Sunday Newspaper round up

The Times.

Ron Sandler is poised to complete his exit from corporate life. The former Northern Rock boss has revealed plans to step down as chairman of the Phoenix Group later this year.  Sandler, who has just turned 60, said yesterday that he would be leaving Britain’s biggest closed life assurance fund as soon as a replacement is found. The former banker and insurance executive who has been at the helm of Phoenix since September 2009, said that he had achieved “the vast majority” of what he had set out to do at the group. During his tenure, Phoenix, formerly known as Pearl Group, completed a complex debt renegotiation that meant that it could list on the London Stock Exchange.

The Sunday Telegraph.

The Prudential faces serious questions over its attitude towards the Financial Services Authority after a leaked email from one of the insurance company’s senior executives described the regulator’s policy plans as “ludicrous & horrendous”. The email, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, makes a series of disparaging and sarcastic remarks about the regulator and alleges that “personal prejudices” of the FSA’s consumer panel often “determine the direction of regulation & over-ride the evidence”. It also says that Prudential should up its lobbying efforts to change regulations it sees as “ill-judged,”

The new bank headed by Lord Levene and Gary Hoffman, NBNK, will make a fresh approach for 632 branches being sold by the Lloyds Banking Group, after concerns were raised that the proposed sale of the branches to the Co-op had hit regulatory hurdles. The sweetened £1.5bn offer, due to be tabled tomorrow, will propose Lloyds demerge the 632 “Project Verde” branches, float the business and allow NBNK to fully underwrite the demerger in cash. Lloyds has always said if the deal with Co-op did not go through, “Plan B” would be to float the business. That would mean shareholders in Lloyds, including the taxpayer, which owns 40% of Lloyds through UK Financial Investments, will be allowed to choose between taking a new share in the Verde spin-off or accepting cash from NBNK.

The Italian Prime Minister, Mario Monti, said on Saturday he was concerned about Spain’s public finance situation and said contagion could easily return to the Eurozone and affect Italy. “It certainly made decisive reform of the labour market but it did not pay the same attention to public finances,” Mr Monti said at a conference in Cernobbbio, Italy. “This is causing us a big concern because their yields are rising and it wouldn’t take much to recreate the contagion that would also involve us,” Mr Monti added. Spain’s long-term borrowing costs have crept back above 5%, after falling as low as 4.815% following the European Central Bank’s second long-term refinancing operation  in February, when European banks borrowed a total of €529.5bn at rates of just 1%.

Emergency plans for troops to drive petrol tankers to prevent Britain being hit by a crippling strike have been drawn up by ministers, it has emerged. The result of a strike ballot among drivers in the the Unite union will be announced tomorrow with sources on both sides of the dispute believing they will vote in favour of action starting from 3 April. Ministers are ready to use police to prevent striking drivers building blockades and will begin putting together a squad of up to 300 qualified army drivers to man trucks in place of tanker drivers.

The Mail on Sunday.

Banks are planning to delay payment of bonuses in order to take advantage of the new 45p tax band announced in the Budget. The plans would see awards covering recent years (due to be paid in March next year) being delayed until April when the 50p top rate of income tax will end. Banks have been paying about £7bn in bonuses every year, but since 2009 they have held back about 40% of the annual payout amid criticism that bankers were getting bonuses for deals that eventually turned sour. Experts say deferred bonuses scheduled to be paid next year are running in ‘the low billions of pounds’, meaning the delay could save bankers about £100m in income tax.

Critical growth figures this week are likely to underline the growing conviction that Britain will avoid a double-dip recession, though they are expected to confirm earlier estimates that the economy shrank by 0.2% in the final three months of last year. At the start of the year, many, including the independent Item forecasting club, feared the first quarter of 2012 would also see contraction driven by cuts in the public sector payroll and the Eurozone crisis. That would have fulfilled the technical definition of a recession as six successive months of contraction. Britain emerged from recession in the third quarter of 2009 and to have headed so quickly back into a downturn would have meant the first double-dip since 1975.

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