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Merryn Somerset Webb
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We could save £5bn a year if we brought all our public sector administrators and managers down to a four day week. So why don't we? You might think that cutting manager hours by 20% would see the public sector grind to a halt. But given the massive rise in the number of managers over the last 13 years it really isn't very likely. Lets not forget that, while there were 12 beds per NHS manager back in 1997, there are a mere 4 now. It might also be the case that without endless bureaucrats looking over their shoulders front... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Think London house prices are immune from the falls hitting the rest of the market? Think again. Bonuses are thin on the ground these days; mortgages are tough to get; taxes are on the up; and there is no way a small group of enthusiastic foreign buyers can hold the market up all by themselves. To read more click here Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
The middle classes as we - or perhaps only our parents - remember them are no more. Today's long hours, lack of job security and endless financial troubles mean they morphed into a new kind of working class a good decade ago. To read more click here Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Last year I spent a week in Manchester filming a property programme. The producers put me up in a ‘luxury’ two bedroom flat on the edge of Manchester. It was absolutely hideous. The flat was tiny – pre buy to let its floor space would have made it more a studio than a 2 bedder. It came with tiny furniture – presumably to make its own tininess less obvious and had no storage space at all. It was a pretty dismal place to be. But worse than the flat itself was its environment. It was in a block in the... Continue reading
Posted Aug 16, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Vince Cable says some very sensible things (see my last post). But he also comes up with some really silly ideas. During the election a prime example was the mansion tax. Now it is the graduate tax – or “contribution” as he calls it. Higher education is expensive. It has to be paid for and it is good if those who benefit most from it are the ones who pay for it. But taxing graduates is not the way to make them do so. to read more click here Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
I was interviewed by the BBC a few weeks ago about the way in which the UK’s retail banks regularly rip off their customers. It wasn’t exactly a tough interview to do (you can watch it on Panorama tonight). There are hundreds of things to point to if you want to make a case for retail finance being a deeply unpleasant industry. In last week’s magazine I pointed to Lloyds’ treatment of my over trusting mother – they’ve helped themselves to thousands of pounds of her money via both incompetence and unfair policies and quite clearly have no intention of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 19, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
I gave a speech a few weeks ago to a group of Edinburgh fund managers alongside Gillian Tett, the FT’s very glamorous US editor. We both talked about trust in one way and another and I touched on what I consider to be the strong chance that a double dip recession will lead to a hugely stepped up programme of QE and eventually hyperinflation (for more on this see Adam Fergusson’s When Money Dies – reviewed in this week’s magazine). The speeches went well – we got as many laughs as you could possibly expect for speeches on macro economics.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 18, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
A new lunar cycle began at the weekend. You might think this is totally irrelevant, but perhaps not. There has long been an idea knocking around that the movement of the moon affects the way stock markets behave. There have even been a couple of reasonably influential studies done on the subject. A few years ago, the Harvard Business Review attracted some attention by noting that the results of both of these studies suggested that during the seven days before a new moon and the seven days after a new moon, average stock market returns are higher than at other... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
At Moneyweek we have long lobbied for better basic financial education. Why? Because financial ignorance is one of the biggest life destroyers there is: fail to understand how compound interest works on our credit card or how mortgage payments change as interest rates do and, unless your income is limitless, odds are you’ll suffer significantly. That suffering might take the form of forgone consumption as your income disappears into an APR hole, is spirited away by commission hungry IFAs and gobbled up in unnecessary taxes, or it could end with you bankrupt or repossessed. But whatever form it takes, most... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Anyone looking for good news on the UK property market certainly didn’t get it this week. First came the Halifax numbers showing that prices across the country fell 0.6% in June. Then a few minutes later up popped the numbers from Acadametrics. They showed much the same thing – prices down 0.5% in June. Still, despite these falls both press releases managed to put a positive ish spin on things. The Halifax pointed out that the bad June numbers “continued the slowdown in house price growth since the beginning of the year following the moderate recovery in prices during much... Continue reading
Posted Jul 13, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
We constantly hear about how the UK is an outlier in the west when it comes to inflation. While our CPI is running at 3.7% prices are barely budging in other countries – the US in particular. That’s grist to the mill of the deflationists (whose cause I have enormous sympathy with). But is it really so? Perhaps not. To read more click here Continue reading
Posted Jul 8, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
One of the things that most worries the must-have-more-stimulus crowd about the budget is the rise in VAT from January. It will they say tip the economy over the edge and next thing we know we’ll be back in recession. The critics point to Japan as an example of how the nightmare of rising consumption taxes unfold. There in 1997 the tax rose from a mere 3% to 5%. The economy subsequently shrank in 4 of the next 5 quarters. I say subsequently rather than consequently for the simple reason that there is little evidence the two were particularly connected.... Continue reading
Posted Jun 23, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
The general consensus is that after dumping its peg to the UK dollar the Chinese yuan can only rise. But what if it didn't? What if it fell instead? To read more click here Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
I rarely find myself  wanting to be a  politician – or to stand  in the shoes of a politician – even for a second. Not so today. Right now, I’d like – for one week and one week only – to be George Osborne. He has just received spectacular news from the new Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR). The overall deficit (the amount we add to our national debt every year) is not quite as big as it was thought – it is forecast to come in at £155bn for 2010-11 rather than £163bn. So that’s good. At the same time,... Continue reading
Posted Jun 22, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
There has been much talk recently of the rise in the number of mortgage products available to those with small deposits. But the existence of these products is beginning to look rather more theoretical than actual. If they were really being granted to borrowers rather than just trumpeted in the press you might expect to see the number of first time buyers entering the market rising for example. But you aren’t seeing any thing of the sort. To read more click here Continue reading
Posted Jun 17, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
I went on the Today Programme last Saturday along with several other regular contributors to give one money saving tip to our new government. Mine was to do with pensions. You can read the full argument in the piece below. But the core idea is pretty simple – to cut the amount we allow people to save into a pension to an amount that allows them to save enough to prevent them from being a burden on the tax payer in their retirement and no more. Obviously they can still save as much as they like outside a pension –... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
What is the point of providing tax relief on pension contributions? The usual answer is that we want to encourage people to save for their old age. That’s true of course, but what we rarely ask is why we want to do this. You might say that it is because we want to encourage them not to overspend on their present at the expense of their future; that we want to be sure people have satisfying retirement; or that it is one of the marks of a civilized society that a working life ends in a degree of comfort. But... Continue reading
Posted Jun 15, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Back in March, when online grocer Ocado first said they were planning a £1bn launch, I wrote about it on the blog at moneyweek.com. I found the whole thing entirely bemusing and rather suspected that after firm words from a few of the banks, Ocado would quietly drop the whole idea. They have not. Instead they have hired almost every bank in the UK (not a bad move given that banks involved in IPOs rarely say nasty things about the firm paying their fees) alongside a smart PR agency and are offering anyone who has spent £300 or more with... Continue reading
Posted Jun 14, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
I went on Moneybox Live on Saturday morning (you can listen to the show here). The conversation was, as one would have expected, all about the impact of the hung parliament on markets. Just how big a deal is it? I went in under the impression that not only is it a whoppingly big deal, but that everyone understood that. Not so. The other two guests seemed to think that as long as sometime this week there was a "clear plan" for cutting the deficit, all would be well. They didn't even think said plan needed to show the cuts... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
The sudden popularity of the Lib Dems after the first debate meant a sudden rush to catch up with their economic policies. But there is one policy – perhaps their most famous one – that people still don't seem to get. It is the mansion tax. An article in The Times today claimed that it will really do for the central London rich – what with the "stuccoed house" in a Notting Hill garden square and the rectory in Gloucester, lots of them will find they have two houses worth more than £3m, and will therefore be hit with a... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
I have a friend who has recently discovered day trading. She looks for the biggest fallers in the stock market over a month, checks that the shares that have fallen more than 50% (of which there are always a few) aren't going bankrupt right away, and buys them. Then she waits for them to go up and sells them. Last week she made 60%. She says it is fool-proof. I'm wondering how she knows something isn't going to go bankrupt right away. I'm also thinking that if she does have a special method of doing so – and if risk... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Greece has "come to the brink of the abyss" said poor President Papoulias of Greece yesterday. And indeed it has. There can be little better exemplification of the inability of populations outside Japan to accept deflation, than the petrol bombings that killed three in Athens yesterday. The Greeks may by now understand how they got into their current situation (a mixture of complacency, profligacy and malfeasance) but that doesn't mean they have much intention of going along with the rest of Europe's plan to get them out of it. And you can see why: as is always the way, tax... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
for the last couple of decades, the Anglo-Saxon world has been swept by wave after wave of speculation. Where we used to trust in long-term savings vehicles, and assume that putting away money into regular deposit accounts was the best way to deal with our cash, we now leverage ourselves up to bet on property; we spread bet endlessly and we trade. Here at MoneyWeek we get emails from perfectly ordinary people asking about everything from how they can bet on the differing spreads on European sovereign debt, to how best to buy repossessed houses in Florida and get exposure... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
Should you have to pass an exam before you are allowed to take out your first mortgage? According to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service, the answer is yes. In a speech last week, Malcolm Hurlston, the chairman of the national debt charity, called on political parties to introduce some sort of training for first-time buyers. "First-time mortgages should be sold not with pretty ribbons and tax breaks, but with health warnings. They should be sold like driving licences, after study and exam."It is feisty stuff, and clearly not the kind of thing anyone involved in the selling of mortgages much... Continue reading
Posted May 10, 2010 at Merryn Somerset Webb
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Apr 8, 2010