Warren Buffett’s General Reinsurance UK has been filed £1.23m by the FSA “for arranging two improper reinsurance transactions”. The regulator goes on to say that “in doing so, GenRe UK breached FSA Principle 2 by not conducting its business with due skill, care and diligence and FSA Principle 3 by not organising and controlling its affairs responsibly and effectively”. The fine would have been £1.75m had GenRe not agree to settle early. It is still a chunky fine, though, and it comes at an embarrassing time for Buffett, a month after he announced a deal with Equitas to take on Lloyd’s pre-1993 claims.
Marcus Agius, Lazard’s London chairman who is stepping down to chair Barclays, is selling $10m of Lazard stock but keeping a stake worth about $60m. He is among a number of Lazard bankers selling down their holdings, although we’re just checking the details.
Vincent Bolloré has been rebuffed by Aegis shareholders a second time. More than 94 per cent of the shares he doesn’t own were voted against his appeal for board representation. Bolloré, of course, has vowed to fight on.
ICI’s decision to sell Quest, its flavours and fragrance business, to Switzerland’s Givaudan for SFr2.8bn (£1.2bn) in cash is bound to reignite takeover speculation. The deal is on good terms, rids ICI of a business which has been a major headache over the year but above all makes ICI’s pensions deficit much more manageable and leaves the group debt free. ICI shares are up 10 per cent but keep an eye on the credit default swaps.
In a related sector, Johnson Matthey, the chemicals and precious metals company, reported an 8 per cent rise in first-half pre-tax profits to £115m, as revenue growth was fuelled by higher precious metals prices and continued higher demand for the catalysts it produces.
DSG International shares fell 5 per cent because of a poor performance in Italy and dampened profit expectations, despite a strong first-half sales performance.
Profit warning from Kensington Group, the sub-prime mortgage lender. It said full-year pre-tax profits would be at the bottom end of the range of analysts’ expectations and that competition would slow earnings growth next year. It looks like Kensington is under pressure from investment banks who have moved into this market and are taking advantage of their lower cost of capital. The shares fell nearly 10 per cent. But will Kensington be bought at last?
Some good news at last for Pat O’Driscoll, chief executive of Northern Foods. She has sold the group’s speciality bread, pastry and flour business to Vision Capital for £160m. Part of the proceeds will, as with ICI’s disposal of Quest, go straight into the pension scheme. The deal means it has completed its disposal programme for more than expected. Northern Foods shares are up 5 per cent.
Drugs are meant to make you feel better, but not it seems if you are an AstraZeneca shareholder. Today, the group said it expected full-year earnings to come in at the lower end of its guidance after the launch of a generic version of its Toprol XL heart drug. Astra has sugared the pill with a deal to distribute the generic version in the US.
Rumour of the day: Apart from ICI, of course, the other good rumour today is that Iberdrola’s offer for Scottish Power could contain more paper than people thought, perhaps as much as 40 per cent. The stock is off almost 2 per cent as a result.