Sunday, 30 November 2008

Desperate Men For Desperate Times.

My book 'Death Force' will be out in only a few weeks time. One of the difficult things as a writer is getting the timing right. When I started with the idea, the British economy was still booming. Now it is heading into a major recession. I'm hoping that will be the right timing for a story about mercenaries heading off into war torn battle zones. Desperate men for desperate times. The Telegraph has a story today about recruitment to the armed forces rising, in response to the credit crunch. Hopefully that is a pointed that I'm onto something. We'll see.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Are There Mercenaries in Georgia

One of the great things about writing a series of books on mercenaries is that there is never any shortage of subjects. The last few days have seen an explosion of stories about piracy following the attack on the oil tanker. Today, the Russians are alleging that there were foreign mercenaries fighting in Georgia during the brief war there last summer. Of course, they might well say that, and we're not sure we trust the Russian government. There are trying to justify what looked like a war of aggression. Then again, Georgia is a very small place, and it wouldn't be that surprising if they hired some outside help.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

The Economics of Piracy

The New York Times has an interesting discussion of the economics of piracy. Ships wouldn't be getting hijacked off the coast of Somalia unless it was a profitable trade. The interesting question is how the economics wok out in the medium term. Eventually, the shipping trade will have to decide whether it is cheaper to pay protection money to a Somalia warload to stop their vessels getting hit. Or is it cheaper to pay a military force to go and deal with the pirates?

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sorry About That Hedge Fund

Both the Wall Street Journal and The Times are running my Bloomberg column about how hedge funds need a better class of excuse. Ypu can read the original here. I got a lot of feedback on that piece, mixed as usual, but mostly positive. Quite a few hedge fund managers e-mailed me. I suspect they know the industry is in trouble because the performance all through the credit crunch just hasn't been good enough.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Britain & The Euro

I've been arguing here for a while, and in my Bloomberg column, that the recession would re-open the case for Britain joining the euros. Wolfgang Munchau has a well argued piece in the FT today making precisely that case. Yesterday Will Hutton was making the argument in the Observer. I suspect this is going to grow. Sterling is in real trouble, and so will the British economy be in due course. The euro is going to be an obvious escape route. The problem will be that Gordon Brown will have spent so much money, and the accounting will be so dodgy, we probably won't qaulify. They let the Greeks in by fiddling the numbers. But I suspect the ECB won't want to take on responsibility for the catastrophic mess Brown in creating.

Bankers Bonuses

Back in January, I wrote a column for Bloomberg suggesting that bankers at firms such as UBS and Morgan Stanley should be made to hand back their bonuses. The argument was fairly simple: the deals had gone pear-shaped, and so they didn't derserve the money. The column took a fair amount of flak on some of the financial blogs. So I'm pleased to see that the UBS is reported this morning to be planning to re-claim some of the bonuses it paid out in previous years. Good for them. It is time investment bankers learnt that bonuses aren't just free money. You actually have to earn them.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Italy & The Euro

I wonder how long the Italians will persist with the euro. Today we learnt that the country has entered its fourth recession in the past ten years. Before it adopted the single currency, Italy was doing pretty well. The establishment decided that the problem for the country, however, was its pernamently weak currency, and so enthusiastically swapped the lira for the euro. They turned out to be wrong. Italy did much better with a weak currency. It's so obvious that the euro has worked out badly for the Italians that at some point even the political class running the country must be able to figure it out.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Flight From Sterling

Te flight from sterling is accelerating, with the pound down to new lows against the dollar, and record lows against the euro. Now there are signs of a sell-off in the gilts market as well. The idea that the UK government is going to be able to painlessly raise £100 billion in borrowing to spend its way out of recession is laughable. The bond and currency markets will expose that, particularly with Gordon Brown intent on making his fiscal irresponsibility into a virtue. It's always a sterling crisis that is the undoing of a Labour Government. This one doesn't look like being any different.

Re-Routing Shipping To Avoid Pirates

There is a fascinating nugget in the FT today, noting that at least one big shipping company has startede re-routing its vessels around the Cape of Good Hope, rather than send them through the Suez Canal and risk attack by Somalia's pairates. Fairly obviously, decision like that are adding huge costs to world trade. It can't be long before a major assault on the pirates in unleashed.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

New York Times On Pirates

The New York Times has a great piece on Somalia's priates, which is likely to be the subject for the third in my Death Force series of books. What it makes clear is just how much piracy has been integrated in the local economy. It's a way of life, just as it was in the eighteenth century.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Why Isn't the BBC's Director-General Elected?

Amid all the controversy over Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, one thing puzzles me. Why isn't the Director-General of the BBC elected by the license fee payers? After all, the chairman of a company is elected by the shareholders - or at least submits himself to a vote. The board of a charity such as the National Trust is elected. So is the chairman of the local golf club. Why are the people who pay for the BBC not allowed any say in how it is run? The Director General should be elected by the license fee payers, on the basis of one license, one vote. Different candidates should run. Some could be more populist and argue for a higher license fee. Others could argue for a £50 fee and a smaller BBC. It would certainly be amusing seeing anyone trying to defend paying £6 million a year to Jonathan Ross in an open election.