Saturday, January 31, 2009

Freedom consists in service - part 2

As Reggie Perrin's boss CJ used to say " I didn't get where I am today by..." followed by a reasonably fatuous statement.
Well, I didn't get to be the cynical, bitter and twisted person I am today by thinking that anything ever works. I may have thought so once, but not any more.
So a couple of little stories. Mrs. Lear's accountant, filling in her tax return online some weeks ago, discovered there was no way to enter a minus figure. For anything. So a paper form has to be submitted. This then gets followed up by HMRC reducing Mrs. Lear's tax code from about 591 to 16, and when queried we are told - and I quote - " Oh there are thousands that have been sent out in error." I suspect this is probably millions.
When a friend was filling in his form - admittedly at the last minute - it wouldn't work. It kept asking ridiculous follow up questions " Are you a company director? Answer :yes. Up pops : "Put in your Teacher's pension number" I'm not joking. They have spent several billion on this IT system, especially to bring Revenue together with Customs. This particular bit of genius is a forgotten bit of Brown's idiocy which will eventually degrade tax and other levy gathering.
So you can see I have reason to be cynical.
Oh, and sending out all the wrong tax demands? Well that's quite sneaky. When the Pre-Budget report is done, the Treasury can say " X is the amount of tax we have to collect, so the borrowing requirement is Y." Unfortunately, X is complete rubbish, as HMRC makes such a hash of everything that X is probably nearer zero than even half X. So the next time round the borrowing requirement - surprise surprise - has risen. This is why the budget each year for the last 5 has had to admit that the borrowing requirement is higher than the one promulgated 4 months earlier.
So it is with great pleasure that I report on two things that happened this week which have restored my faith in whatever it is.
Firstly, Scottish Power - not noted for their efficiency - spoken to on Wednesday, appointment made for Thursday 10am, hole dug Thursday PM, connection installed by 11:30 Friday morning. Unheard of. I can only think they have nothing to do at the moment as there are little or no new buildings to install power into.
Secondly, my mobile died on Friday morning - not the phone bit, everything else, reducing me to a text that only fitted the outer screen, didn't store any of them, made no record of calls made etc etc. Disaster. Phone call to Orange. Diagnostic over the ether. New phone dispatched and told it would be with me Saturday morning by 10am.
Huge cynicism. Dispelled by ringing of door bell at 9:15am and delivery of new phone.
Now maybe both of these straws in the wind are down to the recession ( and believe me it is, and its still getting worse) with companies desperate to keep their clients.
If so, and to make sure opprobrium will be heaped on me from all angles, recession is a price worth paying to get service.
Of course, the difference is these are both private enterprise companies.
HMRC is not.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sex in the City

I travelled by train to Edinburgh today to have lunch with the Sheriff. As ever, he was most natilly dressed, sporting a midnight blue coat with matching velvet collar, and a large-brimmed green fedora. It is little wonder that Mrs. Lear holds him up as an example to me - I could look like that, she says, if only I wasn't such a dosser.
Anyway, we made our way from the law courts to a small, grubby Indian restaurant, where self-service curry was the order of the day.
Right next door to it was a sex shop.
" Do you mind walking between me and that shop? Can't get to close to it in my position." Naturally I agreed.
As we passed, a somewhat dowdy middle aged lady emerged from the shop clutching a bag. She spotted the Sheriff and waved at him.
The Sheriff hustled me into the restaurant.
" My next door neighbour," he muttered under his breath

Celtic 11 Dundee United 10

I don't suppose too many people who read this blog will have noticed the above scoreline from last night's Cup match.
After 120 minutes it was still 0-0.
After 5 penalties each it was 5-5.
After 7 penalties it was 6-6 - both sides missed one.
After 10 penalties it was 9-9
After 11 it was 10-10.
Then a chap who Celtic are trying to buy from DU stepped up and missed.
And Celtic scored. We could hear the roar from Hampden more than 5 miles away.
I think the Celts should bung him an extra few quid if they do get him.
They did get him, and he used the proverbial line:" It's a dream come true for me..."
He must have been dreaming when he took that penalty...

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A $100 billion here, a $100billion there....

Just in case you missed it, the US Treasury has raised in 2 days this week,so far,$137,000,000,000. Oh, and they will be selling another $60,000,000,000 or so on Thursday.
That's the UK's entire requirement for next year.
In a week.
Well, 4 days actually.

Breaking the Bank

Between all the hoo-ha with Scottish Power, I had two most interesting conversations today. One was with a man who was looking to invest some money in Romania. He started by asking me how much a certain sum might earn over say 5 years. I told him my views. Then he said, well, just give me half now and you can keep the rest.
I explained that I thought he had misunderstood, and the idea was he was to invest money there, not take it out just yet.
" Ah," he said," But I'm only suggesting what the banks have been investing in over the last few years".
His point was that a theoretical payout ( supported by all sorts of graphs, cash flows and other rubbish) was being bought into by the banks in their support for various investors/companies/hedge funds etc, but in reality they were not investing in any real asset. In effect, it was about the same as putting the mortgage payment on red or black at roulette - not breaking the bank but effectively doubling the bets all the time..
For a long time it came up - and then it didn't. If you know your betting, if you start with one chip, lose it, then 2 etc, even if you win at some point, you only win one chip. This, in a simplistic way, is what the Banks did. If at some point you DON'T win, you are out a lot of money. Suppose it loses for say 6 rounds. Then you have lost 1+2+4+8+16+32 =63 chips, but if it then wins on the 7th, you are betting 64. You will win 64 = 1 more than you have lost up to that point. If it loses, you have lost 96. This is what Nick Leeson did for example - and what all the other banks have done too, and why it would appear such gigantic sums of money have been lost.

The other was with someone who has been trying to sell their house since May last year. They had one viewing in June, since then nothing. In December he took £25,000 off the price, reducing it to just below the £500,000 level.
Obviously, over Christmas and New Year there was nothing, but since January 12th he's had 5 viewings.

True Freedom consists in Service* - part 1

What's the difference between service and non-service? You may think this is a strange question, but I assure you it may well be the difference between the UK going bust and making a go of it.
I needed someone in Scottish Power ( or whatever they are nowadays) to send a body out to look at a power cable head and the attendant meter.
I spoke to Scottish Power's main switchboard and was told I needed the reconnection section. I explained I doubted it.
I phoned the reconnection section. They said I needed to speak to customer services.
Customer services said I need emergency call out.
Emergency call out asked if I was a hospital or school, and when they heard I wasn't, said I should talk to new supply.
Sighing, I phoned new supply, who immediately told me I didn't want them I wanted the reconnection section.
I explained I had spoken to them and definitely didn't need reconnecting. So the lady said I should speak to Cardiff ( Cardiff!) and she put me through.
Cardiff wondered where the post code was - was it in Wales? Ah, Scotland, you want customer services in Scottish Power.
Thoroughly fed up, I retraced my steps to customer services and got a different lady, who put me through to reconnection ( again) but reconnection, when I explained I had already spoken to them, and what the problem was, said she had been told a completely different story, and couldn't help.
BUT - and here's the but - she said she would make enquiries and call me back.
By this stage I can only say my spirit was broken and simply getting off the phone made me inclined to thank her profusely. I'd spent more than 4 hours off and on by now.
I had no real faith I would ever hear from Heather again.
Lo and behold, about an hour later my phone rang and it was Heather. She had spoken to a supervisor in the survey section ( the one section no one had suggested) and if I would phone this number and ask for Archie he would see me right.
Wondrous tidings! Not only could Archie help, he would help to such an extent that he scheduled what I required immediately.
My point is this.
We are a services country. Only about 14% of our economy is made up by manufacturing. If we are going to persuade people to buy from us, they need to want to, and we need to give them the right answers to their questions to make them do so.
So well done Heather and Archie. My only question is, what are all the other sections I spoke to doing?
Not a lot by the sound of it.
* It's not a Shakespearean quote, it's the meaning of The Tempest - as long as you don't listen to American academics.

Oh, Please!

OK, I know people probably think of me as a rabid Tory, but I can't have been alone to be appalled at Wright on Newsnight with Paxman last night.
Admittedly he was getting slaughtered, but to try to make Party Political points - and then saying he doesn't want to make them is truly dreadful.
Up to that point I had been thinking that the debate between Wright Pickles and Paxo was sensible and measured ( and I loved Pickles aside: Paxo: You're unusually quiet. Pickles: When I come on this programme I tend to wait until I'm asked a question) - and then Wright starts spouting about Ashcroft and Laidlaw. Paxo quite rightly slapped him down, and Pickles played it brilliantly, not mentioning Party at all, but sticking to the " there must be rules all adhere to" line.
I can't help but think Gordon Brown's inability to see anything except as a chance to score points against the Tories as the real problem we face, not particularly the Credit Crunch. Wright is clearly infected with it, but, interestingly, Alistair Darling seems to have done his best to keep away from it. If Brown really did put country before party we might be out of this a lot quicker.
I received an email from a young friend in Canada today, to whom I had been relating the dire state of UK PLC. His reply? "I'm astonished. We in Canada think of Britain as a strong country with a strong economy and a strong currency. I can't believe how badly your government has handled things."
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings....

Monday, January 26, 2009

The eyebrows have it

The Speccie has a nice piece suggesting that silver hair and dark eyebrows in a Chancellor is a leading indicator of recession.
Loretto is a good school, but it is noted much more for the foppish hairdos of it's boys, rather than intellectual vigour.
So, as a matter of interest which have been the best chancellors and which schools did they go to?
I've had lots of emails telling me its a stupid question as the answer is Geoffrey Howe. What he did, of course, is go against all those 364 economists who said he was ruining the country, and all of whom were proved spectacularly wrong. One of them was, of course, one M.King, he of the BofE Governorship.
Worrying isn't it?

No surprise there, then.

I don't use predictive text, as I have a little qwerty keyboard and I'm technologically illiterate.
So I was somewhat surprised the other day when I was informed that if you try to type in "scots" up will come "pants".
I'm not sure how that comes about, and I don't necessarily agree with it.
However, I am assured that typing "fife" - as in where Gordon Brown comes from - up will come " dire"
Actually, its not " dire" its "died". Same difference.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lies, damned lies and Brown

Fraser Nelson over at the Speccie has a very good " fisking" of the Evan Davis's interview with Brown this morning.
I can no longer actually watch or listen to Brown as I start throwing things at the TV/radio, and Mrs. Lear objects. Mind you, it may be she would rather I seethe and go beserk so I drop dead with apoplectic rage. Throwing things tends to relieve the pressure...
I did manage to read it, largely by skipping Brown's lies, half truths and non-answers, but the thing that struck me most was the point that in the UK, the real problem lies with the over lending of eg 125% of value. As Fraser says, how many Canadian and Spanish Banks have gone bust?Answer: none. But then, I think I'm right in saying that in Spain there is a statutary maximum of 70% loan to value and 75% in Canada. Look at Nationwide - I think the most its ever done is 85% - and funded mostly with deposits. All the Bank of England had to do ( sorry, it doesn't control this anymore) ...all whoever now has responsibility for Bank oversight ( er... er...) had to do was say no mortgages over 100% . Or 90% or whatever. But they didn't, because Brown and the Treasury loved the illusory profits which they could tax and the Stamp duty - which was all borrowed and hence yet another disaster waiting to happen - which it now has.
Don't forget Spain has building companies crashing all around, but not their banks - they never lent too much on an individual property.
Unless I'm much mistaken, the £2.5billion the Royal Bank lost on some random Russian was not even secured against anything - at least not validly - and certainly whatever it was wasn't worth north of £3.5billion. In fact, it was worth zilch.
Middle Ms Lear says that people are less trusting of doing business with big companies, because they think they might fail, whereas the small, family owned or run business has an extremely good motive for keeping going - if it doesn't, the family doesn't eat.
Perhaps its time to start a small, deposits only bank.. I even have a name for it. We could call it a Savings Bank.
I know... The Trustee Savings Bank.....

Awwww Bless

This is right up there on a scale of 1 to 10 as an 11 in the " Awwww Bless" category for Oscar winners.

Khran is under 7 and the FA has banned under 8s playing competitive football. Last year, before the ban, he played aged 7 for the under 9s, was the league's top goal scorer and was generally an all round good egg.

This year, because he is not 8 until April, he has to sit out the games.

When asked why he was so upset, his reply was, " 'Cos my best friend plays for them."

Awwwww Blesss!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


I sometimes pop over to Takis Magazine which has the feel of a proper magazine in many ways and certainly a broad range of articles.Taki himself, half of the famous " High Life/Low Life" duo that included Jeffrey Barnard, posts regularly and his writing always has some merit.
I was taken by this article by one Karen de Coster which finishes as follows:
"For many people, their job is their life because it is something they are “trained” to do. It’s all they have outside of kids, a lawn to cut, and golf on Sundays. For me, my formal education garnered me an established career—a satisfactory and oftentimes challenging occupation that both feeds and funds my passions. If I knew little about the world outside of my job, the one-dimensional life would crush me with boredom and leave me with the life of a trained monkey."
There are many houses I go to where there is no book, no newspaper, no intellectual engagement of any kind, and we as a nation have colluded in the target culture which excludes true understanding and knowledge.
Perhaps the most important part of a University education is the reading around a subject that is done. Today, we can, in many cases, cram or learn by rote what is needed for an A grade, but have neither common-sense nor real understanding.
The result is, I believe, largely to be laid at the door of the present government, which, since 1997, has promulgated the mantra " no one can fail."
Of course they can. And if they do, they should be helped to succeed.
Slightly off subject, the joy on the Little Chef workers' faces as they mastered new skills and saw the results they could achieve made one's heart glow. Jason in particular, who appeared the most unlikely candidate to be able to achieve, made it - and showed his sheer delight.
Surely we should try to do the same for readers, writers and 'rithmeticers.

Popham Little Chef

You probably know that Hesto had a huge success with his re-menued Little Chef in Popham, just off the A303.

Word is the food is simply fantastic, and worth the 500 mile drive for people in Scotland to go there, despite what a Mirror man might say.

Middle Ms. Lear even texted me to ask when we were going.

That may be a relevant question as it is on a 3 month trial to see if it can make a profit - it hadn't after two weeks, but then, the word would take some time to spread.

So - sometime in the future - I will report back.
Youngest Ms Lear wants to come too....


I know this might be a bit, well, nit-picking, but if President Obama had to take the Oath of Office again (NB without hand on Bible) does that mean that his first executive acts ( eg stopping trials at Guantanamo) were ultra vires?
I only arst*, as Bernard Breslaw would have said.
* Attempt at rendering "asked" in BB's voice.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Sex follows the money?

You may have seen various articles over the past few days purporting to "prove" that women have more orgasms with rich men than poor men.
I'm not especially convinced by the arguments, particularly as I received the following email :
" I'm not sure if I believe this.
Either my boyfriend is NOT lying to me ( i.e. he says he is poor) in which case we are proof that it is wrong
Or he IS lying to me , in which case -WOW! I hope he doesn't lose his money"
I think she means she is enjoying it

The Bulldog Spirit

Stephen Fry told a rather nice anecdote on QI this evening.
Apparently during the 50's, when Churchill was Prime Minister, he was woken by his PPS.
" Prime Minister, I'm sorry to waken you, but we have a bit of a scandal brewing"
Fry impersonated Churchill's gruff delivery perfectly.
" What is it?"
Well, Prime Minister, I'm a afraid a Tory MP was caught with a Guardsman in St. James Park by the Police."
Churchill thought for a moment.
" Was it not exceptionally cold last night?"
" Indeed, Prime Minister, it was the coldest February night on record."
Another slight pause.
" Makes one proud to be British."
At which point he turned over and went back to sleep.

Sage advice.

I think I've mentioned this before on here, but many years ago when I did my first deal, my elderly and kindly Bank Manager, after listening to what I had to say ( and no I didn't provide a meaningless cash flow or business plan) said,
" Aye, well, I'll give you the money but remember this: it's not your money, it's not my money, it's not even the Bank's money. It belongs to all the people who deposit money with us, and I'm relying on you to repay them."
If only...

Hesto and Little Chef.

I've been most interested in the programme at 9pm most nights this week on Channel 4 as Heston Blumenthal ( he and Gordon Ramsey are the only 3 star Michelin chefs in the UK - and Gordon has, I think, a total of ten, greedy bugger) tries to turn around Little Chef.
Charles Forte made Little Chef one of the cornerstones of his empire, the cash cow that made everything possible. I always thought Gerry Robinson's taunt that Forte were " Motorway service station operators" in rather poor taste, and certainly not true for the Grosvenor. I was sad to see the Cafe Royal closing. Clearly lots of other people thought so too as the sale in the last few days of the contents ( including the famous boxing ring for under £500) realised prices hugely over the estimates
My memory as a young lad of Little Chef was of an excellent place to stop for breakfast, or a gammon steak, with chips and peas. No fancy stuff. Menu was half a page. And it was cheap.
I think the decline began under Robinson and Charlie Allan, the latter not someone I personally ever rated very highly. All the new fancy stuff did was confuse people about what they were going in for. Interestingly, there was a recent article about London Restaurants trying to be all things to all men, and consequently not doing a very good job of any of it.
Ignoring for a moment that the non-breakfast food nowadays is almost inedible ( and the coffee is certainly undrinkable), more than 50% of what Little Chef serves is still breakfast.
So I was somewhat surprised that Hesto hadn't attacked this area to start with. It would seem to me he was trying to reinvent the wheel, when simply giving it a wipe would help.
Last night he did just that and the sales of breakfast in the trial outlet soared. If he manages to do the same with the rest of the menu, things really will turn around.
I'm not sure who brought Hesto on board to get things moving, but I doubt very much it was the CEO of the company. He appeared to me to have less idea about catering than I do. He had learned all the management speak ( " Blue sky thinking.... pushing the envelope... " yech!) but certainly had no ability to manage the company seating so that it wasn't either broken or the stuffing spilling out.
Little Chef clearly inspires enormous loyalty both in customers and its staff - no one interviewed had been there less than 7 years and many had 13,17 or 25 years under their belts.
People talk of chicken tikka masala being the Britain's favourite dish, but ask any foreigner what meal they remember in Britain and it will always be the Great British Breakfast.
With baked beans of course.

Bad Bank/Good Bank.

Willem Buiter has an exceptionally fine blog post , which fisnished as follows:
"The balance sheets of the British banks are too large and the quality of the assets they hold too uncertain/dodgy, for the British government to be able to continue its current policy of extending its guarantees to ever-growing shares of the banks’ liabilities and assets, without this impairing the solvency of the sovereign. Britain risks becoming a victim of the new inconsistent quartet: (1) a small open economy with (2) a large internationally exposed banking sector, (3) a currency that is not a serious global reserve currency and (4) limited fiscal capacity. It risks a triple crisis and a threefold run: on its banks, on its currency and on its sovereign debt.
Limiting the exposure of the sovereign to what is fiscally sustainable may imply giving up on saving (all of) the banks. If my proposal for institutionally and legally separating existing stocks of assets and liabilities from new flows of credit and lending is acted upon, the flow of new lending and the supply of new credit need not require the survival of all (or indeed any) banks hitherto deemed systemically important.
I look forward to the time when I will be blogging on the best way of privatising the banks again, under new regulatory and governance regimes."
In essence, he argues that the government guarantee for the existing banks is, in effect, counter-productive.The guarantees should only be available for new lending, and the toxic assets should either be sold off for what they will fetch, with a government controlled "bad" bank amongst the bidders, or the banks completely nationalised and the toxic assets transferred for £1. After all, in this latter scenario, it makes no difference to the government's situation. At least at that point the true value of these assets would be established, the losses taken - and quite probably some of the purchasers will made undreamt of fortunes from the toxic and moribund assets.
But the system would be purged, and proper saving & investing, borrowing & lending could start again.
It certainly isn't as yet.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

No words to describe it...

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator "Coffee House" has this to say:.
" I wish I could find a way of getting across, in plain, non-hyperbolic English, the sheer scale of what's going on right now, and what this means to our country's ability to finance itself. I just can't: the size of our problems defies my powers of expression. Journalistic language can't do it justice: we cried doom months ago, and we were right. Crying "double doom" now wont resonate. "
The whole post is worth reading, but what is particularly telling, I think, is the fact that things keep getting worse. In previous downturns ( certainly since WW2) things slowly declined but then levelled off. After a period, things began to improve - and people could see where it was all heading. Now, no one appears to have any idea where we are heading or what to do about it if we did.
Seriously scary.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Continuation of getting exponentially worse...

Alistair Darling's admission today that he actually had no idea how much the present (only up to Round 2) Bank Bailout was going to cost is a staggering admission.
Of course, the reason he has no idea is because the Banks themselves have no real idea either - which is why there is a real problem in the first place.
The Banks have managed to persuade their own Bank Manager, A.Darling Esq, and that nice Mervyn King, that they should be given a blank cheque whilst they work their way through their problems. Forget all the rubbish about "stringent conditions" - that's just so much political hogwash.
I would urge you to go along to your own Bank manager, if you can find one to talk to, and ask for the same indulgence. I doubt he would be in the least amused, but at the very least he would ask what the bottom line is.
If they really don't know themselves, we really are into another dimension.....
At a rough guess the fall today in the value of the shares the government already owns in Banks is of the order of a further £12 billion - but that is only a very rough guess.It could be nearer £20 billion. But then, if you don't know whether the Banks losses are £700 billion, £800 billion, or a £1 trillion, what's a mere £8 billion?
12p? RBS is at 12p? It's quite literally unimaginable.

A Place of your own...

The youngest Ms. Lear was up for the weekend which was most congenial.
At lunch on Sunday, as I reached across to take another grape from the bunch on the table she said:
" I think you should know that now I have my own house I have become particularly picky about not taking individual grapes. You should strip a small branch & bunch from from the main one so that the main bunch always appears tidy."
Shows what having your own space can do for you.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

How to lose £3.6 billion in a nanosecond

Brown's ability to destroy value is, of course,legendary - you only have to look at his perfect timing and exceptionally brilliant execution of the sale of a large chunk of Britain's gold.
But the probability of the £5 billion of RBS preference shares being transformed into £1.4 billion of equity tomorrow is the fastest loss of £3.6billion imaginable - and even the income is gone and it will be dividends the Treasury gets - but not for a long time.
This transaction alone represents a loss ( and of real cash) of £600 or so for every man woman and child in the UK.
The only plus point is it saves RBS about £600 million in interest a year.
But then, that's a drop in the ocean.

Right Queer

I'm always fascinated by language.
Take the word gay. Nowadays it has two meanings in general use. One is for people of a homosexual persuasion, the other is used where something is a bit rubbish - as in his clothes were gay.
But think back a bit.
Not so many years ago, a gay person was described as a queer. And you might reasonably say you were feeling a bit queer, or your typewriter was acting queer, where the meaning was that you were feeling rubbish and your typewriter was rubbish, or strange.
So the meaning of gay has taken the same sense as the original term for, well, queer .

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I'm fed up telling you...

Liam Halligan, he of the Sunday Telegraph, has an insightful article about a) Banks telling the truth b) the non- operation of the present bail-outs c) what needs to happen.
This isn't about to go away. Someone, somewhere, needs to take a grip of it, which means ALL the banks writing off ALL the problem loans. Which will mean some of them going bust.
It's going to be very painful.

It would make a cat laugh...

You know how the BBC has been doing "Beat the Bailiffs" and all sorts of beat the credit crunch stuff fronted by Lorne Spicer?
Well she has filed for bankruptcy.

Saving is the New Black

Peter Schiff on Taki's Blog has a basis for return to sound money. Iain Dale reported that, though he didn't ask Mrs.T what she would do in the present situation, he says he knew what she would say - "Return to sound money, dear." Schiff concludes with:

"One of the reasons we are in such dire straits is that consumers have already borrowed and spent too much. Many did so based on the false belief that ever-appreciating real estate would ultimately provide the means to repay their debts and finance their lifestyles. Now that reality has finally set in, why should the spending spree continue? The fact that a GDP comprised of 70 percent of consumption is currently contracting should not surprise anyone. In fact, such a contraction is long overdue and the government should not do anything to interfere.
In trying to perpetuate the illusion, the government wants to revive the spending spree that has led us to this disaster. But how can such actions possibly help? How will more debt improve the economy? Wouldn’t our circumstances be vastly improved if we paid off some of our debts and replenished our savings? Wouldn’t we be in better shape if instead of buying more stuff we concentrated on producing it?
The unpleasant reality is that years of bad monetary and fiscal policy have over encumbered our economy with debt and undermined our industrial capacity. The sooner we can begin to repair the damages, the sooner we can right the ship. If instead we merely administer more of the same, the ship will sink in a sea of inflation."
This is not only in relation to consumers, it's also in relation to government.
He is writing about America, but exactly the same applies here - quite possibly more so.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


Guido refers to him as the Prime Mentalist, so this site amused me more than somewhat....

"Amaze your Group with the Hilarious Presentations of the Master Hypnotist!!! Always Fun, Always Clean! For any size Group! "

" Fire up Your Staff and teach them the tools needed to improve their performance!"

"The Gambling Expert, he can WOW Your Group with a Masterful Demonstration of the Winning Wiles of the Charming Card Cheat."

Bit too close to the truth don't you think?

Brown " Won't hesitate to do more to revive lending.."

I can only assume the reason the markets are tanking is because Brown keeps interfering....
Guido has another nice piece on the curse of Jonah

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Labour's not Working - and even their aspirations aren't working

So the fall in the pound would help exports would it? Not according to official statistics it won't.
What this shower of economically illiterate novices failed to understand was that we don't make enough anymore to be able to export more.
Our imports are up 6% and exports only up 2% leading to the biggest ever gap. And all the celebrity hairdressing and financial services in the world will not bridge it.
Only the re-balancing of the budget and a sharp drop in imports of the trash people buy will get us out of this.
That means saving. Brian Boru takes me to task for repeating this mantra, but I promise you, it really is the only way. Think about it for a minute. What's the cheapest finance the Banks have? Answer, your and mine current accounts ( and savings accounts now, too) The more there is in these, the lower the average cost of funds to the Banks. The lower the average cost, the lower the rate they have to charge to lend money. The more they lend money, the more the multiplier will start to expand again ( down from about 13 to about 4 as far as I can see at the moment.)
So start putting that cash aside for a rainy day. It looks as if the savings ratio, which had fallen to zero, was 1.8% in November. Not much, but I suspect we will soon see this up around the 4/5% mark, which will be when things start to improve again - round about the summer.
Peter Oborne has an excellent critique of Brown et al today. The most startling point is there is not one member of the Cabinet who has ever occupied a wealth creating job. Mind you, that's obvious from their actions.
Various people have been suggesting this article is a travesty, as Jacqui Smith was a teacher and Alan Johnson a postman. Er, how exactly are these wealth creating? Teaching a young person is worthy, delivering letters is useful, but neither action creates wealth. See Iain Dale below ( hyperlink not working)
How Do You Define 'Wealth Creating'?
Iain Dale 3:47 PM
James Forsyth has kicked up a right old storm on Spectator Coffee House with a post highlightling Peter Oborne's assertion in the Mail this morning that not a single member of the Cabinet has ever occupied a wealth creating job. I often use the statistic that only five out of 350 Labour MPs has ever run a business.James's post has prompted a furious reaction in the comments. Our old friend David Boothroyd says...
How exactly do you define "wealth-creating job"? Jacqui Smith was a teacher and economics lecturer, which gave other people skills to create wealth. Alan Johnson was a postman, delivering mail to business and thereby helping them create wealth. David Cameron worked as a political adviser and head of PR for a TV firm - is that wealth-creating? Even if it is I would have thought being a teacher in a comprehensive school provides more benefit for society.Tiberous puts the counter view...
Wealth creators are those who take business risk with their own assets. They are people who indeed do have to meet a payroll. There would be no public sector without private sector taxes. In the generally understood terminology, then, the public sector is non-productive and does not create wealth. It is designed to serve those who do, but latterly has assumed a self-importance and self-justification which is grotesque, none more so than at the BBC. The humility of public service of yesteryear has been taken hostage.If we go by the Adam Smith definition of wealth creation, as the combination of materials, labour, land, and technology in such a way as to capture a profit (excess above the cost of production), then Oborne and Tiberius are certainly right. I would add a further element - risk. How many politicians have risked their own money in a business investment? How many politicians have ever directly employed other people in their own companies?Not many, I suspect.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Exponentially worse in Tchermany..

Actually, it's not. Mr. Fact, that repository of all knowledge, has emailed me the following about one of the States of Germany - Bad Wurrtemburg.
It only has just under 11million inhabitants, but has a GDP of Eur 330billion plus ( he mentions the figures are a year or so out of date). So with about 15% of UK population they produce about 23% of our equivalent GDP.
Secondly, their exports ( meaning out of Germany) just of manufactured goods stand at Eur 125 billion. Remember this is just one of Germany's states. The UKs total exports are about Eur 240 billion.
So one German State with about 15% of UK population produces a higher GDP than the figure for UK exports in total; and exports in manufactured goods about half what the UK exports in total.Oh, and they have a State budget surplus and obviously a balance of payments surplus.
And the UK is uniquelly well placed to weather the downturn?
Don't make me laugh.

Divorce, 2009 Style

I nearly had hysterics yesterday when I read you can now download divorce papers off the internet. There's more than one site, but I laughed long and hard at the thought that years of co-habitation can now be brushed aside with a few strokes of the keyboard.
Whilst Madge and Guy may be bickering about £100million or so, most of us would, I think, be arguing about who gets to take on the debt.
I suppose we were all brought up to think that marriage was THE answer - especially girls of my generation. Even calling them girls dates me.I'm quite certain lots of them have led pretty miserable lives as a result.
I'm quite sure, though, that we should look for happiness ( I've posted about this before) so I was interested to read that instead of happiness, we should be looking for BLISS.
It stands fo:
Body-based pleasure
Can't see the difference myself....

House Building

I had a most interesting talk this morning with a builder of houses.
He felt that the vulture funds only had about 6 months to get their money invested, as, since the big boys had muddled through Christmas, things in the New Year had stabilised somewhat.
The problem is still the Banks not lending, but it would appear if you have a good deposit, things are not too bad. Of course, if the price has come down from £200,000 to £145,000, a 25% deposit drops from £50,000 to just £36,250 - still a lot but much more manageable. Arguably, you shouldn't be trying to buy a house unless you have that kind of cash available - and on the remaining £108,000 you only need a salary of about £30,000 to have a proper old fashioned capital and interest mortgage.
That's actually part of the problem with the present position - the interest only mortgages meant no one was paying anything back to the Banks and Building Societies, and that capital element was always a large part of what was re-lent.
So you heard it hear first - the construction industry has another 6 -9 months maximum before it improves somewhat.
Or we're all doomed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Profound insight... well an Insight anyway.

A profound insight came to me as I was walking the Dog in the lashing rain and howling gale this morning.
As I walked towards the park, umbrella well down in front of me, I kept putting it up to see if anyone was walking towards me. Naturally, given the weather, no one was.
Then on the way back I held the umbrella behind me to stop the driving rain hitting my back. In other words, I could see what was coming towards me without having to raise or lower the umbrella.
It struck me that this is precisely what happens in markets, in crowds and in business. One lot are walking into the wind and rain, the other lot are walking with them. Some are selling, some are buying.
There are all sorts of books about " The Madness of Crowds" and how " The Wisdom of Crowds" is better than a panel of experts - and so it proves with my insight. Those walking with the wind and rain have a responsibility to avoid those walking into them.
At the moment we have two opposing views in this country, the Labour view being to borrow more, spend more, and to this end are berating the banks for not handing out more, never mind the consequences and the potential losses.
The opposite is what I will refer to as the Conservative view which is the direct opposite - save more.
Unfortunately, as this government does not have and never has had the first inkling about economics, markets, profit or anything else, including principles, we are left with a position where the banks are being forced to run into the wind and rain despite the damage this will do to them.
We, as responsible citizens, should be avoiding them.
As I keep saying, yes its painful, yes its going to be some time before things improve, but no we cannot continue to live as we have - and the banks certainly can't afford to lend as they did, with too much and incorrectly priced risk and too little profit. You may say what about all the bonuses and the huge profits the banks have wracked up over the past few years. My reply would be that the declared profits have all been completely false - the first whiff of problems and the entire banking industry has been nearly wiped out, so they not only had the wrong pricing, they didn't even put aside any reserves against future losses. More likely, the tax authorities wanted them not to put money aside as it meant the banks had to pay higher taxes, and Brown for one welcomed this with open arms and promptly did the fiscal equivalent of tearing the notes up and throwing them away.
So my insight today is that it is we the citizens ( perhaps classified in general as " The poor Bloody Infantry) who must get the world out of it's mess. Our instincts are to be frugal, to save, to pass something on to future generations.
Government should encourage these qualities.
I won't go on about Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley, apart from saying that this clueless government has nationalised them in such a way that 25% of the total UK lending for property that they did in the past year or so has been completely wiped out. Yes they were lending imprudently, but at least they were lending. Now all that's happening is they are getting rid of good borrowers and are left with the bad ones. They may be paying back the Treasury their loans, but in the end the equity the government has put into them will be wiped out - and more.
See the excellent Tory poster here

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Trashing an inheritance

There's a great quote by Ian Cowie in the "Your Money" section of the Daily telegraph today.
The whole article is worth reading, but the stand-out sentence encapsulates all that has gone wrong with what used to be GREAT Britain.
Cowie has written " It took many centuries for Rome to turn into Italy, but little more than a decade for the United Kingdom to turn into Little Britain"
Strangely this coincides with the period that the present government ( OK I know it wasn't led by Brown all the time) has been in power. I'm reminded of the old joke, how to make a small fortune. Answer: start with a big one.
Blair and Brown inherited a Great Britain.
But LITTLE Britain we have most definitely become.

Friday, January 09, 2009

..Exponentially worse..

"In Germany, Europe's largest economy and a manufacturing powerhouse,industrial output slumped 10 percent on the year, its fastest pace of decline since 1993. In France, it fell a record 9 percent. And in Spain, by 15.1percent. "
If you are not worried yet, you ought to be. The difference is Germany has a current account surplus.
Read the whole article here.

How to kill a country....

The Speccie Coffee House has an article about Ann Rand and Atlas Shrugged. I can't say I either enjoyed or liked the book - her style is too verbose and dull to make it an enjoyable read in itself.
The posit is that a depression forces the US Government to take over swathes of industry and as a result of bureaucracies running the companies they eventually die.
You might notice some similarities to what's happening today, and the total control exercised by Communist governments over their now defunct industries.
The problem is - as I have long argued - Economics answers everything.
That is why it's so wrong that there have been the bailouts in the way they have been promulgated. Even if every bank went bust, new ones would very rapidly spring up. Yes it would be horrific for a period, but it would be all right afterwards. What we have now will be a lingering death.
If you have no incentive to do anything other than cover your backside, tick boxes, and serve your time, you end up with cases like Baby P - every box, every avenue was legalistically covered, yet the baby died horrifically.
So lets hear it for Entrepreneurship and risk taking. Even on a small scale it will make the world go round.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

That German Hyperinflation...

Mr. Fact is of course the fount of all knowledge. He contacted me after my last blog about Mugabi-isation and the German experience of the 20's.
This is what he said:The Germans are terrified of hyperinflation - they all have it drummed into them at school that if you have hyperinflation, before long some Austrian's running your country and you end up freezing to death in Stalingrad.
In 1923 the central bank was employing 132 private firms with 1723 printing machines to print cash 24 hours a day. The quote I love is that at the end of the day,when the costs were all added up it cost (in Marks) 32,776,899,763,734,490,417 AND (just to prove German bureaucracy was alive and well) 5 Pfennigs.
That's nearly 33 Million Trillion.When a wheelbarrow load of useless paper would only buy a loaf, they still managed to track that 5 Pfennigs - wonderful.
Just to be clear, that's what it cost to print the money - not the value of what was printed. Think about it....

Are property and sex getting better?

We will see if we get closer to ZIRP this afternoon, but the suggestion that "Quantitative easing" may be on the cards i.e. giving us cash in the form of notes shows just how dire things really are.Mugabe is the latest genius to try this, and, although there have been several other imitators over the years, the great German inflation in the '20s remains so seared into the Volk that it's unlikely they will ever stray from financial orthodoxy again.Of course the " Geschaftswunder " of the '60s and '70s was predicated on a 2% growth in monetary aggregates and SAVINGS. Arguably, this was such a successful period that it's benefits are still being felt today, rather as the Thatcher & Major periods gave Brown his lucky streak, according to Tony Blair.
Our feckless leaders, of course, are working in exactly the opposite direction, which means in the end there won't be an early resolution.
There's a straw in the wind though. Property surveyors would appear to have started the year off well, with more instructions and some dead deals being revived. I'm not sure if this is an "early adopter" sign ( commentators have suggested this spring/summer will represent the start of the bottoming out) or just the post Christmas rush. No one ever does anything in December.
Fingers crossed.
A friend confided in me that his girlfriend had texted him as follows:
" xercising on crosstrainer to get fit for hoi sex"
Intrigued, he enquiried if this had anything to do with hoi sin sauce - which he thought might be a) messy and b) interesting.
He was disappointed to learn it was a misspelling, and was meant to be HOL as in holiday sex.
As he said, he sincerely hoped he wouldn't have to wait that long....

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Nice Try

Very nice try. Just give them your address, credit card and CVV and bingo! I can promise you won't get that £99.23. Note the ? before it.

After the last annual calculations of your fiscal activity we have determined thatyou are eligible to receive a tax refund of ? 99.23.Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 3-6 days in order toprocess it.A refund can be delayed for a variety of reasons.For example submitting invalid records or applying after the deadline.To access the form for your tax refund, please Click here
Best Regards, HM Revenue & Customs©
Copyright 2009,
HM Revenue & Customs UK All rights reserved.TAX REFUND ID: A29R113

This is going to get exponentially worse..

What would you say is the most efficient manufacturing industry in Britain?
You might be astonished to learn it is the car industry, which, post the demise of British Leyland ( and in truth before as well) has surpassed the expectations of it's mostly Japanese masters.
Now a little bird tells me things are so bad worldwide that even these most efficient of plants ( Honda, Nissan,Toyota) are getting rid of contractors that cost them nothing to get rid off and the graduate trainees, even from 2 years ago, have their heads on the chopping block. This from companies that pride themselves on retaining loyal staff and "working through" problems.
I suppose drops of 35-40% in sales is enough to ruin any business plan ( I always liked the projections people do showing 10% variation; if it works it will be much better than 10% UP, if it doesn't it will be bust.)
Nissan has a research facility near Milton Keynes with 600 odd people working on projects.
The word has gone out from HR that on 19th January there is to be a big meeting in Japan to decide on worldwide cutbacks. Nissan currently has 2 advance projects on the go, one in UK and one in Japan. One or other will get the chop.
I'm not sure why they are having the meeting - I can tell you now which one will go.
Told you it would get worse

The Truth, the whole Truth...

I just love this from Dizzy.
And your Granny always told you honesty was the best policy....

Monday, January 05, 2009

A Condom! A Condom! My Kingdom for a Condom!*

In case you missed it, today was the mooted day for Prince Albert of Monaco to announce his engagement to Charlene Wittstock.
It was put off because of the general world economic collapse - it was thought inappropriate that such an announcement should be made at that time. So December 31st was suggested... or 5th. January.
Albert and his family was cursed many years ago by a witch who said that they would never have happy marriages, which has been largely true. He has children ( how? do Royals never use condoms?) but none will inherit.
The assumption would be that to produce a legitimate heir is pretty important to him, but I suspect he is putting off the evil day which may end his happiness.
It would be rather fun though, wouldn't it? I doubt William and Kate will be making any announcements soon.
* This is the second Shakespearean quote of the day - somewhat bastardised

..The Yellow Leaf..*

So it's back to work this morning for lots of people, and anything more depressing would be hard to find.
Not only will the date on which we start to keep some of our money be further away ( Last year it was, I think,towards the end of June - it'll be well into July this year) but everyone you speak to was either ill over the festive ( Ha!) period or is trying to borrow money from you.
Perhaps now is a time to rethink one's life. Out with the 9 to 5, in with the Yoga teacher, the second hand book dealer, the Gypsy rover, or the writer, whatever.
People talk of women undergoing the " change", I'm sure we all need change to develop and grow.
I was at a dinner party recently where the talk was all entirely banal, until one of the other men present started quoting poetry - and French poetry at that. I wish I could say it lit up the party. Unfortunately, most of the people there couldn't speak French, didn't understand poetry or, in some cases, read more than the headlines in the local paper - and the deaths' column of course. Don't want to miss a good feed do we?
Anyway, the French speaker and I were able to have a jolly conversation, out of which came the view that he wouldn't be the person he was had he not done an Open University course some years ago, which had opened his eyes to poetry for the first time.
Not too sure what I shall be doing to branch off in a new direction. Perhaps work as an elderly rent collector? Oh, yes, I'm doing that already....
* In case you don't know this is a Shakespearean quote .Macbeth Act 5, scene 3, lines 22-23. But then, maybe this might set you on a new path.....

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Another salutary tale

On 30th. December, whilst checking her account, a friend discovered her £20,000 overdraft had been withdrawn without any notice.
She had banked with Barclay's ( BARCLAY'S! They're the best off probably) for 40 years, had had the overdraft for several years ( it's called their Evergreen I believe) and it had completely disappeared from one day to the next.
Her mortgage payment was due out on 31st. She had no other immediately available cash. She finally managed to speak to someone ( moral: owe the banks at least £100,000 otherwise no-one will talk to you) who said that in the circumstances, the £19 k could stand for two months - but there would be a fee of £285 and the interest rate would be er 6% over base.Thereafter it would drop to £15000 for 12 months - with a fee of £1000.
So she has gone from no fees and 1.5% over base in one day to effectively £1285 in fees and a more than tripling of the rate she has to pay.
Now ignoring the rights and wrongs of Banks pulling existing deals ( and it's happening hundreds if not thousands of times every day) the point here is that on her overdraft, the Bank has gone from losing about 0.5% on the money it lends her i.e. about £100 pa to making a profit of £2000 or so - which ends up as a rather nice 15% gross return.Which just about gives them a profit.They would, of course, prefer to change her into a term loan which would give them about 18% - and mean that the cash in the now-in-credit current account was effectively being lent back to her....
The Banks have to do this. They cannot lend money for no return, and until this Government gets that idea into their thick skulls there won't be any easing of the credit crisis.
The first recapitalisation and Bank of England lending to the Banks is set at far too high an interest level. The Fed in America has the right idea. Give the Banks free money and they will soon enough get it out to the punters. Arguably this is already happening - and the near 40% drop in house prices there is beginning to attract back buyers, albeit slowly.
So all the talk of the second lot of cash going to the Banks will come to nothing if Brown and Darling don't get it - THE BANKS HAVE TO MAKE MONEY.
The alternative, of course is total nationalisation of the entire banking system and simply giving anyone money and writing off the losses - after all this government believes in the rich paying for the poor ( er, not too sure about that - I suspect the rich and their companies will emigrate). But the conditions that have been attached to the Phase 1 bailout clearly show the government not only does not know the first thing about money, finance,business or even human nature, it is stuck in it's Leftist control dogma - which got us here in the first place.
I have a task for the new Dr. Who...... and this is him

Friday, January 02, 2009

The Greatest issue facing our Security Forces...

We were down in the Cotswold's over New year, in the general vicinity of that bastion of our defence, GCHQ.
You might think that their major concern was Iran, the Taliban, a resurgent Russia, or even Pakistan, but I can assure you that none of the staff are in the least interested in these areas of concern.
No. The battles and arguments that are waged daily along the endless corridors are to do with parking on the site.
I don't know the absolute numbers ( even this is a State Secret) but at a guess there is a shortfall of about 40% in the number of spaces required.
All sorts of schemes have been tried. £400 if you don't bring your car. This should result in car sharing. All that happens is they take the cash and still bring the car.
£x if you bicycle. See above.
Only allowed to bring the car in 4 days out of 5. They have 8 ( yes 8) people whose SOLE responsibility is to monitor this. And as there are lots of husbands and wives who work together in GCHQ ( after all, how do you meet anyone else if you are a spy? And what would you talk about at home?) by juggling their 2 cars they manage to bring in at least one car every day - and some days two.
I am assured the country's finest brains are working on a new scheme which will create multi-storey car parks.
About a mile from the site and have to have buses to bring people in who are below a certain grade.
Oh, and as the government is promoting travel by bus, they just might put buses on that actually go to the site, as opposed to none which has been the case since it first opened.
Amongst the many fine people we met was an elderly lady, long since retired from being a spy. She had been involved in WW2 with many operations, and I asked her what she felt her main contribution to the war against Hitler had been.
" Well, " she said, " I suppose I would have to say losing my virginity."