Friday, May 31, 2013

Eurozone Unemployment Hits 12.2%

Eurostat reports that the rate of unemployment in the Eurozone hit 12.2% in April 2013, up from 12.1% in March. This compares very unfavourably with the levels of unemployment in the UK (7.7%) and the USA (7.5%).

The level of youth unemployment in certain countries is particularly shocking, the highest being in Greece (62.5% in February 2013), Spain (56.4%), Portugal (42.5%) and Italy (40.5%).

As I have said before, this level of unemployment is not sustainable and is a threat to democracy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

House Prices Overvalued?

According to the OECD, house prices in the UK are too high.

The Telegraph reports that a study by the OECD, which compared prices with local wages and rents, suggests that British house prices are 31% too high compared to rents and 21% over-priced against incomes.

Given that housing is the bedrock of the British economy, providing a credit hungry public with the raison d'etre to borrow ever increasingly large sums of money, people would be forgiven for thinking that this analysis is grim news for the economy.

Fear not!

The British government cannot help itself when it comes to meddling in the housing market and, via its Help To Buy Scheme announced in the March Budget, has already taken actions to underpin and further stimulate the housing market.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Judgement Day For Lagarde

Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF, will find out today if she will be put under formal investigation for her role in a payout made to Bernard Tapie when she was finance minister.

Tapie, a supporter of the former President Nicolas Sarkozy, was awarded 400M euros in 2007, in a dispute with the bank Credit Lyonnais.

Lagarde protests her innocence and, according to the BBC, claims that the payout was the best solution at the time.

Suffice to say, given the economic malaise within Europe this issue could not have come at a worse time for Lagarde, the IMF and the global economy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Be Bold!

Mark Carney, the incoming Bank of England Governor, has warned that Europe could face a decade of stagnation unless it takes the kind of bold measures seen in Japan.

Carney is quoted by the Telegraph, whilst making his last speech as Governor of the Bank of Canada:
Europe can draw lessons from Japan on the dangers of half measures... Europe remains in recession. Deep challenges persist in its financial system. Without sustained and significant reforms, a decade of stagnation threatens.”
His comments give more traction to the rumours that the ECB is considering negative interest rates.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Inflation Falls

Inflation has taken a surprisingly sharp turn downwards from 2.8% in March to 2.4% in April, the so called "experts" had predicted 2.7%.

The fall has been caused by sharp falls in transport costs (eg air fares which fell by 6.4%). Unfortunately, the cost of food and non alcoholic beverages has increased by 0.7%.

In other words, those who are on tight budgets will continue to be squeezed.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brexit - Good or Bad For Britain?

Britain's "love affair" with the EU, much like the seasons, turns hot and cold on a regular basis. More often than not the feelings towards the EU are frigid, to say the least.

In response to the never ending wrangling with the Tory party over Britain's role within (or without) the EU, Britain's leading businessmen have penned a letter to the Independent warning that a Brexit would severely damage Britain's economy and standing within the world:
"The benefits of membership overwhelmingly outweigh the costs, and to suggest otherwise is putting politics before economics."
The economic costs/benefits of leaving the EU are not clear cut. However, the political consequences of remaining in the EU are clear; Britain's independence will continue to be eroded.

Does this erosion of independence matter?

Ask the good people of Greece or Cyprus!

Like it or not politics does play a role in this, because if politics fails we lose our democracy and there will be either dictatorship or anarchy. Businesses may well do well under certain forms of dictatorship, but the people of Britain won't.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Turning Japanese

In echoes of Japan in the 1980's/90's, it seems that the ECB is going down the path of negative interest rates.

As per Financial Acrobat:
"More rumours about negative rates from ECB. Said to have contacted German bank to ask if they could cope with it. It is likely true."
I loved the 80's!

Osborne Encounters Resistance

Poor old George Osborne appears to be encountering some resistance form other ministers to his plans to slash spending by £11.5BN.

As yet, according to the FT, his "colleagues" in government have only come up with £2.5BN in cuts; with some ministers failing to provide Osborne with the list of 10% in proposed departmental cuts he ordered before last month’s deadline.

Could it be that they don't think that he will still be in office in a year, and that as such he can "safely" be ignored?

As with any business, there will always be resistance to cuts. However, also as with any business, if the person who is demanding them is deemed to be "on his way out" the cuts will never materialise.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

RBS Sacks 1,400 Staff

The newswires are reporting that RBS has told staff that 1,400 of them will lose their jobs over the coming two years.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Negative Interest rates

It seems that the ECB is considering negative deposit rates, ie charging banks for their deposits.

The purpose of such a move?

To encourage/force banks to lend money in order to boost the flagging Eurozone economy.

Will it work?

No one knows!

Friday, May 10, 2013

ONS Screw Up Again

In September 2012 I wrote the following about the unreliability of ONS data:
"As I have noted many times before it is extremely unwise to rely on figures provided by the ONS, they are always out of date and invariably wrong; eg in February this year inflation figures spiked partly because the ONS (as per usual) had been erroneously under reporting inflation (clothing) for several years, and the resulting correction caused a spike in inflation.

Instead of the government and the Bank of England relying on and using ONS figures to to try to manage the economy, they may as well rely on reading goat entrails as these would be more accurate, timely and easier to interpret!
Here we are in May 2013, and yet again the ONS have been forced to revise their figures. It seems that Q1 construction figures reported by the ONS were wrong, and need to be revised upwards. As such the UK was not in recession in Q1 2013.

As per the Telegraph:
"The ONS now believes that output in the quarter contracted by 5pc, not the 5.4pc previously thought. In terms of levels of GDP, it has revised construction output for the quarter up by £108m to £25.273bn. 

Philip Shaw, UK economist at Investec, has calculated that an increase of just £70m in national output in the first three months of 2012 would cause growth to be revised from -0.1pc to 0.0pc.
All else being equal, the construction industry revisions would suggest that the economy did deliver just enough activity to escape the technical double dip recession."
As I noted above, it is extremely unwise to rely on figures provided by the ONS!

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Greek Youth Unemployment Hits 64.2%

In a damning indictment of the Eurozone's economic policies, and of the folly of joining a single currency system, the youth unemployment (18-24) level in Greece has risen to a disgusting 64.2%.

Levels of unemployment such as this are normally associated with third world countries in the midst of a civil war, or the equivalent. Yet Greece is, allegedly, a first world country and is meant to be an "equal" member of a powerful and prosperous economic block (ie the Eurozone).

The reality is that Greece is not treated as an equal, it should never have joined or been allowed to join the Eurozone and the prosperity within the Eurozone is not evenly spread but confined to the wealthy Northern economies.

As such it is clear that as an experiment the Eurozone is destined to fail, indeed the world will be a better place without it. However, with levels of unemployment such as this in Greece the real danger is that of a plague of dictatorships and civil unrest spreading country by country in the Southern members of the Eurozone.

In order to survive as a democracy and civilised society Greece needs to exit the Eurozone now, others such as Cyprus need also to consider their positions.

Oh and by the way, in case anyone cares, today is Europe Day!

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Euro Downright Dangerous

Kudos to Lars Seier Christensen, chief executive of Saxo Bank, who has vented his spleen on the Eurozone.

He said that it was clear that the eurozone would eventually break up, as Brussels claimed even more power and used it “ever more poorly”.  He also, wisely and correctly, noted that "short term" capital restrictions are always introduced as "short term" but end up being long term; and warned that there will be many more.

As per the Telegraph, he said:
"Euro denominated assets will remain unattractive, and downright dangerous, to hold for years to come."
A wise man indeed!

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Cable Calls For Decision on Fred Goodwin

Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, is less than pleased that action has yet to be taken by Scottish prosecutors against Fred "the shred" Goodwin (the former CEO of RBS) and other senior directors of RBS for their role in its demise.

The Telegraph reports that Cable has written to Lord Wallace, the Government’s chief legal adviser in Scotland, demanding to know when a decision will be made on whether to ban the former bankers from sitting on company boards.

Cable first asked Scotland’s Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service to consider prosecutions in January 2012.

The irony being of course, despite Cable's desire for speed, if a decision to prosecute was taken the trial would be lengthy and extremely complex. Any successful prosecution would then be appealed, and the resulting quagmire of appeals and counter appeals/hearings would take years to resolve, not to mention cost a small fortune.

The question that Cable needs to ask himself is will such a lengthy prosecution really serve the public interest?

A cynic might argue that Cable is playing to the gallery.