Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Collapse

Here is another word I am using too much - collapse. Unfortunately, everything is collapsing; growth, banks, property speculators, and confidence. Everything is indeed falling apart, except inflation. That number is surging northwards.

Here is today's dollop of misery.

The UK needs a plan

You know we are in trouble when politicians start calling for a rescue plan. It will take more than a cut in stamp duty and liberal bankruptcy protection laws to save the UK economy from its day of reckoning. Personally, I think there is nothing that can be done other than sit back and suck it up.

Spain's largest property developer collapses

We covered this story yesterday, but repetition is the mother of learning. There is much instruction to be had from Martinsa-Fadesa. The property developer was unable to secure a €150 million (£119 million) loan from the banks and creditors. These speculators were already holding €5 billion of debt.

Panic is now gripping Spanish financial markets. If Martina-Fadesa could fail, all Spanish property developers could fail. Perhaps, they will and if they do, they will take the Spanish banking system down as well.

£30 billion is wiped off the FTSE

Like everything that goes wrong with the UK financial system, it is all the fault of Americans.

Bernanke sees downside risks

Those desperate interest rate cuts haven't worked; the US economy is still slowing and the financial system is still imploding. In fact, Bernanke's mad dash to cut rates provoked a screaming rise in commodity prices and led to the highest level of producer price inflation since 1981.

So what is next? The interest rate option is closed off. The fiscal stimulus package temporarily kept consumers spending, but the impact is quickly tailing off. Undeterred, there is talk of a second package of tax cuts. Meanwhile, US public sector indebtedness keeps on rising, and the taxpayer is firmly on the hook for a massive bank bailout.

Bernanke is in a hole, and he helped to dig it.

Bush - no bailout

According to Bush, the Treasury's frantic weekend attempts to shore up confidence in the GSE's in "no bailout". Whatever......

Economists say UK economy in trouble

Inflation is soaring (and surging); the economy is slowing; and the financial system is imploding. Businessweek thinks we might be in trouble.

Commercial property down 2 percent in June.

Commercial property values sank by a bigger-than-expected 2 percent in June. The market is down more than 19 percent since it peaked a year ago.

Equitable life - more delays

Here is the FT's take on the crisis:

"Equitable Life policyholders will have to wait at least until the autumn to find out if the government will bow to calls from the parliamentary ombudsman to compensate more than 1m policyholders who lost billions of pounds in the mutual’s crisis. Alistair Darling, chancellor, has ordered lawyers to pore over the ombudsman’s report and is expected to wait until the House of Commons returns from its summer break before giving any view on compensation claims."

15 comments:

Markbaldy said...

David Cameron needs to say it how it is and stop trying to be so PC.
He needs to admit that without the UK actually PRODCUCING & EXPORTING and becoming SELF SUFFICIENT, the country is well and truly stuffed !
He also needs to go into detail about how Gordon has squandered out gold reserves, spent zillions on public services we could not afford in the first place and how much tax we are paying for the economic mismanagement practiced by this crap government.
How can anyone have confidence in a party that cannot even run it's own finances... this New Labour shower are broke and have just about bankrupted the rest of the country as well.

sobers said...

Agree with markbaldy above. But no politician is ever going to tell the Great British Public the TRUTH as that would not be well received. The GBP thinks it deserves its 2 cars, electronic gadgets, 3 holidays a year, new kitchen/bathroom every few years etc etc. Anyone telling them otherwise will get short shrift in the voting booth. So the GBP will get a rude shock when the seismic shift in world economic power and wealth shifts from the Western economies to the Eastern (and oil producing)ones. There won't be the money for govts to spend (sorry waste) on social care and other fripperies. Everyone will have to accept a lower standard of living. More work, less leisure, less stuff. Living standards will have to go back 50 years.

There's no WSC to offer "blood, sweat and tears" in the current political lineup.

Anonymous said...

Remember children:

It's = it is.

Its = belonging to it

Anonymous said...

Nick's plan:

1) Slash public sector by 50%, either staff numbers or salary
2) Require balanced budgets in all government departments and agencies.
3) Eliminate minimum wage
4) Scrap inflation targeting. Implement gold convertibility at tomorrow's spot rate and have the BoE function as a currency board
5) Gradually phase out fractional reserve lending by upping reserve requirements
6) Eliminate the FSCS deposit insurance
7) Tell the EU to get fucked and stop paying them
8) Starting drawing up privatisation plans for education and healthcare.

Nick

Alice Cook said...

Nick,

I like the idea of an "alternative plan". I broadly agree with 1, 2 and 5. Could agree to modified 5 and 8. Disagree with 3 and 6. Not sure about 7.

I would add a couple of measures;

a) land tax;
b) stronger financial sector regulation
c) tight regulation of estate agents,
d) looser planning regs.
e) Reintroduction of monetary targets as indicative guidelines for monetary policy.

I am sure there are more, but I got to dash.

Alice

aSteve said...

Nick:

1,2,5 - Agree
3 - Already irrelevant
4,6 - Awful ideas

7... maybe. We either need to get out act together, or get out. I've no strong opinion on which... Having read Conway's deeply scathing book about the ERM, I am now slightly pro-Euro. If this were to be handled right, it could be a significant benefit. For example, a central bank entirely separate from the treasury would be a boon in enforcing point 2.

8... I think this dangerous. I think that it was plans like this that while arguably the "right" thing to do, were what undermined the Conservatives. Any transition needs to be slow and gradual to avoid causing shocks that lead to resentment from the electorate.

Alice:

a - we already have this.

b,c - couldn't agree more.

d - probably a good idea... we should have strict quality requirements - but government should step back from land management.

e - disagree. The key problem with monetary policy is that the remit is far, far too narrow and fixed. The BoE's remit should be for long-term stability of the money supply and credit markets. The mechanism by which this is achieved needs to be as dynamic as the markets. The FSA should be accountable to the BoE - and there should be strict laws to prevent privileged institutions (banks, pension companies - etc) from employment contracts which include incentive to hide risk in order to swell bonuses.

Anonymous said...

Alice, Asteve,

To continue our shadow-cabinet meeting.....

3. I think the minimum wage needs to go because it discriminates against those who's skills are worth less than the minimum by forcing them into unemployment (or else forcing employers into charity which kills small businesses). While the minimum wage sounds great as a social ideal, it's disastrous because of the unintended consequences. I think support for such a wage is an insiduous alliance of idiot do-gooders and scheming trade unions and the whole thing is anti-poor.

4. Almost all our credit bubble problems are caused by their being no external limit on government's ability to approve spending plans it has no money for, and then the BoE printing or the Treasury borrowing the difference. We need honest money and gold is the best of them.

6. Deposit insurance has awful moral hazard and forces the tax payer to subsidise reckless banking and ignorant depositors. Witness Indymac and Northern Rock. If insurance MUST be provided, have it fully funded by the banks themselves and allow banks to opt out (with due disclosure) so the customer can choose. One thing it must not do is screw the taxpayer.

7. As a matter of principle we should withhold all money from the EU until they can get auditors to sign off their accounts. Otherwise we have to assume they are the sort of cheating theiving kleptocrats that can't get their accounts signed off.

Anonymous said...

Alice,

Your ideas....

a) against taxes generally but this is one of the least evil. I would only support this if income taxes and stealth taxes were reduced. What I DON'T want is the Goblin King stealing even more money.

b) Devil is in the details. We need a good regulator but that doesn't necessarily mean new regulations. This crap against short sellers and the powergrab by the Fed are examples of how carefully we need to tread

c) I prefer neck shots, but if that won't pass the House then regulation it is. I'd mostly like to see them paid by the hour rather than % and also for them do be directly liable for misrepresentations.

d) Ambivalent. Not really a big deal now the housing bubble has burst.

e) In principle, yes but these cause havoc unless you really understand how to measure money (just witness all the floundering at the Fed in the early 80s before Volcker finally just said to hell with it and raised rates). Far easier just to tie the pound to gold and let supply and demand do the job for you.

Nick

aSteve said...

(Anon-Nick)

3 - I've always been opposed to the minimum wage, but for different reasons.

4 - I disagree. I think that it was a major step forward for humanity when the gold standard was dropped. Using this metal is arbitrary, inefficient and does not preclude over-lending on fractional reserve.

6 - Deposit insurance - I'm all for deposit insurance being funded by the banks. I think that there should be extremely strict rules to govern what risks banks can take if the government is the only insurer.

7 - Yes, honest accounts are absolutely crucial - not only in Europe, but in the UK too.

(definitely Nick)

e - Tying Sterling to gold would be insane. Gold is an anachronism with little or no relevance today. The only reason it was used as money historically was because it was difficult to forge. There are many alternatives today - I am particularly drawn to the idea that there could be some form of cryptographically verified fiat, for example. Mining gold to put it in a vault and guard it has to be one of the dumbest human activities ever conceived. In addition, my biggest objection to gold is that, being homogeneous, it is resistant to audit - hence making it advantageous principally to criminals looking to launder criminally acquired funds.

Anonymous said...

Asteve,

While I agree gold has little intrinsic value, I think your proposal is closer to insane for the simple reason that it fails to address the single biggest virtue of gold and the single biggest vice of fiat money - gold convertibility imposes an external discipline on the government's ability to print.

All the cyptography in the world won't stop the country's primary counterfeiter (BoE) from operating the presses.

Gold has never ever gone to zero and has retained it's purchasing power for centuries. No fiat currency can claim that. And no, you can't claim the dollar because that's only been pure fiat since 1971.

Nick

aSteve said...

Your argument that "gold has never gone to zero" is specious (pardon the specie pun) - neither has horse shit, but I don't see you suggesting convertibility into that dramatically more useful substance.

I recognise that a cryptographic currency requires quite a leap of faith... and that I've not outlined the details... but, essentially, the idea would be that only unique tokens would have any value... by agreeing the token ranges (the syntax of money) internationally, we can establish the amount of money that is created. A system of token signatures can be employed by central banks in order to allow individuals to verify authenticity... and add a signature to authorise transfer. This means that forgery would be intensely difficult since every token would carry its history - identifying the forger, or - at least - all their first victims. The central bank could offer a service to reset the transaction trail periodically - in order to avoid the tokens' authentication trails growing without bounds.

This, of course, doesn't address the problems inherent in fractional reserve... but it demonstrates that gold is not the only strategy to hold central banks and governments to account.

P.S. I take technical issue at calling the BoE a counterfeiter and/or printer. The treasury prints money - not the BoE. The BoE might be a reckless lender, but I remain to be convinced that this is the case. The villains are commercial banks with accounts that misrepresent the risks they are taking. The government is complicit in supporting an inept/corrupt regulator - the FSA.

electro-kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
electro-kevin said...

And throughout all of this we have an PM who is showing all the signs of going through a nervous breakdown, appears to demonstrate clear signs of autism during high-powered social interactions and ...

... we have a chancellor with no apparent clue of the magnitude of this impending disaster ... and whose face resembles that of a pantomime badger.

Mark Wadsworth said...

I'm glad you mentioned commercial property. People hardly ever mention it. You could go one better and look at REITS, down about 50% in a year and a half, IIRC.

Mark Wadsworth said...

That list is worthy of further debate, as to Land Value Tax, we already have taxes on land and property, but they are very complicated, badly designed and achieve pretty much the opposite of what LVT would achieve.

The list of taxes that LVT should replace is (deep breath) council tax, business rates, stamp duty land tax, inheritance tax, capital gains tax, TV licence fee, insurance premium tax, VAT on domestic fuel, roof taxes, s106 agreements.

And we ought to get rid of subsidies for land & property ownership as well while we are at it, e.g. housing benefit, agricultural subsidies, VAT zero rating for new residential etc etc.

That's that fixed.