Interpol intoned Kraftwerk in 1981 and Deutsche Bank/FBI and Scotland Yard.
You get the picture, of course. Here were four organisations fingered in the band’s album Computer World as sinister abusers of modern technology, intent on spying on the rest of us.
Thirty-five years later, I imagine the second member of this quartet would settle for “sinister”. As opposed, say, to clownish. Or worse.
Once-mighty Deutsche Bank is in big trouble. Fined $14 billion (£10.8 billion) by the US authorities, Deutsche has, apparently, set aside only $6.5 billion (£5 billion) to settle the case, which was brought over the sale of mortgage-backed securites in the run-up to the 2008 financial crisis.
Nor is this once-staid Deutsche’s only recent transgression. Don’t take my word for it – here is the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in June:
“Among the G-SIBs [global systemically important banks], Deutsche Bank appears to be the most important net contributor to systemic risks, followed by HSBC and Credit Suisse.” Yup, the biggest source of risk to the financial system.
Continued the IMF: “Repeated fines for involvement in the systematic manipulation of benchmarks, misleading regulators, and violating US restrictions on conducting business with sanctioned countries, hit Deutsche Bank’s bottom line and may be indicative of corporate governance issues.”
Corporate governance issues? Some of us remember being lectured in the early Nineties on the joys of “Rhenish capitalism”, in which banks supported productive industry rather than engage in financial speculation and lend money to bankroll takeover bids. If only Barclays, NatWest et al were more like Deutsche, Commerzbank and the rest, Britain’s factories would be humming, they said.
How’s that working out for ihr alle?
Actually, they weren’t necessarily wrong. But what happened is that the German banks became more like their British counterparts, rather than the other way round. Hence “systematic manipulations of benchmarks” and the rest. Nothing very “Rhenish” there.
Now Deutsche’s problems are drawing attention to the dire state of the euro-zone’s banking industry as a whole, plagued by slow economic growth, huge amounts of bad debt sitting on the books and interest rates so low as to compress painfully the spread between funding costs and the rate that can be charged to customers, making it much harder to turn a profit.
Here’s a dead-easy prediction – whatever the current tough talk in Berlin about “no bailouts”, there is zero chance the German government will let Deutsche go Bauch up.
- Now for the (more) bad news
LATEST in the long line of statements that manage, in the light of Brexit, to look on the dark side of life. This from Western Union Business Solutions (UK) Ltd, commenting on the better-than-expected figures for the current account, released on September 30.
“The UK current account figures show Britain’s trading position with the rest of the world narrowed by more than expected in the second quarter…so we’re pleased to say that it is good news.”
Here comes the B-word:
“But you won’t see much of a positive reaction for the pound in currency markets this morning because the data captures very little of the post-Brexit environment. What really matters now is that when Article 50 is eventually triggered, will international investors backtrack from UK assets and will this cause a flare up in the UK’s balance of payments position?”
Er, hang on. Should international investors sell or decline to buy sterling assets, that would certainly make it harder to live beyond our means. But isn’t that a good thing, especially in light of concerns over the sale or part-sale of assets such as tech group ARM Holdings and the London Stock Exchange?
2)…clap your hands
AS Theresa May ditches some of the more egregious parts of the Cameron legacy, may I suggest she turns her attention to the “happiness agenda”?
This nonsense seems alive and well, judging by the release on the 22nd of this month of the September edition of “measuring national well-being in the UK”.
There are, apparently, 43 “well-being indicators”. During September, ten of these improved compared with September 2015, four deteriorated and 22 stayed the same. Seven were not measured.
So what are these “indicators”? First off, they seem simply to be measures of economic buoyancy: “Areas of life which are getting better include our personal finances and the economy, where real median household income and net national disposable income have both risen, the unemployment rate has fallen and fewer people are reporting finding it difficult to get by financially.”
Fine as far as it goes, which is not very far.
Then we get this: “Emissions of greenhouse gases continue to fall and more energy is being consumed from renewable sources.”
Mm, This may be an excellent thing but does it translate into individual well-being?
This being a project overseen by career politicians, it is perhaps unsurprising that increased voter turnout at the 2015 election is seen as a well-being indicator while “a fall in those reporting trust in their national government” is seen as the opposite.
My favourite, however, is this footnote; “Although there are 41 indicators of national well-being, measures of healthy life expectancy and feeling safe walking alone after dark are presented for both men and women, and so there are 43 measures to assess.”
Don’t ever change.
- A grammarian writes – an occasional series
“The careers master will take you through the opportunities that are available.” Last three words redundant – they wouldn’t be opportunities if they were not available.
“There is a double standard here.” No there isn’t. Something is either a standard or it isn’t. You wouldn’t talk about a “double truth”.
“I think we need a new policy mix.” I think you think we need a new policy mixture. Mix is a verb (although I’m prepared to make a small exception when discussing the sound-recording industry).
“I hope you are doing good.” I’m happy for now simply to be doing no harm.
- Miscellany on Saturday
THERE appears increasingly little incentive to take advantage of either limited liability or charitable status. Both are, essentially, “gifts” from the State, and as with all such gifts, a quid pro quo is required. Not too onerous until recently, but that seems to be changing.
Thus the May government has decreed that companies can be prosecuted for failing to stop their employees behaving fraudulently. Stand by for an hysterical wave of prosecutions, most of which will fail (a la the phone hacking “scandal”) or be overturned on appeal.
The Prime Minister herself then told independent schools with charitable status that they have to “do more” in terms of “partnering” with the State sector, many of whose staff actively hate them.
I have long wondered why such establishments don’t just ditch charitable status (unless they genuinely are charitable institutions, as was my old school). The tax breaks cannot be worth all this grief.
One inhibiting factor, apparently, is that assets accumulated under charitable status (buildings, land, cash etc) may then have to be turned over to the State. Well, fine – let’s see what sort of a fist education bureaucrats make of running a great public school. I imagine they’ll be about as successful as Robert Mugabe’s “war veterans” have been in running Zimbabwe’s once-bountiful commercial farms.
Talking of banana republics, there is an old and long-disused taxi rank opposite the cinema in the Sussex market town in which I live. Next to the rank, a new budget hotel is being built.
I long avoided this rank, despite its defunct status, and parked on the other side of the street, quite legally. But I noticed recently a number of non-taxis using the rank and so did the same, buying a ticket in the same way as for the “legal” side of the road.
You’ll have guessed I got a parking ticket and maybe guessed also that the cars in the rank belonged to people connected with the construction of the hotel. I duly rang West Sussex County Council’s extortion hot-line down in Chichester and read out my credit card number.
Doubtless, the county had told the construction bods they were free to leave their cars there. But the point is that my ticket specifically cited parking in a taxi rank as my offence. They were doing the same thing.
This sort of favouritism is how Third World-ery takes hold.
Finally, farewell Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, standing down as head of the Metropolitan Police. Some years ago, when I worked at The Mail on Sunday, Sir Bernard, in all his uniformed finery, strode through our office en route elsewhere accompanied by a small group of Associated Newspapers executives.
“The Leveson inquiry has gone too far this time,” cracked a colleague.
Hearing this, Hogan-Howe, a good head taller than anyone in the vicinity, grabbed the nearest of his hosts by the shoulders and declared: “It’s all right – he’s coming quietly.”
The startled executive realised it was a joke. After a while.
- A hundred flowers bloom
TO end where we began, with Deutsche Bank. A few years back (it may still be the case) Deutsche employed no fewer than three teams of economic analysts – one in Lonon, one in Frankfurt and a sort of internal think-tank at its head office – all independent of each other.
As a meeting of the European Central Bank loomed, one team predicted a rise in interest rates, another predicted a cut and another voted for no change. “What,” asked a bewildered client, “is the house view?”
Take your pick, chief – as they say in Germany.
Thanks again for reading and enjoy the weekend.
Europe Isn't Working, by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson is published by Yale University Press