Thursday morning's business bulletin

Insurance payouts cut Co-op's profits; Retail group John Lewis sees 50% leap in profits; Higher oil prices impacts investor sentiment on London market.

Insurance payouts following this summer’s flood chaos cut profits at the Co-op’s banking and insurance business by more than half today.

Co-operative Financial Services (CFS) saw profits tumble from £80.2m to £38m in the 28 weeks to July 28 after the flooding across the Midlands and the North earlier this year.

The general insurance business, which insures around 650,000 motorists and 950,000 households, handled around 5,000 more claims and paid out £55m extra as a result of the extreme weather.

Before the claims payout, underlying profits were 16% higher at £92.9 million.

Retail group John Lewis maintained its record as one of the high street’s strongest performers after a 50% leap in first-half profits today.

But the department store chain and Waitrose owner, which is co-owned by its employees, said it expected ``much more challenging" market conditions in the second half of the year as interest rate rises hit home.

Other major retailers including clothing chain Next and sportswear firm JJB Sports have also warned of a tougher consumer climate this week as high street spending comes under pressure.

John Lewis’s pre-tax profits soared to £146m in the six months to July 28, but said its department stores had suffered a more ``subdued" start to the second half with like-for-like sales up 2%.

The London market struggled for direction today after higher oil prices impacted investor sentiment.

The FTSE 100 Index was 13.2 points lower at 6293 in early trading, even as energy stocks added their support to blue chip stocks.

British Energy was one of the top Footsie risers, up 4.5p to 499.5p, as it built on yesterday’s gains following a broker upgrade which said it should stand to benefit from the rise in the cost of oil.

Light, sweet crude reached a record high of more than 80 US dollars a barrel during trading on Wednesday before easing back overnight. Oil giants BP and Royal Dutch Shell benefited from the hike, 3.5p and 12p higher at 571p and 2026p respectively.

The pound at 9am was US$2.0269 compared to US$2.0311 at the previous close while the euro at 9am was £0.6855 compared to £0.6844 at the previous close.

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer