Michael Harrison's Outlook: Today's success in attracting foreign listings could turn into tomorrow's disaster for LSE

Burt keeps the cast list long for ITV job; Royal Mail monopoly is still largely intact
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The Independent Online

A rather self-satisfied press release arrives from the London Stock Exchange trumpeting the fact that this is set to be a record year for initial public offerings. More money has already been raised in London than in the whole of 2000 when global stock markets were at the height of the dot.com boom.

It is not just UK companies such as Standard Life which are flocking to trade their shares on the LSE. Foreigners are arriving in their droves too, attracted no doubt by London's reputation as a cheap and super-efficient place to do business, not forgetting the language and the nightlife.

No mention of the fact that one of the main attractions of listing in London - and the reason it has become a more popular destination than New York - is the LSE's light regulatory touch and the absence of a draconian Sarbanes Oxley-style set of rules.

Of the £6.9bn raised on the main market last month, more than half was accounted for by just three international listings.

The biggest of these - and indeed the largest single capital raising in London this year - has been the flotation of the Russian oil company Rosneft. This is a listing which we have consistently argued should not have been allowed to take place on the grounds that its main asset was stolen from another set of shareholders.

It is no accident that Rosneft floated here - it would not have been able to list its shares in New York. You can argue that the reporting and disclosure requirements demanded by the US authorities, and the criminal penalties that go with failure to comply, have become too onerous. But, equally, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction on this side of the Atlantic.

The complacent attitude of the LSE and the Financial Services Authority is summed up by their caveat emptor approach to companies wishing to list here. The LSE has become a soft touch for any foreign company seeking a brass plate, access to capital and the kudos of a listing one of the world's two most important markets.

It may make the LSE's numbers look good and bring a warm glow to the cheeks of Clara Furse. It may even help the LSE believe in the fiction that its future is best left as an independent stock exchange when all around the industry is consolidating.

But ultimately, there must be a reckoning. The very success that the LSE boasts of today threatens to undermine its standing tomorrow.

Burt keeps the cast list long for ITV job

To listen to the ITV chairman Sir Peter Burt, the only person who will definitely not be offered the soon-to-be-vacant chief executive's job is James Murdoch. Otherwise, he says the field of candidates to replace Charles Allen is wide open. It could be a media luvvy drawn from within the incestuous world of broadcasting. Even Greg Dyke has not been ruled out. Equally, it could be someone with no experience of programming or television generally, but with a brilliant business brain. In an ideal world, he says, he would appoint someone who fits both categories, but there aren't too many Michael Grades in this world.

On the basis that the chairman of the BBC is unavailable and the chief executive of Sky unattainable that gives ITV's headhunters two fewer numbers to call. But the brief remains a dauntingly wide one, which is why is could be many months before a successor is in place.

Sir Peter is probably right to take his time. The appointment of any chief executive is critical but this is one that ITV, in its enfeebled state, absolutely cannot afford to get wrong.

Insofar as Sir Peter was dropping any hints at all, he seems to believe that ITV's failing under Mr Allen was not so much one of programming - though that fell short of the standard required - as one of marketing. That would suggest Mike Clasper is in with a chance should he choose to throw his hat in the ring. He has three things going for him: first he is on the board of ITV; second he is available, having quit BAA following its sale to Ferrovial; third, he has a wealth of commercial and marketing experience garnered during his years with Procter & Gamble.

Sir Peter says he is not going to do the headhunter's job for them and find his own chief executive. But how ironic it would be if the successful candidate turns out to have been under his nose all the time.

Royal Mail monopoly is still largely intact

The Royal Mail's 350-year-old monopoly ended only seven months ago and yet the postal regulator is already wondering what more can be done to open up the market. Today Postcomm is launching a consultation exercise which promises to ask the fundamental questions.

Before Allan Leighton gets carried away, the one question this strategic review will not be posing is whether Royal Mail should be privatised, or even whether its chairman should be allowed to gift 20 per cent of the business to his workforce.

Rather, the exercise is concerned with how competition can be encouraged and whether the Royal Mail should be less constrained in what it can and cannot do.

Answers on a postcard to Nigel Stapleton, the chairman of Postcomm. Unfortunately, you will still have to send it by Royal Mail because four years after the regulator began to nibble away at the monopoly by freeing up bulk mail to competition it still has 96 per cent of the market.

Central to the review is the future of the Royal Mail's one-price-goes-anywhere guarantee. That it will remain in place is not in doubt. The question is in what form. Currently, the universal service, as it is known, covers about three-quarters of everything sent through the post. Should it be narrowed or should it be made still wider?

The Royal Mail likes to refer to it as an "obligation" as if it were a costly burden to be forced to deliver to every address in the country for the same price. In truth, it is the marketing tool to die for. The mere existence of it is what persuades us to entrust 80 million items each day to the tender mercies of the Royal Mail.

But in an age of almost universal e-mail, is it any longer necessary to have a universal service obligation which covers quite so much of the market? The countervailing argument for widening it is that the broadband revolution has also meant a huge shift towards online shopping. Those goods have to be delivered somehow and a one-price-fits-all mail service seems as effective a mechanism as any.

In between chewing over this, Postcomm will also be canvassing views on whether Royal Mail deserves to be split in two so that its trunk network is distinct from its "last mile" delivery network of 160,000 postmen and women.

The radical solution would be to break it up, much as BT has been divided into an infrastructure company and a retail business. That, apparently, would require primary legislation, even if the two halves remained under the ownership of Royal Mail.

Given the glacial pace at which Royal Mail's 100 per cent shareholder is moving on Mr Leighton's employee share ownership plan, which also requires parliamentary approval, don't bet on anything happening quickly.