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From Filthy to Filthy Rich

Posted on Dec 05, 2020. by NTI

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We recognise our responsibility to you here at the NTI newsroom and found our daily skip through the news media, searching for whiffs of good stories, a bit of a trudge this morning (Saturday 5 December). Lots has been happening, but nothing has been happening enough.

Mind you, there is the huge exception of a nascent vaccine for malaria (a disease that kills almost half a million people each year, mainly in continental Africa) and another notch on the bedpost of Oxford scientists who hope to have completed human trials in readiness for a ground-breaking inoculation by 2024 (a time span which again underlines the extraordinary success of the Covid-19 vaccines flying off the shelves in Belgium even as Billy types). Malaria has been so hard to tackle with a vaccine, in part because it is a parasite, many times bigger than a virus, and this brings us neatly to the Brexit talks which stalled on Friday at just 11.56pm, and it is hoped they will recommence at 11.58pm.

Emmanuel Jean-Michel Frédéric Macron was France's youngest President when he took office in May 2017, a 39 year old Centrist who stands at 175cm in heels, just high enough to head butt M Barnier's chest and derail Brexit trade deal talks with his demands for fish, equality in the subsidisation of European industry and a recount of the result at Agincourt. What do the French say, other than 'non'? That's it, 'c'est une petite merde'. France is saying it will veto any deal that doesn't respect its interests and many say it is Macron's 'de Gaulle moment', in that he is resisting Germany and wearing those dreadful brown shoes that French men fail to apologise for. Boris is on it, and was holding emergency talks with Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission when we tried to speak to him for comment; it is comforting that he can blabber and burble in French just as incoherently as in his native tongue (American).

In the lengthening shadow of the failures of Arcadia and Debenhams, Primark is often held up like a positive beacon of light attracting queues of people around the block before sunrise on the day we emerged from national lockdown. However, leadership comes at a price and despite only 7 per cent of its selling space being closed as Britons face down hail and icy winds on the pre-penultimate shopping weekend before Christmas its owner Associated British Foods say the budget chain will lose £430 million in sales this autumn. They are betting the ranch on a claim that we all still prefer high street shopping to mince pies, a warm radiator and a hot server and, so far, the gamble is paying off. Shares in ABF were up 57p, or 2.5 per cent, at £23.60.

A rather saucy CVA has been agreed by that most brazen of suspendered retailers, Ann Summers. The business is to move to turnover-based rent on 25 of its shops as part of the Arrangement launched after a dispute with landlords played out by two vixens in dominatrix bodices. It has agreed revised rental terms on its 66 other branches, removing a ball and chain (and whip and gimp-mask) that has been dragging the stores down. Additional funding of up to £10 million will be handed to Ann Summers if the CVA is approved.

Meanwhile one of our cheapest hotel chains, the Britannia, are wildly celebrating the retention of their single star rating, having feared it might be lost as it has been designated Britain's 'filthiest hotel'. Founder Alex Langsam, who has amassed an estimated £240 million fortune since he founded the company 30 years ago, will accept its award (a mounted plastic plug tangled in various different colours of hair) and retire to his sprawling ten-bedroom pile in Cheshire. The word 'pile' is often used to describe a 'large impressive building' when used in the context of a big house, but here is actually means 'a load of stuff laid on top of other stuff in the corner of a field'.

At the other end of the scale American Gary Barnett is losing money. He is the chair of Extell Development, New York's foremost developer of super-luxury properties (and you don't get to proudly wear the 'super-luxury' label until you have bagged a record $100.5 million for the sale of a penthouse). But poor Gary is now feeling the squeeze, as foreign buyers appear reluctant or unable to visit the States to shop for real estate. He is taking the hit at some of his new exquisitely slender residential towers and is at the mercy of 'bottom fishers' who apparently are those benefiting from price cuts of around 20 per cent (although it sounds a great deal worse).

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