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Hands under fire for last-minute move

THE LAST MINUTE decision to pull the William Hill float has heightened Nomura's disarray following a series of embarrassing setbacks and raises the question of how long it will be able to give its support to Guy Hands.

City sources say that Mr Hands was in a hurry to sell William Hill because he had orders from head office in Tokyo to get the business off Nomura's books by 31 March, the first year end. Nomura denied this yesterday. Sources close to the company said: "There was no pressure from Tokyo to do the deal."

By dint of being one of the few managers in the business making serious money last year, Mr Hands has succeeded in largely insulating his principal finance group from the 20 per cent jobs cull triggered at the Japanese securities house by last year's huge Russian bond losses.

However, insiders say that support for Mr Hands from Tokyo may be starting to ebb as the result of a bitter power struggle raging internally, which is undermining the authority of the Nomura chief executive, Junichi Ujiie, following the 207bn yen of losses sustained by the firm's overseas businesses in the first half of last year.

Mr Ujiie, they say, is losing the battle to maintain Nomura's position as a force in world securities markets, in favour of those within the firm who believe that having been badly stung in the US mortgage-backed securities market, and in Russia last year, it is time for the firm to retrench and concentrate on salvaging what it can at home.

Insiders say that Tokyo last year vetoed a plan by Mr Hands to raise his own pot of money from institutions to fund his deals without recourse to Nomura. Head office has also recently cut back the capital it is making available to fund Mr Hands' activities, according to sources.

The loss last week of the London-based economics team headed by Bronwyn Curtis is seen by some as a clear sign that even those who are making money for the firm are no longer safe from the internal politics.

One insider said: "The firm is in disarray, they are frightened people and companies run by frightened people do some odd things."

Last week Mr Ujiie's position was further undermined by news that Japan's financial services authority had begun investigating events last year at Nomura's US operations.

Although Mr Hands has always insisted that the activities of his principal finance group have nothing in common with the activities of the US business in the American mortgage-backed market, for those running the firm in Japan such subtleties are often easy to miss.

Yesterday, as the controversy raged, Mr Hands was in Barbados on holiday and out of reach.