The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
The explosion in company pension fund shortfalls in Britain nicely illustrates issues which will dominate economics and investment in coming years: the re-pricing of risk, a disillusionment with equity markets, and the boom in savings these shortfalls will help to drive.
Under current accounting rules, the pension funds of companies in Britain's FTSE 100 index are together 96 billion pounds ($170 billion) underfunded, more than double the deficit of a year ago and an all-time record, according to a report from pension fund consultants Lane, Clark & Peacock.
This is partly for the very positive reason that people are living longer but principally because of the dire performance of financial markets, especially equities, over the past year.
To make matters worse, the surge in corporate bond spreads, which are used to calculate the current value of pension plans' future liabilities to retirees, has actually minimised how underfunded British pension plans look when accounting measures are applied. Minimised how underfunded they look, but not how underfunded they are.
Britain's asset protection scheme, invented to protect the banking system, is morphing into a bureaucratic monster. It's time to kill it off. Though state support is still needed, there are simpler ways for the government to prop up its ailing lenders.
More than seven months after it was conceived, and five months after Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Banking Group signed up to use it, details of the APS have still not been agreed. The sheer task of sifting through 585 billion pounds worth of loans to be insured by the government means any final agreement is months away.
from The Great Debate:
In America, the health care debate is about to come to a boil. President Barack Obama has put pressure on both houses of Congress to pass versions of his flagship domestic legislative program prior to their August recess.
Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.
The aim of the Berlin government and four federal states, which are sustaining Opel with bridging finance, is to save as many German jobs and production sites as possible. That makes political sense ahead of September's general election. But the business logic is that only a greatly slimmed-down Opel can survive in an industry with chronic overcapacity.
In theory, it is up to GM's board to choose among the three offers it expected to receive on Monday from Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna <MGa.TO>, Belgian financial investor RHJ <RJHI.BR>, and, less plausibly, Chinese state-owned auto maker BAIC. But there are several other powerful players with a say. They include the trustees responsible for the company since GM entered U.S. bankruptcy in June, the German federal and state governments, Opel's works council and, last but not least, the European Commission, which must approve the restructuring plan as a condition for authorising the state aid.
from UK News:
The death toll among British troops in Afghanistan is rising fast. The soldier who died on Tuesday was the seventh to die in the last week and the 176th since the war began.
Last Wednesday, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe became the highest ranking British soldier to die in the conflict in Afghanistan when he was killed in Helmand. British commanders are quoted as saying things are going to get worse before they get better.
The crisis at Northern Rock marked the beginning of Britain’s slide into large-scale state ownership of the banking system. Returning the mortgage lender to the private sector would be a sign that normal service is being resumed. But rumours that the British government is poised to sell Northern Rock, are premature. Suggestions the government could do so at a profit are even more far-fetched.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown is apparently keen to offload the Rock, ideally “at a substantial profit” before the general election, which must be held before next summer. According to the Times, the prime minister “wants desperately to avoid a Conservative government taking the credit”.
from The Great Debate:
Higher taxes? Lower public spending? Devaluation? Inflation? Investment in green growth?
European governments are pointing in very different directions as they debate an exit strategy from the global financial crisis. Despite European Union efforts to coordinate economic policy, there are clear signs that the main European economies will charge off in disarray towards separate exits.
- Luke Baker is a political and general news correspondent at Reuters. -
The mountains and deserts of southern Afghanistan are far removed from the elegant charms of Trieste in northern Italy, but there will be a link between the two this weekend.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight nations meet in the Italian city on the Adriatic on Thursday for three days of talks, with the state of play in Afghanistan, as well as developments in Iran and the Middle East, front and centre of their agenda.
- Alf Vanags is director of the Baltic International Centre for Economic Policy Studies. The opinions expressed are his own. -
On April 28, 1925 the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Winston Churchill, put Britain back on the gold standard at the pre-World War I parity, a move that was strongly criticized by Maynard Keynes in his pamphlet “The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill”.
-Morten Hansen is head of the economics department at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. The opinions expressed are his own.-
Latvia, with its 18 percent year-on-year economic decline, ruthless budget cuts to meet the demands stated by the IMF-EU bailout package and recurring rumours of devaluation, may be the most written about country in the world right now, at least on a per capita basis.