Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Slack on the back

"Much talk about a potential sale of Virgin Active to private equity. But is it really likely? Potential bidders seem baffled by the stories and suggest that ubiquitous adviser Goldman Sachs - fresh from its Ocado triumph - is leaking the stories in a desperate effort to stuff another over-priced offer down investors' throats. Developing..." SlackBelly, July 28, 2010.

"Virgin Active, Sir Richard Branson’s gym chain, has shelved plans for a £1 billion flotation.

The company, which operates in Italy, Spain, Portugal, South Africa and the UK, had been exploring a float or sale to a private-equity firm. Insiders suggested the sale talks are also on ice although some observers believe a deal could yet be revived." Sunday Times, August 29, 2010.

Sindy column... (belatedly)

August 29, 2010

I’LL BEGIN with a case that has just hit the High Court, which gives an intriguing insight into the workings of the City. Cantor Fitzgerald, the broker that seems to have a taste for trips down the Strand, is suing a former employee, Benjamin Koskas, for the repayment of an £87,827 “forgivable” loan.
These loans are common enough in the City as an alternative bonus payment and are “forgivable” in the sense that if you work for a company for an agreed period, then they get written off. If you want to leave before you’ve served your time, however, then you have to repay the lot, and the loans are seen by many as a cunning, even draconian, method of staff retention. Cantor, which is led by Howard Lutnick (above) has the reputation of being more attached to this tactic than most.
Still, court documents show that Koskas did trouser the cash, handed in his notice before working the agreed three-year period, and has so far failed to repay his former employer. His defence revolves around restraint of trade and technicalities regarding his February resignation.
Chris McGrath, the lawyer defending Koskas and a longstanding adversary of Cantor, declines to comment on the case - as does the broker itself. So I’ll take a wild punt and guess that this case will end up being settled, adding more weight to the oft-used line about legal departments at broking firms: they are profit centres.

WHAT news of Andrew Greystoke, the Atlantic Law founder and solicitor who was banned for life from the City in May for his role in assisting share pedlars to rip off at least 130 people in a “boiler-room” scam?
That punishment from the FSA also prompted the Solicitors Regulation Authority to institute disciplinary proceedings against him - but the body seems to be taking its time as Greystoke (right) is still listed as a solicitor. He’s also quietly changed the name of his firm to Stanwick & Bond (although it’s yet to be registered with the Law Society).
“Andrew Greystoke is not back in the office until next week,” blocks one Julian at S&B - who refuses to reveal his own surname. “We are not at liberty to discuss with you when we changed our name”.
Still, despite not taking any action thus far, the SRA insists: “We have him in our sights.”

GREYSTOKE was also once a director and major shareholder in First London Securities, the defunct investment bank that attracted attention last year due to its links with a convicted insurance fraudster and its role in the short-lived takeover of Notts County, the Football League’s oldest team.
The bank also boasted former Conservative environment minister Tim Yeo and Nicholas Chance, Prince Michael of Kent’s private secretary, as directors, while a former shareholder was one-time Jersey bankrupt Kevin Leech.
Leech, I note, has just resigned from the board of Devilfish, a listed poker group, on the grounds of ill-health. I’m told the 67-year-old is suffering from high blood pressure, which has prompted doctors to instruct him to retire. Associates are sceptical that the old rascal will obey the orders for long, however.

THE return of Polly Peck boss Asil Nadir just about gives me enough of an excuse to retell a witty observation about the old fugitive. David Stoddart, highly regarded retail analyst at finnCap, and former Polly Peck worker, once recalled: “It was the only company I’ve ever been at where the fixtures and fittings appreciated.”

PROPERTY industry aficionados will know that O’Callaghan Properties scooped £48m last week by selling 20 Grafton Street to a “private German investor”, in one of the priciest office deals in the West End this year. So who was the mysterious buyer?
Step forward Baron August von Finck Jnr, one of Germany’s richest men. Forbes estimates he is worth £5bn. His family trust has interests in property around Munich, a shareholding in hotel group M√∂venpick, and stakes in fast-food chains. Still, much of the wealth originates from great-grandfather Wilhelm von Finck, who founded insurance giant Allianz and private bank Merck Finck & Co.
The bank was then expanded by Baron August von Finck Snr - a controversial figure as a leading Nazi supporter and one of a group of industrialists who met Hitler in 1931 and promised financial support in the event of a successful putsch against the Weimar Republic.
Von Finck Jnr (above) sold Merck Finck to Barclays in the 1990s. Isn’t life grand?

COMB-OVER king Donald Trump does not like the Chinese at all. He blogs: “From the gymnasts caught cheating at the Olympics to the singer caught lip-synching on international television, I don’t have the highest esteem for their ethics. It’s all a charade. I also don’t like the fact that we look like fools. I know for a fact they laugh at the stupidity of our leaders, and for good reason. They can’t believe they’re getting away with what they’re getting away with and we’re allowing it.”
Simultaneously, bosses at Aberdeen Airport say they are in talks with Chinese airlines about new services to the Granite City. Their big selling point? The new £750m Balmedie golf resort being built by, er, Donald Trump.

FOLLOWING my story that Red Molotov, the T-shirt firm, was selling designs featuring the BBC’s Robert Peston (below) comes another business-inspired garment.
The craggy features of Duncan Bannatyne, star of the BBC’s Dragons’ Den, can now be enjoyed by T-shirt wearers. The marketing bumf reads: “Everyone’s favourite Dragon. Well, apart from Peter Jones maybe. And that James Caan seems a nice bloke. Deborah Meaden frankly scares us though.” The shirt itself reads: “I don’t like the product, I don’t think it would sell, it’s not a viable business, and I’m not so keen on you ... and ... I’M OUT!” I’m sure it’s ironic.

HAS Gordon Gekko gone out to lunch at last? The initial online reviews for Money Never Sleeps, the soon-to-be-released sequel to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street, starring Carey Mulligan and Shia LaBeouf beside Michael Douglas (above), have been pretty positive. But might the studio be controlling things a little? My man at an early viewing reckons Gordon Gekko’s latest showcase has “lost its edge”, with many “punch lines coming from the old film”. Who’d have thought it?

Friday, 27 August 2010

wish I'd thought of this...

Sent in by a fellow Slacker:

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Bennett caught short in drugs bust

Former Sunday Telegraph City Ed turned City spinner, Neil Bennett, has had a run in with a team of rozzers, I am delighted to report. On his Facebook page, Bennett writes: “I am shocked to announce I have had a brush with the law, a drugs bust no less. Shocker. It was at Redhill station where I got off the train bursting for the loo. As I searched I was collared by a plain clothes copper. Apparently I had avoided a police check and needed to be frisked for crack. There were at least a dozen coppers in this ridiculous exercise - do they really have nothing better to do”

Monday, 23 August 2010

Sindy column...

August 22, 2010

SPECULATION that Betfair is on the verge of floating has been around for years, but the last whispers emanating from the online betting exchange’s advisers suggested everything could kick off as early as next month.

Want to bet? Sources close to the company now reckon that market conditions make that plan look increasingly ambitious and, in any case, I hear that finance director Stephen Morana is currently away on a long honeymoon while chief exec David Yu, chairman Ed Wray and a host of others are off on their summer holidays.

Furthermore, interviews for the group’s new head of communications continue next week – presumably to find a person to help talk up the company’s shares. That would leave the new spinner with a tight timeframe to work their notice, arrive and settle in before a September listing.

Developing, as they say.

IN MARCH, Cable & Wireless split into two separate businesses: Cable & Wireless Worldwide and Cable & Wireless Communications. Shareholders were given one share in each, with Worldwide remaining in the FTSE 100 and Communications joining the FTSE 250.

This thrilled Worldwide boss John Pluthero, who could barely resist an opportunity to wind up his former colleagues about the respective valuations. Since then, the share price of Communications has edged up very slightly, while Pluthero’s Worldwide has been forced to issue a profits warning and seen its market cap slump to the same size as its smaller sibling. It now faces almost certain relegation to the FTSE 250.

Who’s laughing now, John?

Q: Who, in 2009, said: "To be the chairman of a FTSE company, you have got to have built a reputation over 30 years. Given the current extreme volatility and difficult economic conditions, you potentially put all that at risk in a business that is bound to be different from that in which you spent your working life.''?

A: Robert Swannell, the banker who is to become the, er, next Marks & Spencer chairman.

ON August 10, investment manager Baillie Gifford decided to sell shares in Cairn Energy – triggering a stock exchange announcement that its stake had dipped below 5%. It won’t say how many it sold, which is perhaps not too surprising. Six days later Cairn shares shot up by 5%, as the company announced it would net up to £6bn by flogging most of its stake in Cairn India to miner Vedanta. A chunk of the proceeds will also be returned directly to shareholders.

A trifle embarrassing for Baillie, perhaps, as well as for Iain McLaren. He sits on the board of Baillie Gifford and Cairn Energy. It shows Chinese walls work, I suppose.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Wicked whisper

Which of the City's top corporate lawyers has just left his wife for a 20-something-year-old dolly bird?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Clive Cowdery of Resolution and Andy Haste of RSA in the same Deutsche Bank building last week. (I know. It's a little fresh for this blog, but occasionally I do like to rush these out to confound my critics). Coincidence?

Tuesday, 17 August 2010


... Mohamed Al-Fayed in earnest talks outside a new development in Draper's Garden (near Moorgate) at 1.30pm today. The picture - sent in by a fellow Slacker - shows the great man flanked by estate agents (presumably) and anxious looking heavies with earpieces. Is the "Phoney Pharoah" making a comeback in the City?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Sindy column...

August 15, 2010

IG GROUP – the granddaddy of the spread betting world – has appointed accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers to sell its sports betting arm, Extrabet.

This will come as no surprise to readers of this column - which has repeatedly stated that the FTSE 250 company has been hawking its sports business around – although it may come as a shock to Extrabet boss Arman Tahmassebi who insisted earlier this year that there was “no talk of a sale”.

Still, news of the appointment follows a rationalisation of the division plus a decent World Cup. The price tag, however, remains a thorny issue and betting industry sources question whether the business, which saw revenues drop by almost 31% last year, is worth much.

IG Group and PWC both decline to comment. Developing.

JAMIE Waller – “undoubtedly Britain’s most famous bailiff” according to his own publicity – makes his living collecting from those who’ve not paid their debts. Somebody’s got to, I suppose, but I wonder if the star of the BBC’s Beat the Bailiff sees any irony regarding his chosen vocation and his own debt – owed to his company JBW Group?

According to the company’s latest accounts, Waller’s borrowed £185,197 from the firm, while two companies of which he is a director – JBW Investments and JBW High Court Enforcement – owe £22,025 and £24,605 respectively. He also trousered a £120,000 dividend last year.

“Er, er, what’s that based on?” asks Waller’s stuttering spokesman before returning to say that the debt is being paid back on time (so our man won’t be getting a visit from himself). “It’s a shame you’re planning to run a negative story,” he continues, “because he’s a really lovely chap.” Yes, bailiffs usually are.

SOMETIMES you have to be brave enough to back one view. Stockbrokers Panmure Gordon became sellers of shares in property group Rok in November 2008, according to share monitoring site Digital Look, and watched as the price almost doubled over the next eight months. Despite the shares then edging down slightly, the broker suddenly turned bullish – only for the price to maintain its downward trend before slumping last week on news of Rok’s accounting failings. Panmure has now reverted to its sell stance. Time to buy?

I READ that interdealer broker BGC is in talks to buy smaller rival Mint Partners, which requires further investment after its rapid expansion.

Mint - founded six years ago by Richard Barnett and one-time white collar boxer, Tim “Raging” Bullman - has since opened offices in New York, Paris and Dubai, as well as moving to a new London HQ and sponsoring the Polo in the Park. All of which has been pretty expensive.

BGC is one option while, I learn, the company has also been exploring tapping the co-founders’ family and friends for a cash call. Mint parries: “It is inappropriate to talk about individual discussions”. Quite so.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Standing up for the Hurd

Larry Ellison, the boss of US tech giant Oracle, is back in the news following his moving defence of ousted HP chief Mark Hurd (as well as his company attempting to sue Google). The Evening Standard has taken this opportunity to remind its readers of a great gag devised by employees of PeopleSoft, a company Ellison bought in 2005, who wore T-shirts proclaiming what they thought Oracle stood for. Might this be how they would look?

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Silly season for equity analysts

In austerity Britain, it shouldn't be a massive surprise that people have taken the monumental decision to book their holidays later and look for better deals - which was essentially the cause of the profit warning this morning by travel operator TUI. No surprise, that is, unless you're one of the City's razor sharp equity analysts, whose recent takes on the company's shares are listed below...

DateBroker nameNewPriceOld price targetNew price targetBroker change
14-Jul-10Royal Bank of ScotlandBuy228.50p--New Coverage
17-May-10Panmure GordonBuy248.10p325.00p-Reiteration
12-May-10MF GlobalBuy265.00p--Reiteration
11-May-10Panmure GordonBuy248.90p325.00p-Upgrade
04-May-10Natixis BleichroederBuy268.20p--Upgrade