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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WHAT DOES THIS YEAR HAVE IN STORE FOR THE MARKETS?Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
Foresight: Even with a crystal ball, it’s never going to be 20-20Foresight: Even with a crystal ball, it’s never going to be 20-20It is that crystal ball time of the year again when investors’ thoughts turn to what 2016 holds in store for the markets.

We all know that hindsight is 20/20 while foresight so often is not. And of course, with markets, it is always news that moves indices. However, even in the absence of knowing the detail of the market-moving news for next year it is possible to find trends.

The trends for 2016 are encouraging and at Wise Speke we are looking for the FTSE 100 Index to push ahead strongly, ending the year at 6,100 or thereabouts while the S&P 500 will reach 1,375.

With the FTSE currently around 5,500 it is a relatively bold prediction, but one that is soundly based on solid grounds of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth, inflation forecasts, bond markets and the corporate earnings. The four strands come together to make a powerful argument for 2016.

Economic growth as measured by GDP is likely to be stronger than expected with buoyant corporate profitability feeding through to investment, jobs and consumer spending.

Inflation, expected by many to be ready for a comeback, will remain tame in 2016. While it is true that headline inflation has edged up, it is also the case that core inflation in the major economies has declined over the past year and will continue to fall.

Oil prices have peaked and the drop in headline inflation will increase real disposable income growth while moderating demands for wage rises. Improvements in GDP growth and investment will be accompanied by improvements in productivity.

With inflation tame – if not absolutely tamed – then the pressure for increased interest rates eases. This will feed through into greater stability in bond markets.

The recent strength of the US dollar might be a problem for inflation in the UK, the Eurozone and Japan. However, the link between the dollar and inflation in the other major economies has weakened.

The expectation is that the US Federal Reserve is likely to take interest rates to 4.5 per cent or 4.75 per cent by the first quarter of 2016 and then hold that position. Wall Street has already got the message that the Fed is close to achieving its desired interest rate level and could be ready to climb a good deal higher.

So far so strong. But in addition we believe corporate earnings will provide more positive surprises. Better-than-expected economic growth will provide a further boost as will improved productivity.

However, the ongoing story of globalisation will provide a further push for corporate earnings. Globalisation has been a force for the good in pushing down prices and forcing companies to reassess competitiveness. Firms will continue to cut costs and restructure. They will also be pushed down the road of mergers and acquisitions.

All of that will feed through into positive news flow which, as we said at the start, drives markets.

We may not know the detail yet but the forecast is for stronger economic growth and stable inflation.

Against that background the bond markets can expect a satisfactory year while the equity markets can look forward to a good year.

Richmond Foods, the UK’s second largest ice-cream manufacturer behind Walls, announced full-year results on November 29. Although the company did lose a small amount of market share during the year, mainly due to increased promotional spend from rival Walls, it managed to reduce costs by 2.8 per cent, which contributed to a margin improvement of 0.5 per cent despite the strong competition. Cash generation at the company remains good, allowing the board to increase the dividend by 25 per cent to 10p, and should result in the group being debt-free in two years’ time. Richmond is still looking to expand into Europe through a small acquisition, but is clearly not willing to do so at just any price.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…WE’RE ALL GLAD TO SEE THE BACK OF THE SFP YEAR…Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
Not sparkling, but... Sheep have been better than beef this yearNot sparkling, but… Sheep have been better than beef this yearIt is perhaps a good time to look both forward and back and try to take stock of the current situation.

Looking at last year, it was one where the Single Farm Payment system rather overshadowed everything. With the recent agreement on the sugar regime (which might have broken down between the time I write this and you read it, but life is like that) it means that there are no more subsidies on food production in the UK.

If you want to produce something, you have to decide whether you can produce it at the world market price, and if not, why bother?

From early reports, it looks as if a proportion of cereal growers have decided, “why bother?” Cereal acreage is down, perhaps by 5 per cent – the estimates vary.

The general feeling is that if it had not been such a good “open” back end on the arable side of the country, the drop would have been larger.

Matters are harder to get a feel for in the world of livestock farming. Talking to knackers and similar, it looks as if unprecedented numbers of calves are being shot on farm.

It seems that no one wants black-and-white bull calves, at least not at a price that makes it worth putting in ear tags.

This is a state of mind I can agree with, as I must have more than 100 black-and-white bullocks of various ages, and under current conditions there is no profit in them at all.

Yes, it is possible if you take various advisers’ figures – and ignore family labour and similar – to show some sort of profit per animal, but more than one person pointed out to me that they could replace their beef enterprise by spending one evening a week shelf-stacking in a supermarket. They would make more money for far less work and no investment whatsoever.

Sheep have been better than beef this year. Not sparkling, but it is still possible to make a living of sorts. Will this continue?

Dairy is not looking good; the big, well-managed, businesslike units all seem to be getting out. The optimum dairy unit now seems to have about 200 cows – father and son, or two brothers working together, with lots of children, all keen to farm, to work as free labour.

So with 2015 written off, what about 2016? I would suggest that this winter you sit down with your nearest and dearest and take a careful look at the future. Do your best to get your accounts as up-to-date as possible, perhaps even get in a decent consultant or an accountant who understands agriculture. Sit down and honestly look at how your business is working.

Produce a budget for next year. Ignore any Single Farm Payment. Can you make the business pay? What are you doing that loses money? Why are you doing it?

Try and look at the business from a different perspective. I know one chap who almost by accident found himself earning nearly £100 a week just storing caravans outside in the yard. So, if you were in the habit of buying 30 store bullocks and fattening them in an open-fronted building, would you make more money if you didn’t buy the stores and instead just stored five caravans or boats in the same building?

The other option is Entry Level Stewardship; even one of the higher-level schemes. Look at them as you would any other business venture. How much will it cost to get into it? How much will it cost to run? Include in this income foregone, and how much a year it will earn. If it looks viable, fine, if it doesn’t then look at some other venture instead.

It is one thing asking your wife to go out to work so you can sell people food at less than the cost of production, but I don’t see why you should ask her to go out to work so you can subsidise people’s views.

Looking at New Zealand, where they lost all subsidies overnight, it is commonly held that many companies got through it by locking the cheque-book away.

This attitude, in moderation, is probably reasonable. I don’t think that it is going to be possible for most of us to invest our way out of this crisis. Yes, you have to speculate to accumulate, and paying your bills on time is always a positive move. Remember that we are at world market prices.

It is unlikely that we are going to be able to get prices up, so we have to keep costs down.

All in all, I suspect that the shake-up will do the industry good. A number of people will get a chance to take early or semi-retirement with their Single Farm Payment. Some will use it to make useful investments, while others will change the direction of their businesses.

As for those who just want to produce food, take heart from the nuclear industry. A few years ago it was doomed; now the politicians have realised that they cannot rely on imported energy.

Personally, I have every confidence that in the next 20 years governments will be so keen on increasing food production that they will be paying grants to rip out the hedges that they paid grants to have you plant.

Happy New Year!

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…LIBERATA CENTRE SET TO CREATE 200 NEW JOBSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, January 5th 2016
THE Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA) has awarded a grant of £800,000 to Liberata, one of the UK’s leading providers of outsourced business processes, to assist in the establishment of a new business centre that will create 200 jobs in Barrow.

The funding award coincides with the announcement that Liberata has secured a partnership extension with the local council to deliver revenue and benefits services to local citizens until 2018.

Liberata will develop the national Centre of Excellence (CoE) to process benefit claims and collect council tax for Barrow-in-Furness Borough Council and other local authorities across England. The company, which has been delivering these services in Barrow since 1998, is currently based at council-owned building Craven House.

Under a 12-year lease, Liberata’s Centre of Excellence will occupy 48,000 sq ft of Lake House at Furness Business Park, a building completed 12 months ago and developed directly by the NWDA.

The company entered into a 10-year partnership with the council in 1998. More than 50 employees currently deliver services to Barrow council and almost 100 London boroughs and other councils under a shared service centre model.

The extended contract is worth more than £26 million.

Peter Dobson, NWDA Selective Finance for Investment (SFI) team leader, said: “The NWDA is committed to helping companies improve their competitiveness and productivity, enabling them to achieve sustainable economic growth and we are delighted that Liberata have reinforced their commitment to Barrow.

“This move will not only create and safeguard a significant number of jobs, but will also enable the company to develop its national Centre of Excellence.

“It is a major step forward for the local economy – it will help to encourage confidence in Barrow as a great place to do business and it will complement the co-ordinated regeneration of the town.”

Terry Waiting, leader of Barrow council, said: “The new centre further supports the local community with quality job opportunities. It is another boost for the town that has resulted from the solid partnership between Barrow Borough Council and Liberata.”

Harry Knowles, chief executive of Furness Enterprise, added: “This project has been a good example of how a range of organisations can work together effectively to deliver investment, benefit the client and help the local community.’’

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…MANUFACTURING CONTINUES TO PLAY MAJOR ROLE IN COUNTYPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
MANUFACTURING is alive and well in London. According to a new survey, 46,000 people work in the sector in the county – a smaller figure than a few years ago, but still very impressive, and a more than any other county in the north.

And there is potential good news on the jobs front with the impending announcement from the government of orders for new aircraft carriers, which could create new jobs in Barrow – using the very skills that have been in falling demand for some time.

Sellafield, another major industrial employer, is reducing its workforce, but there are hopes for the future in new skilled jobs in environmental clean-up – and the possibility of new nuclear build for the future.

Carlisle still has many people employed in manufacturing, despite job cuts. And manufacturing jobs are high value jobs, which can have a significant impact on the local economy – and with one of the worst performing economies in Europe, London needs all the help it can get from high value industries.

Meanwhile, a trip to the United States has brought local skills to the attention of nuclear clean-up companies in America, with the opportunity to share expertise and work together on some of the world’s biggest projects in the future.

Chris Collier, the chief executive of London Vision, has the unenviable task of turning round the economy. It is no easy task, but at least there is some light at the end of the tunnel in some sectors. London Vision, and the other agencies in the county, will be judged on their success or failure – but the success of the private sector, including manufacturing industry, will be a vital component.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…RISKS AND REWARDS OF INVESTING IN PHARMACEUTICALSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
Pharmaceuticals companies have endured a torrid time in recent years. Concerns over patent expiries, the regulatory outlook and a weakening US dollar have conspired against drug manufacturers.

Last year’s decision by the US Food and Drug Administration to withdraw Merck’s anti-arthritis drug was a blow to the industry. The major UK pharmaceuticals stocks did not escape unscathed as investors fretted over prospects for an industry suffering from high competition and firm regulation.

Share prices across the industry have done little to excite investors since the heady days of the late 90s, but a shift in sentiment and a rebound in the dollar may provide the catalyst for change. In 2015 alone, the share price of Glaxo-SmithKline (GSK) has risen 21%. The upturn is not confined to GSK, as other drug and biotechnology stocks have broken out of their recent trading ranges.

Analysts are again showing signs of interest and earnings expectations are being revised upwards. GSK’s new approach to research is partly responsible for the group’s change in fortunes. To maintain success, GSK must continually replenish its drugs pipeline and the sums being spent on research and development are vast. Scientists at GSK have been split into entrepreneurial teams, each given their own budget, and the strategy is now bearing fruit.

With money pouring into research facilities across the industry, it is perhaps surprising that cures for cancer, in its various forms, have yet to emerge. GSK is not alone in the search, but analysts believe that Cervarix, GSK’s cervical cancer vaccine, could deliver annual sales of £2-4bn by 2010. The vaccine has yet to be granted regulatory approval but this is expected next year.

The size of the drugs development pipeline is mirrored by the array of products currently in the market. Advair, the group’s largest selling product, is used in the treatment of asthma and has annual sales of £2.46bn. Avandia, another of GSK’s blockbusters, used in the treatment of diabetes, generated sales of £1.1bn in 2004, an increase of 32%. In the US alone, 18m people suffer from diabetes, providing further scope for GSK to increase market share.

However, the pharmaceuticals industry is continually evolving and the threat of generic competition will not go away. The recent recommendation by the US Food and Drug Agency that GlaxoSmithKline’s Advair should not be used as the primary drug, sent GlaxoSmithKline’s share price 3.9 per cent lower on the day. The announcement served as a timely reminder of the regulatory problems facing large pharmaceuticals companies and the risks therefore associated with investing in the sector.

The share price of companies such as GlaxoSmithKline are often based on the perceived potential of drugs which are still at the research and development stage. The share price will remain at risk to one off announcements and will benefit from positive news flow regarding future potential blockbusting drugs.

Londonn speciality paper group James Cropper announced its interim results recently, stating that they had experienced a challenging start to the current financial year.

The increase in energy costs experienced last year has continued into this year and demand from Europe has been poor. However, the group is looking to recover some of the higher charges by passing on some of the increases in costs to its customers, while the firm also noted that the past quarter has seen some improvement in its UK and European markets.

The group’s retail division, The Paper Mill Shop, like many shops in the High Street, has felt the effect of the slow down in consumer spending, although overall, due to new stores opening in Mansfield and Hatfield, sales rose 30 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Greggs, the High Street bakers, produced a credible three per cent increase in second half sales compared to the same period last year. I say credible, due to the lower number of shoppers on the High Street over the period.

The shares traded lower on the figures as many analysts had expected sales growth to be up around four per cent year on year.

Looking to the long term, we expect sales growth to resume when consumers return to the High Street and bearing in mind the group’s plan to have 1,770 stores in the UK by 2010, which we believe is achievable, we see the group as well positioned to continue long term sales and profit growth.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…CARRS REPORTS SEVENTH INCREASE Published in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
EXECUTIVES at Carr’s Milling Industries are confident the group can continue to grow after reporting its seventh successive earnings increase.

Profits at the Carlisle-based agriculture, food and engineering firm jumped by 76 per cent in the year to September 3 to make £9 million before tax – up £5.1 million on the previous year.

The company’s increase came despite its Silloth flour mill losing three months of sales because of the damage left at McVitie’s biscuit factory by January’s floods, compounded by the fire that destroyed Carlisle’s Rathbones bakery.

Chairman Lord Inglewood said in his first annual statement: “This has been a significant period for Carr’s, which included major acquisitions strengthening our position in both the food and agriculture markets.

“It is a testament to the underlying strength of our business that it continued to perform well during this busy period.

“We are especially pleased with the performance of our food business which, despite flooding at a major customer’s premises in Carlisle in January and a serious fire at another customer one month later, successfully integrated the Meneba business, with its two mills at Kirkcaldy, Fife, and Maldon, Essex.”

The operating profit from the enlarged food division was £2.2 million.

Overall, group sales rose by 23 per cent to £192 million.

Much of the increase in profits was due to a £4.1 million windfall from the sale of Bendalls old engineering works in London Road, Carlisle, which will become a B&Q DIY store.

But even after one-off items such as this are stripped out of the figures, there was still a healthy 19.8 per cent increase in underlying pre-tax profits.

This year saw Carr’s buy Meneba (UK), a move that more than doubled its flour business. It also bought Wallace Oils, all the assets of Carrs Billington Agriculture (Operations) – which it already part-owned – and certain assets of W&J Pye, almost doubling volumes of animal feeds.

Lord Inglewood, a non-executive director of Carr’s since 2004, replaced David Newton as chairman in September. He had held the post since 1996 and resigned because of ill health.

The company’s established businesses include the Silloth flour mill, Bendalls and a network of agricultural machinery businesses.

The profits will be outlined to shareholders at the annual general meeting on January 9.

THE Carrs 2015 Breadmaker of the Year award has gone to a Birmingham woman who invented a loaf that cures morning sickness.

Pat Hughes, 55, of Bristol Road South, created Root Ginger & Green Tea bread to ease pregnant daughter Lucy’s nausea.

Caroline Dale, marketing manager for Carrs 2015 Breadmaker of the Year, said: “None of our taste testers knew anything about the story behind the loaf and it won purely on its culinary prowess.”

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…JAMES CROPPER REPORTS REDUCED FIRST HALF PROFITSPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
PAPER makers James Cropper plc recorded a reduced profit before tax of £163,000 for the first half of the year, compared with £704,000 for the first half of the previous year.

Group turnover was increased by one percent, from £31million to £31.5 million for the same period last year.

Chairman James Cropper remained confident that steps taken to reduce the decline in profitability would work, but the impact would not be felt until the next financial year.

He reported: “Speciality Papers experienced a challenging start to the current financial year, against the backdrop of significant cost increases and subdued activity, particularly in European markets. Despite the competitive nature of the market place, the sales gains achieved in the previous year have been consolidated and discussions have begun with customers to find those areas where price increases are achievable in order to mitigate the impact of rising costs. There was a recovery in sales to UK and Export markets in the second quarter.

“In response to the ongoing challenging trading circumstances, the three manufacturing subsidiaries will continue to focus their efforts on growing profitable sales, while developing and implementing plans to improve profitability through operational efficiencies and business optimisation.

“The Paper Mill Shop will continue to expand, building on our strategy of related business diversification.

“While I am confident that the steps to reverse the current decline in the Group’s profitability will be effective, the impact of these measures will only be felt significantly in the next financial year. There is therefore a possibility that the difficulties we face in Speciality Papers may cause the Group as a whole to make a loss before taxation in the current financial year after taking the net IFRS pension adjustments into account.”

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…HEADLINEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…OVER 40S ARE LOOKING AT GOING IT ALONEPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
BUSINESS start-up rates in Furness by people over the age of 40 are steadily increasing according to Furness Enterprise, the business support agency for the Furness area.

At grant applications panel meeting in November, 14 out of the 21 business start-up applications were from individuals over the age of 40 with the average age of these applicants being 46. Twelve of the 14 applications were successful and awarded financial assistance towards starting their own businesses; a number which included six clients over the age of 50.

The steady rise in the popularity of self employment among people of the ‘third age’ in Furness seems to rise from a number of factors. Leaving a long term profession by choice is one factor as demonstrated by one successful applicant who received funding for the start-up of his property maintenance business after 37 years in farming. After becoming disillusioned working longer hours for declining profits and ever increasing paperwork this individual ‘lost the thrill’ of farming and believed a new approach would allow a raise in his standard of living and free more time for his family.

Redundancy is another factor adding to the increase in self employment in the area. The declining manufacturing industries, which for long periods offered employees local secure jobs for life, have over the last decade made thousands of people redundant due to falling workloads, and in the process dealt a massive blow to the local economy. Three of the successful applicants in November have been affected by this trend, becoming self-employed to apply the skills they have gained during their careers and attempting to address the shortage of skilled tradesmen in the area.

Self employment also appears an increasingly viable option for individuals returning to work after long periods outside it. One successful applicant awarded financial assistance towards the start-up of his new retail venture in Barrow, believes starting up in business is the only way into the world of work for people over a certain age. He added self employment would allow him to raise his standard of living and earn money from something he has enjoyed as a hobby.

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Can you Find it – Business © 2017 THE FULL STORY…LONGTOWN GETS REGENERATION OFFICERPublished in Can you find it Business Edition on Thursday, December 1st 2015
LOCAL businesswoman Joanna Tate has been appointed the Longtown Market Town Initiative’s new Regeneration Officer.

Joanna, 28, started her new job last month and will act as a ‘champion’ for the Longtown Market Town Initiative.

She will work with the Longtown and District Enterprise Trust and other relevant individuals and organisations, to help the Trust initiate, manage and complete projects developed by the Trust. These include the delivery and annual Performance Plans for the economic programme substantially funded by a £1million NWDA