16 April 2014

Don't spend it all in one shop

At last, the growth in wages exceeds inflation.  Well, maybe:
There was good news for British households as wage growth finally started to outpace inflation after years of falling living standards, and unemployment fell to its lowest level in five years.
Annual pay growth including bonuses rose to 1.9% in February, above the 1.7% inflation rate in the same month.
Over the three months to February, pay rose by 1.7%, just ahead of the March inflation rate of 1.6% published by the ONS on Tuesday.
So you may have an extra penny or two to spare.  Provided of course that you are an average earner (which you probably are not) and that your spending exactly matches the basket of goods against which inflation is measured (which it probably does not).  Oh, and bear in mind that the above inflation figures do not take account of housing costs.

Still, rejoice - if you can.

11 April 2014

Kinda pointless

Scaremongering?  Maybe not, but of no real value.  CityAM records:
AN INDEPENDENT Scotland would have the second highest fiscal deficit of all the world’s advanced economies in its first year, new analysis by the Treasury has calculated.
Only the US would have a deficit that, as a proportion of GDP, was higher than in Scotland.The new nation would be hit with a £9.5bn or £1,760 per head deficit in 2016-17, according to Treasury officials using International Monetary Fund figures. This is over £1,000 per head more than is forecast for the UK.
The deficit would be the equivalent of 5.5 per cent of GDP, only very slightly below the expected level in the US.
Broadly speaking, the fiscal deficit is the difference between government spending and government income.  In order to estimate a future deficit of an independent Scottish government, you need to make all sorts of assumptions about the levels of spending and about the levels of income.  Even if these could be assessed as realistic (and who in turn could pronounce them to be so?), the result is the difference between two very large figures, an outcome which is of its nature extremely variable. And citing per head figures is utterly ridiculous.
Such an exercise is doomed to be futile.

What is the world coming to (part 29)?

Benches installed in the centre of a seaside town have been deliberately designed to be uncomfortable, council bosses have admitted.
Labour-run Dover town council said it was hoped the wave-shaped benches would deter "extended sitting".
The benches, which are made of seven curved strips of metal to blend in with the shape of the waves, do not have a back or armrest so that shoppers only sit on them for a few minutes.


I blame the Chelsea tractors

Sometimes it's tough being rich:
Kensington and Chelsea has the most polluted air in the United Kingdom, with more than one in 12 of all deaths in the London borough attributable to tiny particles of soot largely emitted by diesel engines. The only other borough with similar pollution levels is nearby Westminster.
The statistics, collated by locality for the first time by Public Health England – an agency of the Department of Health – suggest that London and south-east England have by far the worst air in Britain, largely due to traffic levels. In London, 3,389 people died of air pollution and 41,404 "life years" were lost in 2010, while in south-east England, 4,034 people died and 41,728 years were lost.
They should move up north ...

09 April 2014

It's not easy being an expat

The Guardian gets it wrong?

At last.  We're all getting tired of reading about it.  She's gone.  But The Guardian misses the point:
There had been signals for months that the newspapers, especially the Daily Telegraph, were going to be tough on Miller when the standards committee reported last Thursday. No 10 already knew – because the Telegraph had revealed this – that Miller's special adviser had foolishly flagged up the link between its coverage of her expenses and the Leveson inquiry.
The pre-eminent issue over the past week was simply Miller's expenses, but there was also an element of a wider trial of strength between No 10 and the anti-Leveson press.
Given that fraught background, no one in No 10 seems to have thought to tell Miller that she needed to co-operate with the standards committee inquiry at every point. Instead, she prevaricated and sounded irritated. If the privilege of self-regulation was to work, MPs had a real duty to co-operate with that system.
Once found guilty of non-cooperation, she would have had to make more than a perfunctory, 30-second apology; instead, surrounded by supportive cabinet ministers including Sir George Young, the chief whip, she struck entirely the wrong tone.
No-one in No 10 thought to tell Miller?  She's not a child.  A grown-up politician is supposed to be aware of political niceties.  One could almost feel sorry for No 10 for having to cope with cabinet ministers of such incompetence - were it not for the fact that No 10 made the appointment in the first place.

A little over the top

To whom is he addressing his hyperbole?
George Robertson, the formerly UK defence secretary and Nato chief, has claimed Scottish independence would have a "cataclysmic" effect on European and global stability by undermining the UK on the world stage.
The Labour peer told an audience in America that a yes vote would give succour to separatist movements across Europe, risk destabilising Northern Ireland and embolden dictators and "annexers" around the world.
In the most aggressive and pessimistic speech yet by a senior figure in the no campaign, Lord Robertson said many Scottish voters were unaware their decision in September's referendum had implications far beyond Britain.
A breakup of the UK would weaken its global status and a yes vote would leave the UK government embroiled in a complex internal dispute about the terms of Scottish independence just as "solidity and cool nerves" were needed on the world stage. The "loudest cheers" after a yes vote would come from the west's enemies and other "forces of darkness".
"What could possibly justify giving the dictators, the persecutors, the oppressors, the annexers, the aggressors and the adventurers across the planet the biggest pre-Christmas present of their lives by tearing the United Kingdom apart?" Robertson said at the Brookings Institution on Monday.
Can it really be true that the leaders of Russia, North Korea, Belarus and Syria give tuppence for a referendum decision either way on a Scottish independence?  Or is George just worried that we might get rid of his beloved nukes?

Some of us are actually worried about the prospects of independence.  But this kind of nonsense adds nothing to the debate.


08 April 2014

It makes me wonder ...

The dismal science lets me down again.  Just when you think you know what is happening, the authorities re-jig the figures to leave you in the dark.  The Financial Times explains:
For the first time in 15 years, the Office for National Statistics is preparing to rip up the way it measures Britain’s economy, with the new techniques showing a huge increase in the size of the economy, a higher level of public debt and a much increased savings ratio. There is also a good chance that the statisticians will significantly revise up growth recorded in the economy in 2012 and last year.
The reforms will have the potential both to overturn Britain’s reputation as a spendthrift nation and significantly improve the poor productivity performance of the past few years.The ONS will introduce new global accounting standards to gross domestic product and related measures in September, following similar changes already introduced in the US, Canada, Australia.
Under the new system of accounts, research and development spending will count towards GDP rather than being seen as a cost of production, and building aircraft carriers and other weapons of war will also add to the size of the economy. The ONS said the change would add between 2.5 per cent and 5 per cent to the level of GDP, adding £40bn to £75bn to the total.
One of the largest changes, announced by ONS officials on Monday, arises from how savings are measured. From now on, the official figures will count future pension rights as if they were present income.
With Britain one of the few countries to have a large funded defined-benefit pension system, the change will significantly raise measured household incomes, thereby increasing the savings ratio.Officials said the savings ratio would rise “by around 5 percentage points”, practically doubling the current 5.1 per cent and putting it around 10 per cent, far closer to those seen in other European countries.

And, just like that, all you thought you knew is overturned.  There are few certainties in this world.


Responsible lending?

We are doomed - apparently - to learn nothing and forget nothing.  Is this sensible?
The Post Office yesterday unveiled its new range of mortgages using the Help to Buy loan guarantee scheme. Using the government support it will offer 95 per cent mortgages to house buyers with small deposits saved up. Its two-year loans will be on offer with an interest rate beginning at 4.95 per cent. The new loans come at a time when the scheme is under fire for boosting the housing boom. But lenders have hit back, noting that most borrowers are outside London’s hotspots.
Doesn't matter where the houses are located,  When interest rates rise and house prices fall, the borrowers will be in financial doo-doo.


04 April 2014

The things you meet in Waitrose

A little extra protein:

A woman had a rather unwelcome surprise when she tucked into a Waitrose salad of watercress, spinach, rocket – and locust.

Berenice Baker was just about to enjoy the lunchtime meal when she made the unsavoury discovery, having already added chicken and rice to the mix.
It could have been worse - she might have come across the Prime Minister:

David Cameron picked an odd location to air his view that you are more likely to have an interesting conversation in Waitrose than any other supermarket. “I have got a piece of supermarket sociology, which is that there is something about Waitrose customers... they are the most talkative,” he told the staff today. “I found that if I shop in Waitrose it takes me about twice as long, as everyone wants to stop you and have a chat. Whereas in other supermarkets I find I can dart round very quickly and get everything. It is something about your customers, they are very talkative, engaged people.”

He said this during a visit to the North-west, presumably hoping to persuade people in that region to vote Tory. There are a lot of people living in the region, but very few Waitrose customers.
You get a better class of locusts in Waitrose.


02 April 2014

Quote of the day

Simon Jenkins on the Royal Mail privatisation (here):
The Royal Mail offer was 24 times oversubscribed. The 330p price soared 38% to 455p within hours. More than £750m drained into the pockets of speculators. Never can the British taxpayer have been ripped off so soundly in so short a time.
Within weeks of the sale, Goldman Sachs's own analysts were predicting a price of 610p, almost twice what the "advisers" had been advising. The government had been shockingly ill-advised. As the price went up past 600p, Cable kept dismissing it as "irrational exuberance, froth, speculation". He indicated everyone should wait until the price came down. It is now 562p. Worse, he had allocated bundles of shares to 16 City institutions on a "gentleman's agreement" that they would hold them as "a core of high-quality investors who would be there in good times and bad". Within weeks, over half this stake had been sold, and to precisely "the hedge funds and other speculators" that Cable had pledged to keep out. Just four of the 16 are still big shareholders.
Cable was massively naive. On Tuesday he protested that he was merely showing caution against "risk of failure". I can hear the City laughing.


01 April 2014

April fool?

Look, in order to make an effective April fool, the story has to have a semblance of truth.  Just enough to suggest that the story might possibly be true.  But who would believe this effort on the part of The Guardian?
Osborne said: "Today I'm making a new commitment, a commitment to fight for full employment in Britain – making jobs a central goal of our economic plan."
 The iron chancellor?  Full employment?  It's neither credible nor funny.


28 March 2014

Something wrong here?

Are we expected to applaud because the Chief Exec is doing the right thing?  The Guardian reports:
Morrisons chief executive, Dalton Philips, has waived his annual bonus after overseeing a collapse in sales and two massive profits warnings in the space of three months.
Despite the retailer's dismal financial performance, Philips was due to collect a £374,000 bonus for meeting strategic targets including the launch of online shopping, 22% of his potential short-term bonus for the year. Half of that would have been in cash and the other half in share awards deferred for three years. But Philips, who is paid £850,000 in basic salary, has chosen not to collect either payout after profits slumped 13% in the year to February and sales dipped 2%.
The company has had a disastrous year; yet Mr Phillips is still entitled to a bonus?  He may be doing the right thing, but the structure of his incentives is surely inappropriate.  As appears to be the case with far too many senior company officials, and not just in Morrisons.

25 March 2014

What to do about Ukraine

Is this pragmaticism?  Or wishful thinking?
The West has, of course, imposed a raft of diplomatic and economic penalties, notably by suspending Russia from the G8. But the telltale sign is that the biggest sticks have been kept in the locker. So far, no sanctions have been imposed on the key sectors of the Russian economy; America and its allies have instead confined their countermeasures to enforcing travel bans and asset freezes on selected individuals. On Monday, they explicitly threatened to target the Russian economy if the Kremlin “continues to escalate this situation”. That phrase is highly significant. It means that if Putin takes the next step and invades eastern Ukraine, then the pressure will escalate. But if he sits tight and keeps Crimea, there might be no further punishment.
So we have reached an equilibrium of sorts. If – and it is a big if – nothing happens to upset the status quo, this crisis could subside. The great risk is that Putin will now decide that his project to challenge the post Cold War order demands the invasion of eastern Ukraine. If that happens, all bets are off. But if he contents himself with keeping Crimea, the steam might go out of this crisis.
Makes some sort of sense to me.  But what about the question of moral hazard: should Putin be allowed to get away with the annexation of Crimea?  And what happens the next time he tries it on?

No easy answers.

Getting desperate?

Our esteemed Prime Minister (here):
TAX EXPERTS yesterday welcomed David Cameron’s ambition to lift more people out of inheritance tax if he wins the next election.
The Prime Minister said he intended to “go further” with the inheritance tax threshold, set at £325,000 since 2009, to make sure most homeowners escape the levy.
“Inheritance tax should only really be paid by the rich. It should not be paid by people who have worked hard and saved and who have bought a family house,” he told a Saga event in Peacehaven yesterday.
If people with an estate of up to £325K and more are not rich, how does the PM define poor?  And it is not the people "who have worked hard and saved and bought a family house" who pay the tax; rather it is their heirs.

Besides, he made a similar promise before the last general election but abandoned it when it came to the crunch.

24 March 2014


Does this guy know his geography?  The Guardian reports:
Nato's most senior military commander said on Sunday that Russia had amassed a large military force on Ukraine's eastern border, and warned thatMoldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region could be the Kremlin's next target.
General Philip Breedlove, Nato's supreme allied commander, described the Russian force that began exercises 10 days ago as very, very sizeable and very, very ready.
"There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Trans-Dniester if the decision was made to do that. That is very worrisome," Breedlove said.
As Trans-Dniester is located to the south-west of Ukraine, I am at something of a loss how the Russian forces on the eastern border of Ukraine could readily access Trans-Dniester.  Nor would they need to, as there are already 1200 Russian troops located in Trans'Dniester.

22 March 2014

And the band played believe it if you like

The Guardian reports:
Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps says he loves bingo and beer like other "hardworking people" after he was widely criticised over a Tory poster suggesting these were the kind of pursuits that "they" enjoy.
Yeah, sure ...

21 March 2014


I have just watched (on telly) the best rugby match of the season,  Not surprising when the teams featured such illustrious names as Julien Bonnaire, Sivivatu, Ali Williams, Carl Hayman, Morgan Parra and Matt Giteau. To them can be added Lee Byrne, Michalak, Jamie Cudmore, the Armitage brothers, Rougerie, Nathan Hines, Djugashvili, Tomas Domingo, as well as a 15 minute cameo from Jonny Wilkinson.  Clermont Auvergne beat Toulon by 22 to 16.  Either team could have given any of the Six Nations teams a run for their money.

Vern Cottar, the Clermont coach, takes over the Scotland role this summer.  It is perhaps too much to hope that he might persuade Hines (who had a superb match) to return to the Scottish fold.  But if he can imbue the Scottish XV with half the fortitude and spirit displayed by the Auvergnois, we may look forward to happier times for Scottish rugby.


20 March 2014

Always look on the bright side?

Not all of us elderly citizens will be entirely content with yesterday’s budget announcements.
If I were one of those pensioners owning shares in Partnership Assurance, Legal & General, Aviva or Standard Life (which thank the Lord I’m not), each of which has suffered sudden and substantial falls in their values on the stock exchange as a result of the Chancellor’s attack on annuities in yesterday’s budget,  I might be feeling a little hostile towards Mr Osborne this morning.  Indeed, I might wonder if it was legitimate for the Chancellor to make such sweeping changes without any prior consultation.
Nor would I be feeling particularly chuffed if in recent months I had retired and been obliged to take out an annuity, leaving me in a much poorer position than imminent pensioners now not required to do so.
I might also be irritated at the vagueness as to when all the proposed changes will actually be implemented.
I appreciate that into each life a little rain must fall but where are the umbrellas when you need them?  And budgets greeted with initial approval usually end up causing greater angst as their details are revealed.

15 March 2014

We've been here before

Taken at face value, this might kill off the remaining hopes of the Yes campaign:
In a move to help build a united platform in favour of greater devolution from all three UK parties, Cameron told the Scottish Tories it was a "blatant" nationalist myth that a no vote would mean the end of the road for further powers.
"Let me be absolutely clear: a vote for no is not a vote for no change.
"We are committed to making devolution work better still, giving the Scottish parliament greater responsibility for raising more of the money it spends," Cameron told the party's spring conference, which has attracted a record number of 1,100 delegates.
"So here's the recap: vote yes – that is total separation. Vote no – that can mean further devolution; more power to the Scottish people and their parliament, but with the crucial insurance policy that comes with being part of our UK."
Could we trust the Tories?  They have previous form.  In 1970, they promised devolution but failed to deliver.  In 1979, they promised devolution but failed to deliver.  Since then, they have opposed devolution at every step.  I rather think that we will need more detailed evidence of commitment before we can take the Tories at face value.


Black day for the Co-op

Who would have thought that the dear old Co-op would have got itself into such a mess?  The Guardian reports:
The shambolic state of the Co-operative Group was laid bare in a scathing verdict warning that the survival of Britain's biggest mutual organisation was at stake
The Co-op has been undermined by "reckless" dealmaking, "shocking" levels of debt and governance standards far worse than even the banks before the credit crunch, according to Lord Myners, the group's senior independent director who was charged with overhauling the boardroom.
Myners said the Co-op had lost almost all the customers it picked up when it bought Somerfield in 2008 for £1.6bn. He said taking over the Britannia had almost bankrupted the Co-op bank and the attempted Lloyds deal, codenamed Project Verde, was misconceived: "Somerfield was reckless. Britannia was reckless. Verde was reckless."
The Co-op bosses may not be the only guilty parties,  With regard to the Co-op bank, what were the regulators doing, when the Britannia takeover was going through?  And why was the Verde deal allowed to get as far as it did?  And what action did the company's auditors take?


08 March 2014

A minister for the high jump at the next re-shuffle

The Independent reports:

Downing Street has been forced to check how a foreign-born nanny employed by David and Samantha Cameron came to be a British citizen, after a back-firing speech by a Conservative MP.
James Brokenshire, the newly appointed immigration minister, gave a speech this week which appeared to blame the “wealthy metropolitan elite” for jeopardising the employment prospects of working-class Britons by employing foreign staff.
The Camerons have never made a secret of the fact that they employed a Nepalese-born nanny, Gita Lima, who has worked with them for years and moved with them into Downing Street.

There's no accounting for stupidity ...


07 March 2014

Ne'er cast a clout 'til February is out

Look, it's no big deal.  Yeah, I wore my shorts for the first time this year.  But I'm far from a George Clooney lookalike,  So don't get excited.

The legs were not too peely-wally, given that they have not seen the sun since last November.  Amd maybe the trendy lilac semmit did not quite match the green shorts - but it's too hot to care.


Not all bonuses are bad

So John Lewis is to pay its staff - all of its staff from Chairman to shelf stackers - a 15% bonus this year, reflecting improvements in its performance.  Good for them.

But, if a successful company like John Lewis can get by with bonuses of 15%, why do high heidyin bankers need more than 200%?


06 March 2014

Looking after the pennies

It's all your fault, y'know.  You're not saving enough.  CityAM reports:
BRITAIN remains in a savings crisis. A shocking 19 per cent of the public have no savings at all, up from 17 per cent last year, and the average stash put away for a rainy day is a miserable £10,208. The total number of people who felt able to add to their savings actually dropped last year to 14.4m (just 30 per cent of the adult population) from 14.8m the previous year, and 54 per cent of people surveyed by Scottish Widows said they were saving less than they did two years ago. Just 12 per cent of people have more than £50,000 in savings.
It is clear that individuals, when at all possible, need to accumulate more financial assets. As incomes start to grow again, as much of the increase as possible ought to be put aside, rather than be spent on consumer goods; this process would depress domestic demand for years to come but is the only way the economy will ever be rebalanced. Tragically, it won’t happen.
A lack of trust in the system is one important explanation. People simply don’t believe the government – and politicians of all parties – when it comes to long-terms savings and pensions. They worry, with good reason, that the rules will keep changing; they are afraid that savers are an easy target and that they will eventually be hit by a wealth tax if the national debt continues to grow; and many therefore say that they prefer to invest in property instead. Many also distrust the financial services industry.
As a simple soul, my view is more pragmatic.  Why put your money in a savings account paying peanuts in interest and watch its value frittered away by inflation?  If you have any spare cash (which is a big if), better to buy shares in National Grid which will deliver an annual dividend payment of over 6%, more or less guaranteed - it's as least as safe as houses ...


Do the banks care what people think of them?  Obviously not.  In fact they couldn't give a toss.

Look at Barclays:
This is what "pay for performance," as practised by Barclays, looks like: in a year in which profits fell by a third, shareholders' dividends were flat and the share price went sideways, 481 employees collected £1m or more. That was 53 more than in 2012.
At the top of the tree, eight individuals got more than £5m, and another 54 earned between £2.5m and £5m. Again, those tallies were higher than in 2012. Overall, the bonus pool was increased from £2.2bn to £2.4bn.
If this division of spoils – bumper hand-outs for senior staff while shareholders get scraps – strikes you as a distortion of capitalism, you are not alone. Even the Institute of Directors, the bosses' club, is flabbergasted that Barclays has the nerve to hand out bonuses worth three times the dividend pay-out to shareholders. "For whom is this institution being run?" it wonders. Quite.
Then there are Lloyds and HSBC:
Bailed-out Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays have handed their bosses almost £1m in shares to sidestep the new rules from Brussels which are intended to clampdown on bankers' pay.
Similar handouts, which have become known in the City as "allowances", will be given to about 1,000 staff at Barclays and some 75 bankers at Lloyds. Barclays is facing outcry about its increased bonus payouts, which are being awarded despite a sharp fall in profits in 2013.
Barclays has agreed a £18,000-a-week shares payout for its chief executive Antony Jenkins, who earns a salary of £1.1m a year. Lloyds' boss António Horta-Osório is getting almost the same size allowance, after receiving a total pay package of £7.5m last year.
The new allowances at Barclays and Lloyds follow a move by HSBC last month to hand its boss, Stuart Gulliver, £1.7m in shares a year to get around the bonus cap, which the EU introduced on 1 January and the chancellor George Osborne is fighting in the courts.

Amazing to think that the bankers keep on getting away with it.  At least the EU is trying to bring them to heel.  And from our own dear government: not a cheep ...

05 March 2014

A faraway country

Do politicians have to sound so pompous?  The Guardian reports:
Hague sounded stern and determined as he deplored Russia's actions. As Douglas Alexander, his opposite number, would have been saying precisely the same thing had their positions been reversed, his contribution was limited to trying to embarrass Hague that the Tories' inaction plan had accidentally been leaked in a photograph the day before.
Hague batted this one away. "I want to make it absolutely clear that anything that is written in one document that is being carried by one official is not necessarily any guide to the decisions that will be made by Her Majesty's government. Our options remain very much open on this subject."
Except the only options the government was presently considering were the same ones as before: not sending government representatives to the Paralympics and slowing down visa applications for Russians. Hague did add there could be some more options on Thursday after the EU summit. He might even cancel his trip to see the Bolshoi Ballet. Or something. Putin must be terrified.
Easy to mock, but nobody else seems to have much of a clue about what to do.

And your point is?

I grow ever more weary of nutritional advice.  Here is the latest:
A diet rich in meat, eggs, milk and cheese could be as harmful to health as smoking, according to a controversial study into the impact of protein consumption on longevity.
High levels of dietary animal protein in people under 65 years of age was linked to a fourfold increase in their risk of death from cancer or diabetes, and almost double the risk of dying from any cause over an 18-year period, researchers found. However, nutrition experts have cautioned that it's too early to draw firm conclusions from the research.
The overall harmful effects seen in the study were almost completely wiped out when the protein came from plant sources, such as beans and legumes, though cancer risk was still three times as high in middle-aged people who ate a protein-rich diet, compared with those on a low-protein diet.
But whereas middle-aged people who consumed a lot of animal protein tended to die younger from cancer, diabetes and other diseases, the same diet seemed to protect people's health in old age.
You've got to die of something, right?  And, as we are no longer being cut down by bubonic plague or consumption, it has to be something else.  So I will carry on with the bacon and eggs.