Business Information service: Last week

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The Independent Online
CRITICISM of the Government's economic policy was highlighted again as reports of sliding house prices continued to draw calls for further action to ease the plight of home owners in danger of repossession.

Following the 0.5 per cent fall in house prices last month, Abbey National proposed on Monday that home owners be refunded losses on the sale of property through a tax credit plan in an effort to stimulate the housing market. At the same time it revealed pre- tax profits of pounds 270m ( pounds 308m) for the half-year to June after record bad debt provisions of pounds 138m ( pounds 58m).

LEP, the cash-strapped freight forwarding group facing collapse should shareholders fail to approve its refinancing plans later this month, disclosed losses of pounds 235m for the year after pounds 172m of extraordinary costs.

On Tuesday National Westminster Bank doubled pre-tax profits from pounds 101m to pounds 211m in the half-year to 30 June and reported an increase in trading profit of pounds 1.09bn ( pounds 984m) before bad debts. It achieved the results through cost-cutting and a turnaround at its US subsidiary, NatWest Bancorp.

Meanwhile Royal Bank of Scotland issued a profits warning for 1992 and saw its shares fall 21p to 153p after it announced a dollars 200m preference share issue. To add to its troubles it received a pounds 418m lawsuit from the liquidator of a former customer, Wallace Smith Trust, the bank that collapsed last year. The suit claims that non-transferable bankers' payments made out to Wallace Smith Trust were in fact paid into the account of its sister company, Wallace Smith Holdings, the futures broker which also went under last year.

It emerged on Wednesday that Arthur Andersen, the administrators of the Maxwell private companies, had found another dollars 500,000 of missing funds after US courts granted access to the books of two companies, PH and Sphere, believed to be under the control of the Maxwell family.

In court, George Walker, the founder and former chairman of Brent Walker, the leisure group, offered to repay less than pounds 1m to banks owed more than pounds 90m when TSB, which is owed more than pounds 9m, petitioned for personal bankruptcy.

The Bombay stock market scandal hit Standard Chartered, the international bank based in London. Bad debt provisions increased to pounds 100m and depressed half-year profits from pounds 83m to pounds 64m, but it managed to keep the dividend unchanged at 7p.

On Thursday the oil giant BP was forced to make the first cut in its dividend since the First World War after crashing to a pounds 717m net loss for the half-year to 30 June.

The Anglo-Dutch oil exploration and petroleum giant Shell, however, was able to add another pounds 576m net profit in the second quarter to take its half-year total to pounds 1.43bn after tax.

Bad debt provisions of pounds 1.07bn at Barclays Bank ensured an 87 per cent decline in pre-tax profits from pounds 378m to pounds 51m for the half-year to 30 June. The result followed a warning from Sir John Quinton, chairman, that the recession could last two more years.

BET, the business services group, became the latest fund-raising flop after fewer than half the company's shareholders took up their shares in its pounds 200.7m one-for-four rights issue.

On Friday BP faced the prospect of legal action from American shareholders alleging that the oil giant had misled them into believing the dividend would not change following the departure of Bob Horton, the former chairman.

BT was reported to have backed down over the main tranche of Oftel's proposals to limit price increases on basic services to inflation minus 7.5 points. BT is still tinkering with the idea of a referral to the Monopolies and Mergers Commission.