UK’s Royal Mail privatization subscribed in hours: sources

Osborne: There’s no housing boom in UK George Osborne, the U.K.’s finance minister, says that while there is cause for concern, the U.K. is not in the midst of a housing boom. “The FPC’s assessment this week – in line with that of the Chancellor and the Governor – is that recent developments in the housing market represent a broadening recovery from low levels of activity, but that we must remain vigilant as that recovery progresses,” a Treasury spokesperson said. Help to Buy assists buyers with a 5 percent deposit on properties worth up to 600,000. The government provides the buyer with a 20 percent loan. Osborne’s proposals come at a time of growing backlash against the government’s flagship housing policy, introduced earlier this year to help first time buyers get on the property ladder. U.K. house prices increased by 0.9 percent in September from August and were 5 percent higher year-on-year, according to new figures released today by Nationwide, pushing the average house price in Britain to 172,127. “There are also signs that the pickup is becoming increasingly broad-based. For the first time since 2007, all 13 U.K. regions experienced annual house price growth in the third quarter of 2013, said Robert Gardner, Nationwide’s chief economist in a statement. “However, the southern regions of England continued to see the strongest rates of growth especially London, where the annual rate of growth reached double digits in the three months to September.” By CNBC’s Arjun Kharpal: Follow him on Twitter @ArjunKharpal

UK basketball notebook: Big Blue Madness planners hoping to one-up themselves

STORY HIGHLIGHTS Walmart subsidiary Asda and retailer Tesco were selling mental health themed costumes The British retailers apologized and withdrew them from sale after a social media outcry Mental health charity Mind said the sale of the costumes had been “extremely misguided” Soccer player Stan Collymore tweeted about the effect of mental health stereotypes (CNN) — British retailers have removed “psycho ward” and “mental patient” Halloween costumes from their online stores after criticism that they were offensive to people with mental health conditions. Walmart subsidiary Asda showed a man in a blood-stained white coat brandishing a meat cleaver to advertise its “Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume.” Tesco’s advertisement for its “Psycho Ward Costume” showed a man in an orange boiler suit branded “PSYCHO WARD” brandishing a hypodermic needle and wearing a mask similar to that of Hannibal Lecter in the film, “The Silence of the Lambs.” An Asda spokeswoman offered the company’s “sincere apologies for the offense” the costumes had caused. “This was an unacceptable error and the product was withdrawn immediately,” she said in a statement. “We take our responsibilities very seriously which is why we will make a sizable donation to Mind.” Tesco also issued an apology, saying in a statement: “We’re really sorry for any offense this has caused and we are removing this product from sale.” Mental health charity Mind welcomed the withdrawal of the costumes, saying the retailers had shown themselves to be “extremely misguided” by offering them for sale. Slept in. Have @asda withdrawn their ‘mental patient fancy dress’ costume or are we going to organise a protest at HQ? #timetochange Alastair Campbell (@campbellclaret) September 26, 2013 Alastair Campbell “It is staggeringly offensive to the one in four of us affected by mental health problems and our families and friends, and troubling that some businesses are still so out of touch with the public mood,” spokeswoman Sue Baker said in a statement . However, Baker said the outcry the costumes provoked on the social media site Twitter was encouraging. “We hope this will urge Asda, Tesco and other retailers and manufacturers to review their processes and consider taste and decency on mental health grounds, to avoid fueling stigma and discrimination that are so damaging for large numbers of the population,” she said. Mind and the group Rethink Mental Illness run the Time to Change campaign to challenge mental health stigma and discrimination. One of the campaign’s supporters is Alastair Campbell, who was former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s media chief and who has publicly spoken of his battle with depression . Campbell was among those who tweeted his displeasure at the “brutally stigmatizing outfits.” “@asda and @tesco should sign up for one of the @mindcharity @Rethink_ @TimetoChange mental health training courses,” he tweeted . Campbell alleged that Amazon still carried mental health patient costumes and called for people to tweet the company, asking it to withdraw them. But in response to an inquiry from CNN, an Amazon spokesperson said: “The item you refer to is not available on Amazon.co.uk.” Soccer player and broadcaster Stan Collymore who has also spoken out on depression, also took to Twitter to criticize the stereotype he said Asda and Tesco’s costumes had promoted. Collymore tweeted: “Do you actually realise how many people are hanging themselves because of being frightened of the stigma?

Credit: Reuters/Phil Noble By Kylie MacLellan and Neil Maidment LONDON | Fri Sep 27, 2013 12:01pm EDT LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s Royal Mail privatization garnered orders for all of the shares on offer in the space of a few hours on Friday, sources said, marking a strong start for a selloff that stands to flush up to 2 billion pounds ($3.2 billion) into government coffers. The sale would be one of Britain’s most significant since John Major’s Conservative government sold the railways in the 1990s and would give Royal Mail access to the private capital it says it needs to modernize and better compete in a thriving parcels market. Kicking off the sale of the near 500-year-old company, the government said on Friday it would dispose of a majority stake in Royal Mail, offering shares at between 260 pence and 330p each and valuing the whole company at between 2.6 billion pounds and 3.3 billion ($4.2 billion to $5.3 billion). Hours later it had already received orders for all of the shares on offer, two sources close to the deal said, without giving an indication of where in the range those orders had come. If an “over-allotment option”, whereby more stock can be sold if there is strong demand, is exercised, the government’s stake in the company could fall to as little as 30 percent. Analyst Robin Byde at brokerage Cantor Fitzgerald said that while the medium-term issue remained how fast Royal Mail can grow its parcels business to offset falling letter volumes, the valuation range made it attractive versus European peers such as Austrian Post (POST.VI) and Belgium’s bpost (BPOST.BR). “The headline really is that it’s priced to go,” Byde said, estimating Royal Mail was valued on a forward price-to-earnings multiple of around 8 times versus an average of about 10 for the European sector. “We would expect it to debut pretty well.” Royal Mail follows the initial public offering of bpost in June and comes after stronger equity markets have helped revive new listings in Europe this year. European firms have raised $15.9 billion from flotations in the first nine months, three times the year-ago level, according to Thomson Reuters data. The sale is the fourth time Britain has tried to privatize Royal Mail, which traces its origins back to 1516 when mail was delivered by horse from King Henry VIII’s court. Three selloff attempts in the last 19 years have failed due to opposition from within the governing majority, which feared an electoral backlash from tampering with a revered institution whose red post-boxes are known around the world. The latest sale effort has been criticized by the current opposition Labour party and unions, who on Friday sent out ballot papers for strike action. The ballot will close on October 16, five days after Royal Mail is scheduled to make its stock market debut, with the earliest possible strike date being October 23. UNDER PRESSURE Labour, which polls show is the frontrunner to win the next election, has come under pressure from its union backers and party activists to pledge to renationalize Royal Mail. While it has not ruled this out, Labour said it would be irresponsible to do so without knowing how much it could cost.

UK retailers remove ‘staggeringly offensive’ mental health costumes from sale

Shoe business Tuesday marked a significant day for the stock market. For the first time, a sports company was included in the Dow Jones averages. That company was who else? Nike, ubiquitous outfitter of sports teams, including those representing the University of Kentucky. Nike thrives despite public relations missteps and/or alleged misbehavior by a number of its celebrity pitchmen: Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, Tiger Woods, Oscar Pistorius, Michael Vick. Then there’s simple excess. The much-discussed Football Performance Center that Nike built for the University of Oregon “is to college locker rooms what the Ritz Carlton is to Motel 6s,” Frank Deford said in a recent commentary for National Public Radio. Then there is the fad of black uniforms, which UK’s football team wore against Louisville this month. Deford explained the trendy black uniforms as “a menacing color which is supposed to cow the wimpy opponent in its pretty old-fashioned school colors.” A vivid memory from last season came to mind: the black basketball uniforms Notre Dame wore against Kentucky featuring difficult-to-see black-on-black numbers. But as Coach Mike Brey noted, recruits love the jerseys, so Notre Dame would continue to wear them. Optometrists everywhere cheered.