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Money meritocracy will rise to the top

Rats leaving the sinking ship

Rats leaving the sinking ship

Regulators and governments alike have got their fingers crossed that reforms on executive pay will stop bankers going bonkers again. He theory runs that new layers of red tape on pay, bonuses and other incentives will avoid any repeats of banks dragging the entire global economy close to its knees in the way Lehman Bros et al did, but it’s a fool’s hope.

Part of the attraction of a career in high flying finance, and what scares most reasonable people away, is that it is as close to a meritocracy as exists. It’s dog eat dog, sink or swim, there’s little middle ground. Traders trade and, assuming it comes off, hero status is assured, albeit temporarily. Lasso in clients, you’re a winner.

The flip side, of course, is what makes the Square Mile and Wall Street so dangerous. You lose money more than once and you’re out of a job. Just like that. Gone. There is no tenure, no job security. Ten and 20-year careers end in a flash. That’s one reason why so many are paid so well. It’s a bit like combat pay. Survive and prosper, or get out, and if you’re going the firm hopes it happens before you lose it any money. It’s not the post office. It’s trial by fire.

You would think that would make the entire workforce afraid to do anything for fear of being tossed out on their can, back into the cruel, cruel averagely paid world. But a meritocracy works in the opposite way. You have very smart people trying to prove to each other that they are smarter than everyone else. Unlike acing a chemistry exam or even nailing your A-levels, the score is kept with real money – how much of the bonus pool you command for your do-or-die heroics.

home moneyLehman Brothers was a classic Wall Street meritocracy. They wanted to one up Goldman Sachs to win the meritocracy game and get paid in spades. Let’s leverage this sucker up with mortgages. A trillion dollar balance sheet. Hey, if not us, who? When that trade went south, Lehman went bust. You lose money, you’re out. Goodbye. Unless of course the government bails you out.

To prevent the next blow up, the G20 is trying to limit pay and banish risk. But no matter what bureaucrats do, the financial world’s meritocracy of getting paid will live on. They’re going to figure out a way around any new rules. The game might move to hedge funds or some other dark corner of the financial market, but no amount of reform is going to kill this animal instinct.

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Best ever quarterly gain for Footsie

Today in the market

Today in the market

Market Moves
techMARK 1,488.10 -0.19%
FTSE 100 5,133.90 -0.50%
FTSE 250 9,142.31 -0.79%

Wall Street fell out of bed at the start of its trading day after the release of disappointing business activity data and London quickly followed the US market downwards. However, a rally in the last half hour ensured that the FTSE 100 enjoyed its best ever quarterly percentage gain since the index was established in 1984.

Travel companies TUI Travel and Thomas Cook were in the shade after the latter’s underwhelming trading update this morning. The company said that the trend to later bookings continues but ‘consumers are still going on their holidays.’

Fashion and food retailer Marks & Spencer posted a 0.5% fall in like-for-like sales in the 13 weeks to 26 September as recession-hit shoppers stayed frugal. Chairman Sir Stuart Rose said he remains cautious on the company’s outlook and expects 2010 to be a tough year.

M&S shares fell back, taking sector peer Next with them. In what may not be an entirely coincidental piece of timing, George Davies, the founder of Next and the mastermind behind Marks & Spencer’s successful Per Una clothing line, launched a new clothing label today, GIVe. Davies plans to open 25 stores selling the new clothes line.

Hedge fund manger Man was the best performer after a bullish trading update. “Investor sentiment is continuing to improve across the industry, the performance outlook is healthy and the prospects for sustained industry inflows are very promising,” chief executive Peter Clarke said.

Airport scanning machine maker Smiths was also wanted despite pre-tax profits dipping to £371m from £380m in the year to July on sales up 7% to £2.67bn. The figures were a little better than forecasts, while it held the dividend.

Shares in Dairy Milk maker Cadbury were barely changed after the Takeover Panel gave US potential bidder Kraft Foods until 5pm on 9 November to make a bid for the UK confectionery company or walk away for at least six months.

Insurers remained in favour, buoyed by persistent rumours of sector consolidation, though Deutsche Bank has poured cold water on suggestions that investment vehicle Resolution will bid for Legal & General; nevertheless, the German bank upgraded the stock to ‘hold’ from ‘sell’ and also suggested that sector peers Aviva and Old Mutual are underpriced.

Support services specialist Babcock has lost its contract with Network Rail for High Output Track Renewal operations, but trading overall is as expected. Network Rail told it today that its Babcock SB Rail joint venture with Swietelsky Baugesellschaft had lost the contract, it said.

Travis Perkins, the leading UK builders’ merchant, said sales trends for the last three months are ahead of expectations but its current market consensus for 2010 remains unchanged. The group said turnover for the nine months to the end of September is down 11%. Its larger rival, Wolseley, joined Travis Perkins on the upturn.

haysRecruiter Hays Group is marked down after being named by the Office of Fair Trading as one of six recruitment agencies involved in a price-fixing cartel.

Care group Care UK could be on the end of a management buy-out after private equity firm Bridgepoint confirmed this morning it was in talks.

Online clothes retailer ASOS results to date are in line with management’s expectations and it expects the first half outcome to be marginally ahead of the prior year. Sales are up 47% for the 6 months to 30 September 2009, with international sales rising 110% for the period, which represents around 25% of total sales.

Greyhound bus operator FirstGroup said overall trading remains in line with management expectations but warned the transport industry faces a challenging year ahead. The shares shifted into reverse, along with sector peers Go-Ahead and Stagecoach.

Like for like revenues eased in the three months to end-August at financial services and healthcare software provider Misys, but order intake was strong. On a pro-forma like for like basis, which excludes the effect of currency movements and adjusts for the acquisition of Allscripts, group revenues declined by 2% in the three months to 31 August, while adjusted operating profit rose by more than 15%.
market down
Neuropharm, the pharmaceutical company focused on neurodevelopmental disorders, saw its pre-tax loss widen to £6.5m in the year to 30 June 2009 from £4.9m the year before. The company has no revenue.

Insolvency consultant Sterling Green swung into profit in the second half of the year due to a combination of reduced costs and increased revenues, but still posted a loss of £321,000 overall. The working capital position remains challenging, it added.

FTSE 100 – Risers
Man Group (EMG) 331.20p +7.50%
Legal & General Group (LGEN) 87.80p +6.10%
Smiths Group (SMIN) 888.50p +6.03%
Aviva (AV.) 448.10p +3.92%
Wolseley (WOS) 1,507.00p +3.79%

FTSE 100 – Fallers
TUI Travel (TT.) 254.60p -4.29%
Liberty International (LII) 480.00p -3.94%
Thomas Cook Group (TCG) 232.30p -3.53%
Marks & Spencer Group (MKS) 362.10p -3.39%
Next (NXT) 1,792.00p -3.14%

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