Business View: Who's policing the tattle-tongues of the City?

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The Independent Online

You can almost smell the fear in the City. Months after its shadow appeared on the horizon, the global credit crunch is still sending shivers down the spines of investment bankers. No one knows where it is going to strike next and which "respected" financial institution will be forced to admit to taking a massive financial hit. Banking bigwigs are like children scared of monsters under the bed – they know that something nasty may be lurking, but are too afraid to take a good look.

In the midst of the panic, a clique of traders is making big money. Hedge funds, with the ability to "short" or bet that banking shares will go down, are making stellar returns. And that is infuriating executives at the likes of Barclays and RBS, who have seen their companies' share prices head ever lower. At one point on Friday, Barclays' shares lost 9.1 per cent, as rumours swirled around the Square Mile about the extent of the bank's exposure to the US sub-prime market. It was also common gossip that at least one board member at Barclays was due to step down. Absolute nonsense, say insiders at Barclays.

So who is starting these rumours and what do they have to gain by their circulation? That is the $64bn question and one that banking bosses would like answered. Are there hedge funds deliberately destabilising the market to extract profit from short-term share price movements? No one knows. The Financial Services Authority, whose job it is to regulate markets, certainly doesn't have a clue. In this time of fear and uncertainty, the FSA should be doing its utmost to ensure that whispers of ruin and woe are kept to a minimum.

Shares in a hero

Can a sportsman list on the stock market? The answer appears to be yes. That's if Lewis Hamilton goes ahead with a proposal to float – and that, as our news story indicates, is only one option on the table.

To the uninitiated, the notion sounds a tad odd. But that is mainly because it is such an innovative idea. Global sporting superstars – of which there are only a handful – have a unique earning power that easily outstrips the salaries paid to the cosseted footballers of the English Premier League. But these sporting icons have short careers. They rely on being in peak physical condition and judge the difference between winning and losing in inches, or fractions of a second. So put yourself in Lewis Hamilton's shoes. Formula One is a dangerous business. There is no guarantee that he won't spin off the track at the first bend of the first Grand Prix next season and incur some injury that ends his ambitions to be the dominant force in the high-octane circus for the next decade.

So by selling off a small percentage of shares in himself – or more accurately – his future earnings, he banks a large sum up front. It makes perfect logic from his point of view. Shareholders in Lewis Hamilton get a good-value investment, but also take on board the risk that Hamilton will maximise his earning potential only by staying healthy. And shareholders also get to share in the fun of the F1 franchise by owning a stake in their hero.

Why rush to buy an iPhone?

Mobile is changing. After a couple of years of treading water, consumers are about to get their hands on a new generation of handsets. Apple is partially responsible. Its iPhone went on sale on Friday night and UK consumers rushed to buy the beautiful-looking gadget. In Germany, 10,000 were sold in the first day. But the mobile revolution goes beyond iPhone. Mobile internet speeds have reached a point where handsets are becoming the only device you need to surf the web and play music, as well as satisfying communication needs. Companies such as T-Mobile are becoming more positive that revenues from data traffic – as opposed to those for voice and text – will continue to grow to substantial levels.

But a word of warning for anyone thinking about rushing out and spending £269 on an iPhone with an 18-month contract – I gather that the next-generation iPhone with high-speed 3G internet access will hit the streets as early as next June. I suspect early adopters of the iPhone may be a little resentful at how quickly Apple intends to upgrade its hottest property. Keeping up with mobile technology could become a whole lot more expensive.

Virgin's high-speed wiles

Virgin Media struggles on. The company produced the first signs last week that it has a fighting chance in its ongoing scrap with BSkyB. The cable group said it had added 13,000 customers – a modest number, but the first time in months it has attracted more subscribers than it has lost. Significantly, Virgin added 115,000 broadband internet customers in the past three months. It looks as if it is changing its strategy. Instead of trying to compete with Sky on content, it is pushing its high-speed internet capability. It is already offering connection speeds of 20MB and is lining up a 50MB service for early next year. At that speed, it has clear blue water between itself and Sky.

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