March 22: Shares in property companies flew this afternoon after Gordon Brown announced plans to make it easier for them to convert into tax-efficient real estate investment trusts. Land Securities, British Land and Hammerson all rose about 10 per cent. Shares in British Energy initially fell 2½ per cent when the chancellor said he was prepared to sell part of the government’s stake in the company as part of a £30bn asset disposal programme. However, they more than recovered their losses to trade up on the day.
Otherwise, an expansion of the research and development tax credit was about all there was for British companies in what Roger Bootle says was one of “least significant budgets in living memory”. Brown proposes to extend the number of companies eligible for the higher credit under the small and medium-sized R&D scheme from those with 250 employees to those with 500. This, however, is worth all of about £40m of benefits in 2008/09, Ernst & Young reckons.
There were no changes on insurance premium tax, the aggregates levy, air passenger duty or corporation taxes.For details of measures to crack down on tax avoidance see p119 of the document entitled Building a Fairer Society. However, a look at the table detailing the financial impact of budget decisions suggests these measures are of fairly limited significance. Employers will also be want note that Brown will review the alignment of the national insurance and income tax systems. For full details, documents and analysis, keep up with FT.com.
Among the documents published by the Treasury is the paper on the challenges and opportunities for the City. For the most part this consists of some interesting statistics and some more obvious conclusions, although there is an interesting discussion of financial services in Edinburgh and Leeds. No mention of course of abolishing stamp duty on share transactions, which is what the City really cares about.
In corporate news, Mitchell Garber, the new chief executive of PartyGaming, is to receive a $6m payment to cover the cost of relocating from Canada to Gibraltar and to buy our share options at his previous employer. He is also getting 7m nil-cost share options worth about £9m in his first year and a further 20m performance-related options across the following three years. His salary will be $1m a year.
BAA has been granted a put-up-or-shut-up order for Ferrovial, the Spanish group considering bidding for the airports group. The Takeover Panel has given Ferrovial until April 24 to make a formal bid. Ferrovial, whose £8.8bn proposed bid has already been rejected by BAA, says it is comfortable with the timeframe.
Shares in 3i are up 2 per cent on fresh rumours of a bid coming at 1100p tomorrow morning. We have started trying to check it out and have our doubts. But we have more work to do.
Takeover rumours are also driving ICI shares, which are up about 5 per cent on speculation that DuPont of the US might bid. Neither company is commenting but we have out doubts about this story too.
The most significant corporate news today remains that a consortium of private equity firms (Apax, Blackstone and Goldman Sachs) have proposed buying a controlling minority stake in ITV. This would allow existing institutional investors to remain exposed to the stock while enabling the group to gear up and for all to share in the expected upside. It is the first time such a structure has been attempted on this sort of scale. Greg Dyke is fronting the consortium. ITV, after quite a lot of thought, has turned the proposal down but do not expect that to be the last of it. Read the Lex live note