Long ago, the redevelopment of Canary Wharf was conceived as a sort of back office centre, one step up from warehouses. Then the Reichmann brothers stepped in, and while their business failed, the Canary flew.

Last week its quoted parent, Songbird Estates, did too. A  295p-a-share “indicative offer” from its biggest shareholders was quickly rejected, and the price has soared to 342p, as the market spotted what the Qatar Investment Authority and its partner Brookfield of Canada already knew.

Canary Wharf is about to take flight again, with rents rising and the seemingly-endless Crossrail project becoming reality. Its station, 330 metres long under four decks of retail space, topped with a mini version of Cornwall’s Eden Project, is nearing completion. From 2018, trains from Canary Wharf will reach Bond Street in 13 minutes and Heathrow in 39.

The Wharf’s long-serving boss, George Iacobescu, can scarcely contain his excitement. He has seen his project rise into the sky, and now plans a proper city centre where people will want to live. He may even succeed.

The QIA owns 29 per cent of Songbird while Brookfield has 22 per cent of Canary Wharf. The next three biggest holders could deliver control of the £2.5bn market cap company, but the likes of Standard Life, with 3.5 per cent, will be watching carefully to see the rules are followed.

Despite the elevated share price, there seems little downside. Brokers Oriel see 14 per cent compound annual growth even before the trains arrive, and a take-out value nearer 400p for “arguably the best large-scale developer in London.” A catfight over the Canary surely looms.

Mr Nobody is to blame

Did you see all those forex traders being marched off to clink this week for crimes against customers and shareholders? Did you note the names in the Financial Conduct Authority’s report into market rigging? No, you didn’t miss them. There was no “perp walk” parading the suspects in handcuffs past the cameras, and no names in the shocking findings from the FCA.

This omission, like the findings themselves, follows a pattern that has become wearily familiar. Those at the top express shock and sadness that their employees could behave as such self-interested brutes. The brutes have all been “let go”,  and in future there will be better behaviour, tighter controls, care for customers, etc etc…

Too often the new employees are just other banks’ brutes, and the fact that the forex fix took place after so many other scandals had been exposed betrays what the senior bankers really think about reform. Why should they care, when it takes only a few years to make enough in bonuses to be set up for life?

There’s a danger, too, that the regulators and their governments start to view the continuing fines as nice little earners at the expense of the banks’ shareholders. Until the bigger holders among them insist on reform rather than wilful ignorance of how the money is earned, this cycle will continue.

A golden opportunity

Only in Switzerland. In a fortnight’s time, the populace is invited to force their central bank to hold at least a fifth of its assets in gold. A yes vote would signal the turn in the market as surely as Gordon Brown did when he dumped 400 tonnes of Britain’s gold reserves 15 years ago.

The price then was at a 20-year low, and it subsequently multiplied seven-fold. It’s since come back to a mere four times Gordon’s sale price, but a yes vote would oblige the Swiss National Bank to put a rocket under it.

Last year, calculates Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, the world’s central banks bought a net 368 tonnes. For the SNB to hit a 20 per cent target, it would have to buy 2,500 tonnes. No point in paying with all those billions of euros in the bank, either, since that would only drive up the price of the Swissie still further.

The SNB already owns 1,040 tonnes, and the referendum also demands repatriation. Since much of the world’s gold is tied up as collateral (some pledged many times over) few counterparties have deliverable bullion on this scale. “Yes” would mean a very nasty bear squeeze.

This is my FT column from Saturday

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