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We have lots more meaty news on the credit squeeze today but don’t be fooled by the 14 per cent rise in Alliance & Leicester shares earlier this morning. This has more to do with the fact that this stock was one of the most heavily shorted in the FTSE 100 than any good news today from the bank, which brought forward its trading update.
Sure, the bank’s impairment charges were lower than some expected, and there is a rumour, which we’re checking, that A&L has secured a £4bn financing package from Credit Suisse. But a quick reading of the A&L statement suggests one line in particular is worth dwelling on: “In 2008, we expect our asset growth to be primarily funded through higher customer deposit balances.” Translated, this means much lower growth next year.
Bradford & Bingley saw its shares rise 2 per cent higher as it too reassured investors with a pre-close trading update.
Quite separately, stand by for more news later on Northern Rock and how the other potential bidders are getting on.
Meanwhile, evidence that the credit squeeze is hitting the real world continues to mount with Nationwide saying UK house prices fell at their fastest monthly rate since 1995 in November. Also, FKI, the engineer, says the credit squeeze means it’s having a hard time selling under-performing businesses.
Similarly bad news from Kingfisher, whose attempts to revive B&Q seems to be floundering in the UK, even if its French operations are improving.
Gloomy stuff, too, from pubs group Mitchells & Butlers, which said: “The outlook for consumer spending remains uncertain and the first winter of the English smoking ban will be challenging.” Profits were hit hard by the rising cost of the hedge set up in the summer in connection with a jv planned with Robert Tchenguiz. M&B and Tchenguiz seem to have revived an earlier plan to move property and debts into a separate Reit. As Jim Pickard, our property expert, writes this morning, that looks brave, when you consider how Reits have performed this year.
We will, of course, do more today on the NatWest Three pleading guilty to a single charge of wire fraud as part of a deal with US prosecutors aimed at drastically reducing their expected prison terms and accelerating their return to the UK. We’ll tell you a bit about what they can expect (it isn’t nice). Check out the great and the good who came out in support for them in the Telegraph.
We might have a bit of fun with a financial scoop buried in Richard Kay’s column in today’s Daily Mail. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson is apparently floating her Three’s A Crowd events business on Plus Markets. As an outside investor, you’d have to be a bit worried. Lovely as she is, Tara can be a bit vague about money, as she revealed in an interview earlier this year with the Sunday Times Money section.
In it, she said she had some of her money at Kleinwort Benson but was unclear about exactly how much – ”probably a few million”. She didn’t ”have a clue” about how it was invested – ”I think most of my investments are in safe funds”, she said. What the Sunday Times didn’t say was that finding out should have been easy enough: her very down-to-earth older brother, James, is head of portfolio management at the private bank.
Also farwell to Peter Erskine, who is stepping down as chief executive of O2 Europe, part of Telefónica. Interestingly, Matthew Key, head of O2 UK and the man who brokered the company’s iPhone deal with Apple, steps up to replace him.
Finally, a round of applause for Phil Stafford, who was named technology journalist of the year by TechMark last night. He is, quite rightly, delighted but says he got a swift reality check when he opened the door at home to the words: ”Hold her please, her nappy needs changing.”