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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...

Homebase owner sees profits slump 87% after UK hit

February 21 2018

The Australian owner of struggling DIY chain Homebase has revealed woes at its UK business left half-year profits crashing 87%.Bunnings group Wesfarmers, which bought Homebase in 2016, confirmed a hit of 931 million Australian dollars (£524 million) on its UK and Ireland arm as it saw losses more than treble in the division.It blamed the “rapid repositioning” of Homebase and difficult trading in the UK for an increase in underlying pre-tax interim losses in the UK business to £97 million from losses of £28 million a year earlier.The writedown and UK losses left Wesfarmers’ nursing an overall plunge in group profits to 212 million Australian dollars (£119 million) for the six months to December 31 from 1.6 billion Australian dollars (£901 million) a year earlier. Wesfarmers dealt a blow to staff earlier this month when it put nearly 2,000 Homebase jobs at risk and warned up to 40 stores could shut as part of a review of the business.The group is rebranding Homebase as Bunnings – a well-known brand in Australia – but the £340 million takeover and overhaul in the UK is so far proving ill-fated, given the differences in the two markets and tough retail trading conditions in Britain.Wesfarmers reported a 15.5% tumble in revenues to £517 million in the UK and Ireland business and confirmed that five loss-making Homebase branches were closed in its first half.But it said it was working hard to improve UK trading and will update on its review of Homebase in June.Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said: “The loss for the half reflected continued trading and execution challenges as a result of the rapid repositioning of Homebase following the acquisition.“The management team has been strengthened and a review is underway to identify the actions required to improve shareholder returns.”Homebase operates from 250 stores and employs 12,000 people in total in the UK.

Business news

Private equity firms weigh swoop for troubled retailer Homebase

April 6 2018

Several private equity firms are understood to be circling Homebase as the DIY chain’s Australian owner plots an escape from its ill-fated £340 million takeover.Hilco, Endless and Lion Capital are among the groups eyeing a potential bid, with bargain retailer B&M also weighing an approach, sources have told the Press Association.It is unclear at this stage whether any bid would be for the entirety of the business, part of it, or, in B&M’s case, a chunk of Homebase’s store estate.Wesfarmers appears eager to offload the troubled retailer after their 2016 takeover turned sour when customers failed to respond to a sweeping overhaul, including renaming stores to the well-known Australian brand of Bunnings.Such have been the woes of the UK business that it announced in early 2018 that half-year pre-tax losses had deepened to £97 million, sinking from a £28 million loss the year before.The group blamed the deterioration on the “rapid re-positioning” of Homebase and tough trading conditions in the UK.It added to the misery surrounding the deal, with Wesfarmers revealing in February that it had embarked on a business review of Homebase. The move could lead to 2,000 job losses and 40 store closures across the UK and Ireland.The emergence of potential bidders comes after reports that investment bank Lazard had been tasked with sounding out buyers for the UK operation.A sale would mark a bleak end to Wesfarmers’ foray into the British market after snapping up Homebase from Home Retail Group two years ago.Homebase’s troubles add to the gloom engulfing the British high street following a spate of restructuring and refinancing deals in the face of bitter trading conditions.Rampant inflation, rising business rates and a hike in the National Living Wage have created a cocktail of pressures that have hammered margins and pushed some retailers to the brink.Fashion retailer New Look has driven through a company voluntary arrangement, allowing it to close 60 poorly-performing stores and renegotiate rents. Carpetright is exploring a similar restructuring strategy, while Mothercare is locked in talks with lenders as it seeks additional financing.Homebase operates from 250 stores and employs 12,000 people in total in the UK.

Business news

Homebase sold to Hilco for £1 as Australian owner jumps ship

May 25 2018

Homebase has been sold by its Australian owner Wesfarmers to retail restructuring firm Hilco, closing the chapter on a disastrous foray into British retail.The deal, for a nominal sum thought to be £1, will see Wesfarmers book a loss of up to £230 million and see the firm exit the UK after picking up the DIY chain for £340 million in 2016.It is unclear at this stage if Hilco, which bills itself as a retail restructuring specialist and also owns HMV, will embark on a store closure programme.Homebase has 250 UK stores and employs around 12,000 people.Under the terms of the deal, Hilco will acquire all Homebase assets including the brand, its store network, freehold property, property leases and stock.A total of 24 stores that were trading as Bunnings, Wesfarmers’ brand, will convert back to the Homebase fascia.Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said: “A divestment under the agreed terms is in the best interests of Wesfarmers’ shareholders and will support the ongoing reset and repositioning of the Homebase business.“While the review confirmed the business is capable of returning to profitability over time, further capital investment is necessary to support the turnaround.“The investment has been disappointing, with the problems arising from poor execution post-acquisition being compounded by a deterioration in the macro environment and retail sector in the UK.”Wesfarmers will also participate in a “value share mechanism” whereby it is entitled to 20% of any future sale of the business.Retail experts have criticised Wesfarmers for failing to judge the UK market correctly after buying Homebase from Home Retail Group two years ago.Richard Lim, of Retail Economics, said: “The acquisition of Homebase has been an unbelievable disaster for Wesfarmers.“Their attempts to disrupt the UK DIY market have failed after a series of woeful management decisions, clumsy execution and a misguided perception of the UK market.“There’s no doubt that the timing has been ill-fated as the sector faces incredibly tough headwinds.“Against this backdrop, the business is bleeding cash and the owners have decided enough is enough. Unfortunately, the restructuring will almost inevitably lead to store closures and more job losses on the high street.”Homebase boss Damian McGloughlin said the agreement with Hilco “marks an exciting new chapter” for the retailer.

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km

Business news

Homebase calls in consultancy giant amid doubt over retailer’s future

April 13 2018

Struggling retailer Homebase has drafted in a specialist consultancy firm to help advise its management team as fears over the DIY chain’s future intensify.The Press Association understands that Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has been brought in to advise boss Damian McGloughlin, who took the helm at Homebase in January, two years after it was bought by Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers for £340 million.Homebase’s future was thrown into doubt two months ago when Wesfarmers announced £584 million in writedowns from the acquisition, and said half-year losses would widen from £28 million to £97 million.Rob Scott, Wesfarmers’ managing director, warned that up to 40 stores could close – putting 2,000 jobs at risk.BCG’s appointment comes as Wesfarmers conducts a strategic review of Homebase, with a decision due in June.Retail experts have criticised Wesfarmers for failing to judge the UK market correctly after buying Homebase from Home Retail Group in January 2016.Wesfarmers is known for its Bunnings chain in Australia, and attempted to import the home improvement brand to the UK by converting 19 Homebase stores into the Bunnings format.However, the fast pace of the transition gave Wesfarmers little time to introduce the Bunnings brand, which is highly successful in Australia, to the UK consumer.Jonathan De Mello, head of retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs, said: “Obviously the rebrand did not work and they did not spend enough money on that rebrand in the UK.”Wesfarmers also fired Homebase’s senior management team, alongside more than 150 middle-managers, soon after its doomed acquisition of the retailer.Investment bank Lazard has now been appointed to sound out buyers for the business, which has around 250 UK stores and employs around 12,000 people.Private equity firms, including Hilco, Endless and Lion Capital, are also considering a bid for the business, the Press Association reported earlier this month.Homebase and BCG declined to comment.

Business news

Homebase calls in consultancy giant amid doubt over retailer’s future

April 13 2018

Struggling retailer Homebase has drafted in a specialist consultancy firm to help advise its management team as fears over the DIY chain’s future intensify.The Press Association understands that Boston Consulting Group (BCG) has been brought in to advise boss Damian McGloughlin, who took the helm at Homebase in January, two years after it was bought by Australian conglomerate Wesfarmers for £340 million.Homebase’s future was thrown into doubt two months ago when Wesfarmers announced £584 million in writedowns from the acquisition, and said half-year losses would widen from £28 million to £97 million.Rob Scott, Wesfarmers’ managing director, warned that up to 40 stores could close – putting 2,000 jobs at risk.BCG’s appointment comes as Wesfarmers conducts a strategic review of Homebase, with a decision due in June.Retail experts have criticised Wesfarmers for failing to judge the UK market correctly after buying Homebase from Home Retail Group in January 2016.Wesfarmers is known for its Bunnings chain in Australia, and attempted to import the home improvement brand to the UK by converting 19 Homebase stores into the Bunnings format.However, the fast pace of the transition gave Wesfarmers little time to introduce the Bunnings brand, which is highly successful in Australia, to the UK consumer.Jonathan De Mello, head of retail consultancy at Harper Dennis Hobbs, said: “Obviously the rebrand did not work and they did not spend enough money on that rebrand in the UK.”Wesfarmers also fired Homebase’s senior management team, alongside more than 150 middle-managers, soon after its doomed acquisition of the retailer.Investment bank Lazard has now been appointed to sound out buyers for the business, which has around 250 UK stores and employs around 12,000 people.Private equity firms, including Hilco, Endless and Lion Capital, are also considering a bid for the business, the Press Association reported earlier this month.Homebase and BCG declined to comment.

Business news

Homebase shops in Tayside and Fife under threat of closure

February 5 2018

Three Homebase stores in Tayside and Fife are at risk of closure after a review of the DIY chain was announced by its Australian owner today. Up to 40 of the worst performing Homebase stores could close as a result of review, which may lead to the loss of nearly 2,000 jobs. Wesfarmers, which owns Homebase's parent firm Bunnings UK, said on Monday that trading at the chain has been “poor” as it booked a £454 million impairment charge linked to its acquisition of the retailer. Homebase operates 19 shops in Scotland, including stores at Dundee, Dunfermline and Glenrothes. A spokesman for Bennings UK said it was “too early” to say which shops could close. He said: “It's too early to say and it’s not appropriate to speculate at this point. “Our team will always be the first to know of any updates.” In recent years Homebase shops in Perth and Kirkcaldy have closed their doors. Bunnings acquired Homebase in 2016 in a £340m deal and has been attempting to reposition the brand. But poor trading at the home improvement group is expected to drag Bunnings into an underlying loss of £97m for the first half of the year. Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said: “The Homebase acquisition has been below our expectations, which is obviously disappointing. "In light of this, a review of Bunnings UK has commenced to identify the actions required to improve shareholder returns.” The group later confirmed that between 20 and 40 of the worst performing Homebase stores could close down in the latest sign of distress on the British high street. The chain currently operates 250 stores and employs 12,000 people in the UK. "We need to address underperformance in our portfolio that is detracting from positive performance in other areas, and the announcement today sets out decisive actions to achieve this," Mr Scott added. As well as revamping the stores and slashing prices, Homebase is in the process of being rebranded as Bunnings. But Wesfarmers said that its review will evaluate the performance of rebranded pilot stores to “inform the future plans for Bunnings UK”. In addition Peter Davis, the man who spearheaded the foray into the UK, is to retire from the business with Damian McGloughlin taking his place. The potential store closures come following a miserable January for the high street, which has seen thousands of jobs disappear after Sainsbury's, Tesco and Morrisons also swung the axe. Retailers have been hit by a surge in Brexit-fuelled inflation, which has seen the cost of goods rocket and consumer confidence plummet since the referendum result.

Homebase store review puts almost 2,000 jobs at risk

February 5 2018

Nearly 2,000 Homebase staff could be axed after the DIY chain’s Australian owner launched a review of the business that may see up to 40 stores shut.Wesfarmers, which owns Homebase’s parent firm Bunnings UK, said on Monday that trading at the chain has been “poor” as it booked a £454 million impairment charge linked to its acquisition of the retailer.“The Homebase acquisition has been below our expectations which is obviously disappointing.“In light of this, a review of Bunnings UK has commenced to identify the actions required to improve shareholder returns,” Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said.The group later confirmed that between 20 and 40 of the worst performing Homebase stores could close down in the latest sign of distress on the British high street.Homebase operates from 250 stores and employs 12,000 in total in the UK.Poor trading at Homebase is expected to drag Bunnings into an underlying loss of £97 million for the first half of the year, Wesfarmers confirmed.“We need to address underperformance in our portfolio that is detracting from positive performance in other areas, and the announcement today sets out decisive actions to achieve this,” Mr Scott added.Bunnings acquired Homebase in 2016 in a £340 million deal and has been attempting to reposition the brand.As well as revamping the stores and slashing prices, Homebase is in the process of being rebranded as Bunnings.But Wesfarmers said that its review will evaluate the performance of rebranded pilot stores to “inform the future plans for Bunnings UK”.In addition Peter “PJ” Davis, the man who spearheaded the foray into the UK, is to retire from the business with Damian McGloughlin taking his place.The potential store closures come following a miserable January for the high street, which has seen thousands of jobs disappear after Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Morrisons also swung the axe.Retailers have been hit by a surge in Brexit-fuelled inflation, which has seen the cost of goods rocket and consumer confidence plummet since the referendum result.

This student took his Tinder profile to the next level by turning it into a PowerPoint presentation

February 21 2018

Standing out from the crowd on Tinder can be tough, but with the help of Microsoft PowerPoint a British student has managed just that – and gone viral in the process.Sam Dixey, a 21-year-old studying at Leeds University, made a six-part slideshow entitled “Why you should swipe right” – using pictures and bullet points to shrewdly persuade potential dates to match with him on the dating app. The slideshow includes discussion of his social life and likes, such as “petting doggos” and “laser tag”, and “other notable qualities and skills” – such as being “not the worst at sex” and “generous when drunk”.It even has reviews mocked up from sources such as “Donald Trump”, “Leonardo Di Capri Sun” and “The Times Guide to Pancakes 2011”.Sam told the Press Association the six-slide presentation only took about 20 minutes to make and “started off as a joke”.However, since being posted to Twitter by fellow Tinder user Gracie Barrow, Sam’s slideshow has been shared tens of thousands of times across social media.So, it’s got the seal of approval form Gracie, but how has the slideshow fared on Tinder? “I’d have to say it has been pretty successful,” Sam said. “Definitely a clear correlation of matches and dates beforehand to afterwards.“Most of the responses tend to revolve around people saying ‘I couldn’t help swipe right 10/10’ but I’ve had some people go the extra mile and message me on Facebook.“Plus some people have recognised me outside, in the library and on dates.”A resounding success.

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