Is Major in a fix over mortgages?

CITY DIARY
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Peels of laughter have been echoing around certain building society corridors.The lenders believe that John Major could still be locked into a fixed rate mortgage at around 9.25 per cent, costing him hundreds of pounds a month. Some are even suggesting that the Prime Minister's alleged dilemma might offer the perfect advertising opportunity. "If it's good enough for him, its good enough for the public,'' guffawed one.

Mr Major was accused of fixing his mortgage by Bryan Gould at the 1992 Labour Party Conference - shortly before the sterling crisis and the 15 per cent emergency rates announced by Norman Lamont. "So much for his confidence in his economic policies,'' Mr Gould told the delegates.

Quite who sold the Prime Minister the deal is not known. But some point accusingly to Mr Major's resounding endorsement of the Skipton Building Society during Prime Minister's question time in the summer. Mr Major, defending the withdrawal of state support for unemployed home-owners, lauded the society's unemployment package

"We can't possibly comment,'' said Number 10.

A bid for Schroders from National Westminster Bank might well drive Philip Augar to drink. NatWest's former equities and capital markets man has only recently left for Schroders in order to develop its securities side. Unfortunately, he remains hamstrung while the merchant bank agonises over its strategic review of the business, which is not expected to be completed before Christmas - unless, of course, it is cut short by a bid from NatWest.

If you happen to be suffering from a chronic bout of indigestion, or any other duodenal dilemma, you could do worse than pop along to the Singer & Friedlander investor show at London's Barbican Centre next Thursday.

It features displays from 45 smaller companies, with a combined capitalisation of pounds 1bn. Some quoted, some not, they will all be hoping to catch the eye of over 500 institutions and analysts. Some cannot possibly fail.

Cortecs International, a pounds 110m pharmaceuticals company, will be offering visitors on-the-spot tests for ulcerous conditions. "It is a rapid test for helicobacter pylori, one of the main causes of stomach ulcers,'' explains John Breckon, the show's organiser. "It is not physically painful. But if a fund manager thinks he is hale and hearty it could ruin his day.''

One demonstration will not be going ahead though. Toad, a hi-tech car security company, was to have triggered its new alarm which explodes smoke inside a car when a thief gets in. Deeming it to be a fire hazard, Barbican fire marshals have insisted on a less incandescent display.

The real reason for the merger of Lloyds Bank and the TSB can be revealed at last. The combined bank will now comfortably outvote Standard Chartered on the steering committee of banks trying to recover squillions from the financially challenged leisure group, Brent Walker.

George Walker's old empire has been in the intensive care unit for years, kept alive only by a steady cash infusion from its lenders. A massive pounds 1.6bn refinancing package left Standard Chartered, TSB, Lloyds and Credit Suisse with huge exposures, which they are desperately hoping to reduce when the William Hill subsidiary is finally floated.

We may just have witnessed a critical shift of power.

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