Lloyd's offers cash to backers

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The Independent Online

Plans to bolster the financial position of the Lloyd's of London insurance market are to include a cash sweetener to encourage the market's backers to meet the losses of those names who are defaulting on their debts, according to Lloyd's sources.

The sweetener will be in the form of the early release of profits earned during 1995. Under Lloyd's current rules these profits would not be distributed for three years.

Names continuing to trade at Lloyd's and the new corporate capital backers are to be asked to pay in to the market substantial extra cash over and above the £1.5bn loss expected to be announced in two weeks.

The extra cash call, known as a levy, will be for £600m, according to some reports yesterday. The money is needed because up to 9,000 names are unable or unwilling to meet their share of the £8bn losses reported in the past four years.

The debts of these names are running at £1.6bn. Lloyd's has denied suggestions that it will need financial support from the Bank of England to keep it going.

However, the plan to release profits early could be dashed by European insurance law. A previous move in this direction was halted in December after the market was told by the Department of Trade and Industry that its plans fell foul of the rules.

At the time the market said it might take two years before the European rules could be changed. It is not clear why the market thinks it can get around the rules now.

A spokesman for Lloyd's refused to comment on the plan to bring forward profits. He said: "The chairman has referred to the re-examination of the whole programme of change initiated by the business plan. The annual general meeting would be a suitable occasion to report progress."

There is to be another meeting of the market's ruling council on 16 May, the fourth in little over a month, where it is expected that the final decision on the rescue plan will be made.

As well as refinancing and restructuring the market, Lloyd's is expected to try to resolve all the outstanding litigation.

Christopher Stockwell, chairman of the Lloyd's Names Associations Working Party, said: "Names will welcome any proposals that look as if they have a chance of bringing a desirable outcome. I hope they can do it as speedily as the urgent situation requires."