Category Archives: Financial arcana

Obvious ‘Madoff with the money’ gag

Over at Bystander’s, some sanctimonious caants are talking a load of sanctimonious cant about one of the financial services community’s finer comedians, Bernie Madoff, and why he’s a Very Bad Man Indeed.

They pointed me to this document, which is absolutely superb – the self-pitying ramblings of people who, having grown used to receiving copious quantities of pretend money-for-nothing, now believe their lives are ruined because they have to live off their employee pensions.

My comment there was:

Some people who were super-rich are now rich; some people who were rich are now on the same level as everyone else. And all of them were *utterly, unimaginably stupid* to entrust their money to someone like Madoff. Their whiny sense of entitlement doesn’t exactly contribute to one’s sympathy for them, either. “Oh noes, I’m no longer a gazillionaire, instead I just have to live on my pension like every other bloody pensioner…”

For those who’re wondering ‘what happened to the money’, there never was any – he paid out the $60bn that he received as fake profits to his investors. In other words, he took $60bn from gullible shmucks, and paid it out mostly to the same gullible shmucks. That’s why ‘harmless redistribution’ above – the scheme’s only impact was to reward early investors at the expense of latecomers, like all Ponzi schemes.

…and if I were a US taxpayer, I’d be marching in the streets against the greedy morons getting a penny of my money in compo.

…and I stand by every word. I simply don’t understand tough sentencing for financial crimes, given that money simply doesn’t matter that much, and nearly everyone who loses out in a financial scam thoroughly deserves to do so.

We write letters

Just sent this letter to the Observer’s readers editor:

Re: ‘Light-touch’ reforms raise fears of new bank disaster

This article from Sunday 12 June has one of the most inaccurate sentences I’ve ever seen anywhere:

“Critics point out that it was a subsidiary of Northern Rock, Granite, that contained the liabilities that led to the collapse of the bank: Granite owned £49bn of mortgages that were sold by Northern Rock and moved offshore to the tax haven of Jersey.”

1) Granite wasn’t a subsidiary of Northern Rock, it was an umbrella term used to cover several different offshore organisations that were structured as charitable trusts and that specifically weren’t owned by NR.

2) Northern Rock didn’t have any liabilities through Granite – the whole point was that NR wasn’t liable for Granite’s debts. Rather, Granite’s bonds were secured against the mortgages that it bought from NR.

3) The collapse of the bank had absolutely nothing to do with Granite – it was because NR was reliant on short-term financing to cover the mortgages that it *hadn’t* sold to Granite, and this short-term financing dried up as the crunch began.

Perhaps Nick Mathiason should read the article I wrote on Granite last February before writing any more pieces that mention Northern Rock…

Cheers,

John Band

I’m genuinely not sure that I’ve seen a sentence that wrong-headed in a serious newspaper before, ever

Nobody who gets anything wrong should ever be allowed to do anything again

Let’s assume you’re an excellent journalist (yes, I know for most bloggers this would be a bit of a heroic assumption, but never mind). You spend 15 years working your way up through various jobs until you’re editor of a national title. You do the job very well.

Then the chairman of the large media company that owns your title offers you a job as head of finance. You take it on; you fail to spot the risks in the strategy your predecessor was running and so continue with it; the company gets run into the ground; and you’re rightly fired.

In a reasonable and sane world, should you:
a) apply for editor jobs, and be taken seriously as a candidate because you’ve a strong proven track record in editorial, and the fact that you messed up corporate finance isn’t at all relevant
b) never be allowed to work again, save perhaps as a cub reporter or a night sub?

The sane answer is a, right? So why the hell is there such a fuss about Andy Hornby, who was an extremely good manager at Asda and running HBOS’s retail division, but didn’t understand the systemic risk of reduced liquidity or the lack of controls in HBOS’s corporate banking department, being hired to run retailer Alliance Boots…? He’s a good candidate for the job.

(more generally, I don’t get the public’s general anger against bankers, politicians, etc. Yes, they messed up. You messed up. We all mess up. We’re people, it’s what we do. The bankers didn’t kill anyone, they just cost us a bit of money. It’s only money. Nobody in the UK will ever have to starve on the streets, so the money doesn’t really matter, beyond ‘it’d be nice to have a new car this year’. So stop being such pathetic childish bitter twats about it…)

Longer Fraser Nelson

What the ignorant paranoiac says:

The threat [of Terribly Bad Things if the Tories don't abolish all public services, taxes, etc] is abstract, but needs to be made real.

What this means:

There isn’t actually a disastrous crisis that means we’ll need to abolish all public services, taxes, etc, but if we lie that there is one then we might get away with doing so anyway.

Barclayery

As far as I can make out with reference to the Grauniad/Barclays tax evasion dossier:

1) Barclays has done nothing illegal
2) Barclays hasn’t receieved any aid from the UK taxpayer.

…so this isn’t an issue.

Should Barclays request aid from the UK taxpayer at any point, its activities should, obviously, be taken into account when deciding how much of a haircut its shareholders deserve to be given. But at the moment, it’s trying to stop the UK taxpayer from making it take ‘aid’, which is kind-of the opposite…

Fraser Nelson: ignorance and paranoia, in one simple package

RBS:

As part of our implementation of FSA guidelines around Anti-Money Laundering activities, we introduced questions on Politically Exposed Persons as part of our account opening procedures.

Genius financial columnist Nelson:

what on earth is a Politically Exposed Person?

The FSA anti-money-laundering guidelines, which have been in force for three years:

customers who, by virtue of their position in public life, are vulnerable to corruption

This isn’t earth-shattering stuff; any professional or financial services firm has to ask those questions of its clients, and RBS would be remiss for not doing so. Taking UK political party membership as an indication of PEP status was technically incorrect, but fair enough I reckon – if you’re a member of a UK political party, you’re either corrupt, stupid or massively over-optimistic…

Nelson then goes off into an insanely paranoid rant about banks asking people whether they occupy any political offices. Oh noes! A majority-government-owned institution is asking me whether I’m a political party member. The gulags surely do beckon…

If you’re worried about this, you’re a moron.

Is Britain really going bankrupt?

No.

Or:

Britain is not Iceland. Iceland is the size of Coventry. Britain is the fifth-largest economy in the world (although it also has the third-largest current account deficit). The pound is still a reserve currency that people want to buy, despite the efforts of the speculators. We are bankrupt only in the sense that we could not pay if all debts were called in right now – which is true of many countries. A falling pound will be good for exports, assuming there is someone to buy them. The UK’s credit rating was reaffirmed last week. The only thing that could push Britain into bankruptcy would be a full-scale panic.

Anyone who proposes a worse policy wins a prize

OK, so we appear to be in the early stages of a major recession, which may well go on for years. A whole load of people may well lose their jobs, pay rises will be a thing of the past for people who keep them, and overall incomes from working will fall substantially.

Meanwhile, inflation has fallen to pretty much nothing. Falling fuel and food prices are among the main drivers of the fall in inflation. Imported consumer goods, of the sort that kept inflation low during the boom, have risen in price due to the pound’s devaluation.

So let’s think about the people who’re left worst-off by this. Are they:
1) people living on fixed incomes (ie pensions or savings), who’re seeing their living standards remain pretty much flat, who have no chance of a catastrophic decline in incomes, and who spend disproportionately on heating;
or:
2) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have relatively large savings to cushion the blow if anything bad happens;
or:
3) people not living on fixed incomes, who’re seeing their living standards fall, who’re at risk of losing their jobs, and who’re much more likely to spend on imports, but who have debts to service that will utterly crucify them if bad things happen?

The answer, fairly obviously, is group 3. People with decent net savings are just fine: if they never had jobs, they’re insulated from anything bad happening anyway; if they have jobs now, then they can afford the time taken to find a new job if they lose the current one.

So the new Conservative party policy of punishing people in group 3 to reward people in group 1 [*] can only be viewed in two ways: either breathtaking, witless stupidity, or the intergenerational equivalent of class warfare, deliberately screwing over economically productive people even more than the recession will do anyway to give money to the elderly, who the recession won’t have any impact on. [***]

[*] in group 2, where I’m lucky enough to sit, we’ll gain slightly on the tax breaks but lose out from the spending cuts [**].

[**] To “they’ll be funded by cutting waste not productive spending”-ists, that’s not the point. If you’ve got a plan to cut waste, great – but you still need to explain why the benefits from that plan should accrue to people who’re doing fine, rather than something sensible like a rise in the income tax allowance to benefit the working poor.

[***] Of course, the working poor are busy either working or drinking themselves into a stupor to forget their miserable lives, whilst pensioners spend their time talking to Edna in the post office about absolutely nothing, and therefore voting rates for the latter group are far higher than the former. This is another reason why democracy is A Bit Pants, Even If It’s Better Than The Alternatives.

In which your host doesn’t forfeit his life

So, my decision a year ago to stake my life that house prices wouldn’t fall by more than 20% in 2008 appears to have been vindicated. That’s just as well. And I’m still projecting house prices from Jan 2008 – Dec 2012 to outperform the base rate (OK, the base rate cuts have helped with this one…)

Note to debt doomsayers

When someone buys a country’s government bond, the government needs to pay it back on a specific date. If the government refuses to do so, there will be a total collapse in international confidence in the debt of the country and of all its banks, companies and residents, a currency crisis, and generally a wide range of Very Bad Consequences.

When someone works for a country’s government and is told they’ll get a nice fat pension, the government can decide to not pay it. This will upset the person who works for the government quite a lot, and might be perceived as somewhat unfair. However, the consequences for the country’s ability to borrow, invest and trade in international markets are non-existent.

Therefore, anyone who counts public sector pensions as a liability faced by the UK government in the context of the current financial crisis (generally as a way of saying ‘ooh, we’re nearly as bad as Iceland’ – Nadeem Walayat, this means you) either doesn’t understand what they’re talking about, or is trying to mislead their audience into thinking things are much worse than they really are.