Hello world. Today’s read is from long time Daily Telegraph columnist Liam Halligan. Halligan has accurately pointed to flaws in the current economic revival attempt and has pointed the finger at the current recovery effort in its unfortunate failures to lead to genuine economic growth.
In the coming weeks I’ll be discussing the economic effort as we approach the next election in 2015.
Government’s current stance with regards to the potential Pfizer takeover of AstraZeneca sends mixed messages about UK recovery.
David Cameron’s stance with regards to Pfizer’s potential takeover of AstraZeneca is somewhat peculiar. Research & Development especially in the Science industry signals innovation, persistence and longevity. Therefore the employment associated to the Science industry appears to be the kind that the UK economy desperately requires in order to aid the fragile recovery. The anomaly comes as a surprise because both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor favour a takeover bid from US firm Pfizer, albeit with “more assurances” from Pfizer. The government are of course powerless to stop the takeover and Pfizer have no obligation to pander to Westminster’s requests, still, supporting a takeover bid that is most likely to remove highly skilled jobs away from the UK is not exactly a favourable position to adopt. More potently, the wrong message about the UK labour market is being sent.
Pfizer Chairman Ian Read will have fully comprehended the saving potential by transferring 20% of AstraZeneca’s R&D department to a more cost-effective location. Pfizer shareholders will support the move away from the UK as dividends will rise due to the vast savings, an estimated £595million will be saved if the Pfizer manage to forsake the UK for a more cost effective location. Savings on such levels will provoke a reaction from shareholders who will always look to maximise their dividends. It is their right to exercise that privilege and governments are powerless to stop such an action. It should be noted however that sovereign governments have a debt to its citizens to ensure that everything is done to at least show firms why the UK is an attractive place to conduct business. To stay silent would be questionable; supporting the bid that possibly ends some 6,700 jobs in such a specialist and labour-rich sector such as Pharmaceuticals is a surprise. When one considers the economic rhetoric propagated by the government has been focused on full employment, safeguarding highly skilled jobs should subsequently be high on the list of priorities for the government.
Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna said the assurances Pfizer had given ministers were “not worth the paper they are written on,” as it had declined to rule out breaking up AstraZeneca in the future.
“The government could act immediately to work to put in place a stronger public interest test encompassing cases with an impact on strategic elements of our science base and seek a proper, independent assessment of the potential takeover as Labour has called for. Instead, ministers have sat on their hands.”
Although it is the job of the opposition to opine an alternative perspective to that of the government, Chuka Umunna’s point does reflect the public interest and the Society of Biology, Biochemical Society, British Pharmacological Society and Royal Society of Chemistry all reflect his views. Nobel Prize winning Professor Andre Geim “fears” for the future of R&D in the UK. They all concur that recent mergers have led to firms seeking economies of scale, simultaneously translating to laboratory closures and job losses. This makes it even more astonishing that the government would encourage this particular takeover.
Hitherto both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have maintained their faith in British business, especially in creating long-term employment opportunities. Just last month the Chancellor pledged to “fight” for full employment and of course he was referring to employment on a much larger scale. In the case of Pfizer, some 6,700 jobs could be lost. This case is more poignantly about what kind of message the public receives. Economies need something that is not tangible to fully recover and that is confidence. This contradiction does make the government look somewhat inconsistent. Had the government distanced itself or highlighted some of the features that make the UK an ideal place to conduct business, features such as the lowest corporation tax in the EU or Universities with rich heritage and so on it could at least tie in with the other messages they are sending about the recovery. Its current stance however leaves them looking somewhat flustered.
London is undergoing rapid transformation. It has been the case since the mid-1990s and it shows no signs of slowing down. With this upsurge of development are qualities lost in the areas that are developed? Are the newer traits and trends in developed areas better than what was there before?
London Mayor Boris Johnson has been a stark proponent of inviting wealthy foreign investors to London. In October he suggested that VAT and import tax should be relaxed for our foreign neighbours in order to encourage Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
“VAT and import duty – those it seems to me are classically things that can be resolved by growing trade and co-operation between London and China, London and Beijing. We need a proper, thoroughgoing free-trade agreement. If the EU won’t do it we can do it on our own”
If this were to occur, many non-domiciles would be spending even more of their wealth in London. The idea of facilitating foreign wealth on new enterprise opportunities in London is one fully supported by the Mayor and several other politicians, including Chancellor George Osborne. The video below outlines some of Johnson’s plans for London. When you combine the Right To Buy scheme proposed by the Government it could be suggested that both the London and National government are looking to create another property boom.
The idea of new business, new stylish housing developments, newer communities and a new beginning for those who concur with the Mayor strike a positive cord. The fact that a prosperity bomb if you like, can explode and a plethora of new businesses can suddenly replaces older ones surely translate to a better, more profitable society. The fact that bigger businesses seek to expand to areas that are ripe for development ensures that plenty of jobs will be created, more of us will work and in a macro sense the economy will grow. Surely this is what we desire….
Or is it the case that newer developments and everything associated with it impose a revised culture that virtually replaces the existing one. Ensuring that this newer culture, this different way of life that imposes itself on existing residents is cohesive with the established culture is not usually a priority for developers or investors. In fact you could suggest that their priorities take precedent because their interests are deemed more important and their main priority is profit maximization. Much of the rhetoric is aimed at what is coming, what the future holds; new developments rarely acknowledge the qualities that the area had or look to uphold or maintain some of the non-monetary merits a community had. So residents that reside in areas that are listed for development are often left marginalised because the rate at which they usually have to adapt is relatively quick and it could be suggested that they no longer feel they are part of their community.
London is undergoing rapid transformation, many people welcome the new age of “prosperity” and many view it as an inevitable outcome of what our society eventually leads to. Nevertheless, there is a growing concern that the rate of change tends to strip away some of the qualities some communities once had, qualities that cannot be monetized, nor measured, nor necessarily tangible, but certainly potent and very much real.
This movement of people towards inner city London is peculiar because it tends to be to areas that were written off by several, deemed not fit for purpose by some, but home to so many who are now marginalised. What is even more striking is the fact that property prices, both rents and house prices are increasing. So demand is inelastic, in the sense that it is relatively unresponsive to a change in price. Therefore if you are a landlord or a developer the profits are virtually guaranteed due to this wave of perpetual inner city London demand.
Both graphs illustrate the rise and rise of property prices and the second graph clearly highlight the disparity between London and another large economic area: the North West.
According to the latest Census, Newham (East London) lost 38% of its white British population. This does suggest that many of its residents are opting for areas such as Essex to reside. On the contrary, between 2001 and 2011 Brixton, an area that used to be associated with a predominately Caribbean demographic has seen ten continuous years of increases. The same is noted in areas such as Hackney, Wandsworth, Camden and Islington. Moreover, Stoke Newington and Dalston have had increases from 15% in 2001 to 26% in 2011. What this highlights is that inner city areas ( mainly Zones 1 & 2 on the Tube map) have gradually become more accessible and more appealing to many.
My qualm lies with the fact that this movement of people inflates prices of rents, property, goods and services and it leaves existing people, many of whom have lived in that area for a long time financially constrained. Should more be done in order to reduce the negativity associated with prices you can no longer afford? Or does the onus lie with the individual? Clearly, this conundrum is not a priority for a government, especially this Tory led coalition that favours individualism and self-sufficiency. They have not hid the fact that they are looking more people to buy their homes. Perhaps they are merely continuing a legacy they prospered from so it is a continuation of what they believe in. It should be noted that I personally believe in helping yourself and becoming self-reliant, but helping each other is critical to upholding what is left of any community. This does seem to be eroding rapidly however. If you can unite and help one another, you are helping yourself whilst helping others and that is the current that binds a community. But this new wave of social cleansing and this message sent out by property developers and the government of profit over people gears our society for something that we are just at the beginning of. The future of London seems to be gearing towards only those that can afford it and prices do not seem to be going down. It will be a shame if the vast majority of London transforms into a city where only those with enough money can afford it. The way government policies are aimed, market power is structured and consumption trends are there only seems to be one outcome. The next twenty years will see the London demographic rapidly transform.
Although this interview was conducted some twelve months ago Professor Krugman’s arguments about how to end the Great Recession are more potent than ever. Professor Krugman is a well known Keynesian and he has been advocating for more government expenditure. Although the government in the UK are extremely unlikely to change from its programme of fiscal consolidation, empirical evidence does suggest that substantial government spending is the most effective method to restoring economic growth during a recession. Krugman used the example of America post 1930 and Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” an economic plan designed to boost the American economy through government spending.
It has been a week since Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced his 2013 Budget and the reaction has been quite blunt in all honesty. The reaction probably reflects the state of the economy, flat and underwhelming. Osborne has decided to bring in more cuts, looser monetary policy and he is even trying to create another housing bubble.
Before I analyse some of the key facets of the Budget it should be noted that youth unemployment is close to 1m, underemployment (the number highly skilled workers in low paid work) currently stands at 3.05m and the Bank Of England is warning the country of a triple-dip recession. Things look bleak to say the least. With the economy performing so poorly I was hoping (not expecting) the Chancellor to announce at least one policy that could galvanise consumers; a cut in the rate of VAT would have been ideal. Retailers were complaining about a lack of spending on high streets at Christmas, making things cheaper would incentivise spending simply by making things cheaper. This could provide some remedy to the economy that clearly needs a boost.
But it was not to be and Osborne made it clear he was sticking to Plan A, deficit reduction. Unfortunately spending as a percentage of GDP has actually increased since the Coalition took power and this is due to the increase in unemployment and therefore welfare payments. This accounts for the nominal rise in welfare payments such as Job Seekers Allowance, but the decline in real terms. Home Secretary Iain Duncan Smith announcing a 1% increase.
Plan A is not working to the dismay of Osborne and the Office Of Budgetary Responsibility (OBR). The fiscal watchdog, a body founded by Osborne in 2010 had to revise its growth figures again, predicting growth in 2013 to just 0.6%, down from its previous figure of 1.2%. This is not the first time the OBR has had to revise its growth figures, leaving me to wonder how they can be repeatedly making either optimistic or unrealistic forecasts for growth. In their defence there are obviously only predictions and forecasts should never be taken as a given, still, it does not bode well. A figure of 1.2% is hardly triumphant; let alone slashing that figure by half.
As I mentioned the deficit is actually rising, so the austerity medicine is not actually working…yet. It was always a long-term goal, the goal to reduce the bloated public sector and have the private sector replace the jobs lost, but that clearly is not happening. The current deficit stands at £120billion, so the debt-to-GDP is at 88% (IMF). In other words, the public finances are going to have to reduce significantly until we say any major fiscal policies exerted by the government, as the debt-to-GDP is very high.
Clearly Osborne’s policies highlight his and the government’s stance on fiscal policies. But with the economy is such disarray there will be some avenue to try and stimulate the monetary side of the economy and this is the reason why Osborne has refreshed the Bank Of England’s mandate. In an attempt to provide more room to maneuver the Bank of England will now be a little more flexible in it approach. Perhaps the biggest change in the Bank Of England’s mandate is something known as “explicit forward guidance” whereby the MPC makes a pledge to keep rates very low over a designated period. This should give markets more confidence due to the stability announcements should provide. It should also grant consumers with sufficient information about interest rates on loans, if rates remain low it should encourage more spending. These outcomes remain hypothetical and over time, the Chancellor may refresh the remit. In my opinion, the policies may be ineffective. If you look at the current interest rate, it has been at a record low level of 0.5 % since March 2009 and that still has not added much to market confidence. This situation resembles Japan in the early 1990s. Not only can predictions be made about the interest rate, but the evidence given highlights that it does not always translate to increase in spending, despite the low level of interest attached. We could even be in a liquidity trap, a state in an economy where monetary policies have no effect on growth. The interest rate has been 0.5% since March 2009, since then the Bank Of England have tried to boost the economy by buying government debt, quantitative easing, which is monetary policy. Growth has remained very low and the policies do not appear to be working.
The Chancellor also announced a new policy known as the “Help to Buy” policy, which is designed to protect banks against losses on high value mortgages. Politically, it may look good, but economically there are questions. It sounds like a government funded credit bubble. Whilst I do not think it will resemble anything like what we saw during the Blair days of the economy being pumped full of toxic mortgages. As time elapses, the scheme will undoubtedly become clearer. It may even provide the boost this economy so desperately needs.
In all honesty this Budget has confirmed that the UK has a long road ahead in terms of a tangible growth. The economy continues to “grow” at a disappointing rate and there are more cuts to come. Despite the cut in beer relief, the cut in cooperation tax that benefits large multinationals more than small or medium sized ones, this Budget has reflected the mood of the economy. It has been flat.
Since the coalition came to power in 2009 the phrase “we inherited a mess” has being the prelude to almost every statement they have made with regards to the economy. It relates to Labour’s high levels of public expenditure. I try and think of when the Conservatives were in opposition and how much they said at the time to try and curb Labour’s spending. They did not. Moreover, they must accept some blame for allowing such heavy fiscal consumption and doing next to nothing to stop it. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is to deliver his budget tomorrow, I predict more of the same in terms of deficit reduction, with minor tweaks to try and boost the economy that has been sluggish for well over five years now.
Since 2007, the global financial crisis engulfed several leading economies and placed them in a precarious position. Output in many G20 nations declined and it was the worst downturn since the Great depression. When an economy is growing we notice that more people find work, credit is easier to obtain and living standards for the majority of society tends to rise in harmony with the economy. In a downturn and recession (defined to two consecutive quarters of negative output) the opposite tends to occur, less jobs created, rise in unemployment and usually a rise in income tax to compensate for the lost output.
Since the coalition in the UK came into power in May 2009, Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne has led the way with polices aimed at reducing the UK’s deficit. A deficit is the sum of government debt, deficits being a flow variable and debt being a stock variable. As we have all heard, this is his primary aim, so we have seen large reductions in government expenditure, in an attempt to curb government spending because the current government deem it too high. Fair enough, Labour may have binged a little on spending and some savings needed to be made. But, the best way to reduce government debt and therefore the deficit, is to stimulate economic growth. It is economic growth that will reduce the deficit, not only will growth translate into more jobs being created, more goods & services made available and more disposable income for households, but it will also help the government achieve their aim of deficit reduction.
It is this failure of George Osborne and Business Secretary Vince Cable to recognise this that has made me ask the question, is economic growth even their aim?
The OECD has backed Osborne’s economic policies, suggesting that fiscal consolidation is an urgent requirement. Whilst I can accept that, there are policies that the government could bring in in order to increase public spending. They have not. When the government came into power one of their first economic decisions was to increase VAT from 17.5% to 20%. This increase of 2.5% makes everyday goods that have VAT attached 2.5% more expensive. If you want people spending, make things cheaper, it’s that simple. Retailers had a rather subdued Christmas, had VAT being 15% or even 12.5% then I’m sure it would have had a significant difference.
The UK is also not a member of the Eurozone. This should provide a bit of protection from the farcical situation currently engulfing several imbalanced economies. Whilst the UK is very close to the other nations, the fact that it can manipulate its currency should provide some breathing room in which it could devalue the Pound and attract new business. With the Chancellor cutting cooperation tax, the UK should be seen as an ideal location for business. However, whatever effect the domestic currency is having alongside the competitive cooperation tax rates is clearly not penetrating the economy strong enough and the recovery is taking much longer than it should be. Moreover, incomes generated by large firms do not appear to be trickling down to the rest of society. Unemployment in the private sector confirms this, as it is increasing at a sluggish rate.
All of these factors combined makes me wonder if all this austerity is actually worth it, because the opportunity cost of allowing the economy to stroll along in this mundane manner represents time lost. It just appears that the government is holding back for future consumption. It is a dangerous move in my opinion because it could lead to large structural damages that could take several years to repair.
The Chancellor will be providing a new Budget soon and I’m sure it will contain more of what we have already heard.
I’ll conclude with the fact that David Cameron does not think you tackle a debt crisis by issuing more debt (governments increase debt when they spend). However, as so long as jobs are created, taxes are paid and the economy is growing the level of debt does not matter because the positive effects of economic growth cancel the negativity associated with the debt. It is when an economy is not growing that the level of debt and deficit becomes an issue. Furthermore, there is not a single large economy that has cut its way to growth, so if it does happen in the UK all of this austerity will be worth it. The benefits do appear to be a long way away right now.