THINGS may be looking up in terms of the economy, but the corporate Christmas goose is looking just as lean as it was in the depths of the financial crisis last year – and a little bird tells me that asset management firm F&C Investments is among the companies trimming its budget. <br /><br />Usually, F&C staffers are treated to a proper slap-up do at the Dorchester ballroom, with the weighty champagne bill footed by the firm’s directors and fund managers. <br /><br />But this year, the same employees can look forward to run-of-the-millbeers, egg noodles and duck spring rolls at cheap ‘n’ cheerful Chinese chain Ping Pong, just a stone’s throw from its headquarters on Primrose Street.<br /><br />And despite the best efforts of management to put on a brave face (“It’s the people who make the party,” attempts a spokesman, gamely), it seems the downgrade hasn’t gone down well with the masses.<br /><br />“This is taking the whole thing down at least four notches – next thing you know, they’ll be ordering us celebratory fast food at our desks,” grumbles one disgruntled employee. “They could rename us KF&C…”<br /><br />Very droll.<br /><br /><strong>GOD’S WORK</strong><br />Just a couple of weeks after Goldman Sachs boss Lloyd Blankfein preached that his bankers were “doing God’s work”, some more City luminaries stepped up to the metaphorical pulpit yesterday at the headquarters of law firm Allen & Overy, to present their views on faith and economics to the Council of Christians and Jews on Ethical Capital.<br /><br />City minister Lord Myners, HSBC chairman Stephen Green and Lloyd’s of London chairman Lord Levene were all speaking, though the latter came closest to upbraiding Blankfein with a curt: “It is not the role of business leaders to debate ethical dilemmas or the finer points of theology…”<br /><br />But he was soon back on the pro-Goldman side of the fence, with an anecdote about Philip Lehman, the son of one of the original brothers who founded the now-collapsed Lehman empire.<br /><br />“Philip Lehman once expressed his reserves about a colleague at Goldman Sachs who was too optimistic, too ambitious and too aggressive,” he recounted. “How things have changed!”<br /><br /><strong>WHIFFY BUSINESS</strong><br />In one of the more bizarre pieces of investment wisdom The Capitalist has ever seen, it would seem that speculators in China have been snapping up one particular asset like nobody’s business – garlic.<br /><br />Yes, the price of the pongy bulb has almost quadrupled in the country since March, making it the best-performing asset of the year so far.<br /><br />According to Morgan Stanley, the reason behind garlic’s stellar investment performance is the notion that it might be able to protect citizens against the dreaded H1N1 swine flu virus – and Reuters reports that one particular high school in the eastern Chinese city of Hangzhou bought a 200kg load of garlic last week to force-feed to its students to ward off the disease. <br /><br />Sounds like their classrooms are smelling particularly pungent at the moment...<br /><br /><strong>CELEBRITY STATUS</strong><br />Remember Andrew Paul, the former Nomura banker who is set to make a mint from his novel competition to “win a new life”, having sold thousands of tickets for the chance to win his £1.1m mansion, £160,000 Aston Martin DBS and £200,000 luxury motor boat?<br /><br />Well, the enterprising chap is now taking the concept one step further and has teamed up with Hollywood producer Barrick Prince – maker of celebrity shows such as “Madonna & Guy: Where Did It All Go Wrong?” – to make a reality television show about the venture called Win a Celebrity Life.<br /><br />Apparently, the pair are talking to seven A-list celebrities about putting up their possessions in the show, including a top boxer and R&B stars such as 50 Cent and Eminem. <br /><br />The first show – which will see the final 12 contestants competing to scoop the celebrity goodies through a variety of challenges – will be produced in the States, but Prince aims to shoot in the UK within the next eight months, so keep an eye out.<br /><br /><strong>EXCHANGE FLOAT</strong><br />Preparations at the London Stock Exchange to introduce a new market opening ceremony, as first reported in this column, are well underway down at the group’s Paternoster Square HQ, if appearances are anything to go by.<br /><br />The Source, the sculpture of moving balls specially commissioned by the exchange to grace its entrance hall in the current building, is on its way out in favour of another, as yet unspecified, surprise (the fact that it’ll be multi-media related and will get the clients involved in a more hands-on experience is the only clue the exchange is willing to disclose at present).<br /><br />But it certainly looks as if the new ceremony will be unveiled sooner rather than later, as The Source has already been put out of action. Yesterday, on the day of the group’s half-year results, the sculpture remained quiet and still, with just two immobile balls stranded high up on the wires above the rest.