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City diary
Friday November 15, 2002

  • HSBC executives have had the last laugh with their 9bn takeover of Household International. Although Household is mostly US-based, HSBC knows well its UK credit card arm, HFC. That's HFC the credit card operation - not HSBC, its new owner. You're not confused, you say? Nor was the Chancery Division of the High Court when HFC approached it in 1999, claiming "passing off". At the time, HSBC was planning to drop the Midland Bank name in favour of the four-letter acronym. The court judgment didn't stop HSBC paying HFC a reported 18.7m to bypass an appeal, however. In fact, HFC has made almost as much money suing rivals as selling credit cards. In August last year, Centrica was forced to cough up 85m after it reneged on its Goldfish contract. None of this is lost on HSBC, which publicly thanked HFC boss Adrian Hill at a press conference yesterday for "making them aware of the overlapping brands".

  • Your mobile won't work in the lifts at HSBC's Canary Wharf head office - but you can survive in them for two hours in the event of a fire, a cheerful operator told me. That should at least give the green goddesses time to arrive.

  • The big boys at the Bank gave us the benefit of their experience on Wednesday in relation to UK house prices. Reassuringly, both guv'nor Sir Eddie George and his deputy, Mervyn King - who, interestingly, is also a world-class darts player - don't have a clue either. Talking about some opera, "Big Ed" - a sobriquet said to be immensely disliked by Sir Eddie - suddenly switched to the "external frost" on our economy. "The colder the external frost, the higher we need the internal temperature: the danger is that we overload the domestic boiler," he told the assembled. Unfortunately, his plumber later got a detailed rundown of how a reformed interest rate policy would provide economic stability for Britain.

  • Merv "King of the 180s" was more blunt but no less confused. "House price inflation is likely to slow down soon, with prices becoming broadly stable," he said, before adding: "No one knows what will happen to house prices." Then came the full range of possible scenarios from continued growth to imminent collapse. Well, one of them is bound to be true.

  • Nice to see a friendly atmosphere in government. John McFall, chairman of the Treasury select committee, lightened the mood yesterday by congratulating FSA chairman Sir Howard Davis on Manchester City's first win against United in 13 years. He then proceeded to tear his head off about poor life insurance, dodgy mortgage brokers and inept regulation of the retail market. Still, it's the thought that counts.

  • Here's a quick game of join the dots, all news from yesterday: new Deutsche Telekom chief, Marconi finance director kicked out, C&W chief under huge pressure, Scottish whisky distiller Glenmorangie's 12% jump in half-year profits.

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