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A £53M CHEQUE GETS YOU THINKING

WITH The Capitalist taking a well earned holiday, this ancient scribe has been ruminating over a few whimsical anecdotes that he has come across over the past 47 years in the City of London.

My first recollection while learning the merchant banking ropes at Philip Hill, Higginson, Erlangers was to be sent to collect a cheque for £53m from Joseph Sebag’s offices in Queen Victoria Street – an errand on behalf of Sir Charles Clore, the property magnate best known for his stewardship of industrial giant Sears Holdings.

At the tender age of 19, I beat a hasty retreat to Lloyds Bank Moorgate in a fashion that perhaps even Jesse Owens would have been proud of, so overwrought was I with the responsibility of carrying such a huge amount of money on my person.

Nowadays, of course, billions of pounds can be wired to different bank accounts across the world in a matter of nanoseconds. How times have changed.

In the early 1980s there were 300 trading banks in London, before derivatives had even selected second gear.

Dollar markets were idiosyncratic in their behaviour, thanks to clearing technicalities, which saw the Thursday-Friday rate bid through the roof and the weekend rate offered. Dollar deposit traders and brokers used to return to their desks after a glass of the juice of Bacchus at 8.30pm to await money supply data.

The US Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker was obsessed with the money supply. Fed fund rates stood at 11.2 per cent in 1979 and peaked at 21 per cent in 1981.

Milton Friedman was the great monetarist of the day and Henry Kaufman, Salomon Brothers’ economic guru, brought more influence to bear in moving markets than any individual then or since – George Soros, Warren Buffett and Bill Gross included. In the mid-1980s there were 26 trading Japanese banks operating in London out of a total of about 300 banks. They accounted for an astonishing 40 per cent of the brokerage payable.


GLORIOUS DAYS
It’s hard to think of glorious days of sunshine while the cold snap still has us in its icy grasp, but it is worth looking ahead to the summer programme from Opera Holland Park, which is due to entertain droves of bankers and brokers at invigorating productions of “Fidelio, “La Forza Del Destino”, “Carmen”, “Pelléas et Mélisande”, “Don Giovanni” and “Francesca da Rimini” this year.

This mode of entertainment is unfailingly riveting – a wonderful picnic, a decent glass of Puligny-Montrachet, good company and quality music. What more could anyone want? Book up early to avoid disappointment. It’s all over by 10.30pm.


ODDS ON POLITICIANS
Some newspapers would have us believe that there will be a hung Parliament, but spread betting acolytes are not so sure.

The spreads above suggest a modest Conservative majority.

Despite the polls telling us that the Tories only have a six point lead, this may not be the case.

The best betting barometers are some of the political hacks, who rarely get these markets wrong in my experience and at present they are comfortable with these spreads.

NEW LABOUR – 218-223 seats
CONSERVATIVES –342-347 seats
LIB-DEMS – 53-56 seats
SNP – 8-9 seats
PLWD CYMRU- 2.5-3.5 seats

David Cameron and the Conservatives would be well advised not to indulge in this “bullying drama.”

Frankly the Prime Minister and Lord Mandelson have sufficient character and policy deficiencies for the Conservatives to win the election without resorting to the kind of antics we have come to expect from New Labour, with its amazing track record for spin.

This government has brought the UK’s economy to its knees and should be shown the door by the electorate.


GOOD CAUSES
Finally, money brokers may be an oft-maligned bunch in the City, but it is worth pointing out their tremendous contribution to good causes through their charity trading days, where millions of pounds are raised for the benefit of a variety of charities.

Michael Spencer’s Icap set the ball rolling, but my own firm BGC Partners has also raised the bar to a new level in the past two years under the leadership of president Shaun Lynn. Our thanks to the banking community, which has always responded brilliantly.

Victoria Bates is away.