ARNOTTS MANAGEMENT SECURES BACKER WILLING TO BID FOR RETAILER'S IBRC LOANS - The management team at Irish retailer Arnotts is believed to have secured a backer willing to bid for the retailer’s loans with Irish Bank Resolution Corporation, which are up for sale. It is unclear who the backer is but informed sources said it was a party “knowledgeable of retail”. Ulster Bank, which jointly controls Arnotts with IBRC, is understood to be supportive of this bid, although this could not be confirmed with the British lender last night says the Irish Times. The offer is believed to have made it through to the second stage of bidding for the loans, which is being run by the bank’s special liquidators at KPMG. IBRC’s loans to Arnotts amount to about €230 million, while Ulster Bank is owed about €140 million. These were mostly related to the ill-fated Northern Quarter property development around Arnotts’ Henry Street store. The two lenders took joint control of Arnotts in 2010 and Ulster Bank’s support for a bid will be seen as key for any group seeking to purchase Arnotts’ IBRC loans. Arnotts, which is led by chairman Nigel Blow and chief executive Ray Hernan, engaged financial group Investec to seek a potential acquirer for the IBRC loans.
NUMBER OF BANK OFFICIALS PLUMMENTS AS BRANCHES CLOSE DOORS - Ireland now has far fewer bank officials than it did during the boom. The decline over the past five years is the sharpest in the euro area, says the Irish Independent. There is now one bank official serving every 144 people here, down from one official for every 100 people back in 2008. The drop is due to branch closures and rationalisations but also rising population, according to a new Banking Structures Report from the European Central Bank (ECB). The research, published yesterday, looks at the structural impact of the financial crisis in the key years from 2008 to the end of 2012. Over that period the value of European banking assets fell 12% to €29.5 billion, according to the report. The total number of European banks dropped by 10% over the same period, reflecting a wave of mergers and nationalisations as the sector was saved by national governments, the report said. The major "adjustments" happened in 2009, at the height of the banking crisis. The fallout from the banking crisis means Ireland is at the forefront of a Europe-wide trend of bank branch closures.
SAC TO PAY BIGGEST INSIDER FINE OF $1.8 BILLION - SAC Capital, the hedge fund run by Steven Cohen, pleaded guilty to insider trading and agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines in one of the biggest criminal cases against a hedge fund, but a cloud remains over the trading impresario as investigators continue to probe his trades, people familiar with the matter said. The hedge fund agreed to plead guilty to wire fraud and four counts of securities fraud and to close to outside investors, according to the US attorney’s office in Manhattan, which initially charged the firm in July. The plea agreement requires court approval, writes the Financial Times. The case marks one of the most dramatic falls of a Wall Street titan and hands the government another conviction in a multiyear insider trading investigation that has shaken the hedge fund industry and questioned the viability of expert network firms. The $1.2 billion fine to resolve criminal wrongdoing - in addition to the $616m paid this year to settle civil insider trading charges by the Securities and Exchange Commission - is believed to be the largest for insider trading. Authorities said the fine reflects the “unprecedented” scope of insider trading. It surpasses the $600m in civil and criminal penalties paid by Michael Milken, the former junk bond king from the 1980s.
CENTRICA BOSS SAM LAIDLAW THROWS HIS BONUS OVERBOARD - The head of Centrica, the British Gas owner, has revealed he will not take a bonus this year as anger continues to grow about soaring household bills, says the London Independent. Sam Laidlaw, the chief executive, admitted trust in the energy sector is at an “all-time low” and said it urgently needed to rebuild its relationship with consumers. British Gas has hit more than 8 million customers with a 9.2% average increase in bills from 23 November, putting up the average bill to £1,444 per household. Speaking at the CBI annual conference in London, Mr Laidlaw said he had “already decided” not to take his bonus. There was a need for leadership in the current environment, he said, adding that it had to be balanced with being able to attract employees. “Just to continue in this world where households are under pressure, and assume it is business as normal, is not the way thoughtful remuneration committees think about it,” he added. When asked whether other directors would also forego bonuses, the company said that Mr Laidlaw’s decision was a “personal one”.