Wednesday, June 30, 2010


"It was 7.45am on June 30 2009 when Steve Perkins a senior, longstanding broker for PVM Oil Futures was contacted by an admin clerk querying why he'd bought 7m barrels of crude in the middle of the night.

The 34-year old broker at first claimed he had spent the night trading alongside a client. But the story began to fall apart when he refused to put the customer in touch with his desk for official approval of the trades.

By 10am it emerged that Mr Perkins had single-handedly moved the global price of oil to an eight-month high during a "drunken blackout".....

The FSA will consider re-approving him as a broker after the ban, if he has recovered from his alcohol problem, but noted "Mr Perkins poses an extreme risk to the market when drunk"."

Source The Telegraph.

It is hardly surprising that the City and the financial services industry are held in such contempt, and despised, by the rest of the country.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Banks on Life Support

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) has warned that European banks are still "on life support", and that they need to "come clean" about their bad loans.

The Telegraph quotes the BIS annual report:

"Losses on European bank balance sheets are expected to mount over the next few years. Some banks are rolling over existing loans rather than inducing foreclosures, thus delaying loss recognition."

Rather bizarrely BIS then state that low interest rates and fiscal stimuli by governments is exacerbating matters, causing "moral hazard".

I would venture to suggest that were the rates and stimuli packages reversed, the slump caused would be far more detrimental to the economic health of Europe than the "moral hazard" issue.

I would also note that the low rates and fiscal stimuli do not in themselves cause banks to behave "immorally". Banks behave either "morally" or "immorally", depending on their culture and internal controls; to blame others for the failings of banks is shortsighted.

BIS do, correctly point out that Europe and the US are unlikely to be able afford to bail out the banks again, and that a Greek sovereign debt crisis is more than likely.

In view of this, to suggest that fiscal and monetary conditions should be tightened at the very time that the US and Europe are struggling to drag themselves out of recession is foolhardy in the extreme.

Monday, June 28, 2010

G20 Flexibility

The low key G20 meeting in Canada produced a communique that took negotiators 45 hours to draft.

The final communique endorsed a flexible timeline for each country to build up higher levels of banking capital and liquidity.

The result may well be favourable to some countries. However, as the banks are now global players they will simply use this flexibility in their own interests and simply pick and choose their best options and best countries in which to operate from.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Bank of England Expresses Little Faith in Europe

The Bank of England has issued its regular stability report, in which it warns that the European debt crisis is a "key risk" to the UK's banking sector.

It warns that British banks' exposure to other European lenders is making them vulnerable and, as such, British banks should build up their cash reserves.

In other words, the Bank of England believes that there is going to be at least one major default by either a major European bank or sovereign debt default (most likely Greece).

Baton down the hatches, it's going to be a long hot summer!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pension Age Rises

As part of the plans to put the country's finances back in order, the government have announced that the state pension age for men will rise to 66 from 2016 (ten years earlier than originally planned).

Additionally, the default retirement age (when companies can force employees to retire at age 65) will also be scrapped.

These plans kill two birds with one stone:

1 Pension payments are deferred/lessened.

2 The longer people work, the earlier they die.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Minutes of the last Bank of England MPC meeting show that one member of the committee, Andrew Sentance, voted to raise interest rates to 0.75% from 0.5%.

That most assuredly would kill the very modest recovery that we are beginning to experience.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Happy Emergency Budget Day!

Happy Emergency Budget Day everyone.

George Osborne kicks off at 12:30 today.

This will be the last time that Gladstone's budget box will be used, it will be retired after today's appearance.

Monday, June 21, 2010

China Gives Markets a Boost

China's announcement that it is to end its two year peg of the Yuan against the Dollar, and effectively to allow a managed rise in the value of the Yuan, has given world stock markets a much needed boost.

Any rise in the Yuan will be gradual, as the Chinese will manage its rise carefully. However, markets have taken the announcement as a sign that China is confident about its economy.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Estonia To Join Euro

Estonia has been granted permission to join the Euro in January 2011.

The granting of entry is to be seen a political decision, rather than an economic one, as the ECB has warned that Estonia risks higher inflation.

The question is will the Euro still be a feasible currency in 2011?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Death Knell Of The Tripartite System

As predicted on this site, George Osborne has sounded the death knell of the ineffectual and inept FSA (ironically, despite its lousy performance, FSA staff were paid nearly £22M in bonuses last year).

Osborne has stated that it will cease to exist in its current form, and a "Consumer Protection and Markets Authority" will be created.

Hector Sants, the CEO of the FSA, will stay to become the new deputy governor and chief executive of the new regulator. That announcement is to be treated with a degree of scepticism. The new body will be considerably less powerful than the FSA, and it is likely that as soon as the transition has occurred Sants will depart (as this in effect a demotion).

The widely derided tripartite system, set up by Brown, is to be terminated and the Bank of the England given wide ranging powers to prevent another financial crisis; ie the Bank is now in charge of regulation.

The Bank will become one of the most powerful regulatory bodies in the world, with responsibility for both monetary policy and financial regulation.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

EU Denies Spanish Bailout

As Spain continues to "tank", a Spanish newspaper "El Economista" has reported today that a Euro 250M had been discussed at a special IMF board directors meeting.

The report drew a response from Amadeu Altafaj, a spokesman for the EU executive, who is quoted in the Telegraph as saying that the report was "very bizarre"

"I can firmly deny it."

Be that as it may, Francisco Gonzalez, chairman of BBVA, admitted this week that "the majority of the Spanish companies and financial groups are shut out of the international capital markets".

Without the means to devalue, and by being forced to accept excessive German fiscal restraints, the weaker countries of the Eurozone have now reached the stage where politically further austerity measures are impossible (their populations will not accept them).

Therefore something has to "give".

They will either exit the Euro voluntarily, or be forced from it by bankruptcy and domestic turmoil.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sir Fred's Private Meeting

Sir Fred "The Shred" Goodwin, the disgraced ex head of RBS, has attempted to avoid publicity by requesting that a meeting called for today by the FSA be held in the office of his lawyers rather than at the FSA's own offices.

Clearly, as with RBS's financial strategy during Goodwin's tenure, that idea has come rather unstuck as the media have picked up the story.

The adverse publicity about the meeting has now called into question the actual timing, lest there be any "naughty" journalists waiting outside the offices keen to ask Goodwin a question.

Ad to whether this meeting actually yields anything tangible (aside from a slap on the wrist fine for Goodwin) remains to be seen:

1 RBS is now effectively owned by the taxpayer, yet the banking sector itself has no reformed and continues to pay itself very generously and trade in high risk derivatives despite bringing this country close to financial collapse.

2 The FSA is likely to be shut down by the government.

3 Sir Fred appears to be enjoying the fruits of his labours. He recently met with the Duke of York (one assume that Fergie didn't arrange that), and has bought £3.5M "fortress" in Edinburgh.

Let us trust that the banking sector is reformed in time, before we are hit with the next crisis which will most assuredly bankrupt this nation.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Betting on Failure

The Bank of England has warned that investors are taking a "punt" on there being a 20% fall in the value of the FTSE 100, arising from the possible collapse of a sovereign debtor, such as Greece and Portugal.

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), coincidentally, reports that Britain has major exposure to the Irish and Spanish banking systems (also feared to be at risk).

Having reported the problem, it is likely that the Bank's warnings will be a catalyst for more bets to be taken out on such a fall.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The "Can't Do" Nation - The Empire Strikes Back

Full marks to John Napier, the chairman of the insurer RSA, who wrote an open letter to President Barack Obama accusing him of being anti-British and "prejudicial and personal" in his dealings with BP.

The Times quotes the letter:

"Your comments towards BP and its CEO as reported here are coming across as somewhat prejudicial and personal. There is no doubt that BP, as a UK plc, is totally committed to do everything possible to contain the oil leak and meet all its obligations in the USA.

The existing CEO is the best person to deliver that effort and has made that personal commitment and made himself available in the USA. In your words, ‘he has taken the heat' and not hidden in his office. The real response has been total. You could argue a poor PR performance, but BP are not alone in that. There is a sense here that these attacks are being made because BP is British. If you compare the damage inflicted on the economies of the Western world by polluted securities from the irresponsible, unchecked greed and avarice of leading USA international banks, there has not been the same personalised response in or from countries beyond the US. Perhaps a case of double standards?

Deep-sea oil exploration was pushed forward as part of a USA oil security strategy, as have a number of foreign policy initiatives where we are standing shoulder to shoulder.

The President would do well to remember that BP employs far more US personnel than British, and 40% of BP's shares are held by US citizens. In the event that the President's ongoing vitriol pushes BP over the edge, there will be many US victims of its demise.

The demise of BP would send shock waves through the City of London and cause a financial crisis in the UK that would reignite the world's recent financial version of the "oil spill".

Can America really afford to start that fire again?

Oh, and by the way, re the knee jerk rantings to BP demanding that it holds back its dividend; why are these same rantings not being made towards Transco (an American company that has some part to play in all of this), which has announced that it will be paying a $1BN dividend?

As noted yesterday, what goes around comes around!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The "Can't Do" Nation

Faced with looking impotent, as a result of not mobilising any of the USA's considerable military or civilian resources to help staunch the ongoing oil spill, Barack Obama has resorted to shrill attacks on BP and the CEO of BP (Tony Hayward).

Unsurprisingly BP's share price continues to tumble, falling a further 10% today.

Doubtless it is very easy to try to pass the buck to what the US keeps claiming is a British company.

However, the States would do well to remember that the part of BP that is handling the spill is in fact American. It would also do well to remember that several other companies, including Halliburton (a US company with links to Cheney and Bush), were also involved.

What goes around comes around.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Jean-Claude Speaks

The markets will focus today on a speech to be made by Jean-Claude Trichet (the president of the European Central Bank).

In the event that he fails to firm up sentiment over the Eurozone and Euro experiment, further falls in the Euro will occur.

As to whether he is able to assuage the market's fears, or display a grasp of reality, it remains to be seen.

In a recent interview with Le Monde he was asked

"If, for some reason, Greece does not honour its commitments, might there be a need for a 'plan B'?"

His answer shows that there is no "plan B" and that, in the eyes of the ECB, Greece will honour its commitments.

"That is not part of our working assumption. Greece must and will honour its commitments. The European Commission, together with the ECB on the one hand and the IMF on the other, is following developments in the recovery programme very closely."

Clearly he and the ECB are disconnected from reality.

When asked about an "Anglo Saxon plot" (please remember these were French journalists) he very politely said no, but then went on to ask for fiscal union.

"Sometimes, one imagines a sort of Anglo-Saxon plot against the euro. What do you think of this?

No, one should be wary of any conspiracy theories. I simply believe that some international investors struggle to understand Europe and its decision-making mechanisms. They have difficulty in gauging the historical size of the European construction and in anticipating the capacity of Europeans to take decisions that are just as important as those taken a few days ago.

Having said that, one should not be complacent: we have some very serious problems and we need to draw some serious lessons. The supervision of fiscal policies, of developments in competitiveness in the euro area economies and of structural reforms needs to be radically improved. We are a monetary union. We now need the equivalent of a fiscal union in terms of monitoring and supervising the implementation of policies on public finances.

Clearly the ECB regards its role as political as well as financial.

It may be all very well for the ECB to think that it should play at politics, if the ECB were a competent and democratically elected body accountable to the people of Europe.

The trouble is, it is neither.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Fiddling Whilst Rome Burns

Despite that fact that the Euro and the members of the Eurozone are in financial freefall, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has urged the EU to "complete the project of monetary union".

Hungary (which is not in the Eurozone) managed to add fuel to the fire by stating (via a senior politician) that it was near-bankrupt, the Euro is so mistrusted by the markets that this announcement caused it to fall further.

As if this was not enough, talks between President Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel (the German Chancellor) have been postponed.

David Cameron will tell the EU, albeit very politely, to "fark off" wrt the request by the little known lightweight president of the EU (Herman Van Rompuy) to see the UK's budget before it is presented to parliament.

The Euro is destined to become a failed experiment, whether the IMF and certain Euro lightweights like it or not.

Monday, June 07, 2010

There Are Bad Times Just Around The Corner II

David Cameron has warned that the cuts that the government envisages making are going to be deep and painful, and that they will dramatically affect the way that we live our lives.

The Tories have quite rightly blamed Labour for the mess, and are shrewdly using this mess as an opportunity to push forward their social/political agenda (eg revisions to benefits and pensions).

Tomorrow George Osborne will announce a "once-in-a-generation" revolution that will involve a public consultation exercise on what people expect from public services, and where they think the cuts should fall.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Europe Tries To Shoot The Messenger

The EU is less than pleased to see its pet project (the Euro) so badly mauled by the markets. As such they are looking to lay the blame at people's doors (anyone excpet for those who are responsible for the debt and fraud within the Eurozone).

Prime candidates for retribution are the ratings agencies, who have downgraded certain countries' credit rating.

As such the EU intends to fine the big three credit ratings agencies, and create a new state-backed competitor.

The agencies will be subject to a new European supervisory body with the power to issue fines and suspensions.

Shooting the messenger never works, and the credibility of a state backed ratings agency will be doubted from the very start.


Wednesday, June 02, 2010

BP Falls

As BP continues to fail to plug the oil spill in the US, its share price continues to fall. It has lost approximately 30% of its value in 6 weeks.

Eric Holder, the US Attorney-General, has announced that there will be a criminal and civil investigation to be conducted by the FBI and other federal agencies.

It is likely that if/as the share price continues to fall, BP will become a takeover target. Cynics are also suggesting that its US operations, despite (or maybe because of?) a very publicly hostile US administration, will become US owned.

As the old saying goes, never miss an opportunity to use a crisis to your own ends!

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Euro Faces The Perfect Storm

Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.

It seems that that the European Central Bank (ECB) has been affected by a bout of madness, by making an announcement that will further undermine its beloved Euro and the financial stability of the main countries in the Eurozone.

The ECB has announced that banks in the Eurozone face having to write off another Euro 195BN in bad loans over the next 18 months. The banks have already written off Euro 238BN.

Meanwhile, Greece has been urged by Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) to leave the Euro and allow the revived Drachma to float downwards (thus absorbing some of the pain of its financial turmoil). Rumours are that discussions are already underway in Berlin, as to how a "graceful" exit can be achieved. Needless to say, "graceful" exit or not, German and French banks face serious losses as and when Greece exits.

Finally, as if for good measure, the President of Germany (President Köhler) has resigned; throwing Chancellor Merkel's government into chaos, and undermining Germany's political/financial stability and strength within Europe.

The Euro is going to face a very long, hot and uncomfortable summer.