ASHLEY COMES TO DUBLIN TO GATECRASH ELVERYS BUYOUT - Mike Ashley, the billionaire owner of Newcastle United football club, flew into Dublin over the weekend as part of a last-ditch bid to prevent the proposed sale of Elverys Sports to its management and other investors. Mr Ashley controls the listed UK retailer Sports Direct, which owns a 50% stake in Heatons, the Irish department store chain, writes the Irish Times. Heatons wants to buy Elverys, which is close to finalising a deal, backed by the National Asset Management Agency, to be bought out by a consortium assembled by the advisory firm Capnua. A spokesman for Heatons/ Sports Direct said the company would pay a price 25% above the offer currently on the table for Elverys, which employs 650 staff in 55 stores around the country. Sports Direct/Heatons also feels it has been “locked out” of the process to buy the Irish sports chain, which is currently owned by the Mayo-based Staunton family and is being sold through a receiver, David Carson of Deloitte. John and James Staunton have significant property debts with NAMA, which will get the proceeds of the sale. The agency is sanctioning the sale of the Elverys business to management and the Capnua investors as part of a “pre-pack” receivership process, where the buyer is lined up in advance.
ULSTER BANK COULD BE FORCED TO CUT 1,000 JOBS AFTER REVIEW - Ulster Bank could cut as many as a thousand jobs from next month once its parent company has completed a review of its business. Ulster Bank's owner, Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), is carrying out a full review of all its operations, and will announce its plans for Ulster Bank when it publishes its 2013 results later this month, says the Irish Independent. RBS, which is 81% owned by the British government, is under pressure to cut its costs and is set to transfer billions of euro worth of bad loans out of Ulster Bank and into an internal 'bad bank'. Weekend reports indicate that as part of that review, RBS is expected to significantly reduce a number of departments in Ulster Bank. Some 400 staff in the corporate debts section and another 350 in its mortgage management unit are considered vulnerable, with smaller, ancillary teams around the rest of the lender also set for the chop. As part of the restructuring plan, RBS will create an internal 'bad bank' where it will move as much as €47 billion worth of so-called 'toxic assets'. Many of those loans will come from Ulster Bank, which lent heavily in Ireland during the boom.
SPAIN PROMISES NON-INTERFERENCE ON SCOTLAND - Spain has no intention of interfering in Scotland’s push for independence and is willing to consider an eventual Scottish application to join the EU as a separate state, the foreign minister said in remarks that will bolster the nationalist campaign. Madrid has long been among the most vocal opponents of separatist movements in Europe, reflecting its struggle to contain secessionist pressures in its own region of Catalonia. Spain’s internal problems have prompted speculation it would block a bid by an independent Scotland to rejoin the EU. José-Manuel García-Margallo, foreign minister, told the Financial Times: “If Scotland becomes independent in accordance with the legal and institutional procedures, it will ask for admission [to the EU]. If that process has indeed been legal, that request can be considered. If not, then not,” he said. While he refused to comment directly on whether Spain might veto Scottish accession to the EU after an independence vote, he insisted the cases of Scotland and Catalonia were “fundamentally different”. Madrid would continue to resist a Catalan plan to hold its own referendum on independence less than two months after the Scottish vote in September, he said.
UK WATCHDOG URGED TO CURB MIS-SELLING BY BANK BRANCH STAFF - The chairman of a powerful committee of MPs in the UK has signalled he would be talking tough to the City regulator about high-street banks using pay structures in their branches that encourage bad selling by staff. Lloyds was fined £28m last year for its aggressive bonus structure which meant workers could be demoted for not shifting enough financial products to their customers, says today's London Independent. One desperate employee resorted to selling products to himself, his wife and a colleague in order to hit his targets. Andrew Tyrie, chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, said last night: “Incentives have been deeply misaligned for significant numbers of front-line staff, not just highly remunerated traders or the most senior executives. Deep cultural change is needed.” Ahead of what could be a tempestuous meeting between the committee and Financial Conduct Authority chairman Martin Wheatley tomorrow, Mr Tyrie sent the watchdog a letter saying it was “now crucial” that the regulator carries out recommendations from the Banking Commission to curb sales-based incentives in high street bank branches.