Sunday, 30 March 2008

Mark Thatcher

For someone who is writing a series of military thrilers about mercenaries, the Simon Mann story just gets better and better. The involvement of Mark Thatcher, now wanted for in Equatorial Guinea for his role in the alleged coup, just makes it even better. Thatcher, of course, denies any role. But a PM's son plotting a's hard not to see the beginnings of a plot there.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Trading Post

I have been working on a new web TV programme for the Spectator called Trading Post. You can watch the first episode here. It's been an a fun experience so far. There's a lot of TV out there, but it is either very news driven, like Bloomberg and CNBC, or else it is pitched a very broad audience like the BBC. This gives us some space to discuss issues and ideas in an intelligent way.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

European Bank Crisis

In my Bloomberg column today, I'm discussing the potential for a European banking crisis. There's a lot of complacency aroud what happens if a Greek, or Irish or Spanish bank goes bust.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Apple Nutters

The New York Times has a lovely piece today discussing how anybody who writes anything negative about Apple gets deluged with hate mail. Too true. A while ago, I wrote a column for Bloomberg suggesting the iPhone was, to put it mildly, a bit over-hyped. It was a pretty good argunent. The iPhone is still, so far as I can see, an expensive niche product. It hasnt' t turned the mobile phone industry upside down. But I received - and still receive - dozens of mad e-mails. How can anyone get that passionate about a gadget company that makes computers and MP3's players is beyond me? I mean, if you are going to be passionate about something, couldn't it be something political, spiritual or artistic?. Add in the fact that the business is run by a man who is easily the most unpleasant individual I have ever met - Steve Jobs - and their devotion seems even sadder. Still, I feel sory for the NYT. They'll be getting abusive e-mail for months.

Friday, 21 March 2008

The Web: Telecoms or Media?

I interviewed Clay Shirky this week for a new TV programme I am presenting for the Spectator. More on that later. Clay has a fascinating new book out on the impact of social media called 'Here Comes Everybody'. It's full of well-tuned insights into the web. One that struck me as telling was his point about use-generated content. Lots of people - particularly in the mainstream media - complain that the postings on blogs, the clips on YouTube, the homepages on MySpace etc are rubbish. And, of course they are, at least compared to professionally produced material. But Clay's point is that we should think of them more like phone calls than broadcasts. The fact that they are amateurish doesn't matter, becuase they are only intended for a few people anyway. There's a lot of truth in that. The point about the web is that it is really a development of the telephone. Once you take that on board, everything becomes a lot clearer.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

What's Bear Worth? Nothing.

Felix Salmon is pointing out on his Portfolio blog that Bear Stearns is still trading at more than twice the price JP Morgan (or rather the American government) is paying for it. And it's true. It's quoted at $4.81 this morning, compared to the $2 it is being sold for. Clearly, some people in the market think the JP Morgan deal won't go through. They are betting the bank can be revived. Now, it may well be true that Bear is worth a lot more than $2 and JP Morgan is getting the steal of the century. But investors such as RAB Capital thought the same about Northern Rock in Britain, and they ended up losing a packet. Once a bank has to be rescued by the government, there is no point in betting against the deal.

Monday, 17 March 2008

Bear Stearns vs Northern Rock

One of the fascinating aspects of the Bear Stearns rescue over the weekend is the way it contrasts with the dithering over Northern Rock in the U.K. Both banks were clearly running out of cash. But the Federal Reserve acted decisively, and forced Bear into a takeover, even through it meant making massive loans to JP Morgan. In Britain, that is what should have happened to Northern Rock. A takeover by Llloyds TSB should have been arranged over the weekend, even though the government would have had to guarantee its loan book. It would have been far better than six months of indecision followed by nationalisation.

Friday, 14 March 2008

Tax Havens

A Bloomberg column I wrote about Germany's attack on Lichtenstein has provoked an interesting discussion over at plus some further analysis by the Cato Institute. I was mainly struck by how the Germans thought it was okay to be pay for data to be stolen from a foreign bank -- and then the British government paid for a copy of the list. How would they feel if the Iranians stole data from Deutsche Bank or Barclays? But at Samizdata they've taken the whole discussion a lot further.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Simon Mann

The British mercenary Simon Mann has been in the news again for his role in organising a coup in the African state of Equatorial Guinea. We'll be following the case with interest on this blog: in part because Death Inc is about a gang of mercenaries: and, probably more importantly, because its sequal is going to be set in an African state, although one that's quite a bit further south than Equatorial Guinea. I'll get into the details later on, but it strikes me that Mann is the last of the old-school mercenaries, a daring, but amateur freelancer. Since then, they've morphed into Private Military Corporations, and tried to make themselves respectable.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008


In my Bloomberg column this week, I'm arguing that Alistair Darling's first budget should be his last. Having caught the headlines from what appeared to be an incredibly dull statement, I can't see anything to change that view

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Death Inc

This blog has been created to discuss my new novel, Death Inc, which is published by Headline later this year.