The City Diary

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The Independent Online


Un petit 2% price rise? What big teeth you've got, Monsieur Energy Regulator

Amid all the fuss about proposed windfall taxes, here's a mystery. EDF has, as we know, whacked up UK energy prices by a sensational amount. But in France, EDF's homeland, the rise in electricity prices announced last week by chief executive Vincent de Rivaz, right, was tiny: up 2 per cent. At the same time, Gaz de France put up its prices by a mere 5 per cent. Electricity in France is partly so cheap because 80 per cent of it comes from the nuclear sector. But why is the gas rise barely above inflation, especially as the country has virtually no gas or oil of its own? Yet we have the North Sea. Could it have something to do with the French energy regulator, which has to approve all proposed rises by law? And why can't our own Ofgem have such teeth?

Batman to the rescue

Holy plastic building blocks! Is there anything the caped crusader can't do? In the same week that his latest film, 'The Dark Knight', hit the all-time Number Two (behind 'Titanic' but ahead of 'Star Wars') at the box office, Batman and his arch-enemy, the Joker, right, are cited by Lego as one of the reasons for its salvation. The Danish company almost went bust four years ago, but sales of special superhero-themed kits have allowed it to announce projected growth of 12 per cent this year. One kids' favourite saves another.

Henpecked husbands keep estate agents afloat

What's keeping the property market from sinking without trace? Research from Fool.co.uk reveals that it's the influence of women, with eight out of 10 surveyed saying that they would consider buying a property at the moment. In contrast, a third of blokes are reluctant to act, put off by a market that has dived by more than 10 per cent in the past year. However, Scottish and Welsh males are perhaps more sanguine about the prospects for property. Seven out of eight Scotsmen and eight out of 10 Welshmen think that market conditions are irrelevant. Or maybe their wives just tell them so.

Is Mipim madness checking out of its hotel?

The commercial real estate industry must be quaking in its boots at this snippet in 'Property Week', the trade title. Hotel Martinez, the spiritual home of Mipim, the industry's annual knees-up in Cannes, has been put up for sale by private equity owner Starwood Capital for €450m. The official Mipim message board buzzed for weeks before and after the four day conference in April, with queries about submarine moorings and one lost D&G shoe. Surely, the new owner won't put an end to all that fun?

Turks not welcome in Austrian airspace

Is this another sign of the crisis in the air industry, after the collapse of Zoom? The Austrian government wants to flog off its 43 per cent holding in Austrian Airlines, which is plunging into the red this trading year. Several companies have already expressed an interest but the favourite is the German carrier Lufthansa, which already shares reservation and loyalty schemes with the Austrians. One of the other interested companies is Turkish Airlines which, given Austrian public sentiment about the Turks – 95 per cent are opposed to their EU entry – clearly hasn't a hope in hell of getting its bid off the ground.

Directors' freebies bunkered

Company directors, you have been warned! You have one month left to enjoy long lunches, days away on the golf course and the occasional freebie. Under changes to the Companies Act to be ushered in on 1 October, directors will have to seek shareholder approval before they can take a hospitality day or two. Failure to do so could land a director in jail. Companies have been urged to review their internal policies relating to gifts and corporate hospitality.

Carpathian quick to ditch Dawnay Day

It seems that Carpathian, the central and eastern Europe retail property investor, can't escape its past fast enough. That past was its association with Dawnay Day, the failed £2bn property conglomerate that called in the administrators in July after becoming another casualty of the credit crunch. Last week, Carpathian removed Dawnay Day from its name. Its chairman, Rupert Cottrell, says he has drawn up shortlists for two new directors, including a chartered accountant to chair the audit committee. He also has plans to promote the company from the AIM market to the main list by the end of the year. Numis Securities will advise.

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