Business Editor: Debutantes, City Slickers and low finance

I personally own no shares and can't see any way that I could
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The Independent Online

I have a confession. Not only did I use to work with Anil Bhoyrul and James Hipwell, the two "City Slickers" convicted of manipulating shares during their time at the Daily Mirror, I also shared a barber with Hipwell.

Whenever I went for my monthly short back and sides, he'd say: "Mr Hipwell told me to buy such and such shares. What do you think?"

Normally when someone asks me for a share tip, I fall back on the Financial Services & Markets Act excuse, which lets journalists off being registered with City regulators so long as their financial advice is confined to the pages of the newspaper. But when someone is standing over you with very sharp scissors, you feel some obligation. My usual reply was: "They sound a bit risky to me."

Most of the attention since Wednesday's verdict has focused on whether Bhoyrul and Hipwell's former editor, Piers Morgan, or the Daily Mirror's inhouse layer, Martin Cruddace, might face any further sanction. But readers have the right to ask whether they can trust what they read in City and personal finance pages.

Until a few years ago, journalists often held shares in companies they tipped. When I started out on The Daily Telegraph in 1988, I worked with someone who was desperate to get the value of his share portfolio up because he had to fund his divorce. He used to get others to punt the shares for him. Another well-known journalist was famous for having bought champagne for all his colleagues when a particular punt delivered for him.

But in recent years, any financial journalist with any sense has found it so difficult to actively trade shares that they have cut it out. I personally own no shares and can't see any way that I could.

There is a code of practice that says journalists should not seek financial gain from what they write about in the paper - nor should they own significant holdings in companies they write about.

But the code is voluntary and, as many editors and managing editors have never worked on the financial pages and don't know what goes on, it is poorly policed. Some papers ask journalists to divulge their financial holdings. Some don't.

And where do you draw the line? I have a personal pension, a mortgage and some ISAs. To be whiter than white, I should not write about my mortgage provider, my pension company or the folk who manage my ISAs. But I do. As someone who lost money in the Equitable Life scandal, perhaps I should not report on the Equitable saga. But nothing in the code stops this.

Indeed, in personal finance journalism, the culture of the freebie is rampant. Hacks are treated like attractive debutantes, with champagne, chocolates, flowers and all manner of valuable gifts arriving in the office for them from eager financial companies. Their financial advice carries great influence.

For the most part, we rely on the integrity of the financial journalists to ensure the City and personal finance pages are honest and upstanding. Yet, as we've seen with the City Slickers, it only takes a couple of dishonest or weak-willed people to upset the apple cart.

Crafty Aussies

I like Macquarie Bank's attitude. Forced to put up or shut up by the Takeover Panel, the Australians say they will offer 580p for the London Stock Exchange - a figure the LSE could never accept. Come Thursday, when Macquarie has to turn this into a genuine offer, it will know that LSE shareholders think it is too little.

Will it put up its tents and go away? No. Because this is all about putting pressure on the rival suitor, Euronext. The Franco-Dutch group has six more weeks to decide whether it should give up its settlement business, LCH.Clearnet, in order to go for the LSE. And if it sells LCH.Clearnet, there is one obvious buyer. Yes, you've guessed it: Macquarie.