Shooting the Messenger

Exports row masks corporate governance issues

Liam Fox, the British secretary of state for international trade appointed by Prime Minister Theresa May to lead post-Brexit trade negotiations along with Boris Johnson and David Davis, put his finger squarely – but not fairly – on the biggest headache Britain has had for years last week.

In comments to the right-wing Conservative Way Forward group, he referred to the anaemic export performance of Britain’s major companies, calling their bosses ‘fat’ and ‘lazy’, and claiming they would rather play golf than open up new markets with new products. The Times, which first published the comments, accompanied an opinion piece with the headline, ‘Don’t shoot the clumsy messenger‘.

The comments prompted an expected backlash from business leaders, but the facts themselves are evident. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne’s ‘march of the manufacturers’ and the goal he set of doubling exports to £1tn by 2020 look further away than ever – exports of £510.3bn in 2015 were below 2014’s figure of £511.7bn.

Will Brexit make a difference? Sterling’s approximate 10% devaluation since 23 June has prompted hopes of a boost to UK exports. But while there may be anecdotal evidence to suggest this has already happened, the decline will have only a limited effect if sterling’s 25% fall in 2008-09 has any lessons for today.

British managers are not lazier than their German counterparts. But in many ways they have a much harder – if not impossible – job. They do not spend their time on golf courses these days, but rather use it to present quarterly return figures in such a way that they satisfy shareholders and/or optimise their profit- and often share price-related bonuses.

Many of the best British companies sit on large cash piles. They do not spend them on product development or opening up export markets in the Far East, for fear of an adverse reaction affecting their share price. They prefer to ‘return cash to shareholders’ through share buy-backs or look for mergers and acquisitions, rather than growing their companies organically. If all else fails, they can ‘bring the company into play’ and sell it at a premium.

The Anglo-Saxon corporate governance model puts British businesses at a disadvantage compared with their European and Asian competitors. More than 85% of German businesses – the famous Mittelstand – are not quoted on the stock market. Managers can afford to think and act long-term without fear of a takeover, being dismissed or losing out on remuneration.

Chief executives of listed companies are shielded by their supervisory boards, which include worker and frequently customer representation. This acts as a practical defence against takeovers and over-adventurous board directors, and is a useful tool for communicating with workers.

May – like Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, a scientist by training – appears to have a better handle on the root causes of the UK’s export malaise than Fox, a medical doctor with no business experience. She fired a first salvo in the right direction shortly before taking office by suggesting worker participation on company boards, as well as an overhaul of the UK company takeover code and remuneration practices in British boardrooms. It is ironic that, just as the UK turns its back on Europe, its prime minister wants it to adopt a more continental-looking business model.

Changing the UK’s shareholder value model will not be easy. Tony Blair talked in 1995 about the stakeholder economy model, similar to Germany’s social market economy or ‘Rhineland capitalism’, and was very quickly stopped in his tracks. Let’s hope May’s attempts to address the root causes of the problem, rather than its symptoms, are more successful.

The Globalist: Economic Lessons from the UK’s Olympic Success

There can be no doubt that there is enough talent in the United Kingdom to compete with the best – but the system has to be right. Brexit or no Brexit, the UK has a choice to make. It can follow an Olympic strategy or stay with the calamitous football set-up, which has all the glitz and none of the glory.

This article was first published on The Globalist website 25 August 2016

2016 were the most successful Olympic Games ever for the United Kingdom. With 27 gold medals (and 67 medals overall), Team UK came in second place, ranking only behind the United States.

In spectacular fashion, the UK beat both China (3rd) and Russia (4th), as well as Germany (5th ) in the overall standings.

What makes this very special Olympic glory so noteworthy is the contrast to the Olympic Games two decades earlier. In Atlanta in 1996, the British team received just one gold medal – its lowest score ever.

What a difference smart planning makes

What has made the difference over these 20 years? The short answer seems money from The National Lottery, with each ticket sale generating proceeds that were dedicated to funding Team UK at the Olympic games.

But that is not the whole story. Once Britain was awarded the 2012 Olympic games, the country’s then-government under Messrs. Blair and Brown decided to change things around a bit.

A long-term strategy was developed and priorities were set to focus on certain sports where the chance of medals were greatest.

To that end, specialized facilities like the Manchester Velodrome created (yielding a record haul from indoor cycling events for Team UK this time around).

In addition, the best coaches were hired and they and the athletes were highly motivated through incentive schemes based on performance.

Just apply the Olympics strategy to the UK economy

As far as I can tell, the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, is determined to take a leaf out of her nation’s Olympics book and apply it to the entire British economy.

Mrs. May certainly doesn’t want to copy the English football team’s example, which reached its own “Atlanta moment” this year, with a defeat against Iceland in the European Championship.

Britain has got plenty of sports talent but, as the Olympics strategy has proven, that talent must be properly nurtured.

England’s national football team failed because of systemic problems. That football is considered the national game in England makes these failures especially stinging.

The BPL cover-up

However, for most of the year, they are carefully covered up. With the relentless focus on the global commercialisation of the Barclays Premier League, club football seems a glorious enterprise.

But even here, as is seen in the late stages of international club competitions every season, English clubs fall short of expectations.

A key part of the explanation is short-term pressure on results, paired with too many foreign owners and managers with no interest in the national game.

They look for spectacular foreign signings rather than developing home-grown talent over the long term. The contrast to Spanish and German clubs is palpable. They do hire foreign talent, but develop plenty of home-grown talent.

Sir Alex Ferguson was the last manager who raised English youngsters to become world-class football payers – and that is now too many years ago.

As goes football, so does the economy?

Unfortunately, England’s football saga bears an uncanny resemblance to the overall British business approach, with a similar result.

The Anglo-Saxon “shareholder value” governance system, with its inherent pressure on quarterly results, drives short-term decision-making by boards.

M&A activity yields quicker results to make a corporation larger than organic growth would. For the latter approach, you need patient product improvement and development, investment in the latest technologies, focus on opening up new markets and, above all, on skills development in house (at all levels, from shop floor to top floor).

Balance sheet maneuvers, instead of focusing on productivity

All that costs money and reduces profits in the short term. The approach chosen instead is to massage the balance sheet – often through share buy-back schemes – to make the company’s results “look” better, even if this is just a financial engineering exercise achieving no real enhancement in value.

It is part of the shareholder value model where the incentives for directors are in line with those of the shareholders – unfortunately both thrive on short-term results.

Bizarre “business” practices

Even more importantly, they mostly just pay mere lip service to the stakeholders – employees and their families, the towns and cities where operations are based, as well as society as a whole.

To give a concrete example how far this disregard for employees and society can be taken, consider Sir Philip Green’s purchase of British Home Stores some years ago.

His special dividend payment of £400 million to his tax-exiled wife, followed by his sale of the company (which carried a £572million pension deficit) to a three times bankrupt associate for one Pound and the subsequent collapse of the company led to the loss of 11,000 jobs.

This bizarre, but carefully crafted chain of events has rightfully been described as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”. It clearly highlights major shortcomings in the UK’s corporate governance.

To make a long story short, under the British business-as-usual rules, the deck is amply stacked against long-term thinking and value creation.

Selling the family silver until there is no more?

Britain has lived for decades on the proceeds of selling assets to shore up the country’s current account deficit and the exchange rate.

Ports, airports, the energy sector, huge numbers of industrial businesses have been sold to foreign investors. The London Stock Exchange and high-tech ARM Holdings PLC are the latest in a long line.

For a long time, all this selling off the family silver was falsely heralded as underlining the attractiveness of Britain as an investment location and considered a virtue.

Why was all this misleading thinking pushed on the British public? Because plenty of people in “the City” got filthy rich in the process of acting as advisors to, if not instigators of, these transactions.

Just ask all the lawyers, investment bankers, accountants and management consultants.

England and the “kindness of others”

Now, at long last, doubts are being voiced over the long term effect of all this so-called inward investment. Mark Carney, the governor of the Bank of England warned before the Brexit vote that the reliance on “the kindness of strangers” might backfire.

There undoubtedly is a short-term gain for the national accounts when the proceeds of a sale support the British balance of payment. However, the dividend flow leaves the country forever.

Unsurprisingly, the UK’s once considerable earnings flow from overseas investment has reversed. While the country’s trade balance has for decades been negative, it is a new and worrying development of the last few years that the service sector is in deficit, too.

In some areas, the open door policy has of course worked with remarkable results. The car industry, once the perpetual laggard, is now thriving as it is almost completely under foreign ownership and management.

That is a great success story — and so are hundreds of foreign owned businesses in the UK. The profits from these operations, however, are only partly re-invested in the UK.

The largest part flows abroad. It is thus like English league club football – a great success story, but sadly not so much for the national team.

May’s mind in the right place: Can she do it?

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May appears to understand that there is a problem. Rather atypically for a former Home Secretary, she has been referring to:

  • rethinking the role of workers on boards of publicly listed companies
  • refocussing on industrial strategy and board room remuneration in connection with the ease with which British companies and assets can fall into foreign hands.

It will be interesting to see what she can actually do about it. The prime minister’s mind certainly is in the right place, but she will encounter plenty of resistance from her country’s financial establishment that has gotten very rich on selling off assets.

A true challenge given global competition

Britain’s businesses are up against world-wide competition, quite a few of them like the Germans, Japanese, Chinese and others who are determined to play the long game.

These nations engage in the long game for very different reasons. For example, most German companies, even in the export sector, are not listed on the stock market.

They are family-owned enterprises, whose main aim is to grow to survive and look after its stakeholders – their employees, customers, suppliers and the community.

But even those companies that are listed on the stock market have supervisory boards with worker and management representation.

This structure, reflecting in actual voting rights for workers at the supervisory board level, prevent a company’s top managers from purely self-interested behaviour that underlies most prettifying balance sheet manoeuvres.

I know because I was there: As a top manager of German companies, I was always paid bonuses on market share and profit – never on profit only.

What can be done?

It is impossible, and even counter-productive, to try to copy the German governance system and corporate culture for many reasons. Theresa May is obviously avoiding any reference to the German model – the Social Market Economy also called Rhineland Capitalism.

It would be ironic, to say the least, if Britain would turn in the direction of the continental economic model after leaving the EU. Probably for that reason, Mrs. May has been called May Guevara already!

The search is on for a workable construction that combines the best of both worlds and allows British managers to act in a long-term oriented fashion to the benefit of their shareholders, employees and the national performance.

There can be no doubt that there is enough talent in the United Kingdom to compete with the best – but the system has to be right.

Brexit or no Brexit, the UK has a choice to make. It can follow an Olympic strategy or stay with the calamitous football set-up, which has all the glitz and none of the glory.

Co-determination has served Germany well since the war

Ursula Weidenfeld paints a one-sided and negative picture of co-determination (“Beware of imitating the German model, Mrs May”, July 13). As an essential part of the social market economy model, it has served Germany incredibly well after the war and is supported overwhelmingly by business.

This letter appeared in the Financial Times on July 14 2016 

Sir,

Ursula Weidenfeld paints a one-sided and negative picture of co-determination (“Beware of imitating the German model, Mrs May”, July 13). As an essential part of the social market economy model, it has served Germany incredibly well after the war and is supported overwhelmingly by business. In particular, Ms Weidenfeld’s assertion that it hinders innovation couldn’t be further from the truth — just look at Siemens, Bosch or the car industry, and the leading position Germany holds with patent applications.

Apart from the obvious advantage of communicating with your workforce, co-determination also acts as a safeguard against the kind of takeovers that are for the benefit of shareholders and management only. It forces companies into long-term thinking and more concern for market share than for short-term profit maximisation, with the survival and wellbeing of the company being paramount goals.

Clearly Theresa May will have huge opposition to backing something like a stakeholder model, as Tony Blair experienced when he made his famous speech in Singapore in January 1996. Rupert Murdoch stopped him in his tracks. The first salvos have already been fired.

Bob Bischof
London SW1, UK
Vice-President, German British Chamber of Industry & Commerce; Chairman, German British Forum

Is English Glory Foreign-Made?

Exploring parallels between English football and the economic and political landscape of the country.

This article was published in The Globalist on 5 July 2016

England has without doubt the most expensive and internationally most followed football league in the world. Many Premiership clubs are owned by Americans, Russians, Saudis, Iranians, Thais and Chinese.

The global element shaping the sport in England doesn’t end there: Out of the top 12 clubs in the 2015/16 season, 11 were trained by Italians, Spanish, French, Dutch, a Chilean, a Croat and a German.

In the pool of players signed by all Premiership teams, 59 foreign nationalities are represented, accounting for 67% of all players in the league. Of the remaining 33% — the English players — not even half get to play every weekend.

The English press regularly proudly reports the Barclays Premier League as the richest, best and most successful league in the world.

It also elevates the English team before every international tournament like the World Cup in Brazil in 2014 and the current European championship to semi-favourite status.

Soccer, just like the economy

The English are without doubt the champions in self-promotion. The meeting with reality is quite harsh, though. Consider that Spanish club teams made a clean sweep of trophies in European club competitions this season, with the English clubs all knocked out early.

The early exit of the national team in Brazil in 2014 and now in 2016 against Iceland shows up the fundamental weaknesses of the overall approach.

The sport is played for profit only, with little regard for the development of home grown talent on or off the field. That money-based approach has an obvious impact on the national team, which has underperformed badly yet again.

This soccer saga has all the hallmarks of the overall British economic and political malaise. In politics, the bragging about the greatest league translates into “We are the fifth-largest economy in the world” and “We are the fastest growing country in the G8.”

This self-boosting rhetoric has been peddled by Cameron and Osborne over the last few years and featured hugely in the British press. However, once the pair decided to campaign for remaining in the EU, it came to haunt them.

Harsh economic reality

The two slogans were effectively used by the Leave campaign by simply claiming, “we can stand alone, we don’t need Europe.” Neither Cameron nor Osborne could admit that both claims were untrue for fear of being accused of “talking the country down.

As David Smith, the Economics Editor of the Sunday Times, pointed out, economic reality is not as kind. The UK, by Purchasing Power Parity (PPP), is the tenth largest economy.

And in the first quarter of 2016, Britain’s economy grew at less than half the pace of the Eurozone – 0.3% versus 0.7%. Moreover, it was forecast to lag behind for the full year without the Brexit disaster.

But not only that – the country’s fiscal deficit is also going up. The current account deficit is at record high with 7% of GDP, this under a presumably strict Conservative government.

Private household debt hit a new record way above the pre-crisis level of 2008, with credit card debt rising at double-digit rates. The much talked about National Health Service is under water, to the tune of £2.5b billion.

The underfunded company pension schemes – like those of Tata Steel and BHS – amount to £92 billion, much of that shortfall will have to be covered through the government guarantee scheme.

Public pension deficits look even worse.

Sterling under pressure

All of it is totally unsustainable, even without the shock of Brexit. Theresa May, the leading contender for the prime ministership, announced simultaneously with Chancellor Osborne the abandonment of the fiscal target for this parliament. It makes sense, but doesn’t solve the problem.

Britain’s current account deficit is of particular concern. The trade balance has always been negative, but services made up for the gap in the past.

No longer so. Britain has lived for decades on the proceeds of selling assets to shore up the current account deficit and the exchange rate. Ports, airports, the energy sector, huge numbers of industrial businesses have been sold to foreign investors.

Unsurprisingly, the UK’s once considerable earnings flow from overseas investment has reversed. It means that Sterling would have come under pressure before any Brexit-related effects.

Overseas investment

The car industry, once the perpetual laggard, is now thriving. It is almost completely under foreign ownership and management. These firms have trained their workforce well, for example, by re-introducing German-style apprenticeship systems and taking a long view.

The Brits treat this as a great success story. But working for so many foreign employers has another side to it. There is a deep psychological problem here, too.

Having foreign bosses and even being paid well by them is one thing. Liking that situation is quite another matter altogether.

Accordingly, there is a growing feeling of alienation in the country because of these developments. The migration crisis, which made the timing of the referendum so awful, has of course magnified this feeling.

We want our country back” seems also a cry of despair about what has happened – and blaming others like Brussels was just so easy to exploit by the populists on the right and left.

Need for home-grown talent

What gets lost amidst all this is that what still makes Britain great these days is that it attracts so many skilled professionals in all sorts of fields, not just soccer; however, more home reliance is clearly necessary.

German and many other clubs on the European continent are owned by their members. Of course, German clubs also import players, but they are serious about developing their own young players – always with an eye on the national game, too.

Unless Britain develops more home-grown talent in all walks of life, changes the overall approach from short to long-term thinking and stops kidding, if not deluding itself, it will not succeed — on or off the field.

British Have Been Fed Misinformation by the Rightwing Press for Years

I don’t think the British people per se are anti-Europe but they have been fed misinformation for years by the puppet masters of the rightwing British press, which has such a huge circulation advantage over the liberal press. To make out that they are doing this for the working class people of Britain is the con of the century.

This letter was published in the Financial Times on June 22nd 2016, the day before the EU referendum. It was a response to a Martin Wolf article on the previous day, and ran alongside ‘Fleet Street’s European bite remains sharp’ by John Gapper – see below and click to read the full item. 

Sir,

As a German who has lived and worked happily in the UK for more than 40 years, I can only underline Martin Wolf’s arguments for staying in (“Why I believe Britain belongs in Europe”, June 21). Two small additional comments, however.

The Brexit supporters constantly mention that Britain can easily stand alone, being the fifth largest and fastest-growing economy among the Group of Eight countries.

First, as David Smith, the fiercely independent economics editor of The Sunday Times has pointed out, Britain is by purchase power parity (PPP) the 10th largest; and as for gross domestic product growth, the much maligned eurozone grew by 0.7 per cent in the first quarter of 2016 against 0.3 per cent in the UK and is forecast to be ahead over the full year. Naturally, David Cameron can’t mention this fact, as he would be accused of talking the country down.

My second point is that I don’t think the British people per se are anti-Europe but they have been fed misinformation for years by the puppet masters of the rightwing British press, which has such a huge circulation advantage over the liberal press. To make out that they are doing this for the working class people of Britain is the con of the century. I only hope that enough people will see through this and that the famous British common sense will prevail.

Bob Bischof
London SW1, UK
Vice-President, German British Chamber of Industry & Commerce; Chairman, German British Forum

Read with:

Fleet Street's European bite remains sharp

Why Brexit is So Likely (auf Deutsch)

Bob Bischof speaks about the inevitability of the ‘Brexit’ with his German-British perspective. Read the transcript here.

This is the transcript for a speech given at the prestigious Kapitalmarkt Forum of Commerzbank AG in Hamburg, October 2015. Read the English version here.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meine Damen und Herren

Es gibt eine Reihe von Gruenden dafuer, dass die Briten den Exit vorziehen koennten bzw ich moechte darstellen, wie hoch der Berg ist, den die Briten ueberwinden muesssen, um sich fuer Europa zu entscheiden oder gar zu begeistern – dann koennen Sie selbst entscheiden, wie hoch die Wahrscheinlichkeit ist.

Dazu muss man die folgenden Scenarien verstehen

  1. Das Inselparadies ist bereits uebervoelkert und ueberfremdet in vieler Briten Augen. Die Einwanderung aus den ehemaligen Kolonien wie Indien, Pakistan, Afrika und dem Karibik Raum begann schon vor Jahrzehnten und viele der Immigranten sind wenig integriert und leben in bestimmten Ballungsrauemen. Die neue Immigration aus Europa wurde zunaechst begruesst – polnische Klempner waren begehrte Fachkraefte waerend des grossen Haeuserbooms in der Vor-Rezessionszeit. Als danach die Arbeitsosigkeit und ebenfalls die Europafeindlichkeit stieg begannen Politiker wie Adolf Farage sorry der heisst Nigel mit Vornamen mit simplen Parolen wie „die nehmen uns die Arbeit weg und sind fuer die hohen Hauspreise verantwortlich“ Schlagzeilen zu machen und die Regierung unter Druck zu setzen. Seine UK Indepence Party (UKIP) gewann die Europa Wahl und Prime Minister Cameron musste sich unter Druck seines rechten, ausserordentlich euroskeptischen Fluegels auf das Referendum einlassen.

Die Immigration ist tatsaechlich ein heisses Thema besonders weil UK

– wie ich im naechsten Teil darstellen werde, ein Land ist, dass total unterstrukturiert ist – wie Deutschland vielleicht ueberstruckturiert ist. Da es keine Personalausweise –identity cards – gibt und niemand weder Fahrzeugpapiere noch einen Fuehrerschein bei sich haben muss, weiss man nicht wie viele ueberhaupt im Lande sind. Hinzu kommt, dass es nur Grenzkontrollen bei der Einreise, aber nicht bei der Ausreise gibt. Studenten kommen mit Visa nach GB und keiner kontrolliert, wann sie wieder abreisen. Great Britain ist deswegen ein bevorzugtes Einwanderland und auch weil die ganze Welt zumindest gebrochenes Englisch spricht und wie spaeter erklaert, es unskilled (ungelernte) Jobs in Huelle und Fuelle gibt.

  1. Regeln, Strukturen und Vorschriften liegen den Englaendern nicht

a. Es geht mit der Sprache los. Die Sprache hat kaum Regeln und die Grammatik besteht im wesentlichen aus Ausnahmen. Daher ist sie leicht zu lernen aber unendlich schwer zu perfektionieren. Man drueckt sich auch ungern klar aus, wie Anthropologin Kate Fox in ihrem Buch „Watching the English“ so gut beschreibt. Very interesting heisst total rubbish etc Henning Wehn, der deutsche Komiker, der in England Furore macht, beshreibt das herrlich

b. Es gibt weder eine geschriebene Konsitution noch ein BGB oder HGB – alles ist auf case law aufgebaut und damit interpretierbar – Beispiel die sogenannten „Pay Day Loans“ mit 4stelligen Zinssaetzen waeren auf dem Kontinent unmoeglich, da es Wuchergesaetze oder aehnliches gibt

c. Main Freund Prof Thomas Killinger, Korrespondent der Welt in UK hat das vortrefflich in seinem Buch „Crossroads and Roundabouts“ beschrieben – alles ist staendig im Fluss

Meine Damen und Herren – stellen Sie sich vor, was sich da abspielt, wenn so eine Gesellschaft von unseren EU Freunden in Bruessel mit Regelungen und Vorschriften ueber alles und jedes beglueckt wird…..Das passt wie die Faust aufs Auge.

  1. In der Wirtschaft steht die Flexibility im Vordergrund und Arbeiter-und Angestellten Schutzgesetze (Employment Law) passen da ueberhaupt nicht hin. Wir in Europa sind an diese Dinge wie Mitbestimmung gewoehnt, fuer die englische Wirtschaft ist das alles ein rotes Tuch. Es gibt in UK etwa 2 millionen Zero-hour contracts, bei McDonald allein etwa 100.000, d.h. man wird nur bezahlt, wenn Arbeit da ist.

Als Ausbildung wird in der Regel das „on-the-job“ training als ausreichend angesehen. Im Service Sektor ist das auch oft ausreichend im Herstellbereich nicht – aber der schrunft sich schon seit Jahren gesund und liegt inzwischen bei knapp 10% vom GDP

  1. Die Presse ist ueberwaeltigend rechts, zum Teil rechts von Tchingis Khan

a. Allen voran die Murdoch Presse mit eienm Zeitungs- und TV Empire, dass euroskeptisch ist und mit grossem Misstrauen den Kontinent betrachtet. Murdoch’s Einfluss ist so gross, das Blair und Brown jede Idee von einem Stakeholder Model a la Soziale Marktwirschaft aufgeben mussten. Am 8.1.1996 hielt Blair eine Rede in Singapore ueber die Vorteile des Stakeholder Models. Drei Wochen spaeter mussten Blair und Brown bei Murdoch antreten – das Wort stakeholder wurde danach aus jedem Labour Program gestrichen. Fast wie zu Stalin’s Zeiten, wenn ein General oder Politiker ausradiert wurde.

b. Die Daily Mail, Daily Express und Daily Telegraph sowie und ihre lokalen Ableger sind noch extremer eurofeindlich mit fast taeglichen Attacken auf Bruessel oder auch Deutschland und Frankreich

c. Man darf nicht uebersehen, wie hoch die Auflagen der Zeitungen in UK sind – etwa das zehnfache der deutschen… Die Leser werden in allen Zeitungen mit 20-40 Seiten Sportberichten gefuettert. Wie im alten Rom – Brot (minimum wage) und Spiele. Vorne eine paar Schlagzeilen, harte Kommentare wobei Information oft hinter Meinungsmache zurueckbleibt

d. Guardian und Mirror auf der linken Seite haben wenig Chancen sind aber auch klar tendenzioes ausgereichtet – nur nach links.

  1. Die Exit Befuerworter haben die simpleren Messages a. Ohne Mitglied des Euro Clubs zu sein, ist UK ohne wirkliches Mitspracherecht im Kreis der Grossen und braucht eine Sonderstellung bzw ist besser gleich draussen b. Sprachlich, politisch und kulturell ist UK naeher an USA als an Europa und muss im Zweiferlsfalle immer Amerika folgenc. Den Europaern allen voran den Franzosen kann man nicht trauend. Europa ohne Grenzen ueberschwemmt das Land mit Fremden
  1. Die City hat einen ebenso grossen Anteil am GDP wie der Manufacturing Sektor; die einen brauchen Volatility die anderen Stabilitaet. Vorschriften aus Bruessel werden oft als Unterwanderungsabsicht der Kontinentaleuropaer gegen die Vormachtstellung der City in allen Finanzangelegenheiten dargestellt. Freiwillige Ueberwachung hat zwar in der Vergangenheit nicht funktioniert aber wir nach wie vor bevorzugt. Die Meinung in der City ist jedoch sehr geteilt was das Referendum angeht, aber ueberwiegend pro EU Verbeib – allerdings sie war immer anti Euro, da der Euro bedeutet, dass man nicht mehr mit Waehrungen von 19 Laendern spielen kann, sondern nur noch mit dem Euro.
  1. Was sagt die verarbeitende Wirtschaft dazu?

Ueberwaeltigend dafuer in der EU zu bleiben, aber moeglichst mit einer „reformierten EU“ – weniger Regeln, mehr Subsidiarity, Einspruchsrecht (Veto) im Arbeitsrecht und Finanz- und Steuerangelegenheiten etc

Als Deutscher moechte ich die Briten klar in der EU behalten – mit meinem englischen Hut auf, sehe ich das allerdings nicht unbedingt so eindeutig.

Nebenbei, je mehr sich die deutschen Politiker um UK bemuehen, um sie in der EU zu halten, desto mehr erscheint es den Insulanern, dass die Europaer das nur aus Eigennutz befuerworten zum Nachteil der Englaender. Es bedarf also grosses politisches Fingerspitzengefuehl, hier den rechten Ton zu finden. Sentimentalitaet ist wenig angebracht oder gefragt. Die Anglos waren schon immer von Mars und die Europaer eher von Venus (selbst die Deutschen zur allgemeinen Verwirrung neuerdings).

Mae West Zitat – “When she was good, she was very very good, but when she was bad, she was …. magnificent”. Leicht abgewandelt auf Deutschland bezogen wuerde das heissen

When the Germans are bad, they are awful, but when they are good …. they are even more annoying.

Ce la vie!

Werden die Briten austreten? Die Schotten waren nahe daran, die UK zu verlassen und ein sozial-demokatisches Land zu bilden und haben geschworen, dass wenn Grossbritannien insgesamt mit „out“ waehlt und die Schotten mit „in“, dann wird es ein neues Referendum in Schottland geben und die Schotten wuerden die UK eventuell dann verlassen. Die Scottish National Party, die eine grosse Mehrheit hat, ist nebenbei am weitesten links (im englischen Sinne) – sie nennt sich „progressiv“ und befuerwortet das Model der sozialen Marktwirtschaft a la Germany.

Die neue Labour Opposition unter Jeremy Corbyn ist ein natuerlicher Verbuendeter der SNP, steht allerdings auf sehr fragwuerdigen politischen Positionen wie Verstaatlichung der Bahn und Energiewirtschaft, ist allerdings pro-Europa.

Vieles haengt natuerlich davon ab, wie Europa sich bis zum Wahltag darstellt. Falls die Eurozone sich positiv entwickelt, ist den Austretern schon ein wenig Wind aus den Segeln genommen. Falls nicht und falls sich das Immigrationsthema noch schlimmer entwickelt, wollen viele Englaender den Tunnel wieder zuschuetten …

Bob Bischof – September 2015

Eurozone Membership

This letter was published 24 July 2015 in the Financial Times here

This letter was published 24 July 2015 in the Financial Times: click here to view

Sir,

Although I can go along with Ed Balls’ general comments of Britain in Europe (“The risk of fumbling the Europe poll”, July 22), I don’t agree with his and the general British public’s belief that it is such a godsend for Britain not being in the euro. It certainly isn’t for exporters!

Bob Bischof letter in the FT July 2015
The eurozone is good for exporters

Just like the other “independent minded” nations’ currencies, sterling has been revalued over the past 18 months by around 30 per cent and is nearly 40 per cent higher than at its low point in 2008-09. British exports to Europe and the rest of the world are suffering and importers are gaining market share with disastrous effects on the balance of payments, which is heading for a record deficit of about 6 per cent of gross domestic product. At the same time, the eurozone is heading for a balance of payment surplus in 2015 of about €200bn. It shows that currency markets don’t follow the real economy but interest rate expectations, and that individual countries’ currencies become a plaything for the markets.

UK manufacturers don’t just suffer from the overvalued currency, but also have to bear the cost of currency exchange and hedging. Germany and the other eurozone members can trade without the volatility and uncertainty of currencies in a market of 350m people — a huge advantage! The “March of the Manufacturers” has been blocked one more time.

Bob Bischof

Vice-President, German British Chamber of Industry & Commerce; Chairman, German British Forum

R3 Business Recovery Conference 2015

R3 Conference 2015 - The Winds of Change
Click to see the conference introduction

Bob Bischof was a speaker at the R3 conference 2015.

Here is an extract from the programme:

The insolvency and restructuring profession must overcome significant challenges as we face up to the threat of unprecedented change.
new legislation in the UK, the drive for ‘harmonisation’ in Europe, the perceived attraction of US style Chapter 11 concepts, and much decreased levels of formal insolvency present the profession with real and present challenges. The nature of insolvency inherently dictates that the insolvency profession is frequently ‘under the spotlight’.

Although our profession is highly regulated, and the UK’s regime is one of the best in the world, we need always to bear in mind that we are under constant scrutiny from politicians, press and the public. The UK insolvency profession does an excellent job in delivering the best results for creditors and debtors, and we have got much better at communicating our value to those all-important stakeholders.

But there is more we can do. To achieve the status of a trusted profession we must demonstrate integrity in all we do. Adherence to the principles behind the rules is as important as adhering to the rules themselves. In the same way that company directors’ responsibilities have widened, insolvency practitioners should always remember that trust and confidence in the insolvency profession depends on their actions and behaviour, passing continually higher tests of performance.

All of these issues and much more will be discussed at the r3 annual conference
Phillip Sykes, Baker Tilly
r3 President (April 2015)

Sterling at €1.34 is a threat: Britain, the EU and the price of independence

At the heart of the British argument against closer ties with Europe has always been many UK citizens’ fear of losing control over the country’s affairs in general and in economics in particular.

This article originally appeared on OMFIF’s website here

At the heart of the British argument against closer ties with Europe has always been many UK citizens’ fear of losing control over the country’s affairs in general and in economics in particular. For many in Britain, the euro project is not a basket of former independent currencies, rather a basket case. Doubts about the wisdom of so-called ‘German-backed austerity policies’ or about the ability of Greece and others to stay in the single currency have strengthened this belief in many British minds.

The ‘in-out’ referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union which could take place in 2017, depending on the outcome of the May general election, will further focus attention on this point. Latest opinion polls indicate a majority in favour of departing.

The big question for a relatively small country like Britain is what ‘independence’ means in a globalised world. Being on your own, in monetary affairs as well as politically, can be damaging. Against its €1.04 low point in 2009, sterling has appreciated by 30% to around €1.34. This may be good news for Britons holidaying abroad, but the pound’s rise will hammer British manufacturing exports.

Switzerland, which has just abandoned its currency peg against the euro, has a current account surplus and high-value manufacturing goods, helping the Swiss absorb the shock of the latest 20% Swiss franc revaluation. Britain, on the other hand, has a large and growing current account deficit. It desperately needs to rebalance its economy away from services to manufacturing.

Although the UK’s coalition government has declared it wishes to further the ‘march of the manufacturers’, it has made little progress. Britain’s external performance will get worse. All this spells future trouble for sterling, especially if an inconclusive May election result brings political uncertainty.

Against this sobering background, Britain’s power over monetary and fiscal policy – setting interest rates, deciding quantitative easing and calibrating fiscal expansion or contraction – is well short of being an unmitigated benefit.

Germany has been doing well within the euro area because it benefits from the weak euro for its non-European exports, and even more from the stability, or lack of volatility, that emanates from membership of a large club. Germany still runs a substantial trade surplus with the rest of the euro area, but it has fallen sharply in recent years, making up less than 25% of Germany’s overall external surplus, against 40% in 2011.

If Britain wants to be serious about rebalancing the economy, it has to give its manufacturers a solid base, particularly in foreign trade. Currency hedging is expensive, the more so when volatility is high. The euro bloc encompasses most of the UK’s largest trade partners. Every transaction to another currency – whether one is buying or selling – costs money.

With so much of British industry in foreign ownership, there is an additional danger. When the foreign owners see developments they don’t like, they will first stop investing and then look elsewhere. At the German-British Chamber of Commerce and Industry we hear many worried comments from the over 1200 German-owned companies in the UK. The grumbling is getting louder.

And it’s not confined to the Germans. British business is overwhelmingly in favour of the UK staying in the EU, as a recent poll by the EEF manufacturers association showed. Britain can hardly be expected to join the euro in the foreseeable future. But as the election approaches, the issue of UK EU membership will start increasingly to occupy business people’s minds. Some might even support Labour as a potential party of government that will not brook a referendum on the matter – and could bring a weaker currency as well.

OMFIF

The Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum is an independent research and advisory group and a platform for confidential exchanges of views between official institutions and private sector counterparties.

The overriding aim is to enable the private and public sector to learn from each other in different ways, promoting better understanding of the world economy and higher across-the-board standards.

All developments regarding OMFIF can be followed at www.omfif.org and www.twitter.com/OMFIF.

Bob Bischof is a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.