James Moore: What's the big deal with Aviva and its shares?

Outlook: Market watchers know about share ramping, but the FSA appears powerless
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The Independent Online

Lots of flapping around Aviva's shares in recent days with speculation appearing to get more outlandish almost by the hour. But the fact that the rumours appear to be increasingly bizarre hasn't stopped the price pinging around like an ice hockey puck in Vancouver.

Much of the attention has been focused on the company's UK life business. That's the operation that Resolution founder Clive Cowdery must dream about every night as he tries with increasing desperation to find someone willing to sell him something he can combine with Friends Provident. But Aviva dealing it appears about as likely as Tesco saying you know, this supermarket lark really isn't for us anymore.

Of course it might just be an investment banker floating a few mad ideas around. The thought of Resolution teaming up with Prudential to break up Aviva is hilarious. But it is just the sort of ludicrous proposals investment bankers are paid squillions of pounds in bonuses to dream up. They operate on the same principle as door-to-door salesmen. Bang on 100 doors and 99 of them will tell you to get lost, but the one who doesn't makes it all worth while.

The Aviva turbulence might actually have more to do with bond prices and (wrongheaded) assumptions about Aviva's portfolio. But what if all the fuss has been caused by something more sinister? Such as a naked attempt to ramp the share price? This would not be the first time a market participant had indulged in this sort of behaviour. Time and again it happens, market watchers know about it, but the FSA appears powerless to do much. What this episode might show is that whoever is in charge after the election, whoever gets the job of securities regulation, they need less bark, more bite.

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