Arun Sarin strengthens his hand

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Vodafone may have reported a £3.3bn first-half loss this morning after a £3.9bn profit last time but its figures were better than most had expected. The loss was mainly the result of an £8.1bn impairment charge related to goodwill on its German and Italian operations. More pleasing was the 3 per cent rise in ebitda to £6.24bn, compared with forecasts of £5.98bn-£6.19bn. Also, the interest charges and tax bills were lower than expected. CEO Arun Sarin says he is “highly unlikely” to sell Vodafone’s 44 per cent stake in SFR, the French mobile operator, although his stake in Swisscom Mobile is for sale. As even casual readers of the FT will have noticed, we are fascinated by the fortunes of Vodafone and its chief executive so we will do plenty on today’s numbers and what they mean for him.

The Irish Independent says Ladbrokes’ new-found appetite for acquisitions (it is in talks with 888 Holdings) extends to Dermot Desmond’s betting interests. The paper cited a Ladbrokes source as saying preliminary talks had taken place but big differences remained on price. 888, meanwhile, is saying nothing about its talks with Ladbrokes but says Q3 revenues at its non-US operations rose 20 per cent.

Robin Ashton is stepping down as CEO of Provident Financial before the planned demerger of the consumer lender’s international business. The chairman, John van Kuffeler wins the prize for refreshing honesty: he says they all agree Ashton is no longer the right man for the job.

London Merchant Securities has dropped its takeover talks with Great Portland Estates, agreeing instead to a £1bn deal with Derwent Valley Holdings. It is (on paper) a big pay day for LMS chief executive Robbie Rayne and his family, who own 37 per cent and have agreed to the all-share deal. Separately, we have strong interims today from Great Portland.

What was that Evolution was saying about a weak market? Smaller rival Charles Stanley today reports a 34 per cent jump in first-half profits and is optimistic about trading for the rest of the year. The dividend is being raised by a third. Elsewhere in the sector, Rensburg Sheppards’ interims benefited from synergies resulting from last year’s acquisition of Carr Sheppards Crosthwaite. Mike Burns, the architect of this group’s success, announced he is retiring as CEO next year to be succeeded by Steve Elliott, currently the MD.

Scottish Power CEO Philip Bowman, faced with a predatory Iberdrola, wants analysts to upgrade their forecasts after this morning’s interim results. We’ll tell you later whether they ought to.

Schroders has suffered yet more outflows of institutional and retail money. As we reported a few weeks ago, this company looks in a bit of a muddle.

Strong full-year profits (+56 per cent) from Easyjet and much, much better numbers than expected from Northern Foods (the stock rose more than 7 per cent, although still near the bottom of the 52-week range). Ho-hum figures from Alliance Boots and Emap. Decent ones from InterContinental. Luxury goods retailer Burberry reported a 2 per cent decline in H1 operating profits on higher costs. (which some analysts believe are necessary if the group is to improve its systems in the long term).

Today’s disaster story, to rival Tadpole Technology yesterday, is Acambis, which has lost out on a big US contract for smallpox vaccine. The stock fell almost 40 per cent.

Rumour of the Day: Toscafund, the hedge fund group chaired by Sir George Mathewson, has sold 10m shares in takeover target Amec, taking its holding to 19.4 per cent. To some, this suggests it does not expect a higher offer than the one being proposed by Texas Pacific and First Reserve. Speculation is that the stock has gone to one of them, FT Alphaville says.

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