Alisher Usmanov and Parliamentary Privilege

It woud appear that something interesting is in the air.

Our Man in the Eurocracy tells us that Tom Wise will repeat the Alisher Usmanov allegations under Parliamentary Privilege tonight..

That means that all and any media outlets will then be at liberty to repeat them without fear of any libel or defamation laws.

That\’ll be interesting, won\’t it?

Alert me when there\’s a transcript will you folks?

Missing the Point

Everyone\’s favourite accountant, Richard Murphy, is at it again. Not seeing the wood for the trees.

Now suppose you have debt of $2 billion on your balance sheet, but your rating goes down because it is perceived that you are a risker organisation. The price people will now pay for your debt (and remember, debt is traded) has fallen. Let’s suppose the fall is 5%. That reduces the value of your debt to $1.9 billion. In accounting terms under IFRS this has to be reflected in your balance sheet. The fair value of a liability (what you owe) has fallen. Liabilities are credits on your balance sheet. So you debit your liability account with $100 million. This cuts the value of the debt.

But now you have the job of ‘losing’ the credit in your accounts because in accountancy there is an immutable rule that for every debit there must be a credit. You can’t, of course, put it back on the balance sheet. You’ve just taken it off that. And it’s not cash so it can’t appear in the cash flow. And nor is it a reserves movement because it is a result of current activity. So there’s only one place left to put it, which is in the profit and loss account.

There’s one problem though. On the balance sheet this credit represented a sum owing to someone else. It was a debt. By and large debt is seen as a negative in accounting even though it is a credit because it owed. In the profit and loss account though credits are quite different. Credits are good things in the profit and loss account. They are sales or cost reductions. And that’s exactly how this credit of $100 million behaves when it hits the profit and loss account. It goes straight to the bottom line and increases the profit for the period.

Now, yes, it does indeed seem a little odd, that a deteriorating credit rating should lead to an increase in profits. But that is in fact what has actually happened, isn\’t it? You really have made a profit if you sell something for $1 and buy it back for 90 cents.

But even if that isn\’t enough, look at what\’s happening over on the other side, to those who have bought that debt. They are also marking it to market. And they really have made a loss: what they bought for $1 is now worth 90 cents. Now that number really does have to go into their P&L doesn\’t it? Most especially if they\’re, umm, a bank that trades debt instruments. Sauces for geese and ganders sort of thing.

So, if those who make a loss have to report it, how can those who profit not have to?

 

 

 

 

Acupuncture Works!

Indeed it does:

Acupuncture works better than conventional treatments in reducing lower back pain, according to researchers in Germany.

But, here\’s the kicker:

But so does fake acupuncture, where the needles are inserted shallowly and in the wrong places.

In more detail:

The results suggest that both acupuncture and sham acupuncture act as powerful versions of the placebo effect, providing relief from symptoms as a result of the convictions that they engender in patients.

A team led by Michael Haake, of the University of Regensburg, recruited 1,162 patients aged between 18 and 86 who had suffered lower back pain for an average of eight years. They were divided into three equal groups, and treated either with genuine acupuncture, with the needles inserted in precisely specified places and to a predetermined depth, with fake acupuncture, or with antiinflammatory drugs, painkillers and physiotherapy.

Success was measured as a one-third improvement in pain, or a 12 per cent improvement in mobility.

After six months, almost half of those on true acupuncture (47.6 per cent) and 44.2 per cent of those on sham acupuncture had met these criteria, while only 27.4 per cent of those treated conventionally had. This suggests, say the authors in Archives of Internal Medicine, that acupuncture, however incompetently it may be applied, is about twice as effective as conventional therapy.

My take on it? If you stick pins in people who are complaining then eventually some of them will stop complaining.

The Ten Percent Party

This is fascinating. I really think that Lynsey Hanley is on to something here:

It\’s daft to expect that it might, given that there has never been a party of the truly poor, but it set me thinking what such a party might look like.

The annual conference of – let\’s call it – the Ten Per Cent party (10% being roughly the percentage of the population termed the "core poor") would need to be sponsored by Special Brew, for one thing. Nothing like being permanently drunk to take your mind off the fact that, in the last 30 years, you\’ve become increasingly likely to be isolated in areas of concentrated poverty and where your likelihood of being murdered has shot up, while everyone else has been getting "richer", "more confident", and safer.

Its chief spokesperson would have to know what it\’s like to have avoided most of secondary school without anyone noticing, and to enter adulthood without being able to spell, count, or communicate effectively. They would have to have raised their family in sub-standard accommodation. They\’d need to know what it\’s like to live in an area where they are in constant danger of attack from peers and neighbours. A criminal record, though by no means a universal characteristic of absolute poverty, would confer further authenticity.

It\’s a very reasonable set of rules that. Stay sober, stay out of jail and don\’t rely upon the State supplied sink estate for your housing nor the State supplied educational system for your literacy and numeracy and you won\’t be part of the bottom 10%.

More than reasonable in fact, eminently sensible. It\’s just odd to see it in The Guardian.

Sex Discrimination

Really? This counts?

A couple of years ago, I advised a high flying professional who was being subject to overt sex discrimination at work. Not only was she told not to use her married name at work, on the basis that a switch from using her maiden name would demonstrate a lack of commitment to her job, but it transpired that the rest of her team had run a sweep stake on how soon she would leave work (to have children etc) after marrying. Fed up with this nonsense, she consequently resigned and there followed a substantial out of court settlement in her favour.

The nasty people are talking behind my back so giveme some money? That\’s sex discrimination these days?

We also get the classic statistical lie:

Women working full-time are still paid on average 17 per cent per cent less an hour than men (38 per cent less if they work part-time)

No, not true. Women, on average, who work part time. get paid 38% per hour less than men who work full time. Men who work part time also getpaid less per hour than men who work full time. In the private sector, the difference between male and female part time pay is around 11%.

Up To a Point

Headline at CiF:

Republicans in the US Senate are prepared to use all its powers to block a resurgence of liberalism

The only problem with this is that no one, no one at all in the US Senate, is actually proposing anything liberal. You\’ve got cultural Statists on one side and economic Statists on the other. There are no liberals there.

 

The Sandwich Generation

Horrible, absolutely disgraceful, don\’t you think?

A generation of men and women are struggling to care for children, grandchildren, ailing parents and hold down a job at the same time, according to a new report.

It\’s all the fault of this liberal capitalism thing you know. No, really, it is, another thing that can be put at the feet of the disgusting scramble for profit, a result of the devil take the hindmost, what\’s in it for me. way that our society is organised.

For the first time in history, people are regularly living long enough to see their great grandchildren. And people are complaining?

Jack Straw: We Made a Mistake

Well, yes you did Jackie Laddie:

The Justice Minister, Jack Straw, became the most senior Labour minister last night to speak out against the decriminalisation of cannabis.

He told Channel Four News that he was against downgrading it to a class C drug.

"I was always against it, let me say, I can disclose this now, reducing the categorisation of cannabis from B to C, I thought that was an error," he said.

The only sensible or moral thing anyone could do with this, as with other drugs, is some form of controlled legalization. There\’s that moral point, which is that the only justification for limiting a person\’s freedom is to limit harm to others: harm to him is not such a justification. Sensible comes in because the harms that are caused by drugs are, if not solely caused by their illegality, most certainly amplified by it. But  Jack says he wants to put cannabis back up to a Class B drug, with a possible 5 year jail sentence for possession. Why?

"Why I want to upgrade cannabis and make it more a drug that people worry about is that we don\’t want to send out a message – just like with alcohol – to teenagers that we accept these things."

It\’s certainly an interesting message to send to teenagers: we\’re blithering idiots with no concept of freedom or liberty and we\’ll make law according to ill found prejudice, not any cost benefit analysis nor attention to facts.

As I\’ve pointed out earlier, the recorded rise in psychosis from the stronger versions of cannabis (and there\’s a great deal of doubt about whether this figure is well founded, but it is the one everyone is using) is some 450 cases a year. Depending upon who you believe there are some 2-8 million regular cannabis users in the country. So upgrading to Class B is in effect threatening 20 million man years of jail time to prevent 450 cases a year of psychosis. It is to laugh.

Monday morning

So it\’s Monday morning, yes, there\’s a definite whiff of a hangover in the air (that third bottle of port after the barbie last night went down all too well) and I\’ve got some horrible, ghastly, work I need to do this arvo. I need cheering up.

Yes, that\’s better.

Much, much, better.

Explaining the Great Compression

The Great Compression is the extreme fall in income inequality that happened in the late 1930s, early 1940s in the US. The one that has largely reversed in recent decades (although I would prefer it if the people complaining about said reversal were willing to note that the earlier inequality was driven by returns to financial capital and the current by returns to human capital). Various explanations for all of this are put forward but I have to admit that I like Tyler Cowen\’s:

Crush the incomes at the top and then make the fat cats pay much higher wages to protect the world and become a superpower.  Impose wage and price controls as well.  See how long it takes before these distributional effects — which don\’t exactly match the distribution of economic talent– reverse themselves in the aggregate.

Maddy Bunting Sensible Column Shocker!

No, really, she\’s actually managed to make contact with the same planet the rest of us live on:

No, Brown is much too savvy a politician; he\’s been wary of going anywhere near this most difficult of public debates. Yet in a poll in the summer, voters put reducing immigration as the task they most wanted the new prime minister to tackle, well ahead of health or education. He may dodge the issue today, but at some point Brown has to get stuck into how you persuade the voters that: a) migrants bring economic benefits – indeed, parts of our economy would collapse without them; b) rapid migration is not a cost-free option; and c) it\’s worth paying for.

What is the world coming too when we\’ve got good sense from the Mahdi in The Guardian?

Agency Workers and Their Rights

An interesting little story here about the "fight" to get agency workers the same rights and privileges as permanent staff.

Deborah French who worked in the slicing hall for 19 years packing bacon for Tesco and M&S is now joining her two sisters who were made redundant in that last round. One of them has not worked since. What galled her was being asked to train the agency workers who had replaced them. "This affects so many people\’s lives, so many husbands and wives and cousins and children worked in the company. It\’s the economy round here."

These are the kind of workers at the heart of a campaign being fought by unions determined to make equal rights for agency workers one of the issues of this week\’s Labour party conference. They will attack the government for failing to support a measure they say is vital to protect local and migrant workers and to stop a growing racial backlash.

Danny thinks he lost his job because there are people from other countries willing to take less pay. "The companies are just bringing in cheap labour from abroad. Migrants want a better life and good luck to them, but it\’s bringing down our way of life. If you are an unskilled English person like me you are not going to get the jobs when unskilled foreigners are cheaper."

Of course, we know this is what it\’s all about: it\’s not about upgrading the rights of the temporary workers so as to protect them. It\’s about upgrading said rights to make them more expensive, so that they will no longer be able to compete withhte indigenous labour who are the actual union members. As I say, we know this, it\’s just odd to see it being stated so baldly.

To repeat, and remember this next time some union drone goes on about it, this isn\’t about protecting the rights of migrant or agency workers. It\’s a protectionist measure to deny them jobs.

Vince Cable on Northern Rock

The panic has been stabilised for the moment by the de facto nationalisation of Northern Rock and the promise to guarantee the value of deposits. It will be important to ensure that this guarantee does not become a crooks\’ charter in which any dodgy bank will be able to lure in depositors with attractive interest rates, expand rapidly using Northern Rock\’s business model and then call in the Government when it hits trouble.

Well, yes, that\’s the moral hazard part of it all, isn\’t it. By making xertain behaviours less risky you make them more likely.

The FSA also has much to answer for. It beggars belief that it failed to see any connection between Northern Rock\’s reliance on financial markets, rather than customers\’ deposits, and its frantic expansion into new mortgage lending with ridiculous multiples of incomes and loan-to-value ratios.

Well, those loans haven\’t actually gone wrong (yet!) so we\’ve no evidence that they were a bad idea. But yes, the FSA does seem to have been asleep at the wheel. They\’ve only been responsible since 2004 mind, so it might be that the system cooked up by El Gordo wasn\’t actually fit for purpose.

But the Government should not be allowed off the hook. Eddie George warned what could happen if the Bank\’s responsibility for systemic stability was separated from day-to-day banking supervision. Gordon Brown ignored him. When I asked who was responsible for the dangerous bubble in the housing market against which new mortgages are secured, I was told a tripartite committee. No one was in charge.

Quite so. This little dig is also worth savouring:

David Cameron\’s claim to have anticipated the personal debt problem didn\’t persuade even his supporters. Economic policy is not a branch of the public relations industry.