Aston Martin’s Italian job

It beat off competition from the Indian car group Mahindra Mahindra to secure the deal, which will see it taking a substantial stake alongside the current owners, a consortium of Kuwaiti investors led by Investment Dar, who will continue to control the company.

The deal, which will take the form of a capital raising, values Aston Martin at €940m, including debts in the company.

Boss in the money after Berkeley’s £20m payout

It Is a flying start for the group’s intention to return £1.7bn to shareholders over the next decade, and comes just two months after Berkeley investors backed a £294m bonus scheme for its leading executives.

Shares rose higher than 5 per cent after Berkeley said that pre-tax profits soared 40.7 per cent in the six months to November, from £101.1m to £142.2m.

The company has managed to outplay Britain’s weak housing market by focusing on the South-east, where prices are strongest.

Revenues jumped almost 70 per cent over the six months to £686m, and the value of Berkeley’s land bank increased 7 per cent to £2.8bn.

“These results are due to our £500m investments in land and build since 2008 in 50 projects across London and the South-east,” the managing director, Rob Perrins, said. “There is still good demand, people still want to live in London.”

A “confident sentiment” was, he claimed, behind the 15p interim dividend, the first payout to shareholders since the group returned £2 per share to investors almost five years ago.

Berkeley, which this summer spent £15m buying the 15-acre Wapping site that was once home to The Sun, Sunday Times and News of the World printing presses, said competition for land was on the up. “We’re still selectively buying land. There are still opportunities in London, but there are more people buying land here, especially overseas buyers, such as the Malaysians buying Battersea Power Station [for £400m in July],” Mr Perrins added.

He said demand for homes in good locations “remained strong over the period, despite an uncertain economic backdrop and a net contraction in the UK economy”.

Berkeley’s current projects in the capital include The Tower at St George Wharf, Chelsea Creek, One Tower Bridge, 375 Kensington High Street, Ebury Square and 190 Strand.

* The housebuilder Bellway said the Government’s NewBuy guarantee scheme had helped its property reservations – sales on which a deposit has been paid but the deal has not yet completed – to rise 6 per cent between August and November.

Photo-Me aiming to clean up with washing machines idea

The company said it is looking for sites to install Philippe Starck-designed machines after a successful trial in France and Germany.

The idea is simple — people wash and dry their clothes while shopping for clothes or groceries. The only snag is convincing us Brits to change a habit of a lifetime.

“After almost three years of testing and trialling in France and Belgium, our new laundry product is ready to be aggressively rolled out,” said the chairman, John Lewis. “If the results achieved to date are repeated on a much larger scale, we anticipate this product will become a significant contributor to profits within three years.”

Photo-Me International said it hoped to install the machines in sites such as Westfield shopping centre, in London. The plans were unveiled alongside a 17 per cent rise in full-year profits of £20m, with revenues in its operations division, which includes photo booths, hitting £98.9m.

“A growing estate, tighter management and lower costs have all contributed to this with notable improvements in Germany, Switzerland and Japan,” Mr Lewis said.

Saudi’s Mobily says SIM sales ban lifted

Saudi Arabia’s number two telecom operator Etihad Etisalat Co (Mobily) said on Saturday it has resumed prepaid SIM sales to new subscribers after regulators relaxed a ban imposed last Sunday.

Mobily, the Saudi Arabian affiliate of UAE telco Etisalat, said in a statement to the Saudi bourse that the sales suspension imposed by the Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) ended on Wednesday night.

The statement said that Mobily had “fulfilled all regulations related to providing prepaid mobile calling services, including the linkage of recharge with customers identification numbers”.

On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s industry regulator suspended Mobily’s sales of new pre-paid, or pay-as-you-go, SIM cards until it met recently imposed rules on SIM registration.

Etisalat said on Tuesday it was committed to its Saudi Arabian affiliate, adding that it wanted to up its stake in Mobily if given the chance.

Etisalat owns a 28 percent stake in Mobily and has previously talked of increasing its holding.

Mobily said the ban would have little impact on earnings.

Qatar’s Gulf LPG inks $200m loan deal

Gulf LPG Transport Company, a Qatari liquefied petroleum gas shipping company owned jointly by Milaha and Nakilat, has secured financing totalling $200m from Qatar National Bank.

The transaction was completed with attractive rates reflecting Gulf LPG’s financial strength and credit quality, the company said in a staatement

Owned 50 percent by Nakilat and 50 percent by Milaha, Gulf LPG owns, manages and operates four Qatari-flagged very large gas carriers.

Muhammad Ghannam, chairman of Gulf LPG and managing director of Nakilat, said: “The transaction with QNB demonstrates our ability to attract significant financing to projects and further cements Nakilat’s strong reputation in the financial community.

“I thank QNB for providing us with this opportunity to build upon the close relationship already well-established between our companies. We look forward to further collaboration with QNB and with other Qatari banks.”

Sheikh Ali bin Jassim Al Thani, chairman and managing director of Milaha, added: “The successful completion of this transaction should increase the prospect for future similar transactions for both Gulf LPG and its strategic financial partners.”

Kuwait’s KFH sells properties worth $298m

Kuwait Finance House (KFH) has announced the sale of 16 real estate assets for KD84m ($298m) as it reorganises its property portfolio.

The company did not specific the locations of the properties released from its portfolio which reaches across North America, south East Asia, and Europe.

In a statement, Anwar Al-Ghaith, chief operations officer, said the moved aimed to “achieve better returns for investors and depositors”.

He added that the company had made profit of KD25m from the sale.

He said: “Selling those assets does not mean letting go of good real estate portfolio that KFH owns, but rather reinforce it by paradigm assets that play a prominent role in increasing the bank’s profits through high returns.”

He stressed that the sale did not mean that KFH would stop investing in real estate, but admitted that “the concepts have changed”, adding that the company had “become more cautious”.

Al-Ghaith said that KFH’s real estate portfolio had “become more diverse and profitable while limiting risks”.

In October KFH, the country’s biggest Islamic lender, reported a 33 percent increase in third-quarter net profit, beating analyst estimates.

Net profit rose to KD33.7m ($119.9m) from KD25.3m in the same period a year ago.

In May, KFH announced that it has acquired a residential development in Canada for $42.5m, its second acquisition this year.

It said it has bought Kanata Lakes Apartments, which consists of 146 units in Ottawa, as part of KFH’s agreement with the Killam partnership.

Kuwait’s Burgan gets nod for Turkish buy

Burgan Bank has received approval from Turkey’s banking regulator for its planned purchase of Eurobank’s Turkish arm, Kuwait’s state news agency reported on Saturday.

Burgan said in April it planned to buy a 99.26 percent stake in Eurobank Tekfen. It will acquire 70 percent of the lender from Tekfen’s Greek partner EFG Eurobank in a $355m deal, while the remaining 29.26 percent stake will come from Tekfen Holding for an unknown sum.

Turkey’s Banking Regulation and Supervision Agency (BBDK) said in a statement on its website it had approved the sale.

Eurobank Tekfen was put up for sale in July, as EFG Eurobank, Greece’s second largest bank, sought to strengthen its capital base. Burgan Bank, the commercial banking arm of Kuwait Projects Co, said it will use internal funds for the deal.

While Greek banks seek to shore themselves up in the face of protracted recession, Gulf investors have been looking at Turkey as a natural target in the face of unrest in the Middle East and debt crises in Europe and the United States.

Kuwait sees protest against new parliament

Tens of thousands of Kuwaitis marched in the capital on Saturday in peaceful protest against a parliament elected last week in the Gulf Arab state under voting rules deemed unfair by the opposition.

Rule changes passed by decree in October, which reduced the number of votes per citizen to one from four, have prompted a spate of demonstrations and led the opposition to boycott the Dec. 1 election.

The government, in which members of the ruling family hold top posts, says the new rules bring Kuwait in line with democratic norms elsewhere. The opposition, which includes Islamist and populist politicians, says they were designed to skew elections in favour of pro-government candidates.

Crowds of men, women and children wearing orange, the colour of the protest movement, marched along a coast road on the edge of the capital, heading for Kuwait Towers, a major landmark by the Gulf.

Holding Kuwaiti and orange flags, they chanted: “The people want to bring down the decree!” They sang and clapped, giving the march a festive feel as a police helicopter circled above.

Years of political turmoil have held up investment and economic reforms in Kuwait, a US ally and OPEC member state which has held four parliamentary elections since 2006.

The protesters say they want wider political reforms but not an Arab Spring-style revolution.

“We reject the last election because of the one vote system, because most of the people did not participate. We want the four-vote system back and new elections,” said 21-year-old student Saad al-Zobi.

Ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah has said his amendments will help preserve national security and stability.

Under the old system, politicians could urge supporters to cast additional ballots for like-minded candidates – a way to build informal alliances in a country where parties are banned.

“We – the people – should be consulted when there are any big changes,” Nadja Saleh, a 45-year-old bank worker said, gesturing at the crowd. Slogans carried on large orange banners included “Justice, liberty and equality” and “Dictatorship is destructive, democracy is constructive.”

Police had put up some barricades along the march route but their presence appeared light. Other recent marches, which authorities said were unlicensed, have been broken up using tear gas and smoke bombs.

The new parliament is expected to be more government-friendly than its predecessor, elected in February. The opposition held a majority in the last assembly and put pressure on the cabinet, forcing two ministers out of office.

Kuwait has the most open political system among the Gulf Arab states. Parliament has legislative powers and the right to question ministers. But the emir, head of the Al-Sabah family that has ruled Kuwait for 250 years, appoints the prime minister, who chooses the cabinet.

The government says opposition lawmakers have used parliament to settle scores rather than pass laws to develop the economy. Opposition politicians accuse the government of mismanagement and have called for an elected cabinet.

BofA and U.S. Bancorp can be sued as WaMu bond trustees: judge

Fri Dec 7, 2012 1:58pm EST

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bank of America Corp (BAC.N) and U.S. Bancorp (USB.N) can be sued over a pension fund’s allegations they failed to protect investors while acting as trustees of mortgage-backed securities for Washington Mutual Inc, a federal judge ruled on Friday.

U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest of Manhattan nonetheless narrowed the lawsuit brought in April by a Chicago pension fund, saying it could sue only over some of the 41 trusts in the case.

The Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago accused Bank of America and successor trustee, U.S. Bancorp, of causing millions of dollars of losses. It said they failed to take possession of loan files or ensure they were complete, or require Washington Mutual to fix or buy back defective loans.

Bank of America spokesman Lawrence Grayson declined to comment. U.S. Bancorp spokeswoman Teri Charest did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Max Schwartz, a lawyer for the pension fund, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit was filed eight days after a different Manhattan federal judge, William Pauley, let pension funds pursue a similar case against Bank of New York Mellon Corp (BK.N).

That was considered the first ruling to allow mortgage-backed securities investors to challenge a trustee under the 1939 federal Trust Indenture Act.

In her 44-page decision, Forrest said the Chicago policemen’s fund had standing to sue the Washington Mutual trustees over the five trusts in which it bought certificates.

She also said it could sue on behalf of purchasers of certificates it did not buy, but which were backed or cross-collateralized by loan groups that backed its own certificates.

She cited a September 6 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, in a case against Goldman Sachs Group Inc (GS.N), that let a pension fund sue on behalf of investors in certificates it did not own because the underlying concerns were the same.

“To the extent that any of the trustee’s alleged breaches caused diminution in the value of plaintiff’s certificates (based on mortgagors’ defaults in principal or interest payments), investors holding tranches backed by the same loan group as plaintiff’s tranches have the ‘same set of concerns’ as plaintiff in redressing those purported breaches,” Forrest wrote.

Goldman has appealed the 2nd Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying it could expose Wall Street to “tens of billions of dollars of potential liability” through class-action litigation. [ID:nL1E8M28GG] The Supreme Court has not decided whether to hear that appeal.

Washington Mutual, once the largest U.S. savings and loan, failed on September 25, 2008. JPMorgan Chase Co (JPM.N) bought most of its operations, in a transaction arranged by the FDIC.

Bank of America is based in Charlotte, North Carolina, and U.S. Bancorp is based in Minneapolis.

The case is Policemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of the City of Chicago v. Bank of America NA et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-02865.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Grant McCool)

China nod clears way for Glencore’s Viterra purchase

Fri Dec 7, 2012 12:48pm EST

(Reuters) – Glencore International Plc won approval from China’s Ministry of Commerce on Friday for its C$6 billion ($6 billion) purchase of Canadian grain handler Viterra Inc, clearing the last regulatory hurdle for the long-delayed deal.

The takeover, one of the largest in the global agriculture industry in years, was originally expected to close by late July.

The deal will give Swiss-based Glencore, the world’s largest diversified commodities trader, a huge presence in grains — an area dominated by Archer Daniels Midland Co, Cargill Inc and Bunge Ltd — complementing its strength in metals, minerals and oil.

After selling off some Viterra assets in side deals that still require Canadian regulator approval, Glencore and privately held Richardson International Ltd would be the leading grain handlers in Canada, the world’s biggest producer of canola and sixth-largest wheat grower.

Richardson, which has agreed to buy some of Viterra’s assets, and Glencore would each own about one-third of Western Canada’s grain-handling capacity. The companies would be roughly the same size.

Viterra also owns almost all of the grain storage and handling system in South Australia, which produces about 15 percent of the crops grown in Australia.

Viterra, whose only significant asset in China is a joint venture canola-crushing plant, said on Friday it expects the deal to be finalized on December 17. It was originally expected to close by late July.

There had been speculation that China was holding off on a decision until it found out if the Canadian government would approve a takeover of Canadian oil producer Nexen Inc by China’s CNOOC Ltd.

Friday’s approval was the last outstanding regulatory nod for the acquisition.

Viterra is one of several major companies in play this year in the global grain-handling sector, with interest driven in part by soaring grain prices and bullish outlooks for a rising world population and food demand.

U.S.-based Archer Daniels Midland raised its bid this week for Australia’s GrainCorp Ltd to $2.9 billion, and Marubeni Corp is buying U.S. grain merchant Gavilon for $5.6 billion, pending regulator approval.

Shareholders of Viterra overwhelmingly accepted Glencore’s offer of C$16.25 per share in May. Glencore offered to buy Viterra in March.

The extended review has delayed the side deals Glencore has made to transfer some Viterra assets to Agrium Inc, CF Industries Holdings Inc and Richardson.

The Competition Bureau of Canada, which operates at arm’s length from the Canadian government, declined to comment on its review of the side deals.

Agrium CEO Mike Wilson said in mid-November that the Canadian fertilizer company expects to close its C$575 million purchase of most of Viterra’s farm retail stores in the first quarter of 2013.

Agrium would get 232 Canadian farm retail outlets – where it would sell seed, chemicals and fertilizer to farmers – as well as 17 stores in Australia. Richardson is set to buy 23 percent of Viterra’s grain-handling assets, as well as certain processing assets in North America, for C$900 million. U.S.-based CF would acquire Viterra’s 34 percent stake in Canadian Fertilizer – a nitrogen plant in Medicine Hat, Alberta – for C$915 million.

Viterra shares, which touched a seven-month low of C$15.65 in late October on concerns over delays to the Glencore deal, rose 2.4 percent in early trading on Friday to C$16.23, just below Glencore’s purchase price.

Glencore shares were down 0.8 percent at 343 pence on the London Stock Exchange.

($1 = 0.9894 Canadian dollars)

(Reporting by Bhaswati Mukhopadhyay in Bangalore and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Joyjeet Das and John Wallace)