PRESS DIGEST – Financial Times – Jan 30

Financial Times

CAMERON ACCUSED OF RETREAT ON PROMISE TO CUT SPENDING EARLY

David Cameron faced accusations on Friday of watering down
his pledge that a Conservative government would make early cuts
to the UK’s 178 billion pound deficit. The Conservative leader
came under fire after he said savings this year would not be
“particularly extensive”. The remarks, made at the World
Economic Forum in Davos, were quickly seized on by Labour
ministers who accused him of indecision. Cameron’s softer tone
reflects anxiety among Conservative officials that aggressive
deficit reduction rhetoric could play into Labour’s hands if
there are signs the UK is slipping into a double-dip recession.

ALLIANCE BOOTS ANNOUNCES CLOSURE OF FINAL-SALARY PENSION
SCHEME

Alliance Boots [ABN.UL], the health and beauty retailer and
pharmaceutical wholesaler, has signalled plans to shut its final
salary pension scheme to existing members. The group said it was
consulting staff on closing its UK defined benefit scheme to
future accruals for its 15,000 active members. Executive
chairman Stefano Pessina denies the move is a cost-cutting
measure after its high-profile private-equity backed buy-out two
and a half years ago.

BANKS AND INSURERS LINK UP TO TRADE LONGEVITY AND LIFE RISKS

In an effort to create a tradeable, liquid market in
longevity and mortality risks, Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE: ), Royal
Bank of Scotland (RBS.L: ) and JPMorgan have announced a link-up
with Legal & General (LGEN.L: ), Axa (AXAF.PA: ), Edi Truell’s
Pension Corp, Prudential (PRU.L: ) and Swiss Re (RUKN.VX: ). The
move represents the first significant co-operative push to set
up standardised products. It comes as UK corporate and pension
schemes become more focused on longevity as the financial crisis
made companies more aware of the extent of their pension
liabilities, and the need to find ways to lower risks.

UK COAL LOSSES TO HIT 115 MILLION POUNDS

UK Coal’s (UKC.L: ) stagnant share price was sent lower as the
mining and property group said its losses would widen by 100
million pounds in 2009. The troubled company’s shares fell 4.5
pence to 61.5 pence as it reduced estimates of full-year coal
production for the second time since 2009. UK Coal now expects
production to be roughly seven million tonnes, compared with 7.9
million tonnes last year. The company faced severe technical and
geological problems in its underground mines in the second half
of 2008.

ISE CHIEFS SAY IRISH OPACITY MUST BE STOPPED

According to Deirdre Somers, chief executive of the Irish
Stock Exchange, Ireland has for too long accepted “opaque”
appointments to some company boards and the running of companies
as “personal fiefdoms”. Somers said radical change in Ireland’s
corporate governance would never happen unless there was not
only “clear government leadership” but also a break by firms
with past practices.

INVESCO VICTORY IN OMEGA BATTLE

Omega Insurance (OIH.L: ), the Lloyd’s of London insurer, is
to make wholesale changes to its board after coming under
pressure from Neil Woodford, fund manager of Invesco Perpetual,
which holds a 29 per centstake. Omega said it would convene a
meeting to vote on proposals to replace its chairman and other
directors. John Coldman, former chairman of reinsurance broker
Benfield, is on course to be appointed as Omega’s chairman
following the vote, which will be held in March.

NORTHRIDGE TO APPOINT DEBENHAMS CHAIRMAN

Debenhams (DEB.L: ), the department store operator, will
appoint tobacco industry veteran Nigel Northridge as chairman to
replace John Lovering. Northridge is chairman of bookmaker Paddy
Power, and a non-executive director at Aggreko (AGGK.L: ),
Inchcape (INCH.L: ) and Thomas Cook (TCG.L: ). He will become
chairman of Debenhams, which operates 144 department stores in
the UK and Ireland, on April 1. However, some analysts have
questioned his level of retail experience. Its shares edged 0.15
pence to reach 67.5 pence.

TALKTALK TO LAUNCH TELEVISION AND MOBILE SERVICES

TalkTalk, Carphone Warehouse’s (CPW.L: ) subsidiary, is
planning to launch new television and mobile phone services as
the telecoms group seeks to step up its challenge to rivals.
Charles Dunstone, chief executive of Carphone Warehouse,
outlined the plans on Friday as the company published documents
about the demerger of its telecoms and retail interests.
TalkTalk, which is due to gain a stock market listing in March,
has identified TV and mobile services as new sources of growth.
Its broadband rivals already have TV services, and the market is
rapidly maturing.

NEW LOOK MOVES CLOSER TO LISTING

New Look, the fashion retailer taken private in 2004 by
Permira and Apax Partners with founder Tom Singh, could set out
its intention to float as early as next week. The move would fly
in the face of doubts about its chances of listing in an initial
public offering valuing it as high as 1.8 billion pounds.
According to people familiar with the process, the feedback from
investors had been positive. However, they also acknowledged
that institutions would be looking to get the best price.

Prepared for Reuters by Durrants

stock market

PRESS DIGEST – Financial Times – Jan 30