Cigarettes (2)

Top story

Rising alcohol and tobacco prices have contributed to an unexpected increase in the annual rate of inflation in December, new figures published this morning revealed.

The Office for National Statistics revealed inflation rose to 4% in the year to December, up from 3.9% in November and higher than the 3.7% expected by economists.

The surprise increase was largely the result of higher taxes on tobacco announced by the government in the autumn statement, with prices for the product jumping 4.1% from November to December.

Prices in the alcohol and tobacco category, measured by the ONS, increased by 12.8% in the year to December, compared with a rise of 10.2% in the previous month.

ONS chief economist Grant Fitzner said the higher tobacco prices were partially offset by falling food inflation, which slowed for the ninth month in a row from 9.2% to 8%.

The easing in food and non-alcoholic drink was driven by a small 0.5% increase in the price of milk, cheese and eggs, which rose 4.1% a year ago, while yoghurt prices fell.

Petrol prices also fell by 8.2p a litre from November to December, with diesel prices down 7.6p, resulting in overall motor fule prices falling 10.8% in the year.

Kris Hamer, director of insight of the British Retail Consortium, said retailers still faced a number of extra costs this year that threatened the progress made to reduce prices.

“New EU border checks this month, disruption in the Red Sea, a hike to business rates in April, and the potential of a new grocer surtax in Scotland are all challenges that retailers need to navigate in 2024,” he added.

“With an election in the next 12 months, it is time political parties understand the value of retail to the wider economy and set out a clear and cohesive plan for retail in their manifestos. Allowing retail to thrive will create jobs, bring down prices for households, and support communities up and down the country.”

Morning update

Hotel Chocolat shareholder vote

Hotel Chocolat shareholders have given the green light for the £534m takeover by Mars to go ahead, with 99.98% of votes at the court and general meeting yesterday approving the deal.

Just Eat Q4 trading update

Just Eat Takeaway has grown underlying profits ahead of expectations after recording its best quarter of the year.

However, gross transaction value (GTV) still fell by 5% in the fourth quarter and by 6% in 2023 as declining business in North America and Southern Europe offset growth in the UK & Ireland and Northern Europe.

Just Eat reported that Northern Europe and UK & Ireland exited 2023 at their highest-ever quarterly GTV level.

Adjusted EBITDA for 2023 is now ahead of guidance and expected to be about €320m.

CEO Jitse Groen said: “We are excited that both our Northern European and UK & Ireland segments have achieved their all-time high quarterly GTV level, showing the strength of our European business.

“At the same time, we have achieved a significant milestone with the company now becoming free cashflow positive. We are very much looking forward to 2024.”

Gusbourne appoints new boss

Sparkling wine producer Gusbourne has appointed Jonathan White as chief executive designate, following a “rigorous” internal and external search process.

White is currently marketing director at the plc and has worked at the group since 2018.

Gusbourne said he had been “instrumental in the careful development and global expansion of the Gusbourne brand and establishment of a market-leading cellar door and direct to consumer sales channel”.

Previously, White worked for independent wine distributor Armit Wines and wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd.

In addition to appointing the new boss, Gusbourne also reorganised responsibilities across the leadership team.

Simon Bradbury will be appointed as chief commercial officer, previously being global sales director. He will be responsible for DTC, alongside his existing responsibility for trade, corporate and international sales.

Group chief financial officer Katharine Berry will take on responsibility for vineyard and wine operations alongside her existing remit covering finance, HR and IT.

White and Bradbury will will join the board as executive directors following completion of regulatory due diligence.

Mike Paul, who has been interim CEO for the past five months, will resume his role as non-executive director.

Chairman Jim Ormonde said: “The board are delighted to appoint Jonathan as CEO. In the five-and-a-half years he has worked at Gusbourne, he has shown real passion and commitment to building the Gusbourne brand into one of the UK’s most prestigious wine brands.

“He brings an in-depth knowledge and understanding of the business along with great leadership qualities and significant wine industry experience.

“The board would like to thank Mike Paul for his wise counsel as interim CEO and supporting the ongoing strategic progress of the company.”

Wincanton reports Q3 results

Wincanton has increased revenues by 1.3% year on year in the third quarter as the logistics firm continued to trade in line with market expectations.

In the grocery and consumer division, revenues rose 2.9% year on year in the three months to the end of 2023, driven primarily by the major open book transport partnership with Sainsbury’s.

The group expected profits to be in line with forecasts for the year.

CEO James Wroath said Wincanton played “a crucial role” at the heart of UK supply chains.

“This is never more apparent than during the seasonal peak trading period for our retail customers,” he added.

“The macro-economic environment remains uncertain as we move into 2024 but we are confident our strategy and strong financial position provides an excellent foundation for growth and continued strategic delivery in 2024.”

Morning shares

The FTSE 100 plunged 1.3% to 7,458.24pts following the surprise uptick in inflation.

Shares in Just Eat Takeaway climbed 1.7% to 1,162p on the back on the trading update, while Wincanton nudged down 0.2% to 291p.

Early risers included Glanbia, up 4% to €15.48, Naked Wines, up 2.2% to 54.6p, Hilton Food Group, up 2% to 801p, and Nichols, up 1.4% to 1,130p.

Ocado fell another 3.8% to 594.8p, while Fever-Tree is down 3.2% to 979p, and PZ Cussons dipped 2.2% to 139.8p.

Yesterday in the City

The FTSE 100 dipped 0.5% to 7,554.48pts yesterday.

After a good rise in the morning, Ocado dipped back to finish 0.7% higher at 623p following it’s Q4 update and news of a return to double-digit growth.

Embattled THG had a good day as investors bought into a recovery story, sending shares jumping 11.6% to 75p.

Own label household product McBride supplier sank 11% to 80p despite it ending the first half ahead of expectations.

Finally, Eagle Eye fell 1.3% to 560p following its first-half update in which it reported strong revenue and EBITDA growth.