Monday, 24 October 2016

Trump's first 100 days

In the same place where Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the most iconic speeches in American history, Donald Trump unveiled his 100-day action plan to Make America Great Again.

“We are a very divided nation,” he told the crowd of local Republicans, adding that “I am a politician and have never wanted to be a politician, but when I saw the trouble our country was in, I knew I could not stand by and watch any longer.”

Describing himself as an outsider who also understands the inner mechanics of our “very broken system,” Trump said that he is capable of delivering “the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime.”

Saturday’s speech was slated as an opportunity for the Republican presidential nominee to offer some specific details on how exactly he plans to enact such change. However, Trump spent the first 14 minutes or so railing against what he claims is a 'rigged system', warning against the widely debunked threat of voter fraud and accusing everyone from Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to the FBI, AT&T, Amazon and, above all, the media of corruption.

“They are trying desperately to suppress my vote,” he said. “They are trying to poison the mind of the American voter.”

Before outlining the list of actions he plans to take after his inauguration, Trump first announced what he intends to do immediately after the election: sue each of the women who’ve publicly accused him of sexual assault, unwanted groping, kissing and other inappropriate behaviour.

Trump also listed seven actions he’ll be talking to protect American workers on his first day in office, which include announcing his intention to totally renegotiate NAFTA, which he has announced in virtually every stump speech and debate throughout his campaign, as well as withdrawing the country from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the controversial trade deal that has not yet been ratified by the U.S.

On day one, Trump vowed also to begin deporting criminal illegal immigrants [drug dealers, gang heads, killers] and suspend immigration from terror-prone regions where vetting cannot safely occur, warning that radical Islamic terror is right around the corner.

Perhaps most notable is the End Illegal Immigration Act, which, he said, “fully funds the construction of a wall on our southern border“.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Is the next financial crisis going to be a surprise?

As central banks around the world pump billions of dollars into the global economy every month and policy makers pass regulations to safeguard against a relapse of the 2008 financial crisis, the market’s best and brightest say some warning signals are flashing at precisely the wrong time. Now, rules to shore up the money-market fund industry that kicked in Friday are stifling the predictive powers of yet another set of gauges. For investors, the big worry is they will end up being taken by surprise when the next crisis hits.

Libor, the rate banks charge each other for dollar loans ranging from one day to one year, has surged to levels not seen since the financial crisis, even as the Fed has left interest rates unchanged this year. Rather than signalling a credit stress event as it once might have, the spike is the result of structural changes.

The new money-market rules have driven about $1 trillion from funds that buy the short-term debt of banks and corporations into those that invest in safer securities such as U.S. Treasury bills. As a result, banks’ unsecured lending rates have soared. Three-month Libor reached 0.88% Wednesday after touching the highest since 2009 last week. The contortions are also seen in Libor’s spread with other rates. The difference between Libor and the overnight index swap rate, another measure of bank funding stress that isolates credit risk, is at the widest since 2012.

Just last month, analysts at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. reminded investors how the so-called TED spread [which tracks the difference between Libor and the yield on similar-maturity Treasury bills] has lost its ability to foreshadow funding stress. They removed it from the bank’s proprietary financial conditions index.

Analysts are losing faith in the U.S. yield curve, a tool used to forecast the direction of the economy, as it signals a recession that many see as premature. The curve is created by tracing a line through yields on bonds of different maturities. Normally, longer-maturity debt has higher yields than short-dated securities. When that inverts, it is seen as a sign the economy is at risk of contracting. In fact, it has happened before each of the past seven recessions.

While the curve has yet to invert, it has flattened significantly. Strategists say the shift is the product of disentanglement between financial markets and macro-economics. The gap between yields on two- and 30-year Treasuries touched 1.4 percentage points on Aug. 30, the lowest since 2008.

In an even more esoteric corner of the market, a proxy for credit risk called the swap spread has been turned on its head not once but twice in recent months. The gap between the rate on interest-rate swaps and similar-maturity Treasury yields, another measure of bank credit quality, has been negative for most maturities for much of the past year as regulations made it cheaper and safer to use derivatives to hedge risk and more onerous and expensive for bond dealers to trade, hold and finance government debt on their balance sheets.

If that wasn’t enough, near-term swap spreads have swung back above zero this year -- not because conditions are normalizing, but rather due to money-market rule changes that are increasing banks’ borrowing costs in an already distorted market.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Syria today

This is to give a mention to one of the bravest women on the planet.

Asmaa is a 38 year old White Helmet volunteer living and working in Daraa, the city known for sparking the peaceful uprising in Syria in 2011. Punished for rising up, the city is often cut off from food, medicine and aid. Its residents do everything they can to save each other.

Before the revolution Asmaa worked as a physiotherapist in her own clinic. When the revolution began and protesters were shot by snipers, she started working as a paramedic, rushing to where the bullets were being fired. She was arrested several times by the regime for her humanitarian work. Every time, she went back to treating wounded protesters and those who needed her. Eventually, the regime destroyed her clinic.

Asmaa joined the White Helmets [Syria Civil Defence] in 2015. For her it was a big change: “Before when I worked alone I had only my legs to carry me to the scenes of attacks, or on a lucky day someone would offer a ride on their motorcycle or in their car. Now it’s easier to save people’s lives because there is an entire team of brave humanitarians and an equipped ambulance to get us to those who need us quickly. All that matters to me is that I can help the victims of bombs.”

The thing that keeps Asmaa going is knowing she has the support of her family and community. Asmaa’s father was suffering from a treatable heart condition, but living under siege he lacked the medicine he needed to stay alive. Before he died he would see the work she was doing and tell her “God bless you, God protect you”.

While we wait for politicians to grow a backbone and act to protect civilians, there are very real things we can do to support heroes like Asmaa. The White Helmets need more equipment to save lives, they need to know that if they are wounded they can get medical treatment, or if the worst happens their families will be looked after.

The White Helmets missed out on the Nobel Peace Prize this year, let us mot forget Asmaa and her team mates.

Monday, 17 October 2016

A bank's image

Britain's banks are not reporting the full extent of cyber attacks to regulators for fear of punishment or bad publicity, a recent story by Reuters has shown.

Reported attacks on financial institutions in Britain have risen from just 5 in 2014 to 75 so far this year, data from Britain's Financial Conduct Authority [FCA] show. However, bankers and experts in cyber-security say many more attacks are taking place. In fact, banks are under almost constant attack.

Banks are not obliged to reveal every such instance as cyber attacks fall under the FCA's provision for companies to report any event that could have a material impact, unlike in the U.S. where forced disclosure makes reporting more consistent.

Banks are not alone in their reluctance to disclose every cyber attack. Of the five million fraud and 2.5 million cyber-related crimes occurring annually in the UK, only 250,000 are being reported, government data show. A report published in May by Marsh and industry lobby group TheCityUK concluded that Britain’s financial sector should create a cyber forum comprising bank board members and risk officers to promote better information sharing.

Security experts said that while reporting all low level attacks such as email "phishing" attempts would overload authorities with unnecessary information, some banks are not sharing data on more harmful intrusions because of concerns about regulatory action or damage to their brand.

The most serious recent known attack was on the global SWIFT messaging network in February, but staff from five firms that provide cyber security products and advice to banks in Britain told Reuters they have seen first-hand examples of banks choosing not to report breaches, despite the FCA making public pleas for them to do so, the most recent in September.

The Bank of England has declined to comment and the FCA has also not responded to requests for comment from journalists.

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Former BHS owner

Sir Philip Green has demanded an "immediate apology" from MP Frank Field for comments he made about his running of the collapsed retailer.


However, it is quite plausible for someone to go on the offence when cornered and Sir Philip Green is definitely cornered after the report from the Business, Innovation and Skills and Work and Pensions committees which is co-chaired by Frank Field.

The report published on Monday after weeks of evidence from former executives and advisers says the “tragedy” of BHS was the “unacceptable face of capitalism” and raises questions about how the governance of private companies and their pension funds should be regulated.

So what did Frank Field say that has aroused Philip Green's ire?

Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “[Green’s] reputation as the king of retail lies in the ruins of BHS. His family took out of BHS and Arcadia a fortune beyond the dreams of avarice and he is still to make good his boast of ‘fixing’ the pension fund. What kind of man is it who can count his fortune in billions but does not know what decent behaviour is?”

While Green is being nailed by the Business, Innovation and Skills and Work and Pensions committee, who else can feel the heat in connection to BHS?

Financial advisers namely Goldman Sachs, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Deloitte Haskin & Sells, and perhaps more, but these three have been found out to knowing how bad the deal was with Dominic Chappell.

When cornered, he [Green] used the last line of defence for a select committee guest: ignorance. He did not know the ins and outs of Arcadia’s accounts, inviting MPs instead to spend a day with his ‘back office’ of finance staff, and he did not know how the Green family’s trusts work, pointing to wife Tina’s control, a response that is likely to backfire. There might very well be more people and organisations that are neck deep in the BHS scandal, but the first one is Philip Green and he needs to pay, about half a billion pounds apparently.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Turkey Finance

Turkey’s lira fell to an all-time low after S&P Global Ratings downgraded the country’s debt on concern about an increase in political risk after a failed coup last week and the government declared a state of emergency as it pursues those responsible.

The currency slumped to as low as 3.0973 against the dollar before falling 1.5 percent to 3.0898 on Wednesday. Stocks earlier capped the steepest three-day sell off in three years and bonds tumbled, sending the yield on 10-year notes to the highest since May.

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency in a televised address after a day of meetings with top generals on the National Security Council, and then ministers in cabinet. Since the collapse of the attempted putsch on Saturday, authorities have arrested thousands of army officers, judges and prosecutors, and embarked on a purge of other institutions such as universities.

S&P cut Turkey to BB, two steps below investment grade, from BB+ with a negative outlook, saying the move reflected the further fragmentation of the political landscape after last week’s attempted coup. This will undermine the country’s investment environment, growth and capital inflows into its externally leveraged economy, it said. S&P’s downgrade comes two days after Moody’s Investors Service put the sovereign on review for a possible downgrade.

The failed overthrow attempt has led President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to crack down on his opponents. About 60,000 people have been detained, suspended, fired or stripped of their professional accreditation since the coup, according to Bloomberg estimates. An announcement will be made after meetings with National Security Council, ruling AK Party government ministers and cabinet.

The financial situation is not good, but I am more worried for the 60,000 detainees and how many can become missing persons.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Turkey Aftermath

It was not much of a coup. The death toll currently stands at 290, according to Turkish officials. Unfortunately for those 290 it was the end.

More than 6,000 people, including senior military officials, have been arrested in the aftermath of the coup attempt against President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who promised to “cleanse the virus from all state institutions.” Another phrase he used which sent a chill up the spine of any western liberal was "a gift from God" while referring to the coup. We really do not have any idea what this man is capable of in the future.

The old Turkey’s story is well known: Secularists ran the state and the military which intervened from time to time to cut the religious conservative majority down to size when it gained too much electoral power.

The new Turkey story is about to begin although it probably started back in 2002 when Erdoğan came to power. In the last 12 to 24 months Erdoğan has been clamping down on media based targets to the point where there is only state run media today and most of the free media has disappeared. I find it rather difficult to expect democracy to flourish under these conditions.

As with many coups around the world, the aftermath will be bloody and repressive. It will be rule of the mob, rather than rule of law that will shape Turkish politics and society. More than 1,000 members of the military have been arrested and more than 2,000 judges have been laid off. Pro-government mobs have brutally attacked anyone they perceive as being anti-Erdoğan or anti-government. Darker days lie ahead for Turkey and an awful lot of people will want a better life in the UK now.