Friday, September 30, 2011

Tuition fees come at a cost

I'm no politician and by no means do I claim to have a wealth of knowledge about the UK education system (other than having a mother and two brothers who are all teachers that's about where I max out). However, I feel it doesn't take a genius to appreciate that the UK economy is supported primarily by the tertiary sector.

Therefore, to me, it seems an incredibly irresponsible move to increase tuition fees to £9,000 per year, deterring (and even stopping in some cases) students from continuing in further education, undermining the UK's dominant resource, i.e. it's workforce.

Especially when in the past, investors have been discouraged from investing in emerging markets such as Brazil due to its lower standard of education and Brazil has a strong primary and secondary sector to lean on. Surely, this should then set an example to government that education is the one area that fiscal policy shouldn't touch, if the UK economy is realistically going to improve in the long-term and avoid a double-dip recession?

Rant over.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The trials and tribulations of oil...

Like most, I only know the basics about oil:
  1. it lets me drive around (or at least it would if I had a license)
  2. you should never mix it with sea life (otherwise you're going to have a lawsuit on your hands faster than you can say Ryan Giggs superinjunction)
  3. once it's refined it can be used to make products such as: lubricants, asphalt and the raw materials for plastics and rubber

Well, I possibly didn't know the last one (I'm not even quite sure what asphalt is), but a quick Google search is the equivalent to knowing it off the top of your head.

However, what I didn't know was quite how volatile (market-wise) it was. If you read the news covering commodities (FT, Companies & Markets covers it most days towards the back pages), you'll soon see it has more ups and downs in stock price and drama surrounding it, than Jordan does on 'What Katie did next' (yes, I am a bad person).

In August, not only did we hear how the European Union was preparing to impose an oil embargo on Syria; but saw Petrofac (an oil and gas services company with a revenue of $4,354.2 million) potentially expanding its business into Libya in light of the revolution in Tripoli.

Then this month, in response to the Fed's 'Operation Twist' we've seen traders shunning oil in favour of less volatile assets: "Since the Fed concluded its meeting, gold alone has tumbled 8 per cent to $1,656 an ounce, while US oil prices dropped from $86 to below $80 a barrel, their lowest level in more than a year." (Michael Mackenzie and Dan McCrum, Financial Times).

Not to mention the Commodity Futures Trading Commission saga in August, whereby: "The [newly proposed] rules would prevent speculators from amassing futures contracts totalling more than 25 per cent of the deliverable supply of a commodity" (Gregory Myer, Financial Times).

Basically, when the Eastenders omnibus is cancelled for the Olympics/next Royal wedding, and you're not a sports fan/royalist, crack out a couple of articles on oil and you'll soon be thinking: "Oh no they did not just say that?!", "Babes that is totes out of order", or something along those lines...

Monday, September 26, 2011

Strange but false

Working in the financial sector inevitably means you will be surrounded by money and people with money (as with every rule in life there is an exception, in the case of this one it's me) and these individuals are obviously highly intelligent to have gotten where they are; and highly successful as a result. However, I used to take solace in the Hollywood stereotypes that these individuals must be, either: social outcasts focused solely on their career; workaholics tied to their desks; or have neglected friends, family and embroidery (or whatever the latest hobby craze is) to get up the job ladder.

Unfortunately, none of these are true, or at least not for the majority. It appears not only do they have the money and success they also have lives outside of work and worse still - achievements on top of this. Most of which beat my entire life's achievements.

Case one: Elizabeth Corley, CEO, Allianz Global Investors

Case two: Jerome Booth, Head of Research, Ashmore Group plc

He is now worth a whopping £160bn, getting himself listed as number 71 on The Times Rich List this year.

Case three: Helena Morrissey, CEO, Newton Investment Management, part of BNY Mellon
Whilst managing Newton Investment Management, which holds over £47bn in AUM (as of 30 June 2011) and is one of BNY Mellon's largest boutiques; she also founded 30% Club, the not-for-profit organisation aiming to get at least 30% of women on boards.

Not only this she has also been successful in her family life, with eight babies by the time she was 41.

Basically, these people are upsettingly successful and - similar to a size 8 at a night club - you want to avoid them like the plague, to minimise the feeling of complete self-loathing and inadequacy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

To tweet or not to tweet - that is the question…

My former employer, MHP Communications recently commissioned a survey looking at the asset management industry’s enthusiasm (or lack there of) towards social media.

Its findings showed that only 35% of the reviewed asset management firms were active on Twitter, i.e. that actually tweeted and didn’t just have a holding page to avoid/highlight fakes.

However, according to a recent article by Tom Osborn in Financial News: Social media FX: the future of trading?, this case doesn’t appear to be the same of FX traders.

Osborn argues that FX traders are more open to the idea of tweeting because: “the global foreign exchange market is so huge that the activities of retail investors are highly unlikely to have an impact on price, especially in the main currency pairs.” However, the same could be argued for fund managers within the asset management industry.

Therefore, what is the real driving force behind this unlikely enthusiasm these experts have to make their top tips so readily available to the rest of the world?

Whatever it is, it can only be a good thing. Greater transparency within the financial industry in general has been the name of the game since the recession hit. Be it the Dodd-Frank Act for hedge funds, the International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) lease accounting rule reforms for lessees and lessors or the Treasury Select Committee (TSC) demands that the Financial Services Authority (FSA) disclose all bankers paid more than £1 million.

Tools such as Twitter allow this to happen (although – granted - in a very public and intimidating way for the investment community), and the precedent that the FX industry is setting is a step in the right direction.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Complacency delayed the cat...

I'm one of the types that believe: "it'll never happen to me". I have a job I enjoy, live in a nice neighbourhood and have a close set of friends and family. I'm not listing all of these qualities to be the smug acquaintance that everybody hates, instead to highlight I am in fact one of those boring people, who avoid risk like politicians avoid giving a straight answer. I'd rather gauge my eyes out than go paragliding and I didn't go on Oblivion until I was 21. I am, in fact, less exciting than a date with Gordon Brown.

Therefore, when I set off for my long weekend to Carcassonne on Thursday morning, the last thing I expected to happen was for me to miss my flight because of a "copper theft". I'm the first person to criticise British transport, with notoriously, feeble excuses of leaves stopping 150 tonne trains in their track (excuse the pun). However, it appears that this is a very real and increasing problem. With the British Transport Police (BTP) releasing figures this month showing that copper theft alone has cost railway companies £43million in the past three years, delaying trains (including mine!) for more than 16,000 hours. That’s the equivalent of doing 3,653 trips to Edinburgh from London Kings Cross!

I find it hard to believe that it is solely, petty criminals taking advantage of soaring metal prices. Instead, I believe it is people being faced with genuine poverty.

Since the recession hit I've been fortunate enough not to be that effected. I graduated in 2010 and managed to get a job within a couple of months and I've yet to be faced with the threat of redundancy since the credit crunch hit in 2008. However, it appears that while some argue a double dip recession is unlikely the situation, especially within the UK, is becoming more heated and a little be close to home for my liking.

Last month the "London Riots" were on my doorstep, even though Ealing Broadway (where I live) is supposedly one of the "leafy suburbs" of the capital; and this month I missed one of my holidays.

A ‘Spiral of Decline’ (pictured) is expected during times of economic hardship, with a domino effect of worsening employment, living and standard of life conditions.

Question is: how much worse is the situation likely to become?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sex and drugs and auto-enrol

With the backdrop of recession and terms such as, "austerity" and "fiscal policy" becoming more popular headlines than Kerry Katona's drug taking, Paris Hilton's commando antics and Lady Gaga - well, being Lady Gaga - it's hardly surprising that the glamorous world of pensions would be next hit by the credit crunch bug.

With auto-enrolment set to come into play from 1st October 2012, the government appears to be making a pre-emptive strike against an unsustainable system, with the switch from defined benefit to defined contribution pensions plans.

However, the new and now more pressing issue resulting from this is the lack of education being offered to the consumer.

While exclusive previews of the NEST website are being offered to trade publication, Professional Pensions, it appears that unless you work within the financial industry, auto-enrolment is going to be forced upon you harder than your Nan's unwanted, thick knit, Christmas jumper.

Clearly the priority for promotional activity around the government's offering of an alternative pension scheme is raising awareness with decision makers, not explaining the reforms or imparting helpful knowledge to make the whole saga less intimidating to those whose future it will be directly and so greatly affect.

Even more concerning (although not surprising in a culture that breeds "head-in-sandism") are Standard Life's findings from a recent survey, which unveiled only 7% of larger employers have reached a decision on how to deal with auto-enrolment.

Although a year may seem like a long way away, when placed in context of the entire nation's retirement plan, it feels as though this deadline is nearing very quickly. Particularly as it would appear that more promotional activity and emphasis has been placed upon the forthcoming Olympics than a set of reforms, which will affect the entire country for the rest of their working and retired lives.
A day trip to the National Portrait Gallery

In a bid to appear cultured and gather some ‘dinner party conversation’ I took my eight month old niece, Amelie to the National Portrait Gallery; and had a gander, or (as I will claim at said parties) “took a critical view” of this year’s, BP Portrait Award winners and runner ups.

Wim Helden, 57, won the £25,000 award with his impressive portrait of muse, ‘Jeroen’ (pictured); with Louis Smith, 41, taking second prize for his portrait of renaissance-esque, naked model, ‘Holly’ and Ian Cumberland, 28, taking third prize for his near photographic, oil painting of a friend.

However the person who stole the show turned out to be Amelie. As my brother so candidly pointed out: “The easiest way to get attention from women is with a baby”….and he wasn’t wrong.

It came to the point where I started to feel mildly like a celebrity, with every stranger we passed sparking up random conversation pieces, such as: “how old is she?” and “what’s her name?” and “what does she think about Cumberland’s retouches?” (well, maybe not the last one, but it was like the Spanish inquisition of baby trivia).

Anyway, I came to the realisation that in future the best route to being an entertaining dinner guest is to simply take a toddler along with you and let them do the talking.

The BP Portrait Award exhibition is open until 18th September 2011.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Bloomin' marvellous

I popped along to a Gorkana-hosted breakfast for work this week with Bloomberg's London bureau chief, Mark Gilbert; senior executive producer, Gary Kanofsky and anchor of 'On The Move' and 'Countdown', Francine Lacqua

Before we start, attention needs to be paid to the incredible Bloomberg offices (pictured). With fish tank internal walls, nightclub-esque UV light signposting and more open space than your local cinema - you get the feeling you’re stepping into a Roald Dahl story book; waiting for Willy Wonka to pop his head round the corner to give a rendition of 'Pure Imagination'.

Back to business, the Bloomberg team gave a very informative and interesting overview of the multiple press platforms they communicate via, producing a whopping 6,000 news stories per day.
One of the most interesting points was the main driver for Bloomberg’s continued and surging growth (Mark Gilbert interviewed 35 people for new jobs in August alone) - contrary to most other organisations – it was the recession.

Mark stated the resulting turbulent environment led the general public to become increasingly concerned with economic and business news. With readers aiming to control their own future and be less reliant on a Government that can no longer provide financial stability.

With the sovereign debt crisis dominating the pages of nationals and the ever-present threat of default by Greece, Spain and/or Italy looming, it's hardly surprising.

So a big thank you to Gorkana and Bloomberg for their hospitality.