50% Income Tax

24 04 2009

alistair-darling-budget-2009The increase in the rate of income tax for the high earners seems to be the most talked about topic of this year’s budget. The tax applies to all those who earn £150,000 or more. Add to that the National Insurance contribution and it equates to more than half of one’s salary. The aim of this rise, according to the chancellor Alistair Darling, is to contribute to the Treasury coffers to make up for the huge amounts of public sector borrowings, £175 billion this year itself.

But it looks like the aim of this move is to gather support from the majority of the public who seem to hold all those who earn huge amounts of money responsible for all the mess that the economy is in. A poll by the Times newspaper shows that 57% of the respondents back this increase in tax. The accountancy and tax experts will definitely see a rise in business since they will have many clients asking them to look for loop holes allowing them to dodge the tax. And who will then pick up the bill? The hard working majority of course.

A lot of measures have been introduced in the budget to help people, like the scheme for the 18-25 year olds, £2000 car scrappage scheme, ISA allowance, etc. But its one thing to announce something and another thing to actually implement it.

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But, its not whats in the budget that’s important, but what wasn’t included in the budget. If the money coming in is less than the money going out, it may be OK to borrow money in the short term to cover that deficit. But somewhere along the line, cuts in spending will have to be made. There is no clear indication where those cuts will be made.

To make a start, how about the MPs themselves cutting back on the expenses that they claim from the tax payer. I mean claiming back 88p for a bath plug, how ridiculous is that. Its like almost mocking the tax payers. It is understandable that an MP from, say Newcastle, should be able to stay in London when performing his duties and expect the tax payer to pay for that. But that doesn’t mean buying a second home and pocketing the profit made from it. Its means lodging in a hotel during the stay. And if the MPs really care for the taxpayers, why not take a pay cut? Its not a lot to ask. Many workers have taken a pay cut in companies so that their colleagues can keep their jobs.

The Treasury estimates that it will spend £119 billion of the £671 billion on Health services this year. How about asking those who drink excessively and then take up the resources of the NHS when their bodies cant take it to pay for the service. How about allocating resources to curb rising obesity so that money doesn’t have to be spent on treating illnesses arising from it. Distributing garden tools and seeds across the schools would provide physical exercise and free produce as well.

People who currently receive help paying their fuel bills could be provided with subsidies allowing them to purchase energy efficient appliances such as electric kettles. This would reduce the energy used which would reduce the bills which would reduce the amount payed by the Government. Subsidies over 50% could also be provided to buy solar panels which would make homes thatreceive fuel allowance self sufficient which means that they wouldn’t be requiring the help from the Government.

There are many other ways that the money can be spent efficiently by the Government. Asking a group of over-paid Government consultants isn’t going to help, ask the public for ideas. I am sure that a lot of constructive ideas will emerge.

In hindsight, if the Government had spent their money wisely when it was coming in and saved for a rainy day, there might have been a bit of buffer that the Chancellor could have used. We instead ended up with no savings and a massive hurricane instead of a rainy day. The budget doesn’t seem to be based on sound economics, but on hope and a prayer. If the Chancellors own figures are to be believed from last year, we should be in a recovery sometime soon. But instead, we are still in a deep recession. Yet, he hopes the economy will grow by 3.5% in two years time. How? Manufacturing is affected despite the weak pound and the financial sector is not as big as it used to be. Who will then lead the recovery?

Even if the figures are somehow achieved, it is still better to plan for a slow growth and be pleasantly surprised by the massive growth than to plan/hope for massive growth and then get it spectacularly wrong.

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Budget 2009

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Deposits Fall by £2.3 billion

25 02 2009

northern-rock-queue1According to the figures released by the BBA (British Bankers Association), deposits in the high street banks fell by £2.3 billion in January alone.

One of the reasons for this is that people who have lost their jobs are having to use their savings to supplement the loss of their income. Even those who are still employed, but have been forced to reduce their working hours or accept a pay cut, have to withdraw from their savings to meet the shortfall. Those who bought houses when the prices were at their peak are having to use their savings to bridge the gap when their mortgage nears renewal. Many are also dipping into their savings to pay off their credit card bills from Christmas and other unsecured loans.

Also, with the base rate at 1% most high street banks are offering almost no significant rewards to savers for their money. There is almost no incentive for people to save. So, those with savings are looking for alternative forms of investment, something that will at least give them a rate of return above or at least matching the inflation rate.

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A typical banking model is banks borrowing money from savers in the form of deposits and lending that money out to borrowers in the form of mortgages, loans, credit cards, overdraft, etc. The bank charges the borrower a fee, in the form of interest, for the sum of money that is lent out. The bank gives the depositor a reward, in the form of interest, for allowing it to use its money. The fee that the bank charges the borrower is slightly higher than the rate which it pays out to its depositor, and the difference is pocketed by the bank.

Banks are still finding it difficult to borrow from the money markets. And even if they can, its going to be really expensive, which means that the extra cost would have to be passed on to the borrower. So, if deposits are decreasing and savers are withdrawing more money, banks have very little to fall back on. Also, savers have, to a great extent, lost faith with the banks. They will no doubt feel that their hard earned cash is being used to pay bonuses and reward failure.

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It seems like banks will have to go a long way in winning the trust of the consumer and offer more than the paltry rewards to attract their savings. Without the deposits, they’ll find it really hard to fund the lending. Unless, of course, the name of the bank is Northern Rock which has access to the pockets of the taxpayers. Northern Rock was nationalised and was lent some £28bn by the Government last year. It payed back most of it, around £18bn, by forcing its existing customers to move to other providers. This week it pledged that it would offer new mortgages which will be worth around £14bn over the next two years. It most certainly wont be anywhere near the 100% it used to offer.

The overall sentiment seems to be that if bankers want their customers’ money, they will have to work really hard to get it, because the customers would rather spend it on themselves than paying the bankers to spend it for them.

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Unemployment nears 2 million

13 02 2009

natwest-moneysense

According to the figures released by the BBA (British Bankers Association), deposits in the high street banks fell by £2.3 billion in January alone.

One of the reasons for this is that people who have lost their jobs are having to use their savings to supplement the loss of their income. Even those who are still employed, but have been forced to reduce their working hours or accept a pay cut, have to withdraw from their savings to meet the shortfall. Those who bought houses when the prices were at their peak are having to use their savings to bridge the gap when their mortgage nears renewal. Many are also dipping into their savings to pay off their credit card bills from Christmas and other unsecured loans.

Also, with the base rate at 1% most high street banks are offering almost no significant rewards to savers for their money. There is almost no incentive for people to save. So, those with savings are looking for alternative forms of investment, something that will at least give them a rate of return above or at least matching the inflation rate. 

A typical banking model is banks borrowing money from savers in the form of deposits and lending that money out to borrowers in the form of mortgages, loans, credit cards, overdraft, etc. The bank charges the borrower a fee, in the form of interest, for the sum of money that is lent out. The bank gives the depositor a reward, in the form of interest, for allowing it to use its money. The fee that the bank charges the borrower is slightly higher than the rate which it pays out to its depositor, and the difference is pocketed by the bank.

Banks are still finding it difficult to borrow from the money markets. And even if they can, its going to be really expensive, which means that the extra cost would have to be passed on to the borrower. So, if deposits are decreasing and savers are withdrawing more money, banks have very little to fall back on. Also, savers have, to a great extent, lost faith with the banks. They will no doubt feel that their hard earned cash is being used to pay bonuses and reward failure.

It seems like banks will have to go a long way in winning the trust of the consumer and offer more than the paltry rewards to attract their savings. Without the deposits, they’ll find it really hard to fund the lending. Unless, of course, the name of the bank is Northern Rock which has access to the pockets of the taxpayers. Northern Rock was nationalised and was lent some £28bn by the Government last year. It payed back most of it, around £18bn, by forcing its existing customers to move to other providers. This week it pledged that it would offer new mortgages which will be worth around £14bn over the next two years. It most certainly wont be anywhere near the 100% it used to offer.     

The overall sentiment seems to be that if bankers want their customers’ money, they will have to work really hard to get it, because the customers would rather spend it on themselves than paying the bankers to spend it for them.
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Hidden Costs of Redundancies

6 01 2009

jobcentre-plusThe number of people unemployed is rising everyday due to firms going bankrupt or businesses making some of their staff redundant as part of a “cost-cutting measure”. However, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) warned yesterday that redundancies could in fact prove to be a false economy for businesses.

It estimates that the actual cost of redundancy could reach up to £16,000 for each employee made redundant. This figure takes into account the redundancy payment and the costs involved in recruiting and training replacement staff. But, redundancies can also lead to lower staff morale because when employees see some of their colleagues being made redundant, they fear about the security of their own jobs. This leads to a drop in their productivity which in some cases would lead to the business losing its competitive edge over a period of time. The CIPD’s figures doesn’t take these factors into account.

For most businesses redundancies are the most straight forward ways of cutting down costs in the short term. Less staff means less wages to be paid each month. Although analysts and bankers and politicians cannot agree on how long it will take for the economic condition to improve, they all agree that it will improve in the near future.

When the situation does improve, a business should be in a position to meet the upsurge in demand if it wants a share of the increasing market. This does not only mean having enough number of staff, but staff that are properly trained and equipped with necessary skills to help them do their jobs to the best of their abilities and be efficient. So, when employees are made redundant, they take the skills that they have acquired at the firm’s expense with them and this is another indirect cost to the business.

When the economy is booming, there is demand for staff from businesses who want to grow. For those businesses that require staff with special skills, this could prove to be a costly affair because people with those specific skills might be hard to find. Also, if people with a particular skill are in high demand, the business would have to be prepared to pay a higher salary or offer lucrative perks or else the prospective employee might end up working for the competitor.

Most businesses have a Human Resources Department which looks at the company’s long term objectives and then works out the staffing needs like the kind of staff required, the kind of skills required, etc., to achieve these objectives. Rather than just making staff redundant, businesses looking to grow in the near future should perhaps evaluate their long term goals and view the currently unemployed people as a pool of highly skilled employees and recruit them cheaply to make the best of the up turn. To help realise the true cost of redundancy, the CIPD has created a formula for employers.

Real cost of redundancy = (n ×R) + (x ×H) + (x ×T) + ny(H + T) + Wz(P – n)

Where:
• n = number of people made redundant
• R = redundancy payments
• x = number of people subsequently hired
• H = hiring costs
• T = induction/training cost
• y = percentage quitting post redundancy
• W= average monthly staff salary
• z = percentage reduction in output per worker caused by lower morale
• P = number of people employed prior to redundancies

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Inflation? Worry about Deflation instead.

16 12 2008
John Lewis , Oxford St., London

John Lewis , Oxford St., London

It was announced today that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) fell by 0.4% from 4.5% in October to 4.1% in November. The CPI is the official measure of inflation used by the Government. The biggest factor for this fall is being attributed to the fall in crude oil prices. The average price of petrol was 95.2p. On the other hand, prices of fresh fruit and vegetables and non-alcoholic beverages is said to have risen compared to last year.

Although the drop is good news, the rate of inflation is still twice the official target of 2%. So, Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England put pen to paper and wrote a letter to the Government explaining why the rate of inflation had not hit the target. The governor of the Bank of England is required to write a letter to the Government whenever the rate of inflation is either 1% above or below the target and explain the possible action the BoE might take to solve it. However, Mervyn King feels that the next time he has to write a letter to the Government, it may not be about the reasons for inflation, but deflation instead.

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What are Inflation and Deflation?

Inflation is regarded to be a bad thing since it means a rise in prices, which is a bad thing for shoppers. Then, deflation must be a good thing, right? In the short term, yes it is. In the long term though, its a dreadful thing. To understand why a drop in prices is such a bad thing, one has to understand the meaning of the terms “inflation” and “deflation” and its causes. Inflation is the general increase in prices or, it is the decrease in the purchasing power of money. There are two possible causes; either the cost of production has increased, like the cost of raw materials or labour, or demand is out stripping supply. Take for example a rise in price of a NintendoWii games console. This may be due to a rise in the cost of materials and parts and workers who produce it. Or it could be that the number of units available is less than the number of people wanting to buy it, so the price goes up. Around Christmas, it is likely for the latter to be true. It wouldn’t be unusual around this time to find a NintendoWii on eBay at twice its retail price.

Deflation is the persistent decrease in prices. This happens when supply outstrips demand which could happen due to a surge in productivity. Or, like in the current climate, consumers rein in their spending which means that shops have to cut prices to entice customers to spend. If this happens a couple of times, it creates an anticipation of further cuts in the future. So, although consumers may have the purchasing power, they postpone certain purchases since they would be cheaper in the future. Its a self-fulfilling prophecy where consumers postpone their spending thinking that there would be price cuts, and sure enough, shops cut the prices to persuade shoppers to loosen their purse strings. Good news for shoppers, bad news for businesses. Businesses experience cash flow problems and their staff would have to accept a pay cut or even lose their jobs. So, debt becomes expensive because one owes the same amount of money, but has less income to meet it. Signs of deflation can already be seen on the high-street. Retailers are offering massive discounts, the likes of which are usually seen after Christmas, because they are desperate to clear their stock. And the consumers know this and know that further discounts will follow eventually.

It will be interesting to see how Mervyn King and the Government will go about coaxing the shoppers to spend their money.

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HSBC to increase its lending

9 12 2008
HSBC

HSBC

The World’s Local Bank HSBC announced on Monday that it aimed to lend next year roughly two times the amount it lent to homeowners in 2007. For this purpose, it has set aside around £15 billion. In an environment where banks are becoming increasingly reluctant to lend money, HSBC hopes to increase its market share by lending, thereby getting a huge slice of a, albeit, small market. It is also hoping that its customers will continue to bank with it even when the climate improves, because they will remember that HSBC was there for them when all the other banks closed their doors. This will mean that when the market does get bigger, they will effectively have a huge slice of a huge pie.

So, how can HSBC afford to increase its lending when other banks have had to be injected with capital by the taxpayers. HSBC is one of the few banks thathasn’t gone to the taxpayers cap-in-hand asking for a cash injection, it is in fact well capitalised, according to its CEO Michael Geoghegan . According to its spokesperson, HSBC doesn’t have to depend on the two main sources of finance that the banks that were bailed out depended on- the money markets and UK depositors. It will instead fund it internally using its reserves. The reason why other banks are lending less money is because they don’t have enough money to lend.

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It is true that last Thursday the MPC (Monetary Policy Committee) cut the base rate by 1% to 2%-the lowest it has been for years. However, the primary source of finance for most banks is not by borrowing from the Bank of England, but from the money markets. The rate of interest in the money marketshasn’t gone down at the same rate as the base rate. Hence, the cut in the base rate is unlikely to make the cost of borrowing money any cheaper. Another source of finance for banks is their customers’ deposits. However, in recent years, the levels of savings in the UK is said to have decreased. The cut in savings rate by the banks is unlikely toentice people into put their hard earned cash into banks, except for those whom the interest paid is their income.

HSBC also announced a £1 billion fund for lending to small businesses. Small Businesses that are fundamentally sound and only experiencing cash flow problems are the kinds of businesses it is hoping to lend to. The reluctance of banks to lend to sound businesses has been it the news recently, forcing numerous businesses to cease trading just because they have a cash flow problem and not because their business model is fundamentally flawed. The increase in the number of small businesses going bankrupt no doubt puts the jobs of many people at risk and leads to fear amongst those that are in employment. Small business owners, no doubt, will welcome this announcement which will be akin to a lifeline being thrown at them when they are in dire straits.

It has stressed, however, that the lending criteria will still be strict. In other words, they are not planning to throw money at anybody who asks for it.

Even if this announcement does not completely restore confidence, any good news is welcome in these gloomy times. It is unlikely that any other major bank will come forward and increase its lending in the near future, no matter how much Brown, Darling orMandelson threaten or cajole them into doing so. In a way, one cannot blame the banks which have been bailed out for being reluctant or in their words, “careful”, of lending. On one hand, they are the subject of many a joke and their “irresponsible” lending is being blamed for all this mess, and on the other hand, they are being pushed to lend at levels of last year.The money which has been lent to the banks on behalf of the taxpayers has not come cheap, the banks have had to pay a hefty price for it.





Woolworths goes into administration

28 11 2008
woolworthsThe high street retailer Woolworths, fondly known as Woolies, has been forced to go into administration after it failed to find a buyer to snap it up for a nominal £1. So, why didn’t anybody buy it, surely £1 for a whole company seems like a bargain? That’s because the buyer would have not only acquired Woolworth’s assets (things it owns), but also its huge liabilities (money it owes), £385 million to be exact.

So, what is administration and when does a business go into administration? With regards to business, it is when a business doesn’t have enough funds to trade, also known a cash flow crisis. Cash flow is not the same as profitability of a business, but refers to the cash flowing into and out of the business. If cash coming in is less than the cash going out, then the cash flow is negative and it means that the business does not have enough funds to meet the current liabilities, like creditors and suppliers.

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However, going into administration isn’t still the end of the story for Woolworths. In fact, administrators, in this case the accountancy firm Deloitte, protect the company from creditors seizing stock to pay off the money that is owed to them. The administrators are trying to find a buyer for Woolworths, failing which it will be forced to go into liquidation. This is where the administrators try to sell off the assets to recover any money they can to pay off the debts. Woolworths competitors are dreading this because although it will mean less competition in the long term, since there is one less player in the market, in the short term, it will mean a price war during Christmas as the administrators will slash prices to sell off all the stock.

So, is the reason for Woolworth’s difficulties due to the credit crunch? Well, the increase in household bills has meant that consumers are spending less. This is evident from the fact that Woolworth’s like-for-like sales have decreased whereas their costs have increased leading to increased losses. Many analysts say that Woolworth’s difficulties should come as no surprise, as Woolworths didn’t have a clear brand image, what its brand stood for, and its purpose in the market. Additionally, suppliers of Woolworths found it expensive to insure themselves against the risk that it wouldn’t be able to pay them and hence, Woolworths had to pay upfront for the supplies, unable to take advantage of buying on credit that some of its competitors enjoy.

Woolworths has around 815 stores and employs around 30,000 employees. If the business does go into liquidation, all these employees stand to lose their jobs. Also, the businesses that supply to Woolworths will also suffer losses. The question many people are asking is why isn’t the Government bailing Woolworths out, after all, it did bail out the banks. Well, the Government can’t bailout every business in difficulty; it’s a natural business process where the one with the weakest business model fails hence making the others stronger due to decreased competition.

Other than its retail business, Woolworths Plc. also owns Entertainment UK and 2Entertain. Entertainment UK specialises in the supply of CDs and DVDs to retailers such as Tesco, Zavvi, W H Smith, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and of course Woolworths itself. EUK is said to be a profitable business and the administrators are looking for a buyer for it as well. If EUK is shut down, it will no doubt affect the retailers it supplies, especially during the crucial trading period of Christmas. BBC Worldwide and Woolworths Plc., on the other hand jointly own 2Entertain, and there are talks of BBC Worldwide buying Woolworth’s share of the business.
It has also been reported that MFI is also going into administration, and it looks like a few more will follow, certainly after Christmas. If you want to see Woolworth’s Interim report for 2008, click here.