You really fancy that mink coat, but you can’t afford it. When it’s marked down to 75 per cent off, with easy terms so easy that the store’s lending you the money for nearly nothing, how can you resist? The Co-operative Group’s executives may soon wish they had, as they struggle to work out how to pay for their own sale-time bargain.

Lloyds Banking, the forced seller of 632 branches, last week claimed “good progress” in breaking them away from its network, but it’s now eight months since the Co-op (the only credible buyer) agreed the branches’ £350m price tag, with Lloyds lending the money. Just as a fur coat needs maintenance against moth and insurance against paint-throwers, the Co-op is learning that it may not have a July sales bargain after all. The business needs capital backing, perhaps as much as £1bn, and the Co-op can’t tap its owners. There may be 7m of them, but they’ve only put up £1 each, and they ain’t capitalists.

The Co-op has had a good run recently. Its existing bank, half the size of the Lloyds package, came through the crisis relatively unscathed, while its food stores have almost improved enough to keep up with the competition. But Peter Marks, the chief executive whose deal “took the shirt off” Lloyds’ back, is retiring, and last month the Co-op Bank’s finance director announced his departure. Mr Marks’ successor is not a banker and finds himself requiring a disposal programme to raise the money.

Putting banks together is tough. The Co-op has yet to complete the relatively unambitious integration of the Britannia Building Society, bought in 2009. It’s not too late for the new team to ask whether swallowing Project Verde, as Lloyds dubbed the sale, would make the Co-op so green about the gills as to infect the whole group. As many Co-op members would be quick to point out: only a mink really needs a mink coat.

Blowing a fuse

The bright, sunlit uplands of the low-carbon economy are in sight. Who says so? Why, Ed Davey, today’s Energy Secretary. He’s set a carbon reduction target for 2030, and tells us that when it’s law, clean power stations and “thousands of jobs” will follow.

If wishing would make it so, how happy we would be. Unfortunately for Mr Davey (who will be a distant memory at Energy long before 2030) others can’t share his lovely vision. In his valedictory shot last week, the boss of Ofgem warned that we’d be lucky to keep the lights on later this decade, while the CEO of Centrica (owners of British Gas) is refusing to build new gas-fired power stations, until he sees how screwed-up the legislation turns out to be.

He doesn’t put it like that, of course, but since supplying gas and electricity is the point of his business, it reflects his frustation at the gap between Mr Davey’s green dreamers and the looming energy crunch. Countless studies over many years have highlighted this disconnect, and it’s now too late for any new nuclear stations to arrive in time. Centrica’s decision means it may be too late to build gas stations, too.

The longer-term picture isn’t too bad, thanks to shale gas, although that only goes halfway to taking the carbon out of energy generation. In the meantime, we can expect rolling blackouts – unless we keep the coal-fired burning ’til the point hits home.

Back to school

Promethean World was the poster child for the IPO disasters at the turn of the decade. The share price chart looks like a playground slide, whooshing down from 200p into the 90 per cent club, as discretionary spending on education slumped. Promethean makes interactive whiteboards, to bring the world into the world’s classrooms, and it’s now concentrating on classroom software, to bring all the kiddies’ efforts together electronically.

The brave brokers at Espirito Santo have decided that there’s a chance of this strategy, along with a new CEO, turning the Promethean tide. Well, maybe. Nearly everyone on the planet thinks education is A Good Thing, and would like someone else to spend more on it. Prometheus stole fire from the gods, who were not amused. If Promethean gets really clever with its software, it might provoke a similar response, and find its business disappearing into a smartphone app.

This is an updated version of my Saturday FT article, available here:

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ade13baa-826f-11e2-843e-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2MYzBVfLn

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