Archive for April, 2011

Blog safari – hunt for the best financial service bloggers

I have recently been on a blog safari. I hoped to track down the best blogging talent the financial services industry had to offer and bag them for our blogroll.

[Cameras at the ready]

I envisaged the web as a Serengeti, a vibrant ecosystem, full of talented and insightful bloggers from across the spectrum of financial services all offering their thoughts on the latest developments from within the industry.

The big beasts of the plain were immediately obvious. Established journalists such as Mark Kleinman and Robert Peston break big industry stories via their blogs on a regular basis but these sit on traditional news sites.

I was searching for lesser known talent but it proved elusive. There were a few notable exceptions although these came from individuals with a background in journalism or from corporate entities. Dominic Frisby, a regular contributor to Money Week, runs Frisby’s Bulls and Bears. The site is aimed at private investors and provides insight into the latest economic and market developments and is full of interesting audio interviews, particularly for those with an interest in commodities investment. Likewise, for those with an interest in fixed income, M&G’s Bond Vigilantes provides regular and accessible comment on debt markets.

I’m at a bit of a loss as to why there are so few blogs from individuals within the industry worth reading. It is possible that the industry is so well served by traditional media that there’s little demand for blogs.

Compliance and regulation also make it difficult for bloggers to write about the companies they are working for.

[Financial services bloggers are harder to spot]

In true David Attenborough style, I had hoped to unearth new, undiscovered blogging talent but what I found was that it is either hidden in amongst the undergrowth or still in the evolution process. If you have discovered a financial services blogger with something to say, then do let us know.

Our Top 5 Business Columnists

As you might expect, our Financial & Professional Services team consume a truckload of traditional and new media every day on all things money. Despite the never-ending torrent, one thing we always make time for is to read the many excellent business columnists and commentators that try to make sense of everything going on.

We read a lot of these, and websites too, but which are our favourite business columnists?

With that in mind, here’s a list (in no particular order) of five of our favourites who appear in the business pages each week. This is by no means definitive, and indeed there are many others who we love to read as well – we’d welcome thoughts on your favourites too:

Anthony Hilton - one of our absolute must reads (Image from

1. Anthony Hilton, Evening Standard – A consistent hit in our team, Hilton has been providing commentary on the City for several decades. Never afraid to pull punches when it comes to analysing an issue, he always presents clear, concise, logic behind his arguments. Simply put, a must-read for us and thousands of others involved in financial services.

Read the rest of this entry »

FPS’ Friday Fiver

posted by Edward Jones

Nearly the weekend. First, here is this week’s Friday Fiver…

Thanks to DC, Daisy, Rachel and Nick for contributions.

Is the economy looking up?…

Economic figures this week were better than predicted, but is this just a pause for breath before the storm?

Here’s a question for you. If GDP growth is so flat (or even in reverse as it was last winter), then how can it be that unemployment fell according to the latest figures? Wednesday’s announcement from the ONS stated that total unemployment was down from 8% to 7.8%. Here’s another question for you as well. If global commodity price rises (particularly food and oil) are showing no sign of slowing down, then how can it be that inflation fell against most predictions according to the latest figures? The ONS’ figures on Tuesday recorded a drop in the Consumer Price Index from 4.4% in February to just 4.0% in March.

So what’s going on? Well, the fall in unemployment was definitely welcome, but it may be shortlived. The reason for this is the continued fear that new jobs created in the private sector may not be able to keep up with the large redundancies likely being made in the public sector as the government trims spending – it’s a bit like pouring water into a bucket at the top, and it flowing out through holes in the bottom; the problem is, we can’t pour water in fast enough.

And on inflation? Well, it turns out that we can thank retailers, and especially supermarkets, for the slight fall in inflation. According to the ONS, the level of discounting by shops is at an all time high as they try to maintain the flow of customers in through their doors (this might explain why my local Co-op has been running a 50% off wine promotion almost non-stop since Christmas). The question is, how long will these promotions continue to entice consumers? Especially when growth in wages continues to lag behind inflation, reducing the amount of disposable income we have to spend on the high street.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Vickers report – what’s the impact for consumers?

Broadly speaking, there were two parts to this week’s interim report from the Independent Commission on Banking. The first focused on how best to avoid another cascade failure of the banking system, which would likely place the onus on the government to bail out failing banks in order to avoid system-wide collapse – as happened in 2008. The proposals to tackle this are twofold: One, create distinct ‘firewalls’ between retail and investment operations in UK banks; Two, increase the ratio of capital held to lending issued in the retail part of banks.

Sir John Vickers - published his interim report on the future of banking in the UK this week

Judging by the rise in the share price of UK banks after the report was released, the view from the City seems to be that these recommendations are less onerous than might have been expected (though as the Independent’s Andrew Grice noted, the balance of squealing from both sides showed that Vickers may well have got it just about right).

Read the rest of this entry »

‘The first in an occasional series…’

posted by Edward Jones

I thought I’d kick off the week, and indeed my contributions to Hill & Knowlton’s new FPS (Financial and Professional Services – for those still wondering) team blog ‘Shocks & Stares’, with a brief post, drawing your attention to the Financial Times’ Elections 2011 feature and more importantly the excellent little graphic on page 2 of today’s FT (and below).  The feature highlights the importance of May 5th in shaping the political landscape for the remainder of this Parliament and beyond. Much like this post, ‘this is the first in an occasional series on the May 5th elections’ from the FT so we look forward to the next instalment, especially if they contain more infographics like the one below.

Financial Times 'Elections 2011' infographic - Monday April 11 2011, page 2

FPS’ Friday Fiver

Hello All and welcome to a very sunny Friday afternoon. Before you all rush out of the door to enjoy a much earned drink, here’s our recap of five of the top financial and political stories of the week. Thanks to Jonathan, Ed, Daisy and Ross for their contributions this week.

National destiny…Two weeks ago, Portugal’s outgoing prime minister ruled out the possibility of asking the European Union for financial assistance. On Wednesday, under mounting pressure, a bailout of €80 billion was however requested. What is telling about the run of events is that to a large extent it is not governments that have the ultimate say over their financial destiny but international debt markets, a feeling reflected by Portuguese media, with the newspaper Jornal de Noticias declaring “Yesterday our country succumbed not only to the pressure of the hated markets but to itself”.

Europe's tangled web - a snapshot by the NY Times

Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Fiver

This week the FPS team has been pondering a heady mix of succession, bribery, banking black holes and a Miliband. Of course, it is April 1st and no blog post would be complete without a nod to Fools’ Day. You’ll find a summary of the media’s best efforts to trick us all in today’s Fiver…

Heirs apparent

Many of the most successful and iconic businesses are led by big personalities. Over time these individuals can become synonymous with business and its performance. When the time comes for these leaders to step down, markets and commentators start to speculate about who will replace them.

We saw two examples of this speculation in action this week. There was discussion of the succession plan for both Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

[Rupert - putting a successor in place?]

In the case of News Corp, James Murdoch the 38 year old son of Rupert was appointed deputy chief operating officer and head of international operations. James’ move from London to New York is seen by many as a stepping stone to ultimately taking his father’s role at the helm.

In the case of Berkshire Hathaway, the resignation this week of David Sokol a chairman of several Berkshire subsidiaries, has raised questions about who will take the reins from the “Sage of Omaha.” Sokol had been widely tipped as the next Chief Executive of Berkshire Hathaway, but his resignation following an investment in Lubrizol throws the door open for other contenders.

Both men will be hard to replace and whoever ends up at leading these companies will have big shoes to fill.

Does Ed Miliband need a game changer?

Last weekend, he was seen making a speech on one side of the TV screen whilst on the other violence erupted at the largely peaceful anti-cuts march in central London, mid-week he announced his engagement to long term partner Christine (congratulations Ed) and it seems everyone wants to put in their two penneth worth, including us. Yes, he had has a bit of a week, but there are two fascinating articles published today on Ed Miliband, the man everyone it seems is keen to discuss, both absolutely worth reading and on two opposite sides of the fence.

[Congratulations Ed and Christine]

Johan Harri on the plan to save Ed Miliband in today’s Independent, calls for Ed Miliband to simplify the way he communicates an argument, champion the real middle class and shift Labour’s economic message back to one of stimulus, as espoused by celebrated economists Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. A compelling argument and one that could well propel him to electoral success. Peter Oborne, in today’s Daily Telegraph, argues however that Miliband’s plan for power is putting his party back on course in any case. 

Some might argue, that having the Telegraph talk up your talents and the Independent calling for you to champion the real middle class is just about perfection for a Labour leader. We say the game changer may be coming whether he needs it or not in the form of local elections and an AV referendum in May and all bets are on hold ‘til then.

 A Black Rock and a Red Isle….

Thursday was a tale of contrasting fortunes for two of those who have most keenly felt the impact of the financial crisis. On the one hand, Northern Rock’s “bad” bank celebrated a return to profit, albeit a small one, which allowed it to begin paying back the £22bn loan it took from the Government to stay alive back in 2007.

On the other though, Ireland’s government revealed it will have to pour another €24bn into its ailing banks to keep them afloat. The total now stands at €70bn, which as Robert Peston noted is equivalent to half the value of the total Irish economy. Whatever the impact of the cuts (and accompanying protests) in the UK as we trim our budget deficit, some of the figures from Ireland blow them out of the water. For example, unemployment is set to peak at 15.8% and house prices to fall  17% this year and 19% next – figures which as The Times noted are actually far better than originally feared.  

Perhaps the Rock’s outlook isn’t as good as its result imply either. At the same time the results were announced, the man in charge of the Rock’s (and Bradford & Bingley’s) bad loans book issued a warning that customers’ mortgage arrears are likely to rise over the next year as incomes are squeezed. Four years on, and the crisis is still biting.

Calm before the storm – Silence on the Bribery Act comes to an end…

On Wednesday we saw the official guidance of the much awaited (re-written) Bribery Act released by the Ministry of Justice. However, some questions around clarity remain to be answered;  has the fog cleared about what the legislation actually means for business leaders? What do they need to do in the next three months in order to make sure they stay on the right side of the law before it comes into force?

According to the Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke, ‘the ultimate aim of this legislation is to make life difficult for the minority of organisations responsible for corruption, not to burden the vast majority of decent and law-abiding businesses.’ But it seems that in one way or another, companies have been “scaremongered “and have been more burdened than not. According to Clarke’s ‘honest opinion’ millions of pounds need not be spent on new procedures but only time will tell whether companies will reap the benefits or feel the pain.

Fooling around…

As per usual, April Fools’ Day brings out the creative side of the media industry and the Guardian has stolen a march on its competitors today with its announcement that it was dropping standard hostility to the Royals to ‘pledge full-throated support for the British monarchy.’  The outlet has (jokingly) pledged to start a 24-hour wedding blog and ‘recall correspondents from some less newsworthy parts of the globe, such as north Africa’. Following on the Guardian’s lead, we wanted to share with you our top five weird and wonderful favourites from the day:

As if Royal wedding fever wasn’t already high enough, the Daily Mail played a convincing spoof of Kate Middleton shopping for baby clothes… as well as plotting a somewhat unlikely hen do in a local pub.

The Metro  announced the launch of its very own edible newspaper made of corn starch, vegetable oil, gum arabic, water and citric acid followed by a light vanilla scent. Charles Bouquet of the Edible Paper Company commented: ‘We hope it adds flavour to the stories and presents readers with a colourful menu of current affairs.’  These guys look to be enjoying it…

The Sun went pun-tastic with “Planet of the apps”, an exclusive story about animal behaviour experts handing out iPads to five apes in an experiment to keep them alert and happy. Apparently only one of the devices has been broken so far with the zoo expert commenting “We thought they would bang them on rocks but they carry them round as if they were babies.”

And finally, the Daily Express launched the new micro-zimmer for OAPs wanting to get a bit more active on their daily walks. With a top speed of 10 mph the new micro zimmer is ‘lightweight enough for the more agile OAPs to perform bunny hops and mild stunts’, according to its makers. The paper reports retired legal secretary Delia Hargrave, was one of the first to give the new craze a go and reports that it makes a ‘great conversation starter’.

The Daily Mirror reports the latest government tax, ‘the gasp bill’ as a tax we all have to pay on the air we breathe. The air traffic control system will decide different charging rates with those accessing the clean and fresh air of the countryside in areas such as the Lake District paying a much higher price for their clean air than those in built up cities. A Labour backbencher has apparently been quoted as saying “This has literally taken my breath away.”