Brokerage Move Spooks London Markets

 | Dec 23, 2011 | 7:14 AM EST
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London's financial community – from the City to Canary Wharf to Curzon Street – is abuzz about the recent decisions at one of the country's most venerable institutions.

Trading-floor talk in London Friday centered on a surprise change in direction for boutique brokerage Scrooge & Marley Counting House.

The company, whose American depositary receipts trade under the symbol "HUMbg," announced a number of new initiatives before the start of trading. Labor costs at the brokerage, for the coming fiscal year, will increase 100%, Scrooge & Marley said.

Scrooge & Marley investors were taken aback, as wages have remained steady for more than three decades.

"The market was actually hoping for some traditional seasonal layoffs from Scrooge/Marley," one analyst who follows the stock said. "It's tough to say how badly investors will take this, but without a corresponding plan to boost revenue it will hurt earnings per share."

Reached at his London residence, CEO Ebenezer Scrooge said only that "the spirits did it in one night" and refused to elaborate on his firm's new direction.

"Must have been at least two bottles of spirits," quipped one City trader this morning. Robert Cratchit, the No. 2 man at the company, was unavailable for comment.

In addition to the rise in labor costs, Scrooge & Marley has decided to invest a large portion of the substantial cash on its books in a private welfare enterprise designed to help thousands "in want of common necessaries" and hundreds of thousands "in want of common comforts."

"We frankly would have preferred a special one-time dividend to dispose of that cash, or at least a stock buyback," one portfolio manager said.

The blogging community simply blamed U.S. President Barack Obama.

But others refused to count Scrooge out just yet, pointing to his long track history of maximizing profits and increasing shareholder value.

"He's on to something," one trader said. "Scrooge may be getting in on the ground floor for the privatization of orphanages, union workhouses and prisons, which could prove very lucrative."

Others focused on Scrooge & Marley's latest purchases, including a prize turkey and a scuttle full of coal.

"They're late to the commodities game, but energy and livestock are hot markets right now," a London-based broker said. Fowl futures were up a shilling in early-morning trading, while coal futures ticked up sixpence.

Scrooge may also be considering retirement, analysts said. Although he has yet to name a successor he is rumored to be grooming a young member of the Cratchit family, which owns a 0.5% stake in the company, for the top slot.

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