Would you like £44 for £39.55? Or how about £12 for £10.80? These are not illegal scams, but the differences between the offer prices from AB Inbev for SAB Miller and Royal Dutch Shell’s for BG. Both deals are agreed. Simply buy the shares in the target companies and wait. With the time value of money almost zero at today’s interest rates, it looks like something for nothing.

Well, not quite. The deal to create the world’s dominant purveyor of alcoholic fizzy drinks may be agreed, but getting to consumation will not be straightforward. Competition authorities everywhere will want potentially expensive promises of good behaviour from this behemoth.

As an indication of the potential for making money, the AB share price rather gives the game away. Rather than wilting at the prospect of piling on tens of billions of dollars of debt, it has gone up, on the argument that the big funds will use their SAB cash to buy AB shares to stay exposed to the sector.

Shell’s takeover of BG offers no such scope for world domination, and the regulatory hurdles look much lower. BG shareholders are offered a mix of shares and cash, but the sums are hardly beyond the wit of the arbitragers who make a living selling one stock to buy the other in a takeover. Yet the value gap persists, and they show little sign of wanting to fill it.

One plausible explanation is the burnt fingers from the failure of Pfizer’s bid for AstraZeneca. That deal had seemed to be following the pattern set by Kraft’s siege of Cadbury when it all fell apart. AZ remains independent, and the arbs have singed fingers.

SAB may have a year or more in purgatory, with bits being carved off along the way, but Shell’s chief executive would have to go if his BG deal falls through. This takeover looks uncomfortably like a rights issue without the rights being offered to us shareholders, but with the whole sector depressed on fears of the end of the oil age, BG looks a cheap way in for those who disagree.

You can call me Al

As two familiar names disappear from the FTSE100 index, one of the replacements will be a company with no UK business, whose shares trade infrequently, and then only in penny-packets. Al Noor Hospitals wants to “combine” with Mediclinic, though it’s rather along the lines of a female praying mantis combining with her mate after copulation by eating him.

Mediclinic shareholders would end up with over 84 per cent of the enlarged group, while Al Noor holders can take cash. The precise details are important only to the two healthcare businesses, rival NMC Health, and their fee-gathering advisers. For those of us who have never heard of either company, the more interesting question is the impact on the index.

The combine would be worth around £6bn, well into FTSE100 territory. There are shades here of the last mining boom, where companies with no business in Britain appeared in London’s leading index. They have since mostly disappeared, but not before the tracker funds had been obliged to buy them. Tracking is even bigger business today, guaranteeing forced buyers for whatever gets into the index. Al Medi (or whatever) may end up as a fine business. Alternatively, as with those miners, it may merely make beating the index that much easier.

Not as safe as houses

You make a product where demand is rising, where the government rigs the market in your favour, and which is in chronic short supply. You are, of course, a housebuilder. Last week it was the turn of Bellway to show off: sales, margins, profits and plots available to build on – all strongly up. The dividend is raised by nearly a half. What’s not to like?

House prices may be high, but not compared to the prices for the builders, reckons Robin Hardy of Shore Capital. Shares in Bellway, for example, have risen fourfold in four years. Valuations are pinned on “unsustainable profit levels”. Put another way, they’re priced for perfection, something which, in the real world, never quite arrives.

This is my FT column from Saturday (with the cut joke restored).

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