The mystery of Tom Albanese is not why he had to go, but how he lasted so long as CEO of Rio Tinto. His initial blunder, paying $38 billion for Alcan at the top of the market, should have been enough, but by the time that became apparent Rio’s directors were in a funk. Mesmerised by the bid from BHP, they seemed not to notice the crumbling balance sheet. The dramatic end to the iron ore boom required a $15 billion self-rescue rights issue to fix the debt problem, but it was aluminium that did the real damage.

Light, strong and corrosion-resistant it may be, but Al is a terrible business to be in. Smelters are built for the wrong reasons, so overcapacity is chronic, and there’s the lurking suspicion of price manipulation by the banks. Attempts to create an orderly, regulated market have largely failed. Alberto Calderon may carry the title of chief executive, aluminium, nickel and corporate development at BHP, but in his presentation of major projects last month, aluminium was conspicuous by its absence.

In the five-year boom that ended in 2008, the prices of the two mining giants tracked each other closely, but Rio’s calamitous fall changed all that, and BHP has left its rival in the dust, or ore. Now, in a rubble of write-downs, Mr Albanese has given way to an older man, and some brokers have revised up their price targets. Us (very) patient shareholders must hope they’re right.

Let’s go Intu the exit

The scene is the Charlotte Street offices of Gettabrand LLP. The challenge facing the red specs creatives: rebrand a property company for consumers. Somehow Capital Shopping Centres lacks the cachet of Westfield, the Aussies who have skewered London east (Stratford) and west (Shepherds Bush) with their monster malls.

CSC does own Lakeside, another cathedral for the new religion. Yet despite being a FTSE 100 stock, directors fret that none of the 30m visitors to its malls have heard of it. Now it is to become Intu, so they can go Intu Lakeside, Intu Trafford Centre, etc. Brilliant! And all for only £25m, a bargain which, says chief executive David Fischel, “will take us beyond where we are now.”

The history of companies adopting silly names is not a happy one. Invensys (as in “I didn’t Invensys daft name”) never recovered the position it held as plain old BTR, while Yell has just dreamed up the even sillier hibu, as it slips gently beneath the waves. Diageo is the exception that tests the rule, but Guinness was not only a tainted financial brand, but also misleading for a distilling company.

As for CSC,  Intu may not be a magic bullet. Brokers Espirito Santo have looked at the whole subject across Europe and decided that shares in Unibail Rodamco and Eurocommercial are rather attractive despite their consumer-unfriendly names. Dubbing the latest moves “the restructuring that wasn’t”, the brokers can’t see how CSC can earn its cost of capital. Intu? Get Outof, they say.

Exporting is not fun

Stephen King, HSBC’s chief economist, is disappointed with Britain’s exporters. In November, for example, our sales to non-EU countries were 4.2 per cent lower than in November 2011. Sales to China are little more than a rounding error, and we’re losing ground in traditional markets. Britain’s exporters, King is quoted as saying, used the fall in sterling to boost profits and take Friday afternoons off to play golf, rather than marching out to win more orders. Even the crisis-racked countries of southern Europe are doing better; Portugal’s exports are forecast to have grown 4.3 per cent last year.

He might have pointed out that not every export has to go through the docks. Besides, it’s all very well urging the makers of widgets to go and sell British widgets to the Chinese, Indians or Indonesians, but the process often requires a foreign language and travel to less attractive parts of the world to stay in zero-star hotels. Britain’s problem is that so many of us have worked out that it’s much more agreeable to try and land a job as, say, an economist at a major bank. The pay is better, too.

This is an updated version of my Saturday column in the Financial Times

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/81dfcb92-615f-11e2-9545-00144feab49a.html#axzz2IbaH4XAb

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