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Sunday, 21 February 2010

Hester tested

Stephen Hester, chief executive of Royal Bank of Scotland, is to decline any bonus payment for 2009, which is really big of him because bonuses are for people who make profits, not for the chief executives of companies that are set to announce £4 billion losses.

Still, as an indirect shareholder through my interest in UK plc, it is nice to think that he is still motivated and thinking about his upside.

Brown starts the fightback ..

... by saying he never hit anyone.

Well, nobody ever said he did, but it seems that in response to Andrew Rawnsley's claims in the Observer, the spin-meisters in Downing Street have decided to invent a claim that wasn't made and denied that instead, making sure they get their denial out first, with a compliant BBC ready and willing to publish the denial before they had even heard the claim.

Likewise the denial that the Cabinet Secretary had launched an inquiry, rather than the investigation (i.e. asking a few questions) that was claimed. What's the difference? Not much, but enough to allow the Prime Minister and the Cabinet Secretary to deny that an inquity took place whilst not mentioning the investigation.

The voters used to fall for this sort of con-trick, but after 13 years, my guess is most of them aren't fooled any more.

Songs of Praise

It is a little known (and little cared about) fact that I sing in a choir. Not very serious, we do the occasional concert, church service and wedding (the distinction was deliberate). And I play lead guitar (well somebody has to), which it comes in useful for Bohemian Rhapsody and the like.

Anyway, it turns out that Songs of Praise is coming to a nearby cathedral and we have been asked whether we would like to join in with a massed choirs of SATB singers, which sounds like fun, so I put my name down.

But on reflection, I am a little surprised at myself, because if really pressed on the matter, I am not sure that I believe in television.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

However much we like the French

We all enjoy having a good laugh at them from time to time. I could have skied further than that.

Fortunately, nothing hurt but her pride.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Vodafone introduce the first sub $15 corporate video

Cheap, but functional, like the phone

You have to hand it to Google

You can't knock their patriotism, but you might question their objectivity.

Winter Games: Medal Count

- Add to iGoogle
Gold Silver Bronze Total
1. United States 1 2 3 6
2. Germany 1 3 0 4
3. France 2 0 1 3

This table comes from the Google website, where in any other circumstances you might have expected the medal table to be listed in order of numbers of gold medals, putting the cheese eating surrender monkeys in first place.

Those tied according to the number of gold medals would be separated by silver medals and those ranking equally on that measure would be ranked by bronze medals, putting the Krauts ahead of the Yanks, but then spin is everything these days and if you tell enough people that black is white, eventually, it is.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

BAE, BAE, black sheep

So it turns out that BAE Systems is to pay more than $400m in penalties to settle bribery allegations in settlement of US and British corporate corruption cases. The company will pay most of that in the US.

In the UK and plead guilty to a minor Companies Act accounting record offence and pay a £30 million fine, but will largely avoid the sort of criminal record that would make it ineligible for for further government contracts.

All this is not too surprising, as I blogged last year. For the simple fact dear reader is that the UK government is one of BAe's biggest customers and it is a 2 way street, because BAe is the largest manufacturer in the UK. As is well recorded elsewhere the relationship is very close and works for the mutual benefit of both. Not only does BAW supply the MOD with whatever defence systems it needs, but it also supplies the UK government with employment and investment.

To give an example, back in the days when BAE was directly involved in the production of Airbus civilian aircraft, a very close friend was invited to a meeting by the then DTI to act as their consultant during a discussion of a request from BAE for grant funding and soft loans to support the manufacture of wings at BAE's factory near Wrexham. The BAE personnel made their pitch listing the spin off benefits from such an investment, followed by the likely costings and the pay off from the project.

So first question from the consultant is "You told us all about the costs and the payback from the A380, but what is the value of all of the spin-offs?" At which point, the DTI man taps the consultant on the shoulder and tells him not to give BAE a hard time because the DTI were going to give them the money anyway. At which point the consultant asks why he is being paid £600 an hour to listen to the pitch from BAE?

The simple answer is that it is all an elaborate exercise to cover up the two-way relationship between BAE and the government. The government gets its arms and some UK employment and in return BAE got the occasional cash sweetener and a blind-eye turned towards dodgy overseas deals, particularly the 25% commissions on Saudi projects, some of which would flow back into the UK in the pockets of Denis Thatcher or the Wafic Said Business School, and sometimes BAE thought they could get the government to pull a few strings on their behalf such as the sale of aircraft to Iran, which needed US export licenses for the engines.

So we have to see the BAE £30 million fine in the context of a broader relationship and assume that the £30 million which landed up in the UK government's pocket (which might be considered unjust enrichment because it was the tax payers of other countries that got stitched up) will find it's way back to BAE through further sweetheart deals and favours.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

The most profitable bank on Wall Street

For all the vilification of Wall Street banks, one firm managed to record a bumper profit without attracting derision for its employees or owners. Indeed for this bank, 2009 was a year of record profitability and the main beneficiary will be the American tax payer, because the bank in question, the Federal Reserve Bank, booked a $45 billion profit, the best result in its 96-year history.

The Fed's earnings for the year dwarf those of the large US banks, easily topping the combined profits of Bank of America, Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase. Much of the higher earnings came about because of the Fed's aggressive program of buying bonds, aiming to push interest rates down across the economy and thus stimulate growth.

At the end of 2009, the Fed held $1.8 trillion in U.S. government debt and mortgage-related securities. The interest income on those investments was a major source of profits, although the bank is likely to book a loss if it sells the securities to reduce the money supply.

The Fed also made money on its emergency loans to banks and other firms and on special programs to prop up lending. Although it lost $3.8 billion on loans it made to bail out Bear Sterns and AIG, it made $4.7 billion in interest from those loans.

Despite the record earnings, the CEO of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, received a modest cost-of-living pay rise for 2010. He now earns $199,700.

While I have your attention

At last, a use for Twitter: Shire Pharma have sussed that 140 byte messages can work on an ADHD support line:http://twitter.com/adhdsupport

He shoots, he scores, Masterley is on the ball

Back in September I suggested that the complaint against Chelsea from Lens, a French club, about the hiring of one of their trainees had no basis because Frenchlaw prohibits contracts of employment for minors.

Not surprisingly, the French controlled UEFA and Swiss controlled FIFA took a wholly predictable swipe at the English club, imposing a 4 month ban on transfers, although I said at the time that a good lawyer would run rings round Platter and Blattini at the Court for Arbitration in Sport

And so it turned out, but without a murmur of an apology from the Frenchman, who in one of his more unhinged monents accused the London team of child slavery.

Time for new chairman at FIFA and UEFA.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

All those screens on the trading floor

Traders use them to watch prices move and book trades, right?

Yeah, sure they do. Watch the screen to the left of the speaker about 1:05 into the clip.

Monday, 1 February 2010

The Masterley tax return

Duly filed at 23:56. Having assiduously filed papers through out the year, this year's tax return completion started at 23:42, which I think makes this year about as late a start as I can remember.

UPDATE: Soon after I got a reply by email: "Thank you for sending the Self Assessment submission online. The submission for reference 32*******202 was successfully received on 2010-01-31T23:56:51.676 and is being processed."

So they acknowledge the time in milliseconds, and I wasn't really cutting it that fine.

I could have filed up to 488,323 milliseconds later.