Business briefs: Prudential | Thames Water | Naked Wines

PRUDENTIAL looks poised to become the first UK institutional investor to enter Britain’s rented housing market in recent times.

Part of the insurer’s asset management arm is said to be close to a deal to buy more than 500 homes from housebuilder Berkeley.

The deal, which could pave the way for the growth of a corporate-backed letting market, is expected to be agreed this week and to value the portfolio at about £140 million.

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The UK government is keen to encourage institutions to become landlords as it looks to tackle the housing shortage.

• Thames Water is to supply a number of Scottish hotels after striking a deal with operator Jurys Inn.

The agreement is one of the more high-profile moves since the introduction of competition in the business water market north of the Border some five years ago. Thames will buy water wholesale from Scottish Water and supply the hotels in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Britain’s largest water company is on a drive to poach business from rivals and says it can cut costs with greater administrative efficiency.

• Naked Wines, the internet retailer that allows customers to invest in up-and-coming vineyards, has raised a glass to its staff with a £1.2 million bonus pool after its sales grew by 57 per cent last year.

The group, founded by former Virgin Money and Virgin Wines boss Rowan Gormley, will give 34 workers £35,000 each through a share scheme.

It made a profit of just under £1m as sales soared to £34.9m, after about 150,000 customers invested at least £20 a month each in small winemakers, building up rights to buy wine at wholesale prices.

• The pace of expansion in the United States’ manufacturing sector unexpectedly slowed last month and also missed analysts’ expectations, according to figures from the Institute for Supply Management.

China’s official purchasing managers index hit its highest reading for 11 months but also fell short of economists’ forecasts. Carl Larry, president of Houston-based Oil Outlooks & Opinion, said: “The data came in below market expectations, which could indicate that oil demand growth may not expand quite as quickly as we would like it to.”