Things that happened last week:
1. George Osborne played about with private pensions.
If you have a UK pension, the current rules don’t allow you to cash it in on retirement. You have to buy an annuity, which then pays you out on a monthly basis until whenever. In George’s most recent budget speech:
“Pensioners will have complete freedom to draw down as much or as little of their pension pot as they want, anytime they want. No caps. No drawdown limits.”
Yes. It’s definitely the sensible thing to do – hand everyone the complete autonomy to blow their pension savings at the age of 55, and then live for another 30 to 40 years on welfare benefits. But you never know – perhaps everyone will take less…
Not according to the market, however. The shares of pension fund providers dropped sharply – as investors suddenly said “You mean that they were all planning on paying out pensions in small monthly instalments over the next 30 to 40 years, and now everyone is going to have the option of cashing out immediately? CASH FLOW CRISIS HELLO!”
2. Another “country” asks Russia to annex it – and I’m not talking about the Crimea.
Russia officially annexed the Crimea last Tuesday. Interestingly, on Monday, the breakaway Moldovan state of Transnistria also requested annexation.
Moldova told Russia that annexing Transnistria would be “a mistake”.
I assume that they’re talking about the fact that the Ukraine lies between Moldova and Russia – and we’re talking about a part of the Ukraine that Russia is yet to annex.
PS: I keep using the word “annex” because I always thought that it meant “attack”. It doesn’t. According to Google, it means “add to one’s own territory by appropriation”.
3. Microsoft Office for iPad – this week?
Microsoft has been “denying itself” $2.5 billion a year in revenue by keeping Office off the iPad. I’m not sure who made that estimate, or how valid it is, but it makes sense. Stopping me from using Office on my iPad has not made me go out and buy a Microsoft Surface. I just haven’t used my iPad for editing Word and Excel documents.
The rumour is that Microsoft have realised that, and are planning to announce Office for iPad on Thursday.
4. General Motors recalled 1.5 million vehicles.
GM Chief Executive Mary Barra explained:
“Something went wrong with our process in this instance, and terrible things happened.”
Last month, GM recalled 1.6 million vehicles for faulty ignition switches. This month, it’s for “airbag wiring harnesses” and “brake parts”.
Obviously, GM is being sued.
5. SA’s Platinum Industry enters its 8th week of strikes.
There’s a tally on this site which is keeping track of “employees’ earnings lost” and “companies’ revenues lost” since the strike began. This morning, those figures are sitting at R4.3 billion and R9.85 billion respectively.
Negotiations between AMCU and the mining companies ended in a deadlock a few weeks ago, and are yet to restart.
Vodafone now has a presence in Spain.
7. Apple launches an 8GB iPhone 5C.
…at a £40 to the standard 16GB phone. Doesn’t seem a lot though, right?
Anyway, it’ll be available in Australia, China, Germany and France.
8. Airbnb – is it really worth $10 billion?
Airbnb is shopping around for some investment, and apparently it’s in talks with Private Equity firms – firms which are supposedly valuing the start-up at around $10 billion.
While the Airbnb model seems to make a lot of sense – allowing everyone with a spare bedroom to be a short-term lessor of it – there are some significant problems. Firstly, it creates significant security risks for the property-holders. Secondly, there are all kinds of problems with city regulators (zoning, rent control, etc). And thirdly, I predict a taxation issue.
After all, if you can post an advert on airbnb, and claim that where you live is now an income-generating asset because of it (not every business needs to turn a profit!), and then offset your home/lease expenses against your salaried income for your end-of-year tax return… Then you’ve made tax avoidance the province of the masses.
9. China and Taiwan make a trade deal.
The trade deal has passed an initial review in Taiwan’s parliament, with a final review due week after next. Under the agreement, China will open up 80 of its service sectors to Taiwanese companies, which Taiwan will allow Chinese investment in 64 of its service sectors.
10. Janet Yellen held a press conference, used a double negative and then went off-script.
The Fed decided to revise forward guidance “not because [it] think[s] it has not been effective”, but mainly because the Fed doesn’t want to give forward guidance any more.
Janet then said this about interest rates:
“…the committee has endorsed the view that it anticipates it will be a considerable period after the asset repurchase program ends before it will be appropriate to begin to raise rates”
Followed by this remark (the off-script one):
“So the language that we use in the statement is ‘considerable period’. … This is the kind of term it’s hard to define, but … probably means something on the order of around 6 months, or that type of thing.”
The S&P500 index fell by almost 1% in the next 10 minutes, bonds sold off and the dollar appreciated as traders immediately priced in a rate increase.
Analysts be all “Ooh, not tactful.”
Central bank drama, eh? Exciting stuff.
11. Venezuela’s Central Banker agrees that there might be a crisis.
Venezuela’s Central Bank Governor, Nelson Merentes:
“It’s a crisis, but it’s not a crisis of such deep dimensions as some analysts say.”
“We can’t hide the reality: the economy has inflation, shortages and growth is not robust.”
I’m just not sure what dimensions are missing there… Inflation is sitting at 56% per year, there have been 6 weeks of street demonstrations, and Venezuelans can’t buy toilet paper or coffee.
That’s a deep crisis.