Jeremy Warner's Outlook: A sign of the times as Dixons waves goodbye to its analogue past and takes to cyberspace

JP Morgan takes hit on easyJet; Pensions debate: still a question of charges; Adam Smith: still relevant as ever
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So that's all right then. Sir Stanley Kalms has given his blessing, and if he's not objecting, then it must be OK. None the less, the Dixons' founder would be less than human if he weren't saddened by the sight of the name that has bedecked the garish red facade of his high street creation disappearing into cyberspace.

The name will survive on the internet, where the present chief executive, John Clare, aims to make it into the Amazon.com of electrical retailing, but the high street stores are to be rechristened Currys.digital, and as far as the physical world is concerned, the Dixons name, known as much for the shoddiness of its service as the competitiveness of its prices, will be no more.

Properly managed, this is a less high risk strategy than you might imagine. Dixons and Currys have been run as two separate companies to date, so there are bound to be administrative savings in combining the two, albeit not substantial.

Furthermore, if all that is being done is essentially a rebranding, with the Dixons range merely added to by higher ticket white-goods items from Currys, then there is no reason to believe either sales or margins will suffer. To the contrary, they might even be improved a bit if the newly formatted stores can take on a more family friendly image, after the gadget mad clientele which typifies the Dixons brand.

In the City, the move was being dismissed as a non event which is unlikely to affect profit forecasts one way or the other, yet there may be a greater significance here.

If nothing else, the decision to shift Dixons entirely online is powerfully symbolic of the way the market is heading, where the real winners in specialist retailing will be those able to offer a truly global product range at the click of a mouse, delivered to your door just a day or two later.

Further improvements in home shopping need to made before this vision of the future becomes the present, in particular in delivery logistics, so that the product is delivered at a time convenient to the customer rather than the vendor. Ocado and other supermarket websites have shown that these developments are indeed coming.

There will always be some sort of a market for physical browsing, if only to check out the product before buying it over the internet, but you don't need to be a retailer as canny as Mr Clare to see which way the wind is blowing.

His business is in selling some of the most cutting edge digital products on the market. You might reasonably think this a good place to be, instead of which it's been subject to some of the most vicious price deflation in the history of retailing. Now Dixons too is abandoning its analogue past for a much lower cost digital future. If survival in business is about adaptability, then DSG International demonstrates the art in spades.

JP Morgan takes hit on easyJet

Tricky things, share placings, as JP Morgan has just been reminded to its cost. In a bought deal, JP Morgan took the Icelandic stake in easyJet on to its books at 341p a share with the intention of auctioning the 16.9 per cent holding at something a little higher.

The hedge funds had other ideas, and once they realised that a key prop to the easyJet share price - the possibility of a bid from FL Group, the owner of Icelandair - was being removed, they hammered the share price. Whether JP Morgan managed to get all or some of the stake away before this happened is anyone's guess.

Either way, JP Morgan has been left nursing a £12m loss on the transaction, and if the American investment bank did persuade anyone in the wider market to take stock at 341p a share, it won't be getting any business from that quarter again.

Without the possibility of a bid, the easyJet earnings multiple looks an exceptionally challenging one, relying as it does on a very considerable growth in profits over the next two years. What possessed JP Morgan to attempt such a high-risk bought deal? Whatever the answer, someone will be be collecting their P45 tonight.

FL's sale raises the possibility of a more widescale liquidation of Icelandic investments on the British mainland. From the Regent Street toyshop Hamleys to the food wholesaler Booker, and from Mappin & Webb, jeweller to the Queen, to the mini investment bank Singer & Friedlander, the Icelanders have been some of the most active investors around in the UK stock market these past five years. There are also substantial stakes in Woolworths and French Connection. They've even acquired Iceland itself - the bombed out UK food retailer, that is.

FL Group, and just about everybody else in Iceland yesterday, was busy denying that the easyJet sale was a harbinger of things to come for other assets. FL Group had sold simply because it was showing a very substantial profit on the holding and Stelios Haji-Ioannou, easyJet's founder, didn't feel inclined to allow FL to go much further with its stakebuilding.

What's more, insists Reykjavik, most of Iceland's overseas investments have been locally financed with overseas banks, so despite the financial crisis at home, there is no apparent need for a full scale sell-off. That was the story from Iceland, at least, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Iceland's financial crisis is as much a banking as an economic one. Meteoric growth in the domestic economy has been financed by a wall of hot international money, attracted by high interest rates relative to the low interest rate environment that has existed in much of the rest of the world.

Once the currency started to collapse, these rates didn't look quite so attractive, and all of a sudden Icelandic banks have been faced with a massive withdrawal of wholesale funds. If these funds have been used to lend long to finance Iceland's overseas acquisition spree, then everyone's in trouble. The easyJet sale may be the - er - tip of the iceberg.

Pensions debate: still a question of charges

The Government is reported to be considering a hybrid approach to Lord Turner's National Pensions Savings Scheme under which the money would be collected by a government agency but then be administered and invested by the insurance industry.

This seems to me the worst of all possible worlds, and I cannot for the life of me see why ministers would want to back it. By having the whole thing administered by the state, though invested by private sector fund managers, Lord Turner, the chairman of the Pensions Commission, reckons that annual charges could be kept as low as 0.3 per cent. The lower the charge, the better the eventual pension.

The drawback is that there is no certainty that charges can be kept so low until the whole thing is up and running. The history of government administration suggests strongly that eventual costs will be much higher. The taxpayer would have to pick up the tab. The drawback to the insurers' approach, under which they would administer and invest the money under pre-existing systems, is that we know before they even start that they cannot do it for as little as 0.3 per cent except in the case of quite large companies and organisations.

It's hard to see how the hybrid idea would significantly reduce these costs; it might even add to them. Furthermore, the moment pension savers are offered anything more than a very basic choice of investments they require point of sales advice, further adding to costs and significantly increasing the chances of mis-selling. There needs to be much more debate around these issues before the Government settles on a preferred solution.

Adam Smith: still relevant as ever

News that five companies and nine men are to be charged in connection with price-fixing in the generic drugs industry recalls Adam Smith's famous saying. "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." True in the 18th century, apparently no less true today.

j.warner@independent.co.uk

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