Saturday, April 28, 2012

Do we need adverts to tell boys not to abuse girls?

That title is not a rhetorical question.  I really don't know the answer and am curious.

The UK government must think that some young people don't know the boundaries of what is acceptable in their relationships because they spent a lot of money on the This is Abuse campaign with such messages as:

- no means no
- physically attacking your girlfriend is wrong
- rape doesn't always involve physical force
- pressuring a girl into sex is wrong

My first instinct is that the campaign should not have been commissioned for three reasons:

- governments already waste far too much money on ineffective but expensive glossy ad campaigns (think about how much they have ploughed into fruitless healthy eating campaigns, if you will excuse the pun).

- the old libertarian view that issues of personal responsibility, morality and behaviour should be dealt with by society, mainly in families, and governments shouldn't interfere.

- the anti-abuse campaign shouldn't be necessary.  How is it possible that large numbers of British males have got to the age of sexual maturity without knowing that it is wrong to force themselves on girls and try to get their own way by physically hurting them and calling them "slags"?

Obviously there are young (and old) men who act in this way and a lot of rape and domestic violence is unreported so probably more widespread than you think.

However that doesn't mean that the perpetrators are unaware that what they are doing is wrong and they need it explaining to them.  Even in this permissive age little kids are told not to attack their peers and call them names even at pre-school.  It would be pretty chaotic otherwise.

No one gets to talking age without knowing it's wrong to hurt people.  Surely they are not going to need someone to sit down and explain to them that this also applies in the field of relationships?

But perhaps I am wrong and a good number of teens are confused about rape and uncertain about what constitutes  abusive behaviour.  In that case then this very slick and thorough campaign would be justified.

But it's a sad reflection on the state of our society and in particular the nation's parenting skills if the government has to step in and explain to boys that behaviour of the kind acted out in this video is not right:

From our website: Minimum age requirements in Spain

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Cornered Spain gets desperate

Desperate times call for desperate measures and, as far as country's economies go, things can't get much more desperate than Spain right now.  So it's no surprise to see some government measures being announced that would ordinarily never see the light of day.

Spain's plight is well known - a seemingly endless "crisis" (pronounced cree-see in Spanish) which has resulted in mass unemployment and a shrinking economy.

The immediate problem however is avoiding default. Spain has to sell bonds to finance its deficit and the fear is that if the interest rate on those bonds rises to 7% the government will have to seek a bailout from the EU and the IMF.

Last week's bond auctions saw demand for Spanish debt at 6% so there is not much margin for error.

This is why the government is trying all sorts of things to raise money which are causing massive controversy in Spain.  No one wants to end up being the next Greece but there is widespread anger at some of the measures:

- an amnesty for tax dodgers who can get repatriate funds hidden offshore no questions asked and just pay 10% in tax.  The government thinks it can raise €2.5 billion but everyone else thinks it's unfair.  The opposition want to block it in the courts as "unconstitutional" because it undermines the right to equality among citizens.

- making pensioners pay 10% of the cost of their previously drug prescriptions has caused a huge outcry even though the amount they pay has been capped at €8 - €18 a month depending on their level of income and non-pensioners pay far more (up to 60%).

- As I predicted in February (Spanish electricity bills set to soar) the government has hit energy costs with electric bills up 7%.  They now stand 60% higher than they did in 2007 when the crisis first began.

Will all this keep the bond markets happy?  Probably not as all the pain inflicted by the government just makes it harder for the economy to grow which in turn will push the deficit targets further out of the reach.

That is so obvious it hardly needs stating but what else is the government supposed to do?  Imagine if it just shrugged at the deficit and carried on regardless (which is more or less what the French seem to be doing).

Spain is chasing its tail and it's hard to see it ending in anything other than a bailout.

From our website:  Taxation of rental properties in Spain

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The company that will be bigger than Apple

Who or what can stop the seemingly irresistible rise of Apple Inc, now the world's most valuable company by quite some distance (see Top 5 below)?

1. Apple $564 bn
2.  Exxon  $391 bn
3. Microsoft $259 bn
4. PetroChina $257 bn
5. IBM $235 bn

Every quarter seems to bring a surge in sales from a new version of one of the company's smash hit products (iPhone4 in Q4 2011, iPad3 in Q1 2012 and iPhone5 due later this year).

The sales price dipped last week but is still up 600% in the last 5 years.  Crazily optimistic investors?  Not really, profits have gone up faster and the forward P/E ratio is a far from vertiginous 12.8 - lower than it has ever been; see this great chart here.

With plans to transform the TV market and a burgeoning business in content (especially app) sales, Apple is certainly in a sweet spot and the share price is justified.

But what of the longer term?  As Apple has itself shown, a huge amount can happen in 10 years.  Before introducing the iPod and a funkily-coloured range of Macs in the early 2000s Apple was almost an irrelevance.  It's share price was less than $10 as recently as 2004 (it closed over $600 yesterday).

Consumer habits and market trends can change capriciously.  Just ask Sony, which back in the 90s was as dominant in consumer electronics as Apple is now.  It's been in the news this week because it is losing billions, cutting jobs and fighting for its survival.

I can't see Apple sliding back to obscurity any time soon but there are some potential traps ahead.  The proposed move to TV is risky ; most TV makers lose money.  Apple's amazing margins (a solid 40% for several years) will surely come under pressure in the phone and tablet markets as competitors gear up.

Steve Jobs also bequeathed Apple an obsession with "walling off" content inside the iTunes world but consumers (and developers and content providers) prefer openness and freedom.  Trying to have it all might bite back one day.

As for the competitor most likely to topple Apple as the world's dominant company, I nominate Korea's Samsung Electronics ahead of the usual suspects like Facebook and Google.

Looking around a mobile phone shop at Samsung's phones and tablets you might not think them in any way a likely challenger to sleek and innovative Apple.  It sells a similar quantity of devices but not at the profit margins of Apple's premium products.

But take your eyes off those products du jour and look at the bigger picture; in many ways Samsung is a stronger and more rounded company, even though it is valued at only $200 billion to Apple's $580 billion.

Samsung is strong across a broader range of products including TVs which, rather than just talking about it like Apple, it actually does amazingly well in with about 25% of the world market. Look at this state of the art "OLED" TV that it has just unveiled which is every bit as awe-inspiring as the iPad3:

It has a dominant and growing presence in memory chips and LCD and LED screens, demonstrating a much wider range of capabilities than its American rival.  I suspect it will make a lot of money from revolutionary new lighting products over the next few years for example.

Consider too the R&D spending figures - Samsung plans to spend over $9bn this year around three times as much as Apple.  Some of this money is going into developing more software skills where obviously Apple has a great core strength.

The software gap will close however while Apple will never match Samsung's prowess as a manufacturer.  It is interesting to note that more than 25% of iPhone is actually made from Samsung components and the proportion is even higher for an iPad.

The company is part of a bigger industrial group which plans to invest  a staggering $41bn and recruit 26,000 new people this year, with 80% of this going into Electronics in the form of acquisitions, research and incubating new technology.

I predict that Samsung will be a bigger company than Apple within 5 years in terms of sales, profitability and market value.  Not an easy one for investors to play however as Samsung is not listed out of Korea.

From our website:  Spanish wealth tax guide 2012

Top 5 companies by market value (Apr 2012)

1 Apple $588.95
2 Exxon Mobil $406.56
3 Microsoft $265.15
4 PetroChina $257.98
5 IBM  $242.17
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