So dazzled were we at the trading figures from Next that few noticed another instalment in Simon Wolfson’s share buyback handbook. This column generally describes buybacks as paying some shareholders to go away at the expense of those who remain, and the examples to demonstrate this are legion.

The process is usually kicked off with a commitment to spend money regardless of price, until it’s all gone. Brokers and traders love it, while the impact on earnings per share helps the executives to their portion of the honeypot. Lord Wolfson will have none of this.

Next does indeed generate more cash than it knows what to do with, and in the last decade it has bought back enough shares to halve the outstanding stock. Last year, however, the price ran away. When it topped £52 in October, buying shares back would have cost more than was then being earned in the business, the “equivalent rate of return.

Rather than sit on the money and see whether the price falls, Next is now paying a special 50p dividend, at a cost of £75m. Well, not that special, since this year Next expects to generate a further £300m in surplus cash, which will go back to shareholders either as dividends or, should the share price fall below £58 (the new benchmark on the latest profits), in buybacks.

Before the results, there seemed to be some scope to buy, with the price at £55. After Next reported that it had shot the Christmas lights out, the price jumped past £60, so it looks like more special dividends this year. The buyback hold-off doesn’t mean that CEO Wolfson believes the shares are only worth £58; they have looked this relatively expensive in the past and been proved cheap.

Value now depends on whether he can continue to show others how to win in the tricky world of clothes retailing – the once-mighty Marks & Spencer can only look on his works and despair. Others should  study the Wolfson handbook, noting that while buybacks do increase his hold on the business, his transparent and commercial approach is disappointing news for conspiracists who believe that Simon’s secret wish is to buy back the family firm.

Ready to go: the TSB gravy train

All over the City, bankers are beavering away on flotations, prettying up businesses the owners had hoped to get away before the bear market intervened. Few are beavering as hard as those looking for the mandate to sell TSB to the great British public.

This is indeed a tricky one. For a start, we have yet to see the final shape of the balance sheet, carved out of Lloyds Banking by EC diktat. How much capital does a mid-sized, domestic bank without any particular attraction need? Is it anyway too sub-scale to compete? What about the quality of the loan book? After all, a prospectus demands rather more honesty about asset values than in run-of-the-mill accounts.

Since the TSB is being sold (rather than given away to Lloyds shareholders, the sensible solution which would have allowed the market to value it without fuss) the price is important. Pitch it too low, and there’s another Royal Mail-style row because of the state holding in Lloyds. Pitch it too high, and the shares get left with holders who don’t want them.

Answer all these questions convincingly, and it could be your bank that gets the mandate. More likely, there will be so many on the ticket that proper analysis will be suppressed, allowing the price to be pitched to make near risk-free money for advisers and underwriters. The vendors are bankers, after all.

On the Blinkx again

Subhransu “Brian” Mukherjee, the chief executive of Blinkx, an internet technology company beloved of those few who reckon they understand what it does, last week excercised and sold options over 200,000 shares, realising £500,000. This deal was, we’re told, to cover some tax liabilities. Some of these will come from his similar transaction last June which yielded a profit of £210,000. The latest sale yields a gross profit of about £300,000, which in turn means a further tax liability…

This is my FT column

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