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December 19: Astonishing news from Rentokil, which says it is considering closing its defined benefit pension scheme to current employees. It looks like the benefits accrued so far will be frozen and the 3,000 employees affected will be moved across to a defined contribution scheme. So much for promises. Indeed, this seems unlikely to go unchallenged. Rentokil would be the first FTSE 100 company to do this, so the implications for others are huge. The move is part of a plan to close the group’s pension fund deficit which could see the group inject £380m into the scheme, starting with an immediate £200m. Expect Martin Dickson to have plenty to say about this in Lombard tomorrow morning.
Dairy Crest shares are up more than 8 per cent this afternoon, even after the company denied it had received a takeover approach from France’s Lactalis. This followed a story in this morning’s Guardian, which cited documents. The market clearly believes there was something in the piece.
Carphone Warehouse is beefing up its residential telephone business by buying OneTel from Centrica for £154m and Tele2’s UK and Irish business for £8.7m. To hear the analysts and Carphone’s Charles Dunstone trumpet the deal, you might think BT was under mortal assault. Certainly, OneTel brings Carphone another 1.1m residential customers to add to its own 1m TalkTalk customers, and Tele2 brings a further 220,000. But BT still has about 14m residential customers. You can read our first take on FT.com or the full statements online here and here. Carphone shares were up 7½ per cent in morning trading.
There is an interesting story also from Unilever, which we said this morning was merging the assets across its numerous pensions schemes around the world. The Anglo-Dutch consumer products group says it has decided not to abandon its dual-listed structure, as Shell did. Instead, it says it will split its Amsterdam-listed stock and consolidate its London-listed stock in order to harmonise their values. This sounds like quite a short-term solution but the company’s chairman, Antony Burgmans – rather obviously – says he thinks the current structure best serves shareholders’ interests. We need to find out more about what he means and why they are staying as they are. Read the company’s statement here.
Mmm Mmm Mmm, the Crash Test Dummies once sang, and so, today, do shareholders in First Technology, makers of the real things. Its shares are up 25 per cent on confirmation that Honeywell is offering 275p a share for the company.
Johnston Press, publisher of regional British newspapers including the Yorkshire Post, bought The Scotsman Publications for £160m from the Barclay brothers’ Press Holdings Group. The daily titles bought include The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News, in addition to the Edinburgh Herald & Post series of free weekly papers.
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