The City Diary

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The Independent Online

Is this really the right time to be going back to the futures?

Remember irrational exuberance? A tale reaches us that might spook ex-Fed boss Alan Greenspan (pictured), the man who coined that oh-so-last-century phrase. It seems a major market player has been considering buying a stake in a firm that specialises in valuing derivatives, with a turnover in the order of £12m (and profits just a small fraction of that). Do the masters of the universe know something we don't?

Meanwhile, one of America's most prominent Congressmen, Barney Frank, has told this paper of his fears that America has exported its sub-prime mess to Europe. If there is one thing we wish he could export, it is straight talking. Early in his career, a gay prostitute with whom Frank developed a relationship sold his story. Frank openly answered questions about the affair and was re-elected just a year later.

They don't need to get lucky

Here's an intriguing fact that slipped out over lunch with Dianne Thompson, the chief executive of lottery operator Camelot. She says the areas in the UK with the longest queues and heaviest number of ticket sales when there is a jackpot on offer are always the more affluent. When the jackpot hit £125m, the busiest queues at the Tesco machines in London were in Kensington & Chelsea and Canary Wharf. This suggests that the people who are the greediest when loads of money is on offer are the very wealthy, politicians, investment bankers and traders, and, dare I say it, journalists. (The 'IoS' building is near Canary Wharf). Surprised ?

Blair puts his foot in it with France's left-wing

Another nail in the coffin of Tony Blair's political career. French socialists have been up in arms over our former Prime Minister's meeting with the UMP colleagues of his great friend Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris last week. "How would Mr Blair like it if leading French socialists struck up a friendship with David Cameron?" thundered a socialist leader in a leading French tabloid. Little chance of Mr Blair taking up the European presidency then, but at least he can keep his £2m-a-year part-time job with JP Morgan while he looks for a full-time role ...

Never mind the misery, feel the bonuses

And to the moral dilemma of the month. How do you fire the people around you while trousering a record bonus? Merrill Lynch bade goodbye to a large number of employees a few weeks back, just before revealing a $10bn loss for the fourth quarter. Yet Merrill, along with other Wall Street laggards Morgan Stanley, Lehman Brothers and Bear Stears, combined with the still-formidable Goldman Sachs to pay record bonuses of $39bn to their remaining employees. Nice to see the bigshots sharing the pain.

Boks to the wall

South Africa has clearly not got over its apartheid past. Today, however, the division is not over race but gender. A British female non-executive recently joined the board of a big FTSE company and had to have her details checked by the group's overseas subsidiaries. Only one demurred – the South African subsidiary, which wanted her husband to give his consent. Afrikaner stereotypes still run deep.

Out of Mandarins

As Gordon Brown sweeps through Asia, expect the usual stories about China's imminent rise to world domination. The only way for humble Brits to compete? Learn Mandarin. Courses are already oh-so-fashionable in the nation's smartest school districts. Just one problem, as Tory education shadow Michael Gove pointed out last week: UK universities produced just two Mandarin teachers last year.

The last spectator that British Airways wanted

Last week's crash landing of a British Airways jet at Heathrow Airport did not result, thankfully, in loss of life or serious injury. In fact, the only injury suffered could end up being to BA's reputation for safety, although the pilot involved – one John Coward – has to be praised for his outstanding effort in getting the plane down intact (almost).

However, the irony will not be lost on BA's directors that Virgin Atlantic boss Sir Richard Branson, one of the businessmen accompanying Gordon Brown on his trade mission to China this weekend, had a grandstand view of the incident from the Prime Minister's own chartered BA plane across the tarmac.

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