Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Turkey, Saudi, $200 Oil ... Brex and the City

As the Saudis threaten to lash out crazily at, errrr, everyone, and talk of $200 oil is in the air (Putin tried talking that one up a decade ago), it does at least look as though the price will remain firm for a while to come.  Venezuela and Iran aren't going to be contributing much to a downside scenario for a while at any rate.

What's this to do with Brexit?  A couple of things.  The less interesting one (to me) is that the German car industry is already anxious enough, and it can't hurt the negotiations to have them putting a bit more pressure on Merkel/Barnier to offset their $100+ oil concerns.

More interesting is what happens in the oil & gas investment / M&A sectors.  Returns on this sector have not been so great for a while, and equity investors looking for big profits have gone elsewhere.  There has been a steady deal flow, both debt and equity: but without doubt there's scope for a whole lot more: and $100 oil will bring forth a heap of renewed interest.

Here's the thing:  most of this action goes to the City of London - and that ain't gonna change any time soon.  No amount of PR in Paris and Frankfurt is going to undermine London's gigantic advantages in these matters.  And nor will Brexit, IMHO.  To the contrary: it may even free up the City - there are currently at least some Brussels constraints on finance - to be even more flexible and creative than it is already.  As in most regulatory matters, be that finance or energy, British regulators are a great deal more nimble and responsive than any others.  

Now: personally I'm a consumer and $100 oil is not a great prospect per se.  But it'll hurt more in Europe: and I don't see the City complaining.  Why, even the dour Scotties may raise a smile ...


Tuesday, 16 October 2018


All week on my way to work there have been people from the People's Vote on the bridges into London handing out their leaflets. In the main, they are not too bad. Some dreadful T-Shirts and the same earnest faces of the deluded Corbynistas, Happily, 99.9% of people walk straight past hoping they will go away.

However, today I noticed a change, clearly some of them are getting angry at lack of engagement they are receiving from the passing public - all of whom of course to them must be passionate remainers. It is not enough to hand out leaflets, they need some affirmation. So today up goes the volume, they are stopping people more aggressively and becoming more shouty.

Of course, with people on their way to work and busy with their real lives, this has zero effect apart from to make the odd leaver get shoulder-shruggy at the intrusion.

On reflection is demonstrates many of the difficulties with modern politics which are evident:

1) there is money to be thrown at causes, like People's Vote, without any real scrutiny of who they are or where it comes from. This would apply equally to the referendum in the first place - political campaigning regulation is yet to catch up with the single issue , identity politics of our age.

2) So many activists live in a bubble away from reality - 99% of people don't really care about Brexit and rightly so, it wont make any real difference to their day to day drudgery.

3) The bubble the activists live in is entirely filled with people of their own views, confronted with reality they can become angry and hostile, as I saw today.

4) Politics in the UK (and across  Europe is badly serving the people). In this country there are 2 main views through which prism people view politics currently -  Leave or Remain. Neither of the main parties can decide what side they are on or what it would mean - so they fudge, fudge and fudge some more. There is no outlet of expression for the main political decision of the day and so everyone feels unrepresented by their politics, Leavers and Remainers. That is a very poor state of affairs for civil society.

Monday, 15 October 2018

Hard Border, Then

AS Boris has neatly put it, the EC thinks they have us between the prongs of a fork: "a choice between the break-up of this country, or the subjugation of this country, between separation or submission".  

So - hard border it is, then?



Friday, 12 October 2018

Jailbirds I Have Known (2)

The second of my three criminal acquaintances is former Tory MP Keith Best.

When I first met him, Best was an ambitious and hyper-active young Brighton-based barrister and TA artillery officer.  In the late 1970s he was nursing the safe seat of Brighton Pavilion, on the wrong-headed assumption that the incumbent (the Tory grandee Julian Amery, brother of the hanged traitor John), would soon retire.  In the meantime he had to fight the mandatory no-hoper seat and was duly selected for Anglesey (Ynys Mon, if you must) in the sure knowledge he'd lose.  Unfortunately for his Brighton plans, in 1979 he won it on a three-way split with Labour and the Welsh Nats.  Never mind, he thought: I'll lose it next time for sure Meanwhile, let's enjoy the gig - and he threw himself into foreign affairs interests, travelling extensively on parliamentary boondoggles (as well as continuing to be active in Brighton ... and Westminster ... and Anglesey ... like I said, he was hyperactive).

Then along comes the 'Falklands Election' of 1983 and, wouldn't you just know it? - he gets re-elected in Wales!  Damn!  That wasn't the plan at all.  Still, there are always those overseas boondoggles, eh, Mr Q?

And then came the era of the big 'Sid' privatisations.  Stagging was all the rage, and when the BT flotation came along, Best didn't just stag it, he made multiple applications for shares - a criminal offence.  But not just multiple bids: he made them all in different variations of his own name!   It didn't need much detective work to run him to ground.  He was caught, convicted, gaoled (briefly), and had to resign from everything he held dear: the Bar, his Commission, his seat - the lot.

But here's the thing.  He wasn't any kind of Alan B'Stard whatsoever.  At one point I had a lot of contact with Best, and would have unhesitatingly classified him as a good chap.  He was very much on the 'social conscience' wing of the party, which doesn't always sit easily with hacking away for a safe Tory seat: but he didn't hide or compromise his views.  Hyperactivity aside (which can be a bit of a syndrome), he was level-headed and fairly sage - certainly thoughtful.  I've chatted with him for many a long hour over a drink or two in a German pub, and he's the sort of fellow I'd reckon you'd go to for his views if you had a problem.

So where does he get off on blatant, nay suicidal multiple share applications?  I've pondered this one long and hard.   

One possible explanation is a blown gasket - to hell with it, I'm never gonna get that safe seat, nor any ministerial promotion: let's throw caution to the winds!  But that cap never really fitted: like most young and ambitious politicians, he was playing a long game (he was well in with the whips - hence the boondoggles - and reliable in the lobbies) with time on his side.  The nearest I can come up with is that he fell into a kind of entitlement trap:  everyone does multiple applications and makes a fast, victimless buck - why shouldn't I?  Remember that around this time, in lieu of a recommended pay-rise (which the privately-wealthy Thatch decided wasn't on), MPs were explicitly told by their whips to get a copy of the John Lewis catalogue and fill their boots on expenses, no questions asked.

Not a very satisfactory explanation, actually, but it's all I can come up with.  He never explained himself to me, anyway - and it's hardly a topic you press someone on.  (Come on, Keith - what sort of loony are you?)

And since his time in the slammer?   He's gone for the Profumo path to redemption, quietly working away - with characteristic commitment and energy - in leadership roles for several charities, see wiki for details.

A strange story indeed.  Human beings, eh?


PS: there won't be a separate post on Jaibird 3 because nobody will have heard of him.  I'll add something BTL in comments over the weekend on him ...
UPDATE:  done - in comment #5

Thursday, 11 October 2018

FTSE since September - Tin hats after all?

Sometimes a picture says it all. After an OK start to the red warning season the FTSE is fast entering the most dangerous part of the year on a severe skid. As are other world markets. There was me thinking we had got through crash alley unscathed....