Will fortune favour brave Bob Diamond's Panmure Gordon takeover, Unilever's flawed logic and the IoD's Simon Walker heads back to his PR roots

 
Mark Kleinman
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Bob Diamond will back a move on broker Panmure Gordon as soon as today (Source: Getty)

He's back – and brave.

Conventional wisdom has it that smaller City brokers are destined either to merge or die, so a Bob Diamond-backed move for Panmure Gordon represents a bold bet that he and his partners can forge a fresh path for one of the broking world’s most venerable names.

Boldness isn’t a fitting adjective in financial terms, of course. With a market value of just £9.25m at yesterday’s close, Panmure isn’t worth much more than Diamond's 2011 Barclays bonus.

Read more: Bob Diamond is set to launch an audacious takeover bid for Panmure Gordon

Reputationally, though, Diamond has a lot riding on the success of this bid. Atlas Mara, his African banking consolidation play, has shown signs of promise but has hit more roadblocks than the former Barclays chief has been comfortable with.

Diamond’s Atlas Merchant Capital colleagues and QInvest believe there’s a sparkling business to be hewn out of expanding Panmure’s offering.

The drift towards advisory boutiques by many large-cap companies may reinforce that belief, but it remains to be seen whether Diamond has the patience for the long-term investment that Panmure will require.

Read more: Bob Diamond takes interim chairman role at Atlas Mara

True, Patric Johnson, the broker’s chief executive for the last year, has returned it to profitability.

I understand that the bid – which is likely to come as soon as today – is likely to be pitched at 100p-a-share (or thereabouts). That’s a handsome premium to yesterday’s closing price but hardly worth shouting about.

Given the risks attached to Panmure as a standalone business, shareholders would nevertheless be wise to accept the offer. Diamond’s latest City escapades might turn into a white-knuckle ride, but whichever way it turns out, it will be fascinating to watch.

Read more: Former Barclays' boss Bob Diamond confirms bid talks for bank's Africa unit

Unilever's flawed logic

Of Britain’s top company chieftains, Unilever’s Paul Polman is as unlikely a candidate for the kid-glove treatment as they come.

So we should douse with a Persil-full bottle of scepticism his argument that the FTSE-100 consumer goods-maker warranted regulatory intervention to shield it from the predatory clutches of Kraft Heinz.

Read more: Unilever investors are gunning for it to be broken up

Polman’s argument that Anglo-Dutch Unilever warrants the label of ‘national champion’ is debatable.

France attracted ridicule a decade ago for arguing that yoghurt-maker Danone was a national strategic asset. It’s hard to look any less sceptically at the maker of Pot Noodle and Magnum ice cream when so many British utilities and infrastructure assets have been sold with gay abandon.

There’s a further flaw in Polman’s argument. He says companies targeted by bidders are at a disadvantage because they have just 28 days to prepare their defence, while the acquirer may have been drawing up an offer for a year or more.

Read more: Business needs clarity on the Prime Minister's takeover plan

Sterling’s decline since the Brexit vote has drawn many British businesses into the ambit of potential predators. I doubt any of them have opted not to spend time and money working with advisers on bid defence plans.

If they haven’t, fire the advisers and get new ones.

There is a wider implication, though, of Polman's plea for the interests of ‘national champions’ to be recognised.

Moves to strengthen the Takeover Code have yet to be properly tested; when they are, the barometer will be the extent to which they can extract binding legal commitments on UK employment and research and development spending.

Read more: Kraft's withdrawn Unilever bid ranks among the largest ever failed deals

Kraft Heinz’s reputation preceded it when it came knocking this year. Its cost-cutting zeal would probably not have served Unilever’s British workforce well. That doesn’t mean that UK companies should be immune to any and all takeover interest.

Polman’s remarks smack more of special pleading on the part of an executive unused to being shaken out of his complacency, than a measured blueprint to deliver long-term gains to Britain’s economy.

Walker’s PR roots

It’s who you know, not what you know: an adage that’s as true in the hotly contested world of financial public relations as anywhere in the City.

So it’s a shrewd move for Greenbrook, an agency which works with private equity firms, hedge funds and activist investors, to recruit the much-travelled former director-general of the Institute of Directors, Simon Walker.

Read more: The IoD revives its Brussels branch to forge bonds ahead of Brexit

Walker is joining as a non-executive advisor to the firm, alongside other commitments which include keeping Liam Fox in check on the Department for International Trade board.

Returning to his PR roots will be a cakewalk by comparison with supervising one of the three Brexiteers.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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