Anglo and A&L lead a busy list

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Today is shaping up to be almost as frantic as yesterday, news-wise, which is just how we like it.

Top of our list at the moment is Anglo American, which today reported record annual results and is returning $3bn to shareholders (slightly less than some had hoped). If there is a sentimental soul in the mining industry they might note that these are Tony Trahar’s last figures as chief executive before he hands over to Cynthia Carroll. More interesting is why so mining companies are returning so much cash to shareholders instead of investing it in production (viz BHP Billiton giving back $10bn).

Richard Pym, chief executive of Alliance & Leicester, has surprised us all by announcing he is quitting. He turns 58 this year and has been CEO for five years. It’s hard to think of any particular highlights. No timescale on his departure: headhunters are looking for a successor. How bosses pick their moment to leave was the subject of our discussion on Jeff Randall’s Weekend Business programme on Radio Five Live on Sunday. A&L today announced a 4 per cent rise in annual pre-tax profits but pleased investors by doubling its share buy-back programme in 2007 to £300m.

Apollo has confirmed our scoop this morning that it has put a £1bn bid proposal to Countrywide. We think shareholders aren’t biting though. Countrywide shares are down.

Peter Redfern, George Wimpey chief executive, is boldly calling the bottom of the US housing market. The UK-based housebuilder reported a 15 per cent fall in pre-tax profits after an exceptional charge of £60.7m on the write-down of US land.

At the much smaller end of the housebuilders, Paul Russell’s getting a bit intemperate isn’t he? He is the chief executive of a company called Ben Bailey and he’s having a go on the wires at my market report colleagues who wrote very presciently this morning that there was talk of a 750p a share bid for his company. “Nonsense”, he says. Only it wasn’t quite: he put out a statement this morning saying Ben Bailey is “considering its strategic options, which may or may not lead to the company seeking an offer..” Looks like Rob Orr and Neil Hume flushed out his plans. Quite rightly, they are having some fun at Russell’s expense on FT Alphaville.

Much more importantly, we’re keen, also, to do more today on BP, after Sheila McNulty’s story this morning that Exxon is supporting BP’s efforts to prevent Lord Browne having to give evidence on Friday in a civil lawsuit.

Rumours of the day: Neil Hume is picking up talk of stake-building in Debenhams. Baugur, of course, is being mentioned. Also Imperial Tobacco is up on yet more rumours of an Altria bid.

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