Winkworth's share option earns 2m

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Peter Winkworth, finance director of Close Brothers, the independent UK investment bank rumoured to be a takeover target, has made himself over 2m (€3.3m), courtesy of Close's largest shareholder.

Just after Close announced its recent spectacular profits increase, Winkworth exercised an option to buy 200,000 Close shares from Caledonia Investments, the quoted Cayzer family concern that owns nearly 20% of the bank.

Caledonia granted options over some of its shares 10 years ago to incentivise Close managing director Rod Kent, Winkworth and seven other senior members of staff. Kent and colleagues had already exercised options.

This tranche is thought to have been the last.

Winkworth's option price was just over 153p a share against the sale price of 1225p, so he made an immediate profit of over 1.5m on the 150,000 Caledonia shares he sold. However, he kept 50,000, which are worth over 650,000.

The Cayzers promptly bought the 150,000 shares back from Winkworth, so they clearly see more value in Close.

Close shares ended trading last week at an all-time high of 1307.5p, despite French bank BNP Paribas denying that it had talked about buying the City bank, which is now valued at nearly 1.8bn.

The shares have added 1 since Close announced doubled full-year profits of 155m two weeks ago. The tally was fuelled by massively increased profits at the Winterflood Securities subsidiary, a business bought for a bargain basement 28m in two tranches in 1993 and 1994.

As a consolation for selling out too cheaply, Brian Winterflood is currently the highest paid director at Close, taking home 3.45m in the year just ended, which is three times higher than his previous year's salary.

Winkworth was second on a salary of 958,000, although he will make far more money than Winterflood if the business is sold.

Like other founding directors of Close, Winkworth would become a multimillionaire if the bank is taken over - a move that would need the backing of the Cayzers, who have a record of buying at the bottom and selling at the top.

Winkworth himself owns an additional slug of shares and options that are currently valued at over 9m.

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