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Monday newspaper round-up: RBS, Fuel poverty, UK banks

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RBS close to Libor deal; fuel poverty spiralling; banks could be broken up.

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) remained tight-lipped last night amid speculation that it will take a hit of £350m from transatlantic regulators for its role in the Libor rate-rigging scandal. It was reported that RBS – 82 per cent owned by the British taxpayer after its £45bn state bailout – was close to a deal that would see regulators fine it more than the £290m suffered by rival Barclays after its admission of guilt.

An RBS spokesman declined to comment. Stephen Hester, the bank’s chief executive, said at the recent pre-close trading update he hoped there would be news on the subject before RBS announces its 2012 results in February. [The Scotsman]

The number of households in fuel poverty will break through the 6.5 million mark for the first time this Christmas, the Government’s advisory group has warned. With most of the Big Six energy companies forcing through inflation-busting rises in tariffs this month, another 300,000 homes are estimated to become fuel-poor. A household is in fuel poverty if it needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income to heat the home properly. [The Times]

The Coalition’s financial reforms could be seriously challenged this week by demands from the banking commission for a far more radical overhaul of British lenders. In a report due on Friday, which is thought to be more Volcker than Vickers, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards is expected to call for legislation to be drafted that would allow the banks to be broken up, rather than just ring-fenced.The report, which is a response to the Bank Reform Bill, is not yet finished, but members of the Commission are said to be determined to beef up the Coalition’s reforms in the wake of more fines and criticism of the sector. [The Telegraph]

Thomas Cook, the package holiday group that has faced criticism in the past from shareholders over directors’ pay, could hand its new chief executive almost £3m this year. Harriet Green, who joined in July, is understood to be receiving a basic annual salary of £680,000, while she could also get as much as £1.5m in a performance-related bonus – a quarter in the form of deferred shares. Pension contributions, her car allowance and recompense for bonuses and options from her previous job – running electronics group Premier Farnell – take her potential payout for the year to almost £3m. In subsequent years her total pay package is thought to be nearer to £2m. [The Telegraph]

A £3bn flotation of parts of the controversial Trafigura commodities trading group could be on the cards in a move that could crystallise the wealth of 700 traders who own the Swiss company. Trafigura has attracted international scrutiny for its links to dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast and for oil trade with Iraq under the United Nations’ oil-for-food programme. Now it could be poised to enter the spotlight by spinning off its Puma Energy business, which owns petrol stations, ports and refineries in countries across the developing world. If the share sale were to take place, it would follow Glencore, also based in Switzerland, for selecting London as the place to float. Glencore’s $10bn (£6.2bn) listing last year catapulted the group into the FTSE 100 and made paper billionaires of its five executives. [The Guardian]

Beleaguered electrical goods chain Comet is set to close its doors for the final time tomorrow, heralding the loss of thousands more jobs just a week before Christmas. Sources at administrator Deloitte said the retailer’s final 50 stores will close after it failed to find a buyer for the business. Around 3,500 of the group’s original 6,600 staff have already been cut or left since Deloitte was appointed at the beginning of November, with nearly 3,000 more employees now poised to join them on the dole. Talks over a potential rescue of 140 Comet stores by a mystery property tycoon are now “more unlikely than likely” to result in a deal, insiders say, with Deloitte now looking to raise cash for creditors by selling off the rights to the brand and the web business. [The Independent]

The days of the banking middlemen may be numbered as a technological revolution in business lending shakes the dominance of the UK’s biggest banks, a senior director of the Bank of England has said. The rise of peer-to-peer lenders such as Zopa and Funding Circle – which directly match up firms in need of cash with investors – and so-called crowd-funding, where small amounts are raised from a large number of funders, will challenge the nation’s major financial institutions, according to Andrew Haldane, the Bank’s director of financial stability.

He told The Independent: “The mono-banking culture we have had since the 1990s is on its way out. Instead, we are seeing a much more diverse eco-system emerging with the growth of new non-bank groups offering peer-to peer lending and crowd-funding which are operating directly with a wider public.” [The Independent]

Europe will have to “work very hard” to maintain the most generous welfare system in the world and remain globally competitive, said Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in an interview with the Financial Times. The key to Europe’s ability to survive the challenge of globalisation is to spend more on research and education and overhaul its tax and labour markets to restore competitiveness, she said. [Financial Times]

Two of Britain’s highest-profile female chief executives may have quit in recent weeks but the overall number of female directors in Britain has increased by 24 per cent over the past five years. Research from Experian shows a leap in female appointments, and comes as larger firms narrow the gap with smaller companies in hiring women. Its study of 2.7m British businesses, which analysed the number of male and female directors of UK businesses between 2007 and 2012, found that the increase in female directors since 2007 outstripped male appointments, by 24 per cent compared with 15 per cent. [The Independent]

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