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A little comic relief does wonders for utility shares

People & Business
On the basis that a picture paints a thousand words, Credit Lyonnais Laing has used a lavish illustration on the cover of its "Utilities under Labour" circular, which did so much to move share prices yesterday.

The idea of using a cartoon to brighten up Laing's dry analytical arguments was down to John Reynolds, the broker's internal publishing supremo. And it worked.

No sooner had the import of the circular sunk in - that the threatened windfall tax was already factored in to utilities' share prices and now they look cheap - than prices shot up. For instance, against a falling market, PowerGen rose 16.5p to 608.5p while Severn Trent put on 13.5p to 701p.

Bruce Bromley, one of the utilities team at Laing, explained: "The cartoon seemed to be the best way to take the sense of panic out of the windfall tax."

Another handful of circulars from Laing will use similar cartoon covers this week, covering stores, breweries and mobile communications. It remains to be seen whether the graphics will be able to work their magic on other sectors.

Mr Bromley said: "We were going to use a picture of a Monopoly board, but Waddington's said they would sue us if we did."

Who would have guessed that Britain's biggest landlord, Land Securities, is in favour of abolishing Third World debt?

This commendably internationalist approach was given form this week when Land Securities announced its sponsorship of the Millennium Countdown Clock in London's Piccadilly Circus.

The clock is the brainchild of an organisation called Jubilee 2000 which wants to give less-developed countries a fresh start by "a one-off slashing of Third World debt by the year 2000". Christian Aid is also backing the project.

It's good to see Sir Peter Hunt, chairman of Land Securities, putting his corporate hand in his pocket. I wonder what his bankers, led by Lloyds Bank, make of it all? Lloyds has made hefty profits in the past few years from writing back South American debt it had previously written off.

The first that the London staff of Nippon Credit Bank heard about its intention to close all operations outside Japan was when they read about it in the papers.

Apparently matters were not improved by a "perfunctory" staff meeting, according to insiders. The gloom among local employees contrasted with the evident delight of the Japanese working in London, who can now return to Japan and exchange our capital's grimy tube for gleaming bullet trains.

The people at Equitas, the vehicle set up to run off Lloyd's of London's pre-1992 liabilities as part of the market's rescue package, have obviously wised up to the litigious future of such claims.

They have turned to an American, Scott P Moser, to be their new claims director. Mr Moser, 46, joins Equitas from Envision Claims Management of New Jersey, where he managed the asbestos, pollution and health hazard claims faced by the Talegen group of insurance companies.

His other experience in the cut and thrust of corporate litigation - and it doesn't get any rougher than in the US - includes being vice president of environmental and excess claims at Aetna Casualty and Surety of Connecticut, where he was responsible for handling pollution, asbestos and health hazard claims.

A spate of corporate musical chairs yesterday included Nigel Young leaving First Technology to become finance director at Babcock, the engineering group. Meanwhile at BTR Philip Aiken has resigned as a director to join Broken Hill Proprietary Company, the Australian mining group, as executive general manager, corporate development. He will be replaced by Peter Robinson, currently chief executive of ACI Packaging.