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Osborne's sugar tax sours drink company shares

Britvic and AG Barr fall but stevia producer PureCircle gets a sugar boost
Osborne's sugar tax sours drink company shares
Coke Life contains PureCircle's stevia-based natural sweetener

George Osborne turned drink company shares sour on Wednesday with a new sugar tax, but found a sweetener for struggling oilers.

Shares in the likes of Britvic Plc (LON:BVIC) and A.G. Barr plc (LON:BAG) lost their fizz as the Chancellor unveiled plans to levy the tax on soft drink makers in two years' time.

The duty will be based on levels of sugar in drinks and sweetened drinks produced and imported, based on two bands, but pure fruit juice and milk drinks will escape it.

AG Barr's stock dropped nearly 4% to 532p and Britvic's shares leaked 2.1% to 694p.

Shares in Tate & Lyle PLC (LON:TATE), which makes a sucralose-based sweetener called Splenda, also dropped 4.8p to 565.18p, but there was one company whose shares sweetened on the news.

PureCircle Limited (LON:PURE), which produces a plant-derived sweetener called stevia, ticked up 21.75p, or 5.6%, to 406.75p as analysts said the move could increase demand for its products.

The company already has big names on its books including Coca-Cola - whose Coke Life drink contains a stevia variant - as well as Heinz and other consumer goods groups.

PureCircle claims stevia use could eventually be widespread in the standard versions of such drinks, removing the need for so-called 'diet' variants.

Liberum Capital said: "Ingredient companies that supply sugar alternatives such as PureCircle and Tate & Lyle are best positioned to win."

Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who has campaigned for healthier school food for children, told Sky News: "I'm happy - this is a profound moment."

Osborne kept motorists happy by freezing fuel duty for a sixth year in a row, confounding widespread expectations that he would go for a hike as oil prices have fallen.

But the Chancellor moved to help oil companies that have taken a hit from the low crude price by halving the supplementary charge on oil & gas producers from 20p to 10p.

Osborne also said petroleum revenue tax would be "effectively abolished".

Analysts said the moves were welcome but said the Chancellor could have done more to kick-start investment in the industry.

Ian McLelland, analyst at Edison Investment Research, said: "With so many companies running in the red, tax reductions are not likely to do much to stimulate investment in themselves.

"However, today’s proposals increasing the scope of income/costs that qualify for investment allowances, clarification of decommissioning expenditure relief and ring-fence treatment of corporate interest are all encouragingly progressive."

"The future of the North Sea is hanging on a cliff-edge and the UK Government needs to continue to promote exploration, development and infrastructure to safeguard the industry, security of supply and jobs."

Deirdre Michie, chief executive of industry lobby group Oil & Gas UK, said: "Today’s announcement does indeed mark further progress in modernising the tax regime for an increasingly mature basin.

"We welcome these measures as they will build on the industry’s achievements in improving efficiency in the face of low oil prices, boosting the sector’s competitiveness and helping to restore investor confidence."

Booze and fags

In other company-related Budget measures, Osborne raised the annual threshold for small business tax relief to a maximum of £15,000 from £6,000, which is likely to take thousands of companies out of paying tax.

He also said the 20% headline rate of corporation tax would fall to 17% by 2020.

The threshold at which people pay 40% tax will rise from £42,385 to £45,000 in April 2017 and the tax-free personal allowances will increase to £11,500 in April 2017

The Treasury will reduce capital gains tax from 28% to 20% and from 18% to 10% for basic-rate taxpayers. There will also be a 0.5% rise in insurance premium tax.

In the perennial "booze and fags" announcements, the Chancellor froze beer, cider, and spirits duties but said excise duties on tobacco would increase by 2% above inflation.

Osborne revised the Treasury's growth forecast for 2016 to 2% from the 2.4% he envisaged in November's Autumn Statement.

The government now expects GDP to rise 2.2% and 2.1% in 2017 and 2018, down from 2.4% and 2.5% forecast four months ago.

Osborne said the outlook for the global economy was materially weaker and the UK was unlikely to escape any impact from the wider malaise.  

But, as expected, he steered clear of explicitly blaming the eurozone economy for the UK's problems, given the government's drive to keep the UK in the EU in the referendum on June 23.

Osborne said: "There appears to be a greater consensus that a vote to leave the European Union would result in a period of potentially disruptive uncertainty."


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September 21 2016
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