Standard Life in the public gaze

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It is hardly the perfect start to life as public company. Less than three months after floating, Standard Life’s finance director is leaving (no reason given), investors have grown concerned about the jostling to succeed chief executive Sandy Crombie – and today the company publishes first-half operating profits that are below analysts’ expectations. Being a public company for Standard Life seems to be every bit as painful as becoming one. It seems, at the very least, to be having difficulty getting used to communicating with the outside world. There is some good news in today’s figures (on Sipps, for example), but the life assurer has had to make a £100m provision for customers cashing in or transferring their policies. It says it remains on track to meet its targets. The stock was off 2 per cent at first but has since recovered a bit and remains above the 230p issue price.

Disappointing news also from Compass. The caterer’s shares are off 2 per cent on a warning that it expects lower revenue growth in the short term. Brace yourselves for plenty of bad news from this company for a bit, while the new, highly competent, management sorts through the mess it has inherited. “As we strengthen our financial and operational disciplines and address lower margin contracts, we continue to expect to see a lower level of overall revenue growth in the near term,” the company says.

Lloyd’s first-half profits are down slightly as a result of lower returns on its investments but the good news is that underwriting income is up strongly.

Aer Lingus shares have been priced to go. At €2.20, the shares are near the bottom of the expected range. Full details from Kevin Done, our aerospace correspondent, on FT.com. If you missed it, see Joanna Chung and Chris Hughes’s excellent piece on the IPO pipeline in this morning’s paper. Also, Andrew Hill in Lombard was highly sceptical about the reasons given for Hogg Robinson’s decision to pull its float and raised the possibility that some fault at least may lie with the competitive IPO process. We might return to this theme today.

Sportingbet’s finance director Andy McIver is working on the assumption that the US state of Louisiana has a warrant out for his arrest on online gambling charges, he says in an interview with Reuters. This follows Andrew Ward’s story on our front page this morning that Louisiana police have four arrest warrants for individuals associated with Sportingbet. The police also warned all online gambling companies to stop accepting bets in the state or risk having their executives and directors arrested if they visit the US. Read Andrew’s news story and the full interview with Captain Joe Lentini, head of the casino section of Louisiana’s Police Gaming Enforcement division, on FT.com.

Hanson’s house broker, ABN Amro, has published a research note on the company which can be read either as a sale memorandum or a defence document. The fact that shares in the building materials group have been set alight by takeover speculation recently is pure coincidence, I’m sure. It begins: “Hanson is the last of its kind – a UK listed materials stock with global leadership.” It goes on, over 60 pages, to explain why there is “nearly 60 per cent upside” in the stock.

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