Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Scope for Mischief Here

A document I would very much like to read is the baleful Hinkley Point contract awarded to EDF.  We've seen about 90% of it (as far as one can tell), and that was quite bad enough - but the really juicy stuff was redacted.

There is however someone who has a full copy (or perhaps full-er ...)  - in the European Commission!**
UK calls on EU to prevent leaks of sensitive information after Brexit: Demand for continued protection on departure highlights growing mistrust between London and Brussels 
We may get to see this document after all !

** they had to approve it, for reasons of 'state aid' 

Monday, 21 August 2017

The end of QE remains unplanned - why?

There is an interesting article by Douglas Carswell on Unherd today.

In it he shows both his grasp of the situation and also the lack of any nous to deal with it.

Correctly, he identifies QE as being one of the main drivers of social ill over the past decade. The rich indeed have got richer through no effort other than pure financial alchemy - assets have gone up in price, if you owned assets, then yippee!

Meanwhile debt has been too cheap, now everyone has debt and even the Government is overly keen on saddling people such as students with debt. The Government has both too much deficit and debt - as do most around Europe.

That this is the fault of the Central Bankers is undeniable - conservative types, as you would want, they have done very little for the past 5 years. Last year in the UK they even decreased rates further.

Worse, there is still no plan for unwinding QE, in an off-guard moment last year one leave to the Bank was busily promoting the opposite - suggesting QE was here forever and interest rates could never be raised back to what were considered normal levels.

I find this very hard to buy, it is the classic "this time, its different" mantra that never works out as its proponents say. What happened was that the economies of the West, loaded by too much private sector debt due to the banking bubble, collapsed and to avoid destruction, the Government took on the debt.

Thanks to that, the Government's are prepared to wait a generation or two for the debt to inflate away (this time via currency depreciation, hence the currency depreciation war of the past 7 years). So there is limited immediate pain. I can see why civil service mandarins and central bankers think this is the best way forward, which for them it is. It sees continuity of service for themselves and their class.

Where Carswell goes well off target is endorsing the mad Labour plans for more debt and financial alchemy to double-down on the mistakes of the past! How even more QE is supposed to fix the current problems is beyond me - asset prices (this time of chosen assets, remember Gordon Brown and the Gold sale!) would still rise and the side effect maybe some more infrastructure - but the main event would be crippling Japan style debt.

The only sensible course is to wean us off QE. This will be painful, reversing QE will reduce Government revenue, which means less spending, because today it is getting on for £10 billion in Government income - all from money printed by its own bank and lent to itself.

We can't raise rates too high, as that affects those most hurt by the debt bubble, those without assets. We will likely need higher taxes on capital gains, including houses, to make up the hole in Government finances.

I don't like ever advocating tax rises, so I won't - the balance to increasing capital gains taxes must be reducing income taxes further - perhaps not quite in balance as their is QE to be unwound and a deficit to clear. But a re-basing of the tax system based on the current economic environment is long-overdue. Really, the most surprising thing is that is a necessity of the change in Central Bank monetary policy and you would think they might raise is sometime, that they don't is a bug of the system where monetary and fiscal oversight are separated.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Weekend Yarn: An Almighty Fail

Yesterday I poked fun at the non-existent proof-reading skills of my roofer.  But it isn't only humble tradesmen that can come unstuck: it can happen to exalted professionals as well.  Harken to one of Old Drew's war-stories  - and mark well ... 

 *  *  *  *  *

Twenty-five years ago during the first 'Dash for Gas', a sellers' market prevailed for a while in natural gas.  One of the very largest oil-and-gas producers who shall remain nameless, let's call it *xx**,  interpreted this cyclical state of affairs as a licence for unbridled commercial arrogance, and had a juicy chunk of gas for sale.  They put it out to market, telling prospective buyers that the sale would be under the terms of a long-term contract they'd drafted themselves, and the only matter for negotiation was the price:  all other contractual aspects would be per the *xx** diktat.  

This was not the norm: such contracts are very long and generally bespoke, and the details would ordinarily be up for genuine bilateral negotiation.  Several potential buyers read the uncompromising *xx** document and politely observed that the text wasn't beyond improvement, for the benefit of all parties.  They were shown the door.  The winning bidder accordingly sent its negotiators and lawyers simply to check the agreed price had been correctly entered in the space provided, and to conduct the usual round-table proof-reading of the 250-page document.  (Half a dozen people sit there reading one page each in turn, out loud, and it is hoped that typos and other cock-ups will thereby be nailed.)

At one point during proof-reading, progress was momentarily halted when the reader of the page in question read out the phrase "... the either Party ...".  Hoho!, everyone said - that's not English, it's a cock-up!  So they solemnly eradicated the otiose "the" and completed their monotonous task.

A few years later the inevitable happened: the sellers' market became a buyers' market and this particular gas contract became horribly out-of-the-money for the buyer - so much so, the buyer got into financial difficulties and was taken over.  The acquirer of said company set the lawyers to work on the dire contract ... and what did they find?
"Change of Control:  In the event of a change of control of a Party, either Party may terminate this Agreement."
Gotcha!  And the acquirer solemnly served a termination notice.  

Of course, *xx** rushed to the courts claiming Manifest Error: obviously it should have read "the other Party".  Well, usually it would.  But, consistent with the glories of the Common Law, since both buyer and seller were big companies well able to look after themselves, the words of the contract said what they said and the court rightly threw out their case.

And indeed, that was that: with one bound, the acquirer was free of the burdensome deal.  Back at *xx** - a firm well-known for control-freakery - the very senior head of the gas division was rather publicly moved to post that (how shall we put it?) didn't represent a promotion.

There but for the Grace of God ..?  Hard to suppress a chuckle, though, in the circumstances.  Read the bloody small print!  Carefully!!


Friday, 18 August 2017

Always Read The Small Print

One day when I was newly-minted one-pip in the army, one of my soldiers came to me with a form that needed initialling by an officer.  Since this happened at least twenty times a day, it was no big deal.  I could see it wasn't the usual permit for a military vehicle journey or weekend out of barracks - it was something to do with an application for a car loan - but I signed it anyway, without reading the finer details.

It came back to bite me on the bum in less than 48 hours.  I'd inadventently claimed to be "assistant paymaster or equivalent" and was in for a bollocking at Regimental HQ.  Needless to say I made a vow ... 

When, many years later, I found myself dealing ginormous energy contracts, I carried this resolution through by being the annoying negotiator who'd actually read the two-thirds of the 250-page contract that is 'legal boilerplate'.  There'd always be something being passed across in there.  It always makes me snort when advertisers and salespeople people wave airily at the "T's & C's" as if they are some quaint and meaningless decorative runes that appear by convention on ceremonial bits of paper that are scattered around like confetti to celebrate the closing of the deal.  FFS - the "T's & C's" are the deal ! 

Anyhow, to get to the point:  we are having some roofing works done at Schloss Drew, and our shortlisted contractor handed over the usual duplicating-paper sheet with illegible small-print in 6-point (grey) on the back.   Fortunately, my scanner and OCR software are up to the job, and this is just one example of what I found.

Sic !  Suffice to say, the works will be carried out under a contract of my own devising.   I imagine the said contractor (who self-evidently has no more read his own documents than any of his previous clients) will be using my version in the future - and he'll not suffer too much in the event of dispute, since I am nothing if not a reasonable person ...


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

No change in Ireland for Brexit - or is there?

In a week where some demented person having a breakdown is merrily providing the press with all sorts of nonsense stories, reality is slow to creep back to the table.

Just as James Chapman accuses David Davis of being a part-time layabout, he comes forward with all the proposals the EU has been asking for.

Interestingly, the UK Government has chosen the strategy that I find works really well. Admit defeat, agree to the enemy demands and then see what they do. On Ireland, the proposal is that nothing much changes with the exception of some agri-tariffs.

This meets perfectly what the EU wanted; but its a nightmare for Ireland - effectively it means in theory they could end up the "The Jungle" in Ireland, either at the NI border or in NI itself.

To me this is super idea - no immigrant is going to want to hang around forever in the hideous physical and social climate of Northern Ireland - it is like our own version of the successful, but much maligned, Australian strategy of holding immigrants in an off-shore processing centre. 

So we push most of the problems back to the EU by being broadly compliant with their demands. I like this strategy, there are many ways for it to fail - basically, the EU can always be unreasonable whatever we decide to do, given we are leaving and Article 50 is triggered, but this is nice approach.

Shame everyone is too busy slagging off the entire Government to notice or to give it any credit when it does get things right.