August 31: Barclays has confirmed that Matt Barrett will step down as chairman of Barclays at the end of the year. He will be succeeded by Marcus Agius, chairman of Lazard in London, as predicted. Agius, who is a great choice, will give up all Lazard responsibilities. I still don’t quite buy the explanations offered by some for why Barrett is stepping down now (mainly that he is losing interest) and wonder if he has other personal reasons.
This is a big moment in British gaming: Harrah’s, owner of Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, is buying London Clubs International for £279m. It is the first major move into Britain by a US casino operator but, with the regulations of the UK casino industry being relaxed, it is unlikely to be the last. It is safe bet that Stanley Leisure, which has just broken off its own talks with LCI with which it shares a very large shareholder, may be next. For us, this story is a gift: it is colourful, international and many of our readers visit these clubs. LCI owns Fifty on St James’s and the Golden Nugget on Shaftesbury Avenue. Tell us what you think of the clubs and of this deal. Also, LCI has ended its talks with Stanley Leisure.
If you did well in one of LCI’s clubs or had a good bonus round but feel owning just one Aston Martin isn’t enough, you may be in luck. Ford has decided to sell the whole company. Will Jaguar be next? Sir Anthony Bamford told us last week he would be interested.
The other fantastic story around today is Asia Energy. Its shares fell 60 per cent this morning before trading was suspended. This followed a report in a Bangladeshi newspaper saying the government had decided, after fatal demonstrations, to disallow open-pit mining at its principal site in the north-west of the country. However, as of 2.45pm, there has still not been an announcement from the company. Our correspondents in London and New Delhi are on the story. This stock ran up sharply last year to a valuation of almost £350m; it is now worth £57m.
Other interesting stories include Diageo’s full-year results (duty free sales have collapsed and Guinness sales continue to decline in Ireland but Lex says that the group looks good) and news of a refinancing by Mitchells & Butlers which included a 40 per cent increase in the valuations of the group’s pubs since 2003 to £2.8m each (confirming that pub valuations have gone berserk recently).
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