Principles come poor second to rush for shares

THIERRY Breton, France's finance minister, has adopted an impeccably Thatcherite tactic to disarm the opposition of French trade unions to utility privatisation - and it works. Despite years of stalwart union opposition and a reputation for left-wing anti-capitalist extremism, half the company's 38,000 employees applied for shares in the initial public offering of Gaz de France (GdF), completed on Friday, according to executive chairman Jean-François Cirelli.

In Europe a climate of cosy nationalism is hard to shrug off

IT HAS been another less than glorious week for those who believe attitudes to business in continental Europe are changing. The European Parliament’s decision, by a surprisingly wide margin, to scrap Britain’s opt-out from the maximum 48-hour working week was as predictable as it was depressing.

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Hurd refuses to be drawn on splitting Hewlett-Packard

MARK Hurd, Hewlett-Packard’s choice to replace Carly Fiorina as chief executive, is playing his cards close to his chest. Investors want to know whether Hurd intends to break up the company. Hurd says he doesn’t know - or if he does, he isn’t saying. That delay is doing investors no good.

Brave Fiat chief may be on the road to nowhere

NO ONE can say that Fiat chief Sergio Marchionne lacks determination and courage. His decision last week to take personal control of Fiat Auto has put him in the firing line, at the helm of one of Europe’s worst car-makers.

It's time for EMI to change the record on great excuses

A NEW excuse was added last week to the list of "great reasons why we are performing badly", offered by UK companies. In the past we’ve had "wrong types of snow/rain" (rail operators); "It’s been too hot for our products" (Boots); and "It’s been too cold for our products" (Boots, again, the next year).

Germany pays the price for paltry efforts to reform

THE number of manufacturing jobs has been steadily declining in Germany. That trend could continue thanks to porous borders to the east, according to a poll by consultant AT Kearney.

Alstom can only look with envy at Vivendi's revival

REPAIRING wrecked companies is a tricky task, whether they are in fashionable businesses like telecoms, or deeply unfashionable metal-bashing. In France, it is even more difficult.

Time for M&S to stop playing same old blame game

MARKS & Spencer is turning the strategy of blaming previous management for all its woes into an art form. Last week it was at it again, with Stuart Rose speaking of an uphill task to turn M&S around, a fall in half-year profits and "difficult" current trading.

Flawed financial focus of Europe's motoring giants

IMAGINE it is results day for HSBC or RBS. The bank in question announces that as well as making billions of pounds in profits again and continuing to cut costs where it can, it will also to set up in mass car production across Europe.

Coca-Cola's EU deal suggests shake-up of sales is real thing

COCA-Cola’s agreement with the European Union is the first sign that new chief executive Neville Isdell’s painfully slow reform of the company may at last be getting under way.

Car makers - and unions - must face up to cutting jobs

DIAGNOSING the problems faced by Europe’s car industry isn’t rocket science - but listening to Europe’s auto bosses you’d think the causes of the malaise were unfathomable.

Takeover rumours are double Deutsche for banking giant

WHAT next for Deutsche Bank? The financial institution has announced the appointment of a number of executives to leading positions just below board level, and the financier with Deutsch in its name has assigned a local to control nearly all domestic banking operations.

Interest rate rises do not spell doom for banking stocks

IT IS a commonly held belief that interest rate rises are bad for stocks, and financial stocks in particular. This belief was aptly demonstrated last week when the banking sector, which constitutes 19% of the FTSE 100, pulled the index down on fears that rising interest rates would hit profits.

Biotech prospects must learn lessons from PPL's demise

SHAREHOLDERS in PPL Therapeutics were finally paid off with a £7.35m package last week. It is a token amount, given that £85m of shareholders’ funds have been invested in the company, but it is better than nothing, which was the other option the shareholders were facing.

Vodafone investors still waiting for 3G investment to pay

VODAFONE’S share price has fallen despite seeing profits before tax, goodwill amortisation and exceptionals for the year ended March 31 grow 10% to £10bn, and its group turnover expand 10% to £33.6bn.

NBC and Vivendi do their bit for the mega-merger

LAST week, NBC completed its long-awaited takeover of Vivendi Universal, consolidating its position as a rival to Time Warner, Walt Disney and Viacom, and hinting at more acquisitions.

Alstom's survival is fast tracked with merger plans

REALITY has come home to roost for Alstom, the heavy engineer whose high-speed trains are as much a French icon as the cockerel. The 3.2bn refinancing plan cobbled together by the French government last November is dead. The company’s cash haemorrhage caused it to breach covenants on its 3.5bn of borrowings by March, but the banks have agreed to hold off until September 30.

Pru's Bloomer as Egg sale is kept on boil

PRUDENTIAL’S chief executive Jonathan Bloomer has egg on his face. He’s been talking about selling the Pru’s 79% stake in internet bank Egg since the beginning of the year.

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