The Branson Solution
Sir Richard Branson's solution just might help Britain cope with the EU exit process. He has joined Britons in calling for another referendum, because he fears that the vote last week will cause a British recession. Sir Richard, head of the Virgin Group, blogged that “misrepresentation by the Leave campaign” means Parliament must vote another referendum. My husband and his sister, both UK nationals, signed the petition for a new vote on Brexit, which gathered more than 3 million verified signatures.
Billionaire Branson supported Bremain before the vote but now his position is being taken seriously even by the Brexit team headed by Boris Johnson. Boris now wants to negotiate new terms for British EU membership and hold another referendum before formally applying to exit, hoping to get a better deal on what is really upsetting Britons—EU immigration into the country—by changing the rules on free movement of people within the economic bloc. There are plenty of other countries whose people are also upset by the free movement rules.
Ironically enough the list including Poland, source of the alleged price-cutting plumbers upsetting the French, and other eastern European countries fearing the influx of Middle Eastern and African refugees into their countries, although Brexit voters main grouse with the EU was eastern Europeans arriving in their towns where they pushed down wages and added to demand for school and hospital places. This issue was the key factor in the Brexit victory, according to analysts of the poll results.
Our website was subject to an attack yesterday by signups allegedly from the Palestinian Territories. I assume it was because we cover Israeli shares, but it may be something entirely different. In the past the distributed denial of service attacks were in poor English and apparently came from Chinese hackers. This one was better at our language. In Utah, your editor and Israelis are considered to be gentiles (not Mormons) which leads to a note on a share today. There is more for paid subscribers follows on how to play the Branson initiative plus news from France, Britain, India, Canada, Bermuda, Argentina, Australia, Panama, Brazil, Mexico, Denmark, and Israel, plus a new stock idea.
Iceland Hits England Again!
Adding insult to injury, Iceland defeated England in the soccer Euro cup, and the England manager resigned. Iceland's population is about the same as that of Brighton, a seaside resort: 325,000. Iceland earlier cost yield-seeking Britons hefty losses during the global financial crisis, as banks defaulted on debt sold to UK residents. And even earlier, the minisculte country, with no army, managed to block the British fishing fleet from taking cod from Icelandic waters. Iceland has done an exit from the EU, however, after separating from Denmark, which is a precedent for the UK.
In today's Financial Times, Gideon Rackman, a columnist, argues that Brexit will never happen. The main reason is that the Brexit promises are being walked back by the politicians who made them. No, there won't be £350 mn to add to the National Health Service kitty every month. No, there will not be a chance for solo Britain to make more favorable trade deals with third countries outside the EU now.
Having been the EU correspondent himself for years, Rackman cites a history of giving a second chance to countries which “vote wrong”, as happened to Denmark and Ireland.
Of course Britain (or England) is bigger and more important, and already stalwart francophones are plotting to remove English as one of the three top languages in which EU business is done.
Separately, S&P and Fitch downrated British bonds 2 ranks from the coveted AAA rating. And UK banks are also being downgraded with negative implications, subject of a note for paid subscribers below. We also have news from Britain, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Libya, Germany, The Netherlands, Colombia, Spain, India, New Jersey, Thailand, and China.
*Despite the rating agencies, London equities staged a rebound this morning with the FTSE-100 rising by some 65 points at the opening and [pulling principal European indices up behind it. It may because currency traders read the Financial Times religiously. It may also be because of the short-sale of the pound becoming a “crowded trade” as hedge funds and amateur currency traders piled in. This first rise following the carnage of Brexit is being spurred by sterling, which stabilized during Asian trade early Tuesday at its 31-year low and then started gaining modestly against the US dollar. US Dow-Jones and S&P 500 indexes are also up 1.1-1.2% in the pre-market. After falling about 5% since the Brexit news, emerging market stocks are also up today, by 0.8% mainly because of the falling dollar, Reuters also reports. Eastern European bourses are up more bullishly, by 1.5-2%. We discuss our favorite emerging market below.
Brexit Burn Variations
The weekend was pretty grim in London where fear for jobs and real estate after the Brexit burn was palpable, and the gloom was deepened by cold wet weather. We went to an utterly awful off-West-End play, Vassa Zheleznova, by Maxim Gorky, about a female shipping magnate, re-set during a post-War UK dockers' strike. The problem was that despite everyone yelling a lot I couldn't understand a word of the north British accent the actors affected. Nothing divides Americans and Britons so much as their common language.
En route however I found a splendid new library in Southwark, the area where the Globe Theatre stood both in Shakespeare's day and now again. It is called the John Harvard Library and was funded by the UK National Lottery. It offers free wi-fi, lots of newspapers one can consult about the Brexit, and books about the history of Southwark, which only recently was incorporated into London. John Harvard, a Cambridge-educated religious dissident who later headed for the Massachusetts Bay colony, was born in Southwark, son of a tavern-keeper, and christened in what later became Southwark Cathedral, but was merely a church in his day. The library would gain from a link with Harvard University, something that hasn't yet been made.
Markets in Asia diverged this morning, as Britain’s vote to leave the EU no longer dominated investor sentiment. In Japan, pharmaceutical companies and telcos rose with a stronger yen while car companies fell. The Nikkei 225 gained 2.4% after falling 8% last Fridaqy. The Hang Seng and Bombay indexes are both trading down marginally while the Kospi index is trading 1.6% higher. Shanghai is up 1.45%. The world is getting back to normal.
Sterling's fall continued in Asia with the onshore GBP/Yuan pair tumbling 8.7% as the Chinese central bank lowered its daily fix by 0.91% to a 6-year low. The dollar price of euros is under pressure as a result of Eurosceptic parties clamor for their own referendums on remaining or exiting. One result is that euro stocks this morning are down 2.4% while British ones are down only 1.3%.
However, sterling continues to plummet and opened at another record low of $1.3194 this morning. In London UK banks, retailers and home-builder and real estate firms are suffering as investors shift to global earners and defensive stocks like utilities, telecoms, and health. The financial sector is in deep depression fearing that London's status as the market for Europe will be challenged by Frankfurt, Paris, or perhaps Edinburgh.
Adding to the gloom is the near certainty now that the London Stock Exchange merger with Deutsche Börse will not go through after the vote. I expect the losing bidder, Intercontinental Exchange (ICE which owns the NYSE) will pick up the LSE pieces.
Germany is trying to offer Britain an out. Peter Altmaier, her chief of staff, suggested that the UK should be allowed to “think again about the fallout from the exit” following Chancellor Angela Merkel suggesting that Berlin doesn't see Britain's vote as irrevocable. France on the other hand wants to use a guillotine to rapidly oust Britain so the French right cannot push for another referendum on EU membership; the last French one was very close too.
More for paid subscribers about how to play the markets now with ideas from around the world in telco and IT, banking, oil, drugs, as I select safe and dangerous stocks. In pre-market European (actually British) trading, both the Dow and Nasdaq are down but Wall Street is still asleep as I write. Today we have a single annual report to cover as well.
After the Brisket
TWTWTW. That was the week that was. While many readers rushed to compliment me on my Friday Brexit or Brisket report, a former contributor, Paul Renaud, a Swiss based in Thailand, was critical, writing:
“What I have pointed out for so long is that the Western democracies you and others support produced mega-inequalities in your own country, at the same time helping bring on a 25 year-long rise to developing ones, notably in SE Asia.
“These unchecked inequalities are now climaxing, creating populist instability like the Brexit vote and the rise of Trump. Mistaken economic policies already nearly brought the world to the abyss in 2008, when the North Atlantic West brought the horrible global financial crisis, the worst in 80 years. Meanwhile China brought more people out of poverty by far than ever before in world history. How about that to balance the inequality brought to the West at the same time? In the past I pointed this out to Vivian only to be told I don't know what I am talking about and should stick to Thai stocks.”
Paul has given up on democracies and Switzerland, the UK, or the USA. I disagree. Thailand is unstable and faces its own problems when the longest ruling near-absolute monarch on earth meets his maker. Paul runs www.thaistocks.com from Phuket.
Here are some more comments on the Brexit.
“Keep calm and carry on”, a 1939 UK Ministry of Information slogan, by Brendan Bracken, founder of the modern Financial Times. The slogan was a harbinger of George Orwell's 1984 but is again popular.
Here is Rudyard Kipling on what the Brexiters (or Brisketers) now face:
I could not dig; I dared not rob: /Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue /And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among /Mine angry and defrauded young?
Anton Yelchin, the 27-yr-old Star Trek actor killed by his own defective Fiat-Chrysler car a week ago, lived a short life which might itself make a Hollywood movie. The actor, who played the young star-ship navigator Chekov, was born in St Peterburg in 1989. His parents were ice dancers who had been banned from performing in the 1972 Olympics for the Soviet Union, being Jews. Not allowed to perform in Leningrad's famed Ice Ballet, they could only to choreograph other acts. When Anton was 6 months old his parents fled to the California along with his grandparents.
When he became an actor, Anton told a local Jewish publication "my parents didn't want me to grow up in a Russia that was falling apart." He added: "My idea of being a Jew, at least a Russian Jew, isn't in the traditions my family didn't know. Rather, it is in alignment of the history of the Jews in Russia, the history of being entirely oppressed. Inevitably, it is a mind-set." The talented Mr Yelchin was killed by his car which rolling down his driveway when its brakes failed. Defying a Swiss-based (and Jewish) fund manager friend keen on FCAU, we sold early this year.
My husband and his sister both signed one of the two petitions now circulating online here, calling for Parliament to override the Brexit vote. My brother-in-law refused to call for a revote but it has now garnered over 1.3 million validated signatures from British voters. I am not British and one niece is Italian although, both married to Britishers without taking UK nationality. Now it has become quite difficult because of a crackdown on fraudulent marriages by immigrants.
The other petition calls for London to leave the United Kingdom and declare independence to remain a European financial capital. It has about 200,000 signatures.
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The firm employing my son has always been a regulated fiduciary. I can introduce the firm to readers seeking US retirement plans.
Why Brisketers? Because Britons are called les rosbifs by the French whom they call frogs. Auf deutsch, Mann ist was er isst. (Feuerbach.)
There is no point in tracking our positions now because markets are in panic, and because it is very hard to get meaningful data from Europe, or wherever London is now. So a free blog for all instead!
Global markets are in convulsion after the surprisingly strong UK vote to leave the European Union. Wall Street shares opened down 2-4 percent, while markets in the Disunited Kingdom went into free-fall, down nearly 9%. The Euro stoxx 50 index dropped by double digits before recovering.
Sterling at one point hit a 30-year low down 11% to $1.3224 but there were plenty of fluctuations back up again subsequently. Seeking shelter, investors bought UK bonds, pushing interest rates down to 1.02%, vs 1.37% yesterday. US Treasury bonds also jumped slashing the yield on the 10-year note to 2.47% from 1.67$ yesterday. German 10-year bunds fell to a new low of minus 0.18% overnight. Hardest hit were banks which have to deal with the chaos which followed the referendum results and the London Stock Exchange's own shares, down over 12% on deal uncertainty on the planned merger of the London and German stock exchange. Also hard hit were bookies which had been offering good payoffs for Brexit based on misleading recent polls.
Will Britons take to drink to solace themselves for a bad outcome and to celebrate a good one? The pub indicator was confused. Fuller was up 2.5% while Wetherspoon fell 7%.
The politics were also dreadful. PM David Cameron resigned. Scottish nationalists demanded another referendum to let them vote themselves out of the United Kingdom since Scotland had voted overwhelmingly for “bremain”. Sinn Fein in Ireland demanded that Northern Ireland be reunified with the Irish Republic which is in the EU. Spain demanded sovereignty over Gibraltar.
Right-wing parties in France, Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands, demanded referendums on Frexit, Polexit, Hexit, and Nexit. The Brexit vote provides ammunition for isolationist (and often anti-Semitic and anti-Mjuslim) campaigns and candidates across Europe. This could be the start of the whole EU imploding over broader social issues.
As a politician with funny blond hair, Boris Johnson, who led the Conservative anti-EU block which won the referendum prepares to demand the premiership, another pol with funny blond hair, Donald Trump, is also likely to gain from echoes of a vote that was largely anti-foreigner.
Mudchute Manor, from which I am writing, and the broader London property market will be impacted. Rumbling already some of the largest tenants in Canary Wharf (JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Skadden, Arps) are preparing to move personnel out of London. East London revitalization has been built on the backs of the financial industry; that sector is now entering a structural retrenching.
A weaker Europe will refocus concerns on broader financial imbalances and non-performing loans on periphery banks' books (Portugal, Italy, Spain, and of course Greece.)
Jeffrey Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, who also supported Bremain may also not survive the debacle. Like Bernie Sanders, he is from the most leftish part of his party.
What do do now, you may well ask? To quote Dwight Eisenhower, “Don't do anything. Just stand there.” More for paid subscribers follows from Britain, Ireland, India, Brazil, Colombia, Jordan, Israel, Hong Kong, Canada, Finland, Costa Rica, Spain, and Panama.
Colombia and Pocahantas
On a shopping visit to the Rue du Faubourg St-Honoré, the biggest takeaway was the extremely high security around the Elysées Palace where beleagured Pres. François Hollande no longer is allowed to set off at night by motorcycle for a tryst with his mistress. This may be because of fear of terrorism or because of the Europe football cup but mainly because the French unions have been barred from parading against the reform of French labor laws which were passed by decree. The last demo resulted in attacks on government buildings—including a hospital. So the posh area of embassies and art galleries is full of blocked streets, armed cops and soldiers, and parking bans, none good for business.
I found one possible affordable purchase, a long dress looking like a suede American Indian garment, with fringes and fake bead patterns. But its neckline was below my bra in all sizes, too low for an older squaw to wear even in support of Pocahontas, the name Donald Trump has given to Betsy Warren, a former Harvard Law prof. She claims to be part-Indian but Trump doesn't believe her. I supported her victorious Senate candidacy.
Now Sen. Warren is working on the problem of giving retirees and union officials information they need when investing, to make sure they are not flim-flammed by brokers aiming mostly to earn fees from outside funds, brownie points for tipping house funds, or ill got gains from churning retirement accounts. The Mass. Democrat and Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., are co-sponsoring a bill to create a national database of employer-sponsored retirement and 401(k) plans. It could make it easier for workers to get information about retirement plans sponsored by former employers, and save them from the price-gouging by for-profit broker-advisors.
Peace at long last. Colombia's government and leftist FARC rebels announced reaching a deal on a ceasefire that would be the last major step toward ending one of the world’s longest wars. “We have arrived with success at an agreement on the bilateral and definitive ceasefire and end to hostilities,” the two sides said in a statement read to media in Havana, Cuba.
The accord will be signed on today in Havana by Colombian Pres. Juan Manuel Santos and FARC rebel leader Rodrigo Londono, whose nom de guerre is Timochenko. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Cuba, Venezuela, and Chile, which sponsored the nearly 4-year-old peace talks will serve as witnesses during the signing in Havana. The Obama administration will send its special envoy to the talks, retired diplomat Bernard Aronson.
The Colombian conflict has killed more than 220,000 people and displaced millions since it broke out in 1964. We have in our portfolio a stock to benefit from this good news. We have reports on other Latin American stocks, from Panama and Brazil, bad news from France on a stock we hold, bad news from the US for a stock we exited in time, and a melange of good and bad from Britain, Canada, Japan, Ireland, Finland, Israel, Spain, Italy, China, India and a few other places. And really good news from Israel and India in the health sector! There will be a late blog tomorrow after I arrive in London from Paris, if there is news on the referendum. If not wait for Monday.
Canard Interviews The Queen
This is absolutely the last note I will write on the Brexit-Bremain split in Britain. Today the French satirical weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, interviewed Britain's chief voter, Elizabeth II asking her for an “off the record” insight into how she would vote. The headline reads: The Continent Must Not Leave the Kingdom. Here is the text:
Elizabeth: I am not allowed to say, but I can signal.
Question: By gestures?
Elizabeth (smiling at our naivete): By my hat. A violet or a feather can change everything.
Q: How else?
E: By the color of my clothes. Apple green means I am ok about Europe. Raspberry red means ”no” to Brussels. Orangey-yellow means I am undecided.
Q: And if you wink?
E: That means I've had too much sherry!
Q: How about your son Prince Charles?
E (sighing): He has the same duty of silence, but couillon (airhead) that he is... (Someone knocks on the hidden door and the prince appears.)
Charles: Mother, we must remain in Europe!
E: Be quiet you imbecile, go look after your sheep!
C: You forget the subsidies that Brussels pays to our family. In 2008 you got as a landowner over 500,000 euros. And to me, more modestly, 162,000 euros. If that ceases we will lose our piggy-bank.
E: Be quiet, you irresponsible child. One can pick pockets without touching the party system.
C: Mother, you have been hitting the sherry again!
E (winking): So what? This referendum is agonizing and I am fed up with the family. In honour of our French visitors I would like a glass of Bourbon. (Translated and edited by Vivian from a text by Frédéric Pagès.)
*British seniors are being targeted by scamsters in the run up to the referendum although I suspect the Queen is not one of the targets. Parminder Dhothar, of insurers Phoenix Group writes: “The economic uncertainties around a Brexit – and what this could mean for the value of pensions – is the latest hook being used by fraudsters to get their hands on pension savers’ funds. Phoenix has received reports from worried policyholders being ‘cold called’ by scammers warning them to quickly move their pensions off shore to avoid the risk of a Brexit.
“In fact, since the start of 2016, approximately 74% of suspicious transfer requests have been to Overseas Pension Schemes, which seem to be being unsuitably marketed via unsolicited telephone calls to UK residents who have no intention of retiring or emigrating overseas.
“Whilst such high pressure tactics and links to risky overseas investments are a familiar approach used by pension fraudsters, the temptation used to entice victims continuously evolves. Previously, pension scammers have been known to persuade people to transfer their pensions by offering early access to cash or guaranteed high return investments.”
Britain recently liberalized the rules allowing pensioners to transfer their investments at will. The US is also attempting to regulate the way brokers sell pension programs to retirees in plans offered by their unions.
More for paid subscribers today from around the world: Britain, Canada, China, Egypt, Finland, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Israel Japan, Jordan, Turkey, and a few other places likeTexas, northern Virginia, California, and Oregon.
Emerging and Frontier Markets
The hot trend in hip Paris neighborhoods is “recuperation”. When people throw out their trash or pack up to move homes, they separate out clothing, furniture, or other items which may be reusable by others. And before the garbage trucks arrive (which they do daily), other people walk the streets looking for stuff they can use.
This process is not only good for social solidarity and helping the poor. It also saves the municipality lots of money which would have to be spent to get rid of the detritus of the throwaway culture. Moreover, charities seeking to help people marginalized by drink, drugs, or mental problems also collect refuse which can be sewn or glued or repaired to be reused. It also reduces global warming.
Having tried to get the Salvation Army to pick up stuff in New York after my mother died or take away my old sofa when I replaced it, I know the French idea would work elsewhere as well. Let's try a bit more fraternity.
Being allergic to cats I am sad that a UK startup, Circassia, took a hammering yesterday after its flagship cat allergy product failed trials.
More for paid subscribers follows from Pakistan, India, Israel, Hong Kong, South Africa, Brazil, Portugal, Luxembourg, Denmark, Britain, Canada, and The Netherlands.
Dewey vs Truman Revisited
Today the many happy returns begin. In the end, we went to a different concert rather than risking rain and sellout at the Chopin festival, opting instead for a performance at the St. Merry church near our old flat in the Marais. There we heard among other works by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and what my husband calls boring Brahms. Among the pieces was the first grown-up song I was taught in German, almost certainly after VE-day (because until then my parents only spoke English to me): Heidenröslein, words by Goethe and tune by Schubert (plundered from Mozart.) But the stars of the show were classic clarinets pieces not often heard.
The expected fabulous dinner at the Ambassade d'Auvergne, also in our old Quartier, was a bust. The embassy has downgraded itself to a sub-consulate serving such non-Auvergnat dishes as mozarella de bufle and running out of baby lamb which I wanted to order. It is the third local joint to disappoint on our current visit to Paris, along with the former best Chinese, and the Chant des Voyelles.
London equities soared sharply higher again this morning, with the FTSE-100 up nearly 2%, right at the opening. Sterling is up 1.7% at $1.4624 from Friday's close along with Eurozone stock markets.
The reason is the latest Brexit polls, the first reflecting a Yorkshire extremist's murder of MP Jo Cox, which now show a 3% lead for the innies vs the outies. The Sunday Mail “Survation” poll published yesterday was the first one taken after murder of MP Cox seeking voting intentions. It showed 45% of respondents wanting to remain in the EU and 42% of the wanting to leave. Note:13% are undecided. Muslim politician Baroness Sayeedi Wardi, a Conservative member of the House of Lords, switched to remain having discovered that Brexit involves “hate and xenophobia” today.
British polls are reminiscent of the infamous 1948 US election forecasts which showed Dewey beating Truman, because they miscalled the 2015 national election which gave the Tories an unexpected majority, and also the vote on Scottish independence.
Until the polls close at 8 pm Greenwich Mean Time Thursday, Britishers can still change or make up their minds (or mislead the pollsters). We will travel back to London Friday knowing the first results.
More for paid subscribers follows from Britain, Germany, Australia, Canada, Argentina, Japan, India, Switzerland, Spain, and Morocco.
Special Birthday Blog
Somebody has to celebrate her birthday in Paris, and today it is my turn. There will be no tables becauseI cannot get the information I would need in gai Paris.
Our celebration will begin with lunch in the Plaetzel, the Jewish Quarter of Paris, followed by a Chopin concert if the rain holds off, and dinner at an Auvergnat restaurant. But before the feast, here is some news, on Sunday for a change.