March 2011 Archives
This is the blog version of my printed column in the Birmingham Post newspaper on 3rd March 2011. The position remains the same 4 weeks on. Stress Test results due out today are likely to indicate that the Irish banks will need another Â£27 billion injection from Europe to survive.
The Irish at their ballot boxes have this week voted for parties whose policy is to renegotiate their EU bailout package 'just a bit'.
And the newly-elected Irish government will try to suggest that the bond holders in their banks should share some of the Irish pain. I suspect the Irish will fail in this endeavour.
The 'D' word is the problem: default.
The irrational, unstable, wild, 'markets' take an all-or-nothing approach which suits the bondholders down to the ground. You can't default a little bit. If you default in any way at all, the whole house of cards falls and you are out of the game forever.
I feel the need to make a case to support PowerPoint as I think it has a bad press - even beyond it having been spawned by the universally used and equally unpopular Microsoft.
The main benefit I see is that PowerPoint forces you to arrange your thoughts in a logical sequence - although you can easily shift things round if you change your mind during the design process.
Most of all though, it makes us be BRIEF.
As an academic, I am surrounded by colleagues who are immersed in their subject. For many years, if you asked me to tell you in 5 minutes what my PhD was about, I couldn't tell you.
Now I can (at emergencies, fire commanders focus on four key factors when making their decisions...). PowerPoint is great at making you do this.
There's been some good news of late for Coventry-based Manganese Bronze, maker of the iconic black cab.
A Â£17 million order for 1000 cabs from Azerbaijan will boost output at its Shanghai joint venture, and the decision by London's Mayor Boris Johnson to ban cabs over 15 years old on the streets of London from next year may well bring new orders for the Coventry cab maker.
Boris' ban may affect some 3500 cabs in the capital.
That's good news for a firm which has struggled in recent years and which has had to completely restructure itself.
Time management, now - that's the thing at the crux of success in so many things and self employment no less than anything else. The very thought struck me only this morning at about seven thirty when on the bright and inspiring Spring day I was doggedly scrubbing the pigeon - doo from the lid of the wheelie - bin ( the recycling one since you ask). Extra-ordinarily viscous and sticky stuff, pigeon doo - oh, you still on your breakfast - sorry.
If you like to hear innovative ideas and live in the West Midlands, you have certainly heard of TED and TEDxWarwick. If not, it is time to reconsider your use of social media.
What is TED? It is an event organisation dedicated to the sharing of knowledge and ideas to inspire people. The speakers are some of the best in their fields.
Some genuinely good news.
The immediate future of the Vauxhall auto plant in Luton has been safeguarded after GM and Renault announced that the next generation Vivaro / Trafic van will be assembled at the UK site.
Some 1,100 jobs, and more in the supply chain, will be safeguarded
GM stated that the Luton plant would carry on playing an "important role" in its network of assembly plants.
This is a longer blog version of my column last week in the Birmingham Post
George Osborne's first Budget is unveiled at 12.30 tomorrow. What he'll announce (some 11 months into the coalition government) should be fairly predictable - after all much of it was set out in last December's Finance Act.
But since then we've had a raft of facts and figures showing how vulnerable the economy really is, the minus 0.6% growth figure for the final quarter of last year being the most vivid.
Alarmingly this fall in activity came even before the government's planned cuts actually kick in. In fact, government spending was one of the few - if the only - positive driver of growth in the final quarter of 2010.
And the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (the OECD) has just said that economic recovery will remain subdued for two years, thanks to spending cuts and slower international trade. The OECD has estimated UK economic growth this year at 1.5%, below the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecast of 1.9%.
Crusty professors and non-crusty professors alike, along with other university lecturers will be warming their hands around braziers this week, on strike over pensions in particular.
Although the braziers (and I always have to check the spelling there) might actually not be needed in this early-spring clement sunshine, they will, nevertheless, very much have a point in challenging head-on why they should be suffering from considerable and unnecessary changes to their pensions arrangements.
Their UK Universities pension fund (the Universities Superannuation Scheme) is one of the most powerful players in world finance. The USS is a mammoth of a fund. It is currently the 2nd biggest pension fund in Britain (public or private) with over Â£30billion in assets. In some recent years it has been ranked as the UK's 1st biggest by the P&I Towers Watkins world pension fund rankings. It is the 50th biggest pension fund on the planet!
And there is no 'black hole' in it - far from it.
What there is in it is a giant plughole down which has been sucked hundreds of millions of pounds eventually arriving in the bank accounts of pin-striped fat cats for doing pretty much nothing by most people's standards.
I have pointed out in my previous blogs here that UK pension funds are an easy target for lazy, underperforming investment managers who cream off hundreds of Â£millions of hard-earned money from not-very-brilliantly-paid UK workers' savings.
And when the fund would have done better simply by putting the fund in the bank earning standard rates of interest, and paying no fees at all.
"From designing to machining, polishing, plating and assembly, we have complete control over the whole production process, so that we can oversee the quality of each product at every stage and remain faithful to our design principles," says Managing Director, David Pick, on my recent visit to Samuel Heath in Birmingham.
The business, founded in 1820, is working to preserve the craftsmanship innate within its manufacturing, whilst combining this with the latest design technologies.
It's clear to David Pick that vertical integration is at the heart of their competitive positioning. "None of our competitors operates with such a high degree of vertical integration," he says.
You'll have seen those illustrations of Napoleon and his Grande Armee trudging through snow and ice out of Russia while Tchaikovsky and a full force Orchestra pursue them firing canons ( you what ? - I'm getting all this a bit jumbled up . Well, I'll take your word for it). Suffice it to say what Napoleon failed to take account of was the debilitating account of winter on morale and motivation. And that's where the little corporal does have some lessons for the budding entrepreneur