Perhaps the least serious thing about Investec’s apology for an analyst’s opinions is the public-relations own goal scored by one of the country’s biggest banks and household brands. It was an ill-advised intervention that did the bank no favours. But there is a bigger principle at stake. By apologising to Tongaat Hulett CEO Peter Staude for a report in which one of its analysts suggested the long-serving leader of the country’s biggest sugar producer should resign over what he said was an "appalling" set of financial results, Investec has brought attention to a longstanding issue that has dogged investment banks since the aftermath of the burst in the tech bubble. It is important to get back to basics and understand the role of analysts. In theory, they are supposed to scrutinise companies with absolute objectivity to ensure that the investors who rely on their opinions can make informed decisions. This is not merely an academic exercise. The fund managers, pension funds and others...

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