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Before the Vote

26 Apr

Right of asylum, immigration quotas, border controls.. a deep fracture has emerged between the candidates.

It’s a record in French history: France has recorded 85, 700 requests for asylum in 2016. Even if it’s small in relation to its neighbours Italy (121, 200) and Germany (722, 300), this influx of migrants, because of the war in Syria and historic conflicts or humanitarian situations (the Sudan, Afghanistan, Haiti), have forced the question of the welcome that France can or should reserve at the centre of the presidential campaign.

But if the questions about borders, integration or identity have gained an important place in the campaign, the responses that the candidates have raised in their programmes are sparse (a hundred proposals to more than three thousand in total) and very polarised. A France open or closed, here are the main promises of the 11 candidates for the presidential election.

Borders in and around Europe

According to the Schengen agreement, all citizens can move freely within the eponymous zone (26 states of which 22 are part of the European Union). And on the exterior, the agency Frontex tries to maintain surveillance faced with the influx of migrants.

The borders question is typically an embarrassing one for candidates, outside the extreme right, faced simultaneously with the humanitarian crisis of the migrants, but also by the high-stakes surveillance of terrorist movements.

On the extreme right, the positions have the merit of clarity: Nicolas Dupont-Aignan and Marine Le Pen think that control of immigration is no longer secured by Frontex and that they should exit Schengen to take back national borders, which would consequently be reinforced. They believe therefore six thousand customs posts should also be reinstated, according to the Front National candidate, which demands also the recall of the reservists.

Calling for a double layer of borders, Francois Fillon says he is in favour of staying in Schengen (and in tripling the budget of Frontex), but also to the “temporary reintroduction of controls on the interior borders” (an operation in reality already in place since the events of November 2015).

In opposition, there are those who think the actual borders of Schengen are already sufficient: Benoit Hamon, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon. But with certain nuances since Emmanuel Macron wanted to increase the powers of border guards and outposts in Europe, while Jean-Luc Melenchon wanted what he termed the “militarisation of the politics of controlling migration flows.”

The extreme left believes to want to abolish all borders, both on the interior and exterior of the European Union – say Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou, in a spirit which is “internationalist” and “in solidarity”.

 

The Right to Asylum

In the face of crowds of migrants, the practical application of the right to asylum, a principle enshrined in the preamble of the Constitution, is a question of debate among the political class. It is anyway on this question that ghost of the candidates’ previous promises looms largest: where Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou supported regularising all the sans-papiers, Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Dupon-Aignan want, in contrast, to make the conditions of asylum harder. The candidate from Debout la France is proposing a dozen measures to allocate a residence to asylum-seekers. The Front National candidate, le Pen, insists on the necessity of “making it impossible to regularise or naturalise foreigners in an illegal situation.”

Between these two opposing poles, two candidates declare they favour welcoming asylum-seekers, notably in instituting a humanitarian visa (Benoit Hamon) and in constructing welcome camps along international norms (Jean-Luc Melenchon). Three other candidates want to shorten the delay in the administrative response (Emmanuel Macron, Jacques Cheminade and Francois Fillon). It is therefore on the specific public services the refugees can access on which the majority of candidates have made promises.

 

On Quotas

In 2016, around 227 500 foreigners gained their first right to stay in France, an increase of 4.6% in relation to 2015. A rise which lies principally in admissions for humanitarian reasons. These permissions were not limited by quotas; France has never applied such a limitation, in contrast to the US for example. A majority of candidates are not in favour ( Nathalie Arthaud, Jacques Cheminade, Benoit Hamon, Emmanuel Macron, Jean-Luc Melenchon and Philippe Poutou).

Among them those who have no fixed position: Jean Lassalle and Francois Asselineau. This last is content to propose a referendum on the whole group of questions lying in various degrees in relation to the volumes of migrants – quotas, familial regroupment, right to own land…

Three candidates are in support of quotas. The most extreme position is, with no surprise, that of Marine Le Pen, who recommends “reducing legal immigration to an annual cap of 10 thousand (persons).” She is following on the platform of Francois Fillon, who wanted to inscribe it in the Constitution, and of Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, who wants “to vote annually in Parliament an immigration ceiling” related to the unemployment rate.

In 2006, Nicolas Sarkozy had already fostered support for establishing quotas, but this ambition faced opposition, risking the censure of the constitutional council, and was adjourned.

 

The Right of Soil

The right of earth consists of conferring French nationality on children born in France More precisely, a child born in France of foreign parents becomes automatically French on their 18th year, if they are in our country and have been more than five years; this has been true since 1515. Certain candidates propose to limit this opportunity (Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, Francois Fillon), or aim to remove it (Marine Le Pen).

For the Front National, this represents making a kind of “acquisition of French nationality (is) possible just through filiation or naturalisation, for which the conditions are elsewhere more demanding”… that which can in many more complex cases, looks impossible. Not only for the French whose ancestors came from abroad several generations ago, but also for a number of other cases – pieds-noirs, those from Alsace, whose families were German at the beginning of the last century…

On the other side, Jacques Cheminade, Emmanuel Macron and Jean-Luc Melenchon want to preserve the right of soil. Four candidates have no position on this prickly subject: Nathalie Arthaud, Benoit Hamon, Jean Lassale and Philippe Poutou.

The French Justice Department demands lifting of the immunity of Marine Le Pen at the European Parliament

14 Apr

translated from http://www.lemonde.fr/election-presidentielle-2017/article/2017/04/14/la-justice-francaise-a-demande-au-parlement-europeen-la-levee-de-l-immunite-de-marine-le-pen_5111132_4854003.html

The French justice department has demanded that the European Parliament lifts the parliamentary immunity of Marine Le Pen and of Marie-Christine Boutonnet, targets of an enquiry into suspected fictional employment of parliamentary assistants by the Front National (FN), Agence France-Presse (AFP) learned on Friday 14th April from a judiciary source.

The judges at the preliminary hearing addressed their demands to lift the parliamentary immunity of the FN European delegates on 29 and 30 March, specified this source, confirming the information relayed by Europe 1. These demands have been issued from the Paris Bench to the Bench General**, which transfers it, according to the procedure, to the chancellery before being sent to the European Parliament.

The extreme-right candidate in the presidential election has retreated behind her parliamentary immunity in order to block the judges’ summons issued in February and in March. She promises to attend the judiciary hearing after the electoral period. Marie-Christine Boutonnet has not responded to the summons of the ‘financial’ judges at the beginning of March.

 

Vote in an open session

The demand to lift the immunity that the French justice? Has addressed to the European Parliament is ‘standard procedure’, Marine Le Pen said on Friday.

Examining this demand to lift their immunity could take several months as it needs to be the subject of a vote in open session of the European Parliament. A debate would therefore happen in session, on the issue of which each European Deputy would be called to place an individual vote.

“The European deputy will keep their seat, but they will lose their immunity,” it is explained on the website of the European Parliament, reporting that the revocation of immunity is not a punishment but that “it simply authorises a national authority to investigate and pursue an inquiry.

“The preliminary hearing judges do not expect they will be successful before the presidential election,” France Inter stated with assurance.

The preliminary hearing judges are not able to compel a European Deputy to stand before them like anyone else who is answerable to judiciary authority. For each coercive measure, they have to first achieve the lifting of the immunity granted by the European Parliament. This was the same issue in another case presided over by the preliminary hearing judges at Nanterre, where they reproached Mme Le Pen for having distributed over Twitter images of executions by the jihadist group Islamic State.

 

Two parliamentary assistants put under scrutiny

A preliminary hearing has been opened by the Paris bench, which follows a parliamentary inquiry underway since 2015. The presiding judges are trying to determine if the Front National has created a system to remunerate its executives and employees with public funds of the European Union through contracts for assistants to deputies.

Following a police search at the FN head office, in February 2017, investigators seized a document leading them to believe that the ‘fraudulent’ was thought to have been established since 2012, and known by Marine Le Pen.

The European Parliament, which plays a civilian part in this affair, had informed the French justice department about the 29 parliamentary assistants. The trigger was their presence in positions listed in the last information chart for France, which throws doubt on their effective employment at the assembly sitting at Strasbourg.

 

 

Credit Suisse Scoped for a Tax Investigation

31 Mar

translated from

http://www.lemonde.fr/entreprises/article/2017/03/31/credit-suisse-vise-par-une-enquete-fiscale_5103855_1656994.html

The tax authorities have returned to the second Helvetic bank at Paris, London and Amsterdam.

Credit Suisse announced, Friday 31 March in a statement, that its offices in Paris, London and Amsterdam had become the object of a tax investigation and had received ‘the visit’ from the tax authorities of the countries concerned.

The second Helvetic bank is clear that it is cooperating with the inquiry which is ongoing. According to the Swiss press, the affair started in the Netherlands, where the tax authorities have received documents showing the existence of hidden accounts for purposes of tax evasion, in the opinion of a Swiss bank.

According to the Zurich-based publication ‘Tages Anzeiger,’ the locals of Credit Suisse became the object of a ‘raid’ like paintings and gold ingots were seized in several countries.

Why Value Investing? Or ‘Why not follow the rest of the herd off the cliff?’

15 Mar

Investors, like cows, sheep, zebra and other herding animals, like to do what they see everybody else doing. If the rest of the herd jumps off a cliff, many other investors will follow the herd even if they suspect a hard landing awaits. Because if everyone else is doing it, it must be the right thing to do.

A prime example of this tendency is the recent Snapchat IPO, which we’re sure you’ve heard about but we’ll revisit for illustrative purposes. Despite having access to detailed information about the company’s fundamentals and history – it has never before made a profit – investors piled in when open trading began, leading the share price to rise 44%, from an initial $17 to $24.48. The opening price of $17 was itself above the range predicted by analysts.

There are no words for what Snapchat the company represents. Literally. It cannot even categorise itself correctly. In its IPO prospectus it described itself as a ‘camera company’, which as it has never to public knowledge made and sold a camera is not strictly accurate.

Go in the Other Direction

Value investing defies this ‘herding behaviour’ by taking a contrarian bet on the stock the market undervalues. Value investors look for assets, particularly shares, whose low market price belies the underlying fundamentals. They take a 3-5 year view on the company based on factors like the general outlook for the sector, the company’s debt to equity ratio, sales and revenue history, and sales and revenue projections.

They might dig deeper, and look at how secure a hold the company has over its primary assets – for example, whether they are overhung by a fixed or floating charge. A fixed charge means the item in question is clearly put up as collateral to a single defined investor, whereas with a floating charge the hierarchy of entitlement is less clearly defined.

All of these contrarian bets will be placed within a portfolio which is risk-optimised for the desired minimum return. When we say ‘risk-optimised’, essentially we are treating risk, or volatility, as a tradable item which though we cannot exactly quantify it, we are counting on its yielding us a premium in the long-term. We like risk, when we think we can control it.

Portfolio investors will almost always diversify this risk across several sectors or regions, analysing groups of stocks or indices to see their level of correlation, and choosing those which have historically not been highly correlated. For example, automobile sales and hotel visits might be correlated, if inversely, with the price of oil, or petrol; cheap fuel encourages more travel.

Two sectors which are less likely to be correlated are consumer durables – ie. fridges, microwaves, toasters – and food and toiletries. People will always need to buy groceries, but deciding whether to buy a new microwave or pair of Jimmy Choos is a discretionary choice and likely to bear little relation to how many ready meals they choose to buy.

 

 

Self-Development questions 2

11 Jan
  1. Why do I find it so easy to spot other people’s faults but not my own?

Both Sigmund and his granddaughter Anna Freud wrote about the phenomenon of ‘projection’, where unpleasant attributes that the ‘ego’ or conscious self rejects because they are socially or otherwise undesirable, are super-imposed on others. The projected attributes could also be personal fears, such as unpopularity, homosexuality, physical unattractiveness, rudeness, stupidity…Often this perceived flaw is present in the object of projection to a degree, but becomes hugely exaggerated to the projector. This tends to be a behaviour of less developed personalities, but everyone can be inclined toward it in times of stress or perhaps due to herding. For example, a celebrity or politician could become the focus for repressed emotions which are publicly condemned in them. Or a nationality or minority group could be targeted.

#projectionisrejection

#ihateyoubecauseihateme

#peoplewholiveinglasshouses

“You painted a naked woman because you enjoyed looking at her, put a mirror in her hand and you called the painting “Vanity,” thus morally condemning the woman whose nakedness you had depicted for you own pleasure.”

― John Berger, Ways of Seeing

“What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves — our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

 

“Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate in their object-relations.”

  • Sigmund Freud

 

  •  

“When two things occur successively we call them cause and effect if we believe one event made the other one happen. If we think one event is the response to the other, we call it a reaction. If we feel that the two incidents are not related, we call it a mere coincidence. If we think someone deserved what happened, we call it retribution or reward, depending on whether the event was negative or positive for the recipient. If we cannot find a reason for the two events’ occurring simultaneously or in close proximity, we call it an accident. Therefore, how we explain coincidences depends on how we see the world. Is everything connected, so that events create resonances like ripples across a net? Or do things merely co-occur and we give meaning to these co-occurrences based on our belief system? Lieh-tzu’s answer: It’s all in how you think.”

― Liezi, Lieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living

 

 

“The public is not to see where power lies, how it shapes policy, and for what ends. Rather, people are to hate and fear one another.”

  • Noam Chomsky

 

#causeorcoincidence

#youpaintedawomanandcalledhervanity

#fearunderpinspower

#realityhurts

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

2. How can I better rationalize my emotional responses to unpleasant situations?

Rationalization is one of many defence mechanisms people use to deflect an unwanted emotional response. They might do it to appease their conscience, for example to justify socially undesirable behaviour such as internet trolling, shoplifting or bullying. Even outwardly responsible citizens can do this on a minor scale, and psychologist Dan Ariely has done considerable research into what he calls the ‘self-fudge’ effect, and how much people think they can get away with before their social conscience kicks in. He observed that they were reluctant to steal actual money when the opportunity was presented, but objects one step removed from money – stationery, cans of coke – presented less of a moral dilemma. Rationalization can be used to justify self-destructive behaviour, or explain an action which had unintended negative consequences. We need to be careful not to over-rationalise to the extent we have shielded ourselves completely from our pesky conscience; or prevent ourselves from feeling any emotional pain, which can be necessary and cathartic.

#ourbuggymoralcode

#self-fudging

#makeyourownmoralcompass  

“People only see what they are prepared to see.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The act of gaining true insights from self – reflection is a futile action for most … as there are easy way out things like self justification, rationalization, delusions and denial which keeps us away from our true self, the inner core and thus we live contented”

  • Anubhav Mishra

 

“Dishonesty is all about the small acts we can take and then think, ‘No, this not real cheating.’ So if you think that the main mechanism is rationalization, then what you come up with, and that’s what we find, is that we’re basically trying to balance feeling good about ourselves.”        – Dan Ariely

 

  • “Illusions commend themselves to us because they save us pain and allow us to enjoy pleasure instead. We must therefore accept it without complaint when they sometimes collide with a bit of reality against which they are dashed to pieces.”
  • Sigmund Freud

 

 

“Rationalization is foreplay with one’s conscience.”         –  Doug Cooper

 

“The endless, agonizing recycling of what might have been, soon followed by a litany of rationalizations and self-deceptions as you struggle to reconcile the void between the person you want to be and the person you fear you are..”        –  Jon Krakauer

 

#Rationalizationisforeplay

#illusionsbeatreality

#tryselfreflection

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

3. ‘When my boss shouts me down, why do I kick the proverbial dog?’

Well fairly self-evidently, it’s because I probably shouldn’t shout back at my boss if I want to keep my job. But bottling up this emotion means it is likely to burst out in some other situation, perhaps against a colleague who chooses the next moment to ask a huge favour. Or against your spouse that evening who asks you, “whatever happened to that promotion?” It is not an emotionally mature reaction, but a primitive impulse that probably derives from a sense of powerlessness; and even if you cannot talk about the bad treatment you have received, it makes more sense to seek comfort or an alliance with another person who can help you deal with that situation. This defence mechanism is termed ‘displacement’.

#peacenotwar

#turntheothercheek

#makeyourenemyyourfriend 

 

“An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.”

― Mahatma Gandhi

“All war is a symptom of man’s failure as a thinking animal.” ― John Steinbeck

“To live is to war with trolls.” ― Henrik Ibsen

“Never have a battle of wits with an unarmed person.” ― Mark Twain

“The opponent strikes you on your cheek, and you strike him on the heart by your amazing spiritual audacity in turning the other cheek. You wrest the offensive from him by refusing to take his weapons, by keeping your own, and by striking him in his conscience from a higher level. He hits you physically, and you hit him spiritually.” ― E. Stanley Jones, ‘Gandhi: Portrayal of a Friend

 

#dontkickthedog

#warisafailureofnegotiation

#passiveresistance

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

4. How to make my biggest weakness a super-strength?

We all have behavioural patterns which can be detrimental and which repeat themselves. One person, for example, might have difficulty being on time; another might be obsessively organized in their work and relationships, and have difficulty being spontaneous and reacting to change. Try to be more aware of repeat patterns in your behaviour and consider if they may be responsible for work or relationship problems. Do you, for example, over-empathise with your co-workers and have a need to solve their problems, such that it becomes a distraction from your tasks? Do you, on the other hand, have trouble trusting your colleagues because you view them as competition, and have issues working collaboratively? With time and a concerted effort, once identified you can focus on altering these self-destructive traits, which are holding you back in the life and work arena. We cannot guarantee they will become your biggest strength, but if you make a real improvement people will notice the difference and respond positively.

 

#weaknessbecomesstrength

#makeyourweaknessastrength

#tosucceedyoumustknowyourself

 

“Don’t waste a good mistake. Learn from it.”

  • Robert Kiyosaki

 

“Winners Evaluate Themselves In A Positive Manner And Look For Their Strengths As They Work To Overcome Weaknesses.”

― Zig Ziglar, in ‘Great Quotes from Zig Ziglar: 250 Inspiring Quotes from the Master Motivator and Friends’

“A person’s strength was always his weakness, and vice versa.”

― Viet Thanh Nguyen, ‘The Sympathizer’

“Clearing up your weaknesses is one of the primary reasons we’re here.”

― Robin Sharma, (Canadian writer and leadership consultant)

 

 

“More people would learn from their mistakes if they weren’t so busy denying them.”

  • Harold J. Smith

 

#don’twasteamistake

#mistakesarejustlifelessons

#mistakesareforlearningnotrepeating

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

 

5. Are all my emotional responses necessary, or can I control them?

Intellectualization is one of the more mature coping or defence mechanisms, and involves deflecting an unwanted emotional response by thinking instead about the real, factual consequences of that which might cause you to feel sad or angry. Of you could reach intellectually for a solution to the situation. Say there is a delay in paying your invoice, or your annual bonus is in question. You may be beset by feelings of anxiety, frustration, anger at the party perceived to be responsible. None of these are helpful. The former will make you appear powerless; the latter will make you appear rude. Moderate your emotions and determinedly seek a solution. Or say you are sore from a recent break-up. You are wracked by pain, loss, perhaps feelings of low self-worth. But none of these are inevitable. Accept the loss, and count all the ways in which your life will be enhanced and you will be better off without the other person in it. Eventually the reasons for splitting up will crowd out the lingering pain of that person’s absence.

#controlyouremotions

#don’tletyouremotionscontrolyou

#emotionaldistance

 

“If you can’t control your emotions, then your emotions will control you.”

  • Anurag Prakash Ray

 

“Inner peace will prevail in your life if you listen to inner voice and let not others control your emotions.”

  • Dr Anil Kumar Sinha

 

“While others may break your heart, they cannot make you live in misery. You control your emotions and, while the hurt can be overwhelming, you have the ability to move on and live to love another day.”

  • Frederick Babb 

 

    • “Comfort in expressing your emotions will allow you to share the best of yourself with others, but not being able to control your emotions will reveal your worst.”
    •  
  • Bryant McGill (Wall Street Journal and USA Today bestselling author, speaker, and activist in the fields of human potential and human rights)

 

                                               

    “The degree of one’s emotions varies inversely with one’s knowledge of the facts.”

  • Bertrand Russell, (English Logician and Philosopher 1872-1970)

 

 

#listentotheinnervoicenottheouterones

#expressyourself

#sharingiscaring

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

6. Why do I often take adverse situations so personally?

We return to a concept we have visited before; that of the ‘universal attribution theory’, our tendency as humans to stress the importance of human action in explaining causation. When something doesn’t go your way, or a personal disaster befalls you, the instinctive reaction will often be to say either “It’s their fault,” “It’s my fault”, or “They’re out to get me.” Whether you blame your own mistake or the mistakes – or deliberate action – of other people, reflects and reinforces your personal narrative as a winner, loser, or victim. But… it’s not that simple. There are a huge number of situational factors leading to the outcome, many of which will be beyond your control. Be they political, economic, social, psychological…. so instead of trying to work out who to point the finger at, why don’t you use your energy to find a solution and try and learn how to prevent the situation recurring?

#failureisnotpersonal

#maybeit’snobody’sfault

#lookoutisdethebox

When life places a wall in our path we have two choices… we can beat our head against it, or we can figure out a way to get around it.” (Randi G Fine)

“Rock bottom is good solid ground, and a dead end street is just a place to turn around.” (Buddy Buie, Southern Rock singer-songwriter)

“Strength doesn’t just come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. Where you go through hardships and decide not to surrender… that is strength.”

  • Ghandi

 

“Sometimes adversity is what you need to face in order to become successful.”

  • Zig Ziglar (American salesman and motivational speaker)

 

“Any man can win when things go his way. It’s the man who overcomes adversity that is the true champion.”

  • Jock Ewing (character in TV series ‘Dallas’)

 

#adversitydefinesyou

#rockbottomisgoodsolidground

#deadendstreetiswhereyouturnaround

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

 

 

7. Can I make my own good luck?

Particularly thanks to the proliferation of social media, there is a widespread perception that you can influence your life and story by being unerringly upbeat and full of confidence. And to an extent it is true that people respond positively to positive energy; not only that, but it will help you to make beneficial and strategically sound decisions. Careful though not to let boasting about your achievements overshadow the achievements themselves. After each success you should be planning how to take it to the next stage, not just plastering your success across all social media channels. Can the general perception that you are successful become self-fulfilling? Or does it just feed your ego and stop you thinking clearly?

#makeyourownluck

#don’tlookback

#writeyourownstory

 

“Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect.”

  • Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“Diligence is the mother of good luck.”

    • Benjamin Franklin 
  • “Inspiration is one thing and you can’t control it, but hard work is what keeps the ship moving. Good luck means, work hard. Keep up the good work.”

 

  • Kevin Eubanks
  •  

“Success is simply a matter of luck. Ask any failure.”

  • Earl Wilson 
  • “Too often, we miss out on opportunities in this life because we were too busy waiting for them to fall into our lap that we missed them tapping on our shoulder.” ― Daniel Willey

 

 

#diligencemotherofgoodluck

#onlyfailuresbelieveinluck?

#opportunityistappingonyourshoulder

 

#famous quotes

#inspiration

#QualityQuestions

 

Interest rate risk? What interest rate risk?

27 Oct

 

Growth in the third quarter of 2016 seems to be on track to remain consistent with that of Q2, at the identical figure of 2.1%. Which will doubtless engender much self-congratulatory patting of backs among the BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee, for steering the country through a potential capacity surplus and dip in employment. Do they really deserve this round of applause?

There is an opinion held in some quarters that central bank control is the main obstacle standing in the way of the perfect equilibrium that would be achieved if interest rates were allowed to compete in a free market. While I do not necessarily believe that free-market capitalism always acts in favour of the greatest good of the greatest number of people, the tried-and-tested sticking plaster of QE does not reach the deeper systemic problems – something the BOE itself admits.

As well as announcing the continuation of its asset repurchase policy (quantitative easing), the BOE’s Monetary Policy Committee decided in August to cut bank rate to a growth-stimulating – at least in theory – 0.25%. The negative effect this would have on bank’s lending profit margins they hoped would be countered by the Term Funding Scheme (TFS) they were offering to institutions affected.

They elaborated in the August Inflation Report that “the Term Funding Scheme (TFS)… will provide funding for banks at interest rates close to Bank Rate.  This monetary policy action should help reinforce the transmission of the reduction in Bank Rate to the real economy to ensure that households and firms benefit from the MPC’s actions.  In addition, the TFS provides participants with a cost-effective source of funding to support additional lending to the real economy, providing insurance against the risk that conditions tighten in bank funding markets.”

This is all very good and of noble intention, but it is doubtful this alone would counteract the many factors acting against the free lending by banks to needy applicants. For one, the alternative finance market is proving serious competition, as the nimbler new competitors are far more proactive in sourcing customers, using sophisticated data analysis to find leads; and their pricing algorithms bypass the more thorough risk profiling traditional banks undergo. In addition, they often avoid taking direct liability for issuing the loans, doing this instead through partner banks. By keeping their balance sheets free of these liabilities, they avoid the imposition of different tiered capital ratios along the lines of Basel III.

Let’s get Specific

Interest Rate Risk in the Banking Book (IRRBB) is a quantified metric which is itself the subject of constant, international regulatory scrutiny. In a report released April 2016, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision succinctly explains the complex relationship between different loan products:

IRRBB arises because interest rates can vary significantly over time, while the business of banking typically involves intermediation activity that produces exposures to both maturity mismatch (e.g. long-maturity assets funded by short-term liabilities) and rate mismatch (e.g. fixed rate loans funded by variable rate deposits). In addition, there are optionalities embedded in many of the common banking products (e.g. non-maturity deposits, term deposits, fixed rate loans) that are triggered in accordance with changes in interest rates.”

An option is linked to a specified contingency which, if occurring, gives you the right but not the obligation to exercise that option. For example if you end up stuck with a loan at 4% interest which was originated when base interest rates were at 1.2%, and then base interest falls to 0.5%, your interest payments will be overpriced relative to the rest of the market. The option might specify that if interest rates fall below a certain point, you can choose to switch to a floating-rate linked to a benchmark like LIBOR. (London Interbank Offered Rate, administered by ICE or IntercontinentalExchange group)

Definitions, definitions, definitions

‘Option risk’ is just one of three defined types of interest rate risk that can occur; the others being ‘gap risk’ and ‘basic risk’. Automatic option risk is when an optionality is included as part of a synthetic product, be it an asset, liability and/ or off-balance sheet item. Behavioural option risk is where the change in cash flow results from the autonomous human decision to exercise an option.

So-called gap risk describes the shortfall that arises when banks’ debt instruments undergo rate changes which occur at different times. Some loans, particularly for construction or infrastructure projects, are staggered so interest payments increase towards the end of the loan’s duration, as during the early set-up phase there is little to no cash flow or income.

Basis risk is classified as the impact of relative changes in interest rates between instruments which are linked to different pricing benchmarks; say for EM bonds over Treasuries, which are priced by different market factors and whose basis points might change at different rates, though their tenors are the same. One might even be used to hedge the other, and basis risk quantifies the effectiveness – or not – of this hedge.

The regulator admitted it was having difficulty persuading banks to fully assess the IR risk on their books, as in their internal assessments they tended to focus on earnings measures over the period under review, rather than economic value measures which examine assets and liabilities right until their expiration. In their guidance the Basel supervisory committee stressed the importance of having both types of assessment compliment each other.

If the late troubles of Deutsche Bank are any indicator, it is that banks can struggle to reconcile their regulatory obligations with taking on high enough risk assets to turn a viable profit. That, and the importance of having a smoothly running infrastructure and back-end. On the other hand, JP Morgan’s recent triumphant quarter shows you can make a killing out of trading bonds, if you know what you are doing.

interest_rate_risk

Networking Dos and Don’ts

9 Oct
  1. If you’re the only girl in a group of 5 boys, it’s dark and everyone else is drinking, don’t let the conversation turn to sex if you want to retain your professional veneer. That includes attempts to start conversations about ’embarrassing sex stories’, ‘what robot sex would be like’, and ‘what if they made robot sex really painful, to stop them reproducing and taking over the world’?

2. If you’re going to hand out your business card, make sure you take some contact details back. Don’t leave the ball in their court. They might be too lazy to pick up the racket.

3. Try not to mix business with dancing.

4. Always introduce the PhD particle physics student and his real estate mate to the hilariously honest tech guys who talk like they’re on drugs. How else does a networker get the party started?…

Why ‘Defined Benefit’ should become ‘Pre-Defined Benefit Re-Defined in Light of Changing Conditions’

4 Sep

 

A recent well-intentioned but technically inaccurate FT article laid out the pitfalls of employers continuing to offer Defined Benefit (DB) schemes, in light of the recent bout of QE and interest rate revisions. Briefly, in a separate article it reported that consultancy Hymans Robertson had conducted research analysis which hypothesised the BOE’s announcement of a £70bn QE programme would lead directly to another £70bn DB shortfall.

The BOE also announced it would cut interest rates by 0.25%, which will hit all fixed-income returns by reducing the value of gilts and ‘safe haven’ government securities, and correspondingly increase the demand for, and price of, riskier fixed-income products. Pension trustees had better make some shrewd investment choices.

The writer argued that in order to solve the deficit overhang, the government needed further legislation to prevent the proliferation and even the continuation of DB schemes. He stopped just short of saying they should be outright banned.

A Lighter Touch

What the government has done, under the 2014 Pensions Act, is more of a soft-touch approach which controls market incentives to withdraw money from schemes, and window-shop continually for better ones. This provides more security for scheme managers, in terms of the available capital for investment.

To issue a ban on Defined Benefit schemes would be a hostile move, which might be resisted by certain interest groups and create a conflict both sides are surely keen to avoid. When a legislator has a choice between prohibition measures and providing incentives for industry participants to behave a certain way, a collaborative approach is usually more effective.

Though that is not to say that the government hasn’t laid down some firm rules on scheme governance and providing Value for Money.

Can Members Leave a Scheme if they Want to?

Although members are technically free to leave the scheme at any time, there are a number of barriers which impede them from doing so. Many funds impose exit fees, to try and keep investments safely enclosed in the fund and prevent a deficit from occurring.

Another barrier is that administrative provisions for transfer of their pension pot might be insufficient or incomplete. Scheme member data storage and integrity has recently been the subject of widespread audits and reforms, because so much information was missing or compromised. For example, employees would be classed as ‘absent’ from the scheme and hence the records, when in fact they had a Personal Pension Plan that the employer made regular contributions to.

Pre-existing pension legislation held that if you had been in the scheme less than 2 years, and the scheme rules permitted it, you were entitled to a refund of the contributions already made. Though having received the refund you would not be entitled to any benefits for the period to which the refund relates. However, the Pensions Act 2014 made it harder to leave or withdraw money from a scheme in several new ways, one of which was the abolition of these ‘short service’ refunds, for people who leave a money purchase occupational pension scheme after the mandatory 30-day period, and within 2 years of entering the scheme.

Mandatory Disclosure

Money purchase schemes are simply Defined Contribution (DC) by another name, where an employee contributes an agreed percentage of their salary at set intervals, with no guaranteed level of return. Targets and benchmarks are shared with scheme members, and indeed it is a legal requirement that trustees provide members with an annual statutory money purchase illustration (SMP), which states the likely pension at retirement based on in-house assumptions about market conditions including inflation. Also with details of contributions credited (before deductions) to the member in the preceding scheme year.

So a major advantage of DC schemes is that the governing directors’ expectations and projections of expected returns are continually revised. In the current fixed-income investment climate, with the BOE still steering interest rates on a tight rein particularly in the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, to make the kind of gold-plated promise to employees which Defined Benefit schemes make does not seem… prudent.

This enhanced level of disclosure was also introduced in the recent reforms governing trustee accountability. Not that I’m biased, but the now fairly stringent requirements on trustees of money purchase schemes seem to make them the better option. Among the other provisions are that:

–              Investments made with each contribution should be documented, recording the date of each. Best practice is that every new contribution be invested within five working days; where a member’s contributions are invested in more than one fund, and “the total amount contributed in a period is recorded explicitly”, verify the sum of the individual transactions elements equals the total contribution.

–              To this end, there should be a record of every investment sold, date sold and amount realised. This does not have to be recorded separately for each contributor, but must be categorised by investment fund.

Reasons not to Shop Around

The 2014 Pensions Act contained a number of other measures relating to private pensions, many of which strengthen existing legislation. Many seem calculated to try and ring-fence the contributions to existing schemes. They include provision for:

  • a new power to make regulations to prohibit the offering of incentives to transfer pension scheme rights
  • the introduction of a new statutory objective for the Pensions Regulator, to minimise any adverse impact on the sustainable growth of sponsoring employers when exercising its functions relating to scheme funding
  • measures to restructure the Pension Protection Fund compensation cap to better protect long serving scheme members
  • an amendment to the Public Service Pensions Act 2013 to allow smaller public body pension schemes to transfer accrued rights into one of the larger public service schemes

So in conclusion, measures have been taken to make DB schemes vastly less attractive. But to outright ban them would itself be infringing on the rights of those existing DB scheme-holders whose right not to have their scheme fold due to insufficient funds these lobbyists are defending in the first place.

The important thing is for DB scheme managers to have the freedom to adjust their expectations and projected returns to a level which is compatible with their income stream and all their liabilities. Which I suppose would mean they were no longer ‘Defined Benefit’ but ‘Pre-Defined Benefit Re-Defined in Light of Changing Conditions’. If only someone would outline the circumstances in which this decision would be permissible.

 

 

Are Crypto-Currencies more Democratic?

28 Jun

The internet, as I’m sure you know, is formed of millions of connections between nodes, or access points for all its users.

Concurrent with, or alongside, this network a new network has sprung up, consisting of the Bitcoin miners and its payment system. This is supposedly money at its most ‘democratic’ because supposedly no one entity can gain control of a majority of the miners on which this consensus rests.

(for an explanation of the Bitcoin creation mechanism, see https://jessking1311.wordpress.com/2015/10/01/what-is-the-real-problem-with-bitcoin/  )

A fintech explosion

Goldman Sachs’ widely read ‘Future of Finance’ report cited three trends which two of its authors, Heath Terry and Ryan Nash on the Global Investment Research team, expanded on further in a podcast. These were: regulation, technology, and changing consumer habits.

The financial crash and ensuing regulation “effectively created a greenfield opportunity during the recovery… following Facebook’s IPO in 2012, a lot of opportunists asked themselves, ‘What sectors don’t have a Facebook, a Google, an Amazon yet. And financial services was the only one of those.”

A friendly credit environment also contributed to the exponential growth in ‘shadow banking’, – here defined more narrowly than the Fed which has tracked a recorded $15 trillion in liabilities by non-bank lenders like private debt funds – as so-called P2P or marketplace lenders.

The Goldman Sachs analysts predict $10-12 billion could move out of the traditional sector and into shadow banking. Marketplace lenders have been quick to adopt innovations like risk pricing algorithms, and analytics to predict consumer demand for loans. Thus they benefit from ‘lower cost of customer acquisition’ and ‘efficient delivery channels’, where banks are hampered by due diligence restrictions which give loans applicants offputting mountains of paperwork.

The third factor cited is regulation. Where Basel III imposed rigid capital adequacy ratios, the Dodd-Frank stress test limits made bank lending even more restricted, because they needed to consider also the value at risk of certain assets under stress scenarios. This severely limits the type of assets they can hold on balance-sheet.

Finally, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009, or Credit CARD Act of 2009, created a unified pricing standard which also meant credit providers’ losses were absorbed to some extent. And profits in the industry as a whole became more attractive, spurring innovation and start-ups to capitalise on the benign regulatory environment.

Crypto-currencies are more ‘democratic’ than fiat currencies

Bitcoin is a new currency but unlike sterling or the dollar it is not controlled by a national government, which can intervene to buy and sell the currency to preserve its value. And which are traded on mass by foreign exchange funds.

This means Bitcoin’s value depends almost entirely on how much it can be exchanged for in terms of goods and services on the internet. Or, to be more accurate, what people believe these items to be worth in Bitcoin at any given time. Which depends on the amount of Bitcoin in circulation.

For an explanation of the historic issue of the ‘capacity crunch’ and the competing plans to increase the size of transactions and transfers to scale up the payment system, again see my previous post on the issue.

But more important in revolutionising the way money is lent in the modern world is the Distributed Ledger Technology used to record Bitcoin transactions. Everyone in the Bitcoin network has access to this record, and its only alterable by mutual consensus or agreement.

democracy-means-everyone

So no one can fraudulently claim they have made or recorded a transaction, because the online ledger called the blockchain shows exactly who had made and received the transaction. Many companies and governments, like that of Estonia, are adapting this technology because it is a secure way of record-keeping for other purposes, such as health records, marriage and birth certificates, taxes and property.

The new distributed ledgers would have different rules. For example, there would likely be an administrator who would have overall control over access and permission to transact. Each system would also have its own encoded rules of conduct.

Some Real-life Examples

Some payment systems like Coinify already use the blockchain to enable consumers to make guaranteed payments, via small businesses which act as merchants.  Within some payment networks, such as Lending DApp (see https://jessking1311.wordpress.com/2016/01/13/back-to-the-future-bitcoin-blockchain-and-how-marketplace-lenders-are-using-technology-to-overtake-banks-in-the-race-to-attract-new-lenders/), ordinary people can act as intermediaries to guarantee that the terms of a contract have been fulfilled. Or the computer programme can be designed such that it recognises e.g. when a certain number of hours have clocked on a timesheet.

It occurs to me that this could be the solution to many of the problems in the banking system. Processing payments by the big banks like HSBC, RBS, Barclays et al. can take several days, even need, your money right away. Because they have to comply with so many regulations, banks have to do a lot of checks to make sure the payment is for legitimate activity and by a legitimate entity.

Alternative, more immediate providers like Paypal charge a transaction fee for every payment they process. But a pretty insignificant one. And Paypal seems to be cornering the market in micropayments. What does blockchain and DLT have that existing providers don’t?

It struck me the other day that the systems in place to connect us with the money we have earned or need to conduct our life and business are grossly inefficient.

I was waiting for a sum of money I had collected from a crowdfunding platform, Indiegogo. But when I tried calling HSBC, I had to wait on hold for 20 mins. When I finally got through to someone, he did not speak enough English to process my request. Three times I told him I was waiting for a transfer to my account and if he could put me through to whoever was responsible for bank checks, that maybe the depositor was concerned it was an individual not a business account.

Three times he asked me ‘If I would like to make a transaction’? When I tried to contact Indiegogo to ask the same question, initially I couldn’t find the contact form. Eventually I got a response, and my money, after I Twitter-bombed the crowd-funder. But the point is that I couldn’t access my money when I needed it. I had to pay it out of my own pocket and then be tardily reimbursed.

Now I’m not saying we need to overhaul the entire financial system, but if the service is flawed it would make sense to encourage competing providers, like those using the blockchain network, to let individuals like you or me moderate payments for a fee that corresponds with their efficiency and success rate at doing so.

And I’m not the only one this thought has occurred to.

Take Measures to Limit your Liability

24 Jun

If you have to ask yourself the question, “Does my organisation engage in data processing?” the answer is “probably.” Any marketing or sales analysis you do on information collected from customers is classified as data processing.

Article 2(b) of the Data Protection Directive defines said activity as anything included in the following: collecting, retrieving, recording, organising, storing, disclosing and making available data. And new EU legislation is about to tighten the screw on unauthorised uses of customer data. For this read anything for which the customer did not give their unambiguous consent.

And be vigilant about which third parties you pass on the data with which you have been entrusted. Be aware of its intended use, and be sure if you are selling database information that the organisation is licensed. Selling personal data without an ICO licence can constitute a criminal offence.

Just One Example

The famous case of Google Spain SL v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos (hyperlink) showed just how easy it is for a plaintiff to find a corporation liable for misuse of an individual’s data. Google’s search engine spiders, in the automatic process of indexing websites and connecting them with what it deems their keywords and subject, picked up an unflattering article about the original plaintiff Mario Costeja González.

Google Spain SL v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos

When his name was searched for on Google, pages appeared from La Vanguardia newspaper announcing a real estate auction as a result of proceedings for recovery of social security debts owed by Mr Costeja Gonzalez. He argued successfully that this was a misuse of his personal information; though the complaint against La Vanguardia newspaper was not upheld, even when Google appealed the verdict, as it had published the information lawfully.

While this finding by the European Court of Justice was an unusual event, it did set an important legal precedent. There is increased scrutiny on companies to hold themselves accountable for all the uses which personal data is put to, and take measures to prevent emotional or financial damage to the individuals concerned. If not, they lay themselves open to civil lawsuits as well as punitive fines when the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) comes into force in 2018.

Changing Legal Obligations

Think about whether your terms and conditions, and your privacy statement, cover every contingency in case of the possibility that someone claims an infringement of their rights, or a breach occurs.  These legal documents will need updating soon to remain compliant with the new provisions of the GDPR.

Any website which collects a customer’s financial data lays themselves open to responsibility for identity fraud. Any website collecting personal data such as that pertaining to medical or relationship history is potentially problematic. And even, now, fitness levels, with some US employers starting a trend of providing healthcare perks in return for workers’ submitting to fitness tests. The results are submitted in a ‘random, anonymous sample’ for data analysis by specialist companies such as 23&Me in Mountain View, California. Castlight, based in San Francisco, offers employers predictions as to the probability of workers’ getting pregnant or requiring expensive surgery, based on healthcare searches and insurance claims on its app.

If all that is not enough to scare you into doing your due diligence, this story of an ICO raid (hyperlink) on a house in Sheffield should persuade you that illegal data usage is a real threat. The organisation under suspicion emailed countless companies and institutions offering to buy and sell databases – including the ICO! But it was doing so without a licence, and to companies which would use the information to make nuisance calls.

(https://ico.org.uk/about-the-ico/news-and-events/news-and-blogs/2016/06/ico-investigators-raid-house-for-evidence-of-illegal-data-selling/)

It is so easy to inadvertently violate data protection regulations. So protect yourself now.