Monday, June 30, 2008

Marc Faber update: take refuge in gold

Dr Faber has become a gold bug again, but is expecting a correction in other commodities. In a climate of low interest rates and high inflation, Adrian Ash seconds the call for gold.

And here's an extract from Faber's monthly "Market Comment" three years ago (July 5, 2005):

... Lastly, think about the following situation. The US manufacturing sector becomes very weak. The housing market falls and consumption declines. But oil goes through the roof because the empire of eternally rising home prices has just bombed Iran (very likely, in my opinion). Now the Fed cuts interest rates and eases massively. Just think what the stock, bond, foreign exchange, and gold market will do? The initial reaction might be a flight to safety – into government bonds and gold, and out of stocks. But, thereafter, a massive sell-off in bonds could occur as inflationary pressures build from sky high energy prices and massive money printing.

I have to confess, that I am not so sure exactly how this situation would play itself out, but it is worth thinking about it.

Worth the US$ 200 annual subscription, you may think. Especially since some of it goes towards the education of poor children in northern Thailand.

Janszen says next bubble will be in energy

A "bubble cycle" instead of a business cycle... house prices to revert to trend and fall 38% from peak... a $12 trillion gap to plug with fresh securities in a different sector as the current bubble collapses... government legislation to clear the way for the speculative rush... $12 tn + an extra $8 tn = $20 tn... it's going to be... ALTERNATIVE ENERGY.

Read iTulip founder Eric Janszen's Harpers article.

"Caloriefornia or bust!" Any views from energy investment specialists (e.g. Nick Drew)?

A defence of blogging

In early times, learning was only to be had by digging and mining; it is now the circulating medium. Men may become learned in many ways besides the means of erudite courses of instruction: that is learning which enables a writer to inform his readers of matters applicable to the purposes of either profit or pleasure, of which they were not previously aware. In this sense, many are learned who do not suspect themselves in possession of this envied distinction. A prejudice lingers, however, in favour of that description of learning gained by hard study over tall books, and under the dim light of the lamp. But this is only the theory: in practice, men appreciate the living learning only which cheers the evening of leisure, or guides the daily labour - enlightens the professions, or instructs the statesman.

From "The Spectator" magazine, inaugural issue, July 5, 1828.

Yet how swiftly do some other publications forget their humble origins, which have subsequently attained eminent status. "Private Eye" lampoons the "online community" in its column "From The Message Boards"; but in 1961, there were its founders Christopher Booker and Willie Rushton, using typewriter, Letraset, hand-drawn cartoons, scissors and glue (in Willie's mother's flat, I seem to remember) to compose their witty and scurrilous magazine; and the new technology of photo-litho offset to print it. How is this different from the homeworkers of the blogosphere, and the use of the new capabilities of the Internet? Was not Private Eye the original blogpaper?

Liberty Marr'd by its Champions

A gentleman writes, that Mr Andrew Marr, the news-reporter and erstwhile foe of judge-made privacy law, now desires to be kept privy not only certain information concerning himself, but also the knowledge that he has secured an injunction to that effect from the court.

If any correspondent should care to illuminate this dark matter, he shall find us all ears; though we grant, that ears cannot see.

Might it be item 35 here? As revealed by Guido in January?

UPDATE: Another gentleman writes in defence of Mr Marr's right to privacy

*** 2009 UPDATE: Alastair Campbell implies exposure of Andrew Marr

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Making money out of distressed financials

Michael Panzner has come across a real estate blogpost that includes this idea:

Several of the deal guys said that banks they contacted three months ago about buying assets are all of a sudden calling back. Three months ago they said everything was fine. The idea du jour is to buy the bank to get the bank’s real estate. Sounds screwy to me but I’ll write some more about this one tomorrow.

This reminds me of something I read many years ago in "Adam Smith" (George Goodman) and wrote about here almost exactly a year ago - buying bankrupt (or nearly so) stock that includes the rights to tangible assets.

I don't have the cash or sophistication for this one, but maybe one of you out there knows how to work out whether a bank's shares are selling at a discount to the value of its underlying assets.

There's always an angle, isn't there?

Inflation not purely a monetary phenomenon

I'm puzzled. Milton Friedman said, "Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon," yet when I apply this to the UK it doesn't work.

I looked at the Bank of England's figures for M4 from end 1963 to end 2007, and by my calculation the monetary base has increased by a factor of about 240; yet prices have increased only 15 times in the same period. (*)

Currently (and time permitting) I'm also working through David Hackett Fischer's "The Great Wave". In his concluding chapter, he lists seven different causal explanations of inflation, and none of them quite fits the observed facts, not even monetarism. For example, in the sixteenth century, European prices began to rise some time before the imports of gold and silver from the New World could have made a difference.

His idea is that inflation-waves are "autogenous" (don't academics love this kind of label?), by which he means that people make decisions based on current circumstances and their personal predictions for the future, and that helps shape the next set of circumstances. It's like watching a football game unfold, each player adjusting his movements according to his perception of the others.

Fischer thinks that one important factor in the price-wave of the Middle Ages was a trend towards marrying earlier and having more children, which put pressure on natural resources at the same time as altering the ratio of working adults to dependant children. Perhaps this has modern echoes in the growing longevity and reducing mortality rate in the developing world, plus the increasing numbers of dependant elderly in most places.

At any rate, inflation in the West is likely to become less susceptible to control by adjusting the interest rate. What will the Monetary Policy Committee do then?

Perhaps it might help if we established some control over the actual amounts pumped into the economy by the banks (and other creditors). I can dimly remember the news in the 60s, about limits on how much you could borrow to buy fridges, washing machines etc - apparently a minimum deposit was a requirement of the Hire Purchase Act 1964.

However (it seems), Japanese manufacturers found ways to get round this and offer (in effect) 100% loans, and then came the pandemic of credit cards, starting with "your flexible friend" Access (1972). Telegram Sam the drug dealer is always friendly, at first.
(*) Unless, of course, the discrepancy is accounted for by (a) the need for the monetary base to expand each year to cover interest on loans already made, and (b) much extra money being locked-up in real estate - an awful lot of building and rebuilding took place as the postwar economy recovered.

Investment, inflation and market collapses

We have had no fewer than three major financial institutions (outside the US) call for an utter collapse of the equity markets in the last two weeks.

... says Karl Denninger. Seems like the pros are sitting around waiting for someone else to panic first. Then it'll be time to get in, right?

I recently looked at what happened to shares when a period of inflation begins. You might think that since inflation will also balloon the underlying tangible assets of companies, shares would do okay. But here's the results:
If you're an active investor, you may start thinking about opportunities. Look at the red zones. Draw a line from a deep points to a high one, and feel the greed; but draw lines from a temporary rally to another low, and feel the disappointment. You do need to get your timing right.
But inflation heavily penalises the passive investor, too. His boat settles onto the harbour mud; while the unlucky speculator dives headfirst off the retaining wall, deep into the goo. Inflation raises the risks for all.

Crime and punishment

Henry Wallis: "The Stone Breaker" (1857)

(I've brightened Wallis' painting above, but the foreground in the original is very dark, making a contrast with the gleaming, unreachable beauty of the twilit sky and its reflection on the lake.)

In a country with proper justice, nobody would dare intimidate a witness.

In such a country, wrongdoers are afraid of the law. They'd know that such a crime would certainly be prosecuted and that they'd end up doing at least 15 years breaking rocks.

... says Peter Hitchens in today's Sunday Grumbler.

"Pitee renneth sone in gentil herte," said Chaucer, sometimes ironically. The worthy compassion shown to unfortunates by the Victorians has, gone too far, some argue.

But there are now different reasons to pity. Prisons do not punish the wrongdoer in the old-fashioned ways, but the incarcerated man is no longer protected against bullying, beating, buggery and theft. In how many movies do we hear the police threaten a criminal with what his fellows will do to him in prison? Judge Mental does not put on his black cap and say, "You will be taken from here to a place of detention where you will have your arm forced up your back and..."

Then there's life outside, for the neglected underclass. "Theodore Dalrymple", a doctor who has dealt with many prisoners in Birmingham (UK), used to note in the Spectator magazine that prisoners' health improved considerably in prison, because of no (or reduced) access to drugs. Read the good doctor here on how the liberal approach to mind-altering substances is pretty much a sentence of death (prolonged and degrading). Here's an extract on alcohol:

I once worked as a doctor on a British government aid project to Africa. We were building a road through remote African bush. The contract stipulated that the construction company could import, free of all taxes, alcoholic drinks from the United Kingdom...

Of course, the necessity to go to work somewhat limited the workers’ consumption of alcohol. Nevertheless, drunkenness among them far outstripped anything I have ever seen, before or since. I discovered that, when alcohol is effectively free of charge, a fifth of British construction workers will regularly go to bed so drunk that they are incontinent both of urine and feces. I remember one man who very rarely got as far as his bed at night: he fell asleep in the lavatory, where he was usually found the next morning. Half the men shook in the mornings and resorted to the hair of the dog to steady their hands before they drove their bulldozers and other heavy machines (which they frequently wrecked, at enormous expense to the British taxpayer); hangovers were universal. The men were either drunk or hung over for months on end.

Our soft-handedness on crime and drugs, is really an extreme hard-heartedness.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The economy is like a rainforest

The news always speaks of "the economy" as though it was one homogeneous whole. In fact, it's a host of micro-economies, financial equivalents of ecological niches.

In the rainforest, there are places that are light or dark, hot or cool, high or low, wet or dry. In the economy, there are savers, borrowers, amateur and professional investors, crooks, marks, young bold, cautious old, workers, shirkers and berserkers.

So centralised economic policy is enormously difficult. An intervention that helps one part, may hurt another, and further action is implied. It's like the tablets for hypertension that give you gout, which means you need tablets for the gout, which are likely to harm the lining of your stomach. Some might say, throw the lot away and have a glass of sherry before bedtime.

Or, in rainforest terms, let each species find its niche and organise its own survival strategies.

But I don't think this is an argument for complete liberal laissez-faire. To extend the analogy, maybe it's better to prevent harm than to seek to do good; the forest guardians need to control the rubber and banana companies, the clear-cutting loggers and polluting miners.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Dow Jones - worse bubble than the FTSE?

Just out of interest, I thought I'd do the same trend-spotting exercise for the Dow Jones as I did yesterday for the FTSE, i.e. extrapolating the highs and lows in the late 80s and early 90s.

The results are very different. October 2007 saw the Dow's highest-ever peak, and today, after falling over 2,000 points from that point, it still stands about where it was in the tech bubble of December 2000 (see yellow line).

And my hi-lo wedge (red lines) suggest that the Dow has been seriously above trend for most of the last 11 years. Of course, you can draw lines however you like, but I'm trying to do approximately the same as for the FTSE and the implication is that the Dow "ought" to be between 7,000 - 10,000, centring around the 8,500 mark. This chimes with what Robert McHugh predicted last year (9,000). (If you draw the "high" line to connect the '87 and '94 peaks, the hi-lo lines converge towards 7,000!)

I wonder what's keeping it up?

Stockmarket crash - a golden opportunity

I thought I was a bear: Wolfie says there's near-panic, City Unslicker talks about the FTSE losing a couple of thousand points, now Richard Lander on CityWire reports a prediction of the FTSE as low as 3,000 and another 60% to come off the S&P 500.

We could be approaching a once-in-a-generation Templeton opportunity, a financial fire-and-forget that could richly reward those who save very hard right now. Give the rifle another pull-through, hitch up your belt, and wait...

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The FTSE - semi-wild guesses about fair value

I suggested on Wednesday that the market may already have lost much of its bubble, considered in real terms, and here below is my simple attempt at chartism.

What I've done is to draw two purple lines, one connecting the lows in the mid-80s/early 90s, and the other the highs in the same period. I've chosen that time-frame because it's before the silliness of the late 90s, and it does also include a period when the UK economy was in the doldrums.

Using these parameters, the late 90s and early 00s were well above trend, whereas last year's highs only just peeped above the upper line and the current value is hovering a little above the centre of the hi-lo wedge.

The implications are that the next low, if it comes soon, shouldn't be worse than around 4,500, and by 2010 (when I'm guessing the tide will turn) the bracket would be in the 4,700 - 7,000 bracket, with a midpoint of c. 5,850.

Taking the market at close yesterday and extrapolating to that 5,850 midpoint, would imply a future return (ignoring dividends) over the next 16 months, of c. 2.5% p.a. - not nearly as good as cash, especially in an ISA. On the same assumptions, to achieve an ex-dividend return of 6% p.a. would require entry into the market at c. 5,400.

On this tentative line of reasoning, we should be looking for a re-entry opportunity somewhere in the 4,500 - 5,400 level, say 5,000. Shall we wait for the next shoe to drop?

Inflation vs deflation - the iTulip debate

Find the time to have a look at this in iTulip. Lots of plums in this cake, including a suggestion that the USA is quietly negotiating a replacement for the dollar, with the Chinese. And 30% annual inflation in a few years' time.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How much of the crash is behind us?

The FTSE is closing somewhere around 5,666.10 today. It closed at 5,709.50 on 17 February 1998, which was the first time the market had breached today's level.

So we've spent a little over 10 years to get nowhere in nominal terms, and meanwhile the value of money has dropped by approximately 25%.
Yes, shares pay dividends, but most people buy them as part of some collective arrangement that involves initial and recurring charges and/or fees. After charges (and taxes, remember), it would have taken a net dividend yield of about 3% per year simple, or 2.65% compound, merely to replace the value lost to inflation.
So quite possibly the putative investor in the FTSE has actually fallen behind where he was in 1998.
Are the pessimists lagging behind the news? Has the worst happened already?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Littlejohn vs Toynbee

"... do you think about global warming when you're flying to your villa in Italy?"

A sought-after moment, I believe.

Investment in agriculture sparkles

Watching the idiot's lantern last night and who should be interviewed (on the subject of food prices and speculation) but Hugh Hendry, about whom I wrote last year. And his CF Eclectica Agriculture Fund currently ranks top out of 317 in the sector (up 35% in a year).

Of course, the poor are being hit badly (not the poor here, who aren't really poor). Hendry argues that rising food prices will encourage more (and much-needed) investment in agriculture.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Taking a line for a walk

Timothy McMahon at FinTrend reckons we should be looking to buy into US stocks this summer, using the rate of return graph above.

How far should we heed the chartists? Like cardsharps fleecing marks on a sinking Mississippi paddlewheeler, are they better at short-term plays, but inattentive to catastrophe?

Wreck of the "Sultana" off Memphis, Tennessee, April 27, 1865

Does freedom from self-destruction need a nudge?

I recently wondered whether freedom may not sometimes be an internal issue, as well as external. Isn't addiction a condition of being unfree? Is there some way of helping the unfree, without illiberal coercion?

As it happens, this is the thesis of a new book, "Nudge", by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein. It is critically reviewed by David Gordon here on the Mises website.

We are already being heavily nudged by our tax-greedy government and large commercial concerns, to gamble and drink away our wealth and future security. Surely there are ways in which we might diminish the temptation a little, to increase the possibility of rational, self-beneficial choice.

Comparisons are odious

Why has the American stockmarket done so much better than us since 1990?

And which way will these lines turn now?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Plodding On

Lead story in The Grumbler today: "Police are forced to cut frontline jobs to save on fuel cost".

Of course, there's always foot patrols. Peter Hitchens has often pointed out the usefulness of walking the beat in preventing crime. It all went wrong in the Sixties. As J. B. Morton wrote in his fantasy-satirical "Beachcomber" column in the Daily Express at that time:

"A Dictionary For Today

...FLYING SQUAD: A special contingent of police whose business is to arrive at the scene of a crime shortly after the departure of all those connected with it."

So much for the pale blue Ford Anglia and the comical attempt to imitate American cops as portrayed in shows like "The Streets of San Francisco."

I had to trawl around to find what I remembered as the origin of the term "bobby on the beat", but here we are at last:

"A standard piece of police equipment from the 1830's to the 1880's was the rattle for raising the alarm, most operated like the standard football rattle, when twirled round it made a distinctive sound. In the 1880's the police began using a whistle in place of the rattle, early versions used the 'pea' type (still used by football referees) but in about 1910 the more familiar tubular 'air whistle' was invented. The whistle was carried inside the front of the tunic or jacket attached to a silver chain which was fastened to a button on the front of the tunic. When breast pockets appeared the whistle moved to the right hand pocket with a silver chain still attached to the jacket button. In practice the whistle was found to have limited range and a bobby calling for assistance would often beat his truncheon on the pavement to alert nearby colleagues. Police personal radios appeared in the 1970's and some forces had lost their whistles by the 1990's but other forces felt it was a part of the uniform and have retained it."


And it worked. So instead of moving forward to the world of "1984" or re-creating the secret police of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, why don't we build on the notion of "Police Community Support Officers" (or "The Ankh-Morpork Watch" as my wife calls them) and revive the Watch as it was up until the early nineteenth century? The roots of our police force are in the citizens' right and duty to maintain order in their own communities. As motorised mobility for the peasantry declines, crime, its detection and punishment may well become localised again.

And a reduction in sophistication would be appropriate. The old police recruitment poster said "Can you Read? Can you write? Can you fight?" - not, "Can you gobble the punter's biscuits and swill his tea while expressing sympathy for his unfortunate experience and sharing his frustration at the powerlessness of the criminal justice system?"

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Handy-dandy, which is which?

The two countries here each went to the polls to ascertain the will of the people.

The result in one case was declared unsatisfactory by the ruling party and an order given that the issue be readdressed within three months.
The result in the other case was declared unsatisfactory by the ruling party and an order given that the issue be readdressed within four months.

Robert Mugabe has yet to declare his candidacy for the Presidency of the European Parliament.

Now what?

Grasping the nettle

Read in the Daily Express (no snide comments, please!) appalling article about Stalin's "Poison Dwarf", Nikolai Yezhov, who was responsible for the deaths of some 3 million people, most of them innocent.

I suppose it's a dangerous question to ask, but is assassination always morally wrong? Was the life of Nikolai Yezhov really worth the lives of 3 million of his victims?

This article justifies it in the context of Israeli national self-defence (no spittle-flecked anti-Semitic comments, please, the same arguments can be expressed using other contexts), but what if the enemy is within one's own society? For example, was Stauffenberg correct in his attempt to blow up Hitler, his leader?

I suppose this must lead to the question of whether right and wrong actions receive their due in another world, rather than this one, where villains appear much safer, live much longer, than the innocent. Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Idi Amin...

Our dear representatives

htp: "Nomad", in his comment on the EU Parliament post yesterday.

Why has Bill Gates stepped off now?

Watched a programme last night about Bill Gates and his decision to concentrate on philanthropy in future. I didn't quite buy his body language when he was talking to Fiona Bruce, especially on the topic of the business strategies employed by Microsoft against Netscape, which triggered-off a massively expensive court case brought by the US Government.

What I've read about business moghuls suggests that, however rich, they never want to give up. They can always try to get bigger and outdo, or do in, a business rival. Robert Maxwell's downfall was his obsessive competition with Rupert Murdoch, which got down to the personal. For example, learning that Murdoch had flown to New York for a business dinner at a swanky restaurant, Maxwell immediately got on Concorde and shot across the Atlantic, so he could be at a neighbouring table.

And these people will compete in the smallest way. I read an article which said in passing that while his chauffeur-driven car was waiting at a red light, Maxwell saw next to him a very nice sports car (possibly a Ferrari). He leaned out of his window and helpfully informed the neighbouring driver that his rear tyre was flat, so that as the man glanced back, Maxwell's car could be first through the intersection when the lights changed.

So why is Gates, such a fierce competitor that his employees refer to themselves as "Microserfs", "retiring" at 52? Is it because he is smart enough to know when his business has peaked, and seeing a rival in Google (and a challenge from freeware) that he can't beat (despite his firm's attempt to purchase Yahoo!), he's withdrawn before defeat is clear? In which case, what are the implications for investors in Microsoft?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Shut down the EU Parliament

Just looked up a bit about my Parliamentary MP, whom I never see or hear. It set me thinking.

Who is your Euro MP? Exactly. And compared to EU MPs' pay, exes, fiddles and nepotism, Westminster MPs are poor relations and almost Simon-pure.

What do you think will happen when "ever-closer union" (that definition of a black hole) is achieved? A boom in ermine and coronets, silk swags and bunting, grand sandstone palaces, plum strudel at Demel's, superb black coffee, and secret police.

Somewhere even now, a new Jaroslav Hasek is inventing a new Schweik.
Here's how to find your MEPs. Does anyone you know, remember voting for them?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Disaster, illustrated

Ross Perot has returned to warn America again of the dangers of her unbalanced economy. Click on the link in the previous sentence to see Perot's site and charts.

htp: Michael Panzner, quoting the Washington Post.

Sackerson's challenge

We're not really poor if we're drinking bottled water.

When I was advising clients on pensions etc, I'd go through the usual regulatory rigmarole on affordability, and on paper they would only be able to do £20 or £50 per month. I'd be putting myself at risk recommending more than they could "afford".

But in many cases, next time I saw them, they'd done one of the following: (a) bought a new car on credit; (b) allowed their partner to give up work, and/or started a family; (c) moved house and massively increased their mortgage. It's amazing what you can afford, when you're motivated.

So while taking a benevolent interest in the government's mishandling of the economy, why don't we get radical? "Action direct": get out of debt and save money for the challenges, and opportunities, to come.

My challenge: if you're in a steady job now, what percentage of your gross income could you save, if absolutely necessary? For if my hunch about deflation now, and inflation later, proves right, you could make an absolute killing in the next 10 years.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ouroboros and the Left

"Ryan" makes reference in a comment on my previous post, to the "Gramscian left". I was too busy in the 70s, trying to get a degree, to look at yawn-inducing Marxist theory, but perhaps I was wrong. For following up this reference I find Wikipedia explaining Gramsci's notion of "cultural hegemony" and how to subvert it:

Gramsci therefore argued for a strategic distinction between a "war of position" and a "war of manoeuvre". The war of position is a culture war in which anti-capitalist elements seek to gain a dominant voice in mass media, mass organizations, and educational institutions to heighten class consciousness, teach revolutionary analysis and theory, and inspire revolutionary organization. Following the success of the war of position, communist leaders would be empowered to begin the war of manoeuvre, the actual insurrection against capitalism, with mass support.

Is it too much to say that in British schools at least, there has been a "war of position"? Hymns in assembly, RE, British history, the cane, the authority of the teacher - all in the bin. And all since, oh, I would say the mid-80s*. Now, the teacher is a kind of Lyons nippy, swiftly and attentively addressing every need of every child, and with no expectation of a tip.

And as the revolution approaches its moment of crisis, the Government (members of which have assisted with the first phase) has sealed itself into its Downing Street compound, like the East German rulers before their fall. Gordon Brown, formerly the student Rector of Edinburgh University, learned early how the power system had loopholes and having exploited them, is closing them. So the surrounding area is legally a protest-free zone and our new Stasi is set on harmless teenage student demonstrators.

Despite these efforts, and like Kronos, the Revolution may eat its children. Yet Zeus survived because Kronos was given a Rock to eat instead...

* after first flutterings with the William Tyndale affair (1974), Chris Searle's "Classrooms of Resistance"(1975) and other inputs.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Chicks up front!

In the 60s/70s, a fellow trainee teacher told me, the tactic at demos when the police arrived was to call "Chicks up front!"* and have the girls form a protective cordon for the male hairies. The assumption was that the police wouldn't beat up girls (not a safe bet in France, I think).

Now, in London, near the Mother of Parliaments, a 17-year-old girl can be arrested, charged, taken to a police station and regularly woken up at the low point of her circadian rhythm in order to tempt her to make a statement without the benefit of legal representation. All this, simply for carrying a placard. My country shames me.

Anybody reading, who has any influence with the powers that be, please communicate our shame, chagrin and anger.

*corroborated here - and either inspired by, or inspiring, the Viet Cong according to "DreadPirateRoberts" (see his April 30, 2008 5:04 pm comment here)

MSM: news suppression service

... But the draft documents reveal how close the [Northern] Rock was to a virtual wipe-out.
The Daily Mail first learned of the bank's secret plans in January but, after a late night call from Mr Darling, was begged not to publish.

(From this morning's Grumbler.)

Has the Press become an arm of Government?

Monday, June 16, 2008

Off licence alcohol purchases - minimum age 21

At last, some small attempt to rein-in the alcoholisation of the young, even if only in Scotland.

Michael White confuses matters by yoking this good horse to a bad one (morning-after pills for the underaged). Nevertheless, I wonder if we might make progress in this direction, as with smoking, but perhaps in a different way. as it's not just the young who have drink problems.

I think availability is a key factor. Imagine having a beer (or other tipple of your choice) tap next to each cold-water tap in the home - who could resist? Yet alcohol is nearly as accessible these days - supermarkets, post offices, even petrol stations. Rather than try to enforce an age limit (another pile of arrest records to write), let's try to remove some of the temptation: let's reduce the number of off-licences.

My preferred solution would be not to renew the liquor licence for a supermarket if there is an alternative outlet within a certain distance. Supermarket shelving has a narrative all its own - and booze is near the end so we can say to ourselves or our partners, "Shall we?" "Go on, then." It's a cunningly-positioned add-on to household shopping, encouraging the potentially dangerous habit of steady home drinking.

No stagnation, but a house price crash

A carefully-reasoned post by "Alice Cook" on UK Housing Bubble concludes that house prices will drop 25% quickly (by the end of next year).

The alternative (house prices stagnate, allowing inflation to achieve the same result more slowly) has become unsustainable because of fears respecting the stability of the banks.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Drink is the curse of the post-working classes

The main change in the structure of capital during this century has been the relative stagnation of industrial capital and the growth of the service sector of the economy. This trend, which has been most marked in the south of England, has had consequences for inner city working class areas: de-industrialisation, mobility of labour, and post-war rehousing policies have combined to dislocate the pattern of community based upon local work and extended families and associated cultural traditions (Cohen, 1972). Population has been decanted to the New Towns, and more generally, to the suburbs, where social life has focussed upon the nuclear family, and the home is increasingly regarded as a place of leisure, recreation and consumption. It is in this context that off-licence sales have become more important. The 1961 Licensing Act relaxed restrictions on the opening of off-licences, and the 1964 Licensing Act facilitated supermarket sales. By the late 1970s, most beer was still sold in public houses, but one third of all wine and half of spirits were consumed at home (Thurman, 1981; 4).

... from Alcohol, Youth, and the State by Nicholas Dorn (RKP, 1983)

Taking on the supermarkets now would be like eradicating the Taliban. Remember how they took on the government and won easily, e.g. in 1991? So much for the rule of law.

Licensing Act 1964 - legal summary
2003 Licensing Act - summary

On the coarsening of British culture

"On what little things does happiness depend!" wrote Oscar Wilde in the Nightingale and the Rose. He was referring to the heartbreak endured by a student who needed to get a red rose to impress a professor's daughter. Actually it turned out that the professor's daughter was a bloody idiot and didn't deserve the red rose that was only secured through the agonising death of a lovely nightingale; he should've just written a request for fellatio on the back of a bus ticket and stuck it to her forehead - and insisted on the return of the ticket.

Thus Russell Brand, in the Guardian newspaper. His louche autobiography is entitled "My Booky Wook", though for some reason he doesn't apply the same baby-linguistic titling approach to his blog or website ("My Blogy... no! No! Career death!"). For there are things these jokers take very, very seriously: banknotes.

The Teflon coating on his deadly bullets of vulgarity is a trifling pretension to verbal and literary sophistication. And it's happening all around, and so very well rewarded.

Of course, the next generation is past TV. So what are your children playing on the Internet? Here's some of the games I've seen ten-year-olds chuckling at in the last fortnight:

Stair Fall
The Torture Game
The Last Stand 2

And as fast as you block these entertainments, new routes to them appear via new game compendium sites. And more and more new games, most of them free of charge.

But the work of psychic corruption must proceed, so we must be inoculated against notions of censorship by tendentious TV biopics of well-meaning moral campaigners like Mary Whitehouse, who was of course not nearly so posh, sophisticated, well-breeched and well-connected as the moguls she took on. So smart are we that she is to be condemned as much for her eyewear as for her lower-middle-class status and dowdy profession (schoolteaching - art and sex education).

I think we must wait for the University rebels of the late Sixties to retire or die before we can start the salvage operation.

In the paper shop

6.30 a.m. today. An elderly man is poring over the pink Lottery result printout in the newsagent's. He's had four numbers come up.

"Drinks are on you, then," I say.

"I've spent £35,000 since the Lottery started, and had five back," he says.

He'd come to the shop at six, having forgotten that it opens at half-past. He thinks he's in the early stages of Alzheimer's.


Here's some lines of comment that could come out of this, but you can easily expand them yourself, I'm sure:

  • Mathematics - the Lottery gives back 45% in prizes, but averaging-out could take forever
  • What is a Government doing, making gambling so easy and readily available (and it started under the Tories)?
  • How much would this man have had, if he'd saved £208 per month since 1994?
  • Now that insurance salesmen have disappeared, what has happened to savings among the C2/D classes? Has financial consumer protection (after the pensions mis-selling compensation and regulation bonanza) indirectly impoverished them and made them more dependent on the State?

I expect you can come up with more, and better.

And then there's drink, from allowing supermarkets to sell it along with your groceries, to 24-hour booze licensing.

Are misguided arguments for liberty being used to enslave people to their weaknesses? Should heavily-capitalised businesses be allowed to batten on those flaws?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Oil: back to the Seventies

Unbidden, The Time Warp came to me (though I had thought the word "shimmy" appeared in the lyrics). And, of course, as usual, the Brits manage to get themselves into a worse pickle:
Found on Mish's.

Fasten your seatbelts

"Chervil" (author of the Australian Green Living blog) has kindly directed me to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, which refers to ideas about economic long cycles:

David Hackett Fischer has studied the behaviour and historical meaning of inflation not just over the last decade, or the last century, but over the last 800 years. He sees the world positioned in a dangerous moment of possibility, on the rearing crest of the fourth great wave of inflation in eight centuries.

I would still be grateful for any information about what I shall call "sim economics" - potentially so much more useful than other simulation games.

Anybody able to help, please?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Help required: economic modelling

Following reported opinion from Marc Faber and others that we may expect sell-offs in commodities, bonds, equities and real estate, and given concerns about the quality of our currencies, the question arises, where should we hold our cash?

It seem that in the USA and UK, we are holding down interest rates to avoid crippling homeowners, the home-loan-based economy, and what's left of our industries, and also in the hope that we can repay our debts to foreigners with devalued cash. On the other side, countries like China and Japan seem to be trying to prevent their currencies from appreciating, so as to preserve their trading advantage.

So one party is letting their currencies sink, and the other is trying to stop theirs rising. To this amateur, the world's foreign exchange system looks like a bunch of corks tied to an unchained anchor and flung into the sea. Will the string on the corks hold, or break under the strain, or be abruptly cut?

Is there any computer- or board-game-based model of the world economic system, that might make it clear to me how this wretched thing works?

And how is the ordinary person to save money and preserve its value in real terms, without having to be super-sophisticated? I know something about American TIPS and British NS&I Index-Linked Savings Certifcates, but I'm leery of handing the government what little money they haven't already extracted from me in taxes. And I don't trust them to define inflation fairly.

Does anybody know how this boneshaker of a contraption actually operates, so we can make sensible decisions?

Speaker or silencer?

I now read in The Grumbler that David Davis was prevented by the Speaker of the House of Commons from delivering his resignation speech to the House, and had to go outside the building to say it to journalists instead. Words fail.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What oil hike?

The Mogambo Guru (too long absent from these pages) points out that a major factor in the increase in the price of oil, is simply the decline in the dollar. We here in the UK don't see it, because the pound is staring the dollar in the eye as both go screaming parachuteless towards the ground.

At least Richard Daughty is one who will not go gentle into that good night.

Now, isn't this what happened in the Seventies? Only we were conned into thinking it was down to wicked Arabs, when really the story was increased monetary inflation for some years pre-1974.

Marc Faber, cash and Cambodia

I said on Monday that Marc Faber was, by and large, in favour of keeping his money in his pocket, and a quick Google News trawl shows that his mind hasn't changed:

Stocks, Real Estate and Oil Are Overvalued, Marc Faber Says

Why rising inflation will trigger a bond market rout

Cambodia Starts to Beckon Private Equity
For investors, Cambodia could be the next Vietnam

The last is interesting. I have suspected for some time that Dr Faber lives in northern Thailand, not simply to hide in Shangri-La but to be nearer to the places where real bargains may be found, and so that his hunches can be informed by personal networking and under-the-radar experience. Quirky and fast-moving, he would not be the man to manage a large institutional fund: I think his lightning ex-ski champ reflexes demand more challenge.

An after-thought: if you do think cash is best, there's still the question of which currency.

Is it OK to have principles?

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis resigns his Parliamentary seat to fight a by-election on the issue of civil liberty in Britain, and Michael White in the Guardian plays the sneering curmudgeon; parti pris?


Someone put the text of Mr Davis' speech as a comment to Michael White's piece. Here are a couple of extracts:

This Counter Terrorism Bill will in all likelihood be rejected by the House of Lords... But because the impetus behind it is political, the government will be tempted to use the Parliament Act...
It has no democratic mandate to do this...

... I am just a piece in this chess game.

Folly? Vanity? My eye (and Betty Martin).

Are free trade and small government the answer?

Liberal economists argue consistently for free trade, libertarians argue constantly for smaller government. We can easily see the faults of over-regulation and the centralisation of power.

But what would happen to the poorest if we really did move towards laissez-faire capitalism? I don't mean the poor in India and China, who are currently benefiting from open markets; I mean the poorest in the USA and UK. Would things really sort themselves out to the good of all?

Or would we find that we'd leapt from the frying pan into the fire?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

An appetite for investment risk?

How does the quote from Jonathan Wilmot in the previous post sit with the new Risk Appetite Investable Index fund his firm launched last month?

Just curious.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Cashhhhhhh... don't tell anybody

"There is now the distinct possibility of a simultaneous sell-off in global bonds, equities and commodities," said Jonathan Wilmot from Credit Suisse.

... reports Ambrose Evans-Pritchard in the Telegraph (I must start to read the big-words papers). Anyhow, this is what Marc Faber said months ago. Short-term, I have a feeling DE is still on for the 'flation hors d'oeuvre, with IN as the entree.

By the way, are any managers of collective investment funds actually saying the type of thing Wilmot is saying, to their clients (not the big, favoured ones, the others, the Moms 'n' Pops)?

(htp: Karl Denninger)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Please read this man

David Parsley writes in today's Sunday Express, a piece titled "Homes Panic Is A Bank Ploy" (not yet available on the Net for free, but look for it again soon). The content is self-evident, but please, read and believe him. Spread the word. Find more such pieces by optimistic counter-contrarians, and publicise them. Blow away all that negative thinking.

That way, I may have more time to sell my house at current ridiculous market prices, which for personal reasons I can't yet.

Does State expenditure inflate the market?

Charles Moore comments on Jonathan Ross' £18m 3-year deal with the BBC:

... even if it is a wonderful idea to pay Mr Ross roughly 30 times more (annualised) than the Prime Minister and 20 times more than the Governor of the Bank of England out of what is, after all, tax, it is obvious rubbish that this does not push up the market. If the BBC were not competing in this field, Mr Ross’s price to commercial channels would plummet.

Deplorably, Mr Ross is unbelievably coarse, which sends a message to his (relatively) young audience. Peter Hitchens suspects that this crassness is a cynically avaricious pretence:

Ross talks on TV in an arrogant sort of loutspeak.

I wonder if he talks like that when he’s dealing with his lawyers and his accountants.

Now that would be a fly-on-the-wall documentary to screen next to Ross' show.

So, celeb wages inflated and manners undermined by spendthrift public services.

Meanwhile, Liz Jones takes a very laudable interest in the young, especially those rotting away in the complex trap of social security benefits. And again, a market may be distorted by public money:

Her room is damp, sparsely furnished, has a stinking, threadbare carpet, and Paris mostly sits on her bed, terrified to walk to the shared bathroom in case one of the boys who slouches around outside harasses her.

Drugs are dealt openly in the corridors. Each week, ‘the council’ (I’ve never heard her use the words ‘government’, ‘Labour’ or ‘Gordon Brown’) pays the £330 rent (yes, that is £1,430 a month, more than my mortgage repayments) for her box room direct to the private landlord; on top of that, Paris is given £47 a week to live on.

That is, she was, until the council got wind she had got off her backside and found a job, just three days a week, in a clothes shop in Oxford Street (she would have loved, she told me once, to have been a fashion designer).

Although her pay is less than her rent, she has been bombarded with letters and forms, too complicated for anyone, let alone someone with dyslexia, to fill in, demanding six months’ back rent.

She is now being threatened with eviction.

The negative reinforcement is too obvious to summarise, but look at this young girl's rent as a proportion of her total "income": 87.5%!

Compare that with this, from the Guardian in December 2007:

The CML said a typical first-time buyer paid 20.6% of their income to service their mortgage in October, up from 20.4% in September, while for those moving house it rose to 17.6% from 17.5%. The figures are the highest recorded since 1991 and 1992.

There are now very many people (about 4 million) on some form of housing benefit. Is it not possible that rents, and consequently housing valuations, have been grossly distorted by such interventions? Isn't there some other way to house people without creating opportunities for modern Rachman types?

For the record - a British MP speaking in Parliament on the EU's legislative control of the UK

From Hansard's records of Parliamentary debates (click title above for link) (htp: Peter Hitchens in the Mail On Sunday newspaper):

3 Jun 2008 : Column 644
Members of Parliament (Pay and Responsibilities)

3.35 pm

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require the Senior Salaries Review Body to take account of transfers of powers between Parliament and European Union institutions when making recommendations on the pay of Members of Parliament; and for connected purposes.

In virtually every occupation, it is recognised that pay should reflect responsibilities. If people receive more responsibilities, they get higher pay. If they move to a post with fewer responsibilities, they expect to receive lower pay. The same should be true of Parliament. If, as is contemplated under the Bill that deals with the European constitutional treaty, this House hands over more of its powers to European institutions, MPs’ remuneration should reflect that diminution of their responsibilities. If, on the other hand, as my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition has promised, Parliament regains some powers, such as those over social and employment policies that were conceded in the Amsterdam treaty, that should be reflected positively when MPs’ pay is assessed.

This issue is important because Parliament is considering transferring a significant slice of its powers on energy, foreign policy, immigration and several other areas to European institutions under the Lisbon treaty. A substantial transfer of powers has already occurred under previous treaties, and this House has ceded powers on a lesser scale to devolved Parliaments and to the judiciary under the Human Rights Act 1998. The German Government estimate that more than 80 per cent. of German laws are now decided at a European level. Our own Trade Minister has admitted that

“around half of all UK legislation with an impact on business, charities and the voluntary sector stems from legislation agreed by Ministers in Brussels.”—[ Official Report, House of Lords, 29 June 2006; Vol. 683, c. WA184.]

I have heard hon. Members claim that only 10 per cent. of our laws are made in Brussels—a figure that they attribute to a Library paper, but that paper says no such thing. It remarks that the number of statutory instruments laid under the European Communities Act 1972 amounts to about 10 per cent. of all the statutory instruments passed by the House, but points out that EU statutory instruments typically enact a whole directive, which is often the equivalent of an Act of primary legislation, whereas domestic statutory instruments implement regulations. To compare the two is like comparing apples and pears, or rather pumpkins and pears given the disparity in their size. It also ignores the most plentiful fruit that comes from the European orchard—regulations, most of which are never considered by this House and which hon. Members find difficult even to obtain.

The total scale of EU legislation is enormous. Last year, the EU passed 177 directives, which are more or less equivalent to our Acts of Parliament, and 2,033 regulations, which become directly enforceable in this place, not to mention 1,045 decisions. Even that huge tally ignores the extent to which our powers are diminished by our inability to do things that we would like to do because they would conflict with European law. When I was a Minister, officials would frequently say, “No, Minister, you can’t do that”, because something was within the exclusive competence of the European Union.

If the Lisbon treaty goes through, a further salami slice of powers will be transferred to the European institutions. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who served with distinction on the European constitutional convention and who knows more about the implications of the Lisbon treaty than almost anyone else in the House, except for my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Mr. Heathcoat-Amory), recently told the Fabian Society:
“If the Treaty of Lisbon is ratified and devolution...continues apace, in fifteen to twenty years this House of Commons will have only two raise taxes authorise war”.
She went on to say that we are making “fewer and fewer decisions that matter” to people’s daily lives, and that she could not tell her constituents that the buck stops here.

Admittedly, declaring wars kept Parliament pretty busy under the previous Prime Minister, as does raising taxes under the current incumbent of No. 10. However, our constituents want us to wage fewer wars, raise fewer taxes and focus on the huge range of issues that affect their daily lives, over which they assume and hope that we retain the powers that they pay us to exercise on their behalf.

Few voters, or even Members of this House, fully realise how many powers have been, or are about to be, transferred elsewhere. There are three reasons for this. The first is that Governments of all persuasions deny that any significant powers are being transferred. The second is that, once powers have been transferred, Ministers engage in a charade of pretence that they still retain those powers. Even when introducing measures that they are obliged to bring in as a result of an EU directive, they behave as though the initiative were their own.
Indeed, Ministers often end up nobly accepting responsibility for laws that they actually opposed when they were being negotiated in Brussels. They took the rap for costly and troublesome home improvement packs—which have added to the woes of the housing market—even though they were actually mandated by a Brussels directive. Similarly, they took the rap for fortnightly bin collections, hospital reconfiguration and a number of other measures, even though they had all been triggered by directives from Brussels. At first sight, it is odd that Ministers—who, in this Government, are not normally slow to blame others—should nobly defend and accept responsibility for Brussels’ legislative progeny, in whose conception they have often played little part. They prefer to claim paternity rather than admit impotence—the fate of the cuckold across the ages.

The third reason is that the transfer of power occurs not all in one go but by a process of salami-slicing, and it is easy to close our eyes to what is happening. As a result, there is a danger of Parliament sleepwalking into becoming little more than a provincial assembly. If that is what is happening, we should be paid accordingly—just as district councillors get less than county councillors, and county councillors get less than Members of the devolved Assemblies.

I do not have a masochistic desire to see MPs’ pay cut, but I want still less to see our powers diminish. The best way to prevent the latter might be to link pay to responsibilities. I do not know any Member of Parliament who entered Parliament to become financially better off. None the less, just as the prospect of being hanged in the morning concentrates the mind wonderfully, so the prospect of finding our pockets a bit emptier at the end of the month—and having to justify that to our spouses—might wake up those who have shut their eyes to what is happening. If we do not face up to what is happening, we will find ourselves being progressively relegated to what Bagehot called the dignified part of the constitution. As Tony Benn once rhetorically asked:
“I wonder how long it took for the yeomen of the guard to realise that they were no longer part of the regular army.”

My Bill is designed to provide a wake-up call whenever we risk going further down that route, although I accept that it has little chance of becoming law in this Parliament. Those who support the transfer of power from here to supranational institutions should logically accept that our pay should reflect the diminution of our responsibilities. But, strangely, all the Euro-enthusiasts whom I asked to sponsor the Bill declined to do so without explaining why. Too many Members are happy to avert their eyes from what is happening, so long as they retain the prestige and emoluments that were appropriate to a fully sovereign Parliament. Turkeys do not vote for Christmas.

If any Labour Members oppose the Bill, I hope that they will come out and object to it here and now, rather than trying to dispose of it by subterfuge one Friday morning. I look forward to hearing them argue for having their cake and eating it. I doubt that they would convince many of their constituents that, unlike any in other occupation, MPs’ pay should be divorced from their responsibilities.

Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): We have just heard a witty and amusing speech. I was not aware that this issue was going to be raised today, but I was sitting in the Chamber listening to Transport questions and suddenly the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley) rose to his feet and made this proposal. He said that he had asked a number of Euro-enthusiasts to back his Bill; I regard myself as a Euro-enthusiast, but he did not ask me. Had he done so, he would have given me advance notice that he was going to make this nonsensical proposal, and I would have been able to prepare a better speech. However, I shall certainly try to rise to the challenge that he has thrown across the Chamber.

The right hon. Gentleman argues that the volume of legislation to be considered by the House will decline as more and more powers are passed across to the European Parliament, but he knows as well as any other Member that the volume of legislation considered by this House continues to increase year by year. We have never suggested that that is an argument for increasing Members’ pay pro rata—

Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): That is a good idea.

Hugh Bayley: I note what my hon. Friend says. Nor should the passing of some legislative powers from this House to Europe be an argument for moving in the opposite direction.
I must say seriously to Members of the House that I do not think that the European Union provides a good model for the remuneration of Members of Parliament. I have just checked with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Ms Stuart), who is a sponsor of the Bill and well versed in EU matters, and she tells me that EU spend is about 0.5 per cent. of EU wealth. The spend of our national Government is probably about 40 per cent. of our national wealth, which is 50 or 60 times as much as the EU spend.

If the right hon. Gentleman is arguing that there is a serious transfer of financial responsibility from the House to Europe, that is just not based on fact. The Lisbon treaty not only does not change that fact, but it delegates some powers back to national Parliaments. The public want to see more information about MPs’ pay and allowances, but they would get less information if our pay was tied into and buried under bureaucracy from Europe. Surprisingly to my way of thinking, the Bill is proposed by a staunch opponent of Europe whom I would have thought could see that point himself.

The right hon. Gentleman is making a political point about Europe, not a serious proposal for greater transparency in the pay of Members of Parliament and greater accountability to the public for Members of this Parliament. I hope that the Bill does not receive its First Reading.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 23 (Motions for leave to bring Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business), and agreed to.
Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Peter Lilley, Mr. Michael Ancram, Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. Graham Brady, Mr. Frank Field, Mr. James Gray, Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory, Mr. Edward Leigh, Mr. John Redwood, Ms Gisela Stuart and Mr. Charles Walker.
Members of Parliament (pay and Responsibilities)
Mr. Peter Lilley accordingly presented a Bill to require the Senior Salaries Review Body to take account of transfers of powers between Parliament and European Union institutions when making recommendations on the pay of Members of Parliament; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 113].

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Stock up your larder

Reading "The Grumbler" today, I was struck by Rosie Boycott's article on our vulnerability to oil and food shortages, particularly now that so much of our food supply is dependent on the supermarkets' just-in-time logistics.

I believe the Mormons have a rule that members of their church must have 12 months' security set up for their families - I remember an old colour supplement article with a picture of a Mormon sitting on a year's supply of baked beans. Doesn't seem so daft now - and it's worth remembering why landlocked Utah is the Seagull State.

More generally, there is now a feeling that the government has failed to prepare for material and financial shocks. Genesis 41 has been obscurely referenced by George Osborne ("Our competitors used the fat years to prepare for the lean years"), though back in 2002 Treasury Committee member Dr Nick Palmer was using the same analogy, but in Gordon Brown's favour ("in the first years [Gordon Brown] repaid a lot of government debt so as to give us a really strong basis for difficult times as and when they arose").

On the financial front, I think the government cracked in 2003, when extra liquidity (simplified graph here) began to be released into the system, over-hydrating the housing market. Radix malorum est cupiditas, and that applies here if you interpret "cupiditas" in the general sense of over-attachment to worldly things, especially to power and its accompaniments.

Buffett eyes Europe

A most interesting article by Matthew Lynn in this week's Spectator. It's certainly worth reading in full, but here's a few points and questions arising:

  • Buffett's got $35 billion in cash to go a-shopping, and thinks Europe is more promising than the emerging markets - partly because Europe is already in recession.
  • Have European companies endured because many have remained family-owned? Is the Anglo-Saxon model of capitalism too erratic and destructive?
  • How important are hunches in investing? Lynn says, "Buffett doesn’t believe in extended due diligence or complex financial models. He chooses his investments based on what he feels about the people in charge, and whether he likes their products." And recently, George Soros said that for all his research, he pays attention to his own psychosomatic backaches.
  • How much vital business information is conveyed - or betrayed - by tone of voice and body language? Mark McCormack said that he liked to go to meetings on his own, so that he wouldn't have to worry about unconscious non-verbal signals given away by an underling's reactions. For the same reason, he loved the opposition to come with company. Is the most important bit of investment reserach the site visit?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

How many trillions?

A while ago, the pessimistic figure being discussed was $1 trillion of losses; yesterday the FT looked at the prospect of $5 trillion of liabilities emerging from off-balance obscurity, to lurch back onto already-weak bank balance sheets.

There comes a point when it gets so dire it starts to become funny. Ah well, time to clean house.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

A splendid rant

Karl Denninger lays all about him vigorously today. Where are the Brit bloggers to match him? Any nominations for UK financial Jeremiah of the Year?

Democracy - a cut flower

I think we are not a democracy, but a competing selection of complex oligarchies with a mechanism for periodic bloodless overthrow.

I put the above comment about the British system on the ever-elegant Angels in Marble. Is it too cynical?

What does democracy mean here? What should it be like?

Is democracy the best system, or should we turn to authoritarianism, which seems to be working for the Russians and Chinese, as an increasing number of opinion-formers seem to be suggesting?

Is that happening anyway? Are the people watching the bottom rung of the ladder of power rise out of reach?

Monday, June 02, 2008

Why interest rates should increase - and (IMO) probably won't

Hundreds of millions of Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, East European and other emerging market workers and many millions of enterprises have entered the global marketplace as suppliers of goods and services that are competitive with those produced by the UK (so-called "core" goods and services) and as demanders of commodities, especially energy, metals and food (so-called "non-core" goods). As a result, the price of energy, food, metals and other commodities, relative to that of manufactures and services, has risen.

Willem Buiter gives a beautifully clear and concise view of the factors affecting inflation and argues for an increase in lending rates.

But the hard, narrow path upward is often avoided, especially in "democracies" where the governing party feels its hold on power slipping.

Besides, a depreciating pound is helping maintain orders for what remains of our manufacturing industry. Why halt the pound's fall?

Maybe we should start doing our FTSE charts in Euros, so we can see the real effect of rotting currency. Like Alice and the Red Queen, when the stockmarkets stand still, they are actually falling back, once you price them against the rest of the world's money.

I note that Mish used the Red Queen's Race analogy two years ago, and presciently outlined the monetary and economic dilemma for the USA - and, I suspect, the UK:

Bernanke is trapped in "Wonderland" but unlike Alice has no way out.Bernanke gets to choose between hyperinflation and deflation. The moment he can not run fast enough, the US economy will implode. If he runs too fast, the value of the US dollar as well as the FED's power will both come to a very abrupt stop.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

A long way to go yet

Equities are not cheap enough and need to decline by at least 50 percent.

These and other observations recently from Morgan Stanley's Teun Draaisma are reported here in FT Alphaville.

The return of the gods

I perceive a theme in public opinion these days, regarding democracy. Taki has a piece in the Spectator this week, saying that even in ancient Greece it was empire and aristocracy. Highly intelligent professionals like Don Boudreaux boast of their refusal to vote. It seems that people think the system will continue to run more or less for our benefit, even if we take no part in it; just as your local shop will always be there, even though you very rarely patronise it.

Yes, rule us as you wish, as long as our kettles and TVs work, as long as there is petrol for our cars and the trains run on time. What we want is broth for our bellies, now, like Esau.

We may have to re-learn our lessons the hard way, as Kipling warned... and Cavafy:

Without consideration, without pity, without shame
they have built big and high walls around me.

And now I sit here despairing.
I think of nothing else: this fate gnaws at my mind;

for I had many things to do outside.
Ah, why didn’t I observe them when they were building the walls?

But I never heard the noise or the sound of the builders.
Imperceptibly they shut me out of the world.

Oil speculation?

Pace Nick Drew's comment on the previous post, Jim in San Marcos reckons there is indeed influential speculation in the oil market.

But Karl Denninger reckons it's just money looking for a home, like the boll weevil, and ultimately deflation caused by credit writedowns should reverse the trend.