The cross-looking woman who sometimes appears on the home page of the Ofcom website is not Sharon White (who is black) but she shares her irritation. The telecoms regulator is not happy at the prospect of O2 disappearing into Li Ka Shing’s global empire, reducing the premier league of UK mobile providers from four to three.

Last week she published  the snappily-entitled “cross-country econometric analysis of the effect of disruptive firms on mobile pricing”. After studying conditions in 25 countries, this confirms what any fule kno, that disruptive firms do indeed disrupt, while more competition means lower prices – around a fifth lower with four operators rather than three, provided one of them is disruptive.

Until now, this role has been played by Mr Li’s Hutchison group, in the shape of 3. However, the £10.5bn takeover of O2 would change all that. With 40 per cent of the mobile market, 3O2 would jump from disrupter to market leader. Nevertheless, last month Mr Li’s offsider Canning Fok wrote movingly to the FT about standing up to “the leviathan BT” and “old top-of-the-heap predator Vodafone”, with pledges not to raise prices for five years if the deal goes ahead.

Technology should be driving prices down anyway, although incomprehensible tariffs make it impossible for the average consumer to be sure. Since Mr Li is a Buffett-style long term investor, the pledge rather begs the question of what happens after 2021. Perhaps to crank up the pressure on the regulators, Hutchison is reported to have put all future investments in the UK under review.

UK telecoms already looks too concentrated for the customers’ good after BT’s seamless takeover of EE, the merged Orange and T-Mobile. Ms White is right to be fighting this deal. Unfortunately for her, and us, this purely British domestic affair will be decided by the European Commission in Brussels.

Too much previous to like RBS

When the analysts at Goldman Sachs think they have spotted a glaring market anomaly, they put the stock on their “conviction buy” list, and on Tuesday it was the turn of Royal Bank of Scotland. The Goldman boffins reckoned the shares are worth 375p each. That would make RBS the cheapest major share in the market, since they cost 234p at the time.

The reasoning behind the recommendation is mostly that RBS is cheaper than Lloyds, measured by the book value of its assets, and that as RBS gets out of investment banking to concentrate on mortgages, the market will rerate the stock. Well, maybe. It is still something of a shock to see how far RBS shares have fallen – they are the same price today as immediately after the ten-for-one consolidation in 2012, and just 3 per cent of the peak value in 2007.

Unfortunately, what goes down may not come up, especially when Goldman’s previous convictions are taken into account. The list had a dreadful start to 2016, and now the curse has struck again. Just a day after the RBS tip, the Chancellor chopped back the value of carried-forward losses for tax purposes. RBS has £50bn of these, accumulated over the last eight years, and its shares sank still further on the news.

The taxpayer’s 76 per cent holding from baling out the bank is now worth half its purchase cost. Dreams of balancing the books by selling the stake are fantasy, along with any hope Goldman had of fees from placing the shares. This unfortunate experience is another indication that unless and until the bankers return to lending money to borrowers who can repay it, bank shares are for traders, not conviction investors.

A Barclays winner, of sorts

Shareholders in Barclays are hardly in the RBS pain zone when it comes to punishment, although they have lost three-fifths of their money since 2007. Not all of it has been wasted, however, as the wife of the suitably-named Rich Ricci cleaned up at Cheltenham. The third winner, Vautour, took £178,538 off Ryanair. Mr Ricci is not fondly remembered as Bob Diamond’s righthand man when Diamond Bob was turning Barclays into an international investment banking powerhouse, paying themselves zillions in the process. It is not thought that Mrs Ricci will be giving her winnings to charity.

Mixing their drinks

Further proof, so to speak, of the value and longevity of spirits brands. Grand Marnier, a syrupy liquor made from cognac and Caribbean orange peel, is 190 years old, with a financial performance that might charitably be described as sober. Enter, perhaps as a reward for investors’ patience, Gruppo Campari to buy out the family, paying a dizzying premium to an “undisturbed” price of E5,020, a level first reached 11 years ago. The agreed offer of E8,050 a share values the business at E684m, or five times 2014 sales. Enough to warrant a stiff Campari and Grand Marnier.

This is my FT column for this weekend (published early here because I’m flying away, with extra shot of Grand Marnier)

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