Thursday, 27 August 2009

Different Strokes

China will spend around 2% of GDP on Fiscally Stimulating its economy this year and the same next - USA exactly the same this year, dropping to 1.8% next while Germany will spend 1.5% this year and 2% next. Britain will spend 1.4% this year and zero next.

Germany's biggest issue is that the money it has pledged to stimulate the economy is not being used fast enough, as much of it is for driving renewable energy into public buildings, building more, refitting old buildings and other projects. Such projects are big public spends and their laws mean that tenders have to be written and due process observed. This has bottlenecked public spending and so they have introduced ranges of laws that say spend of less than €100,000 does not have to go to public tender, just a few quotes while some projects up to €1m can avoid the old tender process. In just 14 months, they need to spend €10bn in education alone and the rumour now is they will spend that money on anything that disperses the cash quickly meaning that German schools could become showcases for interactive learning for all Europe. The main thrust is that instead of just a few large construction or IT companies benefiting from the spend, literally thousands of small firms will benefit from the spend.

Along with direct Government subsidies to firms to pay wages in the recession, Germany has deadened the impact and unemployment has not risen appreciably despite spectacular insolvencies like Arkandor. Britain, meanwhile, has seen unemployment rise to over 2.4m and it continues to rise with predicted peaks at over 3m. In the same breath, we have seen tax receipts drop 20% in the last quarter, 3 times the level of drop predicted by the Chancellor, meaning higher borrowing again - rumours abound about Britain's ability to pay for all this debt which could see our credit rating moved down.

For Britain, it was all about saving the banks and stimulus has come only from the VAT decrease which is temporary. Credit was seen as the major issue and so it had to get flowing again. Instead of seeing more Fiscal Stimulus going directly to save jobs, we have seen new money pumped into the banking system via Quantitative Easing to the tune of £175bn and precious little has got down the line. In fact, credit has never been so expensive and hard to get with banks missing their lending targets consistently, loans at multiples of base rate not points above, fixed rate mortgages at a huge premium and loan criteria at their most stringent in years. Yet banks are awash with new cash from taxpayers and money markets again at the cheapest price in years.

What has happened? Why isn't the money getting into the economy at the points where it is needed? The answer is simple - banks are at their high risk games again, with cheap money and an unlimited guarantee against losses underpinned by the taxpayer - they cannot fail to make money, so why give it to us where they would earn comparatively less?

While even Adair Turner is now mooting a windfall tax to prevent excessive bonuses, and bonus schemes are getting a bit tighter but no one is regulating new salaries and inter-bank headhunting of new 'talent' with lavish guarantees and other perks. The fact is that while bonus schemes may look more difficult to attain the old heights on what is certain is that clauses defining that traders MUST get paid even if the banks are making losses are being set in stone. We actually will come out worse, not better thanks to the lack of thought being into the process by non-bankers.

The end result is that technically France, Germany and Japan have all exited the recession while we suffered a further 0.8% shrink in the same quarter. It seems Britain is more focused on fining and locking up music downloaders than tackling unemployment or real crime - it seems we are more keen on bank rolling the real criminals in banks who robbed us of billions to support their high risk gambles and we have allowed them to do it all again with impunity. Meanwhile, the money getting to the parts of the economy where it is needed is minimal, expensive and late.

We have paid the best part of £100m in fees to numb skull bankers and lawyers to plot a way out of trouble that has put money right back into the hands of those who broke us, and they are keeping it to spend on their lavish high risk derivative gambles to earn mega-bucks to lose again later.

It is anticipated that Angela Merkel will breeze the forthcoming election in Germany and she has around 83% of the anticipated votes in polls. Gordon Brown may take real note as she fought him hard on Fiscal Stimulus and bank bail outs at the G20 as did Sarkozy of France. They have been proved to be right, Brown wrong despite his belief he 'saved the world'. They thought about specific programs and directed spend to stimulate the economy and get money into all businesses while we focused billions on banks and the financial system which are failing us yet again as we did not set rules and regulate properly.

Despite the smug, self-congratulations, Brown has been proved to be lacking in real skill in economics and Britain will pay a very high price as a result.

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