COMPANY NEWS IN BRIEF

19 February 2021 | Business

British American Tobacco profit beats estimates

Lucky Strike maker British American Tobacco reported a stronger than expected annual profit on Wednesday, as it sold more higher priced cigarettes and saw more customers use its e-cigarette and tobacco heating during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sales have proven to be resilient during the pandemic, despite warnings from the World Health Organization and the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention that have said that smoking makes it harder to fight off the coronavirus.

"We delivered on our targets in what was a very challenging year," Chief Marketing Officer Kingsley Wheaton said. "For the first-year new category losses will reduce and therefore new categories are going to contribute to our full year earnings growth."

Adjusted earnings per share (EPS) rose 5.5% to 331.7 pence, beating analysts' average estimate of 329.87 pence, according to Refinitiv data.

The world's second-largest tobacco company also forecast constant currency revenue growth of 3% to 5% and mid-single-digit adjusted EPS growth for 2021. It expects global tobacco industry volumes to decline around 3% in 2021. fallen around 9%. - Nampa/Reuters

BP offers employees shares

Oil major BP is launching its first share award scheme to rally its more than 60 000 employees around CEO Bernard Looney's plan to shift to renewable energy following a bruising year of mass layoffs, bonus suspensions and spending cuts.

The distribution of the shares, which will be locked for four years, will take place throughout 2021.

The cost of the programme was not yet clear but BP said it would not impact its US$2.5 billion cost savings target or plans to reduce debt to US$35 billion this year.

Looney, who took office a year ago, held a company-wide town hall meeting last Tuesday where he announced that all employees would receive shares, the first such programme in BP's history, according to a company spokesman.

Over the past year since Looney took office, the shares have lost nearly 40%, hitting a 26-year low in October, due to a collapse in energy prices and a tepid reception from investors to Looney's plan to "reinvent" the 111-year old company, shifting it away from oil to wind and solar power. - Nampa/Reuters

Nestle to sell North American water brands

Nestle SA said on Wednesday it will sell its North American water brands including Pure Life and Poland Spring to private equity firms One Rock Capital Partners and Metropoulos & Co for US$4.3 billion.

The sale also includes brands such as Deer Park, Ozarka, Ice Mountain, Zephyrhills, Arrowhead and Splash, as well as US office beverage delivery service ReadyRefresh.

Nestle, whose products include KitKat chocolate bars and Nescafe coffee, said in June last year it was exploring a potential sale of part of its North American water business. Reuters exclusively reported its talks with One Rock Capital earlier this month.

The company said its international premium brands including Perrier, S.Pellegrino and Acqua Panna are not part of the agreement.

"This sale enables us to create a more focused business around our international premium brands, local natural mineral waters and high-quality healthy hydration products," Chief Executive Officer Mark Schneider said in a statement. – Nampa/Reuters

Google to invest US$75 mln in small businesses

Google is teaming up with the European Investment Fund (EIF) and two other organisations in Latin America and Asia to provide US$75 million in funding to small- and medium-sized companies suffering from the impact of Covid-19.

The funds are part of an US$800 million initiative announced in March last year in response to the pandemic.

Google, a unit of Alphabet, said on Wednesday that it would invest in two EIF funds, giving $15 million in loan capital to 1000 European small businesses and US$10 million in EIF's venture capital fund backing 200 life sciences companies.

The EIF is part of the European Investment Bank group, the lending arm of the European Union. In Latin America, Google will work with the Inter-American Development Bank to allocate $8 million to small companies.

It has also set up a US$26 million loan fund with Kiva, an organisation that crowdfunds loans, to help businesses in Africa, the Middle East and Indonesia. Indian companies will get US$15 million.-Nampa/Reuters

Hilton posts third straight quarterly loss

US hotel operator Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc on Wednesday reported a third straight quarterly loss as bookings fell due to coronavirus-induced travel disruptions.

Although occupancy rates have bounced back from April 2020 lows thanks to a relative easing of lockdowns, emerging variants of the virus have hindered a swift recovery for US hotel operators.

Hilton, which owns Waldorf Astoria and Conrad hotel chains, said revenue per available room (RevPAR), a key measure for a hotel's top-line performance, fell about 59% in the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31.

Net loss attributable to Hilton stockholders was US$224 million, or 80 cents per share, in the quarter, compared with net income of US$175 million, or 61 cents per share, a year

earlier.

Revenue plunged 62% to US$890 million, missing Wall Street's estimate of US$1.03 billion, according to Refinitiv data. – Nampa/Reuters

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