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
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Content Writer - Global Financial Services

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: From modest beginnings the comp...

Recruitment Genius: Field Sales Consultant - Financial Services - OTE £65,000

£15000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Underwriter

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory