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Unveiling BT’s full year results, last month, the company’s chief executive, Philip Jansen, made clear he felt the shares were a long term investment.

For the second consecutive year, he announced an increase in spending in fibre rollout, disappointing some shareholders who would rather have seen BT focusing on returns in the shorter run rather than promising jam tomorrow.

Today, though, came proof that some investors in the broadband and telecoms stalwart are prepared to take a longer view.

Philip Jansen Group CEO Pic: BT
BT made clear that Mr Drahi had already spoken with chief executive Philip Jansen Pic: BT

Altice, the second-largest telecoms company in France after Orange (the renamed France Telecom), announced it had snapped up a 12.1% stake in BT worth roughly £2.2bn.

It means Altice – which is owned by France’s ninth-richest man, Patrick Drahi – becomes the biggest single shareholder in BT, overtaking Deutsche Telekom, which has a 12.06% stake as a result of BT’s 2014 acquisition of the mobile operator EE, which was previously part-owned by the German giant.

Shares of BT shot up by 3% at one point to take them to their highest level since January last year.

That was despite an unequivocal statement from Altice that it has no intention of bidding for BT.

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It said: “Altice holds the board and management team of BT in high regard and is supportive of their strategy.

“Altice UK has informed the BT board that it does not intend to make a takeover offer for BT.

BT two-year share price chart 10/6/2021
BT shares climbed to their highest level since January last year

“Altice UK has made this significant investment in BT as it believes that it has a compelling opportunity to deliver one of the UK government’s most important policies, namely the substantial expansion of access to a full-fibre, gigabit-capable broadband network throughout the UK.

“Altice believes that the UK provides a sound environment for substantial long-term investment.

“This is supported by the current regulatory framework, which offers BT the appropriate incentives to make the necessary investments.”

In other words, then, the stake-building appears to be a strong endorsement of and vote of confidence in the long-term approach set out by Mr Jansen who, last month, said cash flow would “go through the roof” once the majority of full fibre rollout had been completed in 2026.

BT responded: “BT Group notes the announcement from Altice of their investment in BT and their statement of support for our management and strategy.

“We welcome all investors who recognise the long-term value of our business and the important role it plays in the UK.

“We are making good progress in delivering our strategy and plan.”

The emphasis from Altice that it is a long term shareholder, rather than seeking to make a takeover bid, also reflects a degree of pragmatism.

BT engineers installing broaband
BT is increasing spending on its fibre roll-out Pic: BT

The UK government has recently bolstered its ability to intervene in takeovers of companies and particularly infrastructure that may be integral to national security.

As the owner of the UK’s largest fixed line and broadband network, Openreach, BT would appear to fall squarely into that category.

It makes it highly likely that the government would intervene were any bidder for BT to emerge.

That is not to say that Altice will not seek to influence what BT does.

Jerry Dellis, equity analyst at the investment bank Jefferies, told clients: “A key issue now is how Altice intends to unlock value.

“Encouraging an Openreach spin [off] seems most likely.

“A full takeover of BT or Openreach would be likely to run into political opposition given the strategic importance of networks.”

And Mr Drahi, the billionaire founder and owner of Altice, is used to getting his own way.

The logo of cable and mobile telecoms company Altice Group is seen during a news conference in Paris, France, March 21, 2017
Altice said it does not intend to make a takeover offer for BT

This was emphasised to the outside world when, in June 2019, he swooped to buy Sotheby’s, the world’s most famous auction house, which had looked poised to fall into the hands of the Chinese insurance billionaire Chen Dongsheng.

He has since announced plans to install his 26-year old son, Nathan, as head of Sotheby’s Asia at the end of the year.

Similarly, Mr Drahi pounced in 2014 to buy SFR, France’s second-largest mobile operator, from under the nose of the billionaire industrialist Martin Bouygues.

That business now forms the bulk of Altice Europe, which also owns Portugal Telecom, the country’s largest telecoms operator.

It also owns the second largest telecoms operators in Israel and the Dominican Republic.

Apart from SFR, its other assets in France include BFM TV, the country’s most-watched 24-hour rolling news channel and the radio broadcaster RMC.

Mr Drahi is also adept at pricing telecoms assets.

He bought out minority shareholders in Altice Europe in January this year, at a cost of €3.2bn (£2.7bn), after concluding it was undervalued by the market.

Logos of French telecoms operator SFR are pictured on a shop in Niort, France, March 4, 2021.
Mr Drahi pounced in 2014 to buy SFR, France’s second-largest mobile operator

He also knows about demergers, having in 2018 spun off Altice’s majority shareholding in Altice USA, the cable and broadband operator, in response to concerns over the parent company’s debt.

What is quite striking about 57-year old Mr Drahi is that, unlike the heads of many of France’s richest business dynasties, he is an entirely self-made man.

Born in Casablanca, Morocco, his parents were maths teachers and he did not move to France until he was 15 years old.

Having studied at one of the country’s top engineering schools, Ecole Polytechnique, he joined the Dutch electronics giant Philips on graduation to work in fibre optics.

It was in this work that he first visited the United States and saw how the cable industry was growing.

On returning to France, he launched his first cable company, Sud Cable Services, using a student loan, the equivalent of the time of around £5,000, as seed capital.

He went on to sell the business to the US cable magnate John Malone four years later, becoming a multi-millionaire in the process, and going on to use the proceeds to set up Altice in 2002 with the intention of using it to consolidate cable and telecoms businesses across Europe.

Mr Malone, himself one of the industry’s most revered figures, has described him as a “genius”.

Liberty Media Corp. chairman John Malone arrives at the annual Allen and Co. conference at the Sun Valley, Idaho Resort July 12, 2013.
US cable magnate John Malone has described Mr Drahi as a genius

Mr Drahi has been rumoured to have had his eye on BT for some time now.

The Mail on Sunday reported in August last year that he was eyeing Openreach in particular and had “secured financial backing from heavyweight bankers at JP Morgan with a view to paying £20bn for the unit”.

He is likely to keep his motivation in buying the stake in BT, who made clear today that Mr Drahi had already spoken with Mr Jansen, to himself.

Mr Drahi, who with his wife, Lina, has four children, prefers to take a low-key approach.

With homes in Paris, Geneva, Tel Aviv and the US – he has French, Israeli and Portuguese citizenship – he gives few interviews and has been known in the past to turn up to meetings on foot or on a bicycle rather than, as most executives do, in a chauffeur-driven car.

One thing is clear, though.

Life at BT will be more interesting with him on the shareholder register.

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House prices drop at fastest rate since financial crash in 2008




House prices drop at fastest rate since financial crash in 2008

UK house prices dropped at the fastest rate since the financial crash in 2008, according to Halifax’s house price index.

Prices fell 2.3% from October to November this year, the biggest monthly drop since October 2008, the UK’s largest mortgage lender said.

A typical UK property is now nearly £7,000 cheaper as the average cost of a house dipped from £292,406 to £285,579.

As a result of this monthly drop, annual house price growth slowed down from 8.2% in October to 4.7% in November.

The lingering economic impact of September’s mini-budget continued to impact buying behaviour.

“Some potential home moves have been paused as homebuyers feel increased pressure on affordability and industry data continues to suggest that many buyers and sellers are taking stock while the market continues to stabilise,” said Kim Kinnaird, director of Halifax mortgages.

Market turmoil following Kwasi Kwarteng‘s announcement of billions of pounds of debt-funded tax cuts and bumper spending, caused interest rates to rise, which made the cost of mortgages more expensive.

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While a slowdown was expected, “given the known economic headwinds, and following such extensive house price inflation over the last few years” this latest announcement reflects the “worst of the market volatility over recent months”, said Halifax managing director, Russell Galley.

When considering the recent price drop, the property cost increase should also be borne in mind, Ms Kinnaird said. In the last few years, “we witnessed some of the biggest house price increases the market has ever seen”, she said.

The market may be normalising, she added, as prices are £46,403 more expensive than the pre-pandemic time of March 2020 and £12,000 up on last year.

“The market may now be going through a process of normalisation. While some important factors like the limited supply of properties for sale will remain, the trajectory of mortgage rates, the robustness of household finances in the face of the rising cost of living, and how the economy – and more specifically the labour market – performs will be key in determining house prices changes in 2023.”

The only region where growth did not slow in November was the northeast of England. There the annual growth rose slightly to 10.5%, up from 10.4%. It’s also now the only area of the UK with annual house price inflation in double figures, with an average property price of £173,587.

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Which supermarkets have seen their prices rise most during the cost of living crisis?




Which supermarkets have seen their prices rise most during the cost of living crisis?

The price of own-brand and budget products in supermarkets has been rising far faster than premium and branded items during the cost of living crisis, new figures suggest.

Which? tracked tens of thousands of products across eight major supermarkets – and while budget ranges had surged by as much as 18%, the price of premium lines was up 12%.

The sharpest rise was found in the cost of Waitrose’s chocolate chip shortbread. It was priced at 82p in the year to 31 October 2021 – but one year on, this had surged to £2.25.

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Farming union’s warning over food prices

Meanwhile, a chilli con carne ready meal from Asda would have set you back £1.20 last year – jumping 132% to £2.79 come 2022.

While Aldi and Lidl are generally the cheapest of the big chains, Which? research suggests they are actually the worst supermarkets for overall inflation – with prices at both up by an average of about 19%.

Asda was third in these rankings on 15.2%, followed by Morrisons on 14.4%, Waitrose on 14.2%, Sainsburys on 13.7%, and Tesco on 12.6%. Ocado had the least inflation overall – but prices still rose by 10.3%.

Despite budget lines being hard hit by the cost of living crisis, Which? has urged supermarkets to work harder in ensuring they are available throughout all branches – including in smaller convenience stores.

Which? head of food policy Sue Davies said the data paints a bleak picture – but the consumer watchdog hopes it will help “millions of people find the best possible value with their weekly shop”.

She added: “We know the big supermarkets have the ability to take action and make a real difference to people struggling through the worst cost of living crisis in decades. That’s why we’re calling on them to ensure everyone has easy access to basic, affordable food lines at a store near them, can easily compare the price of products to get the best value, and that promotions are targeted at supporting people most in need”.

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‘Glimmer of hope’ food costs will fall in 2023

Aldi said the rising price of milk in its stores was due to its decision to pay more to suppliers – benefiting British dairy farmers.

Meanwhile, Lidl has disputed the data and said: “Prior to the press release being issued to media, we made Which? aware of multiple discrepancies within the data concerning Lidl prices. This included over 100 separate pricing inaccuracies, which were clearly highlighted to Which? Despite this, they have chosen to mislead consumers by reporting data that they know to be incorrect.”

Asda said it was focused on keeping the prices of branded and own-label products in check, with Morrisons vowing to remain competitive during an “unprecedented period of inflation”.

Waitrose warned “no retailer is immune to inflation”, with rising production costs and the war in Ukraine just some of the factors that have driven prices up. Meanwhile, Sainsburys said it is investing £500m to reduce the price of items that its customers buy the most.

A Tesco spokesperson said it has locked the price of more than 1,000 household staples until 2023 and is “keeping a laser focus on the cost of the weekly shop”.

Ocado declined to comment.

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PM to hold cabinet crisis talks after rail union adds more Christmas strikes




PM to hold cabinet crisis talks after rail union adds more Christmas strikes

Rishi Sunak will speak to his cabinet about rail strikes today after a union announced days of extra strikes over Christmas in the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and conditions.

On Monday, the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) confirmed it would go ahead with two 48-hour strikes next week and will also walk out from 6pm on 24 December until 6am on 27 December.

Strikes affecting 14 train companies will go ahead next week, although talks will continue with the Rail Delivery Group today.

Union boss to meet with rail operators – politics latest

Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said it was unfortunate that the union had been “compelled to take this action due to the continuing intransigence of the employers”.

He said: “We remain available for talks in order to resolve these issues but we will not bow to pressure from the employers and the government to the detriment of our members.”

The additional Christmas strikes are intended to target engineering work as no services run on Christmas Day or Boxing Day, Mr Lynch told the BBC.

He conceded that there will be disruption on Christmas Eve, saying that the “wind down” will happen earlier than usual.

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, told the RMT rail union not to “hold the country to ransom” as they prepare strikes in the run-up to Christmas.

The rail dispute is one of many threatening to deliver a winter of discontent as unions seek pay rises in line with the rate of inflation to help shield their members from the cost of living crisis.

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Rail strikes to disrupt Christmas

Read more:
Strikes every day before Christmas – where and why?

Ministers treading careful line between being tough and human on strikes

There is the looming threat of action by nurses, firefighters and National Highways staff.

It is building on a wave of strikes among other professions, including teachers and bus drivers.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said: “I don’t want to see industrial action because I see workers losing their pay and I see the public inconvenience.”

She added: “I want to see our trains running on time and the work is being paid fairly and decently, and I think that there is a deal to be done to get there.”

Asked what she thought of Labour politicians being on the picket line, she said: “I don’t have a problem with [it].”

Earlier in the year, Sir Keir Starmer told Sky News “you can’t sit around the cabinet table and then go to a picket line”.

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Transport secretary on rail strikes: ‘We did our bit’

Later today, the GMB union is expected to announce the dates of ambulance worker strike action after members backed walkouts across nine trusts in England and Wales.

Over the weekend, the government confirmed that hundreds of troops are on stand-by to cover for ambulance crews, firefighters and Border Force staff as ministers prepare for a wave of strikes across public services before Christmas.

The Cabinet Office said that about 2,000 military personnel, civil servants and other volunteers from across government have been training as part of the government’s contingency planning.

Speaking to Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme, Conservative Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi said it was the “right and responsible thing to do” as ministers sought to minimise the disruption to the public.

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Commuters react to rail strikes: ‘They shouldn’t inconvenience people’

As well as ambulance staff, nurses in the NHS are due to hold two days of strikes this month while junior doctors are also set to be balloted on industrial action.

The Fire Brigades Union is also balloting its members and industrial action is continuing at the Royal Mail.

Onay Kasab, national lead officer at Unite the Union, told Sky News that taking co-ordinated action “makes absolute sense”, adding that union members have “significant public support”.

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