James Moore: M&S might benefit from time out of the spotlight – a Qatari holiday, perhaps

Outlook. Plus: Thanks to Lamprell, things are looking fine; Another skeleton at the back of HSBC's closet?

The Qataris are coming, the Qataris are coming! The prospect of the Gulf state's sovereign wealth fund leading a consortium to take the retailer-cum-national institution that is M&S private had investors queueing up to buy the shares. M&S hasn't been this exciting since a pregnant Myleene Klass emerged from the waves in a white bikini, which then flew off the shelves faster than yesterday's denials.

Those denials, which were somewhat muted because nothing was said officially, didn't convince the stock market: the company's shares were still just as fashionable as Myleene's bikini once was.

Whether the buyers' faith that the business is in play will prove justified remains to be seen. This could well end up as the same sort of false dawn as the small pieces of fabric that made up that famous swimwear: another brief moment during which the company threatened to matter.

That could be a shame, because the Qataris might be good for what ails the retailer

The good shop M&S's status as a near national treasure is a terrible millstone that has defeated most of the managers who have sailed in her, although they've largely enjoyed the trip, given what the company's shareholders have had to pay up to get them on board.

It's hardly a surprise. While others can get away with the odd disappointment – even several of them – if an M&S trading update suggests the shops having picked up a sniffle it's pounced upon by the City and the media, and by the end of the day the company will be said to be suffering from financial 'flu.

The same goes for each and every fashion collection.

All that expectation seems to weigh heavily on its top team, stifling creativity and relieving them of the ability to conjure up the X factor that helps other retailers (hello Next) to fly.

M&S is debated, discussed, digested, and then debated some more by people who might love its food and will regularly take advantage of one of its dine-in-for-a-tenner (or whatever) promotions without ever thinking of crossing the floor to where the womenswear – by which it will always be judged – can be found.

A time spent in private ownership – where the scrutiny will be less intense and the company won't be under an obligation to admit to snafus like last year's failure to order enough woolies when the weather was bad – might benefit M&S.

There would be opportunities to try things out and, yes, fail a few times, under a less blinding spotlight. Who knows, the company might even come up with a few more fireworks like those created by that bikini which, incredibly, hit the shelves and the headlines five years ago.

This is a company that needs a reboot; that needs to be able to say "this isn't the M&S your parents knew" and have the clothes to prove it; to get those food customers on to its escalators.

For the moment, it seems, the Qataris are staying in the desert. But yesterday's flurry of interest suggests that the doors to M&S's stores could be open to them.

Thanks to Lamprell, things are looking fine

Forget the unseasonal chill, March has been a fine month in the City without a single penalty being levied by the Financial Services Authority. Until now.

Not many people will have heard of Lamprell – an engineering firm which operates in the oil and gas sector (it helps build rigs). But what made the company relevant yesterday was that it became the first to be fined for a listing rule breach under the City watchdog's new regime.

As is too often the case, Lamprell found itself in a spot of bother, with rising costs and various other operational issues messing up its numbers, early in 2012. The trouble is, it wasn't until the middle of May that it 'fessed up and issued a profit warning (there were subsequently four more). In that time knowledge of the problems was seeping out and employees were able to deal in the shares (although the FSA didn't find evidence of insider dealing).

The £2.4m penalty is the biggest yet for this type of offence, dwarfing those issued to Photo-Me (£500,000) and JJB Sports (£455,000).

Rather than pulling a figure out of the air, it was settled upon by using a formula linked to the company's market value. That makes appealing against a fine's quantum that bit harder.

Companies that behave like Lamprell in future will have to take their medicine, however unpleasant the taste. The formula also means a much bigger dose, although British companies that fall afoul of watchdogs will – if they take a look across the Atlantic – still feel like they're getting a spoon full of sugar to make it go down.

Let's face it, UK fines might be getting bigger but they are still dwarfed by the penalties imposed in the US, as the hedge fund "titan" Stephen Cohen can testify. His firm is having to shell out $615.7m (£408m) to settle charges that it improperly traded in two stocks.

Another skeleton at the back of HSBC's closet?

It seems that the world's local regulators are falling over each other to get a piece of the world's local bank. After the US fined HSBC £1.2bn, the Argentines want a piece of the pie. Their tax agency says it has uncovered 392m pesos (£50m) of allegedly fraudulent transactions and has called for an investigation into the possibility of tax evasion and money laundering. That may not be the end of it.

It all casts a decidedly unflattering light on previous generations of managers – managers who were held up as uniquely talented individuals that rivals were queuing up to poach at bonus time. The same arguments that are used to enrich the current generation of executives, it should be noted.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Services - City, London

£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions