Outlook: Exchange must tighten rules

TWO MONTHS and a day after Imperial Chemical Industries was accused of issuing a profits warning to a chosen group of analysts, National Power is embroiled in a similar sort of row. A few days ago the electricity generator told a number of City experts that their forecasts for the company's international division were way off line and needed to come down sharply.

This inner circle also appears to have been advised to leave their overall forecasts for group profits unchanged, as the disappointment on overseas performance would be compensated for by better-than-expected UK results. Yesterday the company admitted to the briefings but vigorously denied, just like ICI, that the analysts had received price-sensitive information at the expense of the rest of the market - which would be in breach of Stock Exchange rules.

According to NatPower, it was approached with some wayward figures and simply offered some harmless "guidance". The fact that one of those brokers issued a strong "sell" note days after the chat and that the price has plunged 10 per cent since reports of the briefings first circulated, is nothing to do with us, the power group insists.

Oh really? The hollowness of these arguments is self-evident. If talking to just a few analysts in private about the state of your profits is not selectively-briefing, what is? The fact that the brokers approached the company, not vice versa, is immaterial. If NP had something to say to one broker about earnings, it should tell everybody else too.

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