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From flying taxis to painless vaccines: seven businesses to watch this year | Business

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BT

In all likelihood, BT will be under new ownership, or at the least involved in a takeover battle, in June next year. The billionaire Patrick Drahi has been assiduously building his stake in the British telecoms giant, having spent more than £3bn to acquire 18% to date, making him BT’s biggest shareholder.

After his latest purchase in December, Drahi is now barred under UK rules from mounting a full takeover bid until 15 June, although he can continue to strengthen his grip by snapping up more stock.

Drahi, an activist investor known for deep cost-cutting at businesses he controls, will also use his time to allay political concerns about a potential foreign takeover of BT, a company considered critical to the national broadband and mobile infrastructure. The government has already fired a warning shot, saying that it will “not hesitate to act” to protect BT, and in January ministers will gain tougher powers to block takeovers of sensitive national assets under the new National Security and Investment Act 2021.

Nevertheless, BT’s days of independence look numbered. Deutsche Telekom, the second-biggest shareholder in BT, with a 12.06% stake, has said it is “entertaining all options” regarding the British company’s future. It is considered a “kingmaker” in any play for BT: if Drahi were to buy its stake, he would hit the 30% threshold at which a takeover offer must be tabled.
Mark Sweney

ITM Power

This year could offer a breakthrough for one of the UK’s leading green hydrogen companies as it moves to capitalise on a boom in demand for the clean-burning gas, with plans to expand internationally.

ITM Power, a little-known Aim-listed company, has emerged as one to watch in the UK’s burgeoning green hydrogen industry. At its factory in Sheffield, it manufactures the electrolysers that turn renewable energy and water into a climate-friendly alternative to fossil gas.

A device similar to a petrol pump nozzle with an ITM Power logo being plugged into a car's refuelling port
A hydrogen car being refuelled at an ITM Power facility Photograph: Sunpix Environment/Alamy

The company, which in recent months won the chance to provide a 100-megawatt electrolyser for Shell’s Rhineland refinery in Germany, plans to open a second electrolyser plant in Sheffield and has confirmed that its first overseas plant will follow before 2024.

The demand for green hydrogen is expected to boom over the coming decades as major economies begin to pursue climate targets in earnest. Green hydrogen can replace fossil gas in power plants, factories and even heavy-duty trucks and ships, and unlike the rival “blue hydrogen” it is not derived from fossil fuels and its production does not cause carbon emissions.

ITM Power will fuel its growth with the £250m it successfully raised last month. Its end-of-year trading update shows its backlog of orders for electrolysers has climbed by more than 60% since September to the equivalent of 499 megawatts, while its pipeline of tenders stands at just over 900MW.
Jillian Ambrose

Revolut

The banking and payments app, once known for its popularity among “finance bros”, is finally making headlines for more than just controversial working conditions and its founder’s alleged connections to the Kremlin.

Over the past year, Revolut has solidified its presence overseas – with its services now available in more than 35 countries – applied for US and UK banking licences, and become one of the UK’s most valuable fintech startups, worth about £24bn after funding from major global investors including Japan’s Softbank.

That is indicative of the company’s insatiable appetite for growth, with its founder – Russian-born former Lehman Brothers trader Nik Storonsky – declaring that he intends to make it the largest bank in Britain.

Since launching in the UK six years ago, Revolut has gone from offering a pre-paid card focused on currency exchange to a multi-service app offering business accounts, children’s cashcards, investments, wage advances and cryptocurrency trading. It has also been stacking its boardroom with people from Goldman Sachs and HSBC, and appointed ex-Standard Life Aberdeen boss Martin Gilbert as its chair. The move helped to restore and solidify its reputation, after it faced bad press in 2019 for allegedly overworking staff.

Storonsky has admitted the company has made some mistakes but is setting his sights higher. If 2021 is any indication, Revolut will continue to hit milestones in 2022, assuming it does not spread itself too thin.
Kalyeena Makortoff

Vertical Aerospace

Realistic illustration of a small, black, winged four-rotor aircraft on a circular landing pad, seen from a height, directly above
An artist’s impression of Vertical Aerospace’s flying taxi on a landing pad Photograph: Vertical Aerospace/Reuters

The Bristol-based flying taxi pioneer listed on the New York Stock Exchange just before Christmas via a Spac (special purpose acquisition company), apparently confirming its entry into the big league.

However, investors are currently debating whether flying taxis – or electric vertical takeoff and landing aircraft (eVTOLs), as they like to be formally known – will prove to be Teslas or tulips. Shares leapt and then slipped quickly back 30% in the first week – labouring for takeoff, much like the embryonic eVTOLs so far seen in public.

That said, Vertical Aerospace boasts a provisional £5.5bn order book from the likes of American Airlines and Virgin, and partners including Rolls-Royce, Microsoft and Honeywell. It also aims to climb above the competition by keeping a pilot on board its vehicles, which could speed up regulatory approval. Ultimately, it claims, its VX4 aircraft will be able to fly four passengers at 200mph for costs that are “comparable to a taxi”.

Just don’t mention helicopters … (eVTOLs, it is promised, will be incomparably safer, quieter and greener).
Gwyn Topham

Arrival

Following a similar path to Vertical, Arrival listed in New York in March via a Spac merger. The company, which plans to make electric vans, taxis and buses, saw its market value soar as high as $13bn (£9.7bn) after it listed, amid electric-vehicle market mania, but it is now back at $5.1bn as investors await its first revenues. This year will bring the first true test of its abilities.

Based in the UK, with its first factory near Bicester, Oxfordshire, Arrival claims its vehicles are already as cheap as fossil fuel equivalents, and cost much less to run. Bus tests started in December, and production begins in the spring. Van production will start in the summer, followed by cars designed in partnership with Uber in 2023.

Yet perhaps the most eyecatching aspect of Arrival’s ascent is something that buyers will probably never see: founder Denis Sverdlov, a Russian telecoms billionaire, has set out to upend the logic of high-volume automotive manufacturing. Instead of the long assembly lines pioneered by Henry Ford, Arrival uses robots to build vehicles in a single small “cell”. That could mean lower set-up costs – and a whole new model of putting factories next to their biggest markets.
Jasper Jolly

Marks & Spencer

The high street stalwart seems to have had more turnaround plans during its 137-year history than it has sold hot ready-meal dinners, but its latest, post-pandemic revamp appeared to finally bear fruit last year.

M&S now needs to capitalise on the improvement in fortunes of its once-struggling clothing and homeware division. The retailer dared to dream these sales had turned a corner over the past year; in 2022 it will need to prove to investors that this recovery isn’t temporary.

While the chain is clinging to its position as the UK’s largest clothing retailer, analysts are asking whether recent fashion acquisitions including heritage name Jaeger, and a stake in sustainable brand Nobody’s Child, can keep pushing apparel sales upwards.

A tie-up with delivery firm Ocado got off to a good start, and food sales look encouraging. The question now is whether M&S will increase its stake in the joint venture.

The shares are still languishing at around a third below their value when chief executive Steve Rowe took over in 2016. There is speculation he will step down in the next 18 months, and he will surely want to leave on a high. Despite a couple of profit upgrades, M&S still has some way to go before it can reclaim the place in the FTSE 100 it lost in 2019.
Joanna Partridge

A medical device with a short nozzle instead of a sharp needle being pressed against someone's arm
Scancell’s needleless injection technology.

Scancell

This spinout from the University of Nottingham, founded in 1997 by Lindy Durrant, professor of cancer immunotherapy at the university, specialises in developing cancer vaccines and has started testing them on humans. But when the pandemic struck, the company decided to modify its vaccine technology to develop Covid shots, in collaboration with Nottingham’s two universities and backed by £2m funding from the UK’s innovation agency.

The vaccines aim to induce high T-cell immune responses in the body to identify and kill infected cells, as well as generating virus-neutralising antibodies. Scientists say a strong T-cell response would offer longer-lasting immunity, because the protection from antibodies wanes more quickly, as the current Covid jabs show.

As many people are afraid of needles, Scancell decided its vaccines would be administered via spring-powered injectors that use a narrow stream of fluid to pierce the skin. The first trials with 40 healthy volunteers started in South Africa in October, and a further trial is planned in the UK, and data from the studies is expected by June.

The company’s two main shareholders are the US health investor Redmile and the Singaporean Vulpes Life Science Fund, while Durrant and other management own 1.8% of the company. Its shares have rocketed in the past two years, from nearly 7p in early January 2020 to over 20p, but remain far below their closing high of nearly 57p, reached in October 2012.
Julia Kollewe

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Angharad Yeo: the 10 funniest things I have ever seen (on the internet) | Comedy

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I am a child of the internet. I was always drawn to computers and tech, and used to beg my dad to bring us to his office on a weekend so we could use the high-speed internet to play Neopets games. As I got older it was all MSN, MySpace, Paramore fan forums, Tumblr, Twitter and now TikTok. I want nothing more than to zone out and look at my little pictures.

One of my favourite things about the internet is that it allows you to see everyone’s best joke. The moment in their life where they were at their absolute funniest – whether it be because they had a moment of brilliant wit or because they got pulled through a panel roof while practising for a high school play (I assume).

The internet has rotted my brain with the following content. Please now allow it to rot yours.

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The Pandemic Years have (and continue to be) difficult for everyone. Who among us has not, at one time or another, needed to just explain themselves by saying: “It’s mental illness, innit?”

2. Perfect burger

When I showed this video to my fiancee, she flatly said: “I like how absurdist it is.” That’s her code for, “I don’t get it, but I’m happy you’re happy.” And I am happy. Look at how confident and brave this burger is – ready to take on the world, come what may. I wish to be the burger.

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I have been to court precisely once because I inadvertently got in a cop’s way and he was grumpy about it so he booked me. The penalty was dismissed but not before I cried in front of the judge trying to explain what happened because I was so stressed out. Court is a daunting place and I simply cannot imagine walking in there with any level of irreverence. However, I’m extremely glad there are people who simply do not care, will say whatever damn thing and then an internet angel turns them into TikToks.

4. Turtle choir

This tweet is made all the more majestic by the vaguely threatening Sylvanian Families-style profile picture, on a Twitter account named @bigfatmoosepssy.

5. Trying coffee with pasta water

Climate change is slowly turning the Earth into a barren ball of pain as Mother Nature smacks us for being extremely bad. Even though individual responsibility for climate change isn’t enough to turn the tide, I still applaud those who try. Twitter user @madibskatin woke up in the morning and decided to be the change she wants to see in the world, tastebuds be damned. One could argue that it’s pretty obvious that pasta water isn’t going to make a good coffee but like my dad says as he puts pineapple juice in his coffee: “If no one tries it, how will we know? What if it’s secretly good?”

6. Soaring, flying

If you look closely, this video is actually a metaphor for the ways in which we attempt to break free from our circumstances, yet are entirely at the mercy of them.

7. You cannot trick me

This may be a parody Twitter account, but the spirit of Gail Walden speaks truths. There is no victory sweeter than that which is gained on thine enemy’s own soil.

8. Self-deprecating jokes

Humour is a coping mechanism. I am coping.

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Dairy products are delicious. Ice-cream? Revolutionary. Cheese? Life-changing. Whipped cream on a pavlova? Essential. But milk? Disgusting. It’s not a drink, it’s a stepping stone to greater things.

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I am absolutely 100% not at all lactose intolerant (I promise) so I don’t relate to this video at all (not even a bit).

Angharad Yeo is the host of Double J Weekends, 9am – midday, Saturdays and Sundays.



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F5 cuts revenue 2022 forecasts amid low network chip stocks • The Register

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The artist formerly know as F5 Networks – it moved to plain old F5 in November – is clipping revenue forecasts for fiscal ’22 by $30m to $90m because it can’t source enough specialised chips to produce systems.

The continued impact of the shortfall was outlined in F5’s Q1 results to 31 December and subsequent earnings conference call, during which chief exec François Locoh-Donou opened up on the challenge of suppliers cancelling orders because they can’t meet demand.

“As a result of persistent strong system demand, our systems backlog continued to grow in Q1,” he said. “Over the last 30 days, suppliers of critical components that span a number of our platforms have informed us of significant increases in decommits.

“These came in the form of both order delivery delays and sudden and pronounced reduction in shipment quantities. The step function decline in components availability is significantly restricting our ability to meet our customers’ continued strong demand for our systems.

“Like others in the industry, we are seeing worsening availability of specialized networking chipsets. Within the last 30 days, we have learned that deliveries for 52-week lead time components or at a year ago have been pushed out and that our expected quantities have been reduced.”

Group turnover grew 10 per cent year-on-year to $687m in F5’s Q1, fuelled by a 47 per cent leap in software to $163m, 2 per cent in services to $344m, and 1 per cent in hardware to $180m.

“Our software transition continues to gain momentum,” said Locoh-Donou, adding later in the earnings call: “While we are solely disappointed that supply chain challenges have gated our ability to fulfil customer demand for systems in the near term, we are more confident than ever in our position, our strategy and our long-term opportunity.”

The backlog grew by 10 per cent so the sales pipeline is looking healthy, said the exec, who was at great pains throughout the call to tell analysts: “It absolutely is a supply issue. And the revision we’ve just done to our annual guidance is 100 per cent linked to the supply issue.”

For the year, F5 now expects sales to grow 4-8 per cent ($610m to $650m).

“The issue with our supply chain has deteriorated steadily. And last year, we were not able to ship the demand, which is why our backlog grew so much during the year.

“Things have been getting worse. And at the beginning of our fiscal year, when we were doing the planning for this year, we actually took into account the number of decommits that we were getting from various suppliers and a situation that was already very tight on a number of components.”

He said in the past month it was seeing more than 400 cancellations from suppliers, “and we were running about 30 per cent less than that even just a month ago – the situation is quite unprecedented.”

In a bid to ameliorate the supply situation, F5 said it is working to design and qualify replacement parts – which may improve thing in the second half of the year. It is also trying to pre-order more components.

F5 is confident that it will not see orders cancelled. “The demand we have is very real. Our lead times, unfortunately, have gotten progressively worse over the last five, six quarters, but we haven’t seen any increase in order cancellation, and we don’t expect to see that going forward,” Locoh-Donou stated.

Supply chain problems with silicon components have been hitting companies in the IT industry and beyond for multiple quarters now, and networking vendors are no less vulnerable.

Last year, Arista warned that lead times for key chips were extending out to 60 weeks, twice what would be expected before the pandemic. Both Arista and Juniper announced they were being forced to bump up prices in November, while Cisco warned its buyers and investors that supply chain issues were likely to persist for several months more, although it expected to see some improvement in the situation for Q3 and Q4, taking us into the second half of 2022. ®

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Cork data centre equipment maker Edpac acquired for €29m

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Munters, a Swedish air treatment technology company, will use the Edpac acquisition to expand into the European market.

Irish data centre equipment manufacturer Edpac has been acquired by Swedish company Munters in a €29m deal.

Based in Carrigaline, Co Cork, Edpac manufactures cooling equipment and air handling systems for data centres in the European market, with additional sales in the Middle East, South America and Asia.

For Munters, which has significant operations in North America, the acquisition is an opportunity for it to expand in the European market. Once complete, the deal will see the transfer of Munters’ technologies and engineering capabilities to Ireland.

“The European data centre market is a prioritised segment for Munters, and the acquisition is a significant step in our growth strategy,” said Klas Forsström, president and chief executive of Munters.

Forsström said that Munters’ experience in the North American market will provide Edpac with “opportunities for further profitable growth” by collaborating on “technology development and establishing unified processes”.

Edpac has two manufacturing facilities in Ireland – Newmarket and Carrigaline – and employs around 150 people in the country. Currently a manufacturing partner for Munters, Edpac sees approximately 7pc of its revenue come from the sale of Munters products.

In the financial year ending April 2021, Edpac reported net sales of €17m and earnings before tax of €1.7m. According to The Irish Times, Edpac managing director Noel Lynch has led the company since it was bought from its Swiss parent in 1991.

“We are excited to welcome Edpac to Munters. Edpac brings an attractive, differentiated customer base and high-quality products,” Forsström said, adding that Edpac’s operating model “is a perfect match with Munters ways of working.”

Founded in 1955, Munters aims to create energy efficient air treatment technologies for customers in a wide range of industries. Listed on Nasdaq Stockholm, it employees 3,300 employees across 30 countries – with annual sales exceeding 7bn Swedish krona in 2020.

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