Allianz reportedly bids €1.8bn for Net4Gas

German insurer Allianz SE (ETR:ALV) has made an offer of €1.8bn ($2.3bn) for RWE AG’s (ETR:RWE) Czech gas transmission unit Net4Gas sro, outbidding local group Energeticky a Prumyslovy Holding as’s (EPH) €1.75bn bid, according to sources cited today by Slovak daily Hospodarske Noviny.

The paper quoted Miroslav Bodnar, advisor to Slovak utility SPP’s chairman Daniel Kretinsky. Bodnar also said that the sale was still ongoing.

EPH bought 49% in SPP in January for €2.6bn.

Earlier in March, Reuters cited insiders as saying that Allianz and Canadian investor Borealis Infrastructure Trust were preferred bidders in the race for Net4Gas, which runs over 3,600km of pipelines.

The company has more than 500 staff and generated some 11% of RWE’s net profit in 2011. Under an asset sale programme, RWE offered Net4Gas for sale last year.

London-listged publisher Euromoney acquires Insider Publishing

UK group Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc (LON:ERM) said on Tuesday it had bought local insurance and reinsurance information and events business Insider Publishing Ltd for an initial sum of GBP16.8m (USD25.4m/EUR19.6m).

By doing so, the company is growing its insurance and reinsurance operation, it said, adding that the move is part of its strategy of investing in online subscription businesses which can make use of its global reach.

In addition, the acquired firm’s Insurance Insider online news service will complement Euromoney’s own insurance title Reactions.

The buyer has used its existing committed borrowing facility to fund the initial consideration. It may provide an additional sum in 2015 based on Insurance Insider’s profit growth. The transaction is anticipated to build on Euromoney’s earnings from fiscal year 2013.

The purchased business registered an unaudited pre-tax profit of GBP2.1m on revenues of GBP4.7m in 2012.

UK banking major HSBC sells Candian consumer finance opeations

UK banking group HSBC Holdings plc’s (LON:HSBA) indirect Canadian unit HSBC Retail Services Limited said it would sell its consumer private label credit card portfolio to TD Financing Services Inc, a subsidiary of Toronto-Dominion Bank (TSE:TD).

The vendor did not disclose the price it had agreed for the portfolio, but said its gross value was around CAD495m (USD485m/EUR374m) at 28 February.

The disposal is part of a strategy by HSBC Retail’s direct parent HSBC Financial Corporation Limited to wind down its consumer finance operations. It also fits with HSBC’s plans to focus its business in Canada on core commercial banking, global banking and markets and retail banking and wealth management, the vendor explained.

Pending regulatory clearance, the transaction is seen wrapping up in the third quarter of this year.

Dex One, SuperMedia get shareholder approval for tie-up, file for bankruptcy

US marketing services firm Dex One Corp (NYSE:DEXO) and advertising agency SuperMedia Inc (NASDAQ:SPMD) said today that each of them had received shareholder approval for their planned combination and had voluntarily filed for a pre-packaged Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection to implement the merger.

The companies stated that the reorganisation plan would assist the progress of their merger, which was agreed in August last year and is now expected to be completed within 45 to 60 days, subject to court approval. The transaction, which was revised in December 2012 to include extended terms of the credit agreements, has also received approval by the majority of lenders, Dex One and SuperMedia said, adding that they had substantial cash balances and did not plan to seek debtor-in-possession financing during the reorganisation.

As part of the merger agreement, Dex One’s shareholders will receive 0.20 shares in the enlarged group for each of their units and SuperMedia’s stockholders will get 0.4386 shares for every single unit they own. As a result, the existing shareholders of Dex One will control some 60% of the combined company, while those of SuperMedia will hold a 40% stake. The combination is seen to create a stronger player with a better penetration of the local marketplace.

Houlihan Lokey Capital Inc and Kirkland & Ellis LLP serve as advisors to Dex One. SuperMedia is taking counsel from Morgan Stanley & Co LLC, Chilmark Partners, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.

No substitute for age and experience, say car insurance companies

Car insurance companies now have only two criteria when it comes to offering their best premiums, age and experience.

With the ruling by the European Court of Justice that came into force on December 21 last year, women can no longer be offered discounted motor insurance premiums on the basis of their sex, despite the weight of statistical evidence tending to prove that on average they are less likely to make a claim than men. The net result of the sexual equality legislation is that women’s car insurance premiums have risen to come in line with men’s, and the only attributes that a driver can now brandish at their insurer in order to garner a healthy discount are a long, blemish-free driving history and the promise of a cautious and responsible nature, which is most likely to have come with age.

And the preferential treatment of older drivers is hardly surprising when looked at in terms of road accident statistics. In the UK only around 13 percent of driving licence holders are under the age of 25, and yet a third of drivers that are killed on the road come from that age group. Older motorists are only half as likely to have a crash as under 25’s, and when they are involved in accident, the cost is likely to be half of that incurred in a collision involving a younger driver.

Like any other prudent businesses, car insurance companies are looking to maximise their income and minimise their outgoings, and all of the indications are that leaning their client lists towards older and more experienced drivers will go a long way towards achieving that aim. This is good news for older drivers, particularly the over 50’s, as they have become THE target market for insurers, with many, like Staysure, offering considerable discounts to attract them into the fold.

The benefits of getting older are not always that obvious, but being the darling of car insurance companies is one to cling to.

How to innovate to keep your business growing

Once you’ve got your small business established in the market, your thoughts are likely to turn to future expansion. One of the keys to successful growth is innovation, as evidenced by the dominance of the likes of Facebook, Amazon and Apple in the online/technology sectors.

Here are some tips on how to go about innovating within your own business.

Start small

There are many ways in which to innovate, but none of them are guaranteed to work. That’s why it’s best to begin by innovating in little steps, especially if you’re a small firm with tight margins to keep to.

One of the most common ways to do this is by tinkering with existing products and/or services. You can experiment with new features by launching revised versions of your current offerings and gauging the response among your clientele to see how successful they are, for example.

This approach can be much cheaper and less risky than simply launching a brand new product or service, which will require significantly more investment and effort to turn into a profitable venture.

Set specific goals

Simply aiming to think of a good idea at some point in the future is unlikely to yield much in the way of results. That’s why it can be useful to set a few goals when looking for ways to innovate within your small business.

For example, you could lay down a deadline – “I need to devise a mock-up of a new product by the end of next month” – or an end point to your thinking, e.g. a particular cost saving in a specific process, a target market for a new service, etc.

Collaborate

Brainstorming with other people is often a great way to come up with new ideas. Whether you set up a one-off session or make this a regular occurrence, meeting with your colleagues to discuss avenues for growth could generate concepts you might never have thought of on your own as the business owner.

Don’t let things like remote working and busy schedules put you off the idea; technology such as teleconferencing services for small businesses can help bring people from different parts of the company together to ensure a variety of viewpoints and ideas are put forward.

Take a risk

It’s important to remember that innovation requires a certain degree of risk-taking. The online giants mentioned at the start of this article didn’t get anywhere without breaking boundaries and really surprising people. While this doesn’t necessarily mean you need to take a huge gamble on a whole new market, it should provide food for thought when considering whether a particular risk is worth taking.

Of course, it’s easier to take a risk if you know what it will cost if you fail, so doing your research beforehand will certainly help. But this still isn’t guaranteed to lead to success, so it’ll still be on you as the leader of the business to make the right decision.

Plan in detail

Coming up with a great new idea to try is only part of the innovation process. Turning your concept into reality requires a lot more hard work and patience. One thing that can help is drawing up a detailed plan for the process, showing who is responsible for what and setting deadlines for each stage.

This will make it more likely that you’ll stay on track with your proposal, rather than veer off course whenever another seemingly fantastic idea comes into being.

Tesco pays £49m for acquisition of Giraffe chain

UK retailer Tesco Plc (LON:TSCO) said on Wednesday it had taken over restaurant chain operator Giraffe Concepts Ltd for £48.6m ($72.7m/€55.9m).

The company has acquired the stakes held by Giraffe’s founders Juliette Joffe, Russel Joffe and Andrew Jacobs along with shares from Risk Capital Partners and 3i Group Plc (LON:III). The founders will continue to be actively engaged in the day-to-day management of the business.

The takeover aligns with Tesco’s plan to develop some of the space in its bigger stores to establish retail destinations that offer more choice to clients, it said.

In 1998, the acquired group opened its first site in North London. It now comprises 48 locations, including a franchised site in Dubai.

Technip acquires Norwegian Ingenium

French oil services group Technip SA (EPA:TEC) said today it had agreed to buy Norwegian offshore engineering and services contractor Ingenium AS, without specifying how much it had paid for it.

The target, which is based in Oslo, designs and develops mechanical and electro-hydraulic tools and equipment for the offshore oil and gas industry, as well as provides engineering services for marine operations. It employs 20 engineers in the subsea business.

Through the acquisition, the company adds complementary engineering capabilities and enhances its position in one of its key markets, Technip’s managing director Odd Stromsnes said. The buyer added that it had previously worked on different projects with the Norwegian firm.

UK manufacturing output down 1.5% in January

The chances of the UK avoiding another recession are looking slimmer today, with official figures showing a drop manufacturing output for January.

After the announcement by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) this morning the pound fell against the dollar and the euro.

On a seasonally adjusted basis, UK manufacturing fell by 1.5% between December 2012 and January 2013. This was weaker than expected and has fuelled fears that the economy may contract in the first quarter, officially entering its third recession in five years.

Driven by reduced oil and gas extraction, output for mining & quarrying was down 2.4% from December and there was also a drop of 0.2% in the waste management sector. These falls were partially offset by a 1.2% increase in the energy supply sector. Overall, industrial production was 1.2% lower than in the prior month.

Compared against the same month last year, industrial production in January 2013 declined by 2.9% and the narrower measure of manufacturing output was down 3.0%.

A separate report released today by the ONS showed that the UK’s deficit in trade in goods shrank in January, although this was because imports fell more than exports.

The goods trade deficit narrowed to GBP8.2bn, from GBP8.7bn in December. Total exports of goods from UK manufacturers decreased by GBP900m or 3.5%, to GBP24.4bn, while total imports fell by GBP1.4bn or 4.2% to GBP32.6bn.

As in previous months, the dominant services sector helped to offset the goods trade deficit. According to the ONS the UK had an estimated surplus of GBP5.8bn on trade in services in January.

Including the trade in goods and services the overall deficit was an estimated GBP2.4bn in January, compared with a deficit of GBP2.8bn in December.

David Kern, chief economist of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said that more effective action is needed to ensure that the untapped potential of many British exporters can be used to drive a sustainable recovery.

Merged Italian transport groups Atlantia, Gemina to bid for Brazilian airports

The new group formed from the merger of Italian motorway group Atlantia SpA (BIT:ATL) and airport operator Gemina SpA (BIT:GEM) will consider making bids for Brazilian airports in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro, Atlantia’s CEO Giovanni Castellucci told a conference call.

The statement was made after the boards of directors of both companies approved earlier a plan to combine their operations via an all-stock deal, in a move to create a global leader in the motorway and airport infrastructure sector.

Speaking at a conference call, Castellucci said that the new entity would continue investing some EUR100m (USD130.2m) to EUR200m a year in its international growth. He also explained that Atlantia had decided to combine its operations with Gemina mainly because the move would support the growth of the Rome airport hub of Fiumicino in the medium to long term. Fiumicino is owned by Aeroporti di Roma SpA (ADR), the airport operator of Rome’s airports which is controlled by Gemina.

The tie-up deal is subject to approval by both companies’ shareholders and regulatory clearance, among other conditions, and is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.