PRESS DIGEST – Financial Times – March 30

Financial Times

BIG INVESTMENTS BOOST GREEN SECTOR

Business groups and green campaigners have welcomed Monday’s
announcement by German industrial giant Siemens (SIEGn.DE: ) that
it will invest 80 million pounds in a UK plant to build offshore
wind turbines. Siemens will be the fourth wind turbine
manufacturer to set up shop in the UK, following similar
announcements by General Electric, Mitsubishi and Clipper. The
move will create 700 jobs and the government greeted the news as
a vindication of its strategy for a Low Carbon economy. Siemens’
announcement came on the same day British Gas announced plans to
roll out smart meters for consumers, creating 2,500 jobs.

EUROPEAN BUSINESS CHIEFS FEAR DEBT CRISIS WILL HIT GROWTH

A number of European business leaders have expressed
concerns about the broader economic impact of the debt problems
facing countries such as Greece and Portugal. Though neither
economy is a significant market for most big European groups,
there are worries that the recent difficulties could put Europe
further behind Asia and the United States. There are also
worries about the austerity measures countries with large budget
deficits will have to undertake and the associated impact on
growth. Others are more sceptical about the effects of the Greek
crisis, with British Land’s chief executive Chris Grigg
describing it as merely “the flavour of the day”.

AFREN TO MOP UP NIGERIA AS MAJORS LEAVE

Oil explorer Afren (AFRE.L: ), which focuses on West Africa,
is preparing to acquire more Nigerian oil fields from major
international operators who are scaling down operations in the
country. Chief executive Osman Shahenshah said the explorer
could make the acquisitions in the first half of this year after
identifying more than 100 Nigerian fields too small for majors
to develop. Afren, which established First Hydrocarbon Nigeria
last year to make acquisitions in Africa’s largest oil producer,
reported a pre-tax profit of 323,000 pounds for the year to
December, the first full-year profit in its history.

ROLET HITS AT “UNEVEN FIELD”

London Stock Exchange (LSE.L: ) chief executive Xavier Rolet
has said an “uneven playing field” exists in the regulatory
burden borne by exchanges and newer alternative platforms such
as Chi-X Europe, which now has a 16.5 percent share of
pan-European share trading. Rolet’s comments, made at a
conference hosted by Thomson Reuters (TRI.TO: ), follow similar
criticism of alternative trading facilities by executives at
U.S.-based exchange operator NYSE Euronext. Rolet said that
while the LSE paid annual regulatory fees of five million euros
and employed 150 compliance staff, Chi-X employed five
compliance staff and paid 140,000 euros in annual fees.

SPORTS DIRECT EYES HIGHER BLACKS OFFER

Leisurewear chain Sports Direct (SPD.L: ) said on Monday it
was considering a “material increase” of its takeover bid for
outdoor clothing group Blacks Leisure (BSLA.L: ). Blacks, which
has rejected a 62 pence per share offer from Sports Direct
valuing it at 26.4 million pounds, said it received a letter
from Sports Direct on Friday accusing it of making “selective
disclosures” of information on suppliers likely to boycott
Blacks if a Sports Direct bid succeeded. Blacks denied the
allegations, referring the letter to the Takeover Panel. Sports
Direct has also gone to the Panel to complain about selective
disclosure.

DRY WELLS AND FALLING PRICES HIT DANA PETROLEUM

Oil and gas producer Dana Petroleum (DNX.L: ) saw full year
profits for the year to December tumble 71 percent from 191.4
million pounds to 56.4 million pounds, damaged by a run of dry
wells and falling energy prices. Despite suffering a fall in
revenue of 23 percent to 397 million pounds, due to lower oil
prices at the beginning of 2009, Dana announced a busy drilling
schedule with plans to drill 17 exploration wells in 2010. Tom
Cross, chief executive of the Aberdeen-based explorer which has
been the focus of takeover speculation, said: “Dana is becoming
an attractive proposition for a larger company.”

RBS MOVES TO DIVEST NON-CORE OPERATIONS

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L: ) has moved to dispose of
non-core businesses with the sale of its German invoice finance
business, in an effort by the state-funded bank to strengthen
its capital reserves and bloated balance sheet. The German
invoice business, RBS Factoring, has been sold to GE Capital for
an undisclosed sum. Meanwhile, RBS has also received ten bids
for its European private equity unit, accounting for about a
third of the bank’s total private equity division with a sale
value of about 225 million pounds, ahead of this week’s deadline
for buyers to announce their interest. Financial services firm
UBS is understood to be advising RBS on its asset sales.

INVESTEC MOVES TO SECURE FULL CONTROL OF RENSBURG SHEPPARDS

Investec (INVP.L: ) is poised to take full control of private
client broker Rensburg Sheppards. The South African investment
bank, which already owns almost 48 percent of Rensburg, has
reportedly offered nine pounds a share for the remainder of the
company and the details of the deal were still being finalised
on Monday night. Investec, which has both a London and a South
African listing, first took a stake in the business five years
ago and the deal could value Rensburg at 400 million pounds. An
announcement is expected as early as this Tuesday.

LLOYDS REJECTS TALK OF OUSTING DANIELS

Lloyds Banking Group’s (LLOY.L: ) chief executive Eric Daniels
is to stay on at the bank for at least another year, despite
recently drawn up plans for an emergency succession. According
to people close to the board, Daniels was in fact joint
architect of the plans, along with chairman Sir Win Bischoff,
and recruitment firm JCA Group was asked to put together a list
of contingency names to replace him. Shareholders are known to
blame Daniels for the disastrous acquisition of HBOS and the
recent reports suggesting Daniels’ ousting echo the calls of a
number of large institutional investors, who for months have
been suggesting that he should go.

Penny Stocks

Prepared for Reuters by Durrants

PRESS DIGEST – Financial Times – March 30