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John Whittaker is into property. More to the point, he’s into Intu Properties, the teeth-grinding new name for the previously sensible Capital Shopping Centres. Now you can go Intu Lakeside or Trafford shopping centre (geddit?). A bargain, you may say, for a mere £7m in rebranding.
The sudden desire to be better known by the customers has done nothing for the share price, and Mr Whittaker has noticed. Already the largest shareholder, he has been buying more. Only last week he invested another £640,000, to take his purchases to 18m shares in three weeks. Added to the slug he bought in a “cash box” fundraising last month, he now speaks for 24 per cent of the equity, including his holding in the convertible. With Intu shares at 330p, that’s worth £750m.
Even for Mr Whittaker, ranked the UK’s 28th richest man, that is serious money. And his privately owned Peel Holdings, a demonstration of how far the Manchester Ship Canal can take you, is hardly sitting there collecting the rents. Having bought Pinewood Studios and housed the BBC in Salford, Peel now wants to reshape Liverpool’s waterfront. So Mr Whittaker’s persistent purchases of Intu shares signal that he sees prospects there too.
Peel describes itself as a long-term investor and developer, and one day Mr Whittaker might decide to merge the arms of his empire. One day. Just don’t expect anything soon. Intu’s COO, Mike Butterworth, has also been buying shares, on a rather more modest scale, but he couldn’t do that if there was even the sniff of talks. Still, if as skilled an operator with as much at stake as Mr Whittaker thinks Intu shares are cheap, long-term investors might consider joining him, in spite of that silly name.
That’s Ed Davey, the green-tinged energy secretary, not-quite-pledging that Britain won’t run out of gas even if spring is cancelled this year. We shouldn’t be “in the slightest” bit worried. He’s probably right. Paying the bill is another matter. That’s going to get harder, as the subsidies poured into renewables add an anticipated £150 a year to domestic fuel bills.
But is Mr Davey downhearted? Goodness, no. He says fuel prices will rise, but then argues that this will encourage us to chuck out our old washing machines and boilers for the latest uber-efficient replacements and, hey presto! the fuel use comes down, bringing the bill with it. Never mind that electricity costs for industry, which is supposed to be “rebalancing” the British economy towards exports, are expected to rise 68 per cent by 2030, just think how green we’ll all be.
Mr Davey might reflect that forecasting is always difficult, especially for the future. We are understandably reluctant to chuck out a working boiler for some high-tech model that requires constant attention before expiring after less than a decade. Besides, those gloomsters who have made careers out of projecting ever-rising oil prices have frequently been disappointed.
Now comes a study from Citigroup that says peak oil is nigh – that’s not peak production, but peak consumption, thanks largely to rising efficiency in that old workhorse, the internal combustion engine. That, and the well-aired story of shale gas, makes Mr Davey’s confident predictions a good deal less than convincing. It’s another reason to apply common sense when politicians do not: run that appliance until it falls apart and don’t kid yourself that fuel savings will cover the depreciation cost of a new one.
They didn’t much like him as chief executive of Barclays, nor at the Vickers commission, but now the bankers will have to deal with Martin Taylor on the new Financial Policy Committee. They won’t like him focusing his scarily-sharp mind on their banking bluster. The FPC is charged with “identifying, monitoring and taking action to remove or reduce systemic risks to the stability of the financial system” (and this week it put the cost of fixing British banks at £25bn). Fortunately for the bankers, the other new appointments are Clara Furse, whose stint as a non-executive director at the ill-starred Fortis seems to have been forgotten, and Richard Sharp, 23 years at Goldman Sachs. Mr Taylor may find himself outnumbered (again).
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