Marks & Spencer has belatedly jumped on to the retail loyalty card bandwagon with its new Sparks offering, which rewards customers with in-store events, fashion previews and early access to online sales.
But maintaining loyalty can be difficult if your website has to shut down for two hours because people can see details of others’ accounts when they log on, as happened to M&S last Tuesday. The company said it was a technical issue rather than a cyber-attack – like the one that hit TalkTalk – and had affected only 800 customers.
But M&S could do without anything that discourages shoppers to buy its goods, particularly in its clothing range, so any disruptions are bad news. Deutsche Bank is forecasting a 1.5% fall in non-food sales in the second quarter, compared with a 0.4% decline in the first three months. And stockbroker Peel Hunt said: “We have anecdotally picked up from core shoppers that the product is slipping in quality terms: is M&S finding some of its gross margin gains by compromising the spec of the garments?”
Wednesday’s half-year results – with Deutsche expecting overall profits to fall by 2.7% to £260m – should provide some answers.
Satellite puts Inmarsat on the right flight path
Inmarsat’s third Global Xpress satellite finally made it into orbit in August after delays due to problems with the Russian Proton rockets being used for its launch.
That means the group’s £1bn high-speed broadband network – which required three GX satellites to provide global coverage – is now complete. The service is due to start by the end of the year. Last month Inmarsat agreed to provide broadband services for Lufthansa’s European fleet, and easyJet and British Airways are also said to be in talks with the company.
Credit Suisse analysts said: “With GX now global we believe Inmarsat will have a sizeable competitive advantage over its peers for at least one to two years.” They expect revenues of $298m (£192m), up 2.4%, when Inmarsat reports third-quarter results on Friday. This excludes any contribution from its agreement with troubled US group LightSquared, but anticipates a return to growth at the company’s maritime business.
‘Super Thursday’ unlikely to surprise
With recent figures showing that GDP growth slowed to a worse-than-forecast 0.5% in the third quarter, and problems globally, the Bank will undoubtedly keep its powder dry.
But on so-called Super Thursday, when the Bank releases its rate decision, the minutes of the relevant meeting and its quarterly inflation report all at the same time, there will be much interest in any hints about when it might finally sanction dearer borrowing costs.
The monetary policy committee was split eight to one in favour of keeping rates on hold last time, and a similar outcome is expected this week. But most economists believe the Bank will move early next year. Howard Archer at IHS Economics said: “An interest rate hike from 0.50% to 0.75% some time in the first half of 2016 currently still looks more likely than not to us. This is based on our belief that the UK will see some improvement in growth from its third quarter slowdown and that consumer price inflation will start rising gradually from late 2015. We also expect earnings growth to strengthen further, although this will likely be partly offset by a further pick-up in productivity.”
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