Thursday, December 30, 2010

Spoilt for choice - the next bubble to burst

They say hindsight's a wonderful thing but actually, particularly when it comes to money matters, it mostly leaves you rueful and feeling slightly foolish. How come you didn't see that great looming disaster when all the signs were staring you in the face? For example, did you see this last recession coming? The various property crashes we've had in the UK over the years? The dot com boom turning to bust? Or did you spot before anyone else that Japan was going to fall from economic star to the land of the permanent slump overnight? Maybe you did. Because none of these things came out of the blue; there were plenty of warning signs and sceptical voices pointing them out.

It occurs to me that there are some great crashes in the making at this very moment. There are certainly plenty of booms going on. Surely some of these are going to come to a juddering halt and go into reverse causing mayhem. So as we turn towards the last week of 2010 what would you nominate as the most likely boom-to-bust story in the making? What will we be talking about in the next few years like we talk about Greece and Ireland or the Sub Prime crisis? Here are some candidates:
China -

A bit like Japan in the 80s - the turbocharged economy that just continues to move astoundingly upwards and the country that everyone thinks is the future. There are apparently 65 million empty unsold properties in China, making Spain´s million or so property overhang look pretty puny. This article is typical of the sceptical view The China Syndrome - A Building Bubble
Gold -

Up more than 500% in less than a decade. Dinner party conversations about how much Cash4Gold gave you for granny's locket. I don´t see it myself but many people are calling a gold bubble e.g. 11 signs that gold is in a bubble

US Dollar -

A more or less permanent and enormous trade deficit. A massive fiscal deficit and a central bank that prints money for fun. The mother of all bubbles? Scary YouTube video says yes The Dollar Bubble
Government Bonds -

Government bond yields in most countries like Japan, Germany and America have slid and slid as a decades long bull market in sovereign debt has barely paused for breath. Cracks are appearing now though surely?
The Euro -

Sceptics have called this a disaster in waiting since its birth but it hasn't fallen apart yet. Matter of time?

Oil and other commodities -

A two year high for oil - 93€ Are they having a laugh? That can't be sustained with the weak recovery we are having.

Or maybe you think none of the above; everything is cool. Of course, with the possible exception of the Euro which is very much a political issue, these bubbles - if that's what they are - are all related. A super dollar bubble that has been blowing ever bigger since the 70s.

For what it's worth I think the Euro will avoid mayhem and destruction because the politicians will do whatever it takes to avoid a collapse however much it costs their taxpayers. I don't think the high gold price is a bubble even though, short term, there is a risk of a correction as interest rates rise next year. Oil and commodity prices merely reflect the inflationary consequences of the policy choices made by the US and China which lie at the heart of the whole show. The question is not "will it all end in tears?" but when and who will start blubbing first. I am not even going to hazard a guess though I can easily see the US Treasury market unravelling before the great China crash.

Latest article on the Advoco website covers these sort of themes in a review of the prospects for investors in 2011 What Should You Do With Your Savings in 2011
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Sunday, December 19, 2010

One Great Idea

It's one of this little irritants of modern life - the ban on taking liquids through airport security. Unless you want to shrivel and dry up on your journey, it's a choice between buying a bottle of water from one of the shops on the departures side or seeing what those nice people from Ryanair (or whomever) are charging these days for a bottle of water.

Choosing the former option the other day as I waited to board my flight to Spain, I stumbled across the option of buying One Water from the Duty Free shop. It's spring water from Wales and, besides being considerably cheaper that the French stuff on offer from WH Smiths, all of the profits from its sale go to clean water projects in Africa. Specifically funding Playpumps - these are pumps driven by the power of a children's roundabout which deliver clean water from underground aquifers. A look at the website explained a bit more about the company and it's quite a story. Since it's been going since 2004 you may well have heard of it so I won't repeat the facts which you can read on the website, but a couple of things did occur to me:

- more and more charity, particularly relating to developmental and environmental issues, is getting interwoven with business. As an example look at the plethora of Fair Trade type logos you see in the supermarkets; this is straightforward commerce but with an ethical twist. The time when all green and anti-poverty campaigning groups used to instinctively line up against "big business" and hated multi-nationals seems to have passed. They have seen the benefit of harnessing the power of capitalism for their own ends. Good to see for someone like me who is a free market capitalist through and through but is also acutely conscious of environmental and poverty issues.

- as a general rule I find bottled water annoying and in fact somewhat immoral. I cringe at the amount of money and resources that is wasted on packaging, advertising, transporting stuff that is no better than tap water. Certainly anyone with any pretensions of caring about the environment or global warming should not buy bottled water. Maybe I am missing something but it's a view I have always held. Now that I have found a bottled water which grew out of a great idea and supports a great objective I can soften my opinion. I will still only ever buy a bottle if I have to, but I will always look for the One label. You can like One water on Facebook too

Latest article on the website - Spanish pension benefits Full list

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

EU bonus curbs are bad for Britain

Banker-bashing - it’s become a December ritual to rank up there with carol singing and Christmas lights. Investment banks announcing big bonus pots inevitably attract criticism of the “greedy casino capitalist fat cat” variety, particularly from politicians perhaps keen to deflect critical reviews of their own performance and economic management.

This year the EU has weighed in with some new rules limiting the amount of bonus that can be paid in hard cash and also restricting the right of the recipient to cash in all of their bonus for several years. It’s an easy sell for the Eurocrats politically – few voters are keen to see bankers getting big bonuses, particularly when they amount to rewards for failure (AIB which almost bankrupted Ireland tried to pay out €40 million in bonuses).

But nevertheless the new restrictions are a clear erosion of freedom – the right of private organisations to pay their staff how they see fit – and deserve some scrutiny. The excuse for their introduction is the “systemic” risk posed by banks; the idea that if banks pay their staff big cash bonuses, this will encourage excessive risk taking and sow the seeds of future bailouts and crashes.

However many studies into the subject have failed to find a link between bonus systems and risk taking at banks. I just read a great book about the collapse of Lehmans (“A Colossal Failure of Common Sense”). It is scathing about the bank but doesn’t mention anything about cash bonuses being the problem – in fact Lehmans always paid its bonuses mostly in shares, just the like the new rules propose. If it is felt that banks pose a systemic risk this should be tackled (and is being tackled) in the right way – requiring they put up a bigger capital buffer as a requirement of doing business – not in a politically motivated attempt to stigmatise bank employees.

There is of course a hidden subtext behind the unjustified attack which will undoubtedly contribute to an erosion of the City’s competitive position as a financial centre. Our European “friends” have long been envious of the power of London which was supposed to decline when the Euro came in but actually thrived. The financial crisis has been a great opportunity for left-leaning, anti-capitalist and unelected Europeans to lay into one of the UK’s main strategic industries. The British government should be doing everything possible to delay and block these new rules.

Latest article on the ADVOCO website Calculating the autonomo tax burden

Monday, December 6, 2010

‘Tis the season to pay Spanish taxes

A rather dull topic this week but an important one for anyone with property in Spain, because the deadline is looming for declaring non resident taxes. All Spanish income tax declarations for non residents (modelo 210) have to be in by 31st December. The tax is collected either directly from the taxpayer’s bank account on the last day of the year or it can be paid in cash at the bank, with the completed modelo 210.

Resident property owners don’t have to pay this tax but it is worth noting that the Spanish tax office will not consider you a resident unless you have registered as such and filed at least one tax return (even if it is a “nil” return with no tax paid).

Also be aware that the system for non resident property owners who rent out their Spanish homes has changed. As in previous years the annual modelo 210 is not appropriate if you actually earn rental income – you are supposed to file quarterly form 215s. The change is that this year, for the first time, expenses “exclusively relating to the rental” can be claimed against the gross income. Rates (IBI), agents’ fees and advertising costs would fit under this category.

Back to the modelos 210 which non resident property owners have to declare if they don’t rent out. Full chapter and verse on the tax can be found on our website which has a special page (Spanish Tax Form 210) explaining all about it and giving details of our service where we will do it all for you for 30€.

Alternatively you can do it yourself - it is not a particularly complicated form to fill in and you can download it from the Agencia Tributaria’s website here. Remember that you have to register first before you declare (modelo 30). You pay it at the bank, but you will need to fix Agencia Tributaria identification stickers on the form before the bank will accept it. These stickers can be obtained from the Agencia Tributaria offices simply by showing your NIE (once you are registered with them).

The advantage of our service is that you can do it all online / by email even if you are not in Spain, and that includes the registration process. We even allow clients to settle our bill in pounds to a UK bank account.
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