Mark Leftly: Seven reasons to be cheerful, plus Asil Nadir for fun
Just don't worry about the FTSE 100 or talk of double-dip recession – the good times are back
Sunday 29 August 2010
Don't panic. Fears that the US might fall back into recession pushed the FTSE 100 to a seven-week low on Wednesday, but City bigwigs can return from their August holidays at their most optimistic since the pre-credit crunch days of 2006.
Even forgetting that low trading exaggerated the FTSE fall and ignoring the encouraging economic growth data from the Office for National Statistics on Friday, there is compelling anecdotal evidence that the Square Mile is in a confident mood. Here are seven reasons why.
One: M&A mania. BHP's $39bn (£25bn) offer for the extravagantly named Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan is only likely to get higher, while China's growing interest could set up a major takeover battle. Plenty of other deals are in the pipeline and bankers will be licking their lips at the possibility of RSA returning with an improved offer for the best bits of Aviva's general insurance business.
Two: sovereign saviours. Ever since the credit crunch, industries from property to power have been holding out for sovereign wealth fund (SWF) money. They have been disappointed – until now. The $112bn Malaysian Employees Provident fund is scouring Europe for assets and Norway's SWF is about to embark on a shopping spree of London's office landmarks.
Three: dividend dough. Most firms that reported in last week's results bonanza increased their dividend payments to investors. More good news is likely to follow this week.
Four: proper politics. The drawn-out Labour leadership election enters its final month. With the LibDems sacrificing principles for power there has been an opposition vacuum that one of the Miliband brothers will finally fill at the end of next month. Spending cuts were needed, but they are dangerously severe and every government needs a strong opponent to pick holes in even the most well-considered of plans.
Five: lucrative listings. There are some big London share offers in the works. Glencore, the commodities trader, has announced plans to spin off its $5bn gold business and banks are close to being picked for the 2011 flotation of the whole group. Morgan Stanley, Credit Suisse, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and Citi might all win juicy advisory roles some time next month. North Sea oil group Fairfield and Madame Tussauds owner Merlin Entertainments could revisit flotation plans.
Six: inspiring ideas. The New City Initiative's proposal for regulations to force advisers to disclose whether or not they are investing in assets beside their clients is being taken seriously by the coalition. The City has taken a battering, but is coming back with ideas like these that are demanding – and getting – respect.
Seven: Polly Peck palaver. Asil Nadir, the tycoon who fled to northern Cyprus when his Polly Peck empire failed in1990, is back in the UK, trying to clear his name in court. He's wearing an electronic tag. That has nothing to do with City optimism, but it entertains the hell out of me.
After three long years, it might be time to turn that frown upside down.
Fears of tears? London may miss out on 2012 Olympics
Paula Radcliffe's tears flowed after she missed out on the Olympic crown in Beijing, four years after spectacularly failing in Athens. Remarkably, Radcliffe is likely to have a final run for gold in 2012 at the grand old age of 39.
London itself, though, gets only one crack at Olympic glory, and there is a growing feeling in the City that 2012 will be a golden opportunity missed. Grant Hearn of hotel group Travelodge says there is "no real plan to make the most of the commercial benefits that the Games can offer tourism". He should have gone further: unless there is sufficient buzz around the Games, people will not get behind British athletes and that will hurt UK plc. Besides hotel chains, firms to miss out include pub groups, which will be hoping for beer-guzzling supporters cheering on British medallists, and housebuilders, that want to snaffle buyers keen to live near a historic event.
Few will shed tears for the City failing to make some coin. But it doesn't help anyone if the country's employers don't make money out of a golden opportunity.
Svanberg must take the risk: Goodyear is too good not to be on BP's board
Carl-Henric Svanberg has one hell of a dilemma: keep his job or hire the best. The BP chairman was criticised, not least in this column, for his handling of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, and particularly for appearing to fail his embattled chief executive, Tony Hayward. Now, as head of BP's nominations committee, Svanberg must choose two new non-executive directors, and his choice will be telling.
The best businessman on the market is arguably London-based Yank Charles "Chip" Goodyear, the successful former head of BHP Billiton, which he turned into the world's biggest mining company.
Goodyear is looking for executive work. As a geologist, it would be hard for him to resist a plum job at BP. Svanberg's problem is that everyone will believe that Goodyear was being groomed for the chairmanship. And most would think that, despite his unceremonious departure from Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings last year, Goodyear would make a better chairman that Svanberg.
Goodyear is ambitious. He rebuffed approaches last year from Russian steel group Metalloinvest to take over ahead of a potential London flotation. Spin doctors denied this, but sources close to the company and the American have repeatedly confirmed that he wanted to be at a group with a truly international reach.
So, Goodyear ticks all BP's boxes: hugely successful, respected businessman; available; experience of running a group that geographical resembles an empire more than a company; hungry for an important job. He has to be approached.
Svanberg might be able to argue that it is inappropriate to have two miners on the non-executive board: Anglo American boss Cynthia Carroll is already a non-exec at BP.
Svanberg could add that the resulting speculation over the chairmanship would be divisive. But, if he is still the canny character who led telecoms giant Ericsson so well for six years, he'll take the risk and ask Goodyear to come to the table.
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