In a cheery opening to this week's column, here's a new SlackBelly feature examining the numbers that tend to get ignored within company annual reports, such as how many employees die while working at FTSE 100 companies each year.
I'll take it sector by sector – and this week it's the turn of the miners – but I'll be back to determine which company experiences the most workplace fatalities. According to information contained within their most recent annual reports (stock phrase: "we cannot say we are truly successful until we eliminate fatalities in our workplace") Fresnillo suffered no employee deaths, Rio Tinto one, Lonmin three, Randgold four and Barrick Gold four (although one of those poor souls died from a bee sting). Meanwhile, BHP Billiton and Antofagasta had five each, Xstrata nine, ENRC 12 and Anglo American 19, but even those numbers were trumped by Vedanta (no stranger to all kinds of controversies) which claimed 27 employee fatalities, plus another 40 contractors who perished when a 248 metre chimney under construction collapsed. Vedanta says: "We remain dedicated to observing and implementing the highest standards of safety at all our projects and operational sites and continue to strive to make the working environment as safe as possible for our employees and contractors". So that's all right, then.
Analysts' spat over the fate of M&S's shares
Marc Bolland, the hunky new boss of Marks & Spencer, presented his strategy for the retailer last week – to mixed reviews.
Simon Irwin, the retail analyst at Liberum, had already downgraded the shares to a Sell, which provoked a furious response – not from the company, but from rival analyst Nick Bubb at Arden.
His note on the topic employed the highly unusual tactic of heckling the opposition ("Liberum look to have got it wrong by cutting M&S to Sell", wrote Bubb) before going on to opine: "[M&S's] strategic review reads very well. Neutral recommendation (440p target) under review, pre the 9.15am meeting, as the shares should bounce on this".
Embarrassingly for Bubb, the shares have been falling since 10.30am that day, and closed the week at 393.2p. Who appears wrong now, Nick?
Embattled brokers find solace in tips for fine tipples
You just can't keep a man rapped over the knuckles by the Financial Services Authority down. Peter Shakeshaft is the former chief exec of Wills & Co stockbrokers, the disgraced investment firm that collapsed earlier this year after the FSA fined it for misleading clients purchasing high-risk shares.
Now he's back, this time as a director of a wine investment company called Vin-x, which Shakeshaft is running alongside fellow former Wills director, Darren Lansdown.
Lansdown's had a tough year too having been told by the regulator that his "conduct fell short of the FSA's prescribed regulatory standards for approved persons", but he's hitting the phones once more and calling former Wills punters to see if they fancy investing in a few bottles of Chateau Latour 1996 and Chateau Lafite 2006.
Lansdown reckons that the firm has yet to recommend a losing bet in its first six months in operation and adds: "This is not a regulated market and there are lots of rogues and sharks." Bottoms up!
Blogging is a funny old game
Tom Glocer, the chief exec of Reuters, has been away in South America visiting Brazil and Argentina. Can he resist employing a lame line on football when blogging about his trip? Of course he can't. "The quadrennial World Cup was played this year, so perhaps I could be excused for thinking it would not be an auspicious time for Argentine-Brazilian relations," he muses. "However, my experience this week in Buenos Aires and Sao Paulo belies that assumption ... There was a recognition that what is good for Brazil could also be very good for Argentina, through free trade, labour mobility and foreign investment. What a wonderful maturing in the bilateral relations of these perennial football rivals. But don't expect to see Diego Maradona replace Dunga any time soon".
Riveting stuff. But is that the same man who wrote last year: "The parallels between sport and business are overused to the point of being hackneyed"? Surely not.
Madoff's life of luxury goes under the hammer
I see that more belongings of Ponzi schemer, Bernie Madoff, are being auctioned off by US Marshalls, after a previous sale raised $1m.
The 400 lots include a 10.54-karat diamond engagement ring that once belonged to his missus, a 1917 Steinway grand piano and an array of sculptures including a bronze bull, miniature busts of Plato and Aristotle as well as a pair of marble lions (say what you want about Bernie, but boy did he have taste).
Still, my favourite lot is a pair of black velveteen slippers embroidered with Madoff's initials, in a style that one imagines would have pleased Noel Coward's dandified Mr Bridger, as he cruised through his own spell in prison during the Italian Job.
Such luxuries seem to have been denied to the fraudster, however. Is there no end to his punishment?