Thursday, 31 December 2009

All I want for 2010: A view from an expert

Re-published with kind permission from AimZine

AIM is ending a tough year on a higher note, but it remains a challenging environment for investors and advisers. 2009 has been an evolutionary year. The ‘fittest’ AIM companies have survived in a year that saw over 250 companies leave the market. As 2009 draws to a close, it is heartening to see that the rate of those leaving the market appears to be slowing.

For advisers, the most coveted present under the financial Christmas tree remains the IPO. They were frustratingly elusive in 2009, which from a capital raising perspective, was dominated by secondary placings and rights issues. But the broader investment and advisory markets must be buoyed by the recent Gartmore and Better Capital IPOs. The simple concept that investors are now ready to invest in fund management and turnaround businesses is itself a meaningful statement and we hope a signs of things to come. All we want for 2010 is for this sentiment to continue permeating throughout the markets.


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Thursday, 17 December 2009

Crisis Comms: Winning back Tiger's stripes

What would I do if I was Tiger's PR?  Like a tiger - he needs to lie low. Tigers prowl subtly and with success and this one has been exposed in broad daylight. He has made a fool of himself, arguably ruined his marriage and from a commercial perspective his brand has been badly damaged. With key sponsors leaving him quicker than his well hit Nike ball off the tee, he needs to think and plan a ‘long game’.

What would I advise Tiger do to win back his stripes?

1. Tiger should speak to no one for 12 months (though sadly this will not include his wife’s lawyers). Whatever he says will sound contrived and just get bulldozed now.

2. Play no golf for 12 months

3. Regain the sporting respect - return to golf in 2011 and win the US and British opens, proving he is the best golfer in the world

4. Give one interview to Vanity Fair magazine which has the biggest audience in the world (though the man in me is tempted to say Playboy)

5. Watch the sponsors roll back in



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Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Murdoch’s Mexican stand off

A couple of weeks ago, the Financial Times reported that Rupert Murdoch wanted to shut Google out of his news sites, and people sat up and took notice. Murdoch decided that he would rather exclusively allow Microsoft’s Bing search engine to search his publications like the Times and WSJ. He could lose about 25% of his traffic but snap up a payment from Microsoft in the process, which is busily trying to buy Bing a place in the search market.

This is big news for journalism and if others follow suit (News Corp is certainly rallying the troops) it could change the way that we use the internet to gather information. If Bing became the only, or even best place to find quality reporting, it could for the first time be a real threat to Google’s stronghold. But what interested me is the fact that this story was reported in TechCrunch blog two weeks before; it just took coverage in the Financial Times for people to start paying attention.

TechCrunch is one of the most respected technology blogs on the net, and if nothing else, Robert Peston has shown the power of blogging over the past year so it is disappointing that the story wasn’t picked up earlier. Perhaps we still have a way to go before the power of the blogosphere can compete with mainstream media.


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Thursday, 10 December 2009

Abchurch is sky high!

The Abchaps are pleased to announce we have moved into new offices at 125 Old Broad Street!

Nick and I had our cameras to hand to record the momentous occasion.

We've already started to enjoy the panoramic views of London from our unique 16th floor 'Skybar' which is the perfect setting for a spot of lunch or afternoon tea.
We also have possibly the coolest reception chairs in London. See Nick below, um, literally shooting the lights out:

With (purple) flooring made from sustainable rubber, Boydie (chief Ab-mover?!) has aimed to make the office environmentally friendly, making the most of natural light and sustainable materials. This has kept our green team happy!

We've also had a photoshoot which has provided some funky shots for our new website which will be online in a few short days. In the meantime, enjoy the view!


Friday, 23 October 2009

Word of the week: Freedom of Speech

The BNP were granted a spot on Question Time this week, in the face of protests and outrage from the public despite the fact that the BBC have a “responsibility of due impartiality” to allow the party airtime because of its Euro vote.

As the issue has escalated, publicity for the BNP is on the up. But with an increase in BNP popularity allegedly causing spikes in racial attacks, where is the line between freedom of speech and giving the BNP a sense of legitimacy? Opinions were starkly divided and while many did not agree that the party should be given a platform to voice their policies, if the BBC, as an impartial media outlet, begins to censor political stories it could have important repercussions for future political reporting and public trust in the BBC itself. Surely it is not the BBC’s place to tell the public what political views it should and shouldn’t listen to? And this certainly provided a forum for the public to openly challenge the party on its policies. And challenge, the public did with Mr Griffin providing weak and outrageous arguments in his defense. What the papers do agree on today, is that the appearance did not do the BNP any great favours and the vast majority of educated, open minded members of the British public are enraged by Mr Griffin’s words.

The key risk, however, comes if people with no particular affiliation to any political party and who do not consider themselves racist, hear the BNP’s arguments and find themselves agreeing with some of their other policies. If this starts to happen, giving the BNP a voice in the media could be very dangerous indeed.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Taking AIM

The AIM Awards was held at Billingsgate market – undoubtedly an evening not to be missed with the main movers and shakers from an exchange that has kept us all well dressed and well fed for many years.

Jo and I put together a table that kept clients, Brulines, zamano and RCG very happy while speaking with experts from analyst and corporate finance communities. Jo went over and above the call of duty by donning black tie and greeting the guests as they arrived.

Abchurch had three short listed potential winners and, although none made the final cut, they were among strong company:

Best Performing Share
Futuragene – up 691%!

Best Communication Award
May Gurney Integrated Services plc

Best Use of AIM
Vertu Motors plc

Best Technology
Immupharma plc

AIM Transaction of the Year
ToLuna plc

Achievement in Sustainability
Modern Water plc

Best Research Award
Edison Investment Research

International Company of the Year
Asian Citrus Holdings Ltd

Best Newcomer Awards
Max Property Group

Entrepreneur of the Year
Chris Havemann, ResearchNow

Company of the Year

The Winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award went to Peter Ashworth, head of Research at Charles Stanley.
Very thoughtful thank you’s flooded the Abchurch inboxes the next day. All in all, the AIM Awards in their Old Billingsgate venue reflects the market of the past – the difference is we now trade equity not fish.


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Tuesday, 13 October 2009

CNB Seen

Today, Simone and I attended the ever-popular CIPR Speakers Lunch with guest Geoff Cutmore. Geoff is anchor of CNBC Europe and presenter of Squawk Box Europe, a programme that has yielded good coverage for a number of Abchurch’s clients. Geoff gave an interesting overview of how business news is a booming industry and particularly digital against the decline in print advertising. He then went on to describe CNBC, whose digital offering was launched in 2006, as a ‘three-legged stool’ with a leg each in the financial hubs of London, Singapore and New York.

CNBC Europe starts at 5am and the channel has had over 3,000 CEO’s and market commentators on it with around 3.3m viewers per week. The channel is most interested in speaking with listed companies but Geoff acknowledged that they have a great deal of airtime to fill and so are always interested in hearing from any company with a strong story or angle. The one overriding piece of advice he gave when preparing clients to appear on the channel was to ensure that they understand why they were coming on to speak in the first place and the wider importance of the role their company plays in the sector and issue being discussed.


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Friday, 9 October 2009

Word of the Week: Social Small Talk

This week I spotted a great example of City folk getting in on the social media scene. Alistair Dawber reported in his Small Talk investment column on Monday on Imaginatik, an AIM listed tech company whose software allows organisations to connect with their staff to collect & analyse cost saving ideas. Dawber was questioning why, after announcing a big contract win, the client was not named, even though other big brands, including Coca-Cola and Xerox are acknowledged as clients. Social media, rather than being all about twitter or Facebook, is about starting and maintaining a conversation, which CEO Mark Turrell was quick to realise. Spotting the news story moments after it was published, thanks to Google Alerts; he was able to immediately respond to Alistair’s questions in the Comments section of the article online. Whether ICIS, Imaginatik’s financial tech-specialist PR firm, had anything to do with encouraging their client to interact in this way is unclear, but I suspect that actually the idea of starting conversations and building relationships is rooted deep within the nature of Imaginatik itself. If clients are nervous about tweeting or don’t know Wordpress from a wiki, perhaps a simple online response to journalists could be the first baby steps into Social Media in the City.


Tweet-up: IPREX Portland

Since the Abchaps chose to give the the Portland IPREX meeting a miss, here’s what the IPREX partners were reporting on Twitter:

RossSullivan: #social_media - biggest shared hurdle by #IPREX firms is explaining ROI to clients. We will share are best solutions in days ahead. 4 days ago from mobile web

renzistone33: SM is best implemented thru SM audits, overall planning, tactic execution, monitoring and workshops/training. #IPREX now, wine... 4 days ago from UberTwitter

nettresults: Great intro to newsrooms by @codella at #IPREX conference and why every company needs one 4 days ago from web

codella: Thanks #IPREX for using the NewsCactus online newsroom - gr8 2 be w/ u today 4 days ago from TwitterBerry

DeborahatUlum: Google is your new "daddy" online. Love the online newsroom, thx @codella for coming to #IPREX! 4 days ago from TweetDeck
renzistone33: PR needs big, aligned ideas in changed economy. Good debate about differences in PR v. Advertising (or lack thereof). #IPREX 4 days ago from TweetDeck

renzistone33: Millenials want openness, recognition, responsibility, training, balance & opinions implemented. #IPREX 4 days ago from UberTwitter

nettresults: Ad agencies engage in a monologue - PR agencies engage a dialogue... interesting thoughts from #IPREX 4 days ago from web

codella: gr8 discussion about millennials at #iprex - an entitled, narcissistic generation - going to learn some hard lessons 4 days ago from TweetDeck

codella: Listening to org behavior expert John Barry of Positive Eye Consultancy at IPREX conf in Portland 4 days ago from TwitterBerry

vollmerpr: In Portland for IPREX mtg w/30 other top PR firms. Pinot Noir, good friends & great minds! 5 days ago from Tweetie

RossSullivan: Upbeat mood at #IPREX Portland meeting despite member firms experiencing revenue drops. #social_media depts are all the buzz. More Friday. 5 days ago from mobile web

If you want to keep up with all the latest IPREX happenings, visit and search for #IPREX. Those in the Twitterati can also follow @IPREX

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Awards

Last night I attended the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards as a guest of E&Y. The Hilton was populated on Tuesday night with private equity companies and entrepreneurs running high-growth businesses typically backed by venture capital or private equity.

And the winners were...

Retail & Consumer Products
Sportswift Limited, a retailer of greetings cards and related products, trading as Card Factory

IT Services
Achilles Group, risk monitoring company

Business Services
Healthcare Locums, health and social care staffing company

Science & Technology
PayPoint, cash and internet payments company

Social entrepreneur
Steve Howard, Climate Change Organisation (launched in 2004 with 20 CEOs, Tony Blair and half the UK cabinet)

Media, Entertainment and Communications
Betfair, the world’s largest betting community and the pioneer of the betting exchange model

Master Entrepreneur
Michael Spencer, ICAP, the world’s leading interdealer broker and provider of post trade services to the wholesale financial markets

Young Entrepreneur
Arnab Nasu, Durham Scientific Crystals Limited

Support Services
Senergy Holdings, helps clients find technical and process solutions which enable the development of oil, gas and alternative energy projects

Consumer Services
Dr JD Hull Associates, the largest provider of private specialist dental care in the UK

Overall winner progressing to Monte Carlo for International Entrepreneur of the Year Awards 2010 is Michael Spencer, ICAP. I am already angling for an invitation!

I gained much insight into the workings of the entrepreneur’s minds with the common denominators being
- the ability to make things happen
- being persistent

In this difficult economic climate, it is clear that the surviving companies are those with solid market drivers and those that are cutting costs and investing in growth.

The evening was made especially fun with Master of Ceremonies Joanna Lumley who relayed her own entrepreneurial story with her hard-won, historic victory on behalf of the Gurkhas. Alluding to this success, David Mellor, while presenting one of the awards, said: “Why should Boris be the only blond bombshell in Whitehall….”


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Monday, 7 September 2009

Abchurch on the move!

The Abchaps are excited to announce that in November 2009, we will be moving into swanky new offices at 125 Old Broad Street. In the meantime, Abchurch’s London office will temporarily be located at 41 Lothbury, London EC2R 7HG.

41 Lothbury is located in the heart of the City of London, 2 minute’s walk from Bank station and less than 5 minute’s walk from Liverpool Street station. It is also less than a minute’s walk from Abchurch’s soon-to-be new home on Old Broad Street.

The move was nothing if not exciting:

Marky Mark, Alex and Boz assembling the computer in our meeting area

Munch and Steve manage to escape the chaos for a moment

Jackie B ponders where to put all the files

The leopard is a long way from the zoo

Jo looks like she did something she probably shouldn't have done

Steph gets involved in some heavy lifting...

While Sir Alan takes a break!

Um, does anyone have a pen?!

Au revoir 100 Cannon Street!

And it's business as normal at 41 Lothbury.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Heather's IPREX Diary: Google

We all traipsed onto the IPREX bus for a blind tour of NY to Lower Manhattan and we got out at a decrepit old factory - the old Nabisco warehouse. With no signage whatsoever, we ascended strong metal train track staircase to the vanguard of multimedia – Google. Once we entered this mysterious company, we toured the chalk boards, scooters, graffiti art and even a slide! It was a tour of mixed feelings. Did work actually happen here? Did we think they were too cool for school? Does the lackadaisical attitude spurn productivity? It didn't look much like the Abchurch office and most of us seethed with bitter jealousy!!

The presentations enlightened us to the vast variety of tools available to us with Google – tools that help PRs do Peer Group analysis and measurement and evaluation and some of which we use at Abchurch already. The ethos depends on the wisdom of crowds driving innovation. Many studies were used to exemplify the power of Google. Like Bloomberg, there is a distinct ethos at Google which all employees like and adopt.


Friday, 29 May 2009

Word of the week: £££ Sterling

The hammered British Pound has caught a gust of air and is on the up reaching the value of $1.60 for the first time in over 6 months. Investors have been prompted to move away from the defensive US dollar once again, with growing optimism that the contraction in the UK economy is certainly slowing if not reversing. Growth is inhibited however by concerns over UK national debt, the prospect of higher taxes for years to come and a growing national penury - worsened by an indifference to saving given the recent unpredictability of financial institutions as a whole. Stabilisation may have arrived with recovery still a few bumps away.


Heather's IPREX Diary: The Expert's view

A panel discussion at the University Club followed Bloomberg, with some of the most eminent Directors of Communications in the world, facing enormous challenges.

Harvey Greisman, Group Executive, Worldwide Communications of Mastercard was in the toughest boat since only last week President Obama called the CEOs and senior executives of all credit card companies to the White House. He had received an unprecedented number of letters from the US public complaining about the high level of credit card debt and the perseverance of all of them to push high rates onto sub prime people. Harvey’s advice was that “good corporate governance is a top driver in restoring trust among the public and reputation management is something all PRs should do”. He has a long way to go in restoring this trust.

Raymond Kerins VP of Worldwide Communications of Pfizer explained that the pharma industry spent too much time reacting and independent agencies should help in-house PR be more proactive. He added that operating in this heavily regulated industry meant they do need to be careful about using Twitter and other social media. They do however heavily utilise the likes of SERMO online – industry e-mags. His key messages were that they are now a $50 billion start up with new management, new focus, products that sell, with stability and cash. Strong points and well put.

With regards the use of social media, Barbara Pierce, Worldwide Comms Director of Kodak utilised social media to maximum effect when the Wall Street Journal print version put out misguided numbers. Perhaps more effective with a consumer brand, Barbara negated the WSJ comments effectively through Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Other speakers included General Electric, Swiss Re, Viacom and Bausch & Lomb. The panel overseer was the illustrious Jon Byrne, editor-in-chief of Business Week. I admire him most as co-author of Jack Welsh’s book: Jack: Straight from the Gut. He acknowledged that all the speakers’ companies have had an extremely tough ride in the down turn and that there is a propensity for journalists to focus on bad news. Restoring trust was paramount. There is a definitive need to educate the markets and he quoted that reputation management is the sum of the images. The images consist of Performance, Behaviour and Communication.

The Head of Comms from NYU sponsored this panel and wrapped up by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “Character is the Key; Reputation is the shadow.”

My own observation of in-house PR directors is they have to be self deprecating, bold when it matters and incredibly savvy.


Image courtesy of Matt Hamm on Flickr, through a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Low Carbon Economy

Abchurch has one of the UK’s leading environmental practices and views the carbon market primarily in terms of its effect on investor confidence.

The world is on the edge of what US and EU Political advisor Jeremy Rifkin has dubbed ‘The Third Industrial Revolution’. This is a world in which we move away from traditional fossil fuel and uranium-based energies into a non-polluting, sustainable future for the human race.

In this new age investors are concerned not just with the impact that traditional commodities, such as oil, grain and minerals, have on a company’s profitability but also with factors such as the cost of carbon, sulphur dioxide, water and even holes in the ground. Indeed, Britain is widely expected to be routinely mining its landfill sites within the next decade to recover many of these valuable commodities whilst minimizing the energy usage and harmful emissions associated with extracting them from primary sources.

The investment agenda is no longer one solely of balance sheets and cashflow statements, however. Climate change concerns have fuelled the rise of Corporate & Social Responsibility in high streets and boardrooms across the world. This Triple Bottom Line approach to company reporting (financial, social and environmental) demands simple shorthands and metrics and there is none more convenient than ‘carbon equivalent.’ Hence the “low carbon economy.”

Research carried out in late 2008 amongst UK based fund managers for British Energy found that:
· 80% think that a carbon reduction strategy can have a positive impact on investor perceptions
· 2 in 5 believe that commitment to carbon reduction can have a positive impact on share price
· 25% see a growing media and public demand for carbon reduction commitment at the corporate level

The Carbon Trust’s March 2009 report ‘Global Carbon Mechanisms: Emerging lessons and implications’ reveals:
· The Clean Development Mechanism, specifically, has triggered over 4000 emission-reducing projects in developing countries
· It is likely to reduce carbon emissions by 2 billion tonnes by 2012

Climate Change Capital, just one of thousands of specialist environmental funds globally, has:
· over US $1.5 billion under management as of January 2009
· estimated that Clean energy (just one subset of the climate change market) was worth $148 billion in 2007
· predicted that current climate change needs require a future investment in clean energy of up to $45 trillion

No revolution is without its hazards, however. Indeed, many would argue that the focus on ‘low carbon’ has become an unhealthy obsession, with the same whiff of snake oil, get rich quick and too good to be truisms witnessed in the energy and silicon rushes of the first and second industrial revolutions. Hence the concept of “greenwash.”

One of Abchurch’s most important roles is to steer companies through this new communications landscape; taking carbon credit where it is due and avoiding tempting, but often meaningless hype. This experienced counsel, based on our team’s genuine earth science credentials, is just as true whether working with our intrinsically environmental clients, or with our broader customer base of companies who are simply playing their responsible part is a newly carbon-conscious world.


Image courtesy of Olof S on Flickr, through a Creative Commons License.

Heather's IPREX Diary: Bloomberg

This was my first experience at a Global IPREX conference and it was fantastic to meet the others. All exude high professionalism, proactivity and fun which resulted in a vibrant three days in New York.

Hosted by Makovsky, we took in the great sights of Bloomberg. The photograph depicts a wall of silhouettes, people with the same round heads and different clothes and stances. We are told by the guide that this represents the indoctrinated culture of Bloomberg, while each person retains their own individuality. During the tour of this phenomenal and highly lucrative private business, every corner showcased art, whether it was a cumulus cloud hanging from the ceiling or a spiral sofa or ornate fish tanks separating meeting rooms. It was a feast for the corporate eyes and what was most telling was the employees’ vast enthusiasm for the Group and the ease with which each person adopted the strict but innovative culture.

Serious discussion got under way with the three most senior editors and business management at Bloomberg. The main message was Speed and, internally, to know who is reachable and who is doing what. They receive a staggering 5,000 stories a day and it could be the Asian desk, the UK desk or the US desk picking up a story at any one time. Instead of focusing on geographic importance, the place is split into sectors and you could get a response from the tech guy in Asia as easily as the tech person in US. Social media was a big discussion with Bloomberg insisting it IS a social media. The trend means that things are not so much “off the record”, more “hope no one blogs this”!

Bloomberg customers are among the wealthiest and most prominent in the world ensuring that Bloomberg delivers real time news that moves markets.


Friday, 8 May 2009

Word of the week: Playing FTSE

The FTSE 100 is fast approaching the 4500 mark after a strong rally over the past week. However the staunch ascent has lost its puff in the latter half of this week without a significant stimulus to counter the cautious optimism that has swept equity markets upwards. The increasing length and breadth of the rally across all sectors and several countries is increasing confidence that we are experiencing something more than a short bear market rally. However the bullish confidence of old is far from being restored and the seemingly unwarranted wobbles demonstrate a continued tentativeness from investors.


Wednesday, 6 May 2009

New York New York

Bozzy and I are getting ready for IPREX's global conference in New York City. Abchurch are regulars at these conferences, which bring together our network of like-minded PR partners from all over the world. This year's theme is "Multinational Issues in a Multimedia World." We'll be discussing social media at Google, the economic crisis at Bloomberg, and how global companies are handling the toughest PR issues at New York University.

Always keeping an eye on green issues, we are looking forward to the kick off dinner with a discussion on PR opportunities surrounding climate change, featuring Andrew McKeon, Principal of carbonRational, a consulting firm which provides corporations with the tools for building sustainable enterprises.

The main event is a panel discussion starring eight heads of Corporate Communications at Top Fortune 500 global companies including GE, Pfizer and MasterCard. We will be asking how the global economic crisis is changing the way the world's biggest corporations communicate with their stakeholders. What do they see as major global communications issues now and in the future?

Most excitingly, the lovely team at Makovsky have organised one of the top Google Exec’s to talk about how Web 2.0 is changing the way we communicate across the globe. The talk will be followed by a tour of Googleplex East, the search giant’s NY HQ, complete with air hockey, pool tables, quizzically named ‘Google Snacks’ and giant exercise balls rolling across the office. What were we supposed to be discussing again…?


Friday, 1 May 2009

In the morning you know they won't remember a thing...

Speaking of Lance Armstrong, did you know he’s competing in this year’s Drambuie Pursuit? He is a member of one team in only five chosen to go on an all expenses paid “adventure of epic proportions” in the wilds of the Scottish highlands. Not to be outdone, CJ’s only got himself a spot as well!

Part of Team Escape to Matrimony, CJ with a few of his City chums starred in and edited this fabulous video that was chosen by the public out of 40 other entries. The Grooms-to-be have won an adrenaline junkie’s dream, pushing themselves to the limit across a series of tough activities which include mountain biking, power boat racing, rock climbing, white-water rafting and more, all in preparation for the challenges of married life that lie ahead.

Abchurch wish them all the best of luck – they’re going to need it!

DJ Twitter

The Dow Jones Newswires' UK smallcap team now has a Twitter feed, featuring daily news from UK small and mid cap companies, proving that it isn’t just international superstar celebs like the Abchurch team (and of course Stephen Fry, Wossy, Ashton Kutcher) who recognise the value of Twitter, the latter being the first person to attract 1m followers in a race against news channel CNN.

Journalists of all shapes, sizes, sectors and sources are jumping on the bandwagon to tweet their 140 (character) cents. From the Guardian, often known to be leaders on the media front, giving a continuous flow of international and regional news, to Lance Armstrong who is back in the saddle attempting to win a record 8th Tour de France, it seems there is no limit to the Twitterati, anyone can join its ranks these days.

But how could Twitter be going in the wrong direction? CNN has joined the debate arguing that with all the hype about Swine Flu, perhaps Twitter might be spreading misinformation and propagating fear. Those in the know could check out a reliable source like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Twitter feed for Swine Flu updates and I think as long as you’re not using Twitter for self diagnosis, whether you are letting people know that you are “just leaving work, need a drink!” or raising a question, “will the FTSE ever see 5,000 again?!”, Twitter is for everyone. Tweet on!

For those less in the know (and who haven’t read up on the Abchat blog), Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to send and read other users' updates known as ‘tweets’. Check out to get started. Don’t forget to follow those of us at Abchurch, and just so you don’t get caught out, here is the Telegraph’s list of the top ten worst tweets.


Word of the week: Swine

When the global economy develops a cold the population and its pigs catch flu…doesn’t quite sound right. But that’s what’s happening and its sending certain stocks back down the pan. Holiday companies, hotel chains and airlines such as British Airways and easyJet are tumbling in the wake of the crisis. Not surprisingly flu vaccine manufacturer’s such as global Pharma company GlaxoSmithKline are among the top risers in the market. This week has definitely been a reminder of the inevitable uncertainty for any investor. As Chris Hossain, senior sales manager at Abchurch client ODL Securities, put it "World markets need a shot in the arm and talk of a global pandemic is a huge concern to the economy." Someone keeps mixing up the needles.


Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Growing Respect at the Growth Company Investor Awards

Abchurch was out in force as Bozzy, Justin and Charlie headed off to see the great and the good of AIM receive their annual gongs at the Vitesse adviser awards. Abchurch was nominated - thanks to all who voted for us! It turned out that event sponsor Redleaf won it. Rather than eating sour grapes(and consoled by the fact that it’s only two years since we won the award)the Abchurch team congratulated Redleaf, munched yummy nibbles and caught up with houses including Hanson Westhouse, Seymour Pierce, K&L Gates, Evolution, Mazars, Baker Tilly. Whilst we are aware that Financial PR is occasionally deemed further down the food chain than other City adviser roles, it was PR’s who had the last laugh on the night because in terms of usefulness, pleasingly we came second only to Lawyers. Smug grins all-round.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Word of the Week: Darling’s rickety bridge

Alistair Darling, Chancellor of the Exchequer, delivered his second UK budget statement on Wednesday. With an unenviable task, Darling’s efforts have caused a reaction of outrage given his perceived over-optimism. The government’s forecasts of 1.25% economic growth in 2010 and 3.5% in 2011 compare with consensus forecasts of 0.3% and 1.9% respectively. The FT has called the budget a ‘short and rickety bridge over a deep chasm’ whilst leader of the opposition David Cameron has branded the growth forecasts less of a U-turn and more of an economic ‘trampoline’. There seems to be little approval of Darling’s plans as he has bowed to pressure to increase tax only on high earners as a political tactic ahead of next year’s general election. Darling has done little to comfort fears over the level of national debt (68% of GDP next year) which is at its highest in any peacetime era. The government has continued discretionary spending against the advice of the Bank of England and avoided broader tax rises. For his part, Darling argues that we cannot cut our way out of recession but we can grow our way out. But he is showing increasing confidence in the future of an ailing economy and we can only hope that this is for rational reasons rather than political ends.


Monday, 20 April 2009

Internationalising Environmental Solutions Conference

Abchurch’s Green Team was in full force at the Internationalising Environmental Solutions conference last week held at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford, near Cambridge. The conference was jointly organised by EnviroTech (its director Hugh Parnell is a long-time friend of Abchurch) and The East of England International, with the support of the UK Department of Trade and Innovation. It aims to promote environmental technologies and increase the inflow of international investment and talent in the region. Remarkably the this is likely to be the only region to reach the UK government’s target of 10% electricity from renewables by 2010.

At the conference we saw an impressive number of high-calibre organisations, university centres, and investment incentives set up to promote environmental innovation and business development. Ending the conference on a high note, Abchurch was also mentioned in Hugh’s presentation as a preferred provider of PR services.

Justino & The Tsangaroo

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Word of the week

With March taking the FTSE 100 up above the 4,000 mark again there was talk of a return in the equity markets. What’s more the Dow Jones had its largest monthly rally since 2003! The ‘historic’ G20 doesn’t seem to have had any immediate effect on commercial confidence however, especially in the UK where job cuts are increasing and our flagship FTSE drifting below 4,000 again. Last month is ever more firmly stamped as a ‘bear market rally’ so the next bounce will need to be a little higher for equities to lead the way out of the recession.


Friday, 3 April 2009

Word of the week: G20

So the world leaders have gathered in London this week to sort out the fuddle we have got ourselves into. Thousands more have taken to the streets to demonstrate and in some cases disrupt proceedings. Holding the summit in London’s Docklands area, a few miles from the City and one of the world’s financial centres, does not seem the brightest of plans.

Worryingly there is as much posturing amongst the aggrieved protest groups as between the world leaders, particularly within Europe. And with nine hours of discussion scheduled there is much more than a simple rearrangement required to satisfy the bated breath around the world. None more so than me looking rather drab and hoping I can get back into my uniform with renewed optimism. Pukka.


Image courtesy of suburbanslice on Flickr, through a Creative Commons License.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Baker Tilly is Taking AIM

Baker Tilly's recent Taking AIM survey gave some encouraging statistics on the AIM market.

Although much reduced, AIM’s IPO and transaction total in 2008 outpaced almost all other growth markets as well as the main London market, and is only two IPOs behind the much larger NASDAQ.

AIM’s global reach was undiminished with three quarters of IPOs coming from overseas.

Secondary issues remain a key strength for the market with £3.2bn of further equity funding completed in 2008.

A minimum fund raising for IPOs is felt to be a better regulatory change than a minimum market cap specification due to fluctuations.

Recovery will be preceded by that of the larger caps. But stock picking those that will survive and benefit from disappearing competition on AIM will be the major incentive for investors.

The most popular benefits for an AIM listing were:
1. access to capital, profile, credibility
2. liquidity
3. facilitation of acquisitions
4. facilitation of exit for investors
5. tax breaks and incentives

  • 72% of AIM companies have implemented cost cutting measures.

  • More than half of investors reduced the proportion of funds invested in AIM stocks.

  • 40% of investors believe the reduction in IPOs has increased the quality of the market.

  • 65% of investors put a higher proportion of funds into secondary issues in ‘08 than ‘07 reflecting the continuing support for good AIM companies.

  • 69% of companies and 67% of investors expect AIM to recover from the downturn in 2010.

  • 82% of investors consider UK companies to be a more secure investment than their overseas counterparts.

  • 51% of investors expect the IPO rate to level off at 100-150/ year.

The most important criteria for investment were:
1. good track record
2. good business plan
3. good management
4. strong balance sheet
5. realistic valuation

British Press Awards

To the British Press Awards Dinner at the Grosvenor where I was invited as a guest of Farrer &Co., leading media lawyers. Jon Snow of swingometer fame came straight from his Channel Four news spot with a great speech to present these most prestigious awards.

- The Times won three awards including National Newspaper of the Year- Sam Jones of the FT was highly commended in the Young Journalists of the Year category but was pipped to the post by Tom Harper of the Mail on Sunday
- Digital Journalist of the Year was Dave Hill of the Guardian, the title that also picked up the Website of the Year Award
- Business and Finance Journo of the Year went to Stephen Foley of the Independent
- Gillian Tett of the FT picked up the coveted Journalist of the Year award for her early take on the economic meltdown

The hacks lived up to their alcoholic haze image but let themselves down slightly by giving their winning colleagues a standing ovation each time one them returned to a table with the relevant gong, but then sat and chatted whilst the International Journalist of The Year prize, won by Mohammad Sadegh Kaboudvand, went uncollected because he is doing a ten year stretch in an Iranian prison for the writings that won him the prize - shame on them for not acknowledging that.

There was hot debate on the table as to whether it was technically possible for the Mail on Sunday to win “Scoop of the Year” for its coverage of Ross & Brand. How you can “scoop” something that has already been broadcast on national radio tested the top media law brains!

Congratulations to the winners, a full list can be found here.


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Friday, 27 March 2009

Southwest have it all Rapped up

Only this week, the Financial Times reported that the airline industry is in dire straits. With the recession fully taking hold, fewer people are flying and fewer still are paying premiums for business and first class tickets. Since these are the major money spinners for airlines, profits in the industry are nosediving sharply.

With this in mind, it is no wonder that US budget carrier Southwest Airlines is bigging up a member of staff who – to save putting himself to sleep having made the mind-numbingly boring safety announcement for the fifth time that day – decided to liven it all up Will Smith style to the delight of a passengers who posted the video on YouTube.

The blogs and papers reported that it was an instant hit, with hundreds of thousands of viewers in just a few days, though a bit of savvy sleuthing by Abchurch found that actually a video of the rapping attendant first surfaced months ago. Either way, in these times, PR like this is priceless, and that a video from one girl’s cell phone in the US can end up in the UK’s Daily Telegraph really illustrates the power of viral marketing. The bonus for Southwest is that this is completely genuine and transparent, embracing the founding principals of social media. This is in huge contrast to companies who have to pay an agency to create videos that are intended to go viral. Not genuine, not transparent.

But while hunting for the video of this I actually found two versions; one filmed by a passenger (linked above), and another filmed from right next to the man himself. If you play a ‘spot the difference’ game, you will notice that:

1. the second video was shot on a camera that was of significantly higher quality than a phone.
2. there were fewer crazy passengers screaming “Yee Ha!”
3. David Holmes no longer has a sheet of paper with the words on it
4. the passengers are different

This, of course, made me think that Southwest cottoned on to the popularity of the video and decided to film David rapping for their own PR efforts, although it doesn't seem to be on their official YouTube channel NutsAboutSouthwest. Official or not, does this change how genuine the video is? I don’t think so. Now there are lots of passenger videos of him rapping, on flights headed all over America. I think that Southwest are making the most of a brilliant opportunity that has come their way. And as the guy mentions at the beginning of his spiel, many of the stewards on Southwest have ‘talents’ which include singing or dancing. I think if Southwest are open to letting their staff and passengers have fun on a flight, and they benefit from it so positively, then there is no reason they should not make the most of it – just as long as they don’t go after all their other staff and start filming them doing crazy tricks too often.

These are – ahem – turbulent times indeed for the airline industry, but it looks like, for a while at least, this great viral video will help keep Southwest flying high.


Thursday, 19 March 2009

Looking at liquidity on AIM

This week I attended an event organised by Vitesse Media's Growth Company Investor and BDO Stoy Hayward about “Liquidity on AIM”. The task was to find AIM’s most robust stocks with a market cap over £10 million. Vitesse Media and BDO assessed the trading statistics of every single AIM company, a total of 1550, over a six month period. They whittled down the list to just 106 companies with a market cap of over £10 million, and that had at least 50% of its shares traded in the six months. For these select companies, sales levels, profit levels, growth rates, and levels of corporate governance were all scrutinised, as well as brokers, advisors and market makers.

The findings note that there is a strong correlation with trading volume and the number of market makers supporting a company. A greater commitment by directors to engage with analysts and brokers can be well worth the time involved. There was a lot of emphasis put on corporate governance, since on average there ware more non-executive directors and separate Chairman and CEO roles in the most liquid companies. Happily, the most significant factor in liquid stock is NEWSFLOW. I quote: “Companies, especially smaller companies with little following, will see their shares trade and re-price only when something happens. By contrast, those that actively disseminate news and results should see trading volumes improve.” BDO continues to say although this takes quite a bit of management time, persistence does pay off.


Monday, 9 March 2009

GCI’s Spotlight on AIM

Heather and Bozzy attended the Growth Company Investor Spotlight on AIM breakfast last week. The annual survey of London’s junior market produced some characteristically enlightening statistics:

Companies valued below £20m: 71% (2007: 53%)
New Aim issues: 70 (2007: 222, 2005: 438)
Fund raising for admissions: £903m (2007: £6.25bn)
Delistings: 228 (2007: 224)
Total number of AIM companies: 1,550 (at year end 08)
Total market cap of AIM companies fell by 61% to £37.7bn (2007: £98bn)
Best share price performers
1. Avisen (formerly Z Group)
2. Tepnel Life Sciences
3. Ramco Energy
4. Futuragene

Sector wise there has been great change. The oil and gas, mining and real estate sectors have fallen in value particularly whilst general financial pips all three to be the most populous and high value sector on AIM.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Word of the week

£650,000 a year?? This is the figure that has stoked the fury of the headlines over the past week as it emerged that Fred ‘the Shred’ Goodwin would take his leave with an exorbitant pension despite notching up a £24bn loss as former Chief Executive of RBS. It was made worse by the realisation that as a part nationalised bank we, each of us, would be paying for it. On my calculation, taking the UK population as around 65million, every penny that Goodwin ‘earns’ as a retired man will be paid for by 10 of us. However, the debate over whether Goodwin will surrender this pension package still seems like a side issue to the real mistake. The government, Lord Myners as City minister in particular, have yet again been caught between two bases.

1. We knew about this and did nothing.
2. We didn’t know about this and we should have.

If all the indignation against Sir Fred was aimed at the government then there would soon be the change that is necessary to change the wider crisis. However Brown’s faulty triple regulatory structure of the Treasury, the Bank of England and the FSA seems yet again to be doing him the service of bouncing blame around until it loses its punch and drifts down on no one.

Friday, 27 February 2009

It's a girl!

Abchurch sends congratulations Ariane Comstive who on 8th February gave birth to a beautiful baby girl named Thaïs Camille May. We were so excited to see the first photos of Thaïs (and pleased that Hello! has not already been given first dibs). We wish Ariane and her family all the best with their new addition.


Pedicabs at Midnight...

The Abchurch team of Justin, Tsangasaurus Rex and Jo, lead by Bozzy, put on their (green!) glad rags for the Rosenblatt New Energy Awards at the Natural History Museum last night, and headed for a night of champagne, awards, and dinner under a dinosaur.

Janet Street-Porter and Zac Goldsmith hosted the evening, which was another great event by Vitesse. The Abchurch tables were jam packed with green heavy-hitters, including Charles Stanley, Matrix, Independent on Sunday, JPMorgan Cazenove, BBC, as well as Abchurch clients Proton Power Systems, EnergyMixx and Bluewater Bio.

Legal Abchum "Fewan Two" kept our tables amused, first by orchestrating a mid-speech chime of falling glasses – you rang Sir? - and then in a curiously Oedipal way referring to his wife as his mother. She should gate him!

Congratulations from Abchurch to all the winners!


Image courtesy of johnnyalive on Flickr, through a Creative Commons License.

Word of the week

The great clean up seemed to turn, or at least begin to veer around, a corner this week as the government and the FSA progressed with new regulation and an asset protection scheme dubbed ‘Operation Broom’. Lord Turner, head of the City regulatory body, dismissed past practices as ‘fundamental intellectual failure’ and cited a ‘revolution’ in City governance that had already progressed in the last 18 months. So what does this mean? Banks are now likely to be required to hold up to three times as much capital against their trading assets and there will be far more scrutiny of whether senior bankers are fit for their jobs. And with Lloyds and RBS soon to announce record losses, Alistair Darling is also stepping up efforts to isolate bad debt in both banks. This will allow them to return to normal lending capacity and avoid a further investor sell-off that might force nationalization. The wheels are beginning to turn at least and the survival of the two banks over the weekend should (worryingly) be a good sign. If not it’s hard to see how the government itself will survive.


'Why did nobody tell us?'

Jack and I attended a fascinating debate this week at the London School of Economics: ‘Why did nobody tell us?' reporting the global crash of 08’. The debate boasted a celebrity panel of Evan Davies (BBC), Vince Cable (LibDems), Gillian Tett (FT Assistant Editor) and Alex Brummer (Daily Mail City Editor) alongside LSE professors Willem Buiter and Howard Davies. The heated and occasionally humorous debate centred on the role of the financial press and its actions leading up to the current crisis:

The role of the press: Davies argued that the bulletin nature of news prevents balanced stories and should reflect rather than disrupt wider opinion.

The scope of the business press: Tett described the ‘iceberg memos’ which she drew up as editor of the Lex column in ‘03/4. They portrayed the vast areas of the City such as credit default swaps, derivatives, securitisation and debt that remained underwater receiving negligible coverage. These now hazardous areas were isolated from the outside world in favour of a focus on equities and foreign exchange issues.

The banking model: Cable suggested that the requirement of governments to protect banks necessitates state regulation similar to that used in utility companies. And also that losses AND profits need to be nationalised.

The ability to forecast crises: Willem Buiter (LSE) illustrated that history is hard enough to plot accurately and that global crises have never been forecast. He suggested that the requirement of the media to entertain inhibited any compelling warning.

The rank of financial press: any warnings that did appear remained in the business section ‘on p86’ as Brummer put it. Tett portrayed the City as unaware of the context of their industry which has led to the unforeseen impact of its demise. This ‘Bloomberg Screen’ mentality develops from the wider public’s distaste for the alphabet soup of finance.

The housing crash: Brummer demonstrated how the Mail had continually warned of a housing bubble. Davies suggested that since ‘05 sensible homeowners should have been wary of a bubble.

Financial PR: Tett and Howard Davies (LSE) described how the time pressures on journalists have assisted the growth of financial PR. They agreed that a PR serving the private interest of clients should not prevent a journalist publishing unbiased information.
This was a incredibly informative event hosted by the LSE, and the team are looking forward to attending many more in the future.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Abchaps are hitting the award ceremonies with a whole New Energy

Have you ever had dinner underneath a dinosaur? I thought not. It’s that time of year again, the glam and the glitz of London come together in a sparkling black tie affair at the Natural History Museum for Rosenblatt’s New Energy Awards on Wednesday 25th February. The ceremony recognises the “achievements of management teams, companies and projects that have made a significant contribution to this sector during the past 12 months.”

Justin and our very own “Tsangaroo” who head up our cleantech team will be donning their gladrags and hosting the Abchurch tables at this year’s event joined by clients and City friends, and Jo will be joining Vitesse Media.

Justin has insisted that we stick strictly to the dress code of “Black tie with a green twist” which is highly open to interpretation. An organic cotton shirt perhaps? A recycled bow tie from a charity shop? Something carbon neutral? Or as fashionista Jo has taken it to mean “a full on shiny green dress, a bit like a mermaid!” If you’re a guest of Abchurch, you’ve been warned!

With a win for one of our clients at last year’s event and a nomination for a different client in the same category this year, the cleantech team will be on the edge of their seats…

Photo: Phillie Casablanca on Flickr

Friday, 20 February 2009

Team Abchurch make a Sterling effort at the Quiz

“Obviously, we deliberately answered the questions incorrectly so that we wouldn’t embarrass the bankers, otherwise they wouldn’t bring us deals” – very convincing Henry. Sadly Abchurch didn’t quite make it to first place at the Sterling Quiz on Thursday, but we definitely would have won the rowdiest table award (there was much cheering to celebrate Jack’s flashes of brilliance). The Abchallengers, determined not to be utterly humiliated, seconded Jo to the Collins Stewart table as an honorary member of team 'What's "financial"?' she did her best to lead them astray by feeding them the wrong answers. Steph offered to help Investec find alternative careers as a boyband (X-Factor here we come!), and insisted that they practice their dance moves in Abacus later on…

Heather and Toppers didn’t exactly lead the team to victory, but did provide much entertainment during the battle against the likes of Evolution, Fairfax, Noble, and RBS. Toppers’ music knowledge was invaluable, and we got an intriguing insight into what he was up to in the early 90’s…

A huge thank you to Sterling for such a fun night (although we missed PM desperately)!

Team Abchurch

Photo: Oberazzi on Flickr

Friday, 13 February 2009

Word of the week

Sir James Crosby, resigning Deputy Chairman of the FSA, has dominated the news agenda this week. PM Gordon Brown is now facing mounting criticism as it emerged he had knighted and positioned Crosby with the FSA and as a key government financial adviser. This was despite the fact that Crosby, whilst CEO of HBOS in 2005, had sacked senior risk manager, Paul Moore, over concerns that he voiced about the sustainability of the HBOS model – now nationalised by the government. With the Commons Select Committee holding grilling sessions on a weekly basis the recession seems to have descended into a blame game. Moore follows Robert Peston and Gordon Brown as claimants to the title of “I called the recession ages go, you idiots” whilst all quarters have got used to the tone of Mervyn King’s latest funeral dirge that confirmed a “deep recession”. Let’s hope someone finds the way to daylight soon to stop all this shouting in the dark.


Abchicks and the Twitterati

Ever since Chris Moyles and Phillip Schofield joined Twitter last week, the UK buzz surrounding the microblogging site has been growing. You can’t turn on the radio or pick up a newspaper without someone talking about it. Even @StephCuthbert has become a prolific Twitterer (tweeter?) this week and she’s not even sure what it’s all about. Although Twitter is by no means new, now that even more high profile media figures are endorsing Twitter as “the next big thing” it looks like the UK is finally ready to jump on the bandwagon. Twitter is going UK mainstream and Abchurch is floating on up with it.

So what’s it all about?

Thanks @CommonCraft!

Twitter is such a great platform for communicating and sharing ideas and because each ‘tweet’ is limited to 140 characters people get to the point very quickly (and usually with a good helping of wit). This is really useful to gather and spread information fast. People were tweeting during the inauguration, various earthquakes, the Mumbai attacks, today’s Buffalo plane crash and much more. It’s a brilliant way of getting real time information from a variety of sources and Twitter is fast becoming a source for breaking news.

I won’t continue to extol the virtues of Twitter here, but I’ve been a glittering member of the Twitterati for nearly a year and these are the things I love about it:

• Connecting with people who are so interesting and helpful, but who I might never have otherwise come across
• It’s easier to follow a couple of hundred people on Twitter than read two hundred different blogs
• There’s a constant stream of new and engaging content, interesting conversations to join and useful web links. It simply doesn’t stop
• It’s great when you share something and someone on another continent who you have never met before replies. (I just had a reply from a Japanese seamstress in Tokyo who hand embroiders kimonos. Where would I ever meet her in real life?)
• If you have a bizarre question, chances are someone out there will have the answer.
• There is freedom to reply to anyone. While I would never write a letter to Stephen Fry, I’ll happily reply to one of his tweets and @stephenfry is brilliant at keeping a dialogue with his fans, as is @Schofe.
• It makes me laugh out loud at least once a day
• It’s totally current and these days, speed is your best friend.

But what use is Twitter to PR? There are already so many blog posts about how to use Twitter for business and it can help enormously with branding etc., but in terms of knowledge and relationships I personally find Twitter is a brilliant tool for helping me do my job.

• With all the national newspapers on Twitter, it’s a one stop shop for news feeds. By following national papers and other newsfeeds, I will often see as soon a story breaks.
• I also like to follow journalists, their tweets often have great tips for PRs pitching ideas by virtue of the fact that they regularly tweet about how PRs screw up. Note to self: don’t do that. Journos also tweet about stories they are writing or questions they need answered. @charlesarthur and @harrymccracken are great journalist Twitterers
• I follow loads of industry channels so I get a constant stream of industry news – great for keeping me informed of issues that might be relevant to my clients.
• I also follow many media and tech trailblazers like Michael Arrington @TechCrunch and @GuyKawasaki – those guys that were using Twitter years ago are the ones who will decide which apps will take off tomorrow.
• Other PRs are also great to follow, they often point to interesting blog posts or other sites and the seasoned pros have great tips that are so useful. Their anecdotal industry chat is also pretty amusing. It’s amazing what you can fit into 140 characters.

In case you can’t tell, I'm a pretty huge advocate of Twitter! I’m not using all the features and functionality yet and I still think it’s great, so the possibilities are probably endless. I totally get a kick when I am followed by massively influential people like @stephenfry and @barakobama (and also for those in the know, @guykawasaki, @scobleizer and @chrisbrogan). They care about what I have to say and I think therein lies the greatest benefit of Twitter. It gives you a voice, and it gives you an audience. As long as you play by the rules, it seems like win-win to me.


Friday, 6 February 2009

Word of the week

The Bank of England cut interest rates again this week to 1% taking us back 300 years when this level was last reached. The decision by the Monetary Policy Committee, who voted that borrowing should be made even easier, received an ambivalent reaction despite the stated intention to assist businesses and homeowners starved of credit. The Federation of Small Businesses commented that the rate cuts were not helping but hurting savers needlessly when alternative stimulus measures were needed. This view is encouraged by the government’s continued struggle to force the hand of the corporate lending markets. Many businesses, particularly SMEs, are seeking help via state intervention but the government is uncomfortable with further action including taking board positions on the country’s biggest institutions. Such action, however, may be inevitable as the slide in interest rates has now reached unprecedented lows.


Thursday, 5 February 2009

Growth Companies’ Issues on AIM

Last week Heather attended the Growth Company Investor seminar about New Issues on AIM. As usual GCI’s team of researchers had produced some intriguing data:

£1billion raised during 2008, less than 14% of the £6.25 billion generated in 2007

Food is the best performing sector on AIM

• The most active NOMAD is Seymour Pierce with 6 IPOs, for which it helped raise
£117.9 million

• Investment fund specialist, Fairfax, raised 2nd highest amount via the single £116 million transaction for the Terra Catalyst Fund

• Leading NOMAD in terms of client price performance was WH Ireland

Cenkos, Grant Thornton and KBC Peel Hunt all completed 5 floats apiece

Collins Stewart’s two IPO clients performed strongly – acquisitive shell Marwyn Materials up 55% and Yangtze down only 8%

• The most active accountants are Deloitte and KPMG, jointly with 9 clients each followed by specialists Grant Thornton and Baker Tilly with 8 each