Monday, 5 October 2009

Green Shoots And Leaves?

An article on the web this morning tells us that bank trading volumes are up for the first time in two years, giving some clear signs of a recovery. It does point out that pensions and life insurance products still remain depressed, which I would argue are the better long term indicators, but the point is taken.

However, a cursory glance at the familiar barometer of the employment situation, The Sunday Times Appointments Section, revealed that confidence is still at rock bottom. Firstly, you would be hard pushed to find a single private sector job advertised in there. Secondly, the number of Non-Executive jobs and Public Sector jobs seems to be dominating all aspects of the section. Indeed, I had a good chuckle seeing a nice advert for a well sponsored, 'Non Executive Director of The Year Awards' night which was to celebrate the outstanding achievements of these people who wear similar ties. No doubt Tom McKillip and the army of NXDs who sat on the boards of banks and other financial institutions getting fat and rich while doing nothing, will be right up there in the award ceremonies showing the way.

Getting back to the Appointments Section generally, it is clear that the Public Sector seems to be propping up the high end recruitment sector with companies like Odgers and Tyzack prominently and expensively displaying pretty naff Public Sector jobs. It seems the Private Sector has gone to sleep for a long while as the Section had been like this for around a year. I cannot recall a time in the two or three recessions I have sat through when the Times was so thin on Private Sector jobs. The hunt for good talent has gone underground at minimum, but it more likely reflects business conditions.

Meanwhile, in my layman's observationary mode, my wife and I ventured into London on Saturday and caught the final hour of shops around Oxford Circus. There were no shortage of shoppers - it seemed very busy. But the shop assistant I spoke to at Libertys pointed out that the credit cards were mostly not from the UK but are tourists enjoying the almost perennial sales we seem to have at the moment. We went for the early supper at a really superb restaurant on Poland Street, Vasco's, and had the pre-theatre meal of two courses for £19.50 each. The food was outstanding and the owner, observing that we were the only people in the restaurant, berated the fact that business has been like this for months - no early diners for the theatre anymore, but clogged full from 8 o'clock. He was right, Soho seemed absolutely empty and getting a drink with a group of friends at the Argyll Arms was easy, they even allowed us to fully occupy the upstairs dining area as only one family were in.

Pubs and restaurants are good barometers of the times we are in. On a Saturday night in early Autumn, with pleasant if windy weather, the eating and drinking places were nowhere near full or empty. London is no different from most cities. The green shoots are not so evident.

That said, the number of placards outside houses marked 'For Sale' seems to be on the rise in my area although I know some people who have had their houses on the market for 18 months with not a single viewing. It would be a shame if the biggest feature of a recovery is another housing boom as that would be a sure-fire indicator we put our money in the wrong place as they are precisely the kinds of stupid asset inflations that got us into trouble last time around. But that's another story.

For me, the green shoots are not yet in evidence in the right places.

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