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LITTLEWOODS' SWEET FINALE; ECHO Business Brief Case.

BRITISH Airways will increase its fuel surcharge on long-haul flights this Friday from pounds 30 to pounds 35 or pounds 70 on a return ticket. The shorthaul surcharge will remain at pounds 8 for a single ticket and pounds 16 return. Bosses expect fuel bills to rise by pounds 400m by next year, but recent price increases will add pounds 600m to the airline's pounds 2.2bn bill.

THE fifth City of Liverpool business fair is at Liverpool town hall next Tuesday, 10.30am to 3.30pm. Organisers say 70 stands at the free event will showcase the region's business community to 1,000 visitors. Other attractions include networking, meet the buyer platform and free head and back massages. Visit www.liverpoolba.com or call Liverpool BA on 0151-709 8932.

YOU could help raise pounds 50,000 for children's hospice Claire House in the Culture Cities Triathlon by running a marathon in Athens in November. A 210-mile bike ride to Cork raised pounds 36,000 and the third leg next year is a five-mile swim in Luxembourg. The scheme, linking the three Capitals of Culture ahead of 2008, is the idea of Alan Bevan of City Residential, 0151-231 6100.

THE better-than-expected profits from Littlewoods stores - now Primark - acquired last year helped to reduce the impact of higher energy costs and falling sugar prices for Associated British Foods.

Today's interim figures for the six months to March 4 showed a 10% sales rise to pounds 2.88bn from pounds 2.61bn, but profits before tax dropped from pounds 268m to pounds 234m.

Chief executive George Wenton said this was due to a pounds 20m increase in energy bills and a shake-up of the European Union sugar regime, which will slash prices of sugar and beet by 36% and 39%, respectively, from July.

AB Foods owns British Sugar and Silver Spoon and said price changes would continue to hit profits.

But it had "reduced substantially" the exposure to sugar with major investments in other food businesses and retail chain Primark, which bought the 120 high street stores belonging to Liverpool-based Littlewoods last July.

Mr Wenton hailed the "remarkable" performance of Primark, which saw a 6% rise in like-for-like sales, 18% rise in revenues of pounds 530m and a 20% jump in operating profits to pounds 71m, despite a fire destroying Primark's main UK warehouse.

Of the 120 former Littlewoods stores, 41 are being converted to the Primark brand, including Liverpool's flagship Church Street site which should re-open this December.

The Littlewoods stores performed ahead of expectations with sales of pounds 141m and a pounds 16m profit.

"Of the 79 stores not required by Primark, 61 have been sold and negotiations for the sale of the remainder are continuing," he added.

neilhodgson@liverpoolecho.co.uk

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By NEIL HODGSON
COPYRIGHT 2006 MGN Ltd.
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 19, 2006
Words:467
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