HBOS merger could end Treaty of Union

October 20, 2008

I thought it was interesting listening to Jim Spowart, founder of Standard Life and Intelligent Finance, on Sunday’s The Politics Show on BBC Scotland.

He offered the view that if the HBOS merger with the Lloyds TSB happened it could break the Treaty of Union between Scotland and England.

Spowart has been a long-time advocate against Scottish independence, so his views should be taken as a warning to Unionists over the proposed bank merger.

He estimated that around 100 000 jobs in Scotland, primarily in the central belt, could be lost if the proposed merger happens.

That figure includes jobs from businesses indirectly linked to the HBOS headquarters in Scotland, as well as the losses expected from HBOS themselves.

An absolutely huge figure.

The merger is seen as supported by the Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and even caused by his mismanagement of the economy in the first place.

So if 100 000 people did lose their jobs in the central belt I doubt they would have much incentive to vote Labour.

The fact that Labour’s heartlands in Scotland are in the central belt, especially in the west, probably won’t have escaped many Labour councillors, MSPs, MPs etc.

And as witnessed in the Glasgow East by-election those voters will predominately switch to SNP en masse.

The HBOS merger might just lead to Labour meltdown in Scotland.

And bring Scottish independence that much closer.

For all that, I doubt the SNP are cock-a-hoop wanting this merger to happen to finally realise their dream of independence. Independence could happen with any number of political scenarios; I very much doubt the SNP want Scotland to lose 100 000 jobs to achieve it.

Why pick the worst option to achieve independence when there is something inevitable about it happening anyway?

Any number of political scenarios could bring about independence for Scotland. The challenge for the Unionists is that each scenario they have to win; nationalists only have to win once: can anyone name a nation who once democratically free and independent actually wanted to go back to its old imperialist masters? That fact alone suggests that independence must be the best way forward for Scotland.

I don’t see Ireland wanting to be back in under UK rule, or Iceland – even with its current financial troubles – wanting to be back under Danish rule.

Independence will happen anyway. It would be a shame if it happened like this.

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Rankings and levers

October 12, 2008

Newspapers have been quoting the survey by the World Economic Forum in which business leaders have been rating the solvency of world banks.

The rankings however were compiled just before the recent £50 billion bail-out by the UK, the nationalisation of the Icelandic banks and the larger US bail-out.

The website has the co-authors interviewed from the 3rd to the 7th of October. The report itself was published on the 8th October.

RANKINGS

1. Canada

2. Sweden

3. Luxembourg

4. Australia

5. Denmark

6. Netherlands

7. Belgium

8. New Zealand

9. Ireland

10. Malta

11. Hong Kong

12. Finland

13. Singapore

14. Norway

15. South Africa

16. Switzerland

17. Namibia

18. Chile

19. France

20. Spain

21. Barbados

22. Bahrain

23. Slovak Republic

24. Brazil

25. Estonia

26. Austria

27. Panama

28. Mauritius

29. Kuwait

30. Qatar

31. United Arab Emirates

32. Trinidad and Tobago

33. Senegal

34. Israel

35. Portugal

36. Iceland

37. Cyprus

38. Botswana

39. Germany

40. United States

41. Lithuania

42. Peru

43. El Salvador

44. United Kingdom

45. Greece

46. Benin

47. Costa Rica

48. Malawi

49. Guyana

50. Malaysia

51. India

52. Puerto Rico

53. The Gambia

54. Montenegro

55. Mexico

56. Croatia

57. Czech Republic

58. Jordan

59. Ghana

60. Suriname

61. Brunei Darussalam

62. Latvia

63. Saudi Arabia

64. Kenya

65. Jamaica

66. Honduras

67. Zambia

68. Burkina Faso

69. Slovenia

70. Sri Lanka

71. Pakistan

72. Philippines

73. Republic of Korea

74. Romania

75. Thailand

76. Madagascar

77. Colombia

78. Cote d’Ivoire

79. Italy

80. Bulgaria

81. Hungary

82. Cameroon

83. Georgia

84. Oman

85. Tunisia

86. Paraguay

87. Nigeria

88. Armenia

89. Morocco

90. Dominican Republic

91. Bolivia

92. Malia

93. Japan

94. Tanzania

95. Moldova

96. Bosnia and Herzegovina

97. Poland

98. Nicaragua

99. Venezuela

100. Uruguay

101. Guatemala

102. FYR Macedonia

103. Syria

104. Albania

105. Nepal

106. Mozambique

107. Russian Federation

108. China

109. Uganda

110. Serbia

111. Egypt

112. Ukraine

113. Vietnam

114. Turkey

115. Bangladesh

116. Azerbaijan

117. Taiwan, China

118. Ecuador

119. Mauritania

120. Mongolia

121. Indonesia

122. Zimbabwe

123. Tajikistan

124. Kazakhstan

125. Cambodia

126. Burundi

127. Chad

128. Ethiopia

129. Argentina

130. East Timor

131. Kyrgyz Republic

132. Lesotho

133. Libya

134. Algeria

Yes. That’s right.

The UK lies behind Peru and El Salvador.

Now given this report was a survey of the world’s economists whose advice our banks were no doubt taking; should we believe it?

Are the UK’s banks really behind Peru, El Salvador and Senegal?

Or is it an accurate representation that is slightly out of date, compiled as it was slightly before the bail-outs?

That must depend on whether you believe the bail-outs will work.

If reports are to be believed the Royal Bank of Scotland is next in line to be nationalised tomorrow. If that happens then there will be further pressure on the remaining UK bank’s to be nationalised too. The banking sector could be picked off one by one by the market and the taxpayer forced to pick up the tab.

On that Iain Dale post there have already been comments about the English taxpayer bailing out the Scottish bank.

It must be a pity, to all those who carp, that Scotland is not already independent.

An independent Scotland with a similar oil fund like our neighbour Norway could be similarly insulated from these turbulent times.

It would also have the economic levers to maintain its economy best, not just for the South-East of England as remains the case today. Remember Eddie George, the former Governor of the Bank of England: Unemployment in the north is a price worth paying for affluence in the South!

Although the credit crunch is global, take a look back at those rankings.

Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands. All small countries lying in the top 10.

Even Ireland, who have recently guaranteed all deposits in their banks, are sitting 9th.

The argument that Scotland is too small to be financially unstable is farcical! I don’t hear anyone saying that Denmark is too small and should be run from Berlin. (Not since the days of Adolf Hitler and the Second World War anyway!)

As countries large and small struggle with the credit credit crunch from the U.S. and Russia down to Iceland with its 300 000 population, this population argument of independence must be seen to be invalid. Iceland, with a population slightly smaller than North Lanarkshire, isn’t exactly Miramont Gardens in Pimlico!

Passport to Pimlico

What matters now is that we take the right decisions to get out this mess.

Those decisions may be different for each country. They may even be different for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

That’s why its important key economic levers are devolved away from Westminster.

Otherwise the Eddie George syndrome will hamper ‘the North’ recovering for years.

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Scottish financiers try to save the Bank of Scotland

September 21, 2008

A prominent group of Scottish financiers are hatching a £6 billion bid to save the Bank of Scotland, reports the Sunday Herald.

The group includes Scottish Futures Trust chairman Sir Angus Grossart and convenor of Scotland’s Council of Economic Advisors Sir George Mathewson. Both connected with the SNP Government.

Alex Neill, the SNP MSP, and member of the Finance Committee in the Scottish Parliament is hoping to meet with the group this week.

The Sunday Herald reports that the First Minister might be sympathetic to the plan, as long as jobs are saved.

Under the plan, the Bank of Scotland would be separated from the Halifax arm.

It might also be looked on more favourably by the monopolies commission.

I have a feeling it will also be looked on favourably by the Scottish public.

If this group provides the necessary capital it must be given the chance to buy the bank.

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End of the Bank of Scotland

September 18, 2008

The loss of the Bank of Scotland is a national disgrace.

A disgrace not brought about by Scotland – but by Westminster and this Labour Government.

Selling Scotland by the pound

Some time ago I posted a blog that related how Iceland’s commercial banks – especially Landsbanki and Kaupthing – had high value CDS figures (610 and 856 respectively) which meant that they were particularly vulnerable to collapse in the credit crunch.

The population of Iceland being small (only 300 000) they couldn’t afford to step in and nationalise their banks. Fortunately they organised a loan from their friends in Norway and that sorted things out.

Norway with a population of 4.7 million, slightly smaller than Scotland. It also had the foresight to initiate an oil fund; something that the SNP plans to do with Scotland’s oil.

Back in March the Bank of Scotland had a CDS of 235.

Not in any great danger. And even that number would have been lower without all the mortgages that came with the Halifax merger. Of course, the Halifax merger in 2001 wasn’t the end of the Bank of Scotland; it just renamed its Edinburgh global headquarters and put Halifax in front of its name. It wasn’t moving anywhere.

HBOS Edinburgh quarters

Now of course due to market speculation and short trading on HBOS shares bringing panic it seems there will be a merger of HBOS and Lloyds TSB.

The new bank will be based in London and initial reports are the bank will be renamed Lloyds Halifax.

Its the end of one of Scotland’s leading financial companies, and the end of its proud history. Established in 1695 before the Treaty of the Union with England, it financed Jacobite rebellions and was the first bank in Europe to print paper money.

I would doubt if Scotland had been an independent country this historic bank would have been let to die in such a merger.

If Norway could afford to bail out their Icelandic neighbours with their oil fund, I’m pretty confident that an independent Scotland would have used its oil fund to do likewise, if it became necessary.

And that’s a big if. I’m sure that an independent Scotland would have used all the mechanisms at its disposal to save help our economy through these trying times. Mechanisms that only on Tuesday Alex Salmond was epousing on Newsnight Scotland that should have been applied before now – and that every commentator on Wednesday’s programme bar one agreed with.

Whereas only last week Merwyn King announced the Bank of England SLS – transferring of mortgages into liquid stock scheme – would not be extended. After the run on HBOS it was forced to change its mind Tuesday afternoon.

Of course, Gordon Brown was aware that he had already bailed out one bank, Northern Rock. With his popularity in freefall at the moment and seemingly having no answers to solve this country’s economic problems, he instead pressured Lloyds into the merger.

So should he be praised for saving jobs then? Its his running of the UK economy thats caused the Bank of Scotland to die!

Its like a penniless crofter killing his entire stock of breeding cattle and saying today’s pies tasted nice! It may be true but its not foresighted.

Surely only a fool would praise penniless crofter Gordon Brown for today’s pies? Step forward George Foulkes!

Is this Gordon Brown’s idea of Britishness? Forcing long standing proud Scottish institutions and global financial players to be repatriated to London? Part of his long game to ensure that Scotland’s finances will be bereft and beholden to London? Just like a colony then?

I feel ashamed that under a Scottish Prime Minister’s stewardship of the UK economy that this proud bank and Scottish institution is being allowed to die.

Gordon Brown. The man who killed the Bank of Scotland.

That will be his epitaph.

I doubt even Margaret Thatcher would have sunk so low.

Gordon Brown must go.


Arc of prosperity

May 31, 2008

The credit crunch. Soaring oil prices. Soaring utility bills. Soaring food bills.

One of the worst affected countries is the UK, but probably the most affected country is Iceland.

Now Iceland is regularly hailed by the SNP as part of the Arc of Prosperity, one of an arc of Scotland’s neighbouring countries that always seems to be doing rather better than us, outstriping the UK economy by miles.

One of the SNP’s goals is for Scotland is to join that Arc of Prosperity and better its economic growth rate. Obviously they claim independence would be the best route to achieve this; it gives Scotland full fiscal control over its own economy.

(Other countries in the Arc of Prosperity:-

Norway. Population 4.7 million
Denmark. 5.4 million
Finland. 5.3 million
Ireland 4.3 million
Sweden 9.1 million

All apart from Sweden have populations in size similar to Scotland; and all have had sigificantly higher economic growth than Scotland and the UK for many years now.)

So whats happened in Iceland? With the country performing so well economically and with a population of only 300 000 people, the banks wanted and got foreign investment. The Icelandic Government even loosened its fiscal policy before the 2007 election. Foreign capital poured into Iceland.

Now when the U.S. subprime mortgage market collapsed and started the credit crunch, foreign investors panicked and the money dried up. Some wanted their money back. All this has devalued the Icelandic kröna and forced the Icelandic bank to set interest rates at 15%. The country is now suffering the worst effects of the credit crunch I mentioned at the start.

Compare this with the U.S. They too are suffering the credit crunch, but are still receiving massive foreign investment. Why? Because they have a vast consumer-led population (around 304 000 000, around 1000 times bigger than Iceland’s). Hence the dollar has weakened recently; but relative to the Icelandic körna isn’t so bad and interest rates arent so bad.

One rate to look at is the current CDS rates of banks. These are Credit Default Swaps, basically a measure of how much insurance the bank needs for its debt. The higher the number the worse off the bank.

For example, when the Northern Rock was nationalised its CDS was at 295. [18 Feb 2008]

CDS have been increasing throughout the banking sector however. The US Bank Bear Sterns was bailed out by the US Government with a CDS of 720. [Mar 2008]

Other March 2008 CDS of banks were:-

Lloyds TSB 133
Barclays 170
HSBC 145
Bank of Scotland 235
Alliance and Lecicester 342

but the British banks were nothing like the Icelandic banks:-

Landsbanki 610
Kaupthing 856

Iceland, with a small population; for years one of the best economies in the world. It made a mistake relying on too much foreign capital. And when that foreign capital ran into problems, so did it. Its tough for the Icelanders, having being used to the good life for years, and now feeling the worst effects of the credit crunch. The credit crunch may be global but Iceland are feeling short term consequences of their own mistakes. Yet had the U.S. subprime mortgage market held up it may have never mattered.

Thats why the Icelandic government is now thinking of joining the Euro. The Euro is strong and the Eurozone – those countries that use the Euro as their currency – is now the biggest economy in the world, after the dollar weakened in March 2008. The Eurozone has a population of 320 000 000 people and is expected to grow as other European Union countries meet the criteria for membership.

So then what of the Arc of Prosperity? Is it in financial ruins?

Iceland may be in trouble now but remember they started from an economic base much higher than the UK or Scotland. Their problems are all relative, and will probably only result in a decline in economic growth for a couple of years, before resuming their position back near the top of the world’s economies. Even if these problems do continue then they always have the Euro to fall back on if needed, although their fishermen probably won’t like joining the EU.

What’s more another Arc of Prosperity country – Norway – has just given them 1.5 billion euros to shore up the Icelandic economy. And if Norway can afford to bail out other countries in the midst of a global credit crunch then the Arc of Prosperity can’t be doing that badly.

The Arc is better placed than most to ride out the credit crunch. I’m sure Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling will try their best for the UK.

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