This is the last City Bulletin of 2020. Normal service resumes on Monday, January 4.

Life is tough for restaurateurs right now, but a few operators are still looking on the bright side.

Wagamama owner Restaurant Group warned that the first quarter of 2021 will be “extremely challenging”, with new tiering rules closing more businesses than previously thought.

Restaurant Group said it was operating 145 dine-in sites across the UK, with 103 restaurants closed and a further 142 offering takeaway only. Cash burn during November was £5.5m, some £2m higher than the first lockdown because of top-up payments to furlough pay and costs relating to its recent Company Voluntary Arrangement, a form of bankruptcy protection. The timing of any recovery depends primarily on government restrictions being eased, the company said.

Meanwhile, smaller peer Fulham Shore, the owner of Franco Manca and The Real Greek restaurant chains, said it sees opportunities to profit from the misfortune of rivals.

“The ongoing damage to the property and restaurant sectors will allow us to prospect for new sites at much reduced rents and lower capital costs per site. As such, over the next few years and once normal trading conditions return, we will target a higher return on capital than we have historically achieved,” Fulham Shore said.

Fulham Shore posted a 44.9 per cent drop half-year revenue for the period ending September. A pre-tax loss of £3.9m compared to last year’s £400,000 interim profit as lockdown restrictions cut sales to £19.9m.

Briefly

GlaxoSmithKline is buying into a new field of medical biology with a substantial investment in Adrestia Therapeutics, a Cambridge biotech start-up that aims to restore health by rebalancing genetic activity in patients. GSK will co-lead a funding round for Adrestia and enter a long-term drug discovery collaboration that could yield as much as £860m in milestones and royalties for the company.

Hurricane Energy, the owner of the complex and so-far disappointing Lancashire oil prospect off the coast of the Shetland Islands, said it was beginning “a period of stakeholder engagement” to decide on the field’s future. Hurricane, which had $87m of free cash remaining at the end of November, said it had appointed advisors to negotiate funding. A possible restructuring of convertible bonds could dilute existing equity, while decommissioning of the field would result in “potentially limited or no value returned to shareholders”, Hurricane warned.

Openreach, BT’s networking division, has pledged to create 5,300 new jobs next year as it speeds up broadband upgrades.

The Competition and Markets Authority has published its final report on the UK funerals market that aims to improve price transparency and clarity on upfront charges. The regulator recommends that the government establish an independent inspection and registration regime to monitor the quality of funeral director services as a first step in the establishment of a broader regulatory regime. CMA’s provisional report published in August sent shares in funeral director Dignity soaring after the watchdog stopped short of recommending price caps.

Morses Club, the doorstep money lender, said half-year revenue for the period ending August fell 24.3 per cent to £50.2m as lockdown restrictions hindered collections. Profit before tax was £2.3m on an adjusted level from £9.6m last year.

Job moves 

Ian Cheshire will step down at the end of the year as director and chair of Barclays Bank UK, the ringfenced lender he helped establish in 2018. Barclays said its UK arm needs a “concerted focus on its plans to position the bank to support customers” and “with regret, Sir Ian has informed the group that he is unable to accommodate the increased time commitment and duration required to see through this programme.” He will be succeeded by non-executive director Crawford Gillies.

Beyond the Square Mile 

© AP

Dozens of states and territories have launched the first US antitrust challenge to Google’s core search engine, the latest in a spate of lawsuits targeting the internet company. Ten Republican-led US states earlier this week charged the internet group with abusing its monopoly over parts of the online advertising market and colluding with Facebook to shut out rival ad exchanges. Meanwhile, Apple’s next antitrust battle is shaping up to be over Apple Pay, the Cupertino company’s digital wallet.

FedEx reported its highest quarterly sales on record on Thursday after the logistics group handled millions of additional packages during the online shopping boom in the run-up to the US holiday season peak. FedEx, which has a global network spanning 680 aircraft, 200,000 vehicles and 600,000 employees, has introduced a range of peak charges of more than a dollar a package, boosting revenues.

Sony has removed Cyberpunk 2077, one of the most hotly-anticipated video games of the year, from its PlayStation store following a deluge of complaints. Users reported serious issues such as crashes, bizarre visual glitches and malfunctioning game mechanics almost immediately after it became available to play. Similar problems have been reported with the Microsoft version of the game but the company has not yet to responded to the complaints.

Essential comment before you go

Merryn Somerset Webb Somewhat miraculously, my March buy-now-for-the-long-term column came a mere three days after global markets bottomed. So, what next? A large part of the answer has to be equities but there is risk aplenty.

Lombard Results from SSP were a rear-view mirror on a brutal year. But, as befits the Caffè Ritazza owner, better options are available elsewhere for less.

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