Friday 31 May 2013

Battersea madness

I have been to the new Battersea site to see much of the development going on there. It is good that finally the Malaysian investors have taken on the site and the team that the previous Irish investors had to now develop the site. Such a prime space has been wasted all these years and now there will be something done with it that is useful.

Even better it is lots and lots of small flats which is all people can afford these days in London.

No madness here you say? Well I see two big pieces. Firstly the old power station is a monstrosity and it would have been much better to knock the thing down, given it is very polluted and not that sound. But not only have the council insisted on keeping the old building, but also two useless cranes in the Thames which are to be restored.

of course, some will argue the power station is a nice old building, largest brick structure in the world etc. I say so what.

But the really stupid thing is the towers. These are made of a non reinforced concrete which is now deteriorating. Every now and again a big piece will fall off. This won't do when the sight is full of busy foreign students enjoying their new flats. So instead the Battersea owners are going to take them down and replace them with plastic ones.

No this is mad, they serve no purpose and are very expensive, plastic is hardly the most aesthetic product and in this case there is just no need. It's a mystery to me as to why this is necessary as part of the grade one listing.

Thursday 30 May 2013

Question Time: No time for a holiday edition.

On the panel in London are Conservative health minister Anna 'mini majority' Soubry MP.
 Labour's former home secretary Alan ' people say I would have made a good PM..but never offer any evidence for this' Johnson MP.
 UKIP prospective candidate for European Parliament Diane 'waiting for Portsmouth' James.
 Political undertaker director of the Huffington Post Mehdi Hasan,
 and Julian Fellowes, the writer and creator of Downton Abbey.
{which has gone downhill like a Spanish economy..Sort it out Julian! And stop killing off the characters during weddings and births..its not supposed to be like Eastenders..}

Dimbletie - Blue and red

BQ thinks
1. Terror and snooping. Should we all put our IT bids in for tender? Its never ever going to work.But we could clean up for ten years before its scrapped.
2. Outside shot for the EHIC to make an appearance..but i can't think of much this week.
3. UK court decision over migrant benefits. {are the EU trying to actually force us to leave the club?}
4. Syria and arms supplies. Don't do it Billy. 
5. PM on holiday. So what? I mean what? What would he be doing here? going on raids with MI5 and the Met? Shows just how much support Dave has lost as the SUN was the most angry at his holiday.

 This tournament is sponsored by 

Timbo 614
Week 18

DtP 135
Measured 123
 BQ(MP) 118
Timbo614 117

  ND 106
GSD 100
 Budgie 96 
 Hopper 91

Malcolm Tucker 83
Blue Eyes 70
 kynon 66
 Botogol 65

Taff -56
CU 50
Idle 48

Sackerson - 11
 Andrew -13

James Higham - 7 
EK -6
anon - 3
 Phil5 - 2

Wednesday 29 May 2013

One in four people are... {add your own vested interest here}

On LBC Labour MP Stella Creasy said 1 in 4 Londoners now take out a payday loan every month. 


 1 in 4. That's some 2,500,000 payday loans in London every month? 

From Wiki - The number of people taking out payday loans in the UK in recent years has increased fourfold, to 1.2 million in 2009. The latest 2011 info on Stella's own webpage has a figure of 1.3 million individuals in the UK taking out a loan. That's a hell of a growth if she is right..which, of course, she isn't. In London payday loans would have risen by some 1000%. A rate of increase even the payday loans companies themselves would envy. As the report she quotes goes on to say the insolvency practitioner in November 2012 showed 5 million adults in the UK are considering taking out a payday loan in the 6 months to May 2013.
 What a useless statistic. The car salesman would be rich on commission if he could bank all the people thinking about buying a car as actual sales. And that 1000% increase in payday loans in London. I just guessed a %. You're not going to check. Which is what the problem is.

I've no idea what Stella really meant to say but what was disturbing was that the interviewer, Julia Hartley-Brewer, didn't pick up on it. So its 1 in 4 Londoner's taking out a payday loan to help pay for food and nappies. What an evil society we live in when a quarter of all families in one of the richest countries in the world has a system that means a full 2.5 million citizens in its capital city must take out a loan to eat.

There was a figure on Question Time the other day that said 1 in 5 women has been raped. I queried it on Twitter and met with some strong tweets saying how rape is unreported. Women suffer terribly and the real figure is nearer 1 in 3.
But 1:5 women being raped means what? 20 million rapists in the UK? 10 Million? Its an insane figure that cannot be true. Wiki again: According to a news report on BBC One presented in 12 November 2007, there were 85,000 women raped in the UK in the previous year.
2013 census has 28.5 million women registered. Take out the under 16s and call it 20 million. 1 in 5 is 4,000,000 rapes. That's a 4700% increase. We'd have noticed, surely?

The disabilities agencies claim between 10 and 12 million disabled people in the UK. Around 1:5 of working age adults and 1 in 2 of pensioners.
There are 44 million drivers. There are 1.3 million tax exemptions from road tax granted. 
That exemption is available not just to the disabled person, who might be blind or otherwise incapable of driving, but to the partner, parent or carer of the disabled person. So 1 in 5 begins to look suspicious. 

1:5 families in the UK live in poverty.
6.5% of UK people are homosexual -2005

Unless, as in all these examples, every possible permutation of the statistic is included, the figures cannot be correct. Colour blindness and stammering and baldness as a disability? 
Felt up once in a pub counts as rape? Agreed to have a session with their partner when not in the mood? 

 Why do so many bodies use such nonsense figures that are so obviously at odds with the real world experience. If these figures were correct ALL of us would know a disabled lesbian, living in poverty who has been raped and recently taken out a payday loan. All of us..not just one of us.
There would be one such person in all our families. And one rapist too..who is also taking out a payday loan.

 Its a headline. And the media often allow the statistics to go unchallenged. Owen Jones was very, very surprised when Andrew Neil told him that no member of the cabinet earned a million pounds a year. Poor Owen. No one had ever questioned one of his assertions before. 

Tax cuts for millionaires! Assuming £150k is the new million.
Unemployment fell by 50,000 in august 2012 - or maybe it rose by 50,000 as 100,000 is the approximate +/- error in the figures.
Crime fell by 8% last year. Or maybe not. Depends on what crime is recorded doesn't it?
In 2008 97.2% of A level students passed. Its risen a lot since then.

Don't believe a word of any of them.

{Homosexuality figures fell dramatically to about 1 to 1.5% in 2010 after new research. Worse news for Dave then.. He's pushed 20% of former Tory voters to UKIP trying to catch 1% of the national Gay vote. Or maybe its 1% to UKIP out of 20% of the national vote..who the hell knows? Or cares..Just make your own up..No one checks.}

Great Software Disasters - Do They Never Learn?

We can all get very legitimately steamed up about the Beeb's epic Digital Media Intiative fail - £100 million of licence-payers' money down the pan with nothing to show for it.  BBC Must Learn Lessons, thunders the Telegraph.  Yes, and re-coup the money from their salary budget, if there was any justice.

But I suppose we must settle for 'learning lessons' - without much optimism that it will do any good.  The public sector is notoriously prone to great systems disasters, with the NHS well to the fore.

Actually, it is my strong belief that the private sector is just as bad - but finds it easier to cover up.  In one of the more chequered phases of my career I got an excellent insider's perspective on this; and since then have watched many a software project disaster played out in energy companies. Many, perhaps most of these have been truly avoidable - proven solutions being installed in conventional circumstances, and still cocked-up to buggery, at enormous expense.   Why does it all go so wrong, so often ?  Here are my Top 5 Lessons Learned (from a very long list indeed). 
  • keep Systems Integrators on a very short leash.  Or dispense with the bastards altogether, their added value is less than their fee by an order of magnitude - when it's not actually negative.  (I am being very restrained here, in the wake of Sally Bercow's little difficulty)
  • after a careful selection process, get the vendor to install their standard package with as few customisations as possible, ideally none whatsoever.  It's much easier for you to adapt to a proven solution (which, almost certainly, actually works) than the other way around - and to hold the vendor to their performance obligations
  • never, ever be a beta site for any mission-critical or enterprise-wide system.  Or ever, really
  • demand to meet - and vet - all the vendor's team who'll be installing the product.  They will resist this like hell.  Ask yourself why ...
  • dispense with System Integrators.  I may have mentioned this already ...
 I am guessing that many C@W readers have seen much of the same.  What are you diagnoses and prescriptions ?


Tuesday 28 May 2013

The pain of the corporate shilling

So there you are, a long history of working for the Government and a nice public sector pension all ready for you in due course. But what to do for the three or four years before the petunia's call? One can't really just be expected to sit around in a pre-retirement bout of poverty.

Not if your David Hartnett, when instead you can enroll yourself onto a fantastic jolly at the expense of Deloitte. A day a week contract for several tens of thousands of pounds must be the dream of many a man reaching that time in their life. A little work to keep oneself occupied and able to converse at social events that one still has a role and part to play in life. On the other hand, not too much to do given the advancing nature of the years and desire to spend time out of the office.

The reward for this, a full shellacking in the national newspapers, virtually called a traitor by backbench Labour MP's. Comes with the territory sure, but probably worth it for the money.

I had some sympathy with even Margaret Hodge for saying the Big 4 Accountants have the HMRC and Government well measured up. Indeed they do, no doubt they encouraged the complexity of the tax code as it suits them to bill their own clients too. Plus most of the tax workers at the Big 4 have worked originally for the Government and left for better money in the Private Sector.

However, so what? This is bound to happen as I don't want the Government paying excessive salaries to HMRC staff. All the Government needs to do is remember not to listen to them when they come back with their corporate sponsors and agendas - this though seems to be the bit the Government finds hard to do. it should not be really, caveat emptor, beware of greeks bearing gifts - none of this is new is it?

In the meantime, have fun at Deloitte Mr. Hartnett, after all its not at taxpayers expense!

Sunday 26 May 2013

Capitalist Archbishop @ Work?

Churchmen frequently see fit to weigh into the affairs of Mammon - and why not, they have their sermons to write and they know what people are interested in.  There are, after all, biblical precedents - and, let's face it, quite a lot to pontificate upon.

Watching the Beeb's rather good latest episode of 'Bankers', I was struck by the balanced contribution of our new Archbishop, Justin Welby, and minded to post about it here.  Turning to i-player for the appropriate link, what do I find but himself as the frontispiece !

Not merely a talking head, it seems, but the talking head.  How gratifying for the CofE.

Welby is an interesting cove, having worked for many years in the oil industry before the voice of God called him to the ministry.  And now a financial commentator too.

He is welcome to write a guest post here any time he likes.


Friday 24 May 2013

The Simpletons


Guido unexpectedly put a response comment on  "Comment of the day."
Done too quick for real thought. Only really happy with Flanders and Poochie.
I would have added Patty and Selma as the Eagle's sisters. 
And someone had Diamond 'Joe' Quimby as Boris, which is a good spot.
And 'Fat' Tony as Ed Balls.

Ned Flanders – Clegg
Lisa Simpson – Natalie Bennett
Milhouse – Hilary Benn
Martin Prince – Andy Burnham
Edna Krabappel – Luciana Berger
Crazy Cat Lady – Glenda jackson
Comic book guy – John Prescott
Carl – Chucka
Lenny – Philip Hammond
Willie – Eric joyce
Poochie – Gordon Brown
Reverend Lovejoy – Tony Blair

Sure we can do better.
Your best Simpson characters as political and business leaders into the comments

Thursday 23 May 2013

Question Time : Loony edition

 David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Belfast, where the panel includes Northern Ireland secretary Theresa Villiers, shadow Northern Ireland secretary Vernon Coaker, education minister John O' Dowd, MP for North Antrim Ian Paisley Jnr and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell

N.Ireland edition so take the clues from the panel. I don't think i'll be back in time to watch, which might prove a blessing. I always find Northern Ireland so totally different to the mainland UK politics. The laws are different. The Police. The Army. The politics. Terrorism means something else. Religion means something different. Watching is like viewing an episode of Question Time from France. 

BQ thiks
1. What to do about angry men with a thin grasp of history and a Koran ? Who's to blame?
2. Gay marriage. How well did that go down over there? 
3. Swivel eyed loons. Yes, its official. CCHQ can't manage to shut down the mildest of mild stories.  Alistair Campbell must spit out a contemptuous "Amateurs!"every  day he opens the morning papers.
 4. Political prisoners excluded form Spad jobs..
5. Gove's education reforms and the impact on N.I. examinations.

This tournament is sponsored by 
Timbo 614
Week 17

DtP 124 
Measured 112
Timbo614 111

BQ(MP) 104
  ND 100
 Hopper 91
GSD 91

Budgie 88 
Malcolm Tucker 82
 Botogol 65
kynon 66
Blue Eyes 64
Taff -52
Idle 48
CU 47

Sackerson - 11
 Andrew -13

James Higham - 7 
EK -6
anon - 3
 Phil5 - 2

EMED, bugger

Chart forFTSE 100 (^FTSE)

Never can I recall owning a share like EMED mining where the event driven news was moved forward by one quarter, every quarter. This is now going on for 4 years, so that is 16 postponements of opening the mine in my book.

Unsurprisingly the share price is down again to and now at almost 5 year lows. Sigh, my investment nous has long since departed and my share portfolio seems to ride around every year and somehow or other end up with a zero increase or decrease overall. Very exciting, boring and unrewarding all at the same time.

What a day for EMED to release news though on the first real big day of market sell off that we have had for months. As they say, timing is everything!

Wednesday 22 May 2013

Interests to Declare

With Peter Lilley increasingly vocal in the public energy debate ** (what's the opposite of mealy-mouthed ?), we have the amusing position of heavyweight vested commercial interests ranged against each other - on the Tory benches.

It's long been a source of ad hominem ammunition against Tim Yeo and "Lord Deben" (Gummer the Bummer, © Jasper Carrott) that they stand to gain materially from the pro-renewables policies they promote so assiduously.  Why, we've even pointed them out on these pages.

But of course Peter Lilley is up to his eyeballs in oil interests, some of which are in distant and none-too-salubrious parts; and fairness dictates we draw attention to these 'n all.

Does it matter ?  As far as we can tell they put their interests into the public domain.  We get the picture: they are unashamedly talking their own book.  And if they are the more knowledgeable for their vested involvement, perhaps it adds to the quality of the debate - capitalists at work ...

What do we think ?  I still can't abide Gummer or Yeo.


** but why is his Spectator piece so badly written ?  that's the real offence.    

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Normal Service nearly resumed

Thanks for everyone's patience, after several hours with the hammer hitting the internet morale seems to have improved amongst the digital slaves within the machine and the blog has a whole new look.

Albeit rather simplified and blogger has kindly deleted all the rather expensive links and style that we paid for 4 years ago, but I am told to consider myself lucky that it lasted that long.

Anyhow, normal posting will resume shortly!

Monday 20 May 2013


Apologies to all readers, the header title seems to have vanished along with the site at which it was hosted.

 Just trying to fix this now, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Friday 17 May 2013


And it's not even April Fool's day. Yes, Ocado, a company I love and use because I know they can't make any money out of me and yet provide a good service, are going to sell spare capacity to Morrisons, a shopping experience that you just won't run back to who think people need their amazing product at des res in the Home Counties. Hmm...

In the middle, Waitrose. A store whose brand is such that house prices rise when one opens in the neighbourhood. How Waitrose react will be critical. Ocado seem to have come up with a good plan whereby they have in effect sold their distribution centre that they had no ability to use.

This probably screws Waitrose who have a no compete clause, but by selling the business Ocado will think they have managed around this. The devil will be in whether Waitrose can find a way to get at Ocadao through their delivery management agreement with Morrisons.

Clearly the market thinks Ocado have pulled it off as the share price is up 30% this morning. Indeed, it is a company saver as they had invested in a white elephant that they have managed to sell. However, long term their relationship with Waitrose will end and they still never make any money and lose on every delivery. it's a real dotcom business model, sometimes like Amazon they work in the end of course...

Thursday 16 May 2013

Question Time - EU Again! edition

  David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Ipswich.{recent gains to 11 seats up from just 1 for UKIP}
On the panel: defence secretary, Philip "reservists" Hammond MP; 
shadow immigration minister, Chris "underpants" Bryant MP; 
former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles " I may have had a wee problem but don't you wish I was leader now?"Kennedy MP; 
 Financial Times journalist Gillian "global crisis" Tett; 
and the chair of Arts Council England, Peter "Baguette" Bazalgette.

This tournament is sponsored by 
Timbo 614
Week 16

DtP 115 -
Measured 102

BQ(MP) 98
  Timbo614 98
ND 94
 Hopper 91

Budgie 83 
Malcolm Tucker 82
  GSD 82

 Botogol 65
kynon 66
Blue Eyes 64

Idle 48
Taff -45
CU 41

Sackerson - 11
 Andrew -13

James Higham - 7 
anon - 3
 Phil5 - 2

BQ thinks 
1} Is Cameron the new Major?
2} Were the Pakistani trafficers targeting white girls, or are there just less Asian girls in care homes?
3} NHS 111 & A&E crisis - Should GP's be made to open back up on weekends?
4} Afghan withdrawal . Longer tours and "Why are we there?"
5}Oil companies fixing the price at the pump.

DImbletie - A bit orangey.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Woe is us!

Having had one of those days yesterday (triple whammy of duff events) there is nothing else to cheer oneself up than looking around to see everyone else is suffering too. This I fear places me firmly in the realm of a socialist, so this will be a one off post and normal service will be resumed shortly.

The fact that everyone else is suffering is being well reported by the OECD with Britain making marked falls in the overall well being tables. The excuses given out are what we all know, unemployment, higher taxes leading to lower disposable income.

Overall the effect is to say that we are as poor as we were in 2005. Now this bit I can agree with, I definitely remember a time of going on holidays and being able to buy new cars, TV's etc, this does now though seem like a dim and distant memory - but 2005...golly!

Tuesday 14 May 2013


In comments the other day, the subject of Gasland flickered briefly and BQ suggested it deserved a post.

It's hardly new: but perhaps it is getting a second wind as drilling for shale gas is set to re-commence around Britain.  We heralded the potential significance of shale to the economy when the first UK discovery was announced (and discussed it many times since), and it is fast becoming a political dividing-line. From a basic C@W standpoint there is the obvious 'what's not to like?' angle, countered by the inevitable CiF chorus of 'gas = hydrocarbon = wicked'.

In fact it has even more dramatic potential than that.  The whole UK / EU decarbonisation policy hinges on the prices of hydrocarbon fuels rising indefinitely: it is, as someone said recently, a gigantic speculative long position.  But hey, prices go down as well as up, and (as we they used to say at Enron) - if in doubt, go short.  A lot of greenies know this and are likely to get very agitated - and if drilling does indeed re-commence on a serious scale, there will be no end of sites at which NoDashForGas can make a serious nuisance of themselves.

Anyhow: you may be seeing Gasland again on a screen near you, and here's what I said in the comments.
Gasland  is a rather well-made piece of pure polemic, quite easy on the eye and very beguiling for people who are in the market for an anti-energy diatribe.  It is very cavalier (and sometimes outright dishonest) in its use of facts, and full of crafty non-sequiturs which any logician would spot, even if they knew nothing of the detail.

Also, it has bugger-all to do with fracking (which is one of its main non-seqs) - it starts on fracking right enough, but about one-third of the way in then seamlessly segues into just an attack on the practices of the US natural gas industry in general.  Somehow, people come away thinking they've seen a devastating case against fracking, but they haven't.

For completeness, let it be said that in some states of the USA there are virtually no environmental regulations at all (or if any, they are not enforced) and so there is a solid body of entirely legitimate attack that can be made on some genuine ongoing life-threatening health-hazards that would not be tolerated anywhere else this side of China.  (If anyone disputes this I invite them to move with their families and live in the environs of the refinery belt at the Houston Ship Channel. No? Thought not)

Gasland's valid hits are scored on this ground - but again, this has very little to do with fracking.


Monday 13 May 2013

It's a funny old QE world

Look at the FTSE > Flying this year.
Chart forFTSE 100 (^FTSE)

And yet the UK economy is flatlining, still, after 4 years. Maybe some signs of growth but from the 2008 nadir you would perhaps expect the FTSE still to be around 5500 or so given the weak growth. Maybe topping 6000 due to high inflation and divis.

But in the recent past it has been trotted out that the FTSE is a very global index. That the index is more closely linked moreover to the commodities market. Well the commodities market is way off its multi-year highs and the commodity companies in the FTSE are having a very tough year.

Instead the index is up mainly led by defensive stocks; this I find very topsy-turvy. Surely the riskier stocks which have been smashed up would rise the most as risk appetite returned. But no, AIM shares remain in the doldrums, if not worse and are to be found at basement prices.

So there is no return to risk, just a buying of defensives by those who have QE money to spend but have no desire to take any risks at all.

So is the QE'd world of 2013 - a very strange place indeed don't you think?

Friday 10 May 2013

how to find your correct name for your social class

With the recent local elections thrusting many new people into local government, it might be time to consider finding the appropriate name to give yourself if you are tempted to climb the slippery pole.
 To be a successful backbench MP requires a recognisable name. 
Yasmin Qureshi, MP{lab} is not being invited onto Question Time anytime soon.

The best way to find the most appropriate name for your party is, as so often in Britain, to go back to your school roots.

Take the name of your prep school or your House and public school House/school name -uni/college name, and there you are. {For those without the benefit of private education that's the school name and the assigned year group name. Otherwise you will all be truly socialised by having Year 4 as a first name.}
 Tory backbench MP, Bill Quango. {William Quango until the late 90's, then it was all in hands in pockets and open neck shirts..Look at those boys above - you can almost hear the Housemaster - "Take your hands of your pockets! And see the barber! You like a footballer from Paraguay!- 10 demerits Johnson!"}

Bill Quango MP, could have been Bristow Sandringham.
And  a check with the interns and the office staff, and their political allegiance, reveals

Ms Victoria Buckholm - {Con}
Mrs Melba Hollows - {Lib Dem}
Ms Amelia Alachua -{Green}
Ms Tudor Hurstwood - {Lib Dem}

Mr Newlands Stanchester - {Con}

Ms Ashbury  Baguley-Hall {UKIP}

And just to prove it works for all classes

Mrs Agnes Pike {Lab}
Mr Rodney Compton {Lab} 
Mr Primary School Academy {Ind} [who may have misunderstood the process]

No wonder the left are so anti posh, non bog-standard, education. Under the Quango system down to earth former schools minister Ed Balls would be Harvard Bawburgh-Keeble
And John Major - Rutlish Common.

Your own new MP/allegiance or Social Class names into the comments please.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Question Time - Bored after 50 years of reading out aspiration lists, Queen demands shorter speech edition.

David Dimbleby presents Question Time from Coventry
On the panel: Business minister, Jo 'gender blender' Swinson MP.
 Former Shadow Home Secretary, David ' standing against myself' Davis MP.
 Shadow Education Minister, Tristram 'parachute' Hunt MP
 Germaine 'I was the future once' Greer, feminist writer and academic,
 and Jerry 'SDP' Hayes, criminal barrister and former Conservative MP.

Dimbletie - Mauve and white splodge.

Questions guess.
1. Have the coalition run out of ideas, time, money or all three.
2. Childcare. Should we put our children's lives at risk like they do in those third world countries of Germany,France,Holland,Switzerland and Norway? 
3. UKIP. The rise of the purple. Lawson says get out of EU. Portillo says get out of EU. The polls say get out of EU..{cheeky dimby turns to DD and says 'What's your view on the EU? Same as Cameron?'
4. SIRALEX. End of an era. Can anyone follow the most successful British soccer manager of all time?
5. Age of consent should be 13 to protect TV entertainers from the 1970's and 80's.

This tournament is still sponsored by 
Timbo 614
Week 15

DtP 108 -wow!

BQ(MP) 94
 Measured 92
 Timbo614 91
ND 90
 Hopper 87
  GSD 81

Budgie 77 
Malcolm Tucker 73

 Botogol 65
kynon 64
Blue Eyes 64

Idle 48
Taff -45
CU 41

Sackerson - 11
 Andrew - 9

James Higham - 7 
 Phil5 - 2

Solar fun for the EU

I can't help but love the story about China dumping solar panels. It is so full of contradictions that it is hard to know where to start.

- Firstly, China has hugely over-produced the solar panels and has little internal demand. the panels are produced by State Owned Enterprises and this is a good example, as mentioned by Ryan in the comments of Monday's China post, of the mis-allocation of resources in China that will lead them to a bust.

- Secondly, many European industry companies welcome the dumping! Why you ask? Well they have had their precious subsidies turned off in Germany and elsewhere so now their business model is broken. One element saving that was that the cheapness of Chinese supply means that even without subsidies the reduced cost of panels just might enable them to have a profitable business model.

- Thirdly, European producers of panels clearly hate the dumping as they cannot compete with Chinese suppliers. However, they can't compete without subsidies anyway. Much like the windfarm industry there was due to be big consolidation in any event. So creating a protectionist environment may help to save the industry, but to what end - I have heard this story before and know how it ends..

How the EU can justify starting a trade war over this is hilarious when the underlying industry is in such a mess due to the distortions in such a regulated and subsidised market. One for the Greenies and Lefties to shout about for a while...

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Utilities, Energy and the New Dirigisme

One upon a time, oil was the only energy-source that enjoyed anything approximating a free market.  Gas and electricity meant monopolies or, if investor-owned, a regulated rate of return, steady but low.

Then came liberalisation, and gas and power took off as traded commodities in competitive market structures.  The sector divided into merchant (unregulated) activities and 'true utility' (wires and pipes, where so-called natural monopolies prevailed).  The trade-off for residual monopoly remained a more-or-less regulated, low-ish rate of return.  Some companies had characteristics of both merchant and utility in their portfolio; others had cleaner business models and were one or the other, with the utilities being conventionally viewed as annuity streams or 'defensive' stocks.

Endless debate ensues as to whether this can all work out as well as the open-market theorists claim: FWIIW, I am squarely in that camp, and the development of a global gas industry is its best evidence.  However, just as things were working out nicely in electricity too, along came the baleful decarbonisation agenda, and with it an avalanche of regulatory meddling.  The EU's Emissions Trading Scheme was an attempt to execute some of the new policy goals via market mechanisms, but as a result of various entirely avoidable errors it hasn't really worked.  So meddling it is.

There is a school of thought that goes: bring back the CEGB ! Advocates of this include those with no memory, who have forgotten just how bloated and wasteful it was; and also those with long and fond memories, who recall exactly how bloated and wasteful it was, and they loved every minute of it.

However, governments no longer have the money for this malarkey and anyway, outright renationalisation is (currently) not allowed in the EU.  So we get dirigisme on an ever more detailed basis, as governments seek to determine exactly what new power plants (and other infrastructure) get built, and where, and by whom.

Which finally brings us round to the challenges for the likely builders of said new kit, and for those who might be considering investing in them.

The energy companies have, over a relatively few years, learned to play the game quite differently to the way they conducted themselves from the 1990s onwards.  Instead of taking a professional view on, for example, forward energy prices and spreads, and making their investment decisions accordingly, they have decided it's easier to demand subsidies, 'capacity payments' and various other featherbedding guarantees before they will invest in, well, pretty much anything these days.

Like governments, many of these companies are short of dosh, and so they demand high rates of guaranteed return.  Like monopolies, governments know exactly who is going to pay for all this in the end: it's us electricity-junkies that have nowhere else to go (until we surrender to death by hypothermia).  So they make the necessary arrangements, via a plethora of subsidies and schemes, for guaranteed high rates of return.

Guaranteed high rates of return - what's not to like ?  Shouldn't investors be flocking to join the game ?  There are several schools of thought, all wrestling with the following polar considerations:
  • People will always need electricity, the energy companies have governments over a barrel, and this isn't going to change any time soon; so back up the truck and enjoy it
  • This new 'system' is clearly dysfunctional, with regulatory risk abounding, not least because government is taking powers to make the 'utilities' their agents, not only of investment but also every facet of social policy which has an energy angle
It's even possible to synthesize these points and argue, (as does Liberum Capital) that in the medium term these guaranteed returns look so good for the energy companies ("at a perfectly feasible power price, SSE would be seeing 33% annual increases in EPS towards the end of this decade"), they are bound to get slammed mercilessly when the whole game comes unstuck.

I always reckon that those who live by the subsidy, die by the subsidy.  But maybe there is good money to be made in the meantime ... what do we all think ?


Tuesday 7 May 2013

China - Politics and Slowdown

Much is being made of the refusal of China to accept David Cameron on a trip to China due to his meeting with the Dalai Lama. Also there is talk of CIC not being allowed to invest in UK Infrastructure projects.

Diddums, sometimes you have to stand up for yourself and China does not cover itself in Glory with its aggressive occupancy of Tibet. China has after all as much right to Tibet as Saddam Hussein did to Kuwait.

As for the Infrastructure projects, with so much quantitatively eased money slushing around the system at the moment I can't for a minute believe that other funds won't step in where China fears to tread, unless the underpinning economics are too bad; in which case CIC was not the answer anyway.

More interestingly for the global markets are the graphs above. China's industrial growth has deteriorated since the huge stimulus pushed into the economy post the financial crash. This stimulus was 100% of GDP. Retails sales are falling and imports growing, good for the West but less good signs for China as a whole as the trade balance which provides its economic strength begins to falter.

There are big changes ahead to the global economy as china begins to start its descent from insane growth levels back down to more believable levels. Demographics also are pushing China into a more moderate phase as the workforce begins to shrink. China's growth and power has a still a long way to rise, but the curve is catching up with it. Sooner or later there will be a huge asset bust in China which will prove a big hiccough - but the impact that will have on its politics will be interesting to see.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Shame on Blair; Eyes on Heirs-to-Blair

History Corner about to repeat itself ?  This, from the days when I was just a stand-in guest-writer on C@W (May '07):
I must crave the indulgence of Slicker and his finance-oriented readership, for straying so far from the business theme whilst temporarily at the wheel of this vehicle. However, I was mightily stung by a report on Channel 4 News tonight. 

To summarise: the British Army, having employed the services of many Iraqi translators (and, let's face it, 'little helpers' of several kinds) since the invasion, is now preparing to let them twist in the wind. And they'll be the lucky ones. The threats and reprisals have started already. 

Now this is by no means unprecedented: previous withdrawals in unseemly haste from Palestine, Aden and Cyprus resulted in horrible fates for those locals who had helped us there. But the British Army had learned its lesson and when, in the days of the much maligned John Major we prepared to withdraw from Hong Kong, we carefully looked out for the interests of our sometime helpers to ensure that the worst didn't befall them at the hands of the incoming regime. 

So - the British Army knows better than this. We can only assume its current shameful stance is dictated by the Shameless ones who begat the sorry mess. Let them hang their heads
The arguments haven't changed.  Which way will the Coalition jump ? We shall see.


Friday 3 May 2013

UKIP Friday

May as well join in the fun, given UKIP are going to be the story of the day.

Rather than drone on about what are fantastically boring local elections, except to comment that the Labour By-election winner in South Shields appears to have had a lobotomy which I fear is an increasing trend in the criteria for selecting prospective MP's, let's look at one of UKIP's ideas on tax...they have not got a settled policy as yet but this is what informs them:

1. Low rates of tax will generally raise more money than higher rates
2. The earnings of employed people are not a legitimate target for taxation
3. Every attempt to tax wages sets in motion a “shifting” process whereby the tax finishes up as a corporate impost anyway
4. You cannot “tax” the earnings of those who are paid out of taxes
5. Regeneration starts at the “margin”
6. Tax on corporate added value  (by which they mean added value equates to turnover minus those costs which form part of their suppliers’ turnover).

UKIP are attacked for being all about common sense but having unviable policies and knowingly told they will struggle to implement anything.

However a tax system based on the above principles would be far and away better than what we have now. Just the simple idea of not putting employment taxes on state workers should save the Country a fortune in  revenue collection costs.

UKIP has the added bonus of looking at things from a zero base, all the other parties have to look at the disaster that they have enacted and defend them, this prevents real radical reform by either Labour or Conservatives. Perhaps UKIP will produce eventually the thought leadership needed, even if they never achieve power.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Question Time: Wipeout edition.

On the panel are;
 The deputy leader of the Labour Party, Harriet 'Horrible' Harperson MP; 
Lib Dem peer, Shirley "for God's sake retire!"Williams; 
historian David " Henry VIII didn't do welfare.."Starkey;
 and broadcaster and columnist,
 Victoria 'poker' Coren

A better panel than last week, so hopefully not another borehole. On twitter people kept saying "The Greens actually voted in this person to be leader. Imagine how dreadful the other candidates must have been."..I can never remember whether the whole show becomes a local votefest or they spread the stories around. Will go for mostly locals.

BQ says - 
1. Is the strength of feeling for UKIP a game changer?
2. Is Ed Moribund ready to be Prime Minister ?
3. Should we all stop buying clothes from Primark?
4. South African aid gets the chop. Good idea or abandoning the most unfortunate?

4 q limit I think. 

This tournament is still sponsored by 
Timbo 614
Week 14

DtP 100 -wow!

BQ(MP) 88
ND 87

 Timbo614 85
Measured 85
 Hopper 81
GSD 74
Budgie 71 

Malcolm Tucker 69

 Botogol 65
kynon 64
Blue Eyes 60

Idle 48
Taff -40
CU 38

Sackerson - 11
 Andrew - 9

James Higham - 7 
 Phil5 - 2

Don't Mention The War ... Slovenia & Germany

It would be a bit tactless for a visitor to mention the War, but the locals in Slovenia still fixate on which side their families lined up with - red or white.  Here's a red memorial, commemorating the liberation of Capodistria - the town of Koper, Slovenia's only port - from the 'Nazifascista locale', as late as April '45.

Koper is just around the coast from Trieste, and the people of the area are bilingual:  you probably won't need a translation engine for this.

Fast-forward to 2013, and Koper once again has a German connection, and an equivocal one at that.  The Slovenian economy is on the brink and German banks have been to the fore in lending to keep them afloat.

Only now they want collateral, and guess what ?  They've taken the port at Koper as security.

Port of Koper

What goes around, comes around.  Good luck to them at bail-out time.


Wednesday 1 May 2013

Aid, dependency and illusory goodwill

The above map shows the GDP distribution in Africa in 2012. The darker the colour, the richer the country relatively. Africa is still the poorest continent by some distance so even the darker shaded countries are not exactly doing well on a global scale.

The UK's decision to end aid to South Africa looks sensible on this view. South Africa is clearly a wealthy country by African Standards and despite many claims to the contrary, the economy has not collapsed since the end of apartheid and instead has shown modest growth; the major downside is unemployment at 23% which is both high and hard to bring down. South Africa is hardly alone in the world though at struggling to provide jobs when the population growth is 1% a year.

South Africa has reacted saying that it wants aid, this is a bad sign of a kleptocracy however that sees all foreign money as adding to the purse into which hands can be dipped. Compare and contrast the South African response today:

This is such a major decision with far reaching implications on the projects that are currently running and it is tantamount to redefining our relationship.

Ordinarily, the UK government should have informed the government of South Africa through official diplomatic channels of their intentions and allowed for proper consultations to take place, and the modalities of the announcement agreed on.

with responses printed in the Guardian to the withdrawal of aid from India:

Indian experts from across the political spectrum welcomed the aid move. Surjit S Bhalla, a Delhi-based consultant and former World Bank economist, said the British decision was "enlightened". "I don't think it makes a huge amount of difference. The whole concept of aid is very old and not necessarily relevant for modern times. These programmes were constructed when India and emerging nations were very poor," he said.
Instead, Bhalla said, investment should be largely focused on technical assistance in key areas such as sanitation or solar power in villages currently without electricity. The Indian government already ran a range of vast and often very wasteful welfare programmes. Compared with government expenditure on subsidised gas, for example, the British contribution of £280m annually was minimal, Bhalla said.
Dunu Roy, of the respected Hazards Centre, which supplies research to Indian NGOs, said his reaction to the news was "good riddance". "All aid was tied up with conditionalities so hopefully now Indians will have a better chance of doing what they want," he told the Guardian.
Jayati Ghosh, a professor of economics at Jawaharlal Nehru university, New Delhi, said she did not think too many people would notice the end of British aid. "It is not that there are no minor successes, but in general the nature of the spending has not been such that it will really be missed. It had a tendency to follow the latest development fashion. So it was privatisation, then microcredit and now conditional cash transfers. It made little positive difference."

Grown up countries do not even want aid. This is before even mentioning a great article on the BBC this morning which discusses the rise of orphanages in Cambodia to meet the demands of 'volunteer' tourists.

It is such a difficult moral subject Aid, that I do wonder why it is such a lodestar of the current government.  There is much to be said for a more realpolitik approach to aid, at least we can see some of that now with the big recipients being Afghanistan and Pakistan.