Big insurance companies want Martin Wheatley, Chief Executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, to resign after the watchdog sent their shares
into freefall by making a misleading announcement about an industry probe, the Sunday Times said. The Association of British Insurers is expected to write to Chancellor George Osborne to complain about the FCA. Senior sources at four of Britain's biggest insurers told the paper Wheatley's position was untenable.
Andrew Tyrie, Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, has accused the Financial Conduct Authority of an "extraordinary blunder" in announcing market sensitive information about the insurance sector, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Insurer shares fell heavily on Friday after FCA Director of Supervision Clive Adamson told the Telegraph the watchdog planned an inquiry into pensions dating back to the 1970s. Tyrie said the FCA's pledge to bring in an external law firm to investigate the affair was not enough and that his committee would probably vet the inquiry head.
The head of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has said Labour leader Ed Miliband's plan for a swift breakup of Britain's banks is unworkable, the Sunday Telegraph reported. Alex Chisholm, Chief Executive of the new competition regulator, said an investigation would take at least 18 months and that any resulting disposals could take many years. Miliband said in January that a Labour government would introduce a threshold for personal current accounts and business banking and give the CMA six months to set the limit. Chisolm said the CMA, in shadow form, had been looking at small business banking for about six months.
GlaxoSmithKline is planning a multimillion-pound investment in sub-Saharan Africa, the Sunday Telegraph reported. The pharmaceutical giant will announce plans to build up to five new factories on March 31st. It is looking at sites in Ghana, Ethiopia and Rwanda. Glaxo thinks Africa will be one of the fastest growing parts of the world over the next 50 years. Sub-Saharan Africa provides about £500m of Glaxo's £26.5bn annual sales.
Land Securities has put on hold plans to build 200 luxury flats near Buckingham Palace until after next year's general election, the Sunday Times reported. The decision is the first sign that threats of a "mansion tax" are affecting developers' plans. The industry fears a 1% tax on homes worth more than £2m - a policy picked up by Labour that housebuilders are concerned the Conservatives will emulate.
Royal Bank of Scotland is close to appointing Ewen Stevenson, one of the brains behind the 2008 banking bailout, as its new Finance Director, according to the Sunday Times. Stevenson, co-head of European investment banking at Credit Suisse, is said to have dreamt up the asset protection scheme insurance programme that stopped RBS shareholders being entirely wiped out during the financial crisis.
A funding crisis has cast doubt on the future of Britain's second-biggest oil refinery, the Sunday Times said. The Stanlow plant is owned by Essar Energy, the Indian power and mining company whose founders are trying to buy it back after listing in London four years ago. Stanlow has to refinance a £330m loan from Barclays in July after using up £173m of its cash in the nine months to December. Essar said Stanlow was within its debt covenants and that the plant had the advantage of producing lots of diesel and jet fuel, of which the UK produces little.
Real incomes in the UK are back to pre-financial crisis levels, the Sunday Times said. Figures in the small print of official figures released on March 28th showed real household disposable incomes were £507.7bn in the second half of last year - up 4% from the first half of 2008. Britain's population has risen in that time but by less than incomes. The figures suggest the squeeze on household budgets is easing fast.
Card Factory is planning to join the line of retailers floating on the stock market with a share sale that could value the discount group at more than £700m, the Sunday Telegraph said. Its private equity owner, Charterhouse, is working on a flotation for this summer. Card Factory Chief Executive Richard Hayes told the paper he wanted to expand from 700 stores to as many as 1,100.
A Chinese tycoon is in talks to buy House of Fraser for more than £450m, the Sunday Times reported. Yuan Yafei's Sanpower conglomerate has been in talks with House of Fraser for several months. The department store group's Chairman Don McCarthy has accepted the bid and has presented it to the company's other main shareholders for approval. The deal would end plans for House of Fraser to join the procession of retail initial public offerings.