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As of 8:04 PM 07/30/14 All times are local (Market data is delayed by at least 15 minutes).
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McClatchy-Tribune  05/24/2014 11:59 PM ET
Daily Mail, London, Alex Brummer column [Daily Mail, London :: ]

May 24--Reactions to the latest sins uncovered at Barclays deliberate manipulation of the gold bullion price to deprive a client of a profit are decidedly mixed.

An analyst at Investec bank, Ian Gordon, described the fine of pounds sterling 26m as 'utterly inconsequential'.

The Robin Hood Tax Campaign said of the transgression: 'Dodgy gold deals are more Mafioso than High Street bank.'

The Investec response, even if only to the size of the fine, tells just how out of touch the financial sector is with the public morality six years after the financial crisis erupted, and in the week High Street lenders signed up to a regime designed to enforce better banking standards.

What is really remarkable about the Barclays gold scam is the timing. It came less than 24 hours after the whole rotten can of worms at the 300-year-old Quaker-founded bank was opened, with the fine over rigging of Libor and Euribor.

This was a disciplinary action that would cost Bob Diamond and the upper echelons at Barclays investment bank their jobs. What it points to is something deeply abhorrent in the Barclays culture that we have seen exhibited in the bank's bonus structures.

Barclays employees have consistently placed their own interests above those of clients and shareholders. Indeed, only after protests at the most recent Barclays annual general meeting did the lender reverse direction.

Alison Kennedy, a director of Standard Life, bravely took on the board only to be disparaged by pay chairman Sir John Sunderland for raising matters in public.

In some respects that clash could be seen as the trigger for the long promised cultural revolution.

It is only too easy for Barclays to blame the ancien regime of former investment bankers Diamond and Rich Ricci for the missteps towards the latest offence when the sacked trader Daniel James Plunkett boasted about pulling off a 'mini-puke' in the shape of a stutter in the gold price.

As the skeletons come tumbling out of the cupboard, only the most naive of City observers could disregard what has happened.

___

When sweet August doth appear this year the AstraZeneca directors may be required to retreat from the Med and return to corporate HQ at Paddington in West London.

The board will feel it necessary to take the advice of big battalion shareholders BlackRock and Schroders to re-engage should Pfizer's Ian Read proffer a price that attracts Astra back to the bargaining table.

Remarkably, despite the assault by Pfizer, some misjudged early political reactions from George Osborne and the Tories, and less than stalwart defence by some of the advisers involved, the AstraZeneca board held together.

A combination of the French love of science and distrust of takeover, Swedish stoicism, political know-how from former Labour minister Shriti Vadera and the British bulldog spirit from former Barclays banker John Varley carried the day.

Unfortunately this is not a case of 'in one bound we were free'.

In the coming months Soriot and AstraZeneca's science community will have to demonstrate that all the wonderful compounds on the way are not pipe dreams and place some accurate valuations on the drugs, demonstrating that even a higher offer of 10pc above the first, at pounds sterling 58.50, might not be enough.

Even if the AZ board were minded to accept a higher price, that should not interfere with the political debate.

Business Secretary Vince Cable, having raised the notion of a broader public interest test (that reaches beyond national security and finance), needs to press for this to be widened to include science and technology, keys to Britain's industrial future, when the Commons returns from its break.

If a short bill or standing orders could be changed, Cable will leave behind a lasting legacy whatever the outcome for the Lib Dems in next year's elections.

The really interesting thing about the bid for AstraZeneca is the number of high profile shareholders that came out publicly in favour of the board, including Fidelity, Sweden's Investor AB, M&G and Threadneedle as well as Neil Woodford's new fund.

They are to be applauded.

___

Saga's flotation has pitched the customers against the City professionals.

Institutions have been not much impressed with the financials, the over-dependence on motor and home insurance and are fearful of the treacherous care for the elderly at home market.

Loyal clients couldn't get enough of the equity and many seeking larger holdings have seen allocations cut sharply.

Even so, the shares struggled to rise above the lowered offer price of 185p in the first day of trading.

Whatever the perceived worries in the Square Mile it is hard to argue with the paying clients who have a day-to-day relationship with the silver surfers' friend.

 

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