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ABN Amro seems to be trying to stall RBS’s bid despite being willing to open its books to the consortium. RBS says it has been asked by ABN to sign a standstill agreement that would prevent it from bidding for 12 months without ABN’s prior written consent. This is extremely shabby behaviour from ABN. It follows its attempt to deny its shareholders the possibility of a higher offer than the cosy one from Barclays by flogging off a third of its business to Bank of America without shareholder approval. RBS has, quite rightly, asked for the standstill provision to be dropped. There may be many questions surrounding RBS’s proposed offer, but ABN’s shareholders are entitled to demand that RBS have a fair shot. We’ve had reporters at ABN and Barclays’ annual meetings today so we’ll have more for you later.
Coincidentally, RBS and one of its two partners in the bid for ABN Amro, Banco Santander, have some bad news today. They, with HSBC, dominate the rail leasing market which today was referred by the Office of Rail Regulation to the Competition Commission.
In other regulatory news, the OFT has published details of its investigation into the issues around “free” banking. It’s an interesting topic but today’s news is not quite as new as it looks. So, we’ll take a good look but at the moment don’t plan to push the story up front.
Sports Direct continues to disgrace itself. It issued a trading statement which, on first reading didn’t sound too bad but on closer inspection spooked investors partly because it suggested sales growth had slowed. The statement is a joke: there isn’t a single financial number. The shares, which floated at 300p in February and haven’t seen that price since, are off more than 6 per cent at 221½p. You might expect this sort of thing from someone as inexperienced in the public markets as Mike Ashley but what is his much more seasoned chairman, David Richardson, doing? Anyway, someone should start a book on how long this company will stay listed. There are splendidly scathing notes out today from Oriel and Panmure, the highlights of which are on FT Alphaville.
With cruel timing, John David Group, owner of JD Sports, said like-for-like sales rose 7.5 per cent in the 12 weeks to April 21 and profits for last year up 50 per cent. However, chairman Peter Cowgill says the outlook is more challenging.
We will look closer at Vodafone’s growing problems with its deal to take control of Hutchison Essar in India, following our story this morning that it may end up costing it more than the $11.1bn agreed in February. France Telecom, incidentally, has confirmed that Sanjiv Ahuja is stepping down as boss of Orange, as we reported overnight.
Great news from ARM Holdings, the Cambridge-based chip designer. It is doubling its dividend and accelerating its share buy-back.
Very mixed new UK business figures today from Legal & General, which also announced the retirement, at 56, of its head of UK, Robin Phipps. He has been at the company for 25 years, 11 of them on the board.