27 February 2014

A man with a memory

CityAM reports:
INVESTMENT guru Warren Buffett has offered up his latest advice to would-be investors by comparing the stock market to sex. Buffett, who delivers his closely watched letter to shareholders every year, said investors should be wary of the current market rally. “A bull market is like sex. It feels best just before it ends,” he said, quoting legendary investor Barton Briggs. Buffett, who has been married twice, said it was dangerous for timid investors to enter the market in a bull run because it would put them off when markets inevitably fell.
Mr Buffett is 83.

Divorce: who gets the CD collection?

The Guardian reports:
The culture secretary has told Scots that they will lose the BBC if they vote for independence in September. Maria Miller said a vote for Scottish independence would be a vote to leave the institutions of the UK, and that included the BBC.
The culture secretary said in a Q&A session after her speech at the Oxford Media Convention on Wednesday that the BBC was "part of our crown jewels", and was too important for the debate about its charter renewal to become embroiled in party politics.
"We have to think what the [independence] vote is about. It's about whether or not Scotland wants to remain as part of the UK," said Miller.
"If the vote is no, they don't want to do that, then it's a vote to leave the institutions of the UK and the BBC is one of those institutions."

26 February 2014

SamCam and the Scottish Experience

Mrs Cameron tries valiantly to get into the spirit of Dave's Scottish adventure:
I said to Dave, babes it is easy for you channelling Robert the Bruce & Emeli the Sande but that is your actual heritage, we cannot all be descended from Macbeth, he's like Hamlet actually, I'm like, whatevs, NO dressing up :( He's like please babes, imagine some "bonny" jeggings in Clan Tilda Swinton, even Theresa wears that tartan suit, I'm like, my POINT? So he's like fine, your call, but Shapps changed his name to Grant Shortbread without even being asked & honest Phil has got everyone in Dhaka working 24/7 on a bespoke kilt for Picklesy, McGovey is putting Lulu at the heart of the music curriculum, plus even Kate Moss said Scotland stay with us the other night which is basically 25% of everything she has ever said, I got Danny to work it out?
I'm like seriously, you are saying a no vote is like, super on trend, God who knew, he's like aye didnae you hear me screaming in ecstasy, I'm like, oh please, you do that all the time on Candy Crush, wait, let me check with Alexa, Dave's like, we already did, hen, 'twas yon wee lassie's idea tae hold a cabinet in, I think, Cawdor, unless it was Motherwell, och whatevs, there was this like majorly braw oil rig, ye ken, all the Scotch types LOVED? I'm like God, I totally ken, haud on there babes while I gang order some breeks on net-a-porter :)


25 February 2014

A rose by any other name ...

CityAM reports:
THE CONSERVATIVE MP calling for an end to National Insurance payments has won the backing of business leaders at the Institute of Directors.
Backbench MP Ben Gummer will set out his argument to rename National Insurance the “Earnings Tax” in parliament today, and has admitted that this is the first step in a plan to remove NI altogether.
“If it’s a tax we should call it a tax,” Gummer said. “I want to see National Insurance and Income Tax merged, as they are essentially the same thing.”
They are not the same thing if you are a retired pensioner.  Pension payments attract income tax, but are exempt from NI contributions.


Desperate Dan wears a tie and collar


The Workers' Party?

Memo from David Cameron to Lynton Crosby

I say, Lynton old boy, jolly good wheeze, what?  I mean describing us as the workers’ party takes the veritable biscuit (although it may not go down terribly well with the backwoodsmen - workers are the oiks they call upon when the moat needs cleaning).  Nevertheless, if it convinces the plebs that we have their interests at heart, all well and good.

Problem is, dear chap, that the UK is not like the land of Oz.  To suggest that it doesn’t matter who your parents are and that you can go as far as your talents and hard work will take you is patently not true.  And nobody, neither peer of the realm nor peasant in a benighted housing scheme, will believe it is.

Nor should we be suggesting that they do believe it.  There are already far too many working class toerags who have found a place in decent society.  Our actual policy - though we need not state it openly - is to pull up the drawbridge:  those of us patricians from proper breeding stock must continue to dominate, while the little people content themselves with the panem et circenses provided by the authorities.

But don’t worry about it.  This latest hoo-ha will be over soon and then you can get back to smearing the Labour Party.  So be a good fellow and stick to the plot, eh?

24 February 2014

That explains it

Look, the Scottish rugby team does win many matches, least of all away matches.  So Saturday's glorious victory was something of a surprise, albeit an entirely welcome surprise.  But now we know that they had some help:
Scotland may have received help from an unexpected corner in its dramatic win against Italy in the Six Nations on Saturday: JK Rowling has revealed in a new story why "it is considered infra dig for wizards to support any rugby team other than Scotland".
Ever since the 19th century, writes Rowling on her website Pottermore, the worldwide wizarding community has thrown its support behind the Scottish rugby team, even though they are forbidden to take part in "Muggle" sports themselves. In a rare appearance on Twitter, Rowling also urged her nearly three million followers to "help keep this noble tradition alive by tweeting #wizards4scotlandrugbyteam before #6nations Scotland v Italy", adding: "Wizards worldwide support the Scottish rugby team. It's an old magical tradition."
So, Gerry Guscott, Andrew Cottar, and co, stick that in your pipe and smoke it!


21 February 2014

Surprise, surprise

I think that we are supposed to feel sympathy with rich Londoners.  CityAM reports:
LONDON and the south east of England are forking out 50 per cent of Britain’s inheritance tax bills, fuelling fears that the levy has turned into yet another tax on the capital.
Londoners alone shell out as much inheritance tax as the north east, north west, east midlands and west midlands, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put together.
London and the south east contributed half of the country’s £2.6bn in the 2010-2011 financial year, paying £1.3bn to the Treasury, according to figures revealed this morning by analysis of official tax data by Prudential.
Well, who would have thunk it?  A wealth tax hits hardest on the wealthy ...

Quote of the day

So Facebook spends $19 billion on WhatsApp.  It won't make a lot of difference to me but I liked this description of the deal:
Peter Garnry, head of equity strategy at Saxo Bank, said: “Facebook’s technology deals are often not hinged on cash flows but more on controlling a competitor that could ultimately pose a great threat to Facebook’s dominance and market value.
“In essence, it’s a paranoid defence play in the spirit of Intel that pursued the same strategy back in the old days to fend off new competitors. But only the paranoid survive right? Investors are not entirely impressed by the acquisition.”
A paranoid defence play?  Let's run that one up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it ...


20 February 2014

Just a thought

Should our future king be so pally with the Saudis? And is waving a sword around an appropriate activity?


19 February 2014

Surprising facts

It is little more than a passing reference in a Guardian article about Marks & Spencer's website:
Items ordered online for collection in store, meanwhile, will be delivered from the warehouse, even if that item is already on the shop floor. Although it is more costly for M&S, the retailer's outdated IT systems do not have an accurate enough picture of stock levels in stores to cope with the demands of online shoppers. The system is due to be updated later this year.
To say the least, I find it surprising that the company is unable to keep close tabs on the levels of stock in its stores.  I would have thought that this was a fairly basic requirement of a retail operation.  Little wonder that the stores are filled with unwanted items, while best-sellers are prominent by their absence.  Lord Sieff must be birling about in his grave.


17 February 2014

Sauce for the goose ...

From the BBC (here):

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said it would be "extremely difficult, if not impossible" for an independent Scotland to join the European Union.
In his interview with Andrew Marr, Mr Barroso said: "In [the] case [that] there is a new country, a new state, coming out of a current member state it will have to apply."
He said it was important that "accession to the European Union will have to be approved by all other member states of the European Union."
He went on: "Of course it will be extremely difficult to get the approval of all the other member states to have a new member coming from one member state."
If Scotland were to become a new state, why would not also the rest of the UK?  Splitting legal hairs, I know, but that’s what the arguments come down to.  After Scottish independence, the rest of the UK would manifestly not be the same state it was before independence.  If the Barroso doctrine is correct for Scotland, why would it not also be correct for the rest of the UK?   Thus leading to the intriguing prospect of both the former parts of the UK having to apply …

It is not of course for Barroso to decide these matters.  Nor indeed the ECJ, as nothing in the Treaties sets out what should happen in the event of the disintegration of an existing Member State.  The one aspect where Barroso is correct is that it will require to be sorted out - politically - in the Council of Member States.

15 February 2014

The perils of making lentil soup in a foreign language

Spain being the home of Iberian jamon, it should be far from impossible to russle up the odd hambone or two.  Alas, the task has proved beyond me; so I've settled for a couple of gammon stock cubes.  Cumin and coriander were no problem, but I'm slightly worried about having used a red onion - at least the soup will be colourful.

The main difficulty was the lentils themselves.  The little shop where I used to buy the traditional orange type has closed down.  So I have been forced to use yellow lentils.  As my old boss used to say, when in need improvise.

Don't know how it will turn out, but as always let us hope for the best.

13 February 2014

The pound or groat in your pocket

Anent yesterday's post, and strictly for those obsessed with the minutiae of currency connsiderations, here is the take of Larry Elliott of The Guardian on some of the options open to a Scottish Government on the currency question:
Option one is to do nothing. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's deputy first minister, says the joint pledge by Osborne, Balls and Alexander amounts to bullying on the part of a campaign panicked by the narrowing of the no camp's opinion poll lead. The SNP could assume that London is bluffing, aware that the rest of the UK would suffer significant collateral damage in the event of a messy divorce that left Scotland scrabbling around for a new currency. In the short term, that is likely to be the response.
Option number two is to assume that the three main Westminster parties mean what they say and quietly agree to accept whatever terms the Treasury and the Bank of England demand. There will be a high-stakes poker game if Scotland votes yes to independence: while London does not hold all the cards, it has most of the good ones. Put simply, an independent Scotland would need a monetary union with the rest of the UK more than the rest of the UK would need a monetary union with Scotland.
Option number three would involve Scotland continuing to use the pound even if London said it couldn't. This sounds far-fetched, but the free-market Adam Smith Institute says it is both feasible and sensible. The institute's research director Sam Bowman said Panama, Ecuador and El Salvador all used the US dollar without permission, so there was no reason Scotland could not use the pound without Westminster's permission. What it would mean is that the Bank of England would not act as the lender of last resort for Scottish banks or as a guarantor for an Edinburgh government, but according to Bowman this would be no bad thing as it would deter irresponsible lending. "An independent Scotland that used the pound as its base currency without the English government's permission, with banks continuing to issue notes privately and private citizens free to choose any currency they wanted, would probably have a more stable financial system and economy than England itself".

12 February 2014

They're all agin us ...

So the major UK political parties are united in their efforts to deny an independent Scotland the use of the pound sterling.  The Guardian reports:

Britain's main political parties are drawing up plans to deliver a powerful message to the Scottish people that the remainder of the UK will refuse to form a currency union with Scotland if voters endorse independence in the referendum in September.
Amid strong polling evidence that financial matters have become the decisive factor in voters' minds, George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Ed Balls are each planning to deliver an unequivocal warning that an independent Scotland could not keep the pound.
Of course, if and when Scotland were to become independent, the UK authorities could not actually prevent the pound circulating in Scotland, much as it does at present (whether or not Scotland introduced an alternative currency).  But, in such circumstances, the new Scottish government and its monetary authorities would have no influence over matters such as the level of interest rates.  Would this matter much in the short term?  There are plenty of examples of countries using foreign currencies as their principal means of exchange - such as the use of the dollar in much of central America or the use of the euro in eastern Europe.  Even now, it is still possible to have a UK bank account in euros (I have one myself).  And the larger shops in the touristy areas of London and Edinburgh will accept euros in payment for goods.  So the existence of parallel currencies is not impossible.  Indeed, whatever happens with the introduction of a separate currency and regardless of the UK authorities’ attempts to quash a sterling currency union, it is impossible to imagine a situation where the pound would not continue to circulate freely in Scotland.

Furthermore, it is difficult to believe that - if push came to shove - London politicians would actively seek to insist that Scotland should introduce a separate currency/  In such a deeply integrated UK economy, what would be the value to any of the parties in forcing cross border companies to set up parallel currency operations and introduce exchange transaction costs?

So, yes. a currency union has its own problems.  But they are not insuperable.  And perhaps the politicians might be prepared to give a little and take a little.