.

“Due to the ongoing and wide-ranging impacts of the pandemic and economic uncertainty, the government said the review’s final report would be released later in the year when there is more clarity on the long-term state of the economy and the public finances,” the ministry said.

Finance minister Rishi Sunak has granted a temporary business rates exemption to companies in the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors, costing over 10 billion pounds ($14 billion). Sunak is due to announce his next round of support measures for the economy on March 3.

($1 = 0.7152 pounds)

(Writing by William Schomberg, editing by David Milliken)

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights

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Discounter Pepco has all of Europe in its sights 2

By James Davey

LONDON (Reuters) – Pepco Group, which owns British discount retailer Poundland, has targeted 400 store openings across Europe in its 2020-21 financial year as it expands its PEPCO brand beyond central and eastern Europe, its boss said on Friday.

The group opened a net 327 new stores in its 2019-20 year, taking the total to 3,021 in 15 countries. The PEPCO brand entered western Europe for the first time with openings in Italy and it plans its first foray into Spain in April or May.

Chief Executive Andy Bond said its five stores in Italy have traded “super well” so far.

“That’s given us a lot of confidence that we can now start building PEPCO into western Europe and that expands our market opportunity from roughly 100 million people (in central and eastern Europe) to roughly 500 million people,” he told Reuters.

To further illustrate the brand’s potential he noted that the group has more than 1,000 PEPCO shops in Poland, which has a significantly smaller population and gross domestic product than Italy or Spain.

The company, which also owns the Dealz brand in Europe but does not trade online, has already opened more than 100 of the targeted 400 new stores this financial year.

Pepco Group is part of South African conglomerate Steinhoff, which is still battling the fallout of a 2017 accounting scandal.

Since 2019 Steinhoff and its creditors have been evaluating a range of strategic options for Pepco Group, including a potential public listing, private equity sale or trade sale.

That process was delayed by the pandemic, but Steinhoff said last month that it had resumed.

“The business will be up for sale at the right time. It’s a case of when, rather than if,” said Bond, a former boss of British supermarket chain Asda.

Pepco Group on Friday reported a 31% drop in full-year core earnings, citing temporary coronavirus-related store closures.

Underlying earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) were 229 million euros ($277 million) for the year to Sept. 30, against 331 million euros the previous year.

Sales rose 3% to 3.5 billion euros, reflecting new store openings.

($1 = 0.8279 euros)

(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by David Goodman)

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Fashion-focused livery launch reveals new colours for Gasly, Tsunoda in 2021

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Fashion-focused livery launch reveals new colours for Gasly, Tsunoda in 2021 3

Scuderia AlphaTauri debuted their colours for the 2021 Formula 1 season as drivers Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda unveiled the team’s new look with the livery for their AT02 racecars. The setting was a fashion-forward launch in the all-new showroom of AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s premium fashion brand.

Salzburg (AUSTRIA) – Formula 1 team Scuderia AlphaTauri served up a stylish preview of the new F1 season with a presentation of its 2021 livery alongside key looks from the upcoming Autumn/Winter 2021 collection of Red Bull’s premium fashion brand, AlphaTauri. The launch – held at AlphaTauri’s new showroom in Salzburg, Austria and presented digitally – marked the first time that drivers Pierre Gasly of France and Yuki Tsunoda of Japan have appeared together as teammates.

After a successful first season racing in AlphaTauri colours, the Italian outfit is looking to challenge the top of the ultra-competitive midfield in 2021, and the two young drivers have been assigned clear-cut roles. Gasly is Team Leader. The 25-year-old, who made his Formula One debut with the team in 2017 under its former name, Scuderia Toro Rosso, has earned two F1 podiums. During the 2020 campaign, Gasly’s maiden win at Monza was a defining moment for him and the team under its new name.

Tsunoda, 20, is the first Japanese driver to race in F1 since 2014, his promotion coming off the back of a fast, four-season trajectory from winning the 2018 F4 Japanese Championship and finishing third in the 2020 FIA F2 Championship to entering the top-level ranks this year. Expectations are high for his rapid style of learning to complement the experience of Gasly.

“The decision to go for Pierre and Yuki in 2021 was taken because Scuderia AlphaTauri’s philosophy is still to give talented young drivers from the Red Bull Junior Program the opportunity to step up to F1 and to educate them – this is why Yuki now gets his chance,” explained Team Principal Franz Tost. “With Pierre on Yuki’s side we have an experienced driver, who can help our Japanese rookie to develop faster, but at the same time we can aim for good results. I think this pair is the best possible scenario to achieve both our targets, and I’m also confident this will be a successful one.”

In 2020, Scuderia AlphaTauri won best livery by a landslide, and the team’s all-new, matte blue and white racecar livery took center stage with the drivers at the fashion event, anticipating the 2021 model that will debut at pre-season testing in Bahrain on 12 March. The test is the precursor to an unprecedented 23-race schedule, and in preparation for the demanding calendar both drivers have spent time at Red Bull’s Athlete Performance Center for intense fitness testing.

“I’m ready to take on the role of team leader. Yuki is a very quick driver, and he will help us move the team forward – we will work together to achieve that,” said Gasly, the team’s all-time top points scorer. “I really believe last year was the team’s best in terms of the way it worked, the development, the performance and the way it managed the race weekends. I’m always hungry for more, and I’m sure we can achieve great things in 2021.”

Tsunoda, who was honored with the Anthoine Hubert Award for best Formula 2 rookie in 2020, added, “I’ve been lucky enough to spend some time with Scuderia AlphaTauri ahead of the season, so I’m already developing strong relationships and learning a lot from them – including Pierre, who is an incredible talent. My main goal is to learn quickly and deliver results as soon as possible, and I’m really excited to get started.”

The launch at the AlphaTauri Showroom not only gave Gasly and Tsunoda a preview of the AlphaTauri Autumn/Winter 2021 fashion collection, but the drivers had the chance to select their new off-grid looks ahead of the season start.

Ahmet Mercan, CEO AlphaTauri, summarized: “This is a triple reveal at a unique point of time: a new AlphaTauri Showroom where fashion meets F1, a first look at the AW21 AlphaTauri collection and the unveiling of the new Scuderia AlphaTauri F1 livery and driver pairing.”

Scuderia AlphaTauri fans don’t have long to wait for racing action: The FIA Formula 1 season kicks off at the Bahrain Test on 12-14 March, in preparation for the Bahrain Grand Prix on 28 March.

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Lockdown decimates UK retail, borrowing surge slows

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Lockdown decimates UK retail, borrowing surge slows 4

By William Schomberg and David Milliken

LONDON (Reuters) – British retail sales tumbled in January as shops went back into lockdown, official data showed, but lower-than-expected public borrowing gave at least some relief to finance minister Rishi Sunak as he prepares his next round of emergency spending.

Retail sales volumes slumped by 8.2% from December, a far bigger fall than the 2.5% decrease forecast in a Reuters poll of economists and the second largest on record.

“The only good thing about the current lockdown is that it’s no way near as bad for the economy as the first one,” Paul Dales, an economist at Capital Economics, said.

The smaller fall in retail sales than last April’s 18% plunge reflected the growth in online shopping.

The Office for National Statistics said public sector borrowing of 8.8 billion pounds ($12.3 billion) was the first January deficit in a decade, but the deficit was a lot less than a forecast of 24.5 billion pounds in the Reuters poll.

That took borrowing since the start of the financial year in April to 270.6 billion pounds, reflecting the surge in spending and tax cuts ordered by Sunak.

That figure does not yet include losses on government-backed loans which are likely to add 30 billion pounds to the shortfall this year, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank.

Sunak is expected to extend the government’s wage subsidies, at least for the hardest-hit sectors, in his budget statement on March 3, but he said on Friday the time would come for a reckoning.

“It’s right that once our economy begins to recover, we should look to return the public finances to a more sustainable footing and I’ll always be honest with the British people about how we will do this,” he said.

Some economists see higher taxes sooner rather than later.

“Big tax rises eventually will have to be announced, with 2022 likely to be the worst year, so that they will be far from voters’ minds by the time of the next general election in May 2024,” Samuel Tombs, at Pantheon Macroeconomics, said.

Public debt rose to 2.115 trillion pounds or 97.9% of gross domestic product, a share not seen since the early 1960s.

BOUNCE-BACK AHEAD?

Britain’s economy – which had its biggest slump in 300 years in 2020 when it contracted by 10% – will shrink by 4% in the first three months of 2021 before recovering thanks to the country’s fast COVID-19 vaccination programme, the Bank of England says.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he will lift the lockdown in England only gradually.

But a survey showed consumers were their most confident since the pandemic struck.

“The hope, and our expectation, is that when the lockdown is finally lifted, we will see a surge in consumer spending, rather than a more permanent scarring of the consumer confidence,” James Sproule, an economist at Handelsbanken, said.

Retail sales in January were down 5.9% compared with the same month in 2020.

Department stores and clothing stores saw the sharpest fall last month while online shopping rose to its highest ever share of total spending at 35.2%.

On the public finances, the ONS said central government tax receipts fell by just 800 million pounds from a year earlier, helped by self-assessed income tax payments which rose after a delay in an earlier deadline.

It also said there was a 300 million-pound revenue boost from customs duties, which until last month went to the European Union, and for the first time Britain paid no contribution to the EU budget which used to average 1 billion pounds a month.

($1 = 0.7160 pounds)

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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