Shocks & Stares » Politics H&K\'s Financial & Professional Services Team Blog Tue, 19 Mar 2013 08:00:56 +0000 en hourly 1 Friday Fiver Fri, 15 Mar 2013 15:24:57 +0000 Joey Ng 1. Just deserts for Chris and Vicky

From the repeated lies of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce during trial, to the sub storyline of Huhne’s fractured relationship with his son, this car crash of a soap opera-like story has been played out in full fanfare under the media spotlight. No one likes to air their dirty laundry in public. Perhaps the eight months sentence the pair faces, will draw an end to this thoroughly modern-day Shakespearean saga. Alternatively perhaps they will use the publicity to secure book deals.

Image source: Flikr

2. Britain loses its fizz

The fizz has officially fallen flat as Champagne has been cut from the basket of goods, alongside Freeview boxes and round lettuces. According to Mintel figures, sales of the bubbly have fallen by more than 30% since the hey-days of 2007, from £1billion to an estimated £690million. Trading in bottles of Champagne, typically around £40, are bottles of white rum which can be bought for a fraction of the price.

3. Sterling stagnation is here to stay

This week the ever-struggling sterling hits a two and half year low. Good news for British investors, bad news for holidaying Brits (of which sadly, I will be one of them).

4. There’s no Pope without fire

On Wednesday, for the first time in 1,300 years, a non-European Pope was elected as head of the Roman Catholic Church. A sea of faces welcomed Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as he stepped onto the balcony to rapturous applause. Bergoglio will now live as Pope Francis and take up residence in the Vatican. A far cry from his one bedroom flat in Buenos Aires…

5. Can women have it all?

An interesting commentary piece in the New York Times written by former CFO of Lehman Brothers, Erin Callan on wanting to “have it all” and failing. This was in response to a heated debate sparked by the launch of Sheryl Sandberg’s new book, “Lean in” – and much of our conversations here in the team as well.

Can women strike the perfect work/life balance and really “have it all” or is it simply about “having enough” and being happy with it? What do you think? Leave us a comment below.

Thanks to @goldtorpedo for contributing to this week’s Friday Fiver

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Friday Fiver Fri, 22 Feb 2013 17:47:21 +0000 Edward Jones  

Image source: STV


After a brief winter hiatus, we are delighted to announce that Friday Fiver is back with a vengeance! We’re sorry we went away and we hope you’ll have us back!

2. Blimey… Tax evaders named and shamed by Revenue

This feels like a bold step from HMRC. Will ramp up pressure on the Govt to disclose big business’ tax evasion – as demonstrated by Margaret Hodge’s intervention.

3. Trial by media or trial by jury?

Judging by the number of online mentions of the tragic incident of Reeva Steenkamp’s death, which was close to 1,000,000 on the day of the shooting, it’s hard to detract from the two trials Oscar Pistorius is facing. One in front of the Magistrate’s court and the other in front of the world’s media and the court of public opinion. Nicely summarised in this piece by Daniel Howden and Ian Burrell at The Independent:

“…in many ways his trial began as soon as news of his lover’s death reached the media. The only difference here is that the facts of the case carry a much lower burden of proof. The slow grind of South Africa’s justice system, which barely recognises contempt of court, has been unable to keep pace in the era of social media and rolling TV news. As a consequence, the first disabled global sports superstar has found himself deluged with accusations and insinuations masquerading as facts.”

4. Harry Styles Backs Ed Miliband for PM

This is BIG NEWS! Really big, but begs the question ‘Who do the other members support?’ Perhaps they’re all lefties! Harry is the lead singer afterall. Ok. What about One Direction’s big rivals - The Wanted? They must be true blues. Mumford and Sons? Lib Dems. Definitely. Their love of string instruments, country folk and their urban upbringing must surely indicate a yellow streak.  


And a lighter story to end this week’s Friday Fiver, especially for the snack-loving FPS team, and for the myth of the “H+K stone” to be confirmed by a story in the papers this week. Research by The Village Bakery found that office workers are amongst the worst offenders for piling on the pounds – over 6lbs in fact – with cakes and biscuits brought into work by colleagues. This week already, we’ve had homemade cupcakes brought in by the lovely Clare M and the week before, a deliciously moist lemon drizzle cake made lovingly by Liz, Syrian delights and Jersey fudge from the islands. Temptation is just too hard to resist. Pass the biscuit please.

Thanks to @liyywln for contributing to this week’s Friday Fiver

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The Reshuffle: Three initial thoughts Tue, 04 Sep 2012 14:22:46 +0000 David Chambers Business, Foreign, Home, Deputy and a host of other key offices of state are still in place following today’s reshuffle, leading some to call it a damp squib. But that doesn’t mean the day isn’t turning out to be highly interesting in other ways. Three initial thoughts on the reshuffle from us as follows (thanks to Matt, Ed and Ed for their views):

1. Britain is back from Summer: The Olympics created an unusually long summer (silly) season and accompanying downtime for politics and business news. Yesterday’s war cry by Cameron, today’s reshuffle and a host of key European dates coming up mean the political and business communities are very much now back. Expect the news agenda to tighten significantly and the tone to darken markedly in the next week or two.

2. The Government has dodged a brick wall on Jeremy Hunt: Whether intentional or not, the shifting of Justine Greening away from Transport and subsequent attack from Boris Johnson that this greenlights Heathrow’s expansion will likely be the lead story on tonight’s evening broadcasts and tomorrow’s papers. Jeremy Hunt’s promotion to Health, despite his public embarrassment over News Corp will enjoy a much more comfortable second or third slot in the billing.

3. Women in the Cabinet is a weak point for Cameron: The Prime Minister has made his commitment to women occupying a third of his cabinet clear. Today’s reshuffle casts doubt on his ability to fulfill it. We don’t know the scope of junior roles yet, but the decision to give Maria Miller both the Culture and Equality/Women briefs looks strange, especially given her lack of profile prior to today. DCMS is an important department, particularly at present so why burden its Minister with a second job instead of promoting another female star to the second role? Labour will be itching to pounce.

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Politicians and the global economy – when will they learn? Thu, 24 Nov 2011 13:13:31 +0000 David Chambers BY ROSS GILLAM

Once again politicians seem hell-bent on short term political wins even if this has a direct negative impact on the global economy. This time however, it is back to America rather than the inept Europeans.

Following a political debacle in the summer when Republicans refused to agree to increase the US’s debt ceiling, the US lost its AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor’s. After this, a Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, or super-committee as it is colloquially known, made up of six Republicans and six Democrats was tasked with the objective of finding $1.2 trillion (£767 billion) in cuts over the next ten years.  This was an opportunity for the US’s politicians to right their wrongs and show they can act responsibly and start putting the economic mess back in order.

Lots of talk, but sadly little action from the JSDRC in America (Image:Epoch Times)

With the announcement this week that the super-committee had officially failed to agree on these cuts, once again politicians have shown a miraculous ability to do more harm than good to the economy. Following the news global stock markets fell illustrating the direct impact politicians have on the markets.

In case we needed reminding, this is largely due to the fact there is a US election next year. Both Republicans and Democrats are determined not to budge on economic principles in order to enhance their 2012 election prospects, although this is questionable after many Americans were fed up with both sets of politicians over the debt ceiling shambles in July. The news this week continues a worrying trend of politicians favouring short term political point scoring to the detriment of long term economic stability.

Politicians need to stop treating their electorate as stupid and try to dupe them with short term fixes. It is time politicians spoke to their electorate like adults and outline the long term strategy needed to sort out the global economy – even if this requires some painful truths. On this point it will be interesting to see how our own Chancellor talks to us when he delivers his Autumn Statement next Tuesday.

For further comment on US politics and its ability to stifle sound economic policy, the wise Francis Fukuyama’s article in yesterday’s FT is well worth a read.

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Friday Fiver Fri, 16 Sep 2011 20:03:02 +0000 Edward Jones 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 Fri, 27 May 2011 19:49:23 +0000 Edward Jones In case you missed it, President Obama was in the UK this week to talk essential relationships, cyber crime and have a barbeque in the Number 10 Rose Garden. In honour, of his visit this weeks’ fiver looks at the visit and the UK’s special essential relationship with the US.  Thanks to Dave, Clare, Rachel and Melanie for contributions.

Essentially …

Whilst Foreign Policy and the six point plan, were the main items on the agenda, surely the most interesting aspect of Obama’s visit was the upgrading of the UK’s ‘Special Relationship’ with America to an ‘Essential Relationship.’ Essential. Never mind our credit rating, we have an essential relationship with America! As Matthew D’Ancona pointed out earlier this week, it has a certain ring of indispensability to it. I’m less sure Obama’s deficit reduction plan can be described as Osbornian, as D’Ancona suggested, but you have to hand it to Cameron he pulled the rabbit out of the hat with that one.

Deficit indifference

Governments should “live within their means” but also sustain growth by investing in education, and the pace of deficit reduction “may end up being different”. Uncritical certainly from the President, but hardly the ringing endorsement David Cameron and George Osborne were hoping for with regards to their economic strategy.

They were probably also hoping for better revised Q1 GDP figures from the ONS than the ones that materialised this week at roughly the same time as the meat was cooking on the barbie. Traditionally, the revised figures show an increase in GDP for the quarter over the first, partial set of figures released. That didn’t happen this time, with growth remaining at 0.5%. More worryingly, household spending contracted 0.6% and business investment practically hid in the corner shivering, as it shrank 7.1%.

The Government remains committed to cutting hard and fast in order to shrink the deficit and get the country back on track without a large credit card bill hanging over it. Judging by the economic data and reaction to it, the jury is still out on whether this will work or not – which is perhaps why the President hedged his words to such effect.

Inspiring relationships

Michelle Obama re-affirmed her own ‘essential relationship’ with old friends during the visit when she was re-acquainted with girls from Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School. The EGA girls were visiting Oxford University as part of a programme to encourage them to aim high. Mrs Obama, herself a graduate of Princeton and Harvard, encouraged them to not “be afraid to take risks, ask questions, ask stupid questions, don’t be afraid to trip, fall and don’t be afraid to get back up.”

Wise words indeed from the First Lady and something all of us can take heart from. Media coverage of the meeting praised her as an inspiring role model for these young girls. But do our young people need to wait for a visit from a foreign leader’s wife to feel inspired? It strikes me that inspiration comes in all sorts of guises from dignitaries to teachers, to a school system and society that encourages successes achieved on merit. I cannot help thinking that more of our young girls would be inspired if the education system were fairer and society willed them on.

However, today’s announcement that under radical changes to admissions, some secondary schools will be able to select pupils on the basis of family income fills me with dread. If we want to inspire our young people, there has to be a better way than judging them on their parents’ finances.

Right all along?

Photo: Jacob Whittaker

There was a time when being British was all about keeping a stiff upper lip through adversity.  We were a bit stuffy, grumpy, and proud of it (with the exception of Ken Dodd). But if this week’s stats from the OECD are to be believed the old stereotype has been blown out of the water – we’re actually much happier than most of our European neighbours, including those where the weather is supposedly much nicer.

Of course our BFFs across the pond are way ahead, with the ‘pursuit of happiness’ in their constitution, but recent events have given them a run for their money (Will & Kate, less than a year to go to the Olympics, plus some cracking Aviva (client) sponsored ITV dramas on the telly).  Even Obama seemed to be using his visit to the UK to give a PR boost to the start of his election campaign, after all the yanks did seem to love the Royal Wedding more than we did.

Cheeriness is starting to look like part of a new national character, even a driver of government policy with the government launch of a new way of measuring it earlier this year.  Yet whilst the OECD’s figures do seem to suggest that money doesn’t necessarily make you happy, it will be interesting to see whether the next GDP figures show it can work the other way around.

Obama and the ostrich generation

When all the fanfare and noise from the military 41 gun salute to welcome Obama’s visit abates, we hope that the two leading western premiers might spare a thought for the lot of their respective domestic pensioners. They don’t need to look hard or delve deeply to find incontrovertible evidence of the pensions malaise and bleak future that faces many prospective pensioners in the UK and US and indeed across most Western economies.

The worrying statistics roll in on an almost daily basis. According to an international survey released by HSBC this week six in ten Britons have no financial plan for their retirement – due to a “cycle of dependency” and suffer from an equally self-deluded belief that they will enjoy a comfortable retirement.

Across the Atlantic, prospects are equally stark in the US. New findings from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) latest public policy institute report reveals that many older Americans, employed and unemployed, may never recover financially from this latest recession, although here, half of them do actually realise that they won’t have enough money to live on in retirement.

This dearth of planning contrasts with upcoming economies in the East, where a class of “prosperous pensioners” is merging. The respective expectations on annual growth showing  further downward revision for the UK economy (now a paltry 1.4%, with the US at only 2.6), is in stark contrast to buoyant growth rates in Asia’s flagship economies – China 9.2%, India 8.5%.

Worrying indeed.

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FPS’ Friday Fiver Fri, 08 Apr 2011 14:49:27 +0000 David Chambers 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

For an indication of just how grim things are, note that the sale of short term Portuguese debt issued on April first required a yield of almost six per cent compared to just over four per cent a month earlier. Also on the continent this week, the ECB increased interest rates by 0.25% to 1.25%. Fiscal tightening has begun and the Bank of England will need to consider whether the UK needs to take similar measures in the coming months.

A weak week in Westminster…Earlier in the week Ed opined:

Probably a fair summation of what was going on, and indeed, after Tuesday it only got worse. Nick Clegg, it transpired, had a former intern who was eager to but the boot in. Oliver Letwin, the Cabinet Office Minister no less, hot on the heels of saying he didn’t “want families from Sheffield flying away on cheap holidays” went one better by apparently confirming that the Government would “run out of ideas by 2012“.

Andrew Lansley meanwhile, diligently trying to regain momentum for NHS reform (which has undertaken a “natural pause“) was helped out in the shooting yourself (or colleague) in the foot stakes by Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, who admitted that NHS waiting times have soared under his Government.

Unable to keep the lid on IDS or use the brolly on Olly, SamCam appeared to have the blues…

Cheer up Cams - it can't possibly be as bad next week

The savings industry can breathe again…And so it’s over for another 12 months. The great savings rush ahead of the end of year tax deadline has now passed, which means financial advisers, accountants and business owners can afford to breathe a little easier. Many in the personal finance media will probably be looking forward to writing something a little different as well, after four weeks of ISA coverage.

The ISA rush is over for another year

The big issue on the table for savers remains though – the high rate of inflation, which erodes the value of money stored away. It’s proving a real problem, as the Standard argued on Tuesday, though as the Mail notes, there are still good products out there, being driven in part by the desire to retain as well as recruit savers according to some. One other problem remains however – take-up of ISAs remains low amongst the population; something that the newly relaunched Money Advice Service could help address.

What next for Andrew Lansley?…As we mentioned above, the government has taken a pause on NHS reform while it considers its next move. In a statement to the House of Commons, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley promised to “pause, listen and engage” rather than force through the health and social care bill at breakneck speed.

What this week’s climbdown demonstrates is that whenever an organisation tries to redefine, reorganise or change itself, it invariably encounters resistance. That resistance only dissipates when it can be proven beyond doubt that change will benefit those who protest. As Machiavelli said in The Prince “there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.”

The NHS is regularly praised, but also regularly damned, often in the same newspaper article. The challenge for Lansley and co will be to convince people how these changes will benefit them. Otherwise the result could be “pause, listen and disengage”.

The new state pension…Finally, a quick look at the plans unveiled this week by Pensions Minister Steve Webb. Even for those of us who work in this area, the state pension is a fiendishly complicated beast with different levels of benefit paid depending on your work history, level of other retirement income and marital status. In an effort to simplify things, the government has proposed a new, flat-rate pension of £155.

Or have they? Despite a lot of media coverage and hype in the build-up to the announcement, the government’s green paper actually lays out several potential options, only one of which would take this course. The proposal is now open to consultation – expect it to be feisty.

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