Column Eight: Buyers turn nosey

The heady fragrance of luxury parfums wafts through the air at Breams Buildings where Sir Bryan Carsberg, the newly installed head of the OFT, is coming to a ruling on the perfumes industry.

He is examining a complaint from Kingfisher, which owns the Superdrug chain. Kingfisher is chafing at the refusal of the big parfumiers (including Yves St Laurent and Givenchy), to supply Superdrug stores, claiming they do not measure up to certain retail criteria.

The canny buyers at Superdrug have got round the boycott by purchasing supplies indirectly through third parties who are less picky. But they can only get enough of the stuff to stock a handful of shops; hence the complaint.

Nigel Whittaker, corporate affairs director of Kingfisher and a lawyer by training, is wisely tight-lipped about where the perfume comes from, talking vaguely of 'the grey market'.

'If you want to continue to buy cheap perfumes in Superdrug, I suggest we don't talk about it. But it is pukka,' he adds reassuringly.

At Watmough Holdings, which prints the Mail on Sunday's magazine, the chairman, Patrick Walker, spoke highly of his company's astrological insert into You - written by the star-gazers' favourite, Patric Walker. 'Ah-ha,' observed one analyst wittily. 'That'll be the Patric Walker who gives successful forecasts then. . .'

The curious thing about Hugh Stevenson, the newly appointed chairman of Mercury Asset Management, is that, professionally, he has never managed any money and 'has no intention of doing so'.

Strange, then, that he has taken over from Peter Stormonth Darling as head of a fund management company that controls pounds 44bn worth of assets. Still, MAM's performance of late has not been as sparkling as the City has come to expect and Mr Stevenson yesterday shed some light on the situation. 'I've come to hold it all together,' he said. So now we know.

Shining Path, the Peruvian guerrilla group whose leader has just been slammed into prison, is considering moving its European headquarters to London from Sweden. If the group does reach London, it should be urged to take up residence in Docklands. There it will quickly become a lost cause in sympathy with its surroundings.

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