Category Archives: Banking and finance
Part 1: economic ramifications, food security and pandemic bonds
Many of the points highlighted in this article are summarised below. It is published in full here.
Alan Simpson opened: “The delusions of neoliberalism stand at the edge of an implosion just waiting to happen. But, as with the emperor’s new clothes, global leaders are too fearful to say that their economic model has been stripped naked”.
The last week has seen that – following the wild weather – coronavirus and tumbling stock markets are ganging up to form an economic “perfect storm.” It will only get worse.
Initially, the industrial world had only a passing interest in the coronavirus outbreak in China: stupid Chinese, eating the wrong stuff it thought — good job that an authoritarian state could turn a city of millions into a quarantine zone.
Then markets began to panic and central banks are having to intervene
But now Italy has followed suit. In a dramatic, middle of the night statement, the Prime Minister announced the quarantining of a whole region of northern Italy, affecting 16 million people around Milan and Venice. Even this may be too late. The ramifications are massive. Start with China.
- Its output accounts for around a quarter of global manufacturing,
- huge quantities of which are currently stored up in containers that cannot get out of Chinese ports.
- accounts for one quarter of global automotive production
- provides 8% of global exports of automotive components for other manufacturers, many of whom rely on just-in-time assembly processes.
- The same applies to steel and plastics, chemicals and high-tech telecoms.
- Tankers arriving now set off before China went into lockdown. The real shortages will start to kick in this month.
The ripple effect of these logjams is running through the entire industrial economy, including a shortage of available containers themselves.
And when goods don’t flow, nor do payments associated with them. First-world firms struggle to work out how to pay bills (and workers) in the same way that China is having to pay workers to stay at home in quarantined areas.
The UK Treasury official who has just advised that agriculture is unimportant to the UK economy could barely have been more mistaken. Real alarm bells should be ringing all around Parliament about the amount of crops that will rot in the ground of waterlogged fields around the land. How are we to feed the public throughout the coronavirus crisis?
Weather related problems, including flood, drought and fire will throw food production systems crisis, with no globalised supply lines to step in as the safety net. But food security is an issue Parliament has barely touched on.
Why are political leaders reluctant to call what we are facing “a pandemic”?
(WHO) definition of a pandemic is relatively clear. It is “an epidemic or actively spreading disease that affects two or more regions worldwide.” This clearly describes today’s geographical spread of the highly contagious novel coronavirus and its significant clusters of cases far from China; principally in Italy and Iran. Countries closer to China, like South Korea, have also experienced an explosion in novel coronavirus infections. And Europe and the US are rapidly catching up.
The World Bank has launched a $12bn fund to help developing nations deal with “the epidemic.” But this is where the politics turns ugly. Behind the scenes, casino spivs stand to lose lots of money if we call this a “pandemic” not an “epidemic.” It all goes back to
In June 2017, the World Bank announced the creation of “specialised bonds” that would fund the previously created Pandemic Emergency Financing Facility (PEFF) in the event of an officially recognised (ie WHO-recognised) pandemic. The high-yield bonds were sold under the premise that those who invested would lose their money if any of six deadly pandemics (including coronavirus) occurred. If a pandemic did not occur before the bonds mature on July 15, 2020, investors would receive what they had originally paid for the bonds along with generous interest and premium payments.
This is why Trump has gone out of his way to pooh-pooh use of the word “pandemic.” If we don’t call it out until after July 15 speculators get paid and it’s the public who then pick up the bills.
The first “pandemic bond” raised $225 million, at an interest rate of around 7%. Payouts are suspended if there is an outbreak of new influenza viruses or coronaviridae (SARS, MERS). The second, riskier bond raised $95 million at an interest rate of more than 11%. This bond keeps investors’ money if there is an outbreak of filovirus, coronavirus, lassa fever, rift valley fever, and/or Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever. The World Bank also issued $105 million in swap derivatives that work in a similar way.
In 2017, $425 million of these “pandemic bonds” were issued, with sales reportedly 200% oversubscribed. For many, they looked more like “a structured derivative time bomb” — one that could upend financial markets if a pandemic was declared by the WHO.
He adds, “And that’s where we are now. Call it a crisis. Call it an emergency. But whatever you do, don’t use the word “pandemic” because it might kill the market”. Concluding that there is no way to magic this crisis away, he says we must manage our way through it as best we can, adding, “But calling a pandemic a pandemic would at least treat countries and communities as human entities, not just chips in casino capitalism”.
8 March 2020
The cartoon by Joel Pett (above), Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist for the Lexington Herald-Leader, states that whether global warming is real or not, the proposed measures are beneficial to everyone.
On the left of the cartoon a man asks, “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?” On the right the question is answered in the form of a list on a screen, showing what would be gained:
- energy independence,
- preserve rainforest,
- green jobs,
- livable cities,
- clean water and air,
- healthy children, etc., etc.
When discussing how society should respond to climate change, consensus might well be achieved by presenting this cartoon’s message.
Conservative commentator: ‘Cosying up to big donors’ is not a ‘good look’: many a true word spoken in jest
In the Times today, Tim Montgomerie, co-founder of the Centre for Social Justice and creator of the Conservative Home website warns: “Tories must beware cosying up to big donors . . . the dependence of the party on chief executive chequebooks is bad politics and makes it vulnerable to populist entryism”
He cites the persistence of Jeremy Corbyn’s support despite the media onslaught, commenting that voters who are desperate for a new economic settlement seem (bewilderingly) willing to forgive or at least overlook (alleged) weaknesses that would have been electorally fatal until recently.
He points out the surge in revenue from Labour’s half a million or so members, which means that the party is getting almost as much money from individuals as it receives from the unions and continues: “The Tories enjoy no such diverse spread of funding”.
While “Corbyn’s coffers” were filled with £16 million of funds from individual supporters, the 124,000 Tory members contributed less than £1 million to their party’s treasury. Over £7 million came from ‘high-net-worth donors’ and big gifts came from dining clubs, at which rich individuals are able to sit down with Mrs May and other cabinet ministers. Montgomerie continues:
“Chasing high rollers has at times led the party to become entangled with former associates of Vladimir Putin. That is not a good look”.
Mrs May’s successor and the nation’s prime minister will be chosen by party members but Montgomerie sees the danger of ‘entryism’. Arron Banks, the businessman who financed Nigel Farage’s Brexit campaign has launched a drive to recruit 50,000 Ukip-inclined supporters to join the Tories.
The support for capitalism is not what it was and deservedly so
Montgomerie advocates building a broad and diverse membership which understands that things are different from the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher reaped great political rewards from being close to the nation’s wealth-creators:
- The banks have paid an estimated £71 billion in fines, legal fees and compensation since the 2008 crash.
- Inflated house prices owe much to the power of a few major builders to restrict the supply of new homes.
- The service of some privatised railway companies is poor.
- The pay awards enjoyed by many leading chief executives are unjustifiable.
He adds that the Tory mission today should be the protection of the “little guy” from any concentration of power, whether in commerce, media or the state
He comments “There are some signs that the government gets this”; the apprenticeship levy for example, which is attempting to address “the decades-long failure of British industry to invest in the skills of their workforces”.
Montgomerie concludes that British politics is not corrupt but distorted
By accepting funding and spending so much time with donors from the City and with property developers, the Tories are in danger of being held back from building an agenda that is less southern and more focused on consumer empowerment than producer privilege.
He and his ilk are incapable of understanding the persistence of Jeremy Corbyn’s support despite the media onslaught. Those voters who are ‘desperate for a new economic settlement’ also recognise the character of the man, whose policies are based on justice, not perceived electoral advantage.
The last word is given to Andrew Scattergood (FBU) who sees more clearly than Montomerie: “Jeremy Corbyn has, since first elected as leader, established himself as by far Labour’s best leader, perhaps since Keir Hardie, representing the aims and values of the vast majority of the party membership”.
Bank branches are closing all over the country, with huge savings in the upkeep of buildings and staff wages. This is due, it is said, to customers undertaking more transactions online. In many cases this is a result of firm persuasion by the banks urging customers towards the more profitable system.
A reader experienced this firm encouragement towards online banking a few days ago when phoning to transfer funds. The impression was given that this was essential, but when pressed the staff member admitted it was not. Indeed she wavered a great deal more when it was pointed out that her job could well be eliminated with the closing down of telephone operations.
America’s Central State Bank warns that – due to the open nature of the Internet – all web-based services are inherently subject to risks such as online theft of access codes/user ID/username, PIN/Password, virus attacks, hacking, unauthorized access and fraudulent transactions.
The National Audit Office records that the volume of online ‘card not present’ fraud increased by 103% between 2011 and 2016
Online banking security rated by Which? At best, a 16% chance of being defrauded
In 2015 online bank fraud was described in the Guardian as the UK’s fastest growing area of crime – doubling from £60m in 2014 to an expected total beyond £130m this year – and the losses to consumers have in some cases been of the life-changing order of £90,000 each.
50 banks were surveyed by Which? and its August 2017 report revealed that all had experienced fraud – the best were 84% free of fraud, the worst only 56%. So even customers using the ‘best’ banks have a 16% chance of being defrauded.
Defrauded customers should accept the blame and not expect automatic refunds
Ross Anderson (right: professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory) has seen the mass take up of online banking, and more recently the explosion in fraudulent activity. Financial fraud cost £2m a day in 2016, with older people disproportionately hit.
According to Anderson and other security experts, banks are shifting liability away from themselves and on to the customer – aided by a Financial Ombudsman Service that they claim rarely challenges the banks following a fraud. Miles Brignall in the Guardian comments: “The bank is on the hook for credit card losses, but not most bank frauds”.
The Independent reported that RBS’s chief executive Ross McEwan caused a storm when he claimed that it is not banks’ responsibility if customers are defrauded in such circumstances. The bank boss – who as part of his role also runs the NatWest brand, which has 24 million retail customers – said he didn’t think the bank had “a duty of care” to victims. They should accept the blame and not expect automatic refunds, he argued. 5,000 of his customers who were defrauded of £25m during nine months in 2015 – and anyone else who has suffered such losses – should consider taking class action.
Anderson, one of Britain’s foremost experts on cybersecurity, says he has never banked online – and has no plans to do so. He believes that system has become so weighted in favour of the banks that the customers now carry all the risk.
Miles Brignall in the Guardian asks: “If a man who has chronicled the rise of online banking won’t use it, what hope is there for the rest of us?”
The FT reports that senior executives at several of the largest US banks have privately told the Trump administration they feared the prospect of a Labour victory if Britain were forced into new elections.
It then referred to a report by analysts at Morgan Stanley arguing that a Corbyn government would mark the “most significant political shift in the UK” since Margaret Thatcher’s election and may represent a “bigger risk than Brexit” to the British economy. It predicted snap elections next year, arguing that the prospect of a return to the polls “is much more scary from an equity perspective than Brexit”.
Jeremy Corbyn gave ‘a clear response’ to Morgan Stanley in a video (left) published on social media reflecting anti-Wall Street rhetoric from some mainstream politicians in the US and Europe, saying: “These are the same speculators and gamblers who crashed our economy in 2008 . . . could anyone refute the headline claim that bankers are indeed glorified gamblers playing with the fate of our nation?”
He warned global banks that operate out of the City of London that he would indeed be a “threat” to their business if he became prime minister.
He singled out Morgan Stanley, the US investment bank, for particular criticism, arguing that James Gorman, its chief executive, was paying himself a salary of millions of pounds as ordinary British workers are “finding it harder to get by”.
Corbyn blamed the “greed” of the big banks and said the financial crisis they caused had led to a “crisis” in the public services: “because the Tories used the aftermath of the financial crisis to push through unnecessary and deeply damaging austerity”.
The FT points out that donors linked to Morgan Stanley had given £350,000 to the Tory party since 2006 and Philip Hammond, the chancellor, had met the bank four times, most recently in April 2017. The bank also had strong ties to New Labour: “Alistair Darling, a Labour chancellor until 2010, has served on the bank’s board since 2015. Jeremy Heywood, head of Britain’s civil service, was a managing director at Morgan Stanley, including as co-head of UK investment banking, before returning to public service in 2007”.
A step forward?
In a December article the FT pointed out that the UK lacks the kind of community banks or Sparkassen that are the bedrock of small business lending in many other countries adding: “When Labour’s John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, calls for a network of regional banks, he is calling attention to a real issue”. And an FT reader commented, “The single most important ethos change required is this: publish everyone’s tax returns”:
- In Norway, you can walk into your local library or central council office and see how much tax your boss paid, how much tax your councillor paid, how much tax your politician paid.
- This means major tax avoidance, complex schemes, major offshoring, etc, is almost impossible, because it combines morality and social morals with ethics and taxation.
- We need to minimise this offshoring and tax avoidance; but the people in control of the information media flow, plus the politicians, rely on exactly these methods to increase their cash reserves.
But first give hope to many by electing a truly social democratic party.
Is the rainbow suggesting a new party logo?