Diamond Is Not Forever

Don’t buy a newspaper this morning – it’s already out of date with the musical chairs:

“Barclays today announces the resignation of Bob Diamond as Chief Executive and a Director of Barclays with immediate effect. Marcus Agius will become full-time Chairman and will lead the search for a new Chief Executive. Marcus will chair the Barclays Executive Committee pending the appointment of a new Chief Executive and he will be supported in discharging these responsibilities by Sir Michael Rake, Deputy Chairman.

The search for a new Chief Executive will commence immediately and will consider both internal and external candidates. The businesses will continue to be managed by the existing leadership teams.

Bob Diamond said “I joined Barclays 16 years ago because I saw an opportunity to build a world class investment banking business. Since then, I have had the privilege of working with some of the most talented, client-focused and diligent people that I have ever come across. We built world class businesses together and added our own distinctive chapter to the long and proud history of Barclays. My motivation has always been to do what I believed to be in the best interests of Barclays. No decision over that period was as hard as the one that I make now to stand down as Chief Executive. The external pressure placed on Barclays has reached a level that risks damaging the franchise – I cannot let that happen.”

Diamond has nothing to lose now at tomorrow’s Treasury Select Committee appearance. He’s unlikely to go out quietly…

FSA's Barclays Report:Staff Believed Bank of England Sanctioned LIBOR Scam

This is from page 36 of the FSA Notice on the Barclays LIBOR fixing scam:

Robert Peston has identified the senior individual at Barclays to be Bob Diamond and his interlocutor to be Paul Tucker, deputy governor of the Bank of England. If it turns out that, as Guido suspects, the Old Lady was encouraging Barclays to downplay its LIBOR funding costs to help maintain calm, we have a right old regulatory pickle. The Bank was in all likelihood encouraging Barclays to break the rules for the greater good of the City of London…

Hat-tip: Jim Pickard

GDP Growth Was Higher in the 1930s

On the Today programme yesterday morning Ed Balls claimed Osborne has made a giant mistake and cuts in public spending are the same mistake made by Snowden in the 1930s. Balls is wrong, as a recent pamphlet from the Centre for Policy Studies by George Trefgarne shows. After the 1929-31 Wall Street Crash the British economy recovered rapidly in the 1930s:

If only we currently had a growth rate like they averaged in the thirties…

Grexit Trading

For a couple of years Guido used to report his financial market trading in a box in the blog’s right hand column. It was popular with a few readers, nowadays Guido trades occasionally and just tweets about it. Readers still ask how the market trading is going, the above chart shows how it has been going this year so far, each data point is a closed trade. For the first couple of months Guido was long and wrong on gold, which hurts when you are over-leveraged. Since March Guido has been trying to sell a break in the Euro, as the chart shows it wasn’t really going anywhere until a couple of weeks ago when it dipped below 1.30 to the US dollar before hitting new lows for the year yesterday. Making back all losses for the year and some…

The CityAm Active Trader conference saw 650 traders gathered in the City. Guido spoke to them about the pros and cons of trading on the back of your political analysis. If you are interested in that kind of thing (and why the tooth fairy made 7 year-old Miss Fawkes cry) the speaking notes are here. Just don’t tell Mrs Fawkes…

Alexis Tsipras, leftist leader of Greece’s Syriza party, threatens…

“If they proceed with unilateral action on their side, in other words they cut off our funding, then we will be forced to stop paying our creditors, to go to a suspension in payments to our creditors.”

Greek Money-Go-Round

The Eurozone political class are desperate to keep the show on the road and admittedly they have managed to do so for longer than many, including Guido, expected. Nothing has so far stopped them in their determination; not economic logic, democratic votes nor civil unrest.

Today Eurozone governments are sending €4.2 billion to Greece to enable it to repay the European Central Bank €3.3 billion for bonds maturing a week on Friday. They are repaying themselves with their own coin.

The Greeks will never repay all the loans, they mostly voted for parties who explicitly reject the bailout deal because the voters realise it is not Greece that is being bailed out. The European banking system and the banks that lent money to Greece is being bailed out. The sooner Greece exits the euro the sooner the money-go-round ends and reality hits the Eurozone.

Left-Wing Hollande Would Trigger €urogeddon

Guido shorted €uros last night as soon as the Kiwis got to their desks and the currency markets opened. French Socialist Francois Hollande looks set to become President of France and the Dutch government has fallen apart. International investors are not going to look at that kindly, Guido also has a sense that the election of a left-wing president in France who actually implements a left-wing agenda would frighten the bond markets. Hollande will probably tack to the centre once in office, he is after all only a politician making election promises. If however he sticks to the left-wing agenda that his rhetoric promises, the big macro-hedge funds will take the view that French bonds can join the PIIGS (Portugese, Irish, Italian and Spanish bonds) on the sell list. In government Hollande has to choose between his rhetoric and the reality of the bond markets.

The ECB has already dangerously leveraged up support for the PIIGs via Long Term Refinancing Operations (LTRO). Leveraging up the ECB’s capital base has allowed it to put nearly €1 trillion of PIIG sovereign debt on its books, at a massive leverage ratio of nearly 40 to 1. If the ECB were a marked-to-market hedge fund instead of a Central Bank we would say it was investing recklessly, a mere 2.5% market move against it would wipe out all of its capital. The market doesn’t move it against it because it massively intervenes to support its own position.

If however the German Bundesbank decides that the ECB can’t go on literally doubling the chips on the table – up 106% since last year – the €uro as is could be too big to save. That is why all Osborne’s Treasury’s protestations about the IMF always getting its money back count for little. The US and China want to see Germany bet everything on the €uro before they join the rescue party. German politicians – including those of the left-of-centre SPD – expect Hollande to govern from the centre whatever he says on the hustings. British left-wingers hoping for a left-wing surge on the continent sparked by Hollande should be careful what they wish for, it would trigger the end of the €uro. If Hollande abandoned Sarkozy’s deficit reduction programme Germany would probably seek alternative arrangements – a hard-€uro Fiscal Union made up of Northern Europeans who run their affairs like the Germans and a looser soft-€uro of Southern Europeans who overspend. The dream of a united continent of Europe with one currency would be over…

Irish Taxpayer Sacrificed to Prop Up Eurozone Banks German ECB Board Member Speaks Truth ECB Press Office Erases Remarks from Transcript

On Thursday Dublin hosted a speech by Jörg Asmussen, a member of the Executive Board of the ECB, which in monetary and fiscal terms is now effectively the ruling neo-colonial power in Ireland, with German financial ‘advisers’ having been present in the Irish treasury for four years. Herr Asmussen was until January the advisers’ boss as State Secretary at the German Finance Ministry, responsible for Fiscal and Macroeconomic Affairs, Financial Markets and European Policy. When he speaks the Irish political and financial elite listen.

What they heard him tell them in a speech to the IIEA think-tank was a technocratic “steady as she goes”. Praising first the painful in the short-term reductions in state spending (10% cut in 2011) and the consequent expansionary fiscal contraction which has seen economic growth return and the trade deficit closed. Asmussen then spent a lot of time justifying why Irish taxpayers will have to bailout Anglo-Irish Bank bondholders for decades. The need for that long-term pain is not credible. 

Guido has long argued that the bailout of Anglo-Irish Bank was done to protect the investments of German banks (see Is the ECB Forcing Ireland to Protect German Investments? October 2010, Feck Off Euro-Socialists November 2010).

In a crucial section of his speech (audio at 27 mins 30 secs) Herr Asmussen says:

“The decisions concerning the repayment of bondholders in the former Anglo Irish Bank have been a source of controversy, decisions taken by the Irish authorities such as these are not lightly taken and the consequences of subsequent actions are weighted carefully, it is true that the ECB viewed it as the least damaging cost to fully honour the outstanding senior debt of Anglo however unpopular that may now seem, the assessment was made at a time of extraordinary stress in financial markets and great uncertainty, and protecting the hard won gains and credibility from the early successes in 2011 was also a key consideration and the main reasoning was to ensure that no negative spillover effects would be created to other Irish banks or to banks in other European Countries.”

Note that last line emphasised in bold. In October 2010, days after the then Irish finance minister refused in parliament to name Anglo-Irish bondholders, Guido revealed the bondholders list in a story that was followed up worldwide. German institutions figured prominently.

It is, as Herr Asmussen says, a matter of great controversy in Ireland that future generations of taxpayers have been sacrificed on the altar of the Euro to protect German banks. Could that be why the official transcript of the speech erases his candid admission?

“… Protecting the hard-won gains and credibility from the early successes in 2011 was also a key consideration, to ensure no negative effects spilled-over to other Irish banks.”

The shameful truth is that Irish politicians of all parties have gone along with the Bundesbank / ECB’s efforts to prop up their banks and the Euro project at the expense of their own people’s interests. Another small nation on Europe’s periphery – Iceland – let its banks default and has undergone an awesome recovery. Ireland got it from the horse’s mouth on Thursday, the ongoing bailout pain is for the greater good of other banks in Europe.

Hat-tip:  SpreadBetting.com via Declan Ganley

Osborne Biggest Loser in Budget

Osborne’s budget has gone down like a bucket of sick on the front-pages this morning. As long as we have flat-lining growth and a failure of political will to tackle spending, all fiscally-neutral budgets will be like this, identifiable ‘losers’ will out-number identifiable ‘winners’. The losers this time are those who were prudent enough to save for their retirement. The so-called lucky generation of baby boomers who had a working life in a long term growing economy and an overly generous welfare state which has now impoverished their children and grand-children. Some might spin this as a bit of inter-generational payback, others as an unjust punishment of those who saved for their retirement. Pensioners have a propensity to be voters…

Osborne is spending more than Brown, borrowing more than Brown and taxing more than Brown. The official numbers revealed yesterday show that spending is still rising in real terms, there is no hope of for an “expansionary fiscal contraction” if there is no fiscal contracti0n. The national debt is still rising. The coalition government’s self-defined primary mission, to close the deficit by the next election, is on course for failure. As long as this obsession with fiscal neutrality and timidity towards cutting spending continues the tax burden will not be reduced, the debt will not be reduced and growth will flat-line. Fiscally neutrality is just another phrase for tinkering with the tax burden.

The bond markets already know the government is going to miss the deficit target. All the fast growing economies in Asia and the Americas have lower tax economies than the UK and Europe. A dash for growth stimulated by across the board tax cuts will not as Osborne fears be punished by the bond markets, that is a fundamental mis-reading of bond market mentality. Osborne knows bond markets think long term, that is why the Treasury is contemplating issuing 100 year bonds. Bond traders understand that broad tax cuts are a real stimulus that will lead to a more dynamic growing economy which will reap more tax revenues long term. Why are we waiting?

Budget Bingo

Click the above to download the PDF with hyperlinks. Rules are simple: choose one phrase, policy or scenario from each row, so eight overall. Listen out during the Chancellor’s statement, first to six wins. Don’t forget to shout “Budget Bingo”!

Better Late Than Never

Budget purdah aside, the Guardian got the leak that everyone was chasing. Patrick Wintour reports:

“The chancellor has, sources say, been intellectually persuaded of the case for a cut in the top rate, a move that will endear him to the Tory right.”

Given that this sounds like a recent conversion to basic economic principles, Guido wouldn’t be so sure about the word “endearing”. Having got in touch with Team Ed this morning, they are yet to confirm or deny that Labour would reinstate the rate, on the off chance he ever ended up in power that is.

Tricky one for him…

Ed Balls Calls for Tax Cuts to Boost Growth from Zero

Ed Balls was on the Marr show this morning and also has an article in the Sunday Times ahead of the budget, advocating tax cuts to boost growth. He repeats his long-standing call for a reversal of the consumer whacking VAT hike and comes over like a born-again Nigel Lawson in his article:

…cut the basic rate of income tax by 3p for a year. Or raise the income tax personal allowance to more than £10,000… It would be better to cut VAT now — it’s fairer and quicker and would help pensioners and others who don’t pay income tax. But any substantial tax cuts to help households and stimulate the economy would be better than doing nothing.

Tax cuts won’t scare international bond markets, even the austerity friendly IMF is advocating a VAT cut for Britain, government gilts are propped up by QE (for now) so the issue of bond market vigilantism doesn’t arise.

It was a mistake to hike VAT and it is a strategic error to burden industry with crushingly high green taxes and penal marginal income tax rates of over 50% discouraging entrepreneurs from coming to invest in Britain. If the government is going to miss the deficit target, and it is, miss it because the government slashed taxes to grow the economy. The international bond markets will forgive a finance minister with a growing economy who misses his deficit target, they won’t forgive a finance minister with a contracting economy in any circumstances. Chancellor Zero knows that with no growth there is no hope for the deficit.

Moodys tell us what could move the rating down…

“… weak growth in Europe — and reduced political commitment to fiscal consolidation, including discretionary fiscal loosening…”

Zero GDP Growth Has Zero To Do With €urozone

Last week’s shrinking GDP figures were spun by George Osborne as due to the crisis in the €urozone. The decline in GDP could hardly be blamed on the US market which is picking up and growing at a respectable 2.8% last quarter, nor on Asian markets where China grew at an annualised 8.9% and India at 7.8%.

Is the decline in UK GDP really, as George Osborne implies, down to economic trade with the crisis ridden continent falling? The answer is no.

UK exports to €urozone states actually rose a healthy 11.3% last year:

It is a myth that the decline in GDP has anything to do with the €uro-crisis leading to a decline in exports to the €urozone. The barriers to growth are a domestic problem… 

Chancellor Zero

Even if the GDP numbers are not entirely unexpected, they are still a failure, a failure to grow the economy. The deficit can only be paid down if the economy grows, we can’t borrow our way out of a debt crisis. It is time for a supply-side revolution, why is the government implementing a policy of selected regional enterprise zones, why not make the whole economy an enterprise zone? It was a mistake to hike VAT and it is a strategic error to burden industry with crushingly high green taxes and penal marginal income tax rates of over 50% discourage entrepreneurs from coming to invest in Britain.

If the government is going to miss the deficit target, and it is, miss it because the government slashed taxes to grow the economy. The international bond markets will forgive a finance minister with a growing economy who misses his deficit target, they won’t forgive a finance minister with a contracting economy in any circumstances. Chancellor Zero knows that with no growth there is no hope for the deficit.

Hello 2012

As is traditional during the New Year low in news flow pundits are expected to predict the future. Recently Guido has been veering between pessimistic and apocalyptic on the economy. Not quite as apocalyptic as expecting  the world to end on December 21, 2012 as the Mayan calendar comes to an end and the winter solar solstice sees the alignment of the sun with the Milky Way to form a galactic equinox. Am betting that doesn’t mean the end of the world, and if it does, well no one will collect on that bet…

Guido’s predictions for this year:

  • Margaret Thatcher will outlive the €uro as we now know it. If one of the weaker countries doesn’t break free in 2012 it will just mean the crisis will drag on unresolved until 2013.
  • The probable Eurozone recession will be worse than the possible UK recession.
  • Inflation will drop sharply as the VAT hike falls out of the calculation but it will be stubbornly higher than many forecast. Savers will still face negative real interest rates. There will be no sign of the deflation predicted by Mervyn King since 2008.
  • There will be a collapse of another major European bank, arguably some have essentially collapsed already, it is just being hidden by governments and the ECB propping them up.
  • Boris will vanquish Ken Livingstone from frontline politics forever.
  • Ed Miliband will remain as leader of the Labour Party.
  • A Tory cabinet minister will resign in disgrace.

This blog, with the help of co-conspirators and readers, will in 2012 go on being Britain’s favourite political blog. Happy New Year…

£250,000 Prize Christmas Cryptic Challenge

It is a fact of life that they stop manufacturing news over Christmas, which is why the papers are filled with even more dross than normal. Double-page jumbo cryptic crosswords help you while away the time between Christmas lunch and the turkey sandwiches. Guido has something equally as cryptic but far more rewarding…

If you can figure out how a Eurozone state can leave the Euro you could win £250,000. Guido isn’t joking, the Wolfson Economics Prize will be awarded to the person “who is able to articulate how best to manage the orderly exit of one or more member states from the European Monetary Union.”

You have a month until the deadline for submissions on January 31, 2012. So instead of snoozing in the armchair after lunch dreaming of escaping to sunny lands dream of rich sunlit post-Euro uplands. According to the Wolfson Prize announcement the detailed issues that exiting the Eurozone raises include:-

  • Whether and how to redenominate sovereign debt, private savings, and domestic mortgages in the departing nations.
  • Whether and how international contracts denominated in euros might be altered, if one party to the contract is based in a member state which leaves EMU.
  • The effects on the stability of the banking system.
  • The link between exit from EMU and sovereign debt restructuring.
  • How to manage the macroeconomic effects of exit, including devaluation, inflation, confidence, and effects on debts.
  • Different timetables and approaches to transition (e.g. “surprise” redenomination versus signalled transitions).
  • How best to manage the legal and institutional implications.
  • A consideration of evidence from relevant historical examples (e.g. the end of various currency pegs and previous monetary unions)

The Wolfson Economics Prize, worth €286,000, is the second biggest cash prize to be awarded after the Nobel Prize. It aims to ensure that high quality economic thought is given to how the Euro might be restructured into more stable currencies. Guido is read widely in  City dealing rooms, crammed with bond market vigilantes and Phd wielding economic analysts. Given the paucity of bonuses this year, best get your thinking caps on…

Full details from the website:
policyexchange.org.uk/WolfsonEconomicsPrize

Grow Faster, Go Further

Growth is anaemic, that much of the Balls critique is true, the cause is not the government’s spending cuts, they are a mere 1% of GDP. Osborne has made mistakes, hiking VAT hit the High Street by taking money out of the real economy whereas QE at the moment only puts money into high finance money markets. Back in June the IMF issued a report recommending

“…tax cuts are faster to implement and more credibly temporary than expenditure shifts and should be targeted to investment, low-income households, or job creation to increase their multipliers… Simultaneous adoption of deeper long-run entitlement reform would be desirable to safeguard fiscal sustainability and market confidence…”

It also pointed out that

“The level of public spending as a percentage of GDP in our forecast has reduced by about half a per cent of GDP as compared to the previous fiscal year. However, it remains very far above the pre-crisis levels of spending and represents a long-term high in spending. It’s important to maintain that perspective”

Plan B, the Balls plan for bankruptcy and bond market collapse, is for higher taxes and more spending, this can be dismissed. Osborne is right when he says the international bond markets would crucify Britain if he switched to Plan B, for as Jeff Randall points out this morning

“At the moment, the Chancellor is pulling off a brilliant confidence trick: persuading the markets that Britain remains a triple-A credit, able to borrow on the same terms as Germany, while managing an economy with an inflation rate 66% higher than the eurozone’s average, and a national debt that is forecast to hit £1.32 trillion in 2015, nearly 40% greater than today.”

Tricky. Gordon Brown inherited an economy in a sweet spot and left an economy drowning in debt, Osborne believes he must bear down on the deficit to keep the confidence of the bond markets. Yet a paper produced by Dr Tim Morgan of bond brokers Tullett Prebon argues that if the government is going to miss its deficit reduction target anyway, what option would placate the bond markets more?

  1. “Britain has missed its deficit target because growth hasn’t happened”
  2. “Britain has missed its deficit target because the government failed to cut spending sufficiently”
  3. “Britain has missed its deficit target because taxes have been cut in pursuit of growth”

We’re currently in the first situation, the second situation is unpalatable to the government, the LibDems don’t have the stomach for a shock doctrine style short term austerity programme. Balls advocates stimulus in the form of higher spending, no one in government is advocating the alternative, which is to stimulate the economy by cutting taxes instead. Of course if we also rolled back government spending there would be more room for tax cuts to boost consumer confidence and the economy, without matching spending cuts the deficit will rise. Osborne is going to miss his deficit target regardless of which option he takes, it wouldn’t scare the bond market so much if cut taxes in pursuit of growth…

Thomas Cook On the Brink

After doing a whip around the banks, are we about to see the end of the company that started excursions in 1841?

As a result of the uprising in Egypt people seem less keen on packing their bags for Cairo to see the pyramids. Turns out people haven’t been Thomas Cooking it. 

Moral Markets and Other People's Money

Guido has just got round to reading The Big Short by Michael Lewis, author of the eighties-era defining Liar’s Poker. It is the most readable book on the American sub-prime crisis that was the catalyst for the global sovereign debt crisis we now face.[…] Read the rest

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Tory MP Nick Boles says what everyone thinks…

“There is a timidity and lack of ambition about Mrs May’s Government which means it constantly disappoints. Time to raise your game, Prime Minister.”

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