Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The World in 2016 - Economist video


The Economist: Watch some of the biggest stories of the year ahead — before they happen. Early access to our latest film, featuring behind-the-scenes access to China's Olympic training camps, former Doctor Who star David Tennant, the biggest environmental problem you've never heard of, therapeutic virtual reality and much more.

World in 2016

More on El Niño: Irish environmental vandalism and Bandon flooding

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thanksgiving dinner, Matthew McConaughey, Adele and contemporary prejudices

Matthew McConaughey, the accomplished and versatile American actor, was the host of the Saturday Night Live comedy show yesterday (21 Nov) and Adele, the British singer, was his special guest.

This Thursday is Thanksgiving day and this is a clip from the show with a typically dysfunctional Thanksgiving dinner complete with contemporary prejudices, where Adele's “Hello” keeps intervening as the only thing everyone in the family can agree on.


Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm - Black Man In A Suit

''Yeah, it is possible for black people to have other jobs.''

Larry David, producer, writer and actor, wrote for Saturday Night Live, wrote and produced the sitcom Seinfeld and created HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm. He currently plays Bernie Sanders, the Democratic candidate for president, on Saturday Night Live.


Beyond comedy, Jane Elliott, an Iowa schoolteacher, on the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered in 1968, gave her third-grade students a first-hand experience in the meaning of discrimination. She devised a daring "Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes" experiment with labels on participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the colour of their eyes and exposes them to the experience of being a minority.



Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Solidarity with France after night of terror in Paris

La Marseillaise has been prominent in recent days as peoples across the world have showed solidarity with France after the terrorist murders in Paris.  

A YouTube video of the scene from the 1942 film 'Casablanca,' in which character Victor Laszlo (played by Paul Henreid) leads customers in Rick's Café bar, in singing an impromptu rendition of the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, in response to a group of Nazis who are singing the German national anthem.

La Marseillaise chantée par tout le stade de Wembley lors de France-Angleterre!

Wembley Stadium, London, prior to the start of the England-France friendly football game 17 Nov, 2015 — 4 days after 129 people were murdered in Paris in the worst terrorist attacks since the end of teh Second World War  


La Marseillaise (full, high quality) - Placido Domingo


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The fund management fee racket

Charley Ellis, author of 'Winning the Loser's Game', explains to the FT’s John Authers how, almost uniquely, the fund management industry has managed to avoid competing on price.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Prospects for Spain’s recovery 

FT deputy editor John Thornhill speaks to Luis de Guindos, Spain’s minister of economy and competitiveness, about the country’s nascent economic recovery, how its high unemployment rates can be tackled and what reforms are still needed.


What opportunities are there to invest in Spain and what impact will the country’s upcoming election have on investor confidence? FT hedge fund correspondent Miles Johnson speaks to Joseph Oughourlian, chief executive of Amber Capital.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Push to keep the UK in the EU has begun

The push to keep the UK in the EU has begun, with the launch of the Britain Stronger in Europe campaign. But as Janan Ganesh explains to Lionel Barber, the editor of The Financial Times, there will never be a clear answer to the Europe question, despite a referendum.


Sunday, October 11, 2015

Limerick chartered accountancy firm using stolen Finfacts content

Plagiarism is common on the web and when a business firm takes the complete content of articles from the Finfacts website plus images, and presents it as its own, it's a bridge too far.

MacLoughlin & Company says it "is a small Chartered Accountancy Firm which specialises in Tax, accounting and business solutions to the Limerick area."

It has 209 articles in its website's news section and apart from Finfacts content, there are articles from several foreign sources including this week a complete piece on the sale of a Picasso painting that also appears in The Guardian newspaper with the byline: "Mark Brown Arts correspondent" — MacLoughlin & Company may have contracts with the foreign sources but it has none with Finfacts.

We have no problem with fair use of content with a hyperlink to the original source but in this case the full content that involved significant research, has been republished and is presented by the firm as its own. 

We have submitted a complaint to the Chartered Accountants Regulatory Board.

Irish Politics: Scraps on tax & welfare in place of vision — 9 Oct posted on Finfacts



Half Ireland's population paid public income supports in 2014 — 8 Oct posted on Finfacts



Irish Budget 2016: Bruton wants 30% flat tax rate for immigrants — 4 Oct posted on Finfacts



Friday, October 09, 2015

Pro-life, pro-gun, and hypocrisy in America

Trevor Noah of the Daily Show proposes that anti-abortion advocates like Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush channel their pro-life rhetoric into another vital issue: gun control.


Presidential hopeful Ben Carson doubles down on condemnatory remarks he made about victims of a mass shooting at an Oregon community college.


Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Jack Dorsey back as CEO of Twitter to find some magic

Twitter has named co-founder Jack Dorsey as chief executive - even though he already runs start-up Square, a payment processing firm. Hannah Kuchler and Leslie Hook discuss what the move means for the companies and how he plans to tackle both their challenges at once.

Twitter v Square: will a joint CEO work? | FT Business Notebook


AOL's BBG Ventures Founder Susan Lyne discusses the permanent appointment of co-founder Jack Dorsey as Twitter CEO. She speaks on "Bloomberg Markets."


Finfacts 2013: Twitter's backstabbing founders set for IPO and firm valued at $18bn

[The new “permanent CEO” inherits a social network with stagnating growth, an arguably overpriced stock, and vitriolic content that’s turning off some high-profile users,] says Bloomberg News

Monday, October 05, 2015

Big Game, Big Money: The trade in African wildlife

The Financial Times reports that "Magude is the first staging post in a global supply chain that ends in east Asia, where rhino horn has long been coveted for its supposed healing powers.

It is one of three Mozambican towns investigators cite as a recruiting ground for poachers behind the intensifying massacre of rhinos. Just 40 miles of straggly bush to the west is South Africa and Kruger National Park. A decade ago it was a haven: poachers killed an average of 14 rhinos a year in South Africa between 1990 and 2007. The number rocketed to 83 in 2008, and 1,215 last year, about five per cent of Africa’s total population."

Prince William, who is president of United for Wildlife, writes today in the Financial Times:

"that conservation is about people, not just animals: the 1,000 park rangers who have been killed by poachers in the past decade; the victims of the militia organisations that use the profits of poaching to fund conflict and massacres; the millions of Africans whose economic security relies on a wildlife tourism industry but whose livelihoods are being destroyed. About 80 per cent of revenue received in Africa from tourists comes from watching wild animals, which are the ones most often threatened by poaching. The criminals who plunder the world’s natural resources are trapping fellow human beings in poverty, denying future generations the right to economic and social development. It is a vicious circle." 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fear of change will decide UK vote on EU

Forty years on from Britain’s vote to stay in the EEC in 1975, FT editor Lionel Barber and political commentator Janan Ganesh discuss what is most likely to decide the outcome of the UK referendum on EU membership.


A doom scenario for the EU | FT Comment


The drugs don't work and Fed's fumble

The Guardian reported in recent days [that until this week most of us had never heard of Daraprim, a drug that fights toxoplasmosis. But after the decision of the drug’s new owner, Turing Pharmaceuticals, to boost its cost per pill from $13.50 to a whopping $750, we’re all unlikely to forget its name or the name of Turing’s owner, 32-year-old Martin Shkreli.

Shkreli became one of the most hated men in America last week, Hillary Clinton called for reforms in the drug market, social media tore him to shreds, a punk label he bankrolled severed ties with him and even Donald Trump weighed in, calling him a “spoiled brat.”

He’s now pledged to cut the price – he hasn’t said by how much or when – but the outrage over the astronomical hike in a life-saving drug has opened the doors to a fast-moving and furious debate about the soaring costs of prescription medications in the United States – one that is long overdue.] More

After a week when world growth fears deepened, John Authers of the FT points out that stock markets are becoming more discriminating: US


After months of waiting for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates, China stocks and hard landing worries have put a spanner in the works.  

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Japan's Yakuza: Inside the syndicate

In 2011 a Belgian photographer was allowed entry into one of Japan’s Yakuza families. Over two years, he captured the lives of those living in the underworld.


The Financial Times said last week that they are renowned for their strict code of conduct, full-body tattoos and occasionally operatic violence, but a split in Japan’s largest group of yakuza gangsters has confirmed their rapid decline as a force in Japanese life.

It emerged that thousands of the Yamaguchi-gumi — a group accounting for one yakuza in every two — have broken away to form their own gang based in the city of Kobe. Similar splits have led to violence in the past, but rather than showing the profitability of the yakuza gangs as before, analysts said the current divisions show the groups are struggling to survive.

It is estimated that a hundred-man yakuza operation today might clear about $1m a month after costs — enough to generate a modest living for its members, but nothing like the riches of old, helping to explain the fall in yakuza membership from 80,900 in 2009 to 53,500 at the end of 2014.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Falls in emerging market currencies Jan-Aug 2015

The falls in emerging market currencies in the period Jan-Aug 2015 range from China's renminbi at 2.4% to the Brazilian real's plunge of 30.9%.

Which countries are most exposed to China?

Sunday, August 30, 2015

China's black Monday — fallout and Fed

What heralded Chinese stock collapse and return to data watch:

James Mackintosh of the FT on whether China's slowdown has a soft centre:

China crisis for commodities:

China's chronic lack of information — Jamil Anderlini, the FT’s Beijing bureau chief, says that as China’s influence over world markets grows, investors are realising the extent of its opaque and confusing style of government:

Friday, August 14, 2015

Spot the difference: Swiss Catholic bishop and ISIS

The Swissinfo news service reported on Thursday that Vitus Huonder, the Catholic bishop of Chur, the capital of the Swiss canton, Graubünden, has apologised if anyone "felt hurt" when he quoted a Bible verse calling for homosexuals to be put to death, but he says he stands by his literal reading of the Bible.

In his 50-minute address on marriage at a forum in Germany on August 2, Huonder quoted two verses from the book of Leviticus, including Leviticus 20:13: “If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them.”

In response to applause, he continued: “Both of these passages alone suffice to clarify unambiguously the church’s position on homosexuality.”

Three generations ago, the antecedents of the Germans in the audience who applauded, applied Leviticus to homosexuals in Germany.

“Both passages are in the Bible — they are the word of God and must be taken seriously — but they must be interpreted and placed in a modern context,” Huonder later told a Swiss newspaper. 

Huonder's meaningless apology and lame clarification are likely related to a criminal investigation.

Also on Thursday, The New York Times published a report, ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape, detailing how the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group uses the Quran to justify sex slavery, including children, in "conquered regions of Iraq and Syria and uses the practice as a recruiting tool."

Religions do have a problem as beliefs are not based on evidence and some adherents inevitably follow the literal words that have been passed down from primitive times.

William Shakespeare's 1595 play 'The Merchant of Venice' contains the famous lines: "The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose/ An evil soul producing holy witness/ Is like a villain with a smiling cheek."

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), the Irish-born playwright, author and co-founder of the London School of Economics in 1895, expressed a similar sentiment:

“No man ever believes that the Bible means what it says: He is always convinced that it says what he means” — The Quintessence of G.B.S.: The Wit and Wisdom of Bernard Shaw (Creative Age Press, 1949), p. 257

Does life exist anywhere else in the universe? How did it get started?

Does life exist anywhere else in the universe? And how did it get started? Scientists are seeking the answers in the cosmos, our solar system and right here on planet Earth — The Economist.


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

China's devaluation and emerging market currencies


Update: On Wednesday, China's central bank fixed the "official midpoint" for the yuan down 1.6% to 6.3306 against the dollar. The midpoint is a guiding rate, from which trade can rise or fall 2% during the day.

The Wall Street Journal said that China intervened to prop up the yuan Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter, just a day after it had let it decline sharply, underscoring the tricky balancing act now facing its central bank: how to keep the country’s currency from free-falling.

The intervention in Wednesday’s final moments of trading came after the yuan had weakened nearly 2% — the maximum allowed in mainland China — to where $1 would buy about 6.45 yuan, its lowest level against the US currency in four years. The yuan fell another 1% on Wednesday, marking the biggest two-day lowering of its rate against the dollar in more than two decades.

Aug 11, 2015:: Emerging markets in recent times have performed poorly against the developed world, with currencies at their weakest since 2003 and some as low as the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. Shares are under pressure and today, China has launched the latest attack in a growing currency war by devaluing its currency by almost 2% — Robert Peston of the BBC says it is more significant than either the Greek crisis or if the Federal Reserve raised interest rates.

The one-day move, done in a bid to boost failing exports and maybe to bolster the case for the yuan/ renminbi to be an international reserve currency, was the biggest since 1993 and may, analysts warn, be hard to reverse.

“This shows how desperate the government is over the state of the economy,” said Fraser Howie, a China analyst and co-author of Red Capitalism, as reported by the Financial Times. “If they were trying, as the central bank said it was, to bring the exchange rate back into line with market expectations then they have failed miserably as the market is now just expecting further devaluation.”

Last March, Li Keqiang, Chinese premier, told the Financial Times: “We don’t want to see further devaluation of the Chinese currency, because we can’t rely on devaluing our own currency to boost exports.

“We don’t want to see a scenario in which major economies trip over each other to devalue their currencies,” Li continued. “That will lead to a currency war, and if China feels compelled to devalue the RMB in this process, we don’t think this will be something good for the international financial system.”

However, last weekend China reported poor trade statistics for July with a decline in particular in traditional sectors.

The Wall Street Journal reports that China’s appetite for commodities from gold to crude oil is likely to abate in the near term after the country’s surprise decision to devalue its currency, although a weaker yuan could boost steel exports.

As one of the world’s largest buyers of commodities, China’s decision to devalue the yuan Tuesday—effectively lowering the value of exports and increasing the cost of imports for domestic buyers—is likely to deepen price declines among copper, aluminum and other metals. China consumes nearly half of the world’s annual output of metals.

The Economist says Charles Dumas of Lombard Street Research, a consultancy, recently wrote that a Chinese devaluation:

would export the deflationary impact to its trade competitors in the rest of the world. In addition, countries that became notably overvalued, such as the US and UK, could be weakened as cheap imports cut into margins. This is how the current bullish cycle in stock markets could end." 

The Bank for International Settlements calculates real trade-weighted indices for different currencies; as of June, China's index was 126, up from 111 a year earlier and 105 in September 2012. This shift is just a marginal retracement of that gain.

The newspaper says this move looks more like a signal than anything else. In particular, it may be a response to IMF concerns about whether to grant the yuan reserve currency status and inclusion in the special drawing right (SDR) basket. "China would very much like to get that status, partly for prestige reasons and partly to help its financial sector. So a little bit of currency flexibility might help, yet the move is not big enough to really annoy the country's Asian neighbours or the Americans."

The 1.9% devaluation of China’s renminbi is being seen by some as a shot in the currency wars, but James Mackintosh, the FT’s investment editor, disagrees.

John Authers analyses a day when some bad economic news from China made an impact across world markets.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Bill Gates Interview: Tax, Climate and Microsoft

Microsoft co-founder and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair Bill Gates talks to FT deputy editor John Thornhill about philanthropy, tax, energy and health innovation, and Microsoft’s record. Mr Gates was in London to speak at an FT 125 event.


Ireland: Mortgage lending slowdown continued in May; 12 month total at 1979 level

We currently have a technical problem with the login of our news content management system. The software developer blames the hosting service while the latter blames the former. This is the link to the News Main Page for access to new reports up to June 27, 2015.

Ireland: The 2015 slowdown in mortgage lending continued in May and the 12-month total of just over 30,000 for new and second hand houses compares with the level in 1979.

There were 2,461 mortgage approvals per month in the three months ending (3 month moving average) May 2015, of which 2,215 were for house purchase according to the Banking and Payments Federation.

The number of mortgage approvals rose by 20.6% compared with the three months ending May 2014 and increased by 4.6% compared with the three months ending April 2015. This is the 25 the consecutive month of year-on-year growth.

Re-mortgage/top-up continued to grow on a year-on-year basis.

Some €452m in mortgages was approved per month in the three months ending may 2015. The value of mortgage approvals rose by 26.3% year-on-year and by 2.5% when compared with the three months ending April 2015. The value of house purchase mortgage approvals grew by 22.7% year-on-year to €421m.

Conall Mac Coille, chief economist at Davy, commented:

Mortgage approvals grow by 12% in year to May 2015: New data from the Banking and Payments Federation, released this morning, suggest the slowdown in mortgage lending has continued into May. There were €447m mortgage approvals for house purchase in May, up from €391m in April. However, this means mortgage approvals are only up 12% on the year compared with 56% annual growth in 2014 and 60% in Q1 2015. There were 2,347 approvals in May, up 7.4% on the year. The average loan approval in May was €190,456, down from €195,658 in Q1.

Mortgage approvals growth slows from 60% expansion in Q1: In our recent report on the Irish housing market, we forecast that mortgage lending for house purchase would expand by 22.7% to €4.5bn in 2015, up from €3.7bn in 2014 and €2.4bn in 2013. This represented a slowdown from the 55% rise in 2014.

Year-to-date, mortgage approvals have equalled €2bn, up 36% from the €1.4bn of approvals in the same period of 2014. However, the first half of 2015 comprised two very different quarters: lending growth was exceptionally strong in Q1 with approvals up 60%; in contrast, growth has slowed markedly to 12% in Q2.

Potential borrowers may have brought forward approvals into early 2015, anticipating tighter credit conditions as the new Central Bank mortgage lending rules came into force. We estimate that 28% of mortgage loans in 2014 would have breached the limits, in excess of the 15% allowed to do so. That said, half these borrowers were first-time buyers close to a 90% Loan-to-Value (LTV), who would have faced only a slightly lower LTV ratio. It will probably be H2 2015 before the impact of the rules on actual lending becomes clear.

Overall, the sharp slowdown in mortgage approvals in Q2 2015 suggests that there are downside risks to our €4.5bn forecast for mortgage lending. However, it is not yet clear if the slowdown in Q2 is temporary after an exceptionally strong Q1. Residential property market transactions were still up 33.7% in April. That said, the full impact of the limits on high LTV and Loan-to-Income (LTI) mortgages on actual lending is not yet clear."

Global Economy: Central banks' bank warns "unthinkable" reflects broader malaise; May become new normal

We currently have a technical problem with the login of our news content management system. The software developer blames the hosting service while the latter blames the former. This is the link to the News Main Page for access to new reports up to June 27, 2015.

Global Economy: The Bank for International Settlements (BIS), the oldest international financial organisation, which has a membership of 60 central banks, warned at the weekend that an unprecedented period of ultra-low interest rates mask severe weaknesses in the global economy, which risks leading to the next financial crisis.

The BIS says such low rates are only the most obvious symptom of a broader malaise, despite the progress made since the crisis. "Global economic growth may now be not far from historical averages but it remains unbalanced. Debt burdens are still high, and often growing, relative to output and incomes. The economies hit by a balance sheet recession are still struggling to return to healthy expansion. In several others, financial imbalances show signs of building up, in the form of strong credit and asset price increases, despite the absence of inflationary pressures. Monetary policy has taken on far too much of the burden of boosting output. And in the meantime, productivity growth has continued to decline."

"There is something deeply troubling when the unthinkable threatens to become routine," the BIS adds in its 85th Annual Report, released Sunday. In its main economic review of the year, the BIS calls for a shift to a longer-term focus in policymaking, with the aim of restoring sustainable and balanced growth.

The report says the global economy has been growing not far away from historical average rates. Lower oil prices have provided a welcome boost, and dollar appreciation has shifted growth momentum from stronger to weaker economies. But the global expansion remains unbalanced, debt levels and financial risks are still too high, productivity growth is too low, and the room for manoeuvre in macroeconomic policy has continued to narrow.

The most visible symptom of these tensions is that, globally, interest rates have been extraordinarily low for an exceptionally long time, against any benchmark. "In particular, the fall of sovereign bond yields into negative territory has been unprecedented and has stretched the boundaries of the unthinkable."

Understanding the underlying causes of these tensions is proving exceedingly difficult. A key reason for these tensions, argue the BIS authors, has been a failure to come to grips with how financial developments interact with output and inflation in a globalised economy. For some time now, policies have proved ineffective in preventing the build-up and collapse of hugely damaging financial imbalances. These have left long-lasting scars in the economic tissue.

The report also casts light on two underappreciated aspects of the problem. By misallocating resources, financial booms can sap productivity both as booms unfold and following the crisis they leave in their wake. And the international monetary and financial system has amplified financial imbalances by transmitting exceptionally easy monetary and financial conditions to countries that did not need them.

The US Federal Reserve is expected to become the first central bank in the rich world to raise interest rates since 2008. Wall Street analysts expects the Fed to tighten monetary policy later this year, but at present the policy makers do not even know now if that will happen, while the Bank of England would be expected to follow in 2016. The European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan are currently involved in quantitative easing programs — bond-buying that is commonly termed money printing — to boost economic activity.

The BIS report authors write:

The right response is hard to implement. The policy mix will be country- specific, but its general features are not. What is required is a triple rebalancing in national and international policy frameworks: away from illusory short-term macroeconomic fine-tuning towards medium- term strategies; away from overwhelming attention to near-term output and inflation towards a more systematic response to slower-moving financial cycles; and away from a narrow own-house-in-order doctrine to one that recognises the costly interplay of domestic-focused policies."

They add that an essential element of this rebalancing is to rely less on demand management policies and more on structural ones, so as to abandon the debt-fuelled growth model that has acted as a political and social substitute for productivity-enhancing reforms. The dividend from the oil price drop provides an opportunity that should not be missed. Monetary policy has been overburdened for far too long. It must be part of the answer but cannot be the whole answer. Otherwise, the danger is that the previously unthinkable becomes accepted as the new normal.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Greece needs to raise both exports and foreign direct investment

Angela Merkel, German chancellor, meets Alexis Tsipras, Greek prime minister, Brussels, Feb 12, 2015.

Bank runs returned to modern economies from the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2007 and about €100bn in deposits have been moved from Greek banks since 2010 with the European Central Bank offsetting the loss in liquidity by lending to Greek banks.

Remember Northern Rock — the first bank run in Britain since 1866? The panic was prompted by Bank of England's confirmation in Sept 2007 that it was in the process of saving the mortgage lender.

A decade after German hyperinflation, the accelerating collapse of the American banking system in the weeks leading up to the inauguration of the new president on March 4, 1933, also cast a long historical shadow.

In the boom years countries like Greece and Ireland appeared to be a lot richer than they were — Ireland remains poorer than Italy on a per capita basis. Greece's challenge is that it is both a very poor exporter and a poor performer in inward foreign investment.

It would likely take up to 20 years of good governance to fix the Greek economy and because there does not appear to be support in the country for exiting the euro, foreign investment in for example the tourism sector is required to compete with neighbours like Turkey to justify a price premium.

In the short to medium term, the debt burden is not a priority issue. Good governance is:

1. Zsolt Darvas of Bruegel estimated that net interest expenditure was at 2.6% in 2014 when allowing for the fact that Greece did not pay any interest on some of the bailout loans and got refunds from the ECB and national central banks;

2. Separate to the bailout, Greece receives a net 3% of GDP annually in grants and subsidies from the EU budget;

3. The IMF said last year that recovery of Greek exports has been notably weak relative to other “peripheral” euro area economies such as Portugal or Spain. Exports from Greece had grown by only about 1/3rd the growth rates of Portugal and Spain since the trough of 2009-10. Excluding tourism and oil (which comprise about 2/3rds of total exports), the recovery of exports has been even less over the same period.

4. In 2013 about 40% of Greece's goods exports were fuel as it has a lot of refining capacity but it is not a significant oil & gas producer;

5. Shipping services exports have low value added as most of the crews are from outside Greece;

6. Tourism accounts for almost a quarter of total exports compared with 18% in Portugal and 16% in Thailand — more detail here;

7. Despite creditor repayments and depositor flight, the net cash flow from Europe has been positive since 2010;

8. It is a huge challenge to change from a kleptocracy but there is evidence of improvement in tax administration and the World Bank now ranks Greece with Tunisia in its key Doing Business index for 2015 which has Greece at 61 of 189 countries — up from 109 in 2010.

9. Pensions have also been reformed and outlays were among the highest in Europe at 13.5% of GDP in 2009 and rising to 17.5% of GDP in 2012 because of the fall in output. Greece’s creditors are now seeking changes that will yield annual savings of 1% of GDP by 2016. They want health contributions to rise from 4% to 6% on average and  subsidies for early retirement cut.

10. Per capita real GDP by US state in 2014 ranged from a high of $66,160 in Alaska to a low of $31,551 in Mississippi. Per capita real GDP for the US was $49,469.

11. Actual Individual Consumption per capita, a measure of material welfare of households adjusted for price differences which is a proxy for standard of living, had an index value of 106 in the euro area in 2014 and 100 in the EU28, Germany was at 123, Italy 98, Ireland 93, Spain 90 and Greece and Portugal at 83.

Slovakia was at 74 and Robert Fico, prime minister, said earlier this year that he would only accept concrete promises from Athens that ensure it “will behave in a way that will guarantee that in 10, 15, 20 years, Greece will be able to pay [back] what they get.” The former communist said: “There is no possibility to cut debt in itself...why should the Slovakian people pay some proportion of their debt?”

12.Not only was Greece admitted to the euro system in 2001, in breach of budget rules with public debt in excess of 100% of GDP, it had run a deficit every year since 1974 (France was in the same boat from 1975).

From the start Greek data was unreliable and big revisions were regular.

Between 2001-2008, Greece’s reported budget deficits averaged 5% per year, compared to a Eurozone average of 2%, and current account deficits averaged 9% per year, compared to a Eurozone average of 1%.

Growth was above the Eurozone average thanks to spending on credit.

13. Every poor country without its own natural resources, needs a strong exporting sector as well as strong inward investment flows. In 2014 Portugal was the fourth highest recipient of Chinese investment."

Whatever may be agreed today, Greece's prosperity cannot be willed from Brussels. Debt repayments are scheduled out to 2057 and a Greece competently run would likely get debt forgiveness as repayments arise.

However, stumbling from crisis to crisis while insisting on staying in the euro system would be neither good for it or the rest of euro area.

A group called the Commission on Growth and Development that reported in 2008 and included US economists such as Michael Spence and Robert Solow, said that sustained high growth in developing economies is a recent, post-World War II phenomenon.

It said that using GDP figures, “high” is above 7% and “sustained” is over 25 years or more, that a similar picture emerges with variants. Growth at these rates produces very substantial changes in incomes and wealth: Income doubles every decade at 7%.

There are 13 such cases of sustained high growth, and nine are in Asia. These are Botswana, Brazil, China, Hong Kong (China), Indonesia, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Malta, Oman, Singapore, Taiwan (China), and Thailand.

Each and every one of these miracles had an export sector as a driver of growth and an increasing share of trade in GDP. There are no exceptions. Every growth miracle involves leveraging the demand and resources of the global economy.

This explains the rise of both the Irish and Singaporean economies since the 1960s.

It does not mean that there should be long-term dependence in supplying to global supply chains but it’s the best way to develop a modern international trading structure and Singapore in particular is focusing on developing its own indigenous sector while China’s electronics sector is still dominated by foreign-owned firms.

Despite Greece’s superior infrastructure, Romania does much better in attracting inward FDI (foreign direct investment). 

Greece could become a failed state like Venezuela

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Australian comedian Jim Jefferies on America's crazy gun culture


This week a white 21-year-old man murdered nine Bible study attendees at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. It sadly will not be the last case of multiple murders in America where a mentally sick individual can so easily get access to guns.

Last year Australian comedian Jim Jefferies dissected the US gun culture for an audience in Boston (see above).

"In Australia, we had the biggest massacre on Earth," he says, referring to the 1996 Point Arthur shooting in which a 28-year-old Martin Bryant murdered 35 people and wounded 23. "The Australian government went, 'That's it, no more guns!' And we all went, 'Yeah, all right, that seems fair enough really.' Now in America you had the Sandy Hook massacre where little tiny children died, and your government went, 'Maybe we'll get rid of the big guns?' And 50 percent of you went, 'Fuck you! Don't take my guns!'"   

The Washington Post reports on a new study by the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, which shows that when guns kill people, they are overwhelmingly used for murder rather than self-defence.

In 2008-2012, guns were used in 42,419 criminal homicides and only 1,108 justifiable homicides (defined as the killing of a felon during the commission of a felony by a private citizen), according to the report — a ratio of 38 to 1.

Finfacts Blog 2012: Annual Gun Deaths: Japan 2; US 32,300

On Thursday, Jon Stewart, the presenter of the "Daily Show," the comedy news program, began with a monologue on the massacre in Charleston. His guest on Thursday was Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year-old Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Here’s a transcript of the monologue at the top of his show, which addressed race, terrorism and gun violence:

I honestly have nothing other than just sadness once again that we have to peer into the abyss of the depraved violence that we do to each other and the nexus of a just gaping racial wound that will not heal, yet we pretend doesn’t exist. And I’m confident, though, that by acknowledging it, by staring into that and seeing it for what it is, we still won’t do jack shit. Yeah. That’s us.

And that’s the part that blows my mind. I don’t want to get into the political argument of the guns and things. But what blows my mind is the disparity of response between when we think people that are foreign are going to kill us, and us killing ourselves.

If this had been what we thought was Islamic terrorism, it would fit into our — we invaded two countries and spent trillions of dollars and thousands of American lives and now fly unmanned death machines over five or six different countries, all to keep Americans safe. We got to do whatever we can. We’ll torture people. We gotta do whatever we can to keep Americans safe.

Nine people shot in a church. What about that? “Hey, what are you gonna do? Crazy is as crazy is, right?” That’s the part that I cannot, for the life of me, wrap my head around, and you know it. You know that it’s going to go down the same path. “This is a terrible tragedy.” They’re already using the nuanced language of lack of effort for this. This is a terrorist attack. This is a violent attack on the Emanuel Church in South Carolina, which is a symbol for the black community. It has stood in that part of Charleston for 100 and some years and has been attacked viciously many times, as many black churches have.

I heard someone on the news say “Tragedy has visited this church.” This wasn’t a tornado. This was a racist. This was a guy with a Rhodesia badge on his sweater. You know, so the idea that — you know, I hate to even use this pun, but this one is black and white. There’s no nuance here.

And we’re going to keep pretending like, “I don’t get it. What happened? This one guy lost his mind.” But we are steeped in that culture in this country and we refuse to recognize it, and I cannot believe how hard people are working to discount it. In South Carolina, the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate generals who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road. That’s insanity. That’s racial wallpaper. That’s — that’shit you can’t allow that, you know.

Nine people were shot in a black church by a white guy who hated them, who wanted to start some kind of civil war. The Confederate flag flies over South Carolina, and the roads are named for Confederate generals, and the white guy’s the one who feels like his country is being taken away from him. We’re bringing it on ourselves. And that’s the thing. Al-Qaeda, all those guys, ISIS, they’re not s— compared to the damage that we can apparently do to ourselves on a regular basis.

So our guest tonight is an incredible person who suffered unspeakable violence by extremists, and her perseverance and determination through that to continue on is an incredible inspiration. And to be quite honest with you, I don’t think there’s anyone else in the world I would rather talk to tonight than Malala. So that’s what we’re going to do. And sorry about no jokes."

Friday, June 12, 2015

What happened when Portugal decriminalised drugs — Overdose deaths fell to lowest in Europe


Economist Films: For 20 years The Economist has led calls for a rethink on drug prohibition. This film looks at new approaches to drugs policy, from Portugal to Colorado. “Drugs: War or Store?” kicks off a new “Global Compass” series, examining novel approaches to policy problems. 

Portugal decriminalised the use of all drugs in 2001 and according to Der Spiegel, one gram of heroin, two grams of cocaine, 25 grams of marijuana leaves or five grams of hashish are the drug quantities one can legally purchase and possess in Portugal, carrying them through the streets of Lisbon in a pants pocket, say, without fear of repercussion. MDMA — the active ingredient in ecstasy — and amphetamines — including speed and meth — can also be possessed in amounts up to one gram. That's roughly enough of each of these drugs to last 10 days.

Portugal has stopped prosecuting users but the drugs are still illegal to avoid hassle from the UN while using these drugs above the 10-day limit "is nothing more than a misdemeanor, much the same as a parking violation."

Der Spiegel says there were about 100,000 severely drug-addicted people in Portugal in the mid-1990s. Now it has one of the lowest overdose deaths in Europe and with the exception of cannabis, the demand for other illicit drugs has fallen.

Finfacts: Disastrous 44-year War on Drugs and ignoring the evidence

The European Monitoring Center for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) has its headquarters in Lisbon and it published its latest annual report this month.

3.4 % of all deaths of Europeans 15–39 years old are drug overdoses, opioids are found in 66 % of fatal overdoses while overall, "drug overdose continues to be the main cause of death among problem drug users, and over three-quarters of overdose victims are male (78 %). While it is often the deaths among the very young that generate concern, only 8 % of the overdose deaths reported in Europe in 2013 were aged under 25 years. Between 2006 and 2013, a pattern can be observed of decreasing numbers of overdose deaths among younger drug users and increasing numbers among older users. This reflects the ageing nature of Europe’s opioid-using population, who are at greatest risk of drug overdose death."

The report says for 2013, "the average mortality rate due to overdoses in Europe is estimated at 16 deaths per million population aged 15–64. Northern Europe has the highest rates.

In Portugal the use of "legal highs" — such as so-called "synthetic" marijuana, "bath salts" and the like — is lower in Portugal than in any of the other countries for which reliable data exists.

National mortality rates vary considerably and are influenced by factors such as prevalence and patterns of drug use, particularly injecting and opioid use, the characteristics of drug-using populations, the availability and purity of the drugs, reporting practices and provision of services. Rates of over 40 deaths per million were reported in seven countries, with the highest rates reported in Estonia (127 per million), Norway (70 per million) and Sweden (70 per million). Although national differences in coding and reporting practices, as well as possible under-reporting, make it difficult to compare countries, analysing trends over time within individual countries is valuable" — Ireland had a rate of 58 and the UK was at 45.

Romania was 2  and Portugal was at 3 drug overdose deaths per million citizens. The Netherlands was at 10 and the EU average was 17 per million.

In 2012, a general population survey was conducted on a sample of 5,355 inhabitants in Portugal aged 15–64.

Although cannabis remains the most frequently used illicit substance, followed by ecstasy and cocaine, the latest study indicates that the use of illicit substances in Portugal since 2007 might be on the decline (lifetime prevalence of any illicit substance among adults was 12.0 % in 2007 and 9.5 % in 2012; among young adults in 2007 it was 17.4 % and in 2012 it was 14.5 %). In 2012 about 9.4 % of 15-to 64-year-olds had ever tried cannabis, 2.7 % had used cannabis in the last 12 month and 1.7 % in the past month, compared to 2007 when cannabis use prevalence rates were reported at 11.7 %, 3.6 % and 2.4 % respectively. Ecstasy and cocaine have emerged as the second and third most prevalent illicit substances, with lifetime prevalence rates at 1.3 % and 1.2 %, and broader differentiation in prevalence rates among young adults is noted. Use of illicit substances in general is more prevalent among 15- to 34-year-olds. The latest study indicates a slight increase in recent use of LSD among all adults, and also among 15- to 34-year-olds; however, the overall prevalence of LSD remains low. All studies confirmed that males more frequently than females use illicit substances; however, there are some indications that females present higher continuity rates for cannabis, ecstasy and hallucinogenic mushrooms use than men. The latest study also examined prevalence of non-controlled new psychoactive substances. In 2012 around 0.4 % of all respondents and 0.9 % of young adults reported trying a new psychoactive substance at least once in their lifetime."

Click image to enlarge

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Martin Sorrell on brand value

Marking 10 years of the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking, WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell and marketing heads from Coca-Cola, L'Oréal, Orange and SAP look at the impact on brand value of technology, emerging markets and millennial consumers.


How Nash equilibrium changed economics

John Nash, the US mathematician who has died at 86 with his wife in a car crash, is hailed with putting game theory at the heart of economics. Ferdinando Giugliano explains why his work is so important and how the Nash equilibrium theory works.


Volcano erupts on Japanese island

A volcano on the Japanese island of Kuchinoerabu-jima has erupted, spewing ash some 9,000 metres into the sky. As officials warn of further large-scale eruptions, the island’s 140 residents face evacuation and air traffic is being diverted.


Hurry sickness — an epidemic affecting executives

Richard Jolly, professor of organisational behaviour at London Business School, explains ‘hurry sickness’. He tells the FT’s Charlotte Clarke that executives are rushing around with little time to think, reducing their ability to focus on key priorities.


Monday, April 20, 2015

IMF chief on growth and Greece; FT editor on China

Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, talks with the FT's World Trade editor, Shawn Donnan, about the global economic recovery, Greece and the new Chinese development bank.

"There has been a huge commitment by the international community, the European partners but also the IMF and the European Central Bank to actually support the Greek economy,” Lagarde said.

"What needs to happen now is that the political views need to actually deliver the measures, the tools, the reforms that could actually reach the objectives that have been set between the international community and Greece: restore stability, improve the economy [and] make sure that one of these days Greece re-accesses the financial markets on its own and without support.”

Technical negotiations in Athens between the Greek government and staff from the IMF and European institutions were “gradually picking up”, she said. “We really hope that is going to continue to fruition so that we can move on.”


China is attempting to assert its position globally, but economic growth is at its slowest for six years. Lionel Barber, FT editor, who recently interviewed the Chinese premier, talks to emerging markets editor James Kynge about the pressures facing Beijing.

On Sunday the People’s Bank of China announced a move to boost lending to business by cutting its so-called the reserve requirement ratio by 1 percentage point, days after data revealed the country’s economy expanded at its slowest pace for six years in the first quarter.

The FT reports that the PBoC has only once before reduced the reserve requirement ratio by as much and that was during the depths of the financial crisis in November 2008.


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

How not to be ignorant about the world

How much do you know about the world? Hans Rosling, professor of international health at Sweden's world renowned Karolinska Institute, who is also the world's most famous statistician, with his famous charts of global population, health and income data (and an extra-extra-long pointer), in 2014 demonstrated that you have a high statistical chance of being quite wrong about what you think you know.

Play along with his audience quiz in this video — then, from Hans’son Ola, learn 4 ways to quickly get less ignorant.


Hans Rosling in 2006: The best stats you've ever seen


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Data journalism

In 2012 Nate Silver correctly predicted the presidential election results for 50 US states and since then his FiveThirtyEight digital news operation has been acquired by ESPN, the sports cable network owned by Walt Disney. Nate Silver meets Matthew Garrahan, the FT's global media editor, at Manhattan's 21 Club to talk about the UK elections, Hillary Clinton and the growth of data journalism.


Monday, March 02, 2015

Ireland's postwar welcome for Nazi war criminals

In 1959 Otto Skorzeny, Hitler's favourite Nazi commando, famous for rescuing Mussolini, the Italian fascist leader, from an Italian hilltop fortress, and known as "the most dangerous man in Europe," became an Irish farmer. 
Winner of the Globe Gold Award (Documentary section) at the Intermedia World Media Festival in Hamburg, this 2007 two-part series sees Royal Air Force (RAF) veteran Cathal O'Shannon (1928-2011) uncover the truth about the war criminals and collaborators who found refuge in Ireland from the Catholic Church and officials in the years after World War 2.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

A week of Greek and European brinkmanship -Videos

Jan 30, 2015: Yanis Varoufakis, Greece's new finance minister, interviewed on BBC's Newsnight.

Feb 5, 2015: The FT's John Authers quizzes Citi's Jonathan Stubbs on the reasons to buy European stocks. Europe looks cheap, but arguably the answer boils down to two letters: QE.

Feb 05, 2015: Greek bank shares fell by up to 25% on Thursday after the European Central Bank's latest move on funding. Lex's Robert Armstrong and Oliver Ralph discuss the volatile pickle that Greek banks find themselves in.

Feb 05, 2015: The FT's Stefan Wagstyl reports on the meeting between Yanis Varoufakis, Greek finance minister and Wolfgang Schäuble, his German counterpart – the climax of a roadshow in which Greece’s leftwing government had sought to win support for its debt plans.

Feb 04, 2015: John Authers reports from New York on a nasty surprise for markets from the European Central Bank. The negotiations over Greek debt remain risky; and the oil price's sudden rally takes a reverse.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Financial Times in 2015 predominantly a digital publication

The Financial Times is the world's digital trailblazer among significant old world newspapers.

The Financial Times, a leading provider of business news, commentary, and analysis for almost 127 years, uses salesforce.com across the entire organization, including ad sales teams, journalists, and back office personnel. "The ability to consolidate onto one platform has had a big impact for us. It's more cost-effective to maintain and support, and users only have to log into one place," says Christina Scott, CIO.

Finfacts Dec 2014: Web & News: Big brand newspapers, magazines finding digital model that works

The Financial Times came into life 127 years ago on February 13th 1888. Journalists and editors, past and present, reflect on the values of the FT and how it has changed, especially in the last 25 years and the start of the digital revolution. The contributors are Nigel Lawson, former UK chancellor of the exchequer, Richard Lambert, former editor, John Lloyd, Lucy Kellaway and Lionel Barber, the current editor.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Empire of the pig: China’s insatiable appetite for pork

Of all the meat options, pork reigns king in China. To keep up with demand, China now rears (and eats) nearly 500 million pigs a year—more than half of all the swine in the whole world.

The Economist says that while most of the pigs China eats are home-grown, each kilogram of pork requires 6kg of feed, usually processed soy or corn. Given the scarcity of water and land in China, it cannot feed its pigs as well as its people. The upshot is that Chinese swine, which previously ate household scraps, increasingly rely on imported feed.

Mindi Schneider of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague has estimated that more than half of the world’s feed crops will soon be eaten by Chinese pigs. By 2010 China’s soy imports accounted for more than 50% of the total global soy market. From a low base, grain imports are rising fast as well: the US Grains Council, a trade body, predicts that by 2022 China will need to import 19m-32m tonnes of corn. That equates to between a fifth and a third of the world’s entire trade in corn today.

Land use is changing drastically on the other side of the world and in Brazil, more than 25m hectares of land—parts of which were once Amazon rainforest—are being used to cultivate soy (Chinese companies have not signed up to the “soy roundtable”, a voluntary association, the members of which agree not to buy soyabeans from newly deforested land).

The newspaper/ magazine says entire species of plants and trees are being sacrificed to fatten China’s pigs. Argentina has chopped down thousands of hectares of forest and shifted its traditional cattle-breeding to remote areas to make way for soyabeans. Since 1990 the Argentine acreage given over to that crop has quadrupled: the country exports almost all of its whole soyabeans—around 8m tonnes—to China. In some areas farmers harvest two or three crops a year, using herbicides that have been linked to birth defects and increased cancer rates.

However, the significance of pork goes deeper than culinary tastes. They have been at the centre of Chinese culture, cuisine and family life for thousands of years. So why are pigs so important to China?

Economist report

What now for the House of Saud?

Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has succeeded King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. Hugh Carnegy and Roula Khalaf assess the implications of King Abdullah’s death amid the sharp fall in oil prices and the rise of Islamist extremism in the Middle East.

UK retailers face food/non-food disparity

With falling oil prices consumers should have more to spend but they’re certainly not splashing out on food. The FT's Lex’s Alan Livsey and Robert Armstrong discuss the disparity between the fortunes of the UK’s food and non-food retailers.

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

The world of public debt

FT chief economics commentator Martin Wolf discusses global debt sustainability with Gavyn Davies, chairman of Fulcrum Asset Management. They point out the improving situation in the US and UK, but are concerned about the Eurozone periphery and China.

Despite the biggest restructuring in history in 2012, Greece’s debts are still at about 174% of GDP, a fact that has helped the radical left Syriza party ride high in the polls on a platform of “debt forgiveness” from the country’s lenders ahead of elections later this month.

Together with the IMF, the Financial Times says that it has designed an online, interactive tool based on the fund’s economic model that calculates a country’s debt trajectory and how it is affected by an array of factors such as economic growth, borrowing costs and public belt-tightening. Assumptions can be tweaked to see how debts can be tamed, or increased. But it cannot determine exactly when a country is bankrupt.