Who gets the best deals on insurance? (depends who you ask!)

The Financial Regulator regularly does ‘cost surveys’ to help the Irish public determine what the best deals are on the market, it would seem that in some cases they are actually driving people directly to certain insurers because they don’t survey the whole market! Indeed, as this weeks Sunday Times article by Niall Brady shows, Brokers were able to beat the ‘best price’ quoted by the regulator in almost every example, and it wasn’t only by a few cent either! In one case it was about €500 per annum, and in many others it was €100 p.a. – now on the other hand, if a broker went and made a person pay that much more than they had to then they’d be lynched, but when the regulator does it’s just an ‘oversight’… Quis costodiet ipsos custodes? Click on the picture below if you want to see a larger more readable version of it.

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‘What If’ … Economists were a few hundred years ahead of the game?

The Trinity Science Gallery is just across the street from our offices, proximity, linked with my interest in science (confession: I dropped out of Science in NUIM many years ago before studying business – but as a kid I actually wanted to be a scientist) means that I go there a lot, and they have these great exhibitions on regularly, the latest is called ‘What If’ and it poses questions that are part morality part science, part pie in the sky, but the fundamental aim of getting you thinking is totally successful.

Which brings me to something interesting that I noticed when I was there last week, one of the exhibitions was ‘What if we tried to make a toaster from scratch‘ (video here).

The actual description of this is as follows: ‘Thwaites (man behind the project) went on a quest to build an electric toaster from scratch, …

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Retarded banking policies

Banks allowed their commercial teams to make a really big mess which the nation now has to clean up, the mess wasn’t on the residential loan book (although it may be in the future), it was primarily on the commercial/development book and those are the loans that NAMA will be taking.

So one might think… ‘at last, the bad stuff is out of the way’ and it is for the most part, at least from a ‘toxic asset’ point of view, what isn’t out of the way is the continued lack of foresight that major banks in this country seem to have.

I ask: ‘Did you know property prices have fallen significantly?’. ‘No I didn’t’ said the martian who just rode in on a moonbeam and landed in my office, but other than him, everybody knows the craic, house prices are down everywhere to varying degrees, and that means prices are lower than they used to be.

So why are some banks refusing to look at mortgages where the actual value of the property is …

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Banks are not competitive?

Roger Bootle notes that markets do quite well at the end of a recession and at the start of a recovery by drawing the benefits of the future down into the present. Roger has a lot to say on the topic of banks, in particular that of banker bonuses – he states (and we agree) that when banks become ‘too big to fail’ they essentially are oligopolies and hence they are able to pay so well. From an Irish perspective the domination of AIB and BOI put some stock in this theory.

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Irrational banking, non-competition creating profits unexpectedly.

That banking in Ireland is a little irrational at present is a given, however, there are occurrences in the market which will change pricing structures in the near future, interestingly, by trying not to compete for business, several banks will ultimately make the market more profitable for all of the banks, achieving almost the opposite of what they had hoped to do.

I’ll explain, at the moment we have seen widespread Sovereign Credit Retrenchment, that’s a fancy way of saying that banks who are bailed out by certain countries are only really focusing on their indigenous markets because it is those markets that bailed them out. Irish banks have done this, Irish owned UK operations are closed. Equally, UK banks here are doing this by making their existing business rates higher and their new business rates exceptionally high.

Bank of Scotland’s new business variable rate is 6.19%, a whopping 5.19% over the ECB, they are doing this to avoid lending, and they are also paring back LTVs so that you have to have greater equity in the deal to borrow, …

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‘Are we there yet?’…. when will the bottom of the housing market be reached?

The most popular question I am asked as of late is whether or not we are at the bottom of the housing market, and the answer is ‘no…. but perhaps closer than we think’. Today we will consider a few of the things we will need to see in order for ‘recovery’ to occur.

First of all we need to see a reduction in the massive overhang of housing stock, even if the number reduces, they all need to be sold and a degree of scarcity will need to develop in order to make prices go up again, currently supply is swamping demand and that dynamic will leave uncertainty in its wake.

However (and here is part of the ‘perhaps closer’ bit), NAMA will likely take a lot of housing off the market, in particular it will take it off the market and drip feed it back in, if this happens then it will avoid devastating fire sales, it might also lead to stagnation …

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If you are in financial trouble, don’t be an idiot

A part of me feels bad about not having any pity for some of the people who recently had their homes repossessed. Note: I said some not ‘all’, the reality is that I agree with repossessions for people who bury their head in the sand. In many cases the person had made no payment in three or four years and avoided any contact from the lender.

How do you negotiate with a person who won’t even come to the table? Or worse yet, who refuses to acknowledge there is an issue to come to the table for! The IBF recently decided to start working with MABS on a new protocol for people in financial difficulty, we fully support such a move, and for people in mortgage arrears, or indeed any financial arrears we even wrote a guide for …

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Toxic traders, capitalising on volumes

Joe Saluzzi of Themis Trading (I mistakenly read the link initially as ‘the mistrading’!) have recently published a paper which accuses traders of intentionally trading huge volumes where they buy and sell for the same price and in the process make a half a cent per share. The volume of trading is fictitious ‘high frequency traders’, what they do is buy and sell and collect liquidity rebates from the exchange (note: 50 milliseconds is a huge amount of time) in this game. Do it 8 billion times and it really starts to add up.

This is just depressing, actual investors don’t get to join in because the firms engaged in this are doing it within the actual exchanges using the fastest computer technology available. They also have an unfair advantage in how they trade because they use rules intended to match buyers and sellers to their advantage, they find hidden liquidity and in essence remove it from the market as profit.

The most powerful deterrent would be to make a rule …

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