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03 May 2020 | 21:44

Sunday newspaper round-up: BT Group, Sports Direct, Ocado

(Sharecast News) - The City is braced for a cut to BT's £1.5bn dividend - a move that would send pain through its army of retail shareholders after a wave of blue-chips slashed payouts amid the Covid-19 crisis. The board meets this week to decide whether to keep the dividend, one of the 20 biggest in the FTSE 100 index. More than 40 leading companies have cancelled £16.5bn of payouts this year, according to the broker Peel Hunt, including all the banks. Shell stunned the market by cutting its dividend by two-thirds on Thursday. - Sunday Times

Mike Ashley's Sports Direct and House of Fraser chains have asked store managers to work at least once a week while under the government's furlough scheme. Ashley's managers had also been asked to return to work - on reduced pay - on Monday, but the company did a U-turn on Sunday after the Guardian published details of the plan. - Guardian on Sunday

Ocado faces a row over boardroom pay at its annual meeting on Wednesday after awarding a £59m long-term shares bonus to chief executive Tim Steiner. Other FTSE 100 giants including Glaxo Smith Kline and Barclays will also hold annual meetings this week, with Covid-19 forcing them to use video conferencing. Advisory group ISS is urging investors to vote against Ocado's pay report, citing a "highly levered variable pay structure" and pay rises for the executive team. It is also advising investors to oust Andrew Harrison, head of the company's pay committee. - Sunday Times

Advertising tycoon Sir Martin Sorrell has warned that weak firms will be wiped out in a 'Darwinian culling' - as forecasts show unemployment is set to rocket. Sir Martin, the founder and former chief executive of the WPP media empire, predicted that only the strongest companies would pull through the Covid-19 pandemic in a survival-of-the-fittest fight that he compared to naturalist Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. 'You feel it in the markets already. It's terrible, shocking, it's catatonic. A lot of companies will go down,' he said. 'This is a Darwinian culling.' - Mail on Sunday

Two groups representing about 500 businesses which have insurance policies with Hiscox have joined forces to pursue legal action against the insurer in a row over coronavirus payouts. The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which acts for more than 100 pubs, bars and nightclubs, has teamed up with the Hiscox Action Group, representing a wide range of firms in different sectors, to share information and pool resources in their dispute with Hiscox. Together the groups speak for policyholders with insurance cover of more than £50m. - Guardian on Sunday

Hargreaves Lansdown is to scrap its controversial Wealth 50 best-buy list just 16 months after it was launched and overhaul its fund recommendations. In a series of sweeping changes after the Woodford scandal, which led to accusations of a conflict of interest at Britain's biggest investment platform, Hargreaves is to introduce a Wealth Shortlist. The choice of funds for the list will be overseen by a new independent panel separate from the company's existing product governance committee. - Sunday Times

The chancellor Rishi Sunak is under intense pressure this weekend to offer a massive "second wave" of financial support to businesses within weeks amid growing fears of a catastrophic early summer of spiralling unemployment and company bankruptcies. With the government's £40bn job-retention scheme running until the end of June, business groups and the Labour party are demanding that Sunak extend the scheme as a matter of urgency to give an essential lifeline to the UK economy. - Guardian on Sunday

Lloyds will hand shares worth £200 to every member of staff this month to thank them for their efforts during the coronavirus crisis. The bank has rewarded 65,000 staff for handling an unprecedented number of calls requesting mortgage payment holidays, rescue loans and overdrafts. The bank's managers said they also recognised that customer-facing staff were under increasing pressure from irate members of the public who refused to socially distance themselves in branches. - Mail on Sunday
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