She might hail from Canada, but I’d bet that Moya Greene will be keeping a closer eye than many Britons on the outcome of the General Election.
Eighteen months after its contentious privatisation, the boss of Royal Mail may face the prospect of a full parliamentary term with UK government ministers behaving as an irritatingly watchful shareholder.
Labour’s manifesto pledge to retain the state’s remaining 30 per cent stake in Royal Mail has rather disingenuous echoes given Lord Mandelson’s desire to flog the whole thing to a buyout firm such as CVC Capital back in 2009.
Nevertheless, there it was this week in black and white – and that may not augur well for Greene.
Last year, talks between Vince Cable’s officials and the firm over her remuneration went to the wire.
In one sense, that was logical: the Business Secretary was under attack for selling the company too cheaply; a big pay rise for the boss would have made him look doubly foolish.
Yet Greene’s pay has been frozen since she joined Royal Mail in 2010, and there are people on both its board and share register who think she’s underpaid.
They include Donald Brydon, who will step down as chairman later this year: he has already been sufficiently forthright to make it clear to his biggest shareholder what the consequences of denying her a pay rise could be.
In my predictions for 2015, I forecast Royal Mail would begin the process of searching for Greene’s successor.
If Labour leads the next government and there’s a row over her pay, I’ll go one step further and bet she’ll be out of the door before 2016 arrives. You might call it being first past the post.
Ben van Beurden was relaxed to the point of being blasé about the regulatory hurdles facing Royal Dutch Shell’s proposed £47bn takeover of BG Group.
The reaction of BG’s shares tells you his confidence is not universally shared: their discount to the offer price implies some unease about the 12-month (or more) gestation period.
With Shell’s dominant position in global LNG trading uppermost in regulators’ minds, watchdogs in Australia, Brazil and Brussels will have their say. The steepest price that Van Beurden will have to pay may be elsewhere.
Beijing’s Ministry of Commerce demonstrated China’s expansive sense of its own remit when it approved Glencore’s merger with Xstrata in 2012 by forcing the disposal of a $6bn copper mine in Peru. The buyer, unsurprisingly, was a Chinese consortium.
A similarly interventionist approach to Shell’s BG takeover is likely.
You can’t move at the moment for City figures complaining about the twin uncertainties of the General Election: vote Labour and get an anti-business government, or vote Conservative and get two years of uncertainty ahead of an in-out referendum on Europe.
But bankers say there’s a risk that this pessimism is overdone. Among the next flotation candidates is Agrokor, a Croatian food and agriculture group which is the largest private sector employer in the former Yugoslavia.
I’m told that JP Morgan has been hired to lead Agrokor’s listing, while several “eye-wateringly large” takeover deals are under serious discussion.
While the narcotic effects of quantitative easing continue to course through the financial system, there’s little prospect of that changing.
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