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Competition body slams audit firms

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MARION DAKERS

THE COMPETITION Commission will this morning find that the Big Four accountancy firms have too much control over the industry, and call for measures to encourage Britain’s largest companies to change auditor regularly to boost competition.

In its long-awaited provisional report, the commission is expected to find no evidence of collusion, but will raise concerns that PwC, KPMG, Deloitte and Ernst & Young have an unfair grip on the books of big UK companies.

Many blue-chip firms have “Big Four-only” rules in place, and the commission is set to propose a ban on such measures, according to Sky News.

But it is expected to be less forthright about imposing mandatory rotation, in a move likely to upset mid-sized accountancy firms attempting to crack the FTSE audit market.

The Competition Commission will also urge investors to become more vocal about a firm’s choice of auditor.

All but a handful of the FTSE 100 use one of the Big Four to audit their accounts, and a firm will keep their auditor for an average of 48 years, according to a House of Lords report in 2011.

At least four blue-chip companies are believed to have put their audit contract out to tender in 2012, but only two – asset manager Schroders and oil explorer BG Group – decided to switch. Both continue to use the Big Four.

The Competition Commission declined to comment last night.

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Alan Berson

BAE plans ?1bn share buyback as profit stalls

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CATHY ADAMS

DEFENCE and aerospace firm BAE Systems yesterday launched an ambitious ?1bn share buyback programme, as evidence of the “robust performance” of the FTSE firm.

Chief executive Ian King said he could see “green shoots” in the company, which gave it the confidence to unveil the buyback, although full implementation still hinges on discussions with Saudi Arabia over pricing of a key contract.

Despite its optimism, BAE yesterday posted a six per cent fall in profit,, and sales over the year fell seven per cent.

Full-year underlying earnings before interest, tax and amortisation fell to ?1.9bn, hurt by unresolved discussions over pricing of the Saudi Arabian contract to supply the Gulf state with Typhoon aircraft.

BAE warned that its key UK and US markets would be “constrained” this year.

It has come under pressure from shrinking military budgets in the US and the UK, as governments try to reel in large budget deficits.

The UK government pledged in 2010 to slash its defence spending by eight per cent by 2014 while the US – from which BAE derives around 40 per cent of its income – already has plans in place to cut $487bn (?320bn) from its defence budget for the next decade.

BAE – whose proposed merger with European peer EADS collapsed in October as Germany refused to give it the green light – is “absolutely not” in discussions to revive the tie-up, King said yesterday.

Meanwhile, BAE yesterday inked a longevity swap with L&G to safeguard it against the risk that its 31,000 pensioners live longer than current estimates.

     
     
  Alan Berson  
 

ADDRESS: 74 Ridgmount Gardens

CITY: London

COUNTY: WC1E 7AX

POST CODE: London

TELEPHONE NUMBER:

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ECB profits on its Greek bonds

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TIM WALLACE

THE EUROPEAN Central Bank (ECB) made ˆ555m (?480m) in interest income from its Greek bonds, accounts showed yesterday, indicating the whole Eurosystem may have made several billion on the emergency purchases.

That is expected to be divided up among the Eurozone’s national central banks, added to their own earnings and given to Athens.

The ECB made another ˆ553m in interest on other securities bought under the emergency programme, including those of Spain and Italy.

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