Lai See

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 October, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 October, 2010, 12:00am


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HSBC less than mutual over Nedbank decision

HSBC's decision not to proceed with its purchase of Nedbank, the smallest of South Africa's 'Big Four' lenders, has come as a disappointment to Old Mutual, a South African-born financial services firm now domiciled in Britain. Old Mutual had been hoping to use sale funds of reportedly HK$61 billion to pay down some HK$18 billion in debt.

There has been some speculation that the deal is the first casualty of the changing of the guard at the top of HSBC. That is, the Nedbank deal was favoured by outgoing chief executive Michael Geoghegan, but not by incoming chief executive Stuart Gulliver.

However, the bank denies this, saying that Nedbank did not meet its 'strict acquisition criteria'. There has also been speculation that HSBC baulked at some of Nedbank's loans which were thought to be less than healthy.

Nedbank, it was thought, would provide a springboard for HSBC into the local retail banking sector and further expansion into Africa. Others disagree, saying that Nedbank did not have much of a network, and that other, better placed South African banks have already been snapped up by foreigners. Absa has been acquired by Barclays, and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China bought a 20 per cent stake in Standard Bank.

In other words, HSBC is arriving somewhat late for the party.

Lap dance lament

Good to see that some people don't allow shame to deter them from the pursuit of justice. We see that a US businessman has recently won US$650,000 in compensation after suffering damage to his eye socket. The injury occurred during a visit to a lap-dancing club and was caused by a dancer's stiletto heel. The man now suffers from double vision. The damage could have been worse.

Bonus politics

With financial industry bonuses expected to be down this year, we bring tips on how to maximise your claim on the pool from Geraint Anderson (pictured) of Cityboy fame. Writing on, he notes that by observing these principles he was able to earn 30 to 40 per cent more than other more able persons.

Blow your own trumpet. Steal your colleagues' thunder. 'Any achievement by one of your colleagues is probably a result of your work really. If you can't sell that idea to senior colleagues then you're in the wrong job.'

Kiss the boss' bottom (figuratively) with subtle sycophancy. Be 'accidentally' overheard talking to headhunters/competitors.

Express disgust at your previous bonus. 'Every year, on hearing the bonus amount from your boss, no matter how outrageously generous, immediately do an impression of a bulldog licking urine off a nettle. Practise this in front of a mirror before the all-important meeting.' Good luck.

Buffett's worst trade ever

More investment news from the Sage of Omaha.

Asked on CNBC recently for his worst trade, he replied: 'Berkshire Hathaway'. This came about because the then general manager reneged on an agreement to buy Warren Buffett's holding in the company for US$11.50, instead offering him US$11.38.

This so angered Buffett that he bought control of the company and then fired the manager. But he then found himself in the position of having committed a 'major amount of money to a terrible business'.

He then built up the company by injecting other assets such as insurance businesses into it while eventually getting rid of the textile assets.

He says that if he had spent the money on insurance assets rather than the textile business he would have had a company worth around US$200 billion, twice the value of Berkshire Hathaway today. If only we made mistakes like that.

Behaving badly

Columbia Business School has sent a 600-word e-mail to its first-year students, beginning: 'It has come to our attention that some of you have already managed to become notorious for their willingness to elbow their peers out of the circle around senior bankers ... '

The e-mail, which is reported by, continues: 'Acting in a socially undesirable way runs a strong risk of branding you as undesirable not just to your classmates but also to recruiters. Such behaviour shows that you are aggressive and non-collegial, and therefore not a pleasant person to work 100-hour weeks with ... Do not get drunk or gobble down food in front of bankers no matter how hungry and tired you are.'

Other tips include 'do not overwhelm bankers with questions when they are taking a small break [that is, chewing food] - remember, they are also human beings and have had a very long day at work'.

Brings tears to the eyes.