29 April 2014

Nothing should stand in the way of the City making money?

Yet another beacon of British industry faces foreign takeover and what is the City's main interest?
CITY investment banks could be in line for a $240m (£143m) jackpot after America’s biggest drug company confirmed it had reignited bid talks with its UK rival, opening the door for the largest ever foreign takeover of a British company.
Pfizer, which makes drugs like Viagra and Centrum, unveiled an audacious bid to buy AstraZeneca, in a deal that could cost more than $100bn (£65bn).
The deal is the latest in a string of buyouts in pharmaceuticals, with reports emerging last night that botox-maker Allergan could be ready to bid for UK-listed Shire. Allergan itself is the target of a $46bn hostile offer from Valeant and activist investor Bill Ackman, and may seek a tie-up with Shire to fend off its suitors.
Seven banks on the Pfizer-AstraZeneca deal, including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan, are set to pocket between $200m and $240m if it gets over the line, according to Thomson Reuters, adding to the swelling pot of M&A fees collected on pharma deals so far this year. A record $190bn of tie-ups are now on the table, including GlaxoSmithKline’s deal with Novartis announced last week.
And God forbid that UK politicians should interfere with the City's craving for fillthy lucre:
Politicians should only intervene in takeovers if they threaten national security. North Koreans should not be allowed to buy a UK nuclear power station. But such instances are extremely rare; in all other cases, shareholders should have the right to do as they wish with their assets, and that includes being allowed to sell them to whoever is willing to pay the highest price.
Shareholders make lots of mistakes, as do executives. But they make fewer than politicians whenever they attempt to run companies. It’s about incentives (shareholders’ and bosses’ are better aligned to the pursuit of economic efficiency), knowledge (information and know-how is dispersed and better harnessed by markets than planners) and creative destruction (markets encourage it, politicians seek to discourage it, slowing down change, progress and growth).
Never mind about the longer term impact on jobs or on the UK's capacity for R and D.  Grab the money and run.  Jam today and forget about tomorrow.


28 April 2014

Being nasty about Cornwall

The Guardian twists the knife:
Five months from now it's possible that Scotland will pack up and ship off – if only to spite John Barrowman, in which case good for them – and then last week Cornwall was granted official minority status as well. If the edges of the country keep being shaved away like this, there's every chance that Britain will soon exclusively consist of David Cameron and Prince George bickering on the roof of a Waitrose in Thame as they listlessly fend off the broken-toothed savages of Aylesbury and Bicester with a sharpened broomstick.
If I sound a little depressed, it's because I am. Call me naive but, by and large, I believe in the power of union. Not in an aggressive "Hello brown people, you work for us now" British empire way, but more of a self-determinist Star Trek Federation way, where everybody moves as a single unit to advance society (while killing all the dirty Romulans for having weird skin and talking funny). I'd like to think that Britain, and Europe, and everyone else, can achieve more by pulling together than by erecting barriers.
But make no mistake, I only think like this because I'm jealous. If I came from an area as well-defined as Scotland or Cornwall, maybe I'd want to go it alone too. When you think of either region, you're immediately presented with its defining image. Scotland, full of beautiful countryside and majestic red deer. Cornwall, full of rich arseholes from Islington called Sebastian who've got crap ginger dreadlocks and septic wounds where their nasal piercings used to be. Scotland and Cornwall have strong, proud, established identities that are distinct enough to encourage independence.


27 April 2014

Getting interesting?

The Independent reports:
Downing Street last night refused to comment on mounting speculation that David Cameron would be forced to resign if Scotland votes for independence in September.
Very wise.  If Scottish voters knew that a yes vote might topple Cameron, then rather more of them might vote yes than would otherwise be the case.


The intolerable questioning the unbearable about the utterly trivial

26 April 2014

Syntactic structures

Noam says YES!  Although his actual utterance may be subject to linguistic intterpretation.  Is there a deep structure there?
It wasn't only the anarcho-syndicalists who got excited. In lending his support to Scottish independence, Noam Chomsky generated a palpable buzz among yes activists: "Noam" even started to trend among Glasgow's twitterati.
"My intuition favours independence," Chomsky told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, adding that he had "been following the debate with interest". But that, apparently, was the limit of his contribution. Voters looking for further nuance might have been left a little underwhelmed, not least by the expectation that world-famous analytic philosophers tend not to rely on anything as touchy feely as intuition. 

A muddle or a guddle?

Whatever.  Either way, the CBI is all over the shop:
British business lobby the CBI has petitioned the Electoral Commission to cancel its registration as an official supporter of the no campaign in theScottish independence referendum.
The sudden switch in policy came after more than a dozen organisations, including major universities such as Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, government agencies in Scotland and the broadcasters STV and BBC, resigned from the CBI to protect their neutrality in the independence debate.
The CBI had registered as a supporter of the no campaign, allowing it to spend up to £150,000 before September's referendum, on legal advice because it planned to make clear that it opposed independence at its official events and functions.
It has now promised the Electoral Commission it will not take an active role in the referendum – a move likely to be seen as a blow to the no campaign and a boost for independence campaigners.
Surprising really.  Iain McMillan, the canny boss of the CBI in Scotland, would surely have handled matters much more carefully than the London HQ.


25 April 2014

Them and us

Oh yes, the banks get it in the neck, once again.  The Guardian reports on Barclays annual general meeting when the shareholders get to hold the directors' feet to the fire:
The annual general meeting is the only day the Haves are obliged to meet the Have-A-Lot-Lesses. It's what passes for accountability in the boardroom but is, in reality, more of a futile gesture because all of the important issues – the reappointment of directors and their remuneration – have been stitched up well before the AGM by the proxy votes of the large financial institutions who hold most of the shares. Those who complain about trade union block votes have never been to an AGM.
Still, the chimera of democracy has to be seen to be done and even if the small shareholders don't have any actual influence they do get a couple of hours to let the directors know exactly what they think of them and the directors are obliged to suck it up. Some do it with a forced smile, others with a scowl and Mike Ashley, who was seated closest to the wings, did it by pretending to be dead. He didn't move or blink throughout.
And there was a lot of sucking to be done. If it's bad enough that Barclays is a bank and everyone hates banks, what's really intolerable to many of its investors is that it's a fairly rubbish bank: its profits are down by 32%, its share price has fallen, it's been shamed by the Libor-rigging scandal, it's been forced into a £6bn rights issue to raise capital and has paid its staff more in bonuses than it has to its shareholders in dividends.
And after it all:
The riff-raff headed for the free sandwiches in the lobby. The directors made for the stage door where a fleet of shiny chauffeur-driven Mercs was waiting.
Good old-fashioned hammering of the privileged.

23 April 2014

Heaven knows I'm miserable now

The Independent reports:

Quitting the daily grind for a new life on the Costa del Sol might seem a tempting option. But Britons who chase the sun and migrate to the Mediterranean are actually less happy than if they had stayed at home, an academic study has found.
Almost 3,000 Britons move abroad each week, with around five million now living outside the UK.
However our inability to adapt to the language and culture of these sunkissed new homes means the search for a better lifestyle has made British migrants unhappier.

Aye, sure enough, it's a hard life here on the Costa del Sol.  All that sunshine, the cheap booze and fags, the lower cost of living, the good food.  I don't know why I put up with it.


La chute

I do not usually feel sorry for sacked football managers but the vilification poured over Mr Moyes seems excessive.  While his fall may be cushioned by a reported £5 million pay-off, the damage to his reputation seems likely to be long-lasting.

And, at the end of the day (to indulge myself in a favoured football cliche), it is harsh for one man alone to carry the burden of failure, especially when that man appears to have behaved decently and responsibly, without resorting to the antics of certain of his peers.

It is easy to forget that even football managers are just people.  People with families, people with lives set between humdrum tedium and quiet desperation.

Football - not such a beautiful game ...


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.