UK retailers are booming despite the cost of living crisis

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Good evening,

Marks & Spencer’s announcement this morning of 20 new stores is a vote of confidence on Britain’s embattled streets after blows during the pandemic.

The £480m investment, which will create 3,400 new jobs, makes the brick-and-mortar locations an important part of the company’s future and “a competitive advantage for how customers want to shop today”. M&S will accelerate plans to close legacy stores and increase the number of food courts, as well as expand digital and click-and-collect services.

The news comes amid better-than-expected results from the country’s major retail chains in the crucial fourth-quarter trading period, which showed the country’s shoppers returning to the high streets despite rising prices and the pressures of the cost-of-living crisis.

Then, JD Sports and B&M upgraded earnings forecasts after a successful Christmas, while M&S reported its largest apparel market share in eight years as well as improved sales in its food division.

Grocer King’s Fortnum & Mason added to positive comments from the retail sector by announcing today that it has returned to profit. Fortnum said it is also likely to benefit from launching a range of merchandise ahead of King Charles’ coronation, which it expects will be popular with international shoppers.

Channel shift [back to stores] “It’s been beneficial for the biggest retailers,” said Lisa Hooker, head of UK consumer markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The share of online sales is now well ahead of where it likely would have been if Covid had never happened.” Store sales also generally mean higher profit margins than online because the cost of “last mile” transportation is borne by the customer and store operating costs are largely fixed.

However, there are challenges ahead for this sector. A significant rise in the UK’s statutory minimum wage in April, rising energy costs and questions about whether inflation has peaked all remain challenges. But factory rates and freight rates are falling and large chains like Next will also benefit from changes in business rates announced in the fall statement.

Lex’s column offers a note of caution to investors, arguing that the frothy festive trading updates weren’t evidence that consumers were slobbering, but were simply “swallowing last year’s inflation pills not to cancel Christmas.” Despite paying more money, Lex points out, they still come home less than a year ago.

Need to know: UK and European economy

In the UK it’s a big week for the Britain’s exit from the European Union (yes, it’s not done yet), with talks of resolving the impasse over Northern Ireland’s trade relations and the government’s proposed fires of thousands of EU laws igniting.

A think tank report with a foreword by a former Conservative minister calls on the current British government to prioritize reviving manufacturing to reduce regional disparities after the short-lived Liz Truss administration abandoned a planned industrial strategy.

Earnings from Russian exports Fertilizer They jumped 70 percent last year as prices rose after the invasion of Ukraine. Food and fertilizers are exempt from Western sanctions to protect food security, especially for poor countries. Russian grain shipments have also returned to pre-war levels.

Need to know: The global economy

Global business and political leaders gather in Davos against a backdrop of economic uncertainty and companies facing billions of dollars in writedowns on recent acquisitions. REgypt here on the free Davos Daily Show, hosted by FT’s senior business writer Andrew Hill, at midday GMT January 17-19.

ChinaGDP figures for the fourth quarter and the full year will be published tomorrow and are likely to fall short again of the government’s growth targets. Here are five things to watch. The Financial Times editorial board says that reopening China has critical implications for growth and inflation around the world. Hong Kong He also hopes that its reopening will help maintain its status as a global financial center.

In the meantime, the Chinese are increasingly looking wealthy Singapore As a long-term safe home for their money because of its political and economic stability and its growing status as a financial center in Asia, our Big Read explains.

It is the golden age shale energy, Which “vaulted the United States to the top of the table in terms of geopolitical importance,” now finished? And if so, what does that mean for the rest of the world? Here is the “big read” in detail.

Peru A state of emergency was declared in the capital, Lima, and three other regions as protests spread against President Dina Boloart. Dozens have now died as a result of the unrest that erupted after the ouster and arrest of former left-wing President Pedro Castillo in early December.

Need to know: Business

Bain Capital is preparing to list Virgin Australia, one of the most prominent companies that collapsed due to the epidemic, with the recovery of the aviation sector. Aircraft leasing company Avolon predicted a return to profitability for the global aviation industry this year and that air traffic would reach pre-pandemic levels by June. A zero-emissions company has called for more subsidies to encourage a shift to electric planes.

Microsoft A potential $10 billion investment in research group OpenAI, which last month made headlines with the launch of the ChatGPT platform, could become the defining deal for a new era of artificial intelligence, changing the way people interact with computers.

Social media platforms They expect user numbers to fall short of age verification in the UK’s online safety bill, which is in its final stages in Parliament this week. Culture Secretary Michelle Donnellan is considering holding tech bosses criminally liable if they fail to protect children online.

In countries like China and Japan, demographic changes mean a new era collective unity Breaking dawn. Asia Business Editor Leo Lewis asks what that means for investment strategies.

world of work

An increasing number of companies in the UK are changing their approach and targeting to focus on youth first Over fifties About the main roles, writes economics correspondent Delphine Strauss.

South Korea It has the worst wage gap among OECD countries for the 26th consecutive year. Only 55 percent of women in the country work, compared to 74 percent for men, despite having the highest level of education among peer countries.

Few companies disclose to push of individuals — and with good reason, Lex’s column argues. Aside from causing resentment, transparency has the effect of curbing workers’ overall income, she says.

Will office of the future Looking more like home, dressed up and full of dogs and lounges? Or more cabaret and industrial, all steel beams and channels? Architecture critic Edwin Heathcote looks for clues from the past.

And what kind of extras might be available? Yoga, nail bars and beehives are some of the exhibits in the City of London Legal institutions While trying to retain and attract employees. One partner said, “If I hear the words ‘Ottolenghi-style brasserie’ again I might kill someone.”

Some good news

The laser beam heading into the sky can transform Lightningin what scientists say is the most important advance in lightning protection technology since Benjamin Franklin invented the metal busbar in the mid-18th century.

Laser vs. lightning: shooting a laser beam next to the Swisscom transmission tower on Mount Säntis in Appenzell © Martin Stollberg / TRUMPF

work on it Discover the big ideas shaping today’s workplaces with a weekly newsletter from Work & Careers Editor Isabel Berwick. Register here

Climate chart: an explanation – Learn about the most important weather data for the week. Register here

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