I intend to raise a glass this Christmas to two of the most criticised men in the City. But for the actions of Sir Victor Blank and Eric Daniels, the fortunes of more than two million former HBOS shareholders would have suffered much more severely in the great banking disaster than they actually did.
Sir Victor is the former chairman of Lloyds Banking Group; Mr Daniels is still chief executive. At the height of the banking crisis, they were sweet-talked by Prime Minister Gordon Brown into making a last-ditch share exchange rescue bid for HBOS, the Bank of Scotland and Halifax group.
If Lloyds had not acted there is every possibility that what had once appeared to be a highly successful money group would have slumped into bankruptcy and its shareholders, like those in Northern Rock, left to contemplate the complete erosion of their investment.
Lloyds shareholders are distraught by the Halifax acquisition. There is no doubt that one of the more conservatively managed banks, that was set to survive the credit crunch in some style, has suffered extreme discomfort from what many regard as a reckless deal.
I sympathise with them. But as a former Halifax shareholder I am mightily relieved that Sir Victor, who paid for the deal with his job, and Mr Daniels pushed through the takeover. At least I still have remnants of my investment, having avoided total wipe out.
*The modestly improved position of HBOS shareholders has been overlooked in the criticism heaped on the Blank/Daniels duo. True, with the embittered original Lloyds shareholders, we have subscribed more cash to help the enlarged group. But I welcome the opportunity to remain involved. And, it seems to me that the much bigger Lloyds, although facing a multitude of problems, will evolve as a very profitable operation.
Of course, I, and the rest of the HBOS contingent, have only ourselves to blame for not taking the sensible action of selling before disaster almost overwhelmed our investment. I suspect one of the dangers of free shares, which arrive courtesy of demutualisation, is that an investor does not see them in quite the same harsh light as paid-for holdings. After all, they cost absolutely nothing. So tuck them away, bank dividends and enjoy any cash hand-back. With Halifax shares topping £10, it seemed the perfect no-sweat investment.
But all good things seem to come to an end and HBOS shareholders, many first-time investors, should have taken that evasive action. Unfortunately many didn't. So our no cost involvement has this year cost us. With the latest – and biggest – Lloyds' rights issue enjoying a 95.3 per cent take up, quite a few HBOS shareholders subscribed. They were right to do so. Those that resisted have again had the satisfaction of banking their nil-paid rewards.
Lloyds, it would appear, is not impressed with Green CO2, a constituent of the no pain, no gain portfolio. Last week Green announced a dramatic shake-up. And the banking group promptly sold 16 million shares.
Green, formerly Wyatt, is raising cash for the second time this year. It is placing shares at 1p, producing £10m. Existing shareholders, who subscribed to an April cash call at 1.25p, are being swamped, left with just 3 per cent of the capital. The new cash is wanted to buy compliance companies, forming a new division to operate alongside a business providing energy efficiency certificates and home information packs.
n In heavy turnover – on AIM and Plus – Green's shares, as I write, have almost halved since the scheme was announced. The company seemed surprise by such a brutal reaction. I'm not. As part of the capital reconstruction, existing shares are being sharply reduced. Every 20 shares will become three. It means that, in effect, shareholders who took part in the earlier placing and open offer subscribed for shares at about 8p.
Green is now indulging in a placing that excludes many existing shareholders; they are not even permitted to buy new shares at 1p. Just to pile on the agony the group is unloading its loss-making employment side at a lowly price. One redeeming feature is that chairman Bob Holt, who has presided since the portfolio took an interest, is paying off a £900,000 bank loan the company owes.