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City Republic: The morning after the night before

LONDON - After record rises across the world as the 'Brown Plan', as no doubt our prime minister would like it to be called, is rubber stamped more or less everywhere, stock markets are facing up to recession.

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The Dow Jones and the Nasdaq index of technology stocks in New York both slipped back yesterday in late trading as the prospects for sales of consumer goods weakened.

The main winner on Wall Street was Citigroup bank, which looks like it will come through the bailout in reasonable shape, and the biggest loser was Coca-Cola, the ultimate consumer product.

Coke's rival Pepsico also announced it was cutting 3,300 jobs.

Even Apple announced it was going to cut the prices of some of its laptops, heresy in the world of Steve Jobs.

Back in the UK bank shares fell even as the rest of the market went up -- although it's still only around 60% of its 6,700 peak 18 months ago.

Lloyds TSB was particularly hard hit as shareholders digested the unwelcome information that the bank might not pay a dividend for five years while it's paying back to the taxpayer the extra capital that, on its own, it doesn't actually need.

In all, the three banks taking government money -- HBOS, Lloyds and RBS -- have £9bn of preference shares to pay off before shareholders see anything.

Lloyds shares have gone nowhere for years as the market has focused on "sexier" financial stocks (and we all know about them). But private investors and pension funds have both enjoyed its generous dividends, often producing a yield ahead of the best high street rates.

Take this away and there's no reason at all to hold the stock, which is why it was dumped in industrial quantities yesterday.

The Government still wants Lloyds to merge with HBOS, the share price is saying that shareholders want anything but.

So the government is going to need to revisit the dividend issue if it wants the deal to go through.

Northern Rock shows we can get our money back

Northern Rock has already repaid £15.4bn of the £26.9bn the Government pumped in to save it even though the recession means that repaying the balance and profitability is "further away" according to boss Ron Sandler.

Sandler has paid back the money by shrinking the mortgage book, which means not lending much and telling people whose deals are up that they'd better look elsewhere.

This is strong medicine but, for Northern Rock -- the institution, if not its customers -- it is clearly working.

Now he says he's interested in taking on the loan book of buy-to-let lender Bradford & Bingley, also in public ownership.

Which won't cheer up its customers much this morning.

Green faces a fight for Baugur retailers

Arcadia boss Sir Philip Green loves a headline.

He is one of the few big company bosses who speaks to journalists off the cuff, often to shout at them.

But his intended swoop on the stakes in UK retailers owned by Icelandic firm Baugur -- or rather the company's now-nationalised bankers -- was perhaps a little too noisy.

Sir Philip remarked that it was only common sense to knock on the door of a house if it had a sign outside saying "half price".

His words of wisdom weren't lost on a gaggle of private equity firms, including Texas Pacific Group, Permira and Alchemy, who are now also talking to the Icelandic government.

Sir Philip said he wanted to tie up a deal to buy the Baugur debt, which controls stakes in numerous UK retailers including House of Fraser, Hamleys, Iceland and Woolworth, "in 48 hours".

This now looks a touch optimistic.

Whitbread beats the blues

Brewers Fayre to Costa Coffee company Whitbread has produced stellar half-year figures, with profits up from £99m to £123m.

CEO Alan Parker has also announced that 1,800 companies have opened accounts at its budget Premier Inn chain in the last six months and the company has 4,000 new jobs to fill.

Whitbread is also rolling out its Taybarn "feeding station" restaurants in which you can choose from eight different types of food and eat all you want for £7.95p.

Parker made the usual dark noises about the effect of the credit crunch but it's clear that Whitbread, for now anyway, knows its market.

Mind you, there are still some analysts who fret that Costa Coffee doesn't fit well with its other operations and should be sold.

If the aforementioned analysts bothered to visit a Premier Inn they'd see that many of them have a Costa Coffee doing great business at breakfast.

Evidently the analysts are still traveling first class.

Time for Peston to take a break?

Arguably the two most over-worked people in the western world just now are US treasury secretary Hank Paulson, who's had a crisis every weekend for the past two months, and the BBC's business editor, Robert Peston.

Peston has been doing 18-hour stints starting on Today and sometimes finishing on Newsnight, and a grand job he has done in explaining the credit crunch and the banking crisis.

In the process he's produced some formidable scoops, chiefly the Northern Rock disaster right at the start of all this and then the news that some of the other UK banks had gone cap in hand to the Treasury at the start of last week.

This caused their shares to plummet, which might have suited some of them as it forced the Government's hand.

But it was all too much for the Daily Mail, among others, which fulminated about damaging leaks to the BBC man.

Richard Branson also commented that Peston knew about developments in the Northern Rock saga -- Virgin was trying to buy it -- before he did.

But Peston, as the Mail's esteemed political editor Ben Brogan remarked, was only doing his job. And doing it rather well.

We'll know the crisis has passed when Robert takes a few days off.

Stephen Foster is a former news editor of Campaign, former editor of Marketing Week and Evening Standard ad columnist. He is a partner in Editorial Partnership and writes the blog www.editco.net and Politics of the Media for Brand Republic.

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