People & Business: Blame it all on Aston Villa

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The Independent Online
MERVYN KING, deputy governor of the Bank of England, is convinced that the UK economy's fate is closely linked tothat of his football club, Aston Villa.

Mr King said in August that the chances of Britain going into a recession were about one in eight. The Independent subsequently noted that this was not as comforting as it sounded. The odds of Villa winning the Premiership were over 30 to one, after all, but they still might do it.

Now Villa ride high at the top of the Premiership. Yesterday Mr King admitted that the chances of a recession have shortened to about one in four since August, and are now "about the same as Aston Villa's chances of winning the Premiership".

It looks as if only Manchester United can save us from recession. Come on United.

A SECRETIVE, privately owned Spanish retail chain is to take on Britain's low-cost fashion outlets such as Top Shop and Miss Selfridge. The first outlet of "Zara" will open in Regent Street, London, next Thursday. But there will be no advertising or promotions by the group, which has a turnover of $2bn from its Spanish, French and American stores.

So secretive is Zara, in fact, that its founder and controller, Amancio Ortega, has not been seen in public for 25 years.

RENTOKIL INITIAL has joined forces with a couple of Iraqi-born property developers and an AIM-listed company run by Walter Goldsmith, ex-director general of the Institute of Directors, to form a property management joint venture.

The alliance is the brainchild of the property gurus Robert and Vincent Tchenguiz, who own and run the private Rotch Properties Group, inherited from their father and currently worth nearly pounds 1bn.

Rotch will provide the capital for the financial services part of the group. The idea is to offer an integrated property and financial service to big companies and the public sector. The property side will be handled by WML Group, headed by Walter Goldsmith, who is also chairman of Flying Flowers.

The Rotch group owns 41.2 per cent of WML, which has been active on the takeover scene since being reintroduced on to AIM last March following its acquisition of the architects Whinney Mackay-Lewis. A month ago WML acquired an option to buy RC (Holdings), Britain's second largest manager of retirement homes.

The Rotch brothers plan to use Robert Fleming to securitise their property holdings within the next 12 months via a bond issue whenever the portfolio reaches the pounds 1bn mark.

HSBC Investment Bank has recruited Sir John Carter to advise the board on its insurance business, following his retirement as chief executive of Commercial Union. Sir John helped steer CU through its merger with General Accident to form CGU.

PETER MANDELSON, the Trade and Industry Secretary, has taken to praising the American system of company rescues, which makes it easier to revive failed businesses, he claims, and does less to stigmatise failure. He must be delighted therefore by the story of European Binders, a maker of magazine and book binders based in Wigan, which went insolvent three years ago but is now on the way back.

Mr Mandelson's subordinate, Ian McCartney, Minister for Competitiveness, opened a new factory for European Bindings this month, crowning a remarkable rescue organised by the insolvency practitioner David Mond, a senior partner of Hodgsons, chartered accountants.

Since being put into a "company voluntary arrangement" (CVA) in 1995, the firm has actually grown from 17 to 100 employees, and Mr Mond says creditors are on course to get all their money back next year - despite a recent fire at the premises.

Mr Mond reckons British banks are unhelpful when it comes to business rescues, and prefers the US system, where the directors of troubled businesses stay in control, instead of the banks sending their own men in. He adds: "Mr Mandelson recognises that now." At least the Trade Secretary has one fan.