Date: Sunday 03 Jun 2012
HSBC is testing its cash machines in Greece to ensure they could cope with a return to the drachma if the country pulls out of the euro. Britain’s biggest bank is taking the precaution because of concerns that Greece could abandon the 17-nation currency bloc amid political stalemate in the country. The bank is understood to have conducted extensive tests on the machines to establish whether they could be adapted to disgorge banknotes of different size and texture. Greece returns to the polls on June 17 after last month’s election proved inconclusive, with no party able to form a government. The anti-austerity Syriza party has pledged to tear up Greece’s rescue loan agreement with the EU and IMF if it wins, which could herald the ejection of the country from the euro, writes The Times.
Bank of England policymakers may opt to inject a further £50bn of stimulus into Britain’s ailing economy this week, according to leading economists. Worsening economic prospects could force the hand of the Bank’s Monetary Policy Committee, which last month voted to pause its purchase of government bonds after pumping £325bn into the market through quantitative easing. Since then however, the data have painted a picture of a worsening, not improving outlook for the British economy, and there is no sign of a solution to the Eurozone crisis. The Office for National Statistics said the recession that began in the first quarter was deeper than it initially thought, with the economy shrinking by 0.3% in the first three months of the year and not 0.2% as it previously estimated, The Sunday Telegraph reports.
Institutions have been told they could be in line for a $15bn windfall under plans to split any proceeds from a sale between shareholders, investment, and debt reduction. However, leading shareholders said shrinking oil major British Petroleum by selling its principle Russian asset, which accounts for almost a third of BP's total oil production, would leave it vulnerable to bids from better-rated rivals Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil. The warning came as Russian state oil group Rosneft was installed as the early front-runner for BP's 50% stake in TNK-BP, despite chairman Igor Sechin's insistence that it had not tabled one of the "unsolicited approaches" that triggered BP's statement on Friday. "We never thought about it. This is a new situation that is just now developing," Mr Sechin, Russia's former deputy prime minister, said, according to The Sunday Telegraph.
Payday lender Wonga is reported to be considering a US stock market flotation that could value the business at more than £1bn. A 'beauty parade' to choose two banks to lead the process is under way but no decision has been taken on whether to proceed, the Sunday Telegraph said. Its report added that Wonga has rejected London as a venue for a market listing and will look to New York's Nasdaq exchange for the float, The Financial Mail on Sunday reports.
A torrent of hostility was sweeping down on Xstrata and its planned merger with Glencore last night as shareholders condemned a pay bonanza for directors and questioned the financial benefits of the tie-up. Standard Life Investments, a top-ten Xstrata shareholder that has already demanded improved merger terms, said that “excessive” pay deals for executives made the merger “even less palatable”. David Cumming, Standard Life’s head of equities, said that the miner’s remuneration payments — including a £30m retention package for the chief executive Mick Davis — were “unacceptable and depressing”. He said that Standard Life, which is Xstrata’s sixth-largest shareholder with a 2% stake worth more than £530m, planned to vote against the proposed Glencore merger. His comments came as investors fretted that the sheer size of the rewards on offer, worth £163m to Xstrata’s senior managers over the next two years, would blow a hole in the merger’s financial benefits, according to The Sunday Times.
Martin Gilbert, the chief executive of Aberdeen Asset Management (AAM) and chairman of transport giant First Group, is said to be “hunting” for the anonymous shareholders who have expressed disquiet about his twin roles. Gilbert, who co-founded AAM in 1983 and has chaired FirstGroup since 1995, has been at the centre of investor unease in recent days amid fears he may be overstretching himself. One unnamed “top ten” shareholder was said to be seeking talks with him “over whether it is appropriate for him to hold two big jobs”. A source close to Gilbert said any criticism over the businessman’s ability to oversee both blue-chip companies at the same time was “completely misplaced”. “He is hunting for the unnamed shareholders who have been claiming this, and frankly no-one’s owning up to it,” the source said. “If there is any criticism, no-one’s made it to the company and no-one’s made it to him.” Shares in AAM have risen slightly over the past year, while those in FirstGroup have fallen by about a third, Scotland on Sunday reports.
AstraZeneca is understood to have made a $4bn (£2.6bn) takeover approach for Amylin, a US rival that specialises in diabetes treatments. The British pharmaceutical giant is among several potential suitors for the company. Amylin has already rejected a $3.5bn approach from Bristol Myers Squibb, a fellow US drugs company that is thought to have made a renewed offer. Other names that have been linked to a possible deal include US drug maker Merck, and Sanofi, the French pharmaceuticals group that employs 1,800 people in Britain. Astra, which on Sunday declined to comment, the purchase would enable it to replace sales lost on existing drugs when patent protection expires. The company is facing a looming "patent cliff" caused by a gap in the company's drug development pipeline, The Sunday Telegraph says.
Workers could end up being short-changed at retirement because of errors in calculating their pension. They also run the risk of paying tax unnecessarily. The problem has come to light in recent weeks after changes in the rules introduced in April. It affects some workers who were members of company pension schemes before April 2006. Bob Bullivant, chief executive of specialist retirement adviser Annuity Direct, says the company has come across several cases of incorrect calculations. ‘If you are in the business of offering or administering pensions, you have to keep up to date,’ he says. ‘These things are too important for mistakes because you are talking about the quality of life for people in their retirement,’ The Financial Mail on Sunday reports.
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