Thursday 30 September 2010

Question time

BBC's flagship political program comes from the Labour conference city of Manchester. {bit of a clue to the type of audience there}

David Dimbleby is joined by Baroness Warsi, {chairperson of the Tory party and Kirstie Allsopp double}Simon Hughes {Lib Dem deputy leader politically slightly to the left of Gordon Brown, Diane Abbott { shadow cabinet hopeful, possibly minister for education and private schools}, David Starkey {entertaining but impossible to like right leaning historian and Brian Cox {Scots actor... don't really know him.}

What could the major story of the day be?
BQ's guesses in new requested mini type face..

Q1 - David Miliband sort of resigns
Q2 - Wrong about Iraq and massive hippo-grit Harman.
Q3 - Fox's leaks
Q4 - Ireland's bank bailout and how exposed are we
Q5 - Police volunteers only.

Poll Next Week - Best UK Business/Economics Blog

Instead of the usual weekly round up this weekend I want to do a list of the top UK blogs for business and economic news. The trouble is, that as a relatively niche area I am sure I don't even come close to having to having a good list.

What should we do about the dead tree press, let them in? it seems mean not to have Ambrose Evans-Pritchard but then I doubt he would ever describe himself as a blogger. Perhaps instead a later competition for most influential commentator?

So buy the power of crowd source please can you help me come up with the nominations: so far I have,

Tim Worstall
FT Alphaville
Robert Peston
Stephanie Flanders
Mark Kleineman
Burning Our Money
Michael Fowke
John Redwood
Stumbling and Mumbling
Tax Trust
Labour and Capital
Adam Smith Institute
Market Oracle
Duncans economic blog

I am sure this is not even close and so please nominate in the comments too - self-promotion welcome.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Guest Post: UK Small Oil Cap Shares

Well, fresh from having bought yet another small oil share this morning (AEY), I have below a post by an excellent young analyst, Chris Hopper. Chris started out a couple of years ago with an interest in the markets and has built some very impressive winning positions. Moreover, his commitment to doing real research has helped him pick many huge winners.

There is a huge amount of private investor money going into small cap oils at the moment. So Chris has come up with a defensive strategy for what is still a top sector beset by strange valuations and poor liquidity:

"2010 has again bought us some true winners across the London AIM Market, A market where small companies strive for profitability or to discover the next big resource/invention, however the London AIM market suffers from a disease that is leading to a serious miss-valuation on stock prices,

It is not uncommon to see 100 or 200% daily rises in Aim listed stock prices for them then to gradually give up the gains over the next few days; the fueling for these sky high gains can usually be traced back to Investor bulletin boards.

AIM stocks go in and out of fashion like there's no tomorrow and you only have to browse sites such as or advfn to see what I'm talking about.

However over the past 18 months it seems to be the Oil Exploration and production companies that have been where the "Hot Money" has been flowing towards on London's AIM.

A few certain stock have truly found what every small Oil E&P company dreams of A world class discovery and this is usually reflected in their stock price.

Late 2009 saw Kurdistan based Gulfkeystone Petroleum strike black gold in its shaikan block that analysts are now predicting could hold over 20 billion barrels of oil and has been labled as one of the biggest discoveries in the past 40 years its stock price rose from 5p to over £1.20 in just a few months, 2010 saw further large discoveries in the Falklands and in the North Sea, Rockhopper exploration found what could hold upto 450million barrels of recoverable oil and it too saw its stock jump over 1000% over a short space of time but is it these sort of discoveries that has led to investors becoming over ambitious on the prospects of finding oil, perhaps in similar regions where other discoverys have been made Sterling Energy is a good example who have so far failed to find oil in Kurdistan but remain to be valued at £300m , finding commerical oil is no easy task and in many cases can be the make or break of many of these companies, however the constant "ramping" and hype surrounding these stocks usually keeps the share price inflated until a faeces/fan intersect moment and in black and white investors are told their company has been unsuccessfull.

The recent bubble has been surrounding the Falkland oil stocks that all seem to of prospered on the back of Rockhopper's multi-million barrel find, its almost as if to say we're going to value happy shopper at half the marketcap of tescos simply because their next door and they sell the same things. Stocks such as Desire Petroleum (DES £500m marktcap) and Falklands Oil & Gas (FOGL £250m mrkt cap) are two examples of stocks that have failed to find oil but yet seem to be valued extreamly high, say in comparision to another AIM oiley Chariot Oil who havent started drilling for oil yet but hold the same if not more chance of striking it rich who are valued at £175m or Xcite energy who have already made a large discovery and are soon to provide its economic worth ( £140m mrketcap) and consider the remotness and the development costs needed should DES or FOGL make a discovery they seem a bubble waiting to burst but are being propped up by hot money.

Over to Canada and the situation is different Oil E&P stocks listed on their TSX are looked upon in a whole different light as the reality of development costs and the small chances of actually finding a commercial discovery is reflected in stock prices in toronto stocks such as African Oil and Vast exploration who despite having a good chance of making a commerical discovery in the billions or barrel range are valued at under £100m - these look like far better safer places for investment."
CU - I would add that my single largest "investments" are in GKP mentioned above and IAE an dual AIM/TSX listed explorere/developer of North Sea oil. CU managed to lose a small packet trying to trade DES.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Red Ed's Redemption

In the best-selling Wild West video game Red or Dead Redemption the main character has to hunt down and bring to justice his former gang members.

Not quite so for little Miliband, but he did do some of the the Redemption bit.
"Sorry about Iraq and all the wars. Sorry about immigration and lack of social housing. Sorry about 42 days detention and closing all the Pubs and Post Offices..and sorry for the economic wasteland and all that..."

He didn't apologise for the poverty gap, the armed forces lack of equipment, I.D. cards, rendition, cash for peerages, Railtrack, stealth taxes, the industrial decline...well the list is a bit long but it was only his first day.

It wasn't an overwhelming performance from the man who is tasked with bringing an end to coalition, but it was good enough. Ed Miliband made a speech to the faithful that went a little further than he needed to. This was primarily a conference speech. A speech that would receive massive media coverage but still a speech to the converted. He could have said he was backing bonkers Harriet Harman's earlier decision to endorse industrial action against any public sector cuts. In fact he distanced himself, however slightly, from the unions.
He could have denied the deficit, but instead he acknowledged it. He had a good line in there too.
He spoke about Labour's undeniably good record on the refurbishment of schools and hospitals.
"I went to school in a leaky port-a-cabin. Whatever they claim under 18 years of Tory rule they never fixed the roof while the sun was shining."

Not bad. Osborne has been using that attack to great effect since 2008. Why didn't someone think of a defence before? Whoever wrote it should feel rightly pleased.

The non-socialist media appear to have given Ed Miliband a sort of cautious..did OK..kind of report. BBC website's tone is suitably supportive. But at the conference John Pienaar was less impressed. I read CU's pleasure at having a 'red' into government. But if I was Cameron I might just feel a bit of apprehension.

The Tories took a decade to admit that they lost votes as least as much as labour winning them off them. It took a decade to apologise for pretty much everything except the poll tax which they'd already tried to neutralise with Major. The party was split over Europe, over spending, over social provision. The votes lost in Scotland have never come back.

Already Ed Miliband is telling his party that if they stay in the heartlands they will not gain power. Ten MPs in the south of England shows just how badly Labour did in 2010. Ed has accepted that. He admitted to past mistakes and talked about optimism. It was pretty vacuous stuff, with no sense of how to go forward or how to become less reliant on a generations worth of tax revenue from financial services. But the fact he acknowledged a problem at all marked a huge change from his predecessor.

Tractor stats Brown could only talk of successes. After 13 years that Stalinist type of propaganda had worn very thin. And to Brown talk of failure was treasonous. Remember he was baited for almost a year by the press who teased him like an unpopular fat kid and tried to make him say sorry. The more Brown resisted, the more they had fun trying to make him. In the end the 10p tax fiasco {that didn't make it into today's apologies but there's still a long time to go} forced him to say a grudging teenage type of 'didn't mean it..sooorreee' and the press moved on. I doubt Ed Miliband will have that trouble. He already knows he needs to present a fresh image for his defeated party. He knows they lost because they were wrong. He is much more likeable than the brooding neighbour from number 11 was. He looks younger, fresher, and seems willing to offer something different, even if he is yet to know quite what that might be.

William Hague had absolubtely no chance of overturning the electoral landslide that Tony Blair won in 1997. Ed Miliband has every chance. He is facing a coalition of two parties holding different ideologies who are forced to make large scale cuts to public services, render workers unemployed and to raise taxes on everyone. The certainty of industrial action will only add to the misery. If Ed stops this rather weak strategy of solely attacking the Lib Dems and instead begins to woo them, while attacking the Tories he will pick up hundreds of thousands, possibly even millions of votes. If he can attack the Lib dem leaders for 'naked power grabbing' while appealing for the left dems to join the
'All new..extra cleaned up, no more war, socially and civil liberty reformed.
NLX [New Labour Extra] {now with added fiscal responsibility!}'
he can win back many lost seats. He will lose from the boundary changes but gain from the pain of the cuts.

With good fortune, a tight rein on the more extreme parts of his party and a poor economic recovery he could possibly make his dream of "ensuring that this coalition is a one term government only" a reality.

Debt Management's sick story

Spread across the news today is a sad story of exploitation, with debt management organisations abusing their status and making people's desperate financial situation even worse in the midst of the recession.

Today's OFT report has some disturbing insights:

"In some cases, it appears that business models may be set up to take the maximum amount of money from a consumer regardless of their circumstances," the report said.
"Firms are not giving the advice or offering the solution that is in the best interests of the consumer, but instead that which is most profitable to them."

Undercover Capitalist Workers have been able to discover this exclusive story of the worst abuser. Going under the name of 'HMRC' and being led by known charlatan David Hairnet, this organisation is praying in innocent taxpayers.

The greedy thieves behind this shady organisation are known to report to  capo di capo George Osborne; their aims are to defraud innocent people of as much of their wealth as possible in order for it to be used for secretive Government 'Debt Management' purposes.

The scam takes in its victims in the following way. Ordinary UK subjects going about their daily work and are sent inflammatory demanding they pay taxes. Call centres for the'HMRC' are set-up to strong arm people with threats of kangaroo court action and big fines for non-compliance. Failure to agree to making payments results either in the criminals directly assessing someones PAYE and deducting funds directly or the corrupt judiciary and police becoming involved (it is though in desperation for finance, the Police and their Unions are willing to take money from any sources) and possible imprisonment.

"There is no question there are lots of cowboys in the industry," said Michael Land, chairman of Demsa {the industry body for Debt Management] who welcomed the OFT report.

There are few ways to avoid entrapment, one is to simply never take a job to deny the Government PAYE access - this is a route taken by estimated 15% of the Country. The other increasingly attractive alternative to is move to abroad to a less corrupt Country.

Monday 27 September 2010

Ed's Balls-y gamble

Ed Balls' is apparently very happy with the outcome of the Labour leadership according to my source working in his campaign team. He feels that he is well positioned to take a good shadow position in the Cabinet along with wife Yvette Cooper. This is going to provide a nice income to keep them far out of harms way from all these dreaded cuts and handily placed for those MP's expenses claims.

What I have noticed is Balls's canny ability to string out an economic stance to his benefit. Balls has outlined his view that what the UK needs is hugely more stimulus and no kind of cuts to the deficit at all. As he is a bright guy he has found some half decent evidence to back up his views and so there are some in the Media and the City who see him as being principled and perhaps even correct. Desperate to avoid or face reality, some will believe anything.

What he is really doing is a typical politician's gamble in the Vince Cable mould. After all, if the cuts hurt and the economy staggers, Balls can declare victory and carry on haranguing at length. If the economy pulls through and the Coalition prosper, Balls is not going to to get anywhere near government anyway. Thus this is like Cable's conference speech, lacking in sanity except as an appeal to the populist masses.

Balls has played the game well so far, he has 're-established' credibility and will bag himself a continuing role in the Labour Party. If he gets lucky, he may even be seen to be a star; I think this unlikely but then predictions are hard to make, especially when they are about the future.

Sunday 26 September 2010

Ed Balls reflects.

With Ed Miliband's victory, it seems brother Dave might get the shadow chancellors job.
Poor David Miliband must be kicking himself that he behaved like Friedrich Fromm when James Purnell began the Operation Valkyrie coup against Brown.
Still, With his brother in charge he's guaranteed a job.

Not so for the candidate who was the real heir. The heir to Brown should have been gifted the party, much as Brown was by Blair.

What now for Ed Balls?

{music by Lee Evans}

Saturday 25 September 2010

My Birthday Wish

For my Birthday (35 today!) I would like Labour to elect a lame duck leader with no majority of support from the Labour MP's and only winning because of the undemocratic dinosaur Union vote.

Hahahahahaha.....time for something fizzy to celebrate.

Our Man Ed

Go Ed !

One of my better calls.

If I have judged my man correctly, he will prove fairly creative, very pragmatic, and quite ruthless.
He will be his own man, and a big disappointment to his Union sponsors, who will get a lot less air-time and ear- time with him than they

And Mandy will never hear from him at all.


Stamp it out!

The latest set of commemorative stamps from Royal Mail should come with an extra set featuring pictures of barrels being scraped.

Medical breakthroughs.. wow!

The value structure is odd too.
- 58p stamp is a surface letter to Europe. Who posts those? Its 2p cheaper than air. ..
-88p is surface letter to USA. I guess its for Christmas cards. So if its for Christmas cards why is the stamp picture of the Malaria parasite?

The weekend's competition is to come up with your own set of inappropriate or unlikely commemorative stamps. Capitalists at work offers up
  1. "Failed banks of the credit crunch."
  2. "Labour leadership contenders of 2010
  3. "Famous terrorists of the world"
and maybe a special set for Royal Mail themselves.
4. "Memorable privatisations of the 20th century" - so if you see Sid, tell him to enter.

Friday 24 September 2010

FSA to increase insider trading in UK markets

Sadly this is only to be expected from an organisation that thought Northern Wreck was a well run organisation that needed only occasional light touch regulation by a 22 year old straight out of uni.

As usual the FSA have seen the problem and utterly failed to engage their brain. The issue so they think is that bankers tell journalists about deals that are yet to happen. This apparently leads to unusual trading as speculation mounts. Of course the FSA does not regulate accountants, lawyers and PR's who all do the same thing.

There are two epic failures of understanding here. Firstly, insider trading is when the news IS NOT shared with journalists but with individual investors who then profit from secret information that may affect share prices. Journalists have a strict code about investing in companies, their role is just to print information or gossip.

The second failure is to try to restrict information in the age of twitter. Good luck with that, what re you going to do send everyone to jail? It is really finger in the dyke thinking.

The real, glaringly obvious answer, is to make information MORE freely available, so that bankers don't get to stitch up retail investors behind closed doors. In this age of mass information dissemination this is of course easier to do too. More negotiations conducted in public would be a good thing.

The City would hate it too; the fact that the FSA is trying to do the opposite just shows how in the pocket of bankers the place is. Can't wait until it is disbanded.

Thursday 23 September 2010

BBC Question Time competition Returns

The return of the never popular question time guess compo. You guess questions from the 5/6 that will be asked. Also completely arbitrary bonus points awarded for predicting a key word, theme or phrase from members of the panel. Answers in the comments.

This weeks Question Time show has David Dimbleby {long running, inconsistent, but good on his day, host} joined in Liverpool by Vince Cable {Cuban schooled, anti-business secretary,} John Redwood {Conservative ex-minister, blogger, and minor coalition irritant}, Caroline Flint {Failed coup plotter, and hopeless minister, who can sometimes be surprisingly good on this show}, Ian Hislop {venerable HIGNFY panelist, journalist and satirist} Mehdi Hasan {shouty politics journalist for the New statesman}.

  1. Cable goes after the Spivs in austerity Britain.
  2. Clegg has destroyed the Lib Dems
  3. Labour Leadership. Liverpool audience wants Andy Burnham.
  4. Should HMG have paid for the Pope to visit
  5. Royal Mail privatisation {outside chance but some of the most militant mail centres are in Liverpool}

China-US trade war finally hoves into view

The main cause of the financial crash was undoubtedly the combined poor macroeconomic management of the World's trade. The Western response to growing supply of goods from China was to cut interest rates as we imported Chinese deflation. These low rates boosted Government revenues and popularity

They also created the huge Real Estate and Asset bubble that wasted the economies in 2008 - perhaps irretrievably, we won't know for a decade or so.

Despite this obvious narrative, nothing was done following the crisis to remedy the key issue, the huge trade imbalance between East and West. In the East, they are keen to keep their artificially low currency rates to help spur growth and hollow out Western economies - it is pure mercantilism.

So this news today that the US is finally going to do something about this is welcome. Yes, it is gonna hurt. you can see from the Chinese reaction that they are not just going to go along with this challenge to their strategy. yet it has to happen, or else the West will be denuded of jobs and in turn the East will overheat and suffer a collapse that will take the West even further down. if China think they can win they should remember the US has the World's reserve currency and can print its way out of Chinese deflation.

What is worrying in the world today is that the international economy is so developed and yet the international institutions, indeed international feeling for the common man, is very underdeveloped. Solving these macro issues is both crucial and a Sisyphean task.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Vince Cable Howls at the Moon

The thorn in the coalition's side is Vince Cable. A left-wing socialist is never going to co-exist easily with a Conservative Government.

But The Limp Dims have decided they need to throw some red meat to their activists at their party conference and with Nick Clegg away, Vince has seen his chance.

I note that his PR's took the chance to point out to the media the worst of his comments - such as capitalism destroying competition. It is hilarious that a Business Secretary would see fit to attack his constituents thus. Together with these nice general attacks, he continues the theme of attacking bankers blaming them for everything.

The first point is very badly made. Vince here is trying to suggest that he is against monopolies - in this case no doubt he means Rupert Murdoch buying Sky. Whilst it is of course correct that markets need regulation to keep them fair and open, to suggest that competition is a failure of capitalism is just nonsense. Vince clearly misses his own point here, as per usual. What is the alternative to competition? Our fantastically run schools, NHS and immigration services..

The second point on Bankers should have been jumped on by Downing Street. Yes bankers are to blame, no one likes seeing the 'bad' guys win. But others who failed are still around, Ed Balls, Mervyn King, Ben Bernanke - a whole list of the guilty. The fact that Adair Turner of all people, head of the hapless FSA who totally failed to regulate the UK mortgage market, should now be coming out in defence of bankers is hysterical.

The Government should really try and switch the narrative from blaming the banks, it shifts the true responsibility away from the last Government whose engineered credit boom won them an extra term in power to do damage.

That the Government is easy with Vince Cable coming out with this socialist much reflects badly on them and he should be slapped down or the text heavily edited before he reads it out this afternoon. If Vince can't lie with that then he should resign. Politicallym he can do damage from the back benches, but at the moment he is actually in charge of a department and there cannot be much faith that he is doing a good job.

Tuesday 21 September 2010

Holidays at home

Bourne Leisure, the operator of Haven holiday parks and Butlins, has paid out more than £40 million in dividends last year as Britain’s ‘staycation’ trend boosted profits.
Bourne Leisure reported pre-tax profits of £88 million, up by 61%, with turnover 6.3% higher at £791.6 million in 2009.

Centre Parcs had a record level of occupancy in 2009 too, generating increased revenues.
The horror word STAYCATION was making business news as well as holiday reports from bandwagon jumping columnists. Last year £27 million was the estimated boost to the Uk tourist industry.

John Dunford, a director at Bourne Leisure, said a £79 million investment in its resorts and hotels also paid off .. “There was continued growth in short breaks, but also more people spent their main holiday in Britain.”

He has reason to be happy. Haven was seeing a 40% increase in bookings in 2008. The poor rate of the pound to the Euro and Dollar seems to have led to many people taking their second, or even main holiday in the UK. The great summer weather up to early August, can only have helped.

All the more wonder why Blacks Outdoors, who own the Blacks and Milletts chains have been doing so badly.
Like for likes, after the closure of over 100 stores in 2009, was 'disappointing'. Someone must be taking their business.Wonder if it might be Go Outdoors. One to watch for the future..

BQ almost, almost, booked a UK holiday this year and left it too late to book before deciding to go with the guaranteed weather of southern France. But without exception, on a non scientific poll of the office, on a huge sample of 20, everyone else had a UK holiday, mostly camping. I wonder if any other readers had UK holidays and noticed the increased numbers of Brits filling up your usual UK destinations?

Blogging will be light

CU Unwell.

Monday 20 September 2010

Wild days in September

September is always a wild time for stocks, but I have never had a day like today. Firstly, bad days start with blackberry's breaking and computers failing. That plus a busy working day meant I did not even get to glance at the markets until midday.

Only to see two of my trading stocks down 50% - SEY and HAIK. SEY managed to hit water and not oil in Kurdistan - until now unheard of! HAIK was meant to have better results and not worse, so two big hits.

However, on balance it proved to be a good day overall with both GKP and XEL continuing their strong runs and MNR perking up - the day ended with my portfolio well in the blue.

Then we get to Eric Daniels retiring at Lloyds. Long expected, it nonetheless will be a big change as Eric has a whole Ex-Citi mafia and if one of them (Truett Tate) gets the top job all will be fine, if not then there could well be big changes at mid-management level at Lloyds too. Somehow I think Lloyds will go for an internal candidate; is there a betting market? Truett Tate and Helen Weir have to be the front runners.

ETFs: An Edifying Account

Given the popularity of ETFs, little wonder that Alphaville's most popular post of the hour is this one: Can An ETF Collapse ?

It's kind of obvious, actually. As with any piece of paper, counterparty risk abounds. Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

Tears before bed-time, I'd say. DYODD etc etc ...


Sunday 19 September 2010

Russia: The Bear Is Tooling Up

Public relations isn't something that the Putins of this world have much of an instinctive feel for. But times change: read this silly, throw-away little Observer editorial - and then have a look at the instantaneous deluge of pithy rejoinders from Russian sources. Russia has clearly built a rebuttal network on the Israeli model: mildly impressive. Don't anyone imagine there's indifference as to how they are perceived.

To be read as a sort of coda to Medvedev's 'Global Policy Forum' The Modern State: Standards of Democracy and Criteria of Efficiency, held earlier this month. And for more on that, go to the series of excellent posts (starting 8th Sept) from special correspondent Hatfield Girl.

Russia may not have the clout of China, nor an an entirely coherent strategy. But it is tooling up for the 21st C, and is a player: how could it be otherwise ?


PS: gotta love the list of languages of the Global Policy Forum: "Russian, English, Chinese, Korean, Italian, German, Portuguese, French and Japanese". Go France ! (Go Spain !!)

Saturday 18 September 2010

Weekend Links

What we have been reading recently:

ASI - More gloominess.  I like this now I have decided,not that I agree with it, but good for getting the zeitgeist.

FT Alphaville - It is not just Greece that is in trouble.

Tim Worstall - Excellent article on the Gender gap.

Slack Belly- A betting yarn.

Wat Tyler - On how the  NHS cannot escape reality.

Friday 17 September 2010

Trading Update September 2010

Bit later publishing this month, have been quite busy, click on the chart to make it bigger:

Overall a pretty good month and approaching 30% up on the year again. Albeit some winners feel very toppy like GKP and XEL. Will I get to 50% for the yar year or a big bust push it back down to 10%?

Had a good month getting in and out of NPE, selling KMR at a great profit after a couple of months. Did not get any joy out of shorting wheat. Sole FTE at a huge loss, but was keen to put more into XEL which proved the right move.

Overall I have less positions than I used to but greater weight in each one. New buys in HAIKE which is a short-term bet until end of September, upping position in XEL and IAE, looking to dump CDN shortly after breakeven and get back into FUM.

Any questions please ask in the comments.

Thursday 16 September 2010

EU shoot the Short messenger

Can't say I disagree with the move to regulate Derivatives. The need for an organised and central market system is important a a key rule of making a market operate well is to have it regulated (with as little bureaucracy as necessary, of course).

However, Michel Barnier's moves for EU regulation today also focus on short-selling and various move sot make this more open (good) and harder to do (bad). As usual the old canard is trotted out about Short selling hurting the banks and causing the financial crisis.

As we know, the Banks managed to blow themselves up all by themselves, with just a little help from Greenspan and other incompetent central government types around the world (Exhibit A - Gordon Brown).

In fact if anything, shorting helps buy providing buyers to a market that otherwise is starved of buyers and leaves sellers watching a collapsing share price rather than a falling one.

But no, in Europe the ire is blamed upon Banks and the City for all their woes, not the issues within Countries (which can be summed up thus, Spain, too much building, Greeks paying no taxes and Ireland letting its banks go nuts on real estate - all caused by membership of the Euro).

Blaming shorting bond and stocks for the Greek situation is just plain silly. If you have not yet read this vanity fair article I suggest you do - it is incredible.

The focus on shorting is pure FUD to distract from teh real underlying problems. Sadly, as nicely as the markets are ticking along now, Greece is going to blow up sooner or later and nothing can really be done about it.

Wednesday 15 September 2010

Speaking (Coded) Truth to Power

For our first lordly comment we turn to Turnbull, who glibly tells us what our Civil Service has been brought to, after decades of Thatcher, Blair and Brown:

It was too difficult for civil servants to call for public spending to be reigned (sic) in until after the financial crisis hit ... they were scared to. “Yes, maybe Whitehall should have,” he said. “But it’s quite difficult when your minister is proclaiming that we have transformed the prospects of the UK economy"

The thanks of a grateful nation, Lord Turn(1): you certainly earned that peerage.

And so to Turn(2), Lord Turner of That Ilk, who is doing an ever so slightly better job, as chairman of the Committee on Climate Change ('the government's climate watchdog'). He has had the balls to tell Chris 'Crapper' Huhne - who fancies raising the already infeasible 30% renewables target to 40% by 2020:

the government is already at risk of missing its existing [renewables] targets. Lord Turner also warns that raising the ambition of the targets "could involve rapidly escalating costs." He urged the coalition to focus on hitting the UK's renewable energy targets rather than raising them higher.

Translating from mandarin, this means: 'it's infeasible anyway, you eejit'. I suppose we must be glad that someone is at least willing to say these things, even if encrypted. Though it never did Lord Butler much good...


Tea time

Still a long way off in 2012 is the next USA Presidential election. Some speculation as to how low President Obama's fortunes may go down in the mid terms. High unemployment, a raft of unpopular political stories from Mosques at ground zero to his Healtcare and Energy reforms to his 'Europeanisation of America' seem to be making those happy Obama voters think again. The 'Hope and Change' candidate has not delivered a lot of either.

But on numbers the Republicans have an uphill struggle every bit as large as the UK Conservatives of 1997 had to tackle. In 2008 Obama received the highest number of votes for an election candidate ever. The electoral college system requires 270 electoral college votes to become President.
Obama won with 364. Almost 100+. And McCain had just 164. To have some context George Bush, the President with the most ever votes before Obama, won his 2000/2004 elections with 271 and 286.

There has been a census, which will alter the number of votes that each state has in 2012, and it seems to favour Republican states. On the electoral map predictor , if all the states stayed the same, I make it +7 to Republicans and -4 to Democrats, moving The Republicans up to an unimpressive 171, still 99 short.
If ALL the narrow Democrat wins went Republican, and they retained all they won in 2010, they would still be 10 short.

If Obama falters in the mid terms he has two years to turn it around. USA polling has the economy and jobs as the top priorities of the electorate. A smart President can always forget his consensus politics and make his message.."Who do you think made this mess in the first place? Do you want to put those guys back in again?"

And its not as if the Republicans are a united opposition, torn between the ultra right politics of the Tea Party and trying to appeal to more than white, very conservative, over 50's.
Its going to take something quite special from the Republicans and something quite appallingly bad from the Democrats for the Republicans to to gain the White House in a single bound.

Not to say it can't be done. The USA is not the UK. Ronald Regan won 44 out of 50 states in 1980. Leaving the Democrats with a heartland of just 6. In 1984 he took those as well leaving them just Minnesota, the home state of his challenger.
A really popular candidate can overturn any majority. In 1992 Bush senior was going into the election with an electoral college win in 1988 of 426. He lost to Clinton 370 to 164. If the Republicans can find a Clinton, or an Obama , or a Regan
, then they're in.

TUC Conference: Mr. Wrong meet Mr. Deluded

At the TUC conference today there is yet another example of why the UK is going to be a difficult place to live in the next few years. The Union bosses like Brendan Barber are itching to have a go at their guest, Mervyn King.

The TUC see him as representing the Bankers and the City and therefore, with willful ignorance, hold him responsible for the recession. Mr. King for his part seems to wants to take his punishment by turning up - perhaps from his Ivory tower he thinks he can subdue the masses. Or more likely, Mr Osborne has told him that if the Bank of England is to become a super-regulator with all power to him, then a few small favours such as this must come out.

The funny thing is, the Unions are right about Mr King, just for the wrong reasons. The Bank of England was too slow to raise rates in the boom years, fatally slow to drop them as the economy car crashed after Northern Wreck (they had a year to drop rates and did next to nothing) and then now are sat with failed models predicting decreasing inflation which is remaining stubbornly above target. The Bank of England have nothing to crow about in their response to the crisis, it has been very poor.

Which all in all leaves us in a fine state. Mr King, wibbling about how he is going to turn the economy around without understanding what we really need (higher interest rates and more QE), whose default position is to not do much (see notes of the MPC meetings for the whole of this year, rabbit-in-the-headlights-paralysis). And the Unions, railing against reality  - the coverage of the absurdities of public sector pay are laid bare across the media today.

With such a lack of quality amongst these kinds of leaders in the Country, we are in for a bumpy ride.

Monday 13 September 2010

Basel 3, Schadenfreude 2

A bit busy these days, but couldn't help pausing to smile over the angst that the new capital strictures of Basel III are causing across various European jurisdictions - you know, the ones who are pretty sniffy about the laxity of 'Anglo-Saxon' financing practices. And yet somehow it is UK banks that already meet - nay, exceed - the primary new standard.

'Twas almost exactly three years ago that the Schadenfreude 1 outbreak occurred at C@W, when two German regional banks were the first to go bust in the great Crisis. A bit unseemly I know, seeing what happened next at NR, RBS, HBOS etc etc.

Another thin smile is merited at the outbreak of: if you make us hold more capital, we won't be able to lend so much money. This is like the perennial traders' whinge: if you hold us to strict risk limits, we'll be forced to close out positions just when the markets are moving against us. In both cases the immediate answer is a dry - errr, Yes.

The longer answer is: OK, then we'll break up the banks ...


PS - respec' to Pesto who is doing a cracking job at following all this

Populist rhetoric without substance from the Unions

It's the TUC conference today so it is easy to predict the chilling headlines of the evening news as regards economic policy. The Unions are back, they want mass strikes and street disturbances.

Even the supposed moderates like Bredan Barber are talking tough and Bob Crow others are thinking wistfully about the poll tax riots; a sad episode in which no one or body came out looking good and certainly not the country.

Anyway to today, apparently no one voted for austerity (I don't think the Unions leaders count Tory votes as eligible for their stats) and this must not happen, so instead what we need is a whole load of demonstrations by the public sector - more waste as the answer to cutting waste.

The Government does need to trad carefully, the jobs market can't handle 500,000 new entrants in one or two years. Yes, the Country will save money swapping quangocrat salaries for jobseekers allowances, but we need to grow the private sector too. This is why the Government need to be more radical, setting up real innovation and tax free zones in the North where the losses are, the South is fine and the City marches on. Many of these ideas are in play however..

There is though a big question for the Unions....What would you do?

Here there is a gaping whole in the Unions answer. For even the Labour Party were promising big cuts in public expenditure at the election. Moronic Ed Balls seems to try to berate the Government for the cut backs, but still offers little in terms of a credible thought-out alternative. There is just no admission of the challenge the Country will face with GDP-debt ratio at 100%.

This is as much as I can find from Brendan Barber:
'There is still time to adopt an alternative approach of stimulating growth by maintaining spending and using a fairer tax system to ensure that those who gained most from the boom years now pay their fair share of undoing the damage they caused.'
Stimulating growth by maintaining spending on non-economically viable production - great way to destroy more wealth, plus raising taxes. He must have missed the 50% headline rate and the bankers bonus levy. It is not a great new idea for getting out of recession though - tax and spend - more of the same of what caused the problem in the first place.

The real nail the Government need to meet though is the nonsense about this being a City caused crisis. of course the banks going bust has made a big hole, but the bigger damage was the creation of a structural deficit by the last Government - that owed nothing to the City and everything to vote buying for a decade by Labour.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Royal Mail or sale.

The government announced plans for a sale of Royal Mail, the fifth time such plans have been seriously considered since the parliament of 1987. Without seeing the details of the sale/privatisation or split then its hard to see how successful they will be. Peter Mandelson's part privatisation never really got off the ground. I'm sure labour rebels MPs would like to think that their rumblings of discontent scuppered the deal, but in fact was lack of a buyer. TNT never made a serious offer, and no one else bid at all.

This time round there may some more interest, but many mail firms are struggling. TNT itself made a second 1/4 profit in 2010 of 3 million euros. A long way down from the 81 million Euro profit of 2009. They have also announced
a separation of their postal arms, prompting talk of a part sale to rivals. TNT had many problems in 2009 similar to Royal Mail. Labour contracts, falling volumes, problems with the Dutch regulator over their performance and the loss of some subcontractors too.

Is privatisation a good thing anyway? The pension would have to go onto the governments debt books. An extra £10 or £11 billion that would hardly be welcome. But as the Hooper report makes clear, something has to be done about it. It is the government's own debt after all. They are the single shareholder. And with declining mail volumes RM is never going to be able to pay it off itself.
But if the government removed the debt of the pension servicing from Royal Mail, would they need the 'private investment' at all?

I expect politically the government will insist on privatisation and so remove a source of funding for its enemies and a major industrial relations irritant for its voters. [CWU is a Labour funder and has the worst strike record in the UK] { a claim which is a bit dubious- they had long strike periods as opposed to Bob Crow's fortnightly daily walkouts}. Politically the Coalition probably has enough support. Vince Cable introduced it and Ed Davey is the Post Office minister, both senior lib dems. And the part privatisation/co-op style split + Post Office in the public sector is a Lib Dem idea that was in their manifesto.

Friday 10 September 2010

Friday Round-Up

Here are some posts I have been reading this week from the UK Economics/Business bloggers:

Tim Worstall notes how a small omission can tell you alot.

A Very British Dude has an interesting take on Casino banking (I'll excuse his couple of factual errors, the principle is interesting).

Monevator on the dangesr of illiquid small cap shares (mind my tips then!)

Free tea with Neil Hume at the FT for those who want it.

Bearwatch shows some respect to Goldmans

Financial Shaman Fowke weighs in on Goldmans too (play nice now)

Chris Dillow on wages and corruption in cricket.

ASI on our discombobulated tax system

Alex does not like Willie Walsh

Flip Chart sees the true costs of media outcries (sad, but true)

Hope you enjoy them, I did. The Business blogoshpere is in rude health at the moment.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Bye Bye UK engingeering

This will be a half-empty and half-full kind of post. The fall in the Pound and the FTSE this past two years has had a disproportionate affect on different sectors in the UK. Some like Banks are well down and indeed, out. Others like Pharma have done well. One other sector that has been beaten down is engineering, companies like Tomkins. Why? Well manufacturing data and worries about world trade abound.

However, this is not how foreigners see it. They see fantastic companies like Tomkins and  Chloride and want to buy in. In fact merger and acquisitions in this sector are all the rage. Hopefully this will lead to a re-rating of shares and so less foreign take-over activity.

Now, this is not to say we Capitalists are against foreign take-overs per se. It's a market, they want to give shareholders money and they can then invest that elsewhere or start again with new businesses. Also the foreigners sometimes find it ain't as easy as it looks and you can overpay, check out DP World with their P&O ports acquisition.

But there is a market here for cheap take-outs of some of our best companies, which of course presents itself as a good opportunity for some stake building of your own in anticipation of this. After Chloride though, I am more at a loss as this is not my sector, any insight from the readership?

Barclays and a Loud Echo of Enron

The elevation of Bob Diamond to CEO at Barclays is strongly reminiscent of my old mucker Jeff Skilling's rise to the top at Enron.

Skilling had been brought on board to develop his revolutionary concept of building what became known as an 'energy merchant' trading-and-origination function atop the pedestrian gas pipeline business that was Enron's original and core activity. (This was at a time when there were financial text-books stating that natural gas was a paradigm-case of a commodity that couldn't be traded.)

as Enron Gas Marketing in the late '80s with the introduction of clever new financial products and derivatives in US gas, he moved on to electricity, the UK and Europe as Enron Capital & Trade Resources in the mid '90s. Despite every vested interest and incumbent utility's hand being turned against him, ECTR rapidly became the engine of growth for Enron, (not to mention the pioneer for worldwide gas and electricity liberalisation) leaving the staid gas pipelines trailing in its wake - truly, a capitalist @ work.
The parallels with retail and investment banking are clear enough: massive and innovative proprietary trading underpinned by a balance-sheet rich in dull, under-performing, but very real assets. Let's hope it doesn't all end the same way ...


Wednesday 8 September 2010

Statement of things you already knew.

Back to school sales boost retail figures
So says the latest British Retail Consortium figures.

Back to school can't boost sales figures. It is a given sales opportunity, like Valentines. Kids went back to school and the new school year began at this time last year and every year before, since about 1870. Spending might have been higher against the truly dismal August 2009, but that's not the same thing as saying school kids kit out boosted sales.

Not much in the figures, a 1% increase. Where there is some data that supports a long held C@W view is that strong
web presence is essential. "Internet, mail order and phone sales grew in August to 17.8% year-on-year growth, up from 11.3% last month, and above the average for the last 12 months."

The rest is as expected. TV's stopped shifting after the lousy South Africa performance, and beer and burgers fell back once the sun went in.
"Computers and laptops were given a lift by back-to-school and college deals. "
Really? How surprising. I'd add that both Toys 'r' Us and Clinton Cards are expecting to see an increase in business in December.

Retail still looks likely to be flat to a very small gain for the rest of 2010.

{Anecdotally, Toys, which accounts for only about 10% of BQ industries sales have been terrible. I don't pay them too much attention as they are really just filler lines. But at least 50% down over the key school holidays. A lot are SOR now, but still. Awful figures.
Noticed Sainsbury's and Asda had a sale on toys very early in the summer.
Wonder if they had noticed a significant fall off too?
The toy reps haven't even been on the phone telling us what the 'big new thing' is for Xmas. I expect Xbox Kinetic, a system to make XBOX like the Wii. Adult and kids games in one package... Bad news for Nintendo, who's own 3-d DSI looks unavailable until the following Xmas.
BQ's hot tip last January about an Iplayer/freeview/internet combi box looks like fantasy}

BP to publish blamestorm report

A BP report is out today detailing the circumstances around the Gulf Oil blowout which caused so much damage in the USA. Sadly for BP, they are going to be honest whichi s the right thing to do, just not in the USA. I fully expect that BP to accept much of the blame fo the Deepwater Horizon failure. The lawyers for Transocean and Haliburton will no doubt be urging their executives to admit no wrongdoing and blame all on BP. As you may have noticed from previous coverage, President Obama relishes saying BP at every opportunity. David Cameron even asked him to tone this down and he completely ignored the request. The US of A is united against this foreign organisation.

BP is facing a massive clean up bill and over 300 lawsuits. This is going to tie the company down for years to come - many of the lawsuits will be based upon the evidence released today. The share price is steady this morning at 407p, but there is still much downside for the company to navigate. Shareholders are going to have to wait a long time before they get a good picture of the kind of damages BP is going to have to pay out and the costs of all these lawsuits. I won't be buying any BP shares for a while.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Diamond will break-up Barclays

The long awaited day when the super-ego that is Bob Diamond takes over Barclays has arrived. Early next year he will take over as CEO. Now, not many people can hold a candle to Bob Diamond as a builder of an investment bank. Plus in the depths of the 2008 crash he took over a big chunk of Lehmans out of administration which was a huge gamble that paid of spectacularly.

In the last year, Barclays has been engaged in a process of trying to integrate the UK Corporate Bank and the Investment bank. The idea being to sell profitable and complex products to the UK corporate base. The other banks look on in bemusement, wondering how you sell hedges and swaps to small companies in Norfolk.

Still, it is a brave try and perhaps was done with a view of Bob Diamond taking over. Mr Diamond would probably rather run an  investment bank alone and sell off Barclays retail and Barclaycard altogether. Even the UK Government would welcome this as it would reduce some risk in the system of a huge Investment bank going under and taking the retail bank with it (note Barclays did very well our of the credit crunch though, so clearly has some very good risk management practices). Shareholders too might like to see a break-up as they eye an improved sum-of-the-parts valuation.

However, the merger of Barcorp and Barcap now presents itself as something of a poison pill, unless it is purely the retail bank that is to be sold off. Long term I just can't see Barcap and Barclays staying together with Diamond in charge. Fun times ahead for shareholders in the next year or so. The market has been fairly neutral in reaction today, but the bank remains a buy under 300p if I ever free up any more cash.

Monday 6 September 2010

British Airways (Leyland?) goes global

This story has caught my eye, I know it is a day late, but this proposal for the new BA-Iberia airline to go on an acquisition spree is hilarious. OK, so Willie Walsh is a good and tough CEO and no one questions Iberia either - a well run business. However, the airlines are in terrible trouble with their unions, stuck in an unending series of strikes.

Not only that, but BA's pension fund deficit is enormous and the world stock markets have not helped it of late. The company has cash, but this is earmarked for fleet replacement.

Thus the idea that these two companies are well placed to acquire others around the world, like Tony Fernades's AirAsia must be well off the wall. This would as the headline suggests be akin the the 1970's idea of  putting all the UK failed car manufacturers together in the hope that a sustainable business emerged.

Not only that, but no one has ever run such a complex services business on a truly global scale before - I really wonder whether it would be possible given the political nature of airline businesses.

Perhaps really this is the last story of the silly season instead.

Sunday 5 September 2010

The City: Social changes mitigate against social mobility

There have been huge changes to the City of London since I started working there in the early 2000's. Of those the social changes are the ones that I most notice now.

When I first started, one of my senior bosses, should he want a meeting about something, would invite me out to lunch. This would entail a huge steak and at lest 3 bottles of very heavy (and quality) red wine. Often the discussion would be how things are not like the old days, where everyone worked until lunch and then went for a liquid lunch for the rest of the day. He bemoaned this for his last few years before his comfortable retirement.

So that was the City of the 1990's and early 2000's; no more slacking off after lunch and long-hours on projects not being compensated for by time off when work was not so busy. Still though, everyone drank wine at lunch and it was de rigeur to go to the pub after work, more or less every day.

Yet now in 2010, there is a much changed social culture across much of the city. The City has been affected by the European and American workers who have helped to erode further the drinking culture. And the rise of Gym's and fitness freakery now means the younger generation (i.e. under 30) are more likely to be doing a triathlon at the weekend than be out at The Ivy. A single glass of wine with lunch is about as much as they want.

As someone who is not blessed with much drinking stamina, I don't hate this change, but it is so noticeable. The big effect this has strikes me as the one on competition for the good city jobs. Now all the youngsters starting out are straight A students, then onto good university, then into hard working job where to relax they try to stay super fit. It really is the elite of the elite. The new Government may want to increase social mobility, but these guys and gals are going to have none of it, they are not giving up their hard won jobs and lifestyles for anyone. And not many people are going to want this level of commitment for their career either.

Friday 3 September 2010

Job creation myth.

Supermarkets are facing calls to stop using misleading claims for jobs creation. Often a supermarket will claim 'hundreds of local jobs' will be created in order to boost local communities to back planning proposals.

The National Retail Planning forum has estimated a net loss of 276 jobs when a supermarket moves into an area.. not the 236 gained that supermarkets claim.

Really? A net loss? I very much doubt that. A 30,000 sq foot supermarket employs 200-300 people. The average local owner shop employs 2-5 people. To get a loss of 275 jobs after the supermarket creates 275 at 5/business closing, is over 100 stores closing. Or an entire Town. That can't be right.

A look into the report reveals that the NRP is at least under-egging the pudding by as much as the supermarkets are over-egging it. The headcount figure is the supermarket one, a 236 gain in jobs. What the report really says is that many of these jobs are part-time and the losses in the local community tended to be full time. The jobs created might be Saturday jobs but they are still jobs. The report has analysed data from over 12 years. That can only obscure the data, not help it. Employment patterns have changed dramatically since 1997 and the minimum wage and employment law changes. BQ remembers having 9 f/t and 2 p/t and 8 weekend staff at a certain store in 1995. In 2005 the same store had 3f/t and 3 p/t and 3 weekend. Upwards rates and rent pressure followed by upwards wage pressure meant smaller employment numbers. That was nothing to do with Supermarkets {actually it was, they started selling cheaper clothes than us.}

The report is championed by the
Association of Convenience Stores. Do you think they might be a tiny bit biased? Supermarkets surely damage local businesses. That is probably a given. But to say they actually reduce employment seems a pretty doubtful claim.

UK/EU Finance Regulation musical chairs creates risk

We love the coverage in today's press about HSBC threatening to leave the UK if we dare to break up the 'too-bit-to-fail' banks. Stuart Gulliver, CEO in waiting says this is not a threat and HSBC would rather stay in the UK. When is a threat not a threat?

Yet also on the same day we have news that the EU finance minsters have agreed a compromise agreement on Financial Industry regulation. This is being spun by MEP Tories' as a UK success (i.e. there has at least been some compromise rather than just a steamroller).

However all we now have is a highly confusing picture. The Government has its own report due out next year, meanwhile the FSA and Bank of England are struggling with their proposes changes of remit. Cable and Osborne are both quite up for breaking up the big banks, but treasury mandarins (all ex-investment bankers) are quite against it.

Meanwhile who knows what this European regulation will bring. It always brings more complexity than first imagined.

With all this flux, I doubt banks have to worry about any imminent changes and can spend their time paying lobbyists.

Let's just hope we don't have another financial crisis whilst everything is up in the air.....clearly risk is being added to the situation. Don't think the markets won't notice.

Thursday 2 September 2010

From Our Cork Correspondent

Back in Cork as planned: and the view out of my quayside bedroom window is of the tallest (sic) building in the Republic, the loftily-named and loftily-conceived Elysian, Japanese garden and all. It was built, as these edifices often are, just as the property boom had peaked. And as my taxi-driver said:

"will yer look at dat, sorr - it's ballaxed ! ... yer not in foinance, are yer ? - dere's a fierce anger here against bankers"

But of course I am not in finance, no no no, and so we sailed on.
It's more than half empty, naturally. The locals call it the Idle Tower, which probably has nothing to do with our blogger-friend: some attribute it to a pun on a nearby pub, the Idle Hour - but I'd say that a certain Parisian landmark may equally have suggested the moniker.

Everyone here is nursing Big negative equity. And a pint of stout. Murphy's, of course, in these parts.


photo (c) Nick Drew 2010