Market overview: 21 March

■ Product testing group Intertek has acquired 4th Strand, a US provider of product quality and benchmarking services to the retail industry, which will be integrated into the group's Consumer Goods division.

Sainsbury, once Britain's leading supermarket chain by sales but now relegated to the number three slot, has continued its revival in the fourth quarter with like-for-like sales growth ahead of expectations.

■ Kazakhstan-focused miner, Eurasian Natural Resources (ENRC), expects production to be at full available capacity across all divisions in 2012, with increased copper volumes anticipated (IC COMMENT).

■ Fashion retailer Ted Baker revealed a 14.9 per cent increase in annual revenue while pre-tax and exceptional posts profit rose 11.7 per cent after a strong performance across all of its divisions (IC COMMENT).

Ophir Energy, the African energy firm which began trading in London last year, is hailing 2011 as a 'transformational year' as both revenue and cash-flow surged.

■ Cardiff based semiconductor wafer manufacturer IQE said progress at the firm was temporarily impacted in the fourth quarter by inventory corrections at two major wireless customers but it remains well positioned for growth (IC COMMENT).

APR Energy, the temporary power solutions provider, last night announced that it would not be publishing its results, originally due out on Thursday, until April 16th (IC COMMENT).

■ Shares in EKF Diagnostics, the AIM-listed in-vitro diagnostics company, fell on Wednesday despite the group appearing to beat analysts' forecasts in 2011 (IC COMMENT).

■ Elpida, the investment vehicle of racing tycoons JP McManus and John Magnier, and a major shareholder in pubs group Mitchells & Butlers, has had one of its representatives appointed to the board of the troubled pubs group.

■ Medical sterilising firm Synergy Health has bought US outfit MSI Surgical Solutions for 6.5m pounds.

■ It is looking like 'game over' at GAME, the video games retailer which has been beset by cash flow difficulties and a reluctance on the part of games publishers to supply it with games for sale.

■ AIM-listed multi-currency payment processor Planet Payment is to add support of China UnionPay's credit and debit cards to the MICROS Payment Gateway Systems.

■ The South America focused petroleum firm Global Energy Development has cashed in on the rising oil price and boosted production.

■ UK bakery, ingredient and sugar group Real Good Food reported a year-on-year rise in both revenue and pre-tax profit in the second half of 2011.

■ Shareholders of savings, investments and insurance giant Old Mutual are in line for their eagerly-awaited special dividend after the firm finally completed the sale of its Nordic business.

■ Microchip group ARM Holdings has announced that Sir John Buchanan, currently the Chairman of FTSE 100 medical devices firm Smith & Nephew is to take over as Chairman of the board from May 3rd onwards.

■ Real estate investment trust Land Securities has exchanged contracts to offload a 413,000 square-foot shopping centre in Liverpool.

■ Public sector services group Serco has signed a contract with the Border Agency to provide asylum support services in the UK.

Essar Energy has commissioned a further two units at its Vadinar refinery in India, leaving just one additional unit remaining to be commissioned as part of the 1.81bn-dollar phase one expansion project.

Genel Energy, the Iraq-focused oil giant led by ex-BP frontman Tony Hayward, announced that the a well in the Tawke Field, of which it owns a quarter, was successfully completed and tested by operator DNO International.

Business press headlines:

Royal Bank of Scotland's insurance arm is poised to appoint Mike Biggs as its chairman with a brief to lead a £5bn flotation of the Churchill and Direct Line brands this year. Mr Biggs, a former HSBC banker and Aviva finance director, is chairman of Resolution Limited, Clive Cowdery's FTSE 100 investment vehicle. It is understood that Mr Biggs intends to stay on at Resolution until 2014, when its UK Life Project, to consolidate life assurance companies, draws to an end. It will mean that Mr Biggs is likely to chair two FTSE 100 companies at the same time, a move that is frowned on by some investors, but which does not breach current boardroom best-practice codes, The Times says.

Improvements in the economic outlook expected to give Osborne headroom for £5bn of future giveaways. That is what some expect the Office for Budget Responsibility's (OBR) latest economic projections, due out today, to show. The Government has the headroom to ease up on austerity measures for the first time since coming to power, official economic forecasts released alongside tomorrow's Budget are expected to show. Stronger growth, better tax receipts, and lower public spending than expected will make it easier for the Treasury to meet its self-imposed targets of eliminating the structural budget deficit within five years and have debt as a proportion of GDP falling by 2015, writes The Times.

The Netherlands, one of the Eurozone's "hardliners" on financial discipline, has the "same problems as Italy and Spain" and is on track to break Europe's three-week old fiscal pact, its own officials have warned. The Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis (CPB) said the country's budget deficit could increase to 4.6 per cent of GDP during this year and next year - a level that far exceeds the 3 per cent ratio that 25 European Union countries pledged to meet by next year. In a report that will embarrass the Dutch government but delight Club Med countries, the CPB said: "The Netherlands is confronted with the same problems as Italy and Spain." The Dutch government will have to introduce a raft of austerity cuts in order to meet the targets, the state think-thank said, The Times reports.

Energy network operator National Grid and oil services company Petrofac have joined with US developer Summit Power to enter a £1bn government competition to build a carbon capture and storage (CCS) project. The consortium said it proposed to build a low-carbon coal power station at the Port of Grangemouth, west of Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth in Scotland. A previous high-profile government competition to award the £1bn funding allocated to the development of a commercial scale CCS project ended in failure last year, but a new competition is due to be launched in coming weeks. The proposed bid announced today would be known as the Caledonia Clean Energy Project. The power plant would run on coal feedstock and would have more than 90 per cent carbon capture, Summit Power said, the Telegraph reports.

The recovery in Britain will be 'slow and painful' with 'enormous personal and social costs', a leading Bank of England official warned last night. Spencer Dale, the central bank's chief economist, said the UK faces a 'challenging journey' after years of debt-fuelled spending. Speaking as the Chancellor put the finishing touches to today's Budget, he said: 'For many years, as a nation we have been living beyond our means, The Daily Mail reports.

House prices in emerging market countries saw the biggest increases over the last ten years, while Britain's housing market fared better than many other developed countries, research has revealed. According to the Lloyds TSB International Global Housing Market Review, emerging economies accounted for four of the six top performing housing markets since 2001 - including the three countries that claim the top three spots. India topped the table with house prices in the country increasing by a staggering 284 per cent once inflation is taken into account, since 2001. This is equivalent to an average annual rise of 14 per cent, says The Daily Mail.

The new owner of Comet has quietly hoisted a "for sale" sign above a third of its stores. The move comes as Comet's landlords prepare for a round of crunch talks with OpCapita, the turnaround group that bought the chain for £2 this year, which could lead to the electricals chain quitting locations. A list of 61 stores is being circulated by property agents, including 34 poorly performing stores it wants to exit if it can do so without incurring a charge and a further 37 that it will hand over if it can secure a premium worth more than the store contributes in annual profit, according to The Times.


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