21 SEPTEMBER 1991, Page 25

Shock therapy

SOMEONE looking remarkably like the man from the Pru has dumped 22 million shares in Royal Insurance. I now hope to see the Royal dump its shares in the Prudential. These unhappy companies might then stand on their own feet rather than on each other's. The Royal and the other four big general insurers bore out my forecast, all admitting to losses but paying their interim dividends as if nothing had happened. This week's sale was supposed to be prompted by fears that the Royal's final dividend will be cut. I hope it will. It would be a token of realism in an industry which needs it. The pain of insuring mortgage lenders against their borrowers' default may be so acute as to have the same salutary effect. I wonder, too, what will happen to these companies' life assurance business if their customers wake up to the truth of Collins's Law: A house purchaser needs an endowment policy like a fish needs a bicycle. Awake or asleep, a house market which generates fewer and smaller mortgages will do the same for policies. These are companies with entrenched managements whose attitudes are hard to shift, but somewhere, soon, the penny must drop. I am watching for it.