Staff exodus at tech investor

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The Independent Online

Durlacher, the investment boutique whose shares have tumbled 93 per cent since March, is facing the prospect of a staff exodus.

Durlacher, the investment boutique whose shares have tumbled 93 per cent since March, is facing the prospect of a staff exodus.

Many of its employees are understood to be considering their positions now that almost all their share options, which at one stage had made them millionaires, are under water. Already, three members of its investment banking team have joined West LB Panmure. Members of its corporate division are thought to be entertaining offers to jump ship from the many rival companies which have begun to circle the company.

Durlacher staff were set to become the main beneficiaries when the company's staggering share price performance culminated in March's peak of 447.5p. At one stage, Durlacher was worth almost £2bn as investors salivated over the value of the internet investments which have become its speciality under chairman and chief executive Geoffrey Chamberlain. Its successes included the emergence of Autonomy, the software group, and 365 Corporation, the internet company. Some of its involvements, for example with Net Imperative have proved less prosperous.

However, the stock market's change of sentiment towards the new economy precipitated a slide in Durlacher's share price. Last month the company was forced to raise £30m in the form of convertible debt financed by three institutions. But analysts took a dim view of the complicated terms of the deal, and the shares fell even further.

The sliding share price has meant that many of the instant millionaires in the Durlacher workforce have seen their potential windfalls disappear. The latest fall is thought to have rendered worthless almost all the options.

On Friday, they recovered from 26.5p to 31.5p amid speculation that Durlacher was again on the lookout for a European partner following the break-up of talks with German counterpart Value Management Research, whose backers include the Barclay Brothers. Several companies specialising in internet investment have been forced to seek recourse to mergers. Jellyworks tied up with investment boutique Shore Capital and, more recently, Internet Indirect joined forces with NewMedia Spark.

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