If you last visited BHS when it was called British Home Stores, you are not alone. Last March Philip Green decided that he would rather not go in again either, and offloaded the whole chain for £1. He has since found that walking out of the stores is easier said than done.

The security guard blocking the exit is the pension fund covering 11,000 past and current BHS employees. He is not exactly demanding money with menaces, partly because nobody has a clue how much it needs – anywhere between £230m and £570m, depending on how you do the sums. Only one thing is sure: BHS’s current owners cannot find it.

The company is on the brink of failure, demanding rent reductions for its stores. Many landlords can see better tenants in more dynamic retail chains, and are unlikely to comply. They see BHS as too tired and dowdy to survive, and that a rent cut is a mere sticking plaster. Besides, it would do nothing to tackle the pension problem.

This has is now landing with the Pension Protection Fund, which is essentially a mechanism to force those companies which run properly funded schemes to bail out those in trouble. The pain is bearable provided failures remain rare and small, and while the levy is projected to fall, but today most major pension schemes have deficits thanks to the pitiful returns from low-risk investments, and nobody is starting schemes like those at BHS.

The PPF will find itself demanding payments from fewer and fewer such “final salary” schemes, where the risk is borne by the company. The true cost of these promises can be life-threatening for the business, so the more alert boards are scrambling to turn solvent schemes into “defined contribution” funds, beyond the reach of the PPF, and before the next BHS arrives.

Sir Philip’s wife took a £1.2bn dividend from his retail empire in 2005, so it is understandable that the PPF is asking him to chip in. He might point to the £200m loan to BHS he wrote off last April, and is reported to be offering another £80m, half in cash and half writing off another inter-company loan. Since BHS raised £65m on its own last September (and so presumably was solvent)  he might reasonably argue that enough is enough, that he has repaid his debt to society, and that BHS is now the PPF’s problem.

Nothing like a hot Chocolat

There is something heartwarmingly old-fashioned about last week’s most attractive company flotation. Hotel Chocolat is the product of nearly 30 years’ hard work by its two founders, whose combination of passion for the real thing and financial imagination means a £40m payday, while they keep control of the business.

The passion is 84 shops to try to wean us off vegelate, and the imagination is in its chocolate bonds, units of £4,000 each, paying 7.3 per cent – in chocolate, of course – which have helped finance expansion until now. The image of the business is also helped by ownership of a cocoa plantation in St Lucia, a few of whose beans get into the final product, and which (naturally) has a suitably sybaritic hotel on site.

Heartwarmingly of all, the business has been built entirely free of artificial ingredients in the shape of private equity. There is no trace of the financial e-numbers which produce the queasy feeling that if they’re selling, you shouldn’t be buying. Of course this purity comes at a cost. At its estimated market value of £150m, Hotel Chocolat shares sell on nearly twice last reported sales and 19 times earnings before everything. For chocaholics only, perhaps.

Better off to the races, George

Another week, another Budget. Conservative chancellors used to get by with one a year, but George Osborne is challenging those from Labour who needed two, and sometimes three, to get through every twelve-month. He is also following the Gordon Brown model for obfuscation and complexity – think Inheritance Tax or stamp duty – while backtracking on previous announcements like tax credit reforms and the rules on pension contributions. The solution here is obvious: fewer Budgets. Mr Osborne could start economising next week, and let us all go to Cheltenham instead.

This is my FT column from Saturday

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