17 Dec 2012

Banks: Time to get out of Europe!

Recently 500 (in words: five hundred!!) policemen were delegated to conduct a search at Deutsche Bank's headquarters. Anyone with half a brain will realise that to set loose such a large group to do a job for which they are less than qualified can only be motivated by political reasons. So it would be only natural that the Co-CEO of the business - which is after all a significant employer and taxpayer - would be in his rights to lodge a complaint with the political overseers of the judiciary and police. After all, the temporary 'constitution' of Germany is less than punctilious about a proper separation of the powers of government. But when this simple complaint causes a hysteric reaction among the ruling political establishment - fanned by a media that sings to the same collectivist hymn sheet - then it would be time for any self-respecting institution to ask itself if it is worthwhile to stay domiciled in the country or debark to friendlier shores. The same question should be asked by HSBC, Standard Chartered and any bank that does not simply want to become a 'utility' (ab)used to finance spendthrift states.

14 Dec 2012

Merger Blues: Another day, another Write-off

Now it is Legg Mason's turn to eat humble pie and write off a major junk of its investment in Permal, the hedge fund group. No blame sticks to Permal though as no one (except maybe some advisers too keen on their fees?) held a gun to Legg Mason's head and forced them to pay over the odds. It remains to be seen if adding some heft to Permal's assets via the acquisition of Fauchier will help to right the ship. Fund of Hedge Funds are relatively new businesses, often built by one or a handful of entrepreneurs and the task of creating a lasting enterprise culture is a daunting one. The purchase is the easy thing!
Permal to acquire Fauchier Partners (Financial Times)

Man Group faces huge write-off on Acquisition

It was clear to me from the outset that the decision by Man Group to acquire the hedge fund GLG was more out of desperation (to diversity, or as Warren Buffett would say 'diworsify') than rational calculation. While the hedge fund business has been - and will remain - a good business to be in it requires more than any other business a fine judgement of people, enterprise cultures and business trends. Needless to say, the 'advisers' on both side of the deal above all will be interested to bank their not inconsiderable fees while wash their hands of any subsequent problems that may emerge post-deal.
Man Group faces heavy GLG write-off (Financial Times)

13 Dec 2012

Libor: The Shakedown gathers steam

When I originally commented on the Libor 'Scandal' I got a surprisingly strong reaction from readers - even those that normally are quite critical of  'Ueber-Regulation' disagreed with me. But it is still less than clear who has really lost money due to the supposed manipulation - and if so, how much was lost (Dollars and Cents please you righteous citizens!). An article in the Daily Telegraph points out that from a legal point of view a successful prosecution is less than certain. So today's announcement that UBS alone might face penalties of close to $ 1 billion can only be understood in a climate of witch hunt mixed with a supine and spineless management culture in the banks concerned. After all, senior management wants to sleep quietly and does not give a damn about the shareholder's money. Similar abuse is rife in the so-called mis-selling 'scandals' related to payment protection insurance or sales of derivatives. Reader replies such as this one are not very illuminating (except about the public's attitude towards the banks) as they are unable to shed more light on the crucial question of who has lost (or maybe gained) how much from any Libor fixing.

An interesting discussion may be seen on this thread (Financial Services Regulation, Linkedin)

11 Dec 2012

Distastrous Acquisitions

Rumors have it that Bank Austria may lose nearly 80 pct of the more than $US 2.2 billion that it paid for Kazakhstan's ATF bank in 2007. Together with the huge write-off that Credit Agricole recently had to make on its Greek adventure and the problems that
Man Investment has digesting its acquisitions this provides more evidence that poorly planned and/or executed acquisitions can prove to be hugely expensive.

Scandalous Regulators

Anyone who thinks that I take too negative a view of the 'efforts' of the regulators should have a look at this article. (Mises Institute)

10 Dec 2012

FSA: Jobsworth at the controls!

Jobsworth: "a person who uses their job description in a deliberately uncooperative way, or who seemingly delights in acting in an obstructive or unhelpful manner." (Wikipedia). This definition comes to mind when observing the activities of - nameless and faceless - bureaucrats who have the ultimate say on who can occupy a senior position in the British financial service industry. I was always wondering why anyone would submit himself to the humiliating treatment meted out by people that would hardly ever stand a chance to succeed in a competitive environment. If politicians want to safeguard the financial system it is up to them to devise good regulation and not start micro-managing the sector in what can only be called a proto-stalinist manner. I have proposed simple and effective solutions in several posts, but so far no one seems to care - creating thousands of pages of new regulatory pamph is much more to the regulator's liking. Does Vernon Hill really need the aggravation at this stage in his life? The British Jobsworth establishment seems to do everything it can to protect the existing banking oligopoly while shedding crocodile tears about the lack of competition and bank lending.

'Britain' tightens grip on foreign banks

Reads a headline in today's Financial Times. This is another brilliant idea to weaken the position of the City of London as a financial centre. If my memory does not play tricks on me it was British Banks that caused most of the mayhem during the Financial Crisis 2008-09. Let the establishment - led by dusty professors, superannuated chairmen and boards and a one-time PR manager - ruin the country. UK is nearing the precipice, just wait when the herd turns on this country. Fiddling while Rome burns?.

6 Dec 2012

Derivative Timebomb - still not defused

Talk, talk, talk - that is all the regulators and their political puppet masters seem to provide with respect to the derivatives market. Could it be that they just do not understand these markets? I agree with Chris Whalen and Barry Ritholtz (see video) when they call for the repeal of the Commodities Futures Modernisation Act which carved out a largely regulation-free zone for the OTC derivatives market. Even better would be a strengthening of margin requirements across the board - anything under 20-30 percent depending on the product is not good enough. Let us remember how markets moved close to that in panics during 1987 and 2008-09.  Recent worries about the adequacy of central clearinghouses put the finger on this problem but I fear that their capital and margin requirements are not up to the task - BY A MILE!

Bureaucrats take over the Banking Industry

While there are other reasons that 'banks do not want to lend' (such as lack of suitable borrowers) the nitpicking and intrusive regulation by anonymous paper pushers and their political puppet masters is another - and growing reason - for the lack of dynamism that is evident in Europe's banking industry. And that applies not only to the sickly Euro-zone but also to the UK. Latest exhibit: the procrastination  (Boersenzeitung) with which the German Banking Supervisor BaFin handles the acquisition of BHF-Bank by Kleinwort Benson. While Germany might be good at churning out industrial products (with generous help from a misguided currency defense that simply knocks out of contention all its major European competitors) the banking skills in the country will wither away to invisibility as any entrepreneur with a little bit of nous will stay clear of this country.

4 Dec 2012

Banking Union - not so necessary

Today one of my favourite economic commentators states that "banking union [is] an absolute prerequisite of a properly functioning monetary union. (Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph). I beg to disagree. The only reason why weak banks can undermine the solvency of the host states is the lack of a proper regulatory environment in each of the euro-zone member states. As I have pointed out again and again, we are far away from reform measures that would put the banking system on a stable footing. If these measures would be implemented there would never be a requirement to cross guarantee banking systems, nor would there be any requirement  to have a European Banking Authority.

Nonsensical 'study' of High-Speed Trading

While I am critical of some aspects of high-frequency trading - esp the speed advantage that technology provides and which undermines the principle of priority and precedence - this study by a CFTC economist does not cut the mustard. That futures trading is a zero-sum game is nothing new and that those active on a daily basis want to - and have to - make a profit should not be seen in a negative way. After all, who complains about the profits that the casino operators in Las Vegas make? Without them there would be no gaming industry. So let us have more studies, but above make them relevant. This should mean that real abuses get uncovered and the guilty punished. Oh, and what happened to those responsible for MF Global - management as well as regulators?

3 Dec 2012

CFTC: Regulator fit for purpose?

The US Commodities and Futures Trading Commission certainly knows how to make a hash of their task. While major regulatory disasters such as MF Global seem to go largely unpunished and the global OTC derivatives monster escapes any noticable oversight the CFTC is busying itself with closing down the tiny betting exchange Intrade. Is it not time that the overbearing bureaucrats in Brussels once and for all tell their US counterparts that extraterritorial jurisdiction is no longer acceptable?

Swiss-Life CEO: 'We paid too much for AWD'

With better advice Swiss-Life could have saved itself a lot of money and even more bad publicity. The chances that main-stream investment banking 'advisers' talk a willing client out of any deal he wants to do is very small. Too high is the pressure to generate fees that justify a high cost base for the employing firm, too strong the desire to buy an even bigger pad in London's Westend or in the Hamptons. A cursory examination by an experienced observer would have had loud warning bells ringing at the prospect of marrying a solid but staid organisation with a gogo marketing firm lead by a high-profile entrepreneur. On paper the numbers may have made sense - especially before the eruption of the global financial crisis - but the all-important human aspect was overlooked by the blue-eyed analysts in Swiss-Life's planning and strategy team. That the CEO still thinks that acquiring AWD was the right decision is odd - to say the least.

2 Dec 2012

Bank of England appointment - not so glorious

Amid the orchestrated adulation for the newly-appointed Governor of the Bank one should not gloss over the shameful fact that once again the Government has failed to find a suitable candidate among the vast number of highly educated and experienced economists and other professionals here in the UK. Add the fact that a highly excessive pension 'contribution' is made to an already high basic salary (while huge numbers of hard-working public sector employees see their pension packages cut in unilateral fashion) and one can only wonder about the mental state of the decision makers that participated in this mock selection process. With respect to Carney's achievements in Canada one has to say that managing the affairs of a small country (by population) during a global resource boom that supports its economy while the banking system is by tradition a closely controlled oligopoly cannot have been all that difficult. And the conspiracy theorists will have a field day and argue that another Goldman Sachs 'clone' has obtaining vast discretionary powers in an unelected position.

P.S. - those who still think that Carney will save the UK may wish to look at this

30 Nov 2012

HP/Autonomy: Poor Due Diligence, Poor Implementation

This tale of woe again demonstrates that relying on number crunching accountants and fee-hungry deal brokers is the wrong approach to acquisitions. And when a desperate CEO (see story) is at the controls of a business this turns into a toxic cocktail. Looking at targets for acquisitions all-too-often omits the human aspect of the assets to be acquired and - even more deadly - afterwards neglects the fact that a business is the sum of its human capital and not just a number on a balance sheet. Dealing with real people all the time in our recruitment business allows us to bring this crucial aspect into play when advising on strategic transactions.

26 Nov 2012

City of London a "cesspit"? - get real Wall Street Journal!

A sad day when a respected business journal gives an experienced (?) journalist space to write such a poorly-researched and one-sided article. The so-called mis-selling 'scandals' are all the product of a politically correct media hysteria - no one was forced to purchase payment protection insurance and those claiming to have been poorly advised when they entered into swap arrangements are the victim of a crass zero-interest rate policy forced on us by clueless politicians (and applauded by equally clueless economists and media pundits). Basically they bought insurance which did not pay off - would interest rates have gone up no-one would complain, much less be willing to hand his winnings back to the banks. And outright fraud? Dare we mention Mr. Madoff and numerous US-based investment scamsters onereads in the press on a regular basis? And what about the victims of the MF Global collapse?

Bill Winters - harsh critique of UK bank reform proposals

"Bank overhaul 'may leave UK rudderless' if new crisis hits" reads the headline of the report about his evidence to the Treasury Select Committee (Daily Telegraph).
We could not agree more as we have repeatedly argued that overcomplicated 'Solutions' to the problems of the banking sector are no help, and more (expensive) 'studies' even less so. A few simple solutions are glaringly obvious: higher capital ratios on interbank lending and derivatives, funding that in its majority (90%?) matches the maturity on both sides of the balance sheet. No PhD, MBA etc required to implement or monitor this.

22 Nov 2012

Hewlett-Packard - one poor Acquisition after another

Hewlett-Packard could easily become Exhibit Number One for any future case studies about the dangers and pitfalls of hastily concocted acquisitions. When common sense takes a leave of absence and megalomania takes charge of a CEO's desires nothing can stand in the way. An army of (sycophantic and conflicted) advisers is nothing but a rubber stamp and the board - full of well sleepy 'worthies' that are appointed by the CEO and for the CEO - are not providing the necessary checks and balances. The same can be said for the (mostly institutional) shareholders who are not given half a chance to properly question the proposed transaction.

16 Nov 2012

UK Bank Bailout Money may never be recovered?

Opine the Solons sitting in Westminster. While this may not be a firm prediction but just a way of garnering a headline (CNBC) in the media it speaks volumes about the incompetence among 'lawmakers' (and the political class in general). Why should major banking institutions such as Lloyds TSB and Royal Bank of Scotland be beyond repair? If that would be the case one should start an orderly dismantling now. Maybe the raft of well-intentioned but often counterproductive regulation is intended to achieve just that. But then it would be better to admit this rather than trying to gain political capital with irresponsible statements. There is no reason why both banks should not be worth a lot of money in a few years time, maybe not as much as the taxpayer has put in but close to it at the very minimum.

14 Nov 2012

BoA manager on wrong track

If it would not be printed in black and white I would believe that this initiative comes from a third-rate bucket shop (Bloomberg). That the equity sales staff at Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML) has reportedly been set a quota of 30 client meetings each month smacks of sheer desperation but also of a complete lack of trust between management and staff. This augurs badly for the future of BAML.

7 Nov 2012

Commerzbank wins right to appeal UK bonus ruling

This headline made me look up the details of the original court case in which a large group of employees in the former Dresdner Kleinwort investment bank were vindicated in their claim that the bank should honor its promise of a guaranteed bonus pool. This amazing quote made by Stefan Jentzsch in a town hall meeting in the winter of 2008/09 makes you wonder what goes on in the heads of Commerzbank management when he said.....".. both Martin Blessing and Michael Reuther are men of honour who will stick to the bonus commitments already publicly made. Also I could not understand how and why, for what no doubt will be just a small economic amount even if it happened, they and their senior Commerzbank management collectively would wish to destroy their reputation as trustworthy leaders ..". No further comment required I think. The irony is that it was sheer folly for Commerzbank to buy Dresdner in the first place - but in that respect the management found itself in good company as Lloyds and Bankamerica entered into similarly suicidal bids at roughly the same time when they purchased HBOS and Merrill Lynch respectively.

Rating Agency reform- new idea but not enough

John Carney (CNBC) makes a new suggestion when he writes that rating agencies should not receive non-public information. While this may be a useful step in the right direction he does not explain why the shift to a different payment model would not be appropriate. The current system of having the issuer pay for the ratings is not only fraught with conflicts of interest, it is also expensive as usually more than one agency has to be hired thus duplicating effort and expense - and in many cases a third agency gets its pound of flesh. Agencies might be less profitable but this reduction in cost is only appropriate in the current climate of austerity. If the Value Line Investment Survey can achieve a long history of excellent service to the investment community there is no reason why there should not be enough demand for rating services that have to be paid by the investor. Does the financial community really want for the dead hand of bureaucrats in Brussels and elsewhere to get involved by dragging its feet and hoping that the current state of affairs can continue?

4 Nov 2012

UBS Top Management feathers it's nest (again?)

Having just handled the beginning of the mass cull of employees in the most unprofessional way one could think of, the top management of UBS is already reported to be busy to design another dysfunctional and one-sided 'incentive' plan for itself. The fish always stinks from the head downwards and it is deplorable that despite growing disenchantment about exaggerated bonus and compensation plans for the tiny number of employees at the top of organisations the people at the helm of this bank - an institution that owes its survival to the generosity of the great unwashed public, i.e. the Swiss taxpayer - still are not 'on message'.

30 Oct 2012

UBS to cut 10,000 employees

Not only does one have to ask why a large bank all of a sudden finds that it would be necessary to amputate a huge chunk of its operations it is also a step that will in all likelihood lead to even more management problems later on. Management and the Board must have been asleep at the watch for a very long time that such a drastic measure is required to bring the ship on course. Successful firms adjust staffing levels continuously - this is not only much cheaper and efficient, it is also less destructive for employee morale and customer confidence. The way that these 'restructurings' are conducted are also hugely wasteful. While the cost that is bandied about at UBS may include a lot of things that are not related to redundancy payment a large part certainly is. Given the probably inflated compensation levels one can only assume that the pay-offs will also on the generous side. A new top management and/or consultancy firm will probably suggest in a few years time that too much was cut, or the wrong sector was cut and the hiring/firing merry-go-round will enter a new stage. This will - again - inflate costs and lead to a management non-culture of revolving doors where employees are not familiar with each other due to excessive staff fluctuation. After the Adoboli case we all know where this leads to.

29 Oct 2012

Cuts at UBS to take three years

Reads a headline in today's Financial Times. I rubbed my eyes over the time-span that the refocusing of UBS would take if management was really intending to keep to this horizon. In the world of markets and investment a year is already a very long time but planning over three years can only be called wishful thinking - apart from the tremendous uncertainty that it would create in the whole organisation. That three former Merrill Lynch staffers now seem to pull the strings in the key Global Markets division also raises a big question mark. We all know the fate of the once mighty Merrill Lynch after it went through numerous revamps over a period of several decades.

The Great Bank Robbery

While no one will deny that some sales of Payment Protection Insurance (PPI) were not in the customer's best interest (and even that statement is debatable) it is obvious that the UK banking industry is the subject of a populist witch hunt. Intelligent people are not forced to buy any product and in the case of PPI no one can argue that he was 'mis-sold' the product unless he actually tried to claim a payout and was denied compensation in an unfair fashion. There could be an argument about the premium paid but even that can never be reason for a blanket call for compensation as this could lead to the end of a free market system where every purchase could lead to a compensation claim later on if applied in a general fashion. Is this the way to run a banking system? or an economy? No wonder there are serious commentators who predict that the UK will be a Third World Economy by 2014.

25 Oct 2012

Wall Street 'Eat-what-you-kill' System

The claim by the ex-Goldman Sachs staffer Greg Smith should not surprise anyone. Business by definition features an inherent conflict between seller and buyer. While one looks to achieve the highest price possible the buyer wants the exact opposite. Competition (and a dose of ethics) provide the safety valve against the exploitation of customers. The egregious margins achieved in other sectors of the economy - luxury goods for example - could easily also be accused of 'eating and killing' the customers. The lesson that should be learned by all investors - be they small or large individual investors or 'sophisticated' institutions - is that 'buyer beware' is essential when considering to enter into financial transactions, - especially when the other side possibly has an information advantage and is incentivised to exact the maximum possible gain from the counter party.

20 Oct 2012

Citigroup: Shock about exit of CEO

That some employees at Citigroup may be in shock (Financial Times) about the sudden departure of the CEO speaks volumes about the fact that the role of the CEO in today's corporation is vastly exaggerated. While no one would deny that the decision of the leader is critical it does not mean that this is necessarily a good thing as many examples in business (and history) show. Relying on the judgement and predelictions of a single person creates risks that would be mitigated in a more collegial system of leadership.

12 Oct 2012

Goldman: Internal Probe on 'Muppets' draws a Blank

We are not surprised (Financial Times). Who would commit the word to email or voice mail, let alone a printed document? That person really would deserve to be fired - not for the word but for sheer stupidity. But the problem is this: Investment Banking and Securities Dealing are full of products where the interests of the firm and the customer (we avoid the word client on purpose) are directly opposed. But this is the case in almost all businesses. The vendor wants a high price, the customer a low price. A healthy amount of competition therefore is necessary to make sure that customers get the best service. However, this also requires customers that are intelligent and diligent enough to make sure that their interests are served, i.e. do not get taken in by fancy brochures, the image portrayed by the salesman or invitations to ball games and fancy restaurants. One should always be on one's guard when confronted by sales patter but at the same time no firm will be able to survive if it does not control the urge to take advantage of its customers. This requires more than a nicely formulated 'code of conduct'. It requires constant effort from the top of the organisation down through the ranks. It certainly does not help things if top managers of financial firms pay themselves a king's ransom that is disproportionately large in comparison to the pay that those lower down the hierarchy get paid.

11 Oct 2012

Bear Stearns Deal: I am a big boy says Dimon

You may well be a big boy many a JP Morgan Shareholder may think. But the revelation that the deal may have possibly cost JP Morgan $5 to $10 billion demonstrates that Mergers and Acquisitions are a dangerous game that more often than not destroys value for the acquirer as many academic studies document. Apart from the business aspect there is also the fact that corporate governance is not properly functioning with respect to dealmaking. Shareholders (and not only those on the acquiring side) have too little say and are not able to scrutinise the terms of the deals before they are agreed.

10 Oct 2012

CEO sets the tone for any business

We agree with this statement (Who's the Best on Wall Street: Risk Management Report Card - CNBC) but want to add that the development and empowering of a team of senior managers (and good succession planning for all these positions) is as important in fostering a strong culture in any business, large or small.

9 Oct 2012

Unexpected consequences of regulation

Forcing ING to sell assets may lead to a reduction in competion in the UK savings market. Well done Brussels! Your bureaucrats never disappoint. (Daily Mail)

Financial Transaction Tax: Ideology wins over Reason

No surprise that the tax-and-spend zealots have won a victory (Reuters) on the issue of the Financial Transaction Tax (FTA). Politics is forever dominated by those who either want to control other people's lives and behaviour (Stalin and Hitler are extreme examples, but history is full of prominent examples, not a few of them have earned themselves the additional title 'Great') or those who want to benefit from the sweat and effort of their fellow human beings (Slavery being the extreme example there). The proponents of the FTA are a confused bunch where the common denominator is (1) a lack (or unwillingness) of understanding of economics and finance, (2) the desire to spend other people's money and (3) the desire to legislate in an arbitrary, discriminatory and undemocratic fashion. The fact that in the case of the FTA a tax is levied on a particular activity puts the intelligence coefficient behind this tax on a par with the medieval window tax. Basically all taxes directed at specific human activities should be kept to an absolute minimum as they are an effort to constrain the free choice of the citizens. This means that any discussion of the FTA's technical merits are an implicit admission that such arbitrary legislation is acceptable. In addition, tax legislation in most (pseudo)democracies following the 'Westminster Model' is undemocratic and not subject to the agreement of the citizens - for a discussion of this aspect readers are referred to have a look at www.dirdem.org. Please get in touch if you are interested to support our campaign for direct democracy. In the meantime we will watch with interest the impact of the FTA and financial markets - who will win, who will lose - and how long the machinations of the Euro-Clique can continue until their whole bureaucratic edifice implodes.

Investment Management to the Rescue?

Many banks now think that a renewed focus on asset management will allow them to replenish their depleted earnings as investment banking income continues to be under pressure from difficult trading markets and uncertain economies. (see Wunderwaffe Asset Management?) While asset management certainly is a (very) profitable business if managed correctly it is also a business that requires management skills that are not always in abundant supply in many financial service firms. This applies to banking and insurance behemoths but also to small boutiques. While the larger bureaucratic organisations can easilty be stiffled by too much politics, rigid hierarchies and the lack of focus due to a multitude of business lines the smaller firms are not immune to infighting among senior management and often are overly dependent on an autocratic founder or dominant shareholder.

4 Oct 2012

To-big-to-fail banks worse than before - Roubini

No one should be surprised about Nouriel Roubini's latest comment. The simple reforms that would go a long way to make banking systems safer - while not requiring enormous rule-books and an army of expensive consultants, lawyers, accountants and compliance officers - have still not been considered, let alone implemented.

18 Sep 2012

Regulators turn blind eye on Payday lenders
The number of bureaucrats in regulatory agencies is growing exponentially but where is the beef?

9 Aug 2012

Subsidised Bank lending problematic

This headline (Government scheme to boost lending to small firms 'could lead to abuse by banks and plunging rates for savers', Daily Mail) points to a serious flaw in all schemes that are designed to boost bank lending. Apart from a command-and-control economy where governments direct banks to lend to specific sectors or companies the use of subsidies (including those from supranational entities like the EIB or World Bank) open the door for abuse. The application process is convoluted and not transparent in most cases and it is far from clear that in the end it is not more important who knows the bank manager well - or is politically well connected - than the viability of the project for which the loan is proposed to be used.

31 Jul 2012

UBS hit by loss on Facebook IPO

This headline says it all. The hottest (or most hyped, depending on your point of view) new issue deal of the year, maybe decade, and one of the investment banks involved in the deal has to declare a $356 million loss related to the transaction. As I am never tired to repeat: Investment Banking is a simple business - if you do not make it complicated!

23 Jul 2012

Asian Financial Centers - Opportunity or Threat?

To predict that Asian economies - and financial centers - will see more growth than Europe or the USA will come as no surprise to anyone. But the use of words such as 'power shift' sounds alarmist as the expression carries an undertone of threat. Quite to the contrary, the growth of these Centers will create numerous opportunities for older centers - in particular those in Europe, and especially for the dominant center in London.

22 Jul 2012

Libor Manipulation: A Victimless Crime?

After having received a lot of criticism for my earlier post on the subject I am glad to find voices that also 'query the effect of Libor manipulation'.

29 Jun 2012

The latest Idiocy from Brussels (via Paris)

Control freaks in Brussels and various capitals in 'democratic' Europe are having a field day planning ever-more convoluted regulations. The latest example are the "Guidelines on sound remuneration policies under the AIFMD" that have just been released for 'consultation' by the Paris-based ESMA. The perfect antidote for those suffering from sleepless nights. I did not expect much before opening the document but 104 (!!) pages surpassed my expectations by a wide margin. Anyone wants to comment? Does the political class really push Europe down to second-class economic status?

28 Jun 2012

Libor Manipulation: each coin has two sides

I am not condoning manipulative behaviour by any of the banks that contributed to setting London Interbank rates. But to all those confessing to be 'shocked' I would like to say that they should see things in perspective. For everyone who is charged too high an interest-rate as a consequence of manipulation there is another party who can enjoy a lower interest rate. Even among those banks contributing to the daily fixing there will be losers and winners on any given day. It is highly unlikely that they all would be positioned the same way. The way the rates are set (smoothed averages of the rates submitted by all 16 banks) also prevents that rates are too far out of line with the 'true' market rates. Inverted comma due to the fact that one can dispute what a market rate for Libor is as it moves up and down all the time and is not necessarily set in stone. Different customers get charged different rates, it is after all a free market rate.
In conclusion one may say yes, there was manipulation. But was there really a lot of damage done? and who lost/won, and by how much? The bloodhounds in politics, the media and self-declared experts will have a field day, as will have lawyers on both sides of the Atlantic. There will be wholesale condemnation of greedy bankers but very little forensic work. And above all this will be another triumph for the compensation culture. One group will escape without any punishment: the regulators who have once more found to be sleeping at the wheel!

27 Jun 2012

UK Establishment: Bent on destroying Banks

While the Euro Crisis rages and serves as a useful decoy one development is largely unnoticed by the Commentariat: the war that the UK Establishment - political parties and some parts of the media - wage against the banking system that they claim to protect from intrusive regulation from abroad.
Certainly there may have been cases of mis-selling of payment protection or swaps but to rule that all such transactions were executed in bad faith by the banks that sold the protects is going too far, not just a step but a mile! The payment protection bandwaggon is in full swing, all customers can claim full refunds even if they were fully aware of the limitations of the product. The campaign to allow untold numbers of commercial clients who went into swap transactions to hedge against (mostly interest rate) risk is in full swing and probably will also provide a let-off for those who argue (with the benefit of hindsight) that the derivative deals landed them with losses. Basically one could apply a similar argument to all insurance products that have been sold and where there was no subsequent claim. Were the premiums not wasted and in effect a 'loss' for the buyer of the insurance? As there is no free lunch the shareholders of the banks as well as the majority of bank customers will be the ultimate victims of this totally unjustified witch hunt that is perpetrated against the banks.

Bank Bailouts for ever?

As long as there is no radical reform of the banking system we may well have to endure bank bailouts for a very long time and this prediction by a senior economist may well come true. (CNBC)

13 Jun 2012

While Rome burns the EU's Almunia plays in his little Sandbox

One could not make this up, but while the EU's house is on the edge of a major conflagration the useless Nannycrat Joaquin Almunia, in his role as the EU's competition commissioner, continues his fight to destabilise Germany's banking system by imposing untimely conditions for the 'restructuring' of Bayerische Landesbank. At a time when it should be 'all hands on deck' to get the economies going and allow banks to lend money this career politicians picks senseless fights at the ultimate expense of the citizens - who had no say in his selection for office. Careful perusal of his CV left me with the impression that he has not done a single day's work outside the sheltered realm of politics.

1 Jun 2012

Jamie Dimon: From Saint to Villain

Since news about the trading loss in JP Morgan's Chief Investment Office broke in April there has been any number of commentators who vilify Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan's CEO. But most of them forget that investment is never a sure-fire bet. One has to take losses from time to time, there is no one-way street otherwise we would all be millionaires. I would guess that there has not been a single commentator who really has seen the full history of these trades and as a consequence no one is really qualified to pass judgement. For a large institution like JPM the only thing that counts at the end of the day, quarter and year is the overall P&L. If positions were under water during any period that is a professional hazard and needs to be managed properly. But many years, decades even, of investing have taught me that the really skilled investor shines when he has to nurse a loss-making position back to profit. Those who unleashed the attack dogs in the Media and in Politics are to a large extent the same ones who fell for the cult of the imperial CEO - and thought he could walk on water.

16 May 2012

JP Morgan 'loss' - too much ado about nothing?

The reported 'loss' that JP Morgan took on its investment account may appear to be large but in the context of a portfolio size of $ 300+ billion and a total balance sheet of more than $ 2000 billion it really is small beer. Every investor or trader worth his salt will know that no investment goes up in a straight line. Daily fluctuations of one percent are the norm. That would mean that the investment book could be up or down three billion dollars on any given day. Hedging is no panacea. If you fully hedge all risk out of a portfolio you may as well stay in treasury bills as the cost of the hedge will eat up all the expected profit. I am sure that some aspects of the portfolio could probably have been handled better but loan books - even surrogate ones - are usually meant to be held to maturity so the mark-to-market loss should not have been of any consideration. That various busy-bodies (media, various officials like the department of justice or the New York Auditor) should feel competent to be backseat drivers for JP Morgan's investment department adds a twist of absurdity to the whole affair. Jamie Dimon also made a mistake to preemptively excuse himself in front of a baying media crowd rather than calmly explain the realities of the investment game.

8 May 2012

Poor start for Monsieur Hollande

Hollande has done surprisingly poorly in the second round of the French Presidential elections. Given the unpopularity of Sarkozy (due to his somewhat abrasive and erratic behaviour) and the strong headwinds due to the fallout from the ongoing financial crisis, one would have expected nothing but a landslide victory by the socialist contender. Now he uses the first days after his vapid victory to hit out (Daily Mail) at the Financial Sector, and in particular at the City of London. We have a simple switch to suggest to this party apparatchik: Give up all the costly subsidies that your farmers receive and we might think about protecting the City of London less vigorously. The cost of the subsidies that hundreds of millions of consumers have to bear is readily quantifiable while the damage that the financial sector is causing - if there is any at all! - is mostly based on smoke and mirrors (even the backing of 'Star' economists from Harvard etal is less than convincing, they only achievement they can be proud of is to get too much shelf space by the media).

25 Apr 2012

Defer bonuses for 10 years?

Andrew Haldane, an otherwise sane Bank of England official, has suggested that bonus deferral and claw-back periods should be extended to 10 years or more for (senior?) bank executives. While we have sympathy for those who think that bank regulation is not up to the task we would consider this proposal to be unworkable and counterproductive. Who in his right mind would be willing to work on that basis? 10 years is an awfully long time - just think of the young banker aged 25 who would have to wait until he is 35 to enjoy the benefits of his effort! You might as well work in a communist system. One has to suspect that the Bank of England officials - typically for the caste of government employees all over the world - simply have lost touch with reality. We have pointed out repeatedly that proper banking reform has still not really been enacted. Stalinist 'command-and-control' systems are no appropriate substitute.

19 Apr 2012

Reply from M. Philippe Lamberts - MEP (Green)

while I agree with you that we have to incentivize banks to go back to their basic mission of collecting savings and using those to fund the real economy, I totally disagree with your statements on pay.

1. There is absolutely no factual or scientific evidence of a correlation between eight-figure salaries and real value creation; in this business, banking executives have basically (up until very recently, see CitiGroup case) been left to determine their own pay, getting away with whatever they dared asking for. The hypothesis of self-interest (greed if you will) driving pay schemes is I believe much more credible than one that purportedly would relate them to value creation.

2. Your statement that a 1/1 relationship between fixed and max variable pay would lead to a hike in fixed salaries remains to be proven; maybe a way for banking executives to have shareholders approve what ended up as absurdly high salary packages was precisely to have the fixed part relatively modest, so as to make size of the real total package less obvious. Those executives might have a tougher sales act to perform in front of their boards and their shareholders should they want to convert a significant part of what used to be variable into fixed pay. I definitely would like to see how they manage before I decide whether or not I agree with your statement.

3. The pay rules that are being proposed are in fact very simple : 1/1 ratio between fixed and variable; 20-fold ratio between average and maximum pay; 40-fold ratio between minimum and maximum pay. I do not believe the adjective "onerous" to reflect that simplicity and I see these ratios as more than reasonable. Administering those limits would not impose an extra administrative burden on firms; as far as I know, they do manage their payroll (with the help of effective and efficient IT systems, I would venture). It would just need them to adapt and publish their existing pay rules, which are hopefully documented. Enforcing legislation would be left to existing supervising bodies; no new ones need be created. Your mentioning of "expensive bureaucracies" gives me the opportunity of questioning whether decently equipped and paid supervising authorities would, in terms of absolute cost, come anywhere near the total impact of financial sector irresponsibility to our societies, which runs into the trillions. That said, I do not see this as an excuse not to tackle the issue of the cost-effectiveness of government as a whole and I do agree that there is still room for improvement in that area.

4. I'd also like to discuss your statement as to "the conviction that unequal incomes are somewhat suspect". On that, I would refer you to Wilkinson & Pickett's "The Spirit Level", which demonstrates a statistical correlation between many key indicators of societal wellbeing (incl. life expectancy, crime, education...) and the level of revenue equality in society. Those who claim that more inequality is beneficial to society as a whole have yet to come up with anything coming close to similar evidence proving what is, I'm afraid to say, belief rather than fact. Everything indicates on the contrary that more equal societies perform better. So I my view, what is suspect is that drive towards absurd - and self-serving - pay packages in an industry that has run amok.

5. Finally, a word on "the Chimera that any problem can be fixed by rules set down by an 'enlightened' technocrat". Beyond that statement, assuming that you agree that problems - at least non trivial ones such as the climate/resource equation or the closely interlinked private and public debt issues - need to be fixed, I do not know exactly how you would suggest to do that. As a citizen, as a democrat and as a lawmaker, I agree that trusting one's future to "enlightened technocrats" is an option that would simply lead us to disaster. I might also say that having seen how unregulated (financial) markets drive the planet and its societies towards collapse, I would not trust our future to them either. What is then left is public, open, fact-based debates leading to decisions to be made by democratically-elected people.

Now, as an author of amendments on banking industry pay, I do not see myself as an "enlightened bureaucrat". I am a politically-aware citizen, who, after a 22-year career in business, got elected and I remain accountable for my work. As you may know, I will need to face my voters in 2014 and I definitely have skin in the game, much more than any banking executive has at the moment. You will therefore understand that have little desire or interest for being lectured by such people on my societal responsibilities. It is not clear to me in what capacity you are writing to me - as a citizen or as a service provider to an industry that has a lot to account for and who stands to lose revenue if pay packages would go down. I will therefore leave the argument at that.

18 Apr 2012

Pay regulation not addressing the real problem

What really drives financial market regulation is not logical thinking but a mishmash of misguided ideology as well as a reversion to good old authoritarian attitudes. The former is derived from the conviction that unequal incomes are somewhat suspect, the latter is the Chimera that any problem can be fixed by rules set down by an 'enlightened' technocrat. This leads to absurd outcomes such as the current proposal to limit any discretionary bonus payment to a maximum level equal to the amount of annual base salary. Not much thought is given to the fact that this will lead to an upward move in basic pay which in turn will mean that the financial institution that pays these higher salaries will become less, not more, stable. Making compensation more sensitive to the time horizon of risks incurred in a bank is another can of worms that regulators seem to be intent on opening. While one has to admit that remuneration policies in many banks and other financial institutions have been found wanting during the past few years this situation is not being helped by the way that politicians and regulators fall over themselves in order to help out the same institutions with public support once they reap the fruits of their profligacy. Proper financial reform - especially the introduction of limited purpose banking - would ensure that the shareholders of the banks - and not the taxpayers - would pick up the bill for any poor management decisions. The need for onerous pay regulation - and an expensive bureaucracy to monitor compliance - would be avoided.

5 Apr 2012

Europe's banks face gaping capital hole says EBA

When the EBA states that many banks would have insufficient core capital under the rules that will come into force we are not surprised. As we repeatedly said, no amount of capital will ever make banks 100 percent bulletproof. One just has to make more and more pessimistic assumptions and come to the conclusion that a bank is not 'safe' enough. The only way to get the taxpayer off the hook once and for all would be the introduction of limited purpose banking as suggested by Larry Kotlikoff.

28 Mar 2012

Not all publicity is good publicity

How much longer can the image of Goldman Sachs get knocks such as these? It is time that someone minded the house again.

23 Mar 2012

UBS boss hires old friend for senior role

When one reads that the recently appointed CEO of UBS hires a former colleague from his days at Merrill Lynch as Co-Head of Global Investment Banking one has to assume that the hiring old an (business) friend may give a certain amount of comfort and hope that relationships in the top management team will work smoothly. But there is always the danger that sentimental aspects cloud the judgement or that conflicts of interest impede rational decision making or sour the morale of the other team members. The big question is also why a global (?) player like UBS cannot grow its own senior managers. Once you had to be an officer in the Swiss Army to climb the management ladder at the old UBS (before it was taken over by local rival Swiss Bank Corporation) and that surely was not providing an adaequate talent pool (and led to the sorry demise of the 'old' UBS) but has the bank really drawn the right conclusion and found the right formula? The track record over the past 10 plus years speaks a clear verdict.

19 Mar 2012

Stress tests - same (sad) old story

The publication of the results of the latest stress test performed on US banks does little to inspire longterm confidence in the ability of the financial system to be protected from another (near) meltdown. We repeat our contention that only a limited purpose banking system will give near certainty that taxpayers will never again have to be called upon to bail out insolvent banks.

18 Mar 2012

Conflicts of Interest in Investment Banking

The discussion about separating banking and securities and investment banking has reached a dead end. But the inherent conflicts of interest in an investment banking world where intermediaries directly compete with their supposed customers (the word client is no longer appropriate) will always tempt service providers to treat their clients as 'muppets'. Maybe not even reverting to the rules imposed by Glass Steagall would be enough to improve the situation and the principal trading function and the customer advisory side should be separated like they were in the UK brokerage business before 'Big Bang'. This would mean that salespeople and corporate finance advisers would have more incentive to work with and for their clients. As long as this is not feasible the only protection for customers - be they individual investors or 'sophisticated' professionals working for fund managers or corporates - is to follow the old rule of  'Buyer Beware' and not to be too trusting when dealing with their sell-side counterparts. All too often they fall for sales patter, get taken in by glossy brochures and forget to check if there are better terms available in the market.

3 Mar 2012

Political pressure to prevent CDS on Greece to pay out?

The example of a minor Austrian bank demonstrates the potential fallout that can be expected if CDS sellers are required to pay out in case Greece is 'officially' (by the insider-dominated ISDA committee) declared to be in default. Kommunalkreditbank - already rescued by the Austrian government - could be required to pay out in the high hundreds of millions of Euros if it is required to pay out on the CDS contracts it has sold. One has to assume that the Austrian government - and quite a few others - are not too keen to see the ISDA committee to declare that a credit event means that CDS contracts have to be paid out. Who will be brave enough to sue the Committee? Don't expect any help from the regulators - they are in the pockets of politicians who probably snigger about the fact that the CDS market has been little less than a game like the many online games - a financial markets farmville.
"Since when is a country's defaulting on its debt not a credit event?" asks Alan Abelson (Barron's)

2 Mar 2012

CDS - a misconceived instrument is Null and Void

Says today's headline in a newspaper (City AM). To leave the decision about whether or not a CDS pays out in a 'credit event' to a group of market insiders at a private industry association such as ISDA makes a mockery of proper regulation in financial markets. Especially as the members of the relevant ISDA committee are the largest users and providers of credit default swaps who have made vast profits from this market during the past ten years. No surprise that the author states that "The decision has been criticised by some as making a mockery of credit default swaps on sovereign debt. These critics believe that their value has now been permanently undermined." We could not agree more and every user of this market has to face a negligence claim from his investors if he uses this product in the future. We always thought that the construction of the CDS contract was overly complicated and likely to lead to disagreement exactly at the point in time when they would be needed most, i.e. in a credit event. Would it not have been more sensible to design a product similar to an option? This could have been exercised at any time - credit event or not - simply based on the price performance of the underlying securities.

Charlie Munger on Derivatives in 2003

"But I confidently predict that there are big troubles to come. The system is almost insanely irresponsible. And what people think are fixes aren’t really fixes. It’s so complicated I can’t do it justice here – but you can’t believe the trillions of dollars involved. You can’t believe the complexity. You can’t believe how difficult it is to do the accounting. You can’t believe how big the incentives are to have wishful thinking about values, and wishful thinking about ability to clear."

29 Feb 2012

Assuming a Meteorite hits New York

all banks in the USA may see their ratings downgraded. That seems to be the logic behind the thinking that causes Tom Brown to decry the latest 'nonsense from the rating agencies'. Banking as it is conducted at present will always pose a certain amount of risk - only 'limited purpose banking' that turns banks into a sort of mutual fund would avoid any risk of failure. As a consequence, war games based on worst case scenarios may be of intellectual interest but they also undermine the credibility of rating agencies.

27 Feb 2012

UBS appoints ex Bear Stearns CFO to senior role

One can only wonder, and wonder and wonder again about the Personnel Policy (if you can call it that) at UBS. Just last week someone still working there said that the people around him change constantly, there is an annual turnover rate of 70 pct. Now the firm pins its hopes on Sam Molinaro, and he is based in far away New York. Given the fate of his last employer and how long he was away from the major league - can this be any help for the once proud ship UBS? Does the bank have nobody in its ranks who could to this job?

19 Feb 2012

Toxic Mix - Politics and Consultants

Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) had enough problems at its hands before a young and inexperienced politician and a consulting firm made its life near-impossible. Running a bank after a near-death experience due to overreach by its previous CEO and board (some members inexplicably still have not been purged) is a tough assignment. When a chancellor with hardly any real business experience outside the charmed circle of lobbies and professional party politics tries to micro-manage a business the task becomes impossible - especially when nimble competitors do not face similar constraints. And giving a consulting firm carte blanche to meddle in this situation cannot help much to safeguard the ailing ship RBS. Staff of the consulting firms often are quite young and have no practical business experience worth mentioning. Even senior consultants often have moved up the consulting ranks and have similar deficiencies with respect to real business life. If anything, they might be busy trying to jump ship to a position on 'the other side of the fence'. Quite a number of senior positions in Financial Institutions are held by former Consultants and we are polite enough to describe their track record as 'mixed' at best.

10 Feb 2012

Compensation under control?

Despite our recent positive comment on Barclays Bank we have to put out a critical comment about the compensation practices at the leading (only?) British Investment Bank. It is risible that compensation increases by 2 pct during 2011 when total headcount drops by 6000 over the year. It means that 'cheap' bank and support staff was 'cut' while expensive staff in 'Wealth Management' and Investment Banking was added. This may be an explanation but it should not be an excuse for lax oversight.

Goldman Spin Master to retire

Goldman's public image suffered a few scratches during the past few years. So when we spotted that the firm's PR supremo was leaving after 12 years with the firm we were reminded of the time when (investment) banks and many other businesses got by without spin masters, and a happy time it was. After all, all that really counts is how well you work for your clients (or should one only say customers these days?). They pay the bills and word of mouth does the rest. Which CFO would really allocate a piece of business according to the size of a corporate image ad in the latest edition of Euromoney (or the FT). Good PR means to answer the hard questions in a straightforward way, and most importantly, do business the honest way. If that is not evident to the outside world than the best PR campaign is only wasted money.

9 Feb 2012

Barclays does not 'fall short'

As some in the Media and Analyst community may want you to believe. I am the first to be sceptical when banks make grandiose announcements about the goals they try to achieve. But succeeding in investment banking is a game where those who last the course will win out in the end. Nervous prodding by analysts and media should not divert management's attention too much. The way the competitive landscape has unfolded over the past few years should allow Barclays to slowly but steadily up the rankings. Profitability is under pressure at all banks and no one can be sure what the new banking world will look like in a few years. On a more mundane scale, even the refurbished branches of the bank look great when compared to the competition here in the UK.

8 Feb 2012

Are Bankers really overpaid?

Are all bankers overpaid? This seems to be the conclusion when reading the news on a daily basis. But reports that hundreds of headteachers in London’s schools are now receiving annual pay packages of more than £100’000 indicate that generalisations are inappropriate. Heads enjoy generous holidays, there is very high job security and there is no competitive pressure. They also have managed to escape teaching duties to a large extent. One wonders how they fill their days given that personnel turnover in most school is also relatively modest. The main problem with banker's pay is the fact that senior bankers - CEO's and the top level of management - benefit to a large extent from weak corporate governance that is endemic in all public companies. But this problem should not be used to target bankers in general.

7 Feb 2012

How to avoid employment tribunals - better people management

It may well be too easy in the UK to launch an appeal to an employment tribunal but it usually takes two to tango and without passing judgement about an ongoing case I want to argue that cases such as this one underline the need for careful staff assessments before and after hiring a person. All-too-often personnel decisions are based on academic achievement or (especially in finance) the numbers in terms of P&L. The qualitative aspects of management are easily neglected in a pressured enviroment and personality clashes can quickly escalate out of control.

3 Feb 2012

UBS - curious selection of new board members

What is the 'politically correct' composition of a company board? We are not sure that board members are more than an in-house management consultancy. They certainly are far removed from the real owners of the company and even the fiduciaries in the asset management world have little say in the affairs of a board. But news that UBS has appointed two women to its board - one an academic economist and the other one a lawyer - raises some questions. Given the appalling track record of economists (you all know the many jokes about economists, as for example: An economist is a trained professional paid to guess wrong about the economy) one can not be too hopeful about these latest appointments. Don't forget the lawyers though: Q: Why won't sharks attack lawyers? A: Professional courtesy. Maybe selection by eye colour would be more effective. There may be a good cause for more women on company boards but we doubt that giving in those who expect miracles from this will be proven to be right in the long run. Whether or not a bank run by economists (Axel Weber, the incoming Chairman of UBS is another one) only time will tell.

2 Feb 2012

Credit Traders accused of manipulating valuations

During the court case in which former senior credit traders of Credit Suisse are accused of manipulating the valuations of their trading books the revealing statement by one of them caught my eye: When a data-entry employee asked one of the accused “What sort of P&L do you need today?”  the trader responded that all books should end the day ‘up’ by $35 million” and the prosecution claimed that later one of the traders “artificially increased the prices of several ABN1 positions” to meet the trader's profit target. (Bloomberg BusinessWeek). This confirms our suspicion that the controls in many investment firms are woefully inadequate.

31 Jan 2012

Dual CEO'S - if anything a formula to be promoted

The recent troubles at Blackberry manufacturer Research in Motion seem to suggest that dual leadership can be damaging for an organisation (FT). But Rome had two consuls during its rise to dominance, and they were limited in their power to a tenure of one year. Goldman Sachs in the late 1970s and early 1980s had co-chiefs - and that was when the firm laid the foundation to its rise to dominance. The challenge for boards and shareholders is to make sure there is a deep bench of talent - a thing that is sorely missing in many companies, why else would a company ever look for an external candidate for any of its top positions?

What is the future for banking pay?

Asks Gillian Tett (FT). When even the shares of Goldman Sachs, the company that is supposed to be the Gold Standard for banks, are at best marking time since the IPO in the late 1990s it becomes obvious that something is wrong not only with the compensation structure in the (investment) banking industry but with the whole business model (and the managements that are responsible for this state of affairs)

Why is Adoboli alone facing the music?

Seeing Kweko Adoboli as the lonely accused in the Courtroom creates a certain amount of sympathy for the young man. It is easy for senior UBS staff to pin all blame for the billion dollar disaster on one person. This makes it easy to escape blame for a  management culture that allowed a completely insufficient risk control to exist. Senior managers were busy enough chasing profits at any price with a firm eye on the next bonus payment they expected to receive. But Risk Management should mean that fail-safe procedures are in place - if necessary in triplicate - that make it impossible for any single person to play the markets the way Adoboli is accused of having done. Senior managers have been fired (with or without a 'golden handshake' as farewell present?) but should there not be other people facing justice in the courtroom? Oswald Gruebel may have wished for a more glorious end to his career, but he will certainly not feel any pain in his pocket.

23 Jan 2012

Is there any 'Leadership' in the City of London?

The 'Leadership' of the City of London (if there is something worth that name) is outmaneuvred at every stage. Not surprising as it is composed of superannuated 'worthies'. Decisive action a la De Gaulle would stop the interventionists on the Continent dead in their tracks. What would happen if anyone would want to dismantle the EU agricultural subidy gravy train over France's wishes?

20 Jan 2012

Tobin Tax: Political Caste in Germany wants your blood!

Norbert Lammert is the current President of the German Lower House (Bundestag). Today a headline tells us that he is also 'supporting' the introduction of a financial transaction tax. While some might argue in favour of such a tax it is revealing that its supporters have mainly one common denominator: they are supporters of more state spending and indirectly in support of 'robbing Peter to pay Paul' (or pay themselves or their political clients). Particularly galling is the fact that people such as Lammert - who as far as we could find out has never held a proper job in the private sector - have the temerity to put more and more onerous taxes and 'charges' onto the shoulders of the powerless citizens. In the case of Germany one also has to say that the country has a long tradition of putting (too much) faith into regulations and top-down dirigism. Despite the economic and political success after 1945 one should not forget that this was just to compensate for the disastrous policies pursued in the decades before and as a consequence the net balance is not that encouraging. The irony is that Germans worked hard in order to deliver goods on credit to all their customers in the Eurozone who now can not repay the loans. So there is a huge bill coming due and the good standing of Germany in the credit markets is to a large extent only the reverse side of the fact that many other countries are in distress. So by necessity some markets must have low interest rates as they offer a refuge - but they are not of much higher quality. Putting another tax on business will not improve things for anyone - but it will guarantee that the German financial markets will become even more a backwater.
PS: Readers who want to support a fundamental change in political systems that allow professional politicians and lobbyist to run roughshod over the interests of citizens may want to support Dirdem - Campaign for Direct Democracy here and here

14 Jan 2012

Who wants to submit to the degrading 'FSA approval process'?

News that Richard Moore, a very senior and experienced financial market executive that Lloyds TSB wants to hire as its global head of trading, 'has yet to receive FSA approval' before his appointment can be finalised illustrates the absurdity of recent regulatory 'innovations' in the UK.  It reminds very much of the old boy network that 'regulates' entry to British Universities where personal interviews are nothing but a smoke screen to weed out 'undesirable' applicants or favour those who appear 'politically correct. In a rational system of regulation one should assume that an executive with more than twenty years experience in senior and responsible roles should be more than suitable to take on a role such as head of trading at Lloyds TSB. If he has done something that contravened regulations or laws that would be a reason to prevent him from taking a senior appointment. But to give unaccountable bureaucrats - often with hardly any or much less practical business experience - the final say in an inquisitorial and secretive procedure will do nothing to help London its pre-eminent role as a global financial centre.

12 Jan 2012

Hire and Fire backfired!

The disaster that is currently played out in many banks and brokerage firms stems from poor judgement and (irresponsible) people management. There was no reason to indulge in a renewed frenzy of hiring after the 2008-09 credit crunch and staff that now has to be fired was hired based on speculation that the business would follow. Unfortunately playing with people's lives carries very low penalties for those responsible higher up the hierarchies.

No more listing schools on job applications - British Deputy Prime Minister

Given the abysmal approval rating that the British Deputy Prime Minister already receives this 'proposal' confirms that the lunatic fringe is alive and well in the ruling establishment. Logically the only way to hire people would be not to discriminate at all and just pay everybody a salary from the sheer inexhaustible money spigot the Bank of England provides. No questions asked about previous experience, pay, age, skill, 'race', political views, - that is unless you are a right-wing 'extremist'. We do not support the BNP in any way but it is noteworthy that some of their supporters have been deemed to be politically not correct enough to be allowed into certain jobs here in the UK, so this might well be the thin end of the wedge.

MF Global - famous last words

"If there is a relevant risk, we will have a relevant measure and limits around that risk"
Thus spoke Michael Stockman, Chief Risk Officer of MF Global (Risk Magazine, April 2011)

7 Jan 2012

Banks may lose Euro 1 Billion in Hungary

A Fiat Law imposed on banks in Hungary by the 'democratic' Orban regime could cost them nearly Euro 1 billion. This is due to the setting of an artificial exchange rate on foreign currency borrowings by Hungarians (mostly to finance mortgages at cheap Euro or Swiss Franc interest rates).
We have always scratched our heads when we read about the absurdly high prices that were paid for East European banking 'assets' before the credit crunch. The financial structure was also wrong - the subsidiaries in the individual countries should have been organised on a stand-alone basis so they could be cut loose in a worst-case scenario. Local funding would mean than devaluations would not be a problem for the parent company.