Bellowing out of the melee of smaller voices announcing the news today is the siren call of Andy Haldane of the Bank of England. The Bank's chief economist expects Britain’s economy to begin to recover 'at a rate of knots' from the second quarter of this year as vaccines against the Coro ... blah, blah, blah are deployed. Mr Haldane didn't actually say it is a straight fight now between infection and injection, but we bet he wishes he had.
Andy may have been drinking, although heaven only knows where, but he got all aeriated and said: “If we get the recovery that I expect to start coming on stream, probably at a rate of knots from the second quarter, that will hopefully . . . improve the prospects of re-employment.”
"Get you, Andy," we journos cried, "what has brought about all this unfettered optimism?" Despite being an economist (and so, usually, wrong), he played down the risk of a jump in unemployment after Government furlough payments to companies are due to end in April. Could it be true? Is this good for our glorious profession? Surely an upturn means the market returning to a sense of normality, with businesses employing, taxes being collected and the weaknesses in the system being eked out? Where growth begins, surely we will follow with a mop and a very large bucket.
Certainly at WH Smith's (where you can buy a Cadbury's ripple, a Manchester A-Z and a cotton reel dispenser, to date, the pandemic has turned the way the company does business on its head, with its formerly sluggish high street business cushioning it from steep falls in its travel division over the festive period. The stationery retailer said it had a “good” Christmas performance despite group sales slumping by 33 per cent to be 67 per cent of 2019 revenues.
A boom in sales of coffee machines, flatscreen TVs and gaming consoles has led Dixons Carphone’s boss to claim that the business is “winning online” during the pandemic. The owner of Currys PC World said that it had sold 20 per cent more 65 inch flatscreen TVs than last year and 33,000 Oculus Rift headsets in the ten-week period as virtual reality gaming has taken off during the pandemic because people want to virtually escape confinement. Neil has absolutely no idea what those 'Oculus-thingies' are, but he is as in favour of alternative reality as the next lunatic and has been looking for a safe place to store his growing collection of bitcoins.
Alex Baldock, the company's chief executive, said: “We have made significant market share gains online despite the many and myriad challenges that keep being chucked at our colleagues. We also have an American fridge freezer the size of a pantechnicon on sale for £399. You can't beat those kind of prices anywhere.” (He's right, Billy tried and bought a pair of ASTRO Gaming A50 Wireless Gaming Headsets for the same price.)
Down the road and up in the sky with the pie, IWG, the world’s largest provider of flexible office space has said it is doubling the scale of its 'estate rationalisation programme' (it is being forced to sell lots of stuff), in response to the prolonged pandemic. IWG said this morning (Wednesday 20 January) that it had set aside a £160 million provision related to shutting down offices. The provision is additional to the £155.8 million charge recorded at its interim results last August, which included £127 million to cover the costs of closing offices that were either unprofitable, or where it could not agree a lower rent with the landlord.
JD Wetherspoon hasn't pulled a pint for a month and has been forced to announce a share placing of almost £100 million, its second equity raising since the start of the all this viral nonsense. The new shares, equating to 6.95 per cent of the enlarged share capital, are being placed by Investec at between £11 and £11.20, raising between £92.1 million and £93.7 million. Wetherspoon has pared back expenditure on repairs, maintenance, utilities and central overheads, but is still burning cash at the rate of £4.1 million a week.
So, Andy, tell us that good news again. When will all this cheer kick in?