Private equity’s self-defence

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We’re still going through Sir David Walker’s report into private equity but it’s good to see that one thing we’d feared would appear hasn’t. He suggests that outside directors be appointed to portfolio company boards - no harm there - but does not, as I had feared, suggest they be there specifically to look out for the interests of wider stakeholders. In fact, the document explicitly “does not envisage any specific prescription as to board composition in private equity portfolio companies”.

You can read Martin Arnold’s first take now and we’ll have plenty more in the paper tomorrow. I am just skimming the report at the moment and while, at first glance, it looks fairly inoffensive, I can see two things so far that the industry might well balk at. First that portfolio companies should report on “balance sheet management, including links to the financial statements to describe the level, structure and conditionality of debt”. Second, that the private equity firms disclose each year how much of performance is down to financial engineering, general improvement in industry valuations and operational or strategic management.

Sir Evelyn de Rothschild has sold out of the holding company which controls the bank that bears his name. This completes a process begun a few years ago but other members of the British side of the family will continue to hold just over a third of a new holding company being set up. Eric de Rothschild’s family will have about the same and David de Rothschild’s family will have 25 per cent. We’ll have more details later. Very Tatler.

Elsewhere in banking, we are checking out the Telegraph’s line that HSBC is interested in buying South Korea’s KEB bank. No luck so far, but a public holiday in South Korea doesn’t help.

JJB Sports has suffered an accelerated decline in sales in the past six weeks as the absence of an international football tournament deterred fans from buying replica kits and poor weather hit sales of T-shirts and shorts. However, it said in a trading update that gross margins were higher, shoring up profits.

Meanwhile, a “significant” increase in the average amount each customer spends has boosted sales at N Brown in the first 20 weeks of its financial year, the home shopping retailer said.

And we have a floor for any HBOS bid for Quintain, the property company chaired by FT columnist John Plender. It has bought another 404,554 shares at 882¾p. Neil Hume on FT Alphaville has spotted that Paul Kemsley, who sold his 12 per cent stake to HBOS last week, has kept the voting rights and that they appear to declare themselves to be a concert party.

Finally, a new one for the Martin Lukes business lexicon? Tim O’Toole, managing director of London Underground referred to a “cost envelope” in a piece in our pages today about Metronet’s funding crisis today. In case context helps, here is the quote in full: ”[We would] re-examine the entire structure of the entity, hopefully reform the contracts under which [Metronet] does its work and create a different possibility for the contract to be transferred to someone who could deliver it within a more predictable cost envelope.”

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