SFO probe at Torex Retail

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SFO investigation at Torex Retail. This comes a couple of days after a dire profit warning from the company, itself a week after an upbeat trading statement. The Serious Fraud Office, working with the City of London police, says it has searched a residential address in Oxfordshire in connection with Torex Retail. This morning, a second house was searched in Oxfordshire as was one in Warwickshire. There have been no arrests. As a result we are reordering our newslist and seeing what space we can clear in order to bring your what details and background we can in tomorrow’s paper.

Katherine Garrett-Cox, Morley’s chief investment officer, is leaving to take up the same post at Alliance Trust. The move comes less than a fortnight after Chris Phillips, chief executive of Scottish Widows Investment Partnership, was chosen to succeed Keith Jones as Morley’s chief executive. As Kate Burgess, our investment correspondent, wrote at the time, Morley has more than its fair share of retention issues. I thought Garrett-Cox had been in the running for Jones’s job, which would help explain her departure, but Kate doesn’t think she was. For those about to welcome her at Alliance, allow me to remind you of what she said when she took over as CIO at Morley: “I’m starting with a clean sheet of paper, ruling nothing in and nothing out. There’s no point in trying to get from A to B if someone is getting in the way.” And so some at Morley soon discovered.

The big event today, of course, is the decisive auction for Corus. From 4.30 this afternoon, Tata and CSN have up to eight rounds of bids in which to win their prize. They have until 2.30am tomorrow. If that fails to produce a winner, the Takeover Panel will allow a final ninth round at 4.30pm and will announce at 3am the next day (Feb 1).

Otherwise, we have first quarter cigarette volumes rising at Imperial Tobacco and the company reviewing its share buy-back strategy. This sounds unusually vague for them and Neil Hume on our markets team says this is being read in the market as a sign that Imps is preparing for a move on Altadis of Spain.

PZ Cussons says the weak dollar and rising raw materials prices held back first half profits. And Kensington Group, the mortgage lender which focuses on specialist borrowers such as the self-employed or the elderly, produced good final results but says competition is hotting up. Another sign of the search for yield?

Woolworths has won a three-year contract to supply the 127 stores of Virgin Retail in the UK and Ireland with music, DVDs, games and books. It’s a bit hard to get excited about this, though, even though the stock is up 2 per cent on the news.

Much more interesting is Polymetal, the world’s fifth-largest silver miner, confirming plans for a listing in London and Moscow which would value it at up to $3bn.

Rumour of the day: Neil Hume is picking up vague talk that George Wimpey has have pulled out of the auction of Wilson Bowden.

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