July 2009 Archives
All the UK banks would have collapsed - literally gone bankrupt - if the taxpayers of the UK had not saved them from that fate. In terms of their credit rating, they would not actually exist to have one. For most people this would mean a zero credit rating for the next 6 years.
Perhaps, in return, the credit reference agencies should be instructed to give every individual taxpayer and tax-paying business in the UK a perfect 100 credit rating in return? Clean Slate for a Clean slate? We gave the banks a second chance, let's give the people who literally paid to give it them a second chance, too.
We continue to pay the banks, and continue to guarantee their assets and provide them liquidity to this day. We will do so in one way or another for much of the next 5 years or more. A Pro for the Quid to every taxpayer would reflect the reality of what's happened after the great banking bail out.
31st July is the date that those who are self employed have to pay their first instalment of income tax for 2009-10.
Most people who are affected should already have received letters from their accountants telling them what to pay; but there are significant traps to avoid if cash flow problems are making it difficult to meet the liability.
- If the tax due on 31 July is paid more than 28 days late you will suffer a 5% surcharge on the amount due - a whopping 60% effective rate of interest for the year
- If you are in the construction industry, late payment of tax can result in the withdrawal of gross payment status.
The name of the game has to be to either pay your tax on time on Friday 31 July or go to the HMRC before then and negotiate time to pay.
If time to pay is granted all of these hidden problems disappear.
Failure to act could put an even worse strain your cash flow.
Auto parts maker Magna, now in a two-horse race with RHJ to take over GM Euope, has upped its offer in an attempt to beat off its rival.
According to Reuters, Magna said today that it has increased the amount of upfront capital it will inject in its offer for General Motors' European unit Opel.
A German government source is quoted as saying that Magna "is now offering Ã¢ÂÂ¬350 million of its own capital immediately... furthermore, there should be a Ã¢ÂÂ¬150 million convertible bond."
It is thought that Magna originally wanted to invest Ã¢ÂÂ¬100 million into Opel, with another Ã¢ÂÂ¬400 million in convertible debt.
This isn't a surprise as the German government recently criticised all three bidders (Magna, RHJ and Beijing) on the amount of capital they were willing to invest into Opel. The German federal and Lander (state) governments have a say on all of this because all the bidders are looking for state aid.
We are all meant to be fearful of the international credit rating agencies downgrading the UK's status from AAA. This would clearly involve us all, businesses included, paying more by way of interest on debt in the future.
But, just a second, aren't these rating agencies the same ratings agencies that rated the US monoline insurers and their products as AAA+ in 2006/2007? Wasn't that the start of the great international default domino, when the monolines and their products turned out to be worthless?
Aren't these rating agencies the same rating agencies that rated as AAA+ the millions of structured investment vehicles (SIVs from Spivs) sold around the world from bank to bank and from banks to our pensions funds? Didn't they turn out to be generally so worthless that we as taxpayers are now having to 'sieve out the SIVs' from the nationalised banks' assets to make sure we are not guaranteeing them, because the banks don't know whether they are worthless or not?
Aren't these rating agencies the same rating agencies that gave the big O.K.s to the Collateralised Debt Obligations (CDOs) and the Credit Default Swaps (CDSes) that similarly haunt the books of our big UK banks?
Aren't these rating agencies the same rating agencies that rated Citigroup (the top SIV creators) and Bear Stearns and Lehmann Brothers as AAA+?
Isn't the main reason that the PSBR has had to go up because the recession, heightened by credit crunch, had as one if its prime causes the fact that these Rating Agencies were wrongly and lazily trusted to be able to well...er...rate - when it turns out they couldn't rate a glamorous granny contest?
Why should anyone listen to a syllable uttered by these complete ratings basket cases?
One of the first responses at the G8 and G20 meetings this year should have been to shut down all of these utterly disgraced ratings agencies, under threat of legal action for negligence.
One of the first consequences would have been and should be in the future that instead of lazily relying on a ratings system in the first place, global finance should instead have undertaken and should now undertake appropriate and exhaustive analysis of the provenance of the assets they acquire/acquired. This is slow, but that's exactly what global capital needs - a bit more grit in the wheels, a bit more thought, a bit more delay - rather than have computers make instant deals instead of people.
The fact that the ratings agencies were there, were lazily relied upon, and could have the wool so spectacularly and so easily pulled over their eyes enabled the very construction of as complex a set of investment vehicles, CDOs and CDSes as possible. As long as the vehicle got the ratings it didn't matter how complex it was. Obviously the more convoluted and difficult to assess, the better able it was to hide the nonsense at its heart.
The ratings agencies ultimately caused the PSBR hike which was absolutely necessary in response, and these very ratings agencies are now contemplating a change to the UK plc ratings because of the PSBR hike! It really is Alice in Wonderland stuff.
Like Bankers, these former players in the markets should have in early spring 2009 expected (and probably did expect) at the height of public reaction to have gone under as independent entities. They must wonder themselves how they have actually survived. They must be stunned that, after all, their word is actually taken as in any way serious. Phew! They got away with it!
There was a catastrophic failure at the heart of the financial system which we are all paying for now driven in great part by the likes of S&P. What determines their operating principles and who pays them?
They are (if only because the information they have is sold to them) funded by banks and financial speculators and hedge funds and global capital. The simple fact is that they ended up telling their paymasters what they wanted to hear:
"This SIV I'm about to briefly acquire and sell on at a profit to some hapless pension fund - it is er.... fine....isn't it?"
"Oh yes, sir. It's (click, click click) AAA+!"
"That'll do nicely. I can count on your word, can't I? I don't need to satisfy myself by actually having to bother doing anything else to check it out, do I?"
"Oh no Sir! You just carry on!"
Given these failures, these private companies need serious regulation at state and international level, overseeing their dodgy operations. Alternatively and preferably why not have the World Bank / IMF do this, with clear governing principles exactly as to how they rate, make their decisions and report, just as with, say, the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee?
Never mind S&P downgrading UK plc - can't UK plc through UKFI instruct Lloyds/HBOS and RBS/NatWest to sue them for negligence on our behalf as we plough through the ÃÂ£585 billions-worth of 'troublesome' assets (that we as taxpayers are guaranteeing and which has impacted on our PSBR), which they and their likes gave the big OK on?
Blogged by John Clancy and David Bailey
The UK banks are overstretched by the massive effort they have made over the last nine months by lending at full capacity to small and medium sized businesses. Or so they tell us.
Funny that the representatives of those small and medium-sized businesses tell us that they can't get loans for love nor...er money; that they are paying through the nose with interest rates at 14% and overdrafts are being pulled by UK (government-owned) banks to solvent small businesses.
The banks say that they still have to go to wholesale markets themselves and borrow money to lend because the government now requires them to hold double the amount of capital reserves (how awful!) and that the interest rates there are much higher than the Bank of England Base rate. They also say that if a loan is marked at 14% that's in order to reflect the risk. It's tough being a sentimental old banker.
The reason we require them to hold double the amount in capital reserves is to reflect our risk (businesses and individuals) in saving the sorry assets of the banks in the first place.
OK, so let's take the banks at face value, then. In the words of Victoria Wood, 'they can't do it'. If they can't do it, we know a man who can: Alistair Darling. If the banks aren't actually being 'economical with the truth' with him (no comment) then Darling has to release the funds directly to invest in small and medium sized businesses. Otherwise there is a danger that any recovery out there could fizzle out for lack of basic funds.
David Bailey and I have blogged before that the government should be doing this anyway. We shouldn't actually be talking about lending to businesses, we should be talking about investing in businesses. The government is already doing this to a limited extent here in the West Midlands through the Advantage Loan Guarantee Fund.
Venture capital companies invest money directly in SMEs in return for preference shares (paid out on and redeemed in preference to other shareholders) which get redeemed over a long-term period (15 years or more). In a similar way the government should put money into businesses using the same mechanisms. Ironically, the preference shares route was the method the government used to bail out the banks themselves (funny that, isn't it?).
In the more short term, the government could simply agree to buy a pre-packaged bond from the business owner (just like it is buying bonds and other commercial paper as part of its quantitative easing programme) which commits the owner to pay a low interest rate and repay either the bond amount or issue preference shares at an agreed valuation in the business at regular intervals during the bond issue period.
Neither of these would mean the government setting themselves up as bankers (which they apparently do not wish to do) - rather they would be Investors in Industry (which is surely a worthy objective for government). How long-term or short-term this is would be is up to the government, but we would advocate the more long term option. A recession is the worst time for quick short-term fixes and the best time for starting a more virtuous cycle of long-termism.
These approaches are not alien, onerous and lengthy time-scale procedures. They're there in the system already. The government doesn't have to set up Darling Bank PLC (although that does have a certain ring to it!)
In the same way we are guaranteeing ÃÂ£350billion-worth of the banks' own assets, so we (or the government) should be guaranteeing the credit of the SMEs, too.
We would argue, though, that there is a much more solid and long-lasting route which Gordon Brown came up with himself. Back in February the Prime Minister made a speech saying that he wanted to set up one of the government-owned banks as an 'Industrial Bank'.
Little has been heard of that since, but the banking business investment shortfall crisis identified by Darling yesterday is the opportunity to do what you said you wanted to do, Gordon. Set up an Industrial Bank now.
Identify, say, the government-owned NatWest, give them extra funding to invest direct on behalf of the state at low interest rates and take shares in those investee businesses. Add it to the quantitative easing package.
Surely this would take the pressure off the hard-pressed existing banks, who are working all hours emptying their coffers of all of their hard earned (well, graciously bailed out) money to small and medium businesses up and down the land? What a sigh of relief they would breathe!
Or perhaps they might realise that real competition in this market might actually prompt them to get off their ungrateful backsides and do their jobs properly.
The UK operations of Jaguar Land Rover lost ÃÂ£673.4m (around $1.1bn) last year, after a ÃÂ£640 million surplus the year before. Adding in actuarial and pensions adjustments, "total recognised losses" at JLR topped almost ÃÂ£1.2bn last year, accounts filed with Companies House reveal.
None of this should come as a surprise of course. This is a "once in a century" downturn which has seen most car makers record huge losses - including Toyota, for the time in its history.
All of this comes at a time when JLR has announced the early cessation of X type production at Halewood at the end of this year, leaving a huge question mark over the viability of the plant. To put it bluntly, on current volumes minus the X type it is difficult to see how JLR can keep open three plants in the UK.
To keep Halewood open (which at full capacity is a hugely efficient plant), production of the LRX concept vehicle needs the green light soon. That in turn means accessing the EIB loan of ÃÂ£340 million which is already on the table.
Which brings us back to the loan guarantee from the British government. Quite why it has taken months of haggling to sort this out is beyond me. The latest rumours are the government has dropped some of its more onerous (read preposterous?) conditions like appointing the chairman, and is prepared to offer JLR a guarantee for a ÃÂ£175m commercial bridging loan over six months.
That is still far short of what Tata has been looking for - both in terms of the scale of the guarantee(75% rather than 50% would seem more appropriate to me) and the term. Just six months seems to ignore the reality of the credit crunch facing Tata.
Another week, another hard-hitting Select Committee report for the government to digest. A few days ago it was the turn of the recently-created Select Committee on the West Midlands.
Like the Business Select Committee report on the auto industry released a few weeks ago, MPs have done their job well and the resulting report is a mine of useful information. It contains some detailed - and appropriate - recommendations that the government needs to reflect on and follow up ASAP.
If you're not familiar with these eight new regional committees, they were set up last November to "examine regional strategies and the work of regional bodies". The Commons' Modernisation Committee had noted - rightly - that there was clear evidence of an accountability gap at regional level; stressing that although RDAs like AWM were accountable to Ministers, "many of their activities in the regions are not subject to regular, robust scrutiny". Quite.
Indeed, the idea was a good one - trying to make RDAs and other regional bodies more accountable. Unfortunately Conservative and Lib Dem MPs boycotted the committees after protesting over how membership was allocated.
Whilst they may have had a point, they could and should have swallowed their pride and got stuck in with trying to examine how RDAs and other agencies work and how well the regional economy is doing. Sitting on your hands doesn't really help public scrutiny, after all, and doesn't do much to improve the reputation of MPs either.
Nevertheless, the committees (with only Labour MPs on board) got to work, with the West Midlands Committee chaired by Richard Burden MP. Mr Burden was a sound choice as Chair, having made a point of campaigning for better support for modern manufacturing and the need for a more balanced economy.
You may not have heard of Dustin Kolodziej's court case against Cheney Mason, but it is a story of legal woe from America which may well become a staple of law degrees for years to come.
Mr Mason is an attorney. In 2006, he defended (unsuccessfully) Nelson Ivan Serrano against charges that Mr Serrano murdered four people. During the trial, Mr Mason tried to prove that it was impossible for Mr Serrano to have been in Florida at the time of the murders because a surveillance video showed Mr Serrano in Atlanta on the same day. Mr Mason was so confident that it was impossible for Mr Serrano to have been in Florida that, when being interviewed on national TV, he 'offered' $1 million to anyone who could prove otherwise. His precise words: "I challenge anybody to show me. I'll pay them a million dollars if they can do it."
Step forward Mr Kolodziej, a recent law graduate, who worked out how the trip could have been done, videoed himself doing it and sent the tape plus a request for $1million to Mr Mason. Mr Mason refused to pay and Mr Kolodziej has sued him for the money.
In UK law at least, Mr Mason could well be advised to get his cheque book out. One of the most famous of all legal cases involved an advert issued by the Carbolic Smoke Ball Company, who manufactured a carbolic smoke ball as a cure for flu and other illnesses in the 1890s. They were confident of the success of their product and placed a number of adverts offering a ÃÂ£100 reward (a lot of money in late Victorian England) "to any person who contracts the increasing epidemic influenza colds, or any disease caused by taking cold, after having used the ball three times daily for two weeks, according to the printed directions supplied with each ball." A Mrs Louisa Elizabeth Carlill saw the advert, bought one of the balls and used it three times daily for nearly two months. She then caught the flu and successfully sued for the money, with the court accepting the principle that a person can make an offer to the whole world which is capable of being accepted.
A similar principle may well apply in the USA, although each case depends on its own unique facts. In Carlill, a key issue was the fact that the offer of ÃÂ£100 was backed up by ÃÂ£1000 being placed on deposit at a bank - it was therefore to be taken seriously and wasn't an advertising gimmick. More recently, Mr John Leonard failed in his attempts to redeem 7,000,000 Pepsi points for a Harrier jump jet, on the basis that the Pepsi TV advert on which Mr Leonard relied was cleary intended to be a joke. Mr Kolodziej's chances of success may well depend on his persuading the court that Mr Mason was being serious when he issued his challenge.
In the meantime, if you want to avoid being involved in a legal cause cÃÂ©lÃÅ¡bre, be careful what you 'offer' to the world at large.
Only the 'linear viewer' watches Television any more. The rest of us 'consume' digital media content or products on and through a range of media platforms, sometimes simultaneously.
Today's report by the Business and Enterprise Select Committee is hard-hitting in its criticisms of the government in its support - or lack thereof - to Britain's auto industry.
The report is carefully balanced. On the one hand it is optimistic in noting that Britain's car industry is world class, flexible, productive, and globally competitive and has huge strengths in the premium brand sector. It also has a diverse supply chain.
On the other hand it highlights the severe pressures that the industry is now under and warns of the danger of suppliers going under, of losing research and development, of employment cuts, and knock-on effects elsewhere in the economy.
In particular, the government is pressed to show greater urgency to help the industry, as the industry's long term future is seen as depending on taking the right actions now. This means support for individual firms like Jaguar Land Rover but also the industry as a whole, the committee notes.
The Select Committee, a cross party grouping of MPs, criticised ministers for holding out the possibility of support but not actually delivering it. In particular, the Committee expressed concern about the lack of coherence to government policy and highlighted a series of "shortcomings" in the automotive support package unveiled back in January.