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RUMORS FLY AMID SBJ LAYOFFS

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LONDON-U.K. insurance and reinsurance broker Steel Burrill Jones Group P.L.C. is laying off 40 staff in its London headquarters.

Although a company spokesman declined to comment on the layoffs, a staff member confirmed the number of people let go.

The reduction in staff for the troubled brokerage house-which last autumn disclosed that it had broken off merger discussions with potential buyers-was not unexpected (BI, Sept. 18, 1995).

Separately, there were rumors in the London market last week that SBJ was involved in talks that could lead to its acquisition by HSBC Gibbs, a London-based insurance broker subsidiary of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corp. Neither SBJ nor HSBC Gibbs would comment about the reports, though HSBC Chairman George Puttergill said, "We are not in the market to make an acquisition."

Prior to the layoffs, SBJ's leading protection and indemnity reinsurance specialist, John Garthwaite, left to join Lloyd's of London broker Lloyd Thompson Ltd. Last September, the firm also lost David Forcey, director of brokerage subsidiary Meacock Samuelson & Devitt, to reinsurance broker Alexander Howden Group Ltd. Ten members of Mr. Forcey's team left Meacock Samuelson & Devitt at the same time.

For the first six months of 1995, SBJ reported pretax profits of 3.8 million ($6.1 million), which was unchanged from the same 1994 period, though below market expectations. Gross revenues at midyear dipped to 21.9 million ($34.9 million) from 22.9 million ($35.9 million) in the year-earlier period.

SBJ had been ranked by Business Insurance as one of the world's 20 largest brokers as recently as 1993, based on 1992 gross revenues, though it fell from the ranking in subsequent years as revenues declined.