Wednesday 28 February 2018

Toys Aren't For Us

Toys R Us, the giant toy seller, has gone into administration.

 Image result for toys r us
Its a very sad day for them. And it will be reported as such. For about five minutes.
3,200 direct jobs at risk. Many hundreds of other indirect jobs at risk too.
If this were a steel mill or a car plant employing far fewer workers, the government would be pressured to intervene and the press would demand action. But as its just retail, no one will do anything. 

Maplins have gone into administration too. That's after going down in 2014.
That's another 2500+ jobs gone.

Retail renews itself used to be true. Not anymore. Where there used to be a Woolworths, ten years ago, today will be a Poundland. H&M, Or a Primark, about the only brick retailers who could fill that size space today. But there are thousands upon thousands of empty retail units. Many unlet for over a decade. 
Years ago when the retail crisis first hit we asked on here what will replace the shops. I suggested we couldn't all be working serving coffee and delivering parcels to each other. Turns out, we can.

I went into Toys R Us in the summer. Transformer toy hunting. I prefer Smyths Toy Store, who will be gaining from Toys misfortune. But my boy likes Toys R US best.

Having been an administrator and retail liquidator in the past, I saw instantly this firm was at collapse. And all the signs saying "Refitting". "reserved  for new stock coming" and "this till is closed please use the main entrance one," couldn't hide that.

Toys R US were the pioneers of the big, in and out of town shed units. The cathedrals of retail. That like their medieval inspirations, are now just the same empty, costly monuments to a religion that has moved online.

Shelf spacing. Where stock is displayed with space between items. And the top shelves are empty. Something that is heresy in a superstore. 
"We aren't a newspaper. We Don't Sell Space"

Unit removal. Whole sections where a fixture has been taken away. You can see the pressure marks and edge dirt marks on the floors. Concession stock unfilled. This is sale or return lines . And looking poorly where the bill hasn't been paid and no new stock is being delivered until it has.

Lighting out.
 In these big shed units, its a mini cherry picker required to change a light-bulb up in the girders. Some have their own. But its a health and safety nightmare. As well as being very costly. So sometimes a firm comes in and changes all the strip lights every 6-12 months. Replaces the spots. Dusts the permanent signage, etc.
When they haven't been paid, the lights really do start to go out.

That yellow Warning Tape covering ripped and peeling up flooring or holes in walls. Cables wrapped in brown tape. Tills unmanned where the recruitment freeze was operating. These signs led me to tell my young son whatever he was thinking of buying, get it today. Because we probably won't be coming back.

That was the summer. In the winter it was worse. 
I remember remarking to Mrs Q that if you can't sell toys at Christmas, you can't sell toys at all. 

The Entertainer, another Toy chain, are saying how well they are doing. But I believe it is only them. A very sound, private, company. That doesn't take risks. They are very unusual in retail for how they operate.

The retail consultants are on the media and lamenting that neither Maplins nor Toys understood the change they were in. That to remain relevant they both needed to invest in many more staff and selling themselves as knowledge centres of their products.

I have never agreed with this as a general strategy. It works for some. But staff are the greatest expense in a retail business. Their wages continually rise whether profits are up or down.
Rents can be renegotiated. As can stock prices. But wages are fixed by law.
And just having knowledgeable people won't make consumers spend with you if your prices are higher than amazon.
Its knowledge and sales skills. If retailers were like car showrooms, softly applying the pressure, they might do better. But that's even more costly and just as fraught with risk. 

I believe I could have come up with some ideas for Toys R us. Some method of recapturing market share. Boosting footfall. Finding a better, alternative use for the giant space they occupy and the giant space that is their car park area. 

Kids cafes and ice rinks. Soft play and scooter tracks. Nerf gun shooting range and firefight.
Digital video games centres and craft areas. Music and rock band and singing / garage band/song star/ Hollywood film making zone.

A much more involved, interactive and cheap, half day out destination focus. With the selling Toy focus more like the giftshop at the end of the ride at a theme park.

Thank God I no longer do this. 
And don't have to cost it. And charge a large fee to present a cash strapped board with staggeringly expensive, risk-ridden, only possible, partial solutions to the ongoing retail evolution.

Image result for maplins
And even better haven't got to explain to Maplins that glitter balls and disco lights aren't going to be enough to survive in the twenty first century.

Expect more of this this year. The rent rise and the pound bite, plus the consumer slowdown that the car dealers and supermarkets have been reporting for the last six months, will tip a few more into insolvency.

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Tide Going Out: Nude Bathers At Risk

Nothing quite brings home the end of cheap money like noticing that I am now getting 4.12%  -  tax-free and "risk-free"  -  on my NS&I index-linked certificates.  Has anyone been talking about this? 

In my business sector (energy) there are a heap of players - renewables, small suppliers - who have only been in existence in the era of cheap money.  Boy, are they going to come unstuck soon.  Elsewhere on the horizon, John McDonnell's plans might come in a bit pricier than he was anticipating.

And then there's all those leveraged B-T-L players, often the subject of our btl commenters.

Where do we think the serious chaos will start first?


Monday 26 February 2018

Labour to join Tories on Brexit rocks

It has been a long time coming, but finally the slithery Keir Starmer has had an impact on the UK Labour party, he has it seems, from weekend reports in the media, developed Brexit policy of sorts.

Now, Jeremy Corbyn has been doing a lot of work recently - listen to him speak, his voice is down a few octave's and he speaks in a slower more measured grandfatherly tone. Actual work has been done on this which just goes to show how serious he is, as everyone knows Corbyn hates actually doing stuff.

So in his new tones, Corbyn us apparently going to solemnly say that the UK should remain in a customs union with the EU - really it will mean THE customs union.  This means open borders and no free trade deals - i.e. the bits of Brexit that were voted for.

So now we will find out in the next few weeks how riven Labour are as well as the Tories, all the pressure has been on Prime Minister May to figure out a Tory compromise, but Labour have cleverly ignored this since 2016. But now they will have a Brexit in Name Only policy.

I don't doubt this will be very popular in their metropolitan bases - perfect for the upcoming local elections. But in the Labour heartlands, who voted leave overwhelmingly this is a big risk. electorally there are not enough City seats to make up for the loss of the shires, which is why this has not been done before. However, now Labour are the party of the metropolitan elite and are prepared to say it.

It will make interesting viewing to see how this goes down in the Country, not on the Telly of course, where it will be wall to wall worship of the new Jesus making this announcement.

Friday 23 February 2018

The Chinese Are Coming? I Can't Wait

I've been to a few funerals featuring unexpected turns of events.  People these days want them to be 'celebrations', and solemnity seems to be pretty much out of fashion.  (The undertaker in our high street now offers a gigantic black Hummer-hearse with the number LA57 BYE, and you see prospective clients viewing it enthusiastically:  oh yeah, gotta have that!)

But our new masters the Chinese are pioneering something altogether more progressive: funeral strippers.   No, not grave-robbers; pole-dancers!  
It has been a long tradition for Chinese rural residents to hire local opera performers for funerals to allure mourners and show respect to the deceased. By hiring performers, people can ensure a higher turnout at the deceased's funeral as a way of honoring the dead and showing "filial piety." In recent decades, Chinese rural households are more inclined to show off their disposable incomes by paying out several times their annual income for actors, singers, comedians, and - most recently, strippers - to comfort the bereaved and entertain the mourners ... Opera singers soon lost their market as more and more locals became fascinated with striptease and shibamo (eighteen touches), a traditional Chinese folk song that is flirtatious, bawdy and erotic in nature.
Eighteen touches, eh?  Well, it's what he would have wanted.

To be fair, the Chinese authorities have been trying to stop this for 12 years now - but evidently not very hard, if it's still rampant after all that time.  Any remaining humourless marxists in government obviously pick their fights carefully, and this one doesn't seem to have a particularly high priority.

On the subject of Eastern entertainment, another great turn of events is the attendance of "Howard", the Australian Kim Jong-un Lookalike ("actually, I'm a satirist as well") at the Olympics, acting as self-appointed front-man for the North Korean cheer-leader lovelies.   He gets a kicking for his pains, but hey, what a man!  The humourless marxists have got their work cut out in the east. 


Thursday 22 February 2018

More Brexit Bounty - it just keeps coming

More Brexit good news this week.

As the stats above from migration watch show, finally immigration is on a downward trend. Clearly, there still along way to go to get back to something like a sustainable level under 100,000, but still progress.

In related and entirely unsurprising news, we also have seen this week that wage growth in picking up - notably amongst the lowest paid. Sir Stuart Rose was right in the referendum campaign after all, Brexit is good for the lowest paid (he was trying to defend the remain side if you recall...oh, what fun the campaigning was!)

Unemployment is fractionally up, a sign of things to come I think as our fast growing population is going to generate a lot of new entrants over the next few years, whereas our average economic growth will generate slightly less as wage increases stop companies from using cheap labour over investment as their business model of choice.

And of course, exports are at all time highs to Europe and elsewhere in the world, on the back of a week pound. However, that benefit of Brexit is wearing off and will be gone if the Government agree any kind of basic Brexit deal or better then the Pound will shoot up.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Gummer Sees The Light

We haven't always been kind to John Selwyn Gummer, aka Lord Deben of Horse-Manure.   Jasper Carrot's epithet has generally seemed appropriate; and I myself may have described him as "one of the 1990's prime candidates for Worst Cabinet Minister".

But I am nothing if not fair: and in fairness must therefore record that Gummer the Bummer has delivered himself of something broadly intelligent.
Q184  You are clearly very supportive of moving to more renewable methods and you spoke about the lead that this country has had. We might be able to get a lead in tidal energy. A proposal was put forward for a pathfinder project in south Wales. Do you have any views about whether that should proceed?
Lord Deben: We have looked at it very carefully. I am a great believer, as is the committee, in the whole issue of energy diversity. You would be very foolish to rely on one sort of thing. I am instinctively for it. However, it is significantly more expensive and you have to think about whether it is the sort of technology that is likely to reduce significantly in cost if you create a market and scale it up. The problem with the whole argument is that much of the cost is in the construction business—the pouring of concrete. It is difficult to see how, by building more and more of them, they are going to decline in cost significantly. It is difficult to see that.
Q185 Would people not have said the same about wind turbines 10 years ago?
Lord Deben: People may have said that but that would not have been a parallel because, if you can, for example, change the whole system of gearing and if you can have much bigger sales on them, so to speak, if you can have floating ones and if you can take them out and plant them in the sea for 10 months of the year instead of five months of the year because they are bigger and you have bigger boats and things, then all of that could be worked out. It has just been very much faster. One has to look at the realities and we have so far not been convinced of that. I say that as somebody who is, in fact, biased; I have to aim against a bias. I do think tidal energy is an important thing ... As you know, I was a promoter, before I did this job, for the Severn Barrage, so I am not opposed to it. We have done some really hard work on it and I am open to being convinced. In the end, I think the Government are probably right in questioning whether this is where they want to put their money.
Intelligent?  Well, in a monkeys / typewriters sort of way.  He couldn't keep it up, of course, because he went on: 
If you said to me, “Will you pay a bit more for your electricity so that, in 30 years’ time, your grandchildren will have free electricity in very large amounts for 100 years without very much change in it?” I might say to myself, “That sounds rather like a good deal”.
Nope - it's very stupid.  But: credit where it's due.  He's added his tuppence-worth to the undermining of the Swansea Lagoon monstrosity and we'll leave him alone.



Monday 19 February 2018

Is a degree worth it in 2018?

It has long been a bugbear of mine that the UK Government, oddly led by Blair at the time, took some sharp steps towards privatising the University sector, but then took fright and left it as a bodge job.

Blair rightly brought in student fees. Students would now pay for their courses, albeit with cheap government loans and this would shine a light onto the excesses of the state sector. And lo, so it came to pass that degrees in Madonna Studies and Kite Flying from ex-polytechnics quickly fell out of favour now that some responsibility was imposed.

Equally though, remained the challenge of differing value for courses. Your author hear studied for a degree in history which required occasionally focus for an hour or two a couple of times a week; friends studying medicine or pharmacy worked very hard indeed - in expensive labs with expensive equipment. The move to fees mean all these courses still cost the same, despite the input costs from the university's being very different indeed. Overall, arts degrees subsidise STEM subjects massively.

Now, Theresa May has recognised this and has moved out of the jobs a couple of ministers (Greening and Jo Johnson) who were firmly captured by the sector and repeated the line of how ending this subsidy would be the end of university courses.

To me something way more fundamental has happened in the last 20 years. The internet has revolutionised learning like nothing before. Apps can teach you a language for free, any information can be gleaned from google for free. Research projects now are either laughably easy or arduous in the extreme if, in the latter case, you actually have to find out something new.

Moreover, the big shortage in the economy is in tech jobs, learning tech and programming is just not a university level of study - it is far more akin to A-levels in terms of depth and length. You can't just learn on programming language anyway.

So now is absolutely the right time to review what is being taught at Universities, how much it costs and what subsidies (as ever!) should be directed where. One point is key, people should not be burdened with costs for useless degrees to which they were guided as kids by their betters.

Friday 16 February 2018

Friday funny; Tories rising in the polls

It is hard to reflect on a worse period of Government than currently. Of course we have the disastrous Brown years as a recent measure of ineptitude. That will hopefully never be topped.

The Major years were bad too at the end, but only politically, economically they were very successful indeed after 1992.

The May years, notably after a period of good Government by Cameron, feel quite bad. The Brexit mess, and what a mess it is, at least is not of her own making and she is trying to straighten spaghetti long after the pot has boiled.

What is so notable is that when Brown was at his worst, he trailed the Tories in the polls by 20 points plus, Major was even 30 points down on Blair.

Mrs May, it seems, is there or thereabout against Corbyn, with a hair's breadth between them. For all the huffing of momentum there is a big lack of buyers for radical socialism in the shires of England.

On any historical view, this must simply be hilarious that Labour - who with this historical view be in teens ahead at least and should have easily won the snap election, are instead meandering around.

Perhaps in due course the momentum ground game will catch-up and the Tories be thwarted, but I have my doubts this socialist game will play too far beyond the ancient borders of Islington, Manchester and Liverpool. Huge majorities beckon in a large number of seats, but well under 200.

So perhaps we will yet be spared Corbyn as Prime Minister?

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Oxfam - And The Rest

Oxfam is without doubt only the start of this one.  Distressing to relate, the whole sector is riddled with abuses, of money as well as people, but it's always been "all too difficult" for anything to be done.  The UN agencies are the worst, particularly the ones carrying guns:  across the world the famous light blue beret - as worn by rag-tag armies acting as UN "peacekeepers" - brings bad news for the womenfolk.  And we now learn the Oxfam scandal extends even to children serving in their charity shops!

Fitting material for a mighty new global #MeToo2 ...  but are we really holding our collective breath for it?  Any more than we are expecting the corps of saintly feminist-activists to launch a meaningful campaign against FGM, or the US entertainment industry to initiate a major exposé of the behaviour of hip-hop artists towards young ladies.  No; all too difficult.  We had better just keep our social commentary to ourselves.


Monday 12 February 2018

Will Brexit die yet?

Interesting times in the remain, the switch is set to full-on. Barnier has been lined up with some red-lines that he knows won't pass muster with the UK Government, Soros has turned on the funding taps and the remainers are feeling strong.

Just today, Anna Soubry is happily sitting alongside Chuka Umanna arguing for voting down any Brexit bill in the House of commons.

It is all very worrying for those on the leave side. On the plus side, PM May is going to make some speeches this week and next to set out finally what the UK cabinet expects from Brexit. Expect these to get short-shrift from Brussels.

Unexpected support for the leavers comes from the UK Labour party, whose leadership are uninterested in Brexit or even actively against it as the EU would prevent most of their wild nationalisation fantasies from being enacted. Indeed, with Labour not whipped to vote Umanna and Soubry maybe very surprised to see the commons handily voting through the Government agenda on Brexit in a few months.

The House of Lords will remain recalcitrant, fighting a rear-guard against democracy as only they know how.

Of course, it seems likely all this force is set against a Government that only wants to leave in name only and will quickly sign up to the EU terms to keep the economy on track.

This is all without mentioning the death threats now emanating from the more loony remainiacs to known leave supporters and funders - certainly the rage of the establishment knows no ethical boundaries.

BTW - Apologies for lack of blogging of late, Capitalists are hard at work currently!

Wednesday 7 February 2018

Political Correctness. Didn't we do this,already ?

Grid Girls have lost their jobs.
As have the darts ladies.

Objectifying women is a crime on a par with the Holocaust.
In the wake of Weinstein using the same casting couch that has been in existence since motion pictures, and some men getting a good look at some girls legs at a charity event, the politically correct social media had a fit of the vapours. And when the smelling salts took effect have forced institutions to take action. 

Take action on things they were probably planning to do anyway. 

Like when the Left thought they had won a moral crusade to stop page 3. And to hurt the hated Murdoch. 
Lads Mags, like Loaded and Nuts came and showed a lot more of what "Sarah, 19, Payroll Clerk from Basildon," had to show.
 And since then Internet porn and mobile phone photography have made topless pictures about as pornographic and forbidden as a nude nymph in a Pre-Raphaelite painting.

Something else that has been banned.

Nobody wants to say 'No' to the Twitter-Storm. That just fuels the easy journalism of the intern's article. Makes a bad story, worse. 
So, often its easier to give in. meaning next time, the New Puritans will be further emboldened.

Poundland are remarkably relaxed about the ton of publicity they got for their, teabagging elf ads. Adverts that were clearly designed to press the starter of the outrage bus. 
 Image result for elf asa ad

Some clever Adzecutives saw how to get the masses to do their bidding. All the while acting surprised that their targeted offence might be triggering the campus guardians of morality. And pressing their buttons with wide eyed innocence and further sexual positioning.

For those who missed the story, the Elf was a Christmas advert. Cashing in on last year's "Elf on a shelf" craze. 
{If you don't know,I'm not explaining it. Google it or ask Grandchildren.}
 The Elf was a naughty elf. Basically, he was objectifying the fairies. Bigly.
The Poundland Elf writers clearly saw how this was going to cause a stink in PC-Land. And reckoned the bad publicity would be overwhelmed by total publicity. And they were correct.

What I find so tedious about all this New Puritanism, is it wasn't that long ago that we already did this. The 1980s were awash with 'Alternative' comedians. And what they were an alternative to was sexist and racist comedy. The new comedians wanted to do more jokes and observations that were not about mother-in-laws or black neighbours or wives who couldn't park. And to be more political. 
They appealed to a totally different audience to the traditional TV watching folk. Were extremely Politically Correct, which is where that old fashioned word comes from, and were very, very funny.

The high priest of alternative comedy was Ben Elton. 
Motormouth guest, host and writer and so popular he had his own show that raked in huge audiences in its relatively short run.

Ben was  the most 'progressive' of them all. 
And he meant it. As did most of these new university jokers. Ben was unapologetic for his vies that there should be no sexism or racism in comedy. Or anywhere else. 

As uncontroversial as it sounds today, there was quite an establishment, ie, red top press, backlash against glitter suited Elton. More for his unremitting anti-tory, anti-Thatcher monologues than his championing of feminism. But any stick would do to give him a quick whack with. For a while Ben Elton was as much of a hate figure as Ken Livingstone. No more so than when he attacked Benny Hill.

What actually happened was in a few of his skits he was disparaging about the scantily clad Hills Angels. And in one Wogan TV interview he specifically mentioned he thought the roles for women in those BH shows were just objects. They didn't have any charcuterie except to be a sexy temptress or an ugly harridan. And he said he thought he could do comedy better, without relying on those sterotypes.

Benny Hill was long past its sell by date when he said that. And ITV stopped commissioning it soon after. When Benny Hill died a few years later, Ben Elton was attacked in the press for forcing harmless comedy off the air. Though Elton had always insisted he didn't mind Carry On. With its stronger female roles. But didn't like the Benny style of comedy. He had to row back a lot as the backlash against him, personally, grew.

The Blackadder co-writer has a point though. Blackadder, the best of Elton's TV work, has stood the test of time equally as well as Porridge. Dad's Army. Two Ronnies or any of those other 'British Greats.'

What's different about the likes of the old, alternative comedians and their strong, Corbyn style, political thoughts and leanings, and today, is people like Elton wanted to change things. 
Not to ban things. Not to prevent things. But to change the way something was perceived.

I expect Ben Elton would be appalled by the idea of 'No Platforming' or 'safe spaces,'  and the closing down of free speech.

He was always clear he wanted to change people's views. Not stop them having any views. 

And, that political correctness, that began in comedy, spread to politics and then to advertising, and then, everywhere. The likes of Jim Davidson, popular and successful at the same time as Elton, lost that cultural war.

I suggest that the reason the alternatives had a far reaching, long lasting effect on our societies culture, was precisely because they stood FOR, not AGAINST, something.

And because they really were very, very good comedians and writers.

Have a look at this.

This is Ben Elton in a Harry Enfield sketch. Self parody and sending up the whole Politically Correct experience. Whilst paying homage to the Benny Hill comedy.

Its terrific..

Market fun again

It is so predictable.

Every year fund managers allocate their last monies to simple trackers at the year end. The markets rise into the end of December to make the annual figures look a bit better.

Then they go on holiday.

In January, back they come and mess about for a week or two, sometimes the market goes up a little more.

Then bang come middle of Jan or Early Feb they realise they need to do their number at the year end and there are few good opportunities with the market so high. So they reduce their general funds money and the markets wobble.

Sometimes badly, sometimes not so much. The media panic about a crash and how Brexit/Bitcoin or some other B is destroying the world which is about to end.

Then the re-allocations are made into more favourably priced stuff and the world goes on.

Every year. It's a funny old world sometimes

Monday 5 February 2018

Germany Bad, UK Surprisingly Good.

German GHG emissions
Welcome to my world of energy data.

Exhibit A is the lunacy that is German energy policy.  Those working in that country's energy sector will tell you there is no energy policy.  There is however a half-baked thing with a name - the Energiewende - which used to be much loved by greenies everywhere, but has fewer apologists these days.

It's an object lesson in how not to strategise.  What gets measured, gets managed - and the Germans decided to target renewables, per se, in the manic way only Germans can.   One supposes many of them just kinda assumed that CO2 emissions would fall as a matter of course if they pumped up the renewables; but no: they have been flat or slightly rising for the past 8 years.  And as Germany will easily over-achieve against its renewables targets (courtesy of hurling immense amounts of money at them and allowing, nay forcing, the grids to do whatever it takes to accommodate them), so it will miss its CO2 targets in a most embarrassing manner.  This article details their ignominious failure.

But apologists there still are, and few more laughable than the tireless Craig Morris of the Potsdam Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies. Here he is, wittering away in defence of his beloved Wende but, you will notice, never once mentioning CO2.   Well, he can't, can he?  It's humiliating.  Still, in amongst all the sophistry, lots of lovely data and colourful charts.  But you'll find fewer and fewer people advocating German policy as the model to follow these days (certainly not good old Moonbat, for example).

In the UK we don't really go for grandiose schemes.  For sure, a glance at back-issues of this blog (check the Energy and Industry tag) will show there is plenty to castigate.  But in terms of just getting on with things practically with a strong empirical bent, by international standards we are very good at it.  Ofgem rarely gets stuck on dogma, and is remarkably willing to admit to problems & rectify them promptly.

By way of illustration, Exhibit B is last week's Capacity Auction**: as always, technically smooth and yielding a good result for consumers, viz a very low clearing price.  More data, more colourful charts.  Countries all over the world are planning to emulate our Capacity market: though ours was not the first, it's a very successful one.  As is typical in this country the auction rules have been tweaked continuously to reflect issues arising, but not so much as to undermine the principles involved.  To repeat: in other countries they marvel at how quickly - and transparently - Ofgem can turn around a cycle of (i) identify a problem; (ii) design a fix; (iii) go out to meaningful consultation; (iv) process and act upon any genuine improvements suggested by interested parties; (v) implement the resulting fix.  No tearing of hair, no pointing of fingers, no dogged insistence on sticking with the first attempt, no hiding of data.  It ain't like that in other places.

Anyone would think we were capable of running our own affairs ...


** this is the somewhat-less-than-riveting auction for 2018/19.  The more interesting one, for 4 years forward, follows later this month.  I'll report back in due course. 

Thursday 1 February 2018

Situtation normal?

Compare and contrast the charts below, on the one hand there is a nice rise in US Bond yields (which is making markets jittery - of course, should be the opposite, but what do the machines and algo's know,eh?). This is a sign at last of the end of the Financial crash, 11 years after it began. Historically that is about right, for major financial crashes. Interestingly though on a longer term view, US yields still need to go above around 4% for them to be at 'normal' levels. That may be possible this year with Trump's pump-primed US economy kicking into gear.

Let's hope the more nervous and sclerotic UK economy can follow in due course.