27 February 2013

It's more than a bit watery to begin with

The BBC reports:

Beer drinkers in the US have filed a $5m (£3.3m) lawsuit accusing Anheuser-Busch of watering down its beer.
The lawsuits, filed in Pennsylvania, California and other states, claim consumers have been cheated out of the alcohol content stated on beer labels.
The suit involves 10 Anheuser-Busch beers including Budweiser and Michelob.

How could anyone tell?

A pedant writes ...

Our old friend "refute"  (here):

Lord Rennard issued a statement last night after being notified by the party of an internal investigatory panel.
His spokesman said: "Lord Rennard refutes these allegations. He will co-operate with any properly constituted inquiry."
No, no, no.  He has not refuted anything; he has merely denied the allegations.  A refutation would require a demonstration that the allegations were false.

The revolt of the vegetables

Discord in the cabinet?  Will no-one spread oil upon these troubled waters?

David Cameron has presided over one of his most fiery cabinet meetings when a group of ministers demanded an end to "ringfenced" spending and two ministers were criticised for failing to promote growth measures.
The so called National Union of Ministers, led by the home secretary, Theresa May, voiced anger that their departments are on course to face further cuts while others are exempt.
The chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne, is expected in summer to announce a further round of cuts when he outlines a spending review for the 2015-16 financial year.
May, who has been joined in the past by the defence secretary, Philip Hammond, and the business secretary, Vince Cable, is annoyed that her department is facing further cuts while the education, health and international development will be protected. "The National Union of Ministers were in fine voice," one government source said. Another added: "Theresa really got stuck in.

Is anyone in charge?  Will someone tell them where they are going?

26 February 2013

Money worries

It's a hard life, trying to keep up with the foreign exchange markets.  Here is The Guardian  bewailing the impact of the loss of the UK's triple A status:

What about spending – will this affect the pound in my pocket?
It looks that way, certainly if you were planning to go on holiday abroad this year, and probably even if you are having a staycation. The pound had already fallen against the euro and dollar, and the downgrade appears to have put it under renewed pressure.
"Last summer Britons were enjoying a sterling-euro rate close to €1.30 [to the pound]. Now the rate is below €1.15, that's a drop of more than 11%," says Tracey Tivnan of foreign exchange firm, Moneycorp. That means £500 will buy just €572 compared with €645 in July 2012. "Holidaying in Europe this spring and summer is likely to hurt them harder in the pocket, unless sterling stages a quick recovery."

Alas!  The pound has re-bounded, due to the Italian elections stalemate, and is now comfortably above 1.16 euros:

Of course it has a long way to go to get back to the rates of last summer, but still ...

Difficult to know where to keep one's pennies.  The euro is sinking, the outlook for the pound is gloomy, the dollar is doing well for the moment but that pesky cliff is approaching again.

Bankers and their bonuses

I have in the past criticised bankers and their bonuses.  But are there no circumstances in which bonuses are appropriate?  Should I be prepared to go with the flow?  The Guardian reports:

For Stephen Hester, the chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, taking a bonus has been pretty much unacceptable since the crisis, with the exception of 2010. His counterpart at rival bailed out bank Lloyds Banking GroupAntónio Horta-Osório, did not take a bonus for 2011 – his first year in the job – because he had needed time off to recover from sleep deprivation. But for 2012 it does appear that Horta-Osório will be handed more than £1m, which will only pay out if in the future the share price of the bailed out bank breaks through the average 73.6p at which the taxpayer bought the shares for three months or so.
The shares currently trade at 55p – after roughly doubling during 2012 when they were the biggest gainers in the FTSE 100. But linking Horta-Osório's bonus to a breakeven point for the taxpayer should not make his payout acceptable.

Influenced no doubt by the fact that my Lloyds shares have been languishing - for many months - below the price I paid for them, if the good Antonio can get the price from 55p back up to over 73p, then I would be inclined to say that he deserves a bonus of £1 million.  It's a pretty big ask, however ...


19 February 2013

Compare and contrast

Our friend, Slasher George, does not have to seek his troubles.  Here, he is desperately defending bankers' bonuses:

Britain and the City look set to be the losers in the battle against the European parliament's plans to bring in the toughest restrictions on bankers' bonuses since the financial crisis began in 2008.
The UK appears to be leading a minority of just three countries that oppose a new rule which would limit bonuses to no more than 100 per cent of salary, or 200 per cent if approved by a super-majority of shareholders.
His argument is not helped by his chums at Barclays (here):
Five top bosses at Barclays will share a jackpot worth up to £17million despite being tainted by a string of scandals. 
Those in line for the ‘wildly misjudged’ bonanza include chief executive Antony Jenkins and Rich Ricci, the controversial investment bank boss.
Meanwhile, Big Dave is getting excited about the virtues of morality:
Speaking in Mumbai on the first day of a three-day trip, Cameron likened "aggressive" forms of tax avoidance by multinational companies to illegal tax evasion, saying that its most extreme examples raise questions of morality.
But it was only yesterday that his government's own morality was brought into question:
Small arms weaponry, ammunition and various other military equipment were among millions of pounds' worth of goods exported last year from Britain to Sri Lanka under licences for arms and other closely regulated exports.
Statistics taken from the British government's own database for strategic export controls show items ranging from assault rifles and shotguns through to weapons sights, pistols and ammunition were sold last year to the South Asian nation's government, which has been accused of extensive human rights violations in relation to its treatment of its Tamil minority and the suppression of armed separatists, who have also been acused of abuses.

And then Dave pushes helicopter sales, despite more than a whiff of alleged corruption.

All very confusing ...

18 February 2013

Leave me alone!

I have been back in Scotland for less than 10 days and I have been deluged with phone calls (well, four of them actually) from young ladies with Indian accents offering to compensate me for having been mis-sold payment protection insurance.  Remarkably, they seem to know the amount of the loan involved, the purpose for which it was provided, the fact that the loan was timeously paid off and the amount of compensation to which I would be entitled, as well as my name, address and telephone number.

The only problem is that, other than for mortgage purposes (and that was in the dim and distant past from building societies), I have never taken out a bank loan.  Like any well brought up laddie, I was taught to save up for what you wanted.  And, as a (more or less) well paid civil servant, I was lucky enough not to need loans.

So why am I plagued by these PPI vultures?  Is it always like this over here?


How to get it so wrong

Beware ideologues!  Like this guy in City AM:

POLITICAL ideas have always been cyclical. When incomes are falling, the economy is flatlining, credit is scarcer, prices are rising and it is hard to find work, the public always turns against capitalism (or the mixed economy corporatism that these days passes for it); in boom times, it tends to be more relaxed about other people making vast sums of money.
But ideological shifts are not a given. They can be stopped and reversed by determined leaders – as Boris Johnson showed during his election campaign, for example – and by the right policies. The key problem is that many markets have become rigged by massive government interventions in every nook and cranny of the economy, creating inefficiencies, damaging growth and financing vested interests at the expense of the general interest.
Yeah, yeah.  Were the problems at the banks, from PPI mis-selling to LIBOR rigging, and above all from the 2008 combustion, caused by excessive government intervention?  Are the current difficulties in the meat industry caused by excessive government intervention?  You do not have to be of a leftwing orientation to believe that we would all benefit if the government and the regulatory authorities took a rather closer interest in what businesses are up to.

13 February 2013

It's not just the banks

From here:

BP has awarded chief executive Bob Dudley an annual bonus worth £2.6m in shares and cash as a reward for the oil major’s performance in 2012, despite a slump in its profits.
Company performance deteriorates, but the bosses reward themselves.


Nagging away

Do you suppose that Ministers and the Food Standards Agency are sufficiently competent to deal with the horsemeat scandal?  Or are they forever condemned to remain behind the curve?  The Guardian reports:

Speaking earlier this week, environment secretary Owen Paterson said he hoped for "meaningful results" from the tests by Friday, but experts warned the flood in the demand is slowing the process down, and may shed little light on food safety even when they are delivered.
A source at one retailer said: "There are simply not enough labs in the world to get all the tests done that the FSA have asked for. We are trying to help, but it's just unrealistic." Another who attended the emergency meeting called by DEFRA into the horsemeat scandal added: "We told them [the Government] that it would be challenging to meet the deadline on Friday and they changed their position from wanting everything tested to just providing the results of tests we had already done."
The process of determining which species of animals are contained in a given ready meal sample typically takes around a day, but with the sudden surge of products to test, turnaround is up to about three days, according to one laboratory involved in the current tests.Research by the food and drink magazine The Grocer and analytics company BrandView has found more than 600 separate product lines in need of testing across just four of the major retailers – 150 branded lines and 433 own-brand products. As each product may require multiple samples in order to deliver a clean bill of health, this could represent a backlog of thousands of products across the country in need of testing.
However, when results arrive, they may offer less comfort than consumers intend. Each separate species must be tested for separately: if you don't look for a particular animal's DNA, you won't know whether it is present or not.
The FSA has only required the industry to look for traces of horse in beef products – so if the products were to contain lamb, pork, poultry or any other animal, this would not show in the results when they are published.

Consider it and weep.  Were there no officials in DEFRA or the Agency able to advise them on the inadequacy of the testing programme?  Or were Ministers and the Agency so desperate to be seen to be doing something (anything really) that they ignored (or did not ask for) advice?

12 February 2013


Hadley's advice on scarf-wearing for men:

The European knot: This is when you fold your scarf in two and stick the two ends through the loop and around your neck. A British man who wears his scarf this way engenders great suspicion from his fellow menfolk and no wonder: the knot is European, after all. If you wear your scarf this way everyone will think you're Eurotrash, which you probably are.
The Ascot knot: The over-hand knot, when the scarf is wrapped primly around your neck and then knotted properly up close to your neck and the two ends lie perfectly on top of one another. Hello, old Etonian and/or employees of GQ.
The twisty scarf loop: You twist your scarf and then tie it once close around your neck and then again, loosely knotting the ends together. You are either a foreign correspondent for a newspaper, or trying to look like one.
The drape: When you simply fling the scarf around your shoulders and don't bother tying it around your neck. You are a student who thinks he looks like Christian Slater in Heathers but actually is a bit more Tom Baker-esque in Doctor Who.
The single wrap, over shoulder fling: The scarf is wrapped once around your neck and one end hangs down in front and the other is flung over your shoulder. You like to imagine you are a nouvelle vague hero. You think you look "dashing". We'll leave it at that.
The single wrap, loose knot at the bottom: the scarf is wrapped once around your neck and then the two ends are tied loosely at the bottom. Fussy.
The loop and tuck knot: You take the scarf around your neck and hang both ends down your back equally. Then you wrap them over opposite shoulders, wrapping your neck, so they now hang over the front. Then you bring the two ends under the bit of the scarf that is wrapping your neck at the front, looping them over and then letting them hang down. You are Brian Sewell.
The double wrap: The scarf is wrapped twice around the neck, the ends hang in front of your shoulders. Absolutely acceptable; actively encouraged.

No. I'm not going to discuss my preferences.


News from a different planet

You may think that a basic annual salary of £1.1 million is more than decent, even astronomical.  But the high heidyins at the RBS beg to differ.  The Guardian reports:

The chairman of the Royal Bank of Scotland on Monday described the pay of the bailed out bank's chief executive Stephen Hester as "modest", amid fresh scrutiny of bonuses in the wake of the £390m Libor fine.
Sir Philip Hampton said Hester – who can get up to £6m a year from bonuses on top of his £1.1m salary – was paid "well below the market rate of people working in banking" because his bonuses had not paid out in full. He was speaking during a lengthy session of the banking standards commission in Westminster, in which a senior RBS colleague admitted the bank had believed Libor rigging was "a mathematical impossibility".
Hampton, defending bonuses for Hester, conceded the chief executive had a "highly paid job" but that "his pay has been modest relatively". He had received just one bonus since joining in 2008, of £2m, which has yet to be paid out. Some £780,000 of that will pay out in shares next month.

Wouldn't it be nice if we could all aspire to a "modest" salary of £1.1 million (and never mind the bonuses)?  Even if we were totally unaware that our underlings were playing at naughty boys by rigging the Libor rates ...


11 February 2013

Red Osborne

So the government intends to meet social care costs by freezing the threshold for inheritance tax:
The £1bn cost of the new cap – this sum is bound to rise massively – will be funded by a stealth hike in inheritance tax. Everybody with sufficient assets to qualify will pay far more in tax, regardless of whether they end up benefiting from state-financed care. This will be imposed by freezing the inheritance tax-free threshold of £325,000 until 2019, even though inflation on the retail price index is currently 3.1 per cent. By 2019, the threshold would probably have increased to £420,000 without the freeze; so this is a pretty massive raid and will hit many elderly folk and their children. In many cases, this will be very unfair: a family that cares for its own elderly relatives will be hit by the tax, even if they were able to avoid using institutionalised care.
Is it a stealth hike?  Not if everyone knows about it.

Is it unfair?  Do we really want inherited wealth to cascade down the generations, maintaining those and such as those in the position to which they have become accustomed?  IMHO, £325K plus 60% of the remainder should be more than enough for any set of heirs.

Quote of the day

Roberto Mancini bewails the testicular apparatus of his Manchester City players (here):
"When you are a top player you should take responsibility always," Mancini said. "It is not always the fault of the manager, the players should take the responsibility if they have big balls. If not, they can't play in a top team."
As the ladies would tell him, it's not the size of the equipment that matters ...

09 February 2013

The boy done good - maybe

So he's a political paragon.  The Guardian reports:

Fuelled by copious cups of coffee from a brand-new Nespresso machine,David Cameron chalked up a Brussels first as he debuted at an all-night EU summit.
Looking mildly tired after 25 and a half hours on the go – with a two-hour "freshening up" break at 10am on Friday – the prime minister hailed his achievement in negotiating the first ever cut in an EU budget.
"The British public can be proud that we have cut the seven-year credit-card limit for the EU for the first time ever," he said before travelling home for dinner with his wife, Sam.

Not sure about the credit card analogy, but quibbling would be specious.  Nevertheless, it would be no surprise if the deal were to fall apart before next Tuesday,  But then a cynical old sod like me would say something like that ...

07 February 2013

Naughty boys

It could have been worse:
Royal Bank of Scotland was handed a £390m fine on Wednesday for "widespread misconduct" in rigging the Libor rate until as recently as November 2010, two years after it was bailed out by the taxpayer and even after regulators had begun to investigate the key benchmark rate.
After all, UBS had to cough up £940 million.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane?

You need a vivid imagination to be a parliamentary sketch writer:

 Christopher Chope, one of the Tories who voted against gay marriage, wanted him, in the interests of equality, to offer civil partnerships to straight couples too.
Cameron wasn't going to fall for that. "I am," he declared, "a marriage man. I am a great supporter of marriage. I want to protect marriage, to defend marriage, to encourage marriage." Civil partnerships would only weaken marriage. I had a vision of Cameron as Marriage Man, a superhero who leaps into action whenever marriage – straight, gay or transgender – is under threat. He wears grey, striped, figure-hugging underpants, a black cape with tails, and a silk topper. Young folk would call him on his Marriage Mobe.
"Marriage Man, I want to marry my boyfriend, but my parents say he's a no-good waste of space. I need your help!" Faster than a Rolls trimmed with white ribbons, Marriage Man races to the spot, biffing the anti-marriage parents, kapow!
Sorry, got carried away there.

05 February 2013


I have no sympathy for the wretched Mr Huhne but what exactly would be the point of sending him to gaol? The man's career has been destroyed and he faces massive legal costs.  I can/t see any purpose being served by detaining him at a cost to the public purse.


04 February 2013

Quote of the day

Wee Georgie Osborne (here):

“From September this year, every customer of every bank in Britain will be able to switch their bank account from their existing bank to another one in seven days. All they will have to do is sign up to a new bank – and the rest will follow.
All the direct debits, the standing orders, everything will be switched for you with no hassle. This is a revolution in customer choice.”
Sure, just as soon as you have supplied proof of your identity and a fuel bill and all the other gubbins to avoid falling foul of the money laundering requirements.


01 February 2013

La cerise sur le gâteau parisien

Apparently, a certain aging footballer has just signed for a Paris football team.  Le Figaro has the news:
En un an, le PSG est nettement monté en gamme. Désormais, Beckham est la cerise sur le gâteau parisien et non plus l'homme providentiel missionné pour faire entrer le club parisien dans une autre dimension. Zlatan s'y colle déjà. Dans ces conditions, la volonté qatarienne d'attirer le footballeur le plus célèbre de la planète pour accroître la valeur de son image internationale n'a plus besoin d'être corrélée à un pari sportif d'avenir. Ce qui a sans doute facilité son transfert à Paris.
I doubt if anyone in England has noticed ...