Shocks & Stares » Banking http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares H&K\'s Financial & Professional Services Team Blog Tue, 19 Mar 2013 08:00:56 +0000 http://wordpress.org/?v=2.9.2 en hourly 1 Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2013/03/friday-fiver-10/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2013/03/friday-fiver-10/#comments Fri, 01 Mar 2013 17:24:28 +0000 dannycalogero http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=790 Wow, what a week it has been in the FPS team, we’ve barely had a chance to catch our breath! This week the news agenda has been much more serious – not like last week’s horsing around (sorry, couldn’t resist). Here are a couple of the things that have been keeping us busy and entertained over the past seven days

1. Rating GeorgeSo the UK lost its AAA credit rating last Friday, who cares? Well, not that many people apparently. After a brief wobble on Monday morning, the markets shrugged off the downgrade like a hangover from the night before. However, while the downgrade may not have had a major economic impact, its political impact remains to be seen. Rather than assessing the credit worthiness of the UK, it could turn out to be more of a rating on George.

2. Fear and loathing in the Eurozone – Speaking of politics, it has been a big week in Italy. As a result of the country’s inability to form a government, the Vix Index, or, to use my preferred name for it “the fear gauge” (say it in a Jack Bauer style voice), soared by 34%, its largest one-day gain for 18 months and its 10th largest spike since 1990. With this level of impact in the markets, you have to wonder how long it will be before the rest of Europe’s patience wears a bit thin with Italy.

3. Newcomer advantage - The days of long, peaceful reflection and idle doodling in the university library may be long gone, but every now and again you spot a little something which suggests you did indeed learn something from the dusty text books.

Today’s FT reports how Asian banks are turning retail banking business models on their head, skipping branch models and heading straight for new mobile banking services. Oliver Wyman are quoted in the article with research indicating China already accounts for more than 40% of online banking customers.

By skipping years of slow banking evolution, relatively new banks in Asia are establishing themselves as leaders in mobile banking services. In the late nineteenth century, German industries skipped past their more established UK rivals with new production techniques and more modern factories. Ah, Economic History 101…

4. Bonus points – The European Union announced details this week of its plan to cap bankers’ bonuses at twice their salary. Whilst David Cameron was opposed to this, the FT’s Lex Column clearly adopted the “don’t get mad, get round it” philosophy.

5. #Twésumé – But for any banker who is considering a career change, getting a Twésumé sorted will be perhaps be essential. This week The Evening Standard reported that Twitter is playing an increasing role in recruitment with employers ditching the traditional CV in favour of a candidate’s Twitter profile.  The Twésumé (as it has been so cleverly coined) appears two-fold:

  • The generous 140 character biography becomes your selling point. Writing “I love cats and beer” is unlikely to win you any fans (except of course other like-minded individuals)
  • Your Twitter feed must be regular, interesting and offer your opinions on topics rather than just pinching other people’s funnies

Unfortunately, in mine there is little room for anything else beyond Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.

That’s all for this week folks. Thanks to Jonathan Henderson and Linzi Goldthorpe for their contributions. Have a great weekend!

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2012/02/fps%e2%80%99-friday-fiver-3/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2012/02/fps%e2%80%99-friday-fiver-3/#comments Fri, 10 Feb 2012 17:58:08 +0000 Joey Ng http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=513 Another week, another Friday and that means another edition of our team’s Friday Fiver. This week, we have money-printing banks, Twitter-banning broadcasters, Newsnight-debriefing and Good week/Bad week. Thanks to our contributors DC, EJ, Hendog, and Josh-ua. Enjoy!

RUNNING OUT OF PAPER… It’s becoming increasingly hard for the Bank of England to convince people of the value of QE. As Fraser Nelson argued in the Telegraph, the Bank has gone a little quiet on their original reasons for launching QE which isn’t helping – nor is the fact that the links between QE and growth aren’t being articulated clearly, if it all. Yet at the same time, IHS’ Howard Archer is already predicting QE4 for May.

There's more of this in the games room

Source: Creative Commons/mtsofan

What the bank faces then is a PR challenge (as well as the frankly odd problem that they may run out of govt bonds to buy). If they believe QE4 is needed, then they’ve got 3 months to convince a sceptical media and public why it’s needed – expect Mervyn King’s quarterly inflation report next week to begin that process.

In the meantime, hats off to Stephanie Flanders last night for managing to explain what QE actually is and does – that may well be a first

SKY’S SOCIAL MEDIA COMMANDMENTS…

Source: theindiepedant

Thou shalt not repost non-company tweets

Thou shalt not re-tweet rival journalist or people on Twitter

Thou shalt not tweet someone else’ beat other than your own

Thou shalt pass breaking news lines to the news desk before posting them on social media networks…

The Guardian reported that the greater powers at the broadcast station stamped down their feet, and banned journalists from reposting tweets not relating to the company. Contentious guidelines even include the warning to Sky News employees not to retweet rival reporters.

The latest development raises once again, the debate on ownership of Twitter accounts, corporate or otherwise and how a brand can be represented and equally, mis-represented on social media through its employees.

The interesting question here is whether the guidelines will be applied to other parts of News Corp’s network, and more importantly Murdoch’s own account.

NEWSNIGHT DE-BRIEF…On Wednesday, members of the FPS team attended a Gorkana event with Newsnight’s deputy editor Shaminder Nahal and planning producer Samantha McAlister to hear how the show is put together and what the team are looking for when it comes to content and guests.

For those of you with a Gorkana PR log-in, there’s a detailed summary of the event here.

Looking through our notes from the event, a number of points jump out:

  • The show has an average audience of 800,000 but this can jump significantly in a big news week. For example, at the height of the phone hacking scandal, 1.7 million people were tuning in
  • Those involved in the production of the show, are incredibly passionate about their work
  • Jeremy Paxman is apparently a joy to work with, although perhaps unsurprisingly, he is very challenging and demands a lot from those he works with

Source: Creative Commons/Ric_James

It’s a trend we have noted before, but was one that was reiterated at the event – business and economics news has become “sexy”. Newsnight’s producers are always on the lookout for people from the City who can explain the world of finance and its wider importance to the viewer.

The show’s producers left us with the thought that Newsnight is an opportunity to set the record straight or to put across a new or important view to the nation’s opinion formers. It’s not for everyone, but for those willing to take on a challenge, there are a few more prominent slots.

On the subject of setting the record straight and BBC flagships… The embattled chief executive of RBS, Stephen Hester, addressed his critics this week and the interview is a must listen.

GOOD WEEK/BAD WEEK…Credit where credit’s due, Ed Miliband has had a very good week. To be precise, Ed Miliband had an excellent PMQs. Yes, David Cameron had a very bad PMQs. His aggressive, impatient responses to Miliband’s patient line of questioning confirmed the accuracy of his likeness to Flashman ‘literature’s most famous bully’. Public bullies don’t tend to make popular Prime Minister’s. Just look at what happened to Gordon Brown:

Brown the Bully

Miliband on the other had a bit of an open goal when it came to the NHS. Even the influential ConHome has urged Cameron to #dropthebill, so to speak. The softly, softly approach worked well for Miliband though and importantly, his line of inquiry on the NHS was consistent. Cameron’s increasing frustration at having to give the same weak lines and limp backing to his struggling Health Secretary, amplified Miliband’s taunt of ‘calm down dear.’ It was typical of the bad luck Mili E has suffered with broadcasters that the news of Harry Redknapp’s court case emerged at the same time as PMQs, therefore minimising the impact of this little victory. Cameron’s an incredibly savvy dispatch box performer and will be increasingly wise to it, but if Miliband can continue to draw out Flashman Cameron he may enjoy more success in the opinion polls.

MORE BAD NEWS…Headlines have been dominated by the arrest and trial of ‘rogue’ trader Kweku Adoboli who is accused of unauthorised trading which cost his employer – Swiss bank UBS – about £1.5bn. However, a potentially more interesting story that has come to light in recent days is the sheer scale international investigation into manipulation of Libor – the interest rate used for inter-bank lending. Regulators in Japan, the UK, the US and Europe have been investigating the scheme since at least March 2011, and have now implicated employees at a number of major financial institutions. Analysts had long been suspicious that financial institutions were covering up the size of their borrowing costs during the depths of the financial crisis in 2008.

The American Securities and Exchange Commission has fined British medical equipment Smith & Nephew $22m for bribing Greek doctors to use its products over the course of a decade. The case follows a similar investigation into Johnson & Johnson last year which led to the company agreeing to pay $77m for bribes it had paid in Greece, Poland, and Romania.

The increase in intranational prosecutions and international regulatory collaboration has also highlighted differing standards about what constitutes corporate crime. Many American investors were surprised at the British Financial Service’s Authority decision to fine hedge fund manager David Einhorn for insider trading because his actions would not have been considered unlawful in the US. British authorities generally cast a much wider net when investigating white-collar crime but are perceived to have a miserable record when it comes to prosecutions. By contrast, their American counterparts have a narrower definition but pursue cases with vigour, even if that means crossing international boundaries to do so.

It seems likely that more cases of this nature will emerge in the coming months, especially if Eurozone crisis continues to destabilise international markets.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/10/fps-friday-fiver-23/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/10/fps-friday-fiver-23/#comments Fri, 21 Oct 2011 13:22:39 +0000 David Chambers http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=370 Hello All! We seem to say this every week, but yet again it’s been a very busy and news heavy 7 days in the world of professional and financial services. This week’s Friday Fiver has a distinct air of gloom about it I’m afraid, though we do find room for a spot or two of humour as always. Thanks as ever to Ed, and Jonathan for their contributions.

CHART OF THE WEEK – GREECE: IN A NUTSHELL…..Stephen Hawking’s follow-up to his immensely successful 1988 book on the cosmos was labelled ‘The Universe in a Nutshell‘. As anyone with a passing interest in physics knows, it would take a forest of nutshells to even begin explaining the wonders of our universe. At times, the complex, ever-changing state of the Greek and wider eurozone crisis can feel pretty similar.

Help is at hand though, thanks to a handy chart unveiled by The Spectator this week. Sadly, upon reviewing it, only the most optimistic person would conclude that the eurozone is heading for anything other than very troubled waters.

The options (or not) for Greece (Chart: The Spectator)

THE DEVIL OF THE DETAIL – BANKING RESULTS…..Hot on the heels of Goldman Sach’s results this week came Morgan Stanley’s trading update. Unlike their rivals, MS were able to report a large profit for the quarter of $2.2bn.

Or were they? As some media outlets quickly noted, the majority of MS’ profits for the quarter were a result of the company reducing the value of the debt it holds. Once the benefits of this accounting manoeuvre were removed, the results looked far less impressive - Iain Dey at the Sunday Times provided one of the best summaries of the ‘revised’ picture.

He wasn’t the only journalist somewhat peeved at the sleight of hand either:

BEHIND CLOSED DOORS…..A “dark pool” may sound like a feature of an exotic health spa and for all we know, it could well be. The increasing importance of dark pools in financial markets however was apparent this week.

In simple terms these are markets behind closed doors that allow institutional investors to trade with one another outside public exchanges like the London Stock Exchange. This week we heard that investors are increasingly using dark pools to access and trade privately owned stock in companies like Facebook before they float.

The emergence of dark pools was one consequence of the European Commission’s MiFID regulation which was in part designed to break up the monopoly of public exchanges. Now however the Commission is looking to take back control of its creation amid concerns about their lack of transparency. Complicated stuff, but as always, the FT [article here] explains developments in simple terms and their graphic below illustrates the overarching trend.

PROOF THAT PLAN A COULD BE OK?…..In amongst the growing concern about the eurozone, and increasing focus on the OccupyLondon movement, the ONS announced on Friday that public borrowing for September was below expectations. In addition, borrowing in August was actually lower than first thought.

Does this mean that the Chancellor’s refusal to adopt anything less his Plan A might be starting to bear fruit? Quite possibly, though as the BBC’s Hugh Pym pointed out, much depends on UK growth in the next few months. The Chancellor hasn’t been proved right yet by any means, but at least he now has a proof point to attack his critics with.

GOOD WEEK/BAD WEEK…..Leaving aside the obvious winners and losers over the last 7 days, it was a good week for the economist and Sunday Times columnist, Irwin Stelzer, who picked up the ‘economics commentator of the year’ award at the media industry’s Editorial Intelligence awards on Thursday.

Or at least he would have picked it up if not for a small error by the normally unflappable Robert Peston who is this week’s ‘bad week’ winner. Regrettably for the BBC’s Business Editor, he fluffed his lines on stage by announcing the wrong winner. And thus, the FT’s Martin Wolf walked on stage to collect the prize, only to have it quietly taken away from him 10 minutes later. If you want to read more on this little tale, Roy Greenslade provides a full commentary here. Mr Peston’s stablemate, Rory Cellan-Jones also clearly enjoyed the incident, as well as his colleague’s fashion sense.


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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/09/fps-friday-fiver-20/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/09/fps-friday-fiver-20/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 13:04:41 +0000 Edward Jones http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=294 Known unknowns…

Frank Portnoy, Professor of Law at the University of San Diego has written a fantastic article in today’s FT on market uncertainty, rogues, risk taking and trust in banks. The best we’ve seen and rather frightening, Dr Doom would be proud, because ultimately, however much we regulate, we are only basing decisions on what has happened in the past, rather than what could happen in the future – i.e, Greece defaulting.

Every picture tells a story…

Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Indeed this photo, featured in Jackie Ashley’s excellent comment piece on what the future may hold for the Liberal Democrat’s (it’s a fairly bleak outlook) tells a very specific story of the Liberal Democrat’s past; the good intentions of fresh faced Lib Dem MP’s. Contrasted this week, with the harsh realities of Government, and the tensions between the two, superbly captured in Danny Finkelstein’s commentary.   

F8: The media story of the week…

Facebook and Spotify have teamed up to bring free music to Facebook users and announced the fruits of their labours this week with this video. Mashable provide a better summary than we ever could, but this is certainly worth knowing about.

“Disastrous miscalculation” – but by whom?

Yesterday Kweku Adoboli, the UBS trader accused of losing £1.5 billion, appeared in court on charges of two counts of fraud and two of false accounting dating back to 2008. During the hearing his lawyer said that he is “sorry beyond words” for his actions.

Mr Adoboli is not the only one who should be sorry – or worried. Mr Adoboli actually shopped himself; it was not the UBS risk or compliance teams that picked up on his reckless behaviour. This presents a massive problem for UBS and its internal control systems as they have been shown to be unfit for purpose.

“Disastrous miscalculations” have certainly been made, both by an individual and an institution.

Get set for the iphone 5…

Infographic: Dusan Belic, IntoMobile

 

The ‘will they, won’t they’ speculation was all a bit much for the iPhone junkies around the office this week, and despite the lack of information coming out of Apple themselves, we think all this confusion just makes for an even bigger launch when the iPhone 5 actually hits the stores – and we can’t wait.

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Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/09/friday-fiver-2/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/09/friday-fiver-2/#comments Fri, 16 Sep 2011 20:03:02 +0000 Edward Jones http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=278 Friday Fiver

Soon to be called the Saturday Fiver if we post this any later, please see our take on this week’s news below. Never ones to go for the obvious, we’ve shied away from adding further comment to the ICB’s final report, instead looking at the possibility of a break up of the EU, the anniversary of Lehman’s and the shadow it still casts over our financial markets, the Daily Mail’s new website, a twitter storm at Topman and stat of the week! Massive thanks to Coffey Clare Coffey, Claire Scott, Sallie Bale, Matt Bright and Linzi Goldthorpe for this week’s contributions.

Here they are…

EU can go your own way…

This week there has been a lot of ‘break-up chat’ in the EU: first, over one hundred Eurosceptic Tories turned up to the first meeting of a new parliamentary group on Monday. The group is demanding that the Government uses the current turmoil that pervades the 27 member state club to wrest back powers from Brussels. With the sovereign debt crisis destabilising financial markets the world over, this group could be excused for thinking that they might be pushing on an open door. But alas for them, the Tory members of the Government are hampered by their EU-loving coalition partners…

Elsewhere in the EU, other countries fear expulsion from the Eurozone, namely Greece. Last night on BBC One’s Question Time, Nicola Horlick, the investment fund manager, declared that there was no future for Greece in the Eurozone; that it should leave the monetary union and return to the Drachma. All this said on the day that five central banks sought to assuage market jitters by announcing a co-ordinated move to provide commercial banks with three additional tranches of loans to help ease funding pressures. BNP Paribas’ share price may have risen following this announcement but this seems to have been the only thing to improve.

Drawing parallels between Lehman and the Eurozone

Photo: AP

Yesterday marked the anniversary of the fall of the fourth largest investment bank in America, Lehman Brothers. Three years on, with Greece teetering on the default brink, there seems to be a growing anxiety that we are on course for another Lehman’s. But can we really draw similarities between the sudden and unexpected crash of Lehman’s and the ongoing troubles of the Eurozone? Gordon Brown definitely seems to think so and what’s more the former PM, speaking at the World Economic Forum in Dalian, believes that failure to act now could result in a crisis larger than the one faced by the US in 2008.

Daily Mail launches Right Minds

The dreams of Britain’s rightwing keyboard warriors came true this week as the Daily Mail finally launched its long-awaited comment site Right Minds. Presided over by Simon Heffer, the ex-Telegraph writer, the new site will host such darlings of the right as Richard Littlejohn, Melanie Philips and Peter Hitchens.

The Mail is late to this game, with active right-of-centre community sites already on the Telegraph, Spectator, Conservative Home among many others. But Right Minds’ combination of star writers, hot button issues and simple user participation rooted in the super-sticky ecosystem of the Mail’s main site looks like it will hoover up traffic.

Topman twitter storm

Another week, another brand brought to book by the fury of the Twitteratti. This time it’s men’s high street fashion mecca Topman that has been in the eye of the Twitter storm.

Topman, part of Arcadia group, was forced to withdraw two t-shirts from its stores this week amid claims the slogans featured on them were misogynistic and promoted domestic violence. The social media backlash started on Twitter and soon spread to other social networking sites, resulting in a swift response from Topman. The offending t-shirts were removed from stores and the company issued a public apology for any offence caused.

Company backs down in face of social media storm – so far, so increasingly familiar. But are companies too quick to capitulate in the face of consumer fury? In the social media environment a ripple can quickly become a tidal wave, leaving companies no choice but to act swiftly and decisively to stem the tide. Sometimes, as in this case, it is the right decision. The Topman t-shirts were at best crass, at worst pointlessly provocative.

Brands have come a long way in waking up to the power of social media and most worth their salt take direct engagement with their consumers on Twitter or Facebook very seriously indeed. But when bored office workers with too much time on their hands have the collective clout to fundamentally affect the way companies run their business, you have to ask the question: has the social media love-in gone too far?

Stat of the week

As you may have heard, Westfield in Stratford City opened its doors this week and will see 70 per cent of all Olympic ticket holders passing through its doors. 70 per cent! We reckon this will pose a rather tasty opportunity for non-affiliated retailers to cash in on the Olympic and Paralympic Games next year and beyond.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/09/fps-friday-fiver-18/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/09/fps-friday-fiver-18/#comments Fri, 02 Sep 2011 17:32:25 +0000 David Chambers http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=267 Hello All! A little late this week, and we apologise for that, but as it’s now officially the end of summer that means it’s the start of the business season and we’ve all been a little flat out here at H&K Towers. Still, we wouldn’t want to miss out on reporting another busy week in the world of financial and professional services. And what a week it’s been. Thanks to our contributors this week: Ed, Ross, Clare and Rachel.

Turn that frown upside down…At the end of a pretty crazy August, there have been some fairly gut-wrenching figures this week from the Markit/CIPS Purchasing Managers Index (one of our clients). Declines in manufacturing output prompted fresh talk of double-dip recession, construction continued to be weighed down by weak confidence in the housing market, and all eyes are now on the all-important Services PMI which comes out on Monday.

Happy faces are hard to come by in the UK at the moment. But are we talking ourselves down too much?

Worrying indeed, but could it be that the UK economy is going through stage four of what could be termed ‘post financial crisis bereavement’ (PFCB)? According to one description, this involves ‘a feeling of listlessness and tiredness’ and possibly ‘wandering around in a daze.’

Well it certainly does feel like that sometimes but if the theory holds at least this is the final stage before acceptance sets in and the economy ‘regains its energy and goals for the future.’  It may just be the time for a bit of Vince Cable style positive thinking.

Breaking News – Football clubs spend less…The last minute wheeler-dealing of transfer deadline day was interesting for many reasons. But it’s the debate it has started about financial fair play which poses the biggest question for the future of the beautiful game. We’ve commented before on the ownership of football clubs, particularly in the immediate future. The onset of the Financial Fair Play from UEFA, requiring elite clubs to record a maximum debt of £39.5m over a three year period, may also have implications.

Fernando Torres may be the last £50m player we see for a while

Michel Platini, champion of these new regulations, would argue otherwise, but the financial future of football could go one of two ways. Clubs will either find loopholes in the rules and splash out enormous sums of money for overpriced talent. Or the rules will re-establish a sense of financial realism and build a future for football based on financial sustainability. The more prudent approach from England’s top clubs in the latest transfer window is a hopeful start. Ultimately however, the path football decides to take will come down to UEFA’s refereeing of the clubs who fall foul.

Women and Pay – the fight goes on…All things being well, Clare’s imaginary great granddaughter will be assured a pay packet that is on a par with her male counterparts, according to research published by the Chartered Management Institute this week. Some might call that progress. But we don’t.

There still aren't enough women in boardrooms (Image: Able & How)

It is forty one years since the Equal Pay Act. The Act prohibits employers from favouring one sex over the other in terms of pay and conditions. Whilst some things have improved in the past four decades, many others have not. Men still earn, on average, nearly a third more than women doing the same job. This, quite frankly, is ridiculous.

Over the past couple of months, the issue of women in the workplace has been an ongoing topic, particularly following Lord Davies’ inquiry into the dominance of men in company boardrooms. Whilst we think it is great this topic is being addressed, why is it employers still think that they can treat 50% of their workforce in such a manner? And the conclusion Clare has come to is this: they can, because they can get away with it. Is there another Act in British history that has been allowed to be so flagrantly ignored?

What then is the answer? Implementation! Transparency! Mobilisation! Anyone want to join the revolution? Please note – it might take us another 98 years to get anywhere near what we want…

Britain’s place in Europe…Ross wrote two weeks ago about the detrimental impact politics and politicians are having on the global economy and investor confidence. He was particularly critical of Angela Merkel as she seemed to be avoiding the glaringly obvious: Germany has to underwrite the debts of those struggling in the Eurozone and be prepared to commit much more to the European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) for it to be taken seriously.

Credit where credit is due, Chancellor Merkel seems to be winning over enough parliamentarians in order to squeeze a bill through the Bundestag that will give German parliamentarians more of a say on the EFSF. By giving the Bundestag more of a say on future aid packages Ms Merkel is hoping to bridge the domestic and international problem she faces by merging the two. She is currently having to overcome domestic political pressures as the German electorate resent the fact that they should have to pay for the problems of others in distance places like Greece.

Should the Bundestag gain these powers, Germany’s economic dominance in Europe is likely to sore further. On the one hand, this may finally be the security the Eurozone needs, but on the other it may push the UK even further to the periphery. So far the UK Prime Minister David Cameron has kept the UK out of the Eurozone crisis, but by doing so Germany may be able to cement its position as the true leader of Europe.

Good Week/Bad Week…Two sides of the banking coin this week. For Vince Cable, champion bank-basher, scorned scourge of Rupert Murdoch, and Parliamentary stand-up it wasn’t a particularly good week. He’s been banging the drum on banking reform for several months now, but it seems as though the Independent Banking Commission’s recommendations are firmly on route to the long grass.

On the flip side, for bankers, and particularly those with both retail and investment arms, it was a relatively good week for the very same reason. Their lobbying effort has been long, hard and expensive, but with the likes of the CBI and BCC now on-board, it looks like it might be paying off. It wasn’t all good for the banks this week though – Alastair Darling’s forthcoming book launch looks set to drag them through the muddy playing fields again in a few weeks time.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/07/fps-friday-fiver-13/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/07/fps-friday-fiver-13/#comments Fri, 29 Jul 2011 17:27:30 +0000 David Chambers http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=226 We’re back, providing another round-up of some of the big stories from the world of financial services, the economy and Westminster this week. Contributors this week include Clare, Linzi, Jo and Ed, who bring us an overview of banking, pensions, retailers, and our new feature – Good Week/Bad Week.

Banking – fundamental flaws and failed customers…On Tuesday, Vince Cable held court at the Which? Banking Reform – An Agenda for Competition and Growth discussion at the Commonwealth Club, where he re-iterated his opinion that “banking is a structurally flawed industry that has fundamentally failed customers”.

Vince Cable - on the attack on banking once again (Image: Which.co.uk)

That the current system of banking is flawed is a no-brainer, but the harder question to answer is where exactly do the flaws lie? The conversation on Tuesday spanned the topics of increased competition, universal banking, ring-fencing, culture and behaviour along with new entrants into the banking market, but it seems that, nearly three years since the start of the global financial crisis, more questions continue to be posed than answered.

Is universal banking really the root of all banking evil? Do customers really feel their banks have failed them given so few of us have switched? With the array of initiatives, commissions, inquiries, and comite des sages taking place at the national, European and international levels, one has to hope that between them they will be able to identify and remedy the flaws that exist. However, there is the potential for all of these to come up with different flaws and different answers which complicate and confuse structures and customers alike!

Paying more for retirement…The spotlight returned to public sector pensions this week as figures leaked to The Daily Telegraph revealed exactly how much workers in the public sector will pay extra each month for their pensions.

Danny Alexander was asked how much more he personally would have to pay towards his pension this week (Image: Thesun.co.uk)

As expected, higher earners will take the brunt of the increases and the lowest paid workers, earning less than £15,000, will escape any increases at all.

Here are some of the figures from the proposals:

  • Those earning over £100,000 will pay £284 a month (£3,400 a year) more
  • Public sector workers in the £50,000 bracket will pay between £684 – £768  more
  • Those on a £35,000 salary face paying an extra £516 a year more

Despite the backlash, which was always going to happen, you can’t escape the welcome news that low paid public sector workers, some 750,000 people, will be exempt from any increase in contributions and those earning £21,000 will be out of pocket £108 a year, or just £9 a month. The fact remains that even with these increases, public sector pensions are still a valuable benefit.

We still aren’t buying much on the high street…Another worrying week for retailers as figures on Thursday showed that sales fell at their fastest pace for a year as consumers become increasingly reluctant to spend. This is brutal news for the already struggling retailers and may be a sign of further deterioration and shop closures to come.

Only one in three retailers claimed their sales volumes were up on a year ago, with food retailers being particularly hard hit – either we’ve all been hit by the rise in food costs and are watching the pennies like hawks or the nation is on a collective pre-holiday diet.

However, one retailer that isn’t afraid of the UK high street (or shall we say Oxford Street) is cut-price U.S. brand Forever 21, which opened its doors for us on Wednesday. Some critics state that we are not ready for ‘cheap, fast, American’ fashion’ but with the way things are going on the high street we may not have a choice.

George Soros - the latest financial veteran to retire

Good week/Bad week – George Soros & George Osborne…A tale of two George’s this week. For the first (the man who ‘broke the Bank of England’), the effective end of a remarkable 40 year investment career. While the manner of his retirement was a little sour, blaming US regulations, you can’t argue with his success over the years. He will likely be missed.

On the flip side, it was a less than stellar week for the younger George, who, as yet more vanilla growth figures rolled in, suddenly found himself the victim of attacks from several fronts. How he must be wishing for the summer break to roll around quickly.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/06/fps-friday-fiver-8/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/06/fps-friday-fiver-8/#comments Fri, 24 Jun 2011 13:07:55 +0000 Edward Jones http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=181 Welcome to our Friday Fiver. This week we look at Nick Clegg’s proposals for public ownership of bailed out banks, the ever growing tech bubble and cybercrime, whilst we shift effortlessly from speaking to ourselves in the first person to a collective, as our minds wonder what the weekend might hold. With a few nuggets of information at the very end – so worth reading all the way through!

Thanks to Ben, Dave and Jo for contributions.

The People’s Bank…

It’s not often that ‘I agree with Nick’. But despite the naysayers who say that it’s pie in the sky, the administration of such a project would be impossible, or that Nick Clegg is only mentioning it now to get himself some press attention while he travels in Brazil, I have to say I like the idea of those who bailed out the banks getting something back. I also like the idea of reintroducing share ownership to the public at large because it goes some way to bridging the gap between what people perceive of financial services and equity ownership and reality.

It also helps with the financial education theme which is so popular amongst politicians and financial services companies, but rarely actually really delivers change because at the end of the day it is a one way message. Repeated surveys show the public never really engage or feel comfortable with finance, however well intentioned the various programmes are that exist. If they owned shares, they would pay attention, they would engage, they would also probably make some money in this instance, and get something back for the tax revenue they provided to the banks.

Surely that is worth further investigation?

The bubble keeps growing…

We’ve written before about the soaring valuations of tech companies, and in particular, social media companies. The likes of Facebook, Twitter, Groupon and Foursquare have seen their potential values skyrocket as investors queue up to get a piece of any potential IPO. We (or to be blunt, Dave) have been somewhat sceptical about the value being placed on these businesses, chiefly because the profits most of them are making are barely correlated to the huge valuations put on them.

Over the past week, we’ve had two more cases in point. The first is Pandora, an online music and radio service based in the USA. It floated for $2.6bn mid last week, and its value briefly soared above $4bn according to an in-depth article about this issue in Tuesday’s FT. The second is Shazam, which secured $32m in new funding from venture capitalists on Wednesday. This means a float is unlikely for a while, but it didn’t stop ‘sources’ claiming the company “was now worth hundreds of millions of dollars” according to an FT blog.

The missing element here? Profits. Shazam is making them, but only just, whilst Pandora hasn’t made one yet, and its current revenues of $110m are a tiny fraction of its valuation.

This sceptic remains unconvinced I’m afraid….

Cyber crime

The threat of ‘cybercrime’ loomed large this week after news of the arrest of a 19 year-old hacker suspected of carrying out attacks on the C.I.A and the UK’s serious organised crime agency. After the WikiLeaks saga and arrest of NASA hacker Gary McKinnon it would seem that security agencies are struggling to keep a handle on…well, security. But this isn’t just any security, the issue of ‘cyberspace’ is a particularly tricky one as currently there is no transnational law to define what happens next.

This is an issue policy makers have been keen to address since the National Security Strategy identified cybercrime as a tier one priority risk.

But the question remains, how do we control this vast and intangible area? In the FT this week former British cabinet minister John Reid says innovation is the key to cracking the cyber crisis. What is needed, says Reid, is an ‘elite cadre of innovators able to lead a workforce with a different, entrepreneurial ethos’. We’d like to think they might look like this.

Anyone up for the job..?

Summer Solstice

June 21 saw the longest day and shortest night of the year and despite this marking the official beginning of the summer season it also means that from now on our days will be getting shorter and our nights longer and we might as well all be starting to get ready for Christmas.

But for those of us who haven’t yet embraced the summer months you might want to have a look at Visa Europe’s (client) Third Annual Travel Report which revealed that holidaymaking Britons are increasingly venturing out of the eurozone. Visa Europe analysed international spend trends of 105 million UK cardholders to reveal the countries with the highest annual increase in consumer spend in 2010. While Zimbabwe tops the list, fellow African countries, Gambia (4th), Nigeria (5th) and Morocco (10th) all featured in the top ten.

Definitely food for thought if you haven’t yet planned your summer getaway, but if you would like to keep your feet on home turf, you might want to try and find some at Glastonbury this weekend, which despite its muddy start, festival goers are expected to enjoy the hottest day of the year on Sunday! Excellent.

On the theme of live music…

And fitting for a Friday afternoon, we’ve noticed recently an upward trend in people singing out loud on trains along to their ipods, regardless of the fact that their fellow commuters are either staring at them and tutting, or sniggering quietly behind their copy of the Evening Standard. It’s not surprising given the tendency of City workers to drown their sorrows before boarding the train back to the home counties and with more mobile music, it was bound to happen.

Last night’s performance was a classic though, not only the odd word being sung, but the full nine yards. Eyes shut, belting out a rambling drunken version of what sounds something like a combination between Blur, The Streets and Bob Dylan but with one of the most awful voices ever heard. The whole carriage falling about laughing, the commuter/singer totally oblivious, eyes still shut, finger pointing in the air and occasionally tapping on the table in front of him. Never mind karaoke, this is surely a new national sport. Is this is continuing influence of reality TV? Dave, we think you might know the answer, but can anyone think of a name for it?

The best of the rest…

If you haven’t read a transcript of this week’s treasury questions, never mind, but for *the record* this summary from Paul Waugh comes highly recommended.

H&K’s very own Candace Kuss has written an excellent article for CNN on her experience at this year’s Cannes Lions advertising festival.

And BIS published a consultation on consumer empowerment this week, which we think you might like to know about.

Have a good weekend.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/06/166/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/06/166/#comments Fri, 10 Jun 2011 17:34:24 +0000 David Chambers http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=166 Hello All, and apologies for a slightly late Financial & Professional Services Friday Fiver this week, but we’ve all been a little hectic. To round out the week we bring you banking, more banking, an Archbishop and Blackpool football club. Happy weekend all!

The Big Four Banks feel the heat….The big four revealed deep divisions on restructuring at Wednesday’s treasury select committee appearance as their CEOs jockeyed for position with the powers that be. Stark divisions were revealed on the Independent Banking Commission proposed scope for ring fencing core retail banking functions. RBS’ Stephen Hester alluded to the “moral hazard” problem if government effectively insulated the market, which could perversely encourage excessive risk taking, a view supported by Barclays.

In contrast, HSBC and Lloyds support a broader separation and more diverse mix to encourage the much needed supply of credit to the market – note the Q1 figures which reveal banks failed to stay on track with “Project Merlin” pledges.

Vince Cable - back on the banker bashing trail this week (image from Telegraph.co.uk)

Finally, Vince Cable rattled the sabre again, unveiling a not so “veiled threat” to link bank bonuses to SME lending! Will this create the required traction on this fragile detente between the City and the Government? Watch this space, but maybe don’t hold your breath.

Anthony Hilton digs in his heel as well…At the same time as surviving a tough session in Westminster, Barclays came under fire from the Evening Standard’s Tony Hilton. While CEO Bob Diamond was claiming to Parliament that his bank had been a “stabilising force” in the crisis (though some might argue the Middle East was the real ‘stabiliser’), Hilton was taking aim at his finance director for something called ‘Project Protium’.

Barclays and the Cayman Islands - source of Anthony Hilton's wrath this week

This essentially involved hiving off some of the bank’s toxic assets to a Cayman Islands registered company in a neat little trick to reduce losses on the company’s profit and loss account when the assets turned sour. It’s fair to say Hilton really went for the jugular on this one. The moral of the story? If he writes something once and you don’t like it, be prepared to read it all again two days later if you complain about it.

The Archbishop caused a stir too…Rowan Williams stole Prince Phillip’s thunder whilst acting as guest editor of New Statesman this week, using an article to heavily criticise the Coalition and its policies. He argued that ‘we are being committed to radical, long-term policies for which no one voted’ thereby questioning the Government’s mandate to govern.

Was he right? Probably not. As Defence Secretary Liam Fox pointed out, ‘the Government has legitimacy because it has a majority in the House of Commons.’ Whilst some policies have undoubtedly been rushed, a Government is elected to make decisions and lead a country, and it’s fair to say the Coalition is certainly doing that – despite clamours for the Chancellor to adopt a plan B, he presses on resolutely.

As businesses need strong leadership and clear direction, we need our politicians to show equal virtues. Questioning the Coalition’s mandate is much like Donald Trump and others questioning Barack Obama’s place of birth place and therefore his right to be President; an unnecessary distraction from a much more important job at hand.

Boom, Bust or Blackpool…Is it us or is the world of football slowly going mad? We say this having recently read an article on Deloitte’s annual Football Money League. We’re no experts on the ins and outs of running a football club, but GCSE maths and a pinch of common sense tells us that paying your staff more than 70% of your total revenue in any industry is a bit iffy – as our colleague Nick puts it, the desire for a couple of extra places up the league table “seems to me a bit like financial Russian roulette”.

Blackpool gambled and won promotion - others have been less fortunate

We’ve already seen Portsmouth fall spectacularly from FA Cup winning glory to administrative collapse. With wages still increasing it may not be long before other Premiership clubs follow suit. One could argue Uefa’s Financial Fair Play Initiative is a step in the right direction but for us the danger lies in clubs trying to establish themselves as a prominent Premiership force.

Football governance should improve and a lot of lessons can be learned from the world of business. Just as CEO’s have a responsibility to their shareholders; boards, managers and players have a responsibility to fans. I’m sure if you ask most Bolton fans whether they’d rather finish 10th and risk financial meltdown or 14th and still be here in twenty years most would take the latter. We know Nick would!

Demystifying Digital…Finally, H&K this week held one of our regular ‘D2′ events aimed at tackling and understanding the digital world. Our very own Nick Woods presented on how financial services brands can engage in this sphere, highlighting the work we do with HSBC International Bank. We’ll have more on this next week for you, as will the main HanK blog but in the meantime congrats to Nick on a cracking presentation.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/05/fps%e2%80%99-friday-fiver/ http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/2011/05/fps%e2%80%99-friday-fiver/#comments Fri, 20 May 2011 17:04:38 +0000 Jonathan Henderson http://blogs.hillandknowlton.com/shocksandstares/?p=135 After last Friday’s company Charity Day, the Fiver is back. This week we tour the globe and the news agenda with comment on time zones, tweets, trades and the thorny issues surrounding the state-owned banks. Thanks to Clare Coffey, David Chambers, Ross Gillam and Nick Woods for their contributions.

Time warp

Economists often watch German manufacturing exports or Saudi Arabian oil production for signs about the health and direction of trends taking place in the global economy. The small island nation of Samoa is not well known for its economic significance but last week the country announced a move which says a lot about the global economy.

The Samoans have decided to move the zigzagging International Date Line to their east. The move which will take place later this year will bring the country a day closer to Asia and Australasia.  

As a nation, the Samoan’s seem happy with change. In 2009 they decided to switch sides and start driving on the left of the road. The rationale for this latest decision is to put them in closer sync with the East. The FT described this as a “clear vote of confidence for the Asian century.” 

The old adage that time is money seems appropriate.

 Shares for everyone?

The British public should all receive a portion of the shares the government owns in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group when the time comes to sell them back to the private market. That was the view this week of the Centre for Policy Studies, which published a paper outlining the idea. The media inevitably picked up on the fact that doing this would also cause the City to lose out on around £1bn of fees for underwriting and processing the share sale.

So is it a good idea? Anthony Hilton in the Standard was broadly supportive, though he had reservations about whether the idea could actually work. From our point of view, anything that reintroduces consumers to the notion of share ownership, dividends and the wider sphere of personal finance has to be a good thing.

 Clear as Westminster mud

Today’s report on injunctions by a committee of top judges has questioned the boundaries of reporting on statements made in the House of Commons and Lords. Committee chairman Lord Neuberger criticises MPs using parliamentary privilege to simply “flout” rules, supporting the report’s comments that reporting in the Lords or Commons can only be protected by parliamentary privilege where ‘summary is published in good faith and without malice’. This last comment challenges the free reign of journalists to report what they like, something many have argued is unfair and equates to a gagging order. Rather than drawing clarity on the issue, the report seems to highlight the just how blurry the current law is.

However, what is even less clear is what the rules should be on those who use social media to openly discuss injunctions. Journalists and the general public are just as likely, if not more, to search Twitter for the latest gossip and news rather than listen to statements in the Commons and Lords. With this in mind, businesses who want to bury bad news need to pay just as much attention to conversations online as they do at the despatch box.  

 Inflation targets – what is the point?

Official figures released this week announced that CPI has hit the heady heights of 4.5%, more than double the Bank of England’s target level. The Bank concedes it expects inflation to continue to grow this year, even hitting 5%.

 

In a speech last night, the Bank’s deputy governor for monetary policy, Charlie Bean (yes, Mr. Bean is a deputy governor!), admitted that the Bank had taken the decision to “accept a temporary period of above target inflation”. This therefore begs three questions: how long does a ‘temporary period’ last, on what criteria was this deemed ‘acceptable’ when there are millions of households struggling to make ends meet, and what is the point of a target if it is acceptable to fall flagrantly short of it?

Clearly Mr Bean and his colleagues are struggling to do their jobs. Is this because though the target is simple, they do not have the means to get there? Is their inaction, action? Do they have the requisite insight and tools to enable them to do their jobs? They say a bad workman blames his tools – and maybe our leading economic brains can justifiably say that the tools at their disposal have proven to be inadequate (hence the regulatory infrastructure changes to come) and therefore they are hamstrung as a result. However, the millions of households across the country can ill afford the wait or the expense of a ‘temporary’ period of crushing inflation.  

Glencore – The saga continues

So the long wait may finally be over but the speculation remains as Glencore this week made its much anticipated IPO. Whilst much of the hype had centred on rumours of oversubscription, shares in the Swiss-based commodities trading company traded on a “conditional basis” between a high of 553.17p an increase of 4.4 per cent from the offer price – and a low of 530p.

 

With many investors hoping for an opening day rally of between 5-10% many were left feeling somewhat underwhelmed. Whilst many commentators may argue that the trading activity marks a normal stabilisation procedure, the debate around the wider issue of the somewhat sluggish European IPO market looks set to continue.

With this in mind it seems Glencore will continue to be under the spotlight until next Tuesday as the business moves to unconditional trading with the most positive projections suggesting the company will go straight into the FTSE 100, only the third time this has been achieved.

Either way with 5 of its executives set to become billionaires, perhaps it’s not all doom and gloom!

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