City Diary

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RED FACES at Nestle, the Swiss-based confectionery and food giant, which has just discovered that the online version of its annual report accounts doesn't add up.

Anne Jenkins, lecturer at accountancy training company ATC, spotted the error last week. The net profit figure on Nestle's cash-flow statement had been wrongly transposed (from 4,119 to 4,199 million Swiss Francs), with the result that the numbers just didn'twork.

Ms Jenkins tipped off Scott Cormack, a partner with KPMG, Nestle's auditors, and a couple of days later the offending online blooper had been corrected. Which prompts the thought: How many other transcription errors out there in cyberspace?

A COLLEAGUE of mine was being royally entertained by Mike Ross, chief executive of Scottish Widows, and his team on Wednesday night at one of London's premier restaurants, The Ivy.

The evening was given added pep when one of the party spotted Joan Collins, the legendary star, dining downstairs. A number of the journos, who were dining in a private room on the ground floor, wanted to investigate further, but had to wait until the two parties coincidentally left the restaurant at the same time. Ms Collins was driven off with a number of very young looking men in a black soft-top convertible BMW.

Oh, and the discussion about stakeholder pensions was riveting.

THE POOR performance of Instinet, the wholesale trading network for stocks, may have pushed shares in its owner Reuters off a cliff yesterday, but at least Instinet's president Douglas Atkin had one nicer announcement to make; He is joining Tradepoint Financial Networks as a non-executive director.

The consortium, which bought 51.1 per cent of Tradepoint, an automated stock quotation system, as part of a long term financing in May has contributed a quartet of non-execs to the company's board, one from each member.

The other new non-execs include Harold Bradley, a senior vice president for American Century, a US mutual with $86bn under management; Alan Hodson, chairman of European Equities at Warburg Dillon Read; and Sutesh Sharma, a managing director of Morgan Stanley Dean Witter's proprietary trading and derivatives risk management group.

I HAVE discovered a possible explanation for Freeserve's shares doing so badly recently. It's because the Internet service's customers are defecting to, a rival Net service set up this month by Michael Hardern, the windfall guru and arch demutualiser.

A spokesman for Mr Hardern, a freelance butler, says: "Freeserve is haemorrhaging customers, while we're like a sponge, soaking them up."

The spokesman would not, however, say how many people had signed up.

Mr Hardern's latest idea is to "democratise" the Internet by handing out free shares in doddle to anyone who uses it. He also keeps his hand in as a butler, the spokesman adds. "He will never give up his day job." Sounds a wise move.

THE ISLEY BROTHERS, the American soul band whose hits stretch from "Shout" in 1959 through "Harvest for the World" in 1976 to "Choosey Lover" in 1983, have signed a $10m-plus deal to issue "Bowie Bonds".

It's another coup for David Pullman, the New-York based former investment banker who dreamt up the idea of securitising songwriters' back catalogues. David Bowie was one of the first to benefit from Mr Pullman's scheme, and raised $55m by issuing bonds secured on the forecast income stream from royalties on his hits.

The clever bit is that the artist maintains ownership of the songs while getting cash today. Currently the bonds are placed with a number of institutions, but Mr Pullman's ambition is that the bonds will one day be tradeable.

AND HERE we have the first Christmas "City People" story of 1999. Thanks to Bensons Crisps, makers of snack foods, you can now buy your Christmas lunch in a packet.

Under its O'Malley brand, the company has launched a range of Turkey & Stuffing flavour crisps. Bensons, which has just acquired another snack company, Country Harvest, believes its new line, at 25p a bag, will be a hit at festive parties.

Neil Hopkins-Coman, chief executive of Bensons, says: "There's no truth in the rumour that each packet of Turkey & Stuffing will contain a free Brussels sprout ... at the moment. But anything's possible in the future."