Last but not least

Money Talk

The Last of the building society windfalls due this year, from Northern Rock, the Newcastle-upon-Tyne based bank-to-be, could turn out to be the bumper handout, even if it's only for 900,000 people. By some estimates the free shares - and everyone gets the same this time round - could be worth as much as pounds 2,000, and few analysts are expecting them to join the stock market on 1 October worth anything less than pounds 1,500 a head.

That's serious money, especially when compared with the pounds 250 the similar- sized Bristol & West has just doled out to a good proportion of its customers. Obviously the carpetbaggers are going to be rubbing their hands with glee, but such is the likely value of the handout that even many bigger savers, who could have hoped to have been favoured in the distribution, may not feel too hard done by.

True, the size of Northern Rock is such that the overall handout is a blip compared with what has been given already this year, nevertheless the impact in the society's north-east heartland - where an estimated one in three households are expected to benefit - will be considerable.

Northern Rock also deserves the thumbs up for not offering its own PEP. Savers have found it all too convenient to sign up for the PEP deals offered so far by the Halifax and other converters, even though in most cases they could have done better elsewhere - or by not Pepping their shares at all.

Among the best PEP deals, Fidelity remains my recommendation - unlike the vast majority available, it makes absolutely no charges whatsoever so long as investors make a further investment with the company by 1999. More details on 0800 41 41 71.

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