The future relationship between the UK and EU – what to make of it?

EUUKAbout a week ago, Theresa May has hailed the draft agreement on post-Brexit relations as “right for the whole of the UK” and insisted a deal “is within our grasp”. The political declaration – outlining how UK-EU trade, security and other issues will work – has been “agreed in principle”, the European Council says. London and Brussels have already agreed the draft terms of the UK’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019. The withdrawal agreement is legally-binding – the political declaration is not. The prime minister told MPs it would deliver the Brexit people voted for…but at the risk of sounding repetitive who knew what they voted for two years ago?

What do I make of this proposal? Well, let me be clear on three counts:

  1. Every single British citizen should be made to read this proposal through a legal obligation. Here is the link to it. There is a legal requirement to fill in the UK census, which brings little benefit in comparison to understanding what people are about to experience with BREXIT. There should be NO EXCUSES to anyone for not knowing the outline.
  2. It sets out broad aspirations for the kind of relationship the UK and the EU will have after Brexit. Most of the wording of it is non-committal and allows both sides to keep their options open. Not much of an agreement that people can vote on.
  3. The UK becomes, and excuse my French, the ‘bitch’ of Europe. I can only quote May: ‘This proposal would ensure that we leave the EU, without leaving Europe‘. Please thank your friends, colleagues, neighbours that have voted leave! Don’t believe me? Chapter 4, section 3.4 paragraph 22, and I quote ‘In areas where the UK commits to a common rulebook (which is pretty much everywhere), where the UK makes a choice to commit to ongoing harmonisation with the relevant EU rules and requirements, it will be important for the UK to be able to share its views with the EU as those EU rules are developed. While the UK would not have a vote on relevant rule changes, its experts should be consulted…’. If you know the RACI methodology you will understand that consulted is not accountable and responsible. Basically, the EU will listen but do whatever they see fit for purpose and for the greater of goods for the EU.

Some of my key highlights, reflexions below. I will keep the structure of the document to make it easy.

Chapter 1 – Economic partnership

Section 1.2 – Goods

  • The EU is the UK’s biggest market, therefore there is a need to establish a free trade areas for goods. Clearly EU has the upper hand in negotiations with just that statement. As stated, the ‘UK CANNOT have all the benefits of membership of the Single Market without its obligations‘. Solution: establish a new free trade area and maintain a common rule book for goods and the introduction of a new Facilitated Customs Arrangements (FCA). Remember my common rulebook statement above

But you would be within your rights to ask what is the FCA. The FCA tries to mirror the EU’s customs approach at its external border. The idea is that goods entering the EU via the UK have complied with EU customs processes and the applicable EU tariffs have been paid. This would be done by the UK customs authorities (which would be the same as currently with UK being an EU member). The thought is, that this would remove the need for customs processes between the UK and the EU, including customs declarations, routine requirements for rules of origin, and entry and exit summary declarations. This means that where a good reaches the UK border, and the destination is clear, the UK tariff will apply if it is destined for the UK and the EU tariff will apply if it is destined for the EU. In case the destination is not clear at the point of import, the higher of the UK or EU tariff will apply. Where the good’s destination is later identified to be a lower tariff jurisdiction, it would be eligible for a repayment from the UK Government equal to the difference between the two tariffs

So what? The conclusion from all of this is, that the UK can only agree FTA’s with third countries which have an FTA with the EU as well. One important Brexit deliverable for the UK is for the UK to conclude its own FTA’s. That objective cannot be reached since the UK’s bottom line choice will effectively be limited to those countries which have an FTA with the EU already. That is the same result as under the alternative of the UK entering into a customs union agreement with the EU. And this is an option that the UK has always refused.

  • The good new is that there is an elimination of tariffs between the UK and the EU in principle.
  • In terms of manufactured goods, the adoption of a common rulebook means that the BSI could not put forward any competing national standards.

What should you ask yourself: who is going to pay for that FCA? and how much it will cost not just the tax payer but also businesses?

What should you think? Well the EU clearly has the upper hand and the UK won’t have much of a say. If it did break away, it would impact seriously its ability to trade with the EU.

Section 1.3.4 – Financial services

Once the UK leaves the EU and Single Market, the UK can no longer operate under the EU passporting regime.

What is a EU passport? It enables financial firms in the UK to sell their services right across the EU. So, for instance, a UK-bank based in London can sell financial services to a company based in Prague as easily as if that company was based in Preston. There are no regulatory barriers. The EU is a huge market of 500 million people and some 22 million firms, so it’s clearly problematic if UK-based financial firms find it more difficult to offer them services. The Financial Conduct Authority regulator says that around 5,500 financial firms in the UK currently have EU passporting rights and the British Bankers Association says UK financial firms exported over £20bn of services in 2014. The Financial Times has reported that some in the City estimate that as much as 20 per cent of UK-based firms’ investment and capital markets revenue (around £9bn) could be disrupted if the UK loses the EU passport. Yet there is no doubting the importance of the overall financial services sector for the UK economy. It accounts for around 7 per cent of total UK economic output and supports around 1 million jobs. Finance is also a critical UK exporter and a major recipient of foreign direct investment. Anything that damages this sector (and losing the EU financial services passport will unquestionably damage it) can be reasonably expected to have serious negative effects on the overall UK economy.

The proposal is to create a new economic and regulatory arrangement with a bilateral framework of treaty based commitments.

What should you ask yourself: how much more administrative burden will this add and will these financial institutions be happy to deal with them? Or will they leave

What should you think? When the UK leaves the European Single Market, financial firms domiciled within the City of London will lose their ‘passporting rights’. This means that many UK-based banks and other financial institutions will need to relocate a significant portion of their operations, capital and staff to alternative financial centres which remain inside the EU. Frankfurt has consistently been identified as one of the potential beneficiaries of this process, alongside Dublin, Paris and Luxembourg.

Section 1.4 – Framework for mobility

It is clear that this proposal ends free movement of people but Irish citizens will continue to enjoy a special status in the UK.

It proposes visa-free travel for EU state members but paragraph 87 states ‘UK  wants to minimise admin burden for those seeking permission to travel, enter and reside in each other’s territories. I am confused, what is it!

the UK wants to continue to be able to use the European Health Insurance Card to receive healthcare.

The UK proposes a UK-EU youth mobility scheme, which I am pleased to see.

What should you ask yourself: is this going to impact my business, especially if I employ low skilled migrants? will the tourism industry suffer from the above, and therefore impact many jobs directly and indirectly?

What should you think? this should satisfy Brexiteers in the main. However, using the EHIC will come at a cost and not knowing exactly the travel visa process remains a key sticky point.

Section 1.7.5 – Electricity and gas

Trade in electricity takes place through interconnectors. There are currently 3 between the UK and EU. The proposal gives 2 options, which have not been thought through yet. One is to leave the Internal Energy Market and the other…not to.

The free flow of energy across interconnectors is necessary to keep “a level playing field that keeps costs down for consumers and ensures decarbonisation and security of supply. Any imposition of tariff or non-tariff barriers to the flows of energy across interconnectors would increase the cost of the low-carbon transition and set back action on climate change. In the event of option 1, then clearly it will drive up your energy bills

What should you ask yourself: do you want your bills to keep going up?

What should you think? Hell no. Why shall I pay more

Chapter 2 – Security partnership

Section 2.3 – Law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation

T. May make a raft of proposals and in the main do make sense to me. However, a statement does alarm me. Paragraph 14. The UK recognises that leaving the EU will have consequences for the nature of the security relationship between the UK and the EU.

There is a lot of common sense about sharing critical and vital information but this comes at a price. Surely no saving here, the bill will have to be paid to the EU

Also, the proposal stipulates that where the UK participates in an EU agency, the UK will respect the remit of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). Well let me be clear by telling you that under this proposal, the UK will seek to access many EU agencies!

Finally, there is no clear decision made regarding Galileo. Billed as the EU’s answer to the USA’s GPS system, and aimed at giving Europe some degree of autonomy from its American cousins. In the event of no deal being struck with the alliance of European states, the government has admitted the UK would lose access to the encrypted Public Regulated Service (PRS), which will upset the military. UK businesses, academics and researchers will also get a kicking, since they will be unable to bid on any future Galileo contracts

What should you ask yourself: I don’t know about you, but in this day and age I would rather that there is a great relationship and not jeopardise my safety. Also what incremental costs for the UK budget?

What should you think? Overall I am satisfied with the document but things like the above makes me nervous, especially if you have a family! The UK cannot operate effectively alone in terms of security and therefore will need to be part of EU agencies. Therefore surrendering any decision making to the EU.

Chapter 4 – Institutional arrangements

Section 4.2 – A practical and flexible partnership

The new relationship would rely on a new framework, which sees the creation of a Joint Committee. This committee would:

  • Steer the development of the future relationship
  • Manage and monitor the implementation of the future relationship
  • Resolve disputes
  • Provide additional administrative functions

If there is a change in legislation going forward, it will be dealt by the Joint Committee and the UK Parliament will have the opportunity to provide the Government with its opinion. It will only be consulted. If the UK DOES NOT passes the legislation there would be consequences from breaking the UK’s international obligations

What should you ask yourself: Who is going to pay for this? We already have this setup and it is called the EU council.

What should you think? As a European and British, we should be 100% against this framework. All we will end up doing is paying useless politicians to take decisions. It clearly is a mini EU council.

Conclusion

Theresa May did her best. I genuinely believe this. But in my mind, this deal will still not get what 51% of British people that vote Leave want. The deal they want is not possible without suffering huge economic and social consequences.

I will not pretend that I am an expert, but there is a lot of uncertainty in this document. If this was created to re-assure me, well it hasn’t. Saying that, is this deal better than NO deal? Without a doubt YES. Is this deal better than remaining in the EU…certainly not!!!

On a personal level, I would rather it gets rejected but only if a new vote is to be put forward with the ability to kill Brexit once and for all. It is for all to see that there is no good deal possible. People need to wake up and realise that the UK is not that strong nation it once was and that the best deal is to stay in the EU. Don’t be upset, only by being unified will we be able to fight against the US and China.

In any case, you now need to read the full proposal and understand what you are voting for. No one should tell you what to think, you should make up your own mind like I did.

Benoit Mercier

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Is a Second Brexit referendum legitimate?

We are now nearing the 2 year deadline, 29th March 2019 at 11pm, and we are in full political and economical turmoil.

EU leaders have approved an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and future relations – insisting it is the “best and only deal possible”. After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour’s discussion. They said the deal – which needs to be approved by the UK Parliament – paved the way for an “orderly withdrawal”. Theresa May said the deal “delivered for the British people” and set the UK “on course for a prosperous future”. The reaction back in Britain was as anticipated…painful for the PM. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded to Sunday’s summit by calling the deal “the worst of all worlds”. He said his party would oppose it, but would work with others “to block a no deal outcome” and ensure “a sensible deal” was on the table. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said he would find it “very, very difficult” to support the agreement as it stood. “I don’t believe that, so far, this deal delivers on what the British people really voted for,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge show. “I think it has ceded too much control.” SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon – who wanted to stay in the EU – said it was a “bad deal” and Parliament should consider “better alternatives”, such as remaining in the single market and customs union permanently. And Democratic Unionist leader Arlene Foster – who wants to leave the EU – said her party’s parliamentary pact with the Conservatives would be reviewed if MPs approved the deal.

So in a nutshell, unless a surprise pops up, this proposal should be defeated in parliament. But in the event, it went through what should happen next? Well for me it is clear, there should be a second referendum to ask whether:

  1. Yes I want to leave the EU and accept the deal (based on the fact that it would have been approved by parliament)
  2. Yes I want to leave the EU but reject the deal and agree to a no deal
  3. No I don’t want to leave the EU

Why is a second referendum a necessity and stop feeding me rubbish about being anti-democratic?

Do people understand what they were voting for 2 years ago? The answer is simple NO. Nobody knew, whether you are a remain or leave supporter. Do they now appreciate the consequences? Most likely.  However, have we got a better understanding 2 years on? Again I would argue NOT. Yes we have a bit more specifics but quite frankly nowhere enough to make an educated decision.

So why do I push for a second referendum? More than anything, in order to put the whole thing to bed, kill it once and for all. The whole debacle has come to a high price already. Look at the economic factors, doom and gloom:

  • Since the EU referendum, strong growth relative to other G7 economies has tailed off (NEGATIVE)
  • Remarkable strength of unemployment (POSITIVE)
  • Wage growth has been hit by higher inflation (NEGATIVE)
  • Household have thrown caution to the wind – people are saving not spending (NEGATIVE)
  • Companies are reluctant to invest (NEGATIVE)
  • Investors still mark down UK assets (NEGATIVE)

You do not believe me? Check it out for yourself https://www.ft.com/content/cf51e840-7147-11e7-93ff-99f383b09ff9. A country divided that will not heal its differences.

Because it has been done before, Ireland and Denmark

In the first rounds in both countries, as expected, the No campaign’s arguments tapped into the sensitive subjects relevant to society. In Denmark, the No side argued that the Maastricht Treaty would lead to loss of Danish sovereignty in a new United States of Europe, which would undermine or abolish the Danish currency and Danish citizenship. In Ireland during both the Nice and Lisbon referendums, the No campaigners repeatedly argued that the treaties would change Irish laws on abortion, lead to a loss of sovereignty, undermine Ireland’s military neutrality, and remove its permanent EU Commissioner.

In the second round, however, the arguments changed. The Yes side argued that Europe had listened to the Danish/Irish people and responded with legal guarantees, which were specifically on the themes raised by the No side. With the Edinburgh Agreement, Denmark would have four opt-outs in the fields of European citizenship, economic and monetary union, defence policy, and justice and home affairs. Ireland, on the other hand, gained guarantees concerning its military neutrality with the Seville Declaration after the Nice referendum, and on the Irish commissioner, competency over tax rates, abortion, neutrality, and workers’ rights after the Lisbon referendum.

Because this referendum was not legally binding and is being challenged at the ECJ

Let me remind you that the referendum was only advisory. Its result did not place a legally binding obligation on MPs to get Britain out of the EU. The safeguards that allow for legally binding elections to be re-run in the event of rule breaches did not, therefore, apply to the EU referendum.

The supreme court has dismissed an attempt by the Brexit secretary to derail a European court hearing into whether article 50 – which triggered the UK’s departure from the EU – could be reversed. In a decision released on Tuesday, the justices refused the government permission to challenge a ruling by Scotland’s highest court that the issue should be referred to the European court of justice in Luxembourg. The supreme court’s conclusion came after three justices, including the president of the court, Lady Hale, had considered the written request from the Department for Exiting the European Union. The way now appears clear for the European court of justice to proceed with its emergency hearing, scheduled for 27 November. So watch the space.

Conclusion

In my opinion, this referendum has been a shamble from start to…most likely finish. No one knew what they voted for and we are not better 2 years on. Knowing that this referendum was not legally binding, all it now needs is for the proposal to be rejected and pave the way for a second referendum to put it to bed. It is clear that a second referendum would be democratic through new general elections.

PS: In order to avoid bad behaviour from both camps, their should be a joint paper sent to all households clearly articulating the points for and against. If this gets done and Brits decide to exit, then and only then, will I accept it

Benoit Mercier

No prisoners: e-Commerce Uses Game Theory to Capture Consumer Share of Wallet thanks to Nash Equilibrium

It is that time of year again. Christmas shopping must be done and deals are flying in all consumers inboxes. Whilst reading ‘The Bargaining Problem‘ by one of my favourite Mathematician/economist, it got me thinking how we use the Game Theory on a regular basis in eCommerce reflecting on my Christmas shopping behaviour (both as a consumer and retailer). Indeed, the rise and rapid proliferation of technology has forced companies to adapt in order to stay relevant and competitive. Specifically, the consumer retail industry has recently navigated this changing landscape by utilising collected consumer data to make prices dynamic depending on seasonal factors, locations (international businesses) and even the strategies of their competitors. These companies are trying to harness the power of technology to achieve perfect price discrimination, where the seller knows every buyer’s willingness to pay and can therefore maximise retail prices without exceeding the buyer’s walk away price.

John Nash and the Equilibrium Point

John Forbes Nash Jr. (June 13, 1928 – May 23, 2015) was an American mathematician who made fundamental contributions to game theory, differential geometry, and the study of partial differential equations. Nash’s work has provided insight into the factors that govern chance and decision-making inside complex systems found in everyday life.

His theories are widely used in economics. Serving as a Senior Research Mathematician at Princeton University during the latter part of his life, he shared the 1994 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with game theorists Reinhard Selten and John Harsanyi. In 2015, he also shared the Abel Prize with Louis Nirenberg for his work on nonlinear partial differential equations.

John Nash is the only person to be awarded both the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and the Abel Prize.

Game theorists use the Nash equilibrium concept to analyse the outcome of the strategic interaction of several decision makers. In other words, it provides a way of predicting what will happen if several people or several institutions are making decisions at the same time, and if the outcome depends on the decisions of the others. The simple insight underlying John Nash’s idea is that one cannot predict the result of the choices of multiple decision makers if one analyses those decisions in isolation. Instead, one must ask what each player would do, taking into account the decision-making of the others.

 

Game theory applied to eCommerce

In the context of e-Commerce, the retailer and the consumer are the two players. A game theory graph would illustrate the company’s best response to the consumer’s willingness to pay and the consumer’s response to the retail price the company is offering for the product. There would be no dominant strategy in this game because of the availability of information about other sellers and the access to other sellers the customer has in addition to the connectivity to millions of buyers via the Internet the company has. Either party can forego engaging in this transaction and just find another customer/company to sell/buy to/from. This can be illustrated with the given example (I read couple of articles whilst researching) of how Amazon dropped prices on Black Friday of a Samsung TV from $350 to $250 and decided on this final price using collected data, which allowed them to surpass the competition. Amazon took this a step further by hiking the price of HDMI cables, a complementary product, knowing based on consumer data that people are less likely to shop around in pursuit of the lowest prices for smaller items than bigger ticket items. The customers’ willingness to pay was any price lower than what the competitors were offering, which turned out to be the $250 (implying that no other retailer offered prices that low).

The implications of this show how companies are controlling not only prices but consumers’ perception of prices, thereby using this data to surpass the competition by limiting how consumers perceive the choices they have in front of them. Furthermore, this serves as an illustration of another way we experience a loss of control in our lives. However, another side of the argument says that perfect price discrimination can positively impact consumers, since their prices will be individually tailored. At the same time, this constant changing of prices can end up overwhelming and deterring consumers from purchasing the item all together.

As of now, it is too soon to tell how and if this becomes a normalised practice that we all must adapt to. It definitely is interesting to consider the ripple effects it will have on consumer behaviour in the future in addition to potential consumer protection regulation, as we are operating within a rigged sandbox where companies hold all the cards in their favour through informational advantages.

Recommended reading: http://file.scirp.org/pdf/IB_2014122310482155.pdf

Happy Christmas Shopping and bargain hunting

Benoit Mercier

Isolation is not good for me…Brexit a year on

I wonder if Boris Johnson and our beloved Nigel Farage listen to Fool’s Garden Lemon Tree song every morning. I feel the song was written for them by the Prime Minister Theresa May (take few minutes to read the lyrics and imagining Theresa 10 Downing Street with her ink and paper):

I’m sitting here in a boring room, it’s just another rainy
Sunday afternoon. I’m wasting my time, I got nothing to do.
I’m hanging around, I’m waiting for you,
But nothing ever happens – and I wonder.

I’m driving around in my car, I’m driving too fast, I’m
Driving too far. I’d like to change my point of view.
I feel so lonely, I’m waiting for you,
But nothing ever happens – and I wonder.

I wonder how, I wonder why yesterday you told me
‘Bout the blue blue sky and all that I can see is just
A yellow lemon tree. I’m turning my head up and down
I’m turning, turning, turning, turning, turning around.
And all that I can see is just another lemon tree.

Sing: dah…

I’m sitting here, I miss the power, I’d like to go out,
Taking a shower, but there’s a heavy cloud inside my head.
I feel so tired, put myself into bed, where nothing ever
Happens – and I wonder.

Isolation – is not the good for me.
Isolation – I don’t want to sit on a lemon tree.
I’m steppin’ around in a desert of joy. Baby anyhow I’ll get
Another toy and everything will happen – and you’ll wonder.

I wonder how, I wonder why yesterday you told me
‘Bout the blue blue sky and all that I can see is just
Another lemon tree. I’m turning my head up and down
I’m turning, turning, turning, turning, turning around
And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree.

And I wonder, wonder
I wonder how, I wonder why yesterday you told me
‘Bout the blue blue sky and all that I can see
And all that I can see
And all that I can see is just a yellow lemon tree.

Funny isn’t it? So what has happened a year on after Brexit was declared through a referendum? I wondered as when I returned from mainland Europe, a border officer asked me if I lived here, to which I confirmed and told him for at least another year. He laughed and we got talking about Brexit (to be fair it was close to midnight and not many customers). He was adamant Brexit would happen and it would be good for the UK. Of course, I had to argue the other way (not that Brexit won’t happen but that the UK will feel the positive impact). We did agree on one thing. He is not going to be made redundant anytime soon (Lots of Migrants in Calais waiting for that day).

  1. Theresa May failed election shows poor leadership going into the most important negotiation of the UK History
  2. Living standards hugely under pressure
  3. Pound falling sharpely
  4. EU skilled labour exiting
  5. House prices growth have halved

Failed gerneral election

The general election result has plunged Britain into political chaos just 10 days before the government was due to begin the all-important Brexit negotiations. Mrs May  teamed up with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which narrowly gave her the numbers she needs to pass legislation in the Commons, but it’s clear a significant period of political instability lies ahead. The split within the Conservative camp is greater than an Oak Tree.

It is hilarious to see Boris Johnson laying down his vision ahead of his boss. The power struggle going on currently is mismerising. This weekend plenty of dismayed Tory MPs – even some who share Johnson’s views on Brexit – are calling on May to dismiss him, while recognising that she is probably too weak to do so. One former minister said: “It is completely disgraceful. You do not write an article like that without consulting the prime minister and your cabinet colleagues. It is a complete abdication of cabinet responsibility. This is all about Mr Johnson, Mr Johnson, Mr Johnson, not about the interests of government or the country.” Another said that Tory MPs would be writing to the whips demanding that he be sacked as foreign secretary because he was a law unto himself and a liability: “He is deliberately tempting May to sack him but the awful thing is that she is too pathetically weak to do so. So we have a cabinet openly at war on the most important issue of the day and that is what we have to live with.” Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson, a long-standing critic of Johnson, tweeted her disapproval pointing out that priorities should have been elsewhere the day after a terror attack in London

Leave Barometer: Negative

Living standards under huge pressure

Living standards still face squeeze as earnings have failed to keep pace with rising inflation.

The good news. The ONS said unemployment in the quarter ending in June was down 57,000 on the previous three months at 1,484,000. The jobless rate fell to a 42-year low of 4.4%. Employment was up by 125,000 at 32.1 million in the three months to June, the highest rate (75.1%) since modern records began in 1971.

The bad news. But despite the additional jobs and the acceleration in earnings growth, living standards remain under pressure because pay has failed to keep pace with inflation, which stood at 2.6% in June. Basically, if you received a pay increase lately, the reality is that you are saving less than a year ago (look at that difference in the graph below)

UK_pay_growth_picks_up_as_unemployment_rate_falls_again_Business_The_Guardian_-_2017-09-17_10.52.56

Leave Barometer: Negative

Currency dropping sharply

Winners from weak Pound

  • UK exporters who will be more competitive.
  • Foreign tourists coming to UK (a little ironic given context of Brexit vote!)
  • Foreign investors who find British assets/housing cheaper.
  • UK firms who earn profits abroad. (e.g. firms who have investments in the US)

Losers from weak Pound

  • Foreign firms exporting to UK (e.g. Irish farmers hit by fall in Sterling)
  • British holidaymakers going abroad will find US and EU more expensive
  • Foreign workers in the UK. Working in the UK is relatively less attractive (could reduce incentive for net migration to the UK)

So has the UK benefitted from a weak pound?

Britain’s trade position with the rest of the world worsened in June as the sharp fall in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote failed to lift sales of UK-made goods abroad.

The trade in goods deficit widened unexpectedly to £12.7bn, from £11.3bn in May, as exports fell by 2.8% but imports rose by 1.6% according to the Office for National Statistics. It was the biggest deficit in nine months and much wider than economists’ forecasts of £11bn.

The figures are the latest sign that a weak pound is failing to boost exports, despite making British goods cheaper abroad. The pound is 13% lower against the dollar than it was on the day of the EU referendum, at $1.2988. It is down 15% against the euro, at €1.1052.

Weaker exports in June were driven by a 7.9% fall to countries outside the EU, while goods exported to EU member states rose by 2.7%.

“The UK is becoming more and not less dependent on the European Union, whatever the result of the referendum last year,” said Edward Hardy, an economist at World First. “The numbers are a firm signal that the continent is still the place to be for selling overseas and making the most of the weaker pound.”

Leave Barometer: Negative

EU skilled labour exiting

More Europeans, especially from the East, have left the uk +36% vs. LY. EU migrants are leaving Britain because of uncertainty over Brexit, slower economic growth and higher prices. The slump in the value of the pound — down 14% since the referendum — and stagnating real wages have made salaries earned in the U.K. worth less when transferred abroad.

There has also been an increase in the number of racist attacks on immigrants in the aftermath of the referendum.

“The slowdown reflects uncertainty about both the current and future position of migrants,” said Douglas McWilliams, president of the Centre for Economics and Business Research

The U.K. government has pledged to bring net migration down to “tens of thousands” of people in the wake of Brexit. Net migration — the number of people coming to the U.K. less the number of those who’ve left — has slumped by roughly 25% to 248,000 in 2016. But businesses and experts have warned that the U.K. economy depends on the steady stream of immigrants and will be hurt if they stop coming. U.K. unemployment is at its lowest level in more than 40 years, and many sectors including hospitality, healthcare, tech and construction, are struggling to find staff.

Leave campaigners will have to be thrilled with this. Afterall this is what they wanted. I can’t help to wonder who is going to fill the gaps.

Leave Barometer: Positive

House prices growth have halved

The lender’s latest house price index showed that property prices were 3.8pc higher in March than in the same month last year, the smallest annual increase since May 2013. This was down from an annual growth of 5.1pc in February and far below the peak of 10pc reached in March 2016. Oh no, homeowners are now poorer than they were pre-Brexit vote!

Two options on the table to keep prices up, stop building new homes to tighten the demand, but then unemployment will go up.

Leave Barometer: Negative

Conclusion

So, not all indicators are as bad as I thought a year ago (predicted all of them apart from unemployment rate), but it takes no genius to take a step back and see that the Brexit decision has put the UK in a worse of situation. And the reality is that it won’t improve any time soon. In fact it will get worse. My father once told me that only imbeciles do not change opinion. Too many imbeciles still left to face the facts.

The UK political landscape is a joke and I hope that Jean-Claude Juncker squeezes those conservative clowns as much as possible. Would I want a hard brexit? No. But would I care if it did, no. Why? Mainland Europe will welcome me and my fellow Europeans (incl. my investments) with open arms. So who is to lose out in the whole brexit situation? 49% of those that voted to remain and 51% of those that voted to leave.

Benoit Mercier

Keep calm and Carry on…

Keep Calm and Carry On was a motivational poster produced by the British government in 1939 in preparation for the Second World War. The poster was intended to raise the morale of the British public, threatened with widely predicted mass air attacks on major cities.

Last Friday the UK population decided to exit Europe. A sad day. Not because of the economical repercussions, not because of the immigration debate but simply because, we now have a broken European continent, in which a poster like the one above could make a re-appearance. The basis of Europe was to avoid wars. Now there is a greater probability tomorrow than there was yesterday.

Most Leave campaigners, some of my friends, were jubilant and shouting “we have our country back”. My question to them all is at what cost. Are they prepared for years of austerity? (strongly dismissed by my Leave friends). The pound will be close to parity, oil prices are going up, inflation is around the corner and jobs will be cut. The other main argument is Europe is costing us too much money. Of course it is. The UK like France and Germany high the high earners and therefore must contribute accordingly. Now most Leave campaigners I have met or heard say that it is not fair. Well my response is always the same. You live in a society. Do the 1% of UK citizens earning more than a £100k are happy to have to pay more tax than the others for no added value benefits? of course not. But I don’t hear 99% of the population saying it is not fair. So why at a macro level point of view it is suddenly unfair for the UK to contribute more than lets say Poland?

My belief is that UK citizens should never have been allowed to vote on such a crucial matter (but one would argue that this referendum is not legally binding). This is why you have politicians, that understand better the political and economical repercussions (would a CEO ask his employees their opinion when defining a strategy?). This vote should go to the house of Commons. People have been sold a dummy and Boris is getting what he wants, the PM hot seat. It is the same man that wrote just two years ago that the EU had ‘helped to deliver a period of peace and prosperity for its people’. Smooth Boris!

As a pro European I woke up a minority but I can’t help believe that in 2 years time, I may just be in a majority, unless of course, if I will be shipped backed to Britanny in a Farage’s container. By the way, just a note on immigration, there are more Irish living in the UK  674,786 people in England (1.4 per cent of the population) than any other European countries (https://fullfact.org/europe/immigration-and-eu-referendum/). Really looking forward to the immigration policies. On a more serious note, no one can fully predict the future, but was the risk worth taking? Maybe we should have done a decision tree.

Finally, if there is some positive out of it, it is that I hope it will shake other European countries and lead to a review on how Europe is being ruled. There are clearly a lot of issues to tackle and some excellent points raised by the Leave campaigners. I just hope that Brussels won’t dismiss the issues.

Benoit Mercier

Hot topic: Understanding Brexit

brexit.jpg

As a European and firm believer in its benefits, I thought I would try objectively to represents both camps arguments and conclude by giving my personal opinion. However, I will start by explaining what the Brexit is about as I feel very few people understand and/or realise the importance of this referendum. The BBC website did an excellent piece on presenting what is happening and why.

What is the Brexit?

What is happening?

A referendum is being held on Thursday, 23 June 2016 to decide whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union.

What is happening?

A referendum is basically a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part, normally giving a “Yes” or “No” answer to a question. Whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.

Why is a referendum being held?

Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold one if he won the 2015 general election, in response to growing calls from his own Conservative MPs and the UK Independence Party (UKIP), who argued that Britain had not had a say since 1975, when it voted to stay in the EU in a referendum. The EU has changed a lot since then, gaining more control over our daily lives, they argued. Mr Cameron said: “It is time for the British people to have their say. It is time to settle this European question in British politics.”

What is the European Union?

The European Union – often known as the EU – is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries. It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, with the idea that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other. It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges. However, the BBC miss the most important point. The EU was created in order to avoid a third World War and ensure that state members would not fight with each other.

What will the referendum question be?

“Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”

What does Brexit mean?

It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a Greek exit from the EU was dubbed Grexit in the past.

Who will be able to vote?

British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals living abroad who have been on the electoral register in the UK in the past 15 years. Members of the House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar will also be eligible, unlike in a general election. Citizens from EU countries – apart from Ireland, Malta and Cyprus – will not get a vote.

Pros and cons of Britain voting to leave Europe

Membership fee 

For: Leaving the EU would result in an immediate cost saving, as the country would no longer contribute to the EU budget. Last year, Britain paid in £13bn, but it also received £4.5bn worth of spending, “so the UK’s net contribution was £8.5bn”. That’s about 7 per cent of what the Government spends on the NHS each year.

Against: According to Martin Wolf, a well respected economist from the Times, “the net fiscal cost is a mere 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product. Moreover, this could be regained in full only if the UK abandoned altogether its preferential access to the EU market. The UK is also one of the least regulated high-income economies. Its recent labour market performance demonstrates its continuing (and remarkable) flexibility. A study from the Centre for European Policy Studies adds that only “6.8 per cent of UK primary legislation and 14.1 per cent of UK secondary legislation” was passed in order to implement EU law.

Trade 

For: Ukip leader Nigel Farage believes Britain could follow the lead of Norway, which has access to the single market but is not bound by EU laws on areas such as agriculture, justice and home affairs. Leading Brexit campaigner Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has proposed adopting a Canada-style trade arrangement. “I think we can strike a deal as the Canadians have done based on trade and getting rid of tariffs” and have a “very, very bright future”, he said. The idea was quickly dismissed by the PM, who said it would mean “years of painful negotiations and a poorer deal than we have today”. Eurosceptics argue that the vast majority of small and medium sized firms do not trade with the EU but are restricted by a huge regulatory burden imposed from abroad.

Against: The EU is a single market in which no tariffs are imposed on imports and exports between member states. “More than 50 per cent of our exports go to EU countries”. Britain also benefits from trade deals between the EU and other world powers. “The EU is currently negotiating with the US to create the world’s biggest free trade area,” says the BBC, “something that will be highly beneficial to British business.” Britain risks losing some of that negotiating power by leaving the EU, but it would be free to establish its own trade agreements. Moreover, “If Britain were to join the Norwegian club,” says The Economist, “it would remain bound by virtually all EU regulations, including the working-time directive and almost everything dreamed up in Brussels in future.” And it would no longer have any influence on what those regulations said. Martin Wolf states that the argument that the UK should leave because a eurozone break-up would damage the UK economy is simply not valid. “If the eurozone broke up in a disorderly fashion, the damage to its closest partners might be substantial. Yet the EU will remain the UK’s biggest trading partner indefinitely. Thus the UK would be damaged by a eurozone break-up, whether in the EU or not. Arguing that leaving would shield the UK against such a disaster would be like arguing Canada should leave the North American Free Trade Agreement, to avoid a US financial crisis. It makes no sense”.

 

A study by the think-tank Open Europe, which wants to see the EU radically reformed, found that the worst-case “Brexit” scenario is that the UK economy loses 2.2 per cent of its total GDP by 2030 (by comparison, the recession of 2008-09 knocked about 6 per cent off UK GDP). However, it says that GDP could rise by 1.6 per cent if the UK was able to negotiate a free trade deal with Europe – ie to maintain the current trade set-up – and pursued “very ambitious deregulation”. Whether other EU countries would offer such generous terms is one of the big unknowns of the debate. Pro-exit campaigners argue that it would be in the interests of other European countries to re-establish free trade, but their opponents suggest that the EU will want to make life hard for Britain in order to discourage further breakaways.

Investment

Inward investment is likely to slow in the run-up to the vote, due to the uncertainty of the outcome and its consequences: that’s what happened in before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014. It is most likely that the pound/euro will be on parity £1 = 1 euro

For: Whilst Brexit campaigners suggest that, free from EU rules a regulations, Britain could reinvent itself as a Singapore-style supercharged economy. Barclays, has put forward a worst-case scenario that might benefit the Outers. It says the departure of one of the EU’s most powerful economies would hit its finances and boost populist anti-EU movements in other countries. This would open a “Pandora’s box”, says the Daily Telegraph, which could lead to the “collapse of the European project”. The UK would then be seen as a safe haven from those risks, attracting investors, boosting the pound and reducing the risk that Scotland would “leave the relative safety of the UK for an increasingly uncertain EU”.

Against: In the longer term, there are diverging views: pro-Europeans think the UK’s status as one of the world’s biggest financial centres will be diminished if it is no longer seen as a gateway to the EU for the likes of US banks. Fears that car-makers could scale back or even end production in the UK vehicles could no longer be exported tax-free to Europe were underlined by BMW’s decision to remind its UK employees at Rolls-Royce and Mini of the “significant benefit” EU membership confers. Likewise, Business for New Europe says tax revenues would drop if companies that do large amounts of business with Europe – particularly banks – moved their headquarters back into the EU, meaning many job losses in the UK.

Immigration

Under EU law, Britain cannot prevent anyone from another member state coming to live in the country – while Britons benefit from an equivalent right to live and work anywhere else in the EU. The result has been a huge increase in immigration into Britain, particularly from eastern and southern Europe.

According to the Office for National Statistics, there are 942,000 eastern Europeans, Romanians and Bulgarians working in the UK, along with 791,000 western Europeans – and 2.93m workers from outside the EU. China and India are the biggest source of foreign workers in the UK.

For: Farage says immigration should be cut dramatically, and the leaving the EU is the only way to “regain control of our borders”. Other pro-Brexit campaigners would not necessarily reduce immigration, but say that it should be up to the British Government to set the rules.

Against: while the recent pace of immigration has led to some difficulties with housing and service provision, the net effect has been overwhelmingly positive

David Cameron says that concessions he won during the renegotiation of Britain’s EU membership will reduce immigration as new arrivals will receive a lower rate of child benefit. 

Jobs

The effect of leaving the EU on British jobs depends on a complex interplay of the factors above: trade, investment and immigration.

For: A drop in immigration would, all else being equal, mean more jobs for the people who remained with higher wages

Against: Pro-EU campaigners have suggested that three million jobs could be lost if Britain goes it alone.  Labour shortages could also hold back the economy, reducing its potential for growth. Stuart Rose, former Marks & Spencer chief executive and a prominent pro-EU campaigner, conceded recently that wages may rise if Britain leaves – which would be good for workers, but less so for their employers. Writing for the London School of Economics, Professor Adrian Favell says limiting freedom of movement would deter the “brightest and the best” of the continent from coming to Britain and reduce the pool of candidates employers can choose from. Free movement of people across the EU also opens up job opportunities for British workers seeking to work elsewhere in Europe.

 

Britain’s place in the world

For: leaving the EU will allow Britain to re-establish itself as a truly independent nation with connections to the rest of the world.

Against: Brexit would result in the country giving up its influence in Europe, turning back the clock and retreating from the global power networks of the 21st century. Brexit would bring some clear-cut advantages, says The Economist. The UK “would regain control over fishing rights around its coast”, for example. But it concludes that the most likely outcome is that Britain would find itself “a scratchy outsider with somewhat limited access to the single market, almost no influence and few friends”. Britain would remain a member of Nato and the UN, but it may be regarded as a less useful partner by its key ally, the US. The American government fears that the “EU referendum is a dangerous gamble that could unravel with disastrous consequences for the entire continent”, says The Guardian.

Security

For: Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has come out in favour of Brexit, says we are leaving the “door open” to terrorist attacks by remaining in the EU. “This open border does not allow us to check and control people,” he says. Colonel Richard Kemp, writing in The Times, says these “critical bilateral relationships” would persist regardless of membership, and that it is “absurd” to suggest that the EU would put its own citizens, or the UK’s, at greater risk by reducing cooperation in the event of Brexit. “By leaving, we will again be able to determine who does and does not enter the UK,” says Kemp, a former head of the international terrorism team at the Cabinet Office. “Failure to do so significantly increases the terrorist threat here, endangers our people and is a betrayal of this country.

Against: However, a dozen senior military figures, including former chiefs of defence staff Lord Bramall and Jock Stirrup, say the opposite. In a letter released by No 10, they argue that the EU is an “increasingly important pillar of our security”, especially at a time of instability in the Middle East and in the face of “resurgent Russian nationalism and aggression”. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has also said the UK benefits from being part Europe, as well as Nato and the United Nations. “It is through the EU that you exchange criminal records and passenger records and work together on counter-terrorism,” he said. “We need the collective weight of the EU when you are dealing with Russian aggression or terrorism.”

My views

I must say that I am very intrigued to understand what Brits will vote in few days time. I feel that exiting would be a step backwards and a risk that I wouldn’t want my son to pay for in the future. We have been very fortunate that since the second world war we have not had any conflict in Europe. If the UK left Europe it could be the beginning of the end for the EU and who is to say that a third world war would not be on our door step. Many of you have not known these dark times but you have all read your history books. Therefore, lets confine these moments to the books and let’s make sure that we do not write any new chapters.

My views on Trade

I work for a Fashion British retailer. British fashion is highly trendy in Europe and trade is growing fast. Some people believe that the Brexit would have no or little impact. I beg to differ. In the short term, I believe that it will be positive, with a most likely scenario of £/euro parity. For European citizens to buy on my website will have never been that cheap. However, the cost of sending that product to Europe will be more expensive and longer due to the potential reintroduction of tariffs.These WTO tariffs range from 32 per cent on wine, to 4.1 per cent on liquefied natural gas, with items like cars (9.8 per cent) and wheat products (12.8 per cent). The UK would also need to strike deals with other countries to leviate these barriers. Needless to say that it will be a lengthy and costly operation. It is also worth to assume that as Damian Chalmers, professor of European Union law at the London School of Economics, says the bigger threat to the UK exports would not be necessarily from WTO tariffs, but other EU states imposing new regulations and other “non-tariff barriers” to keep UK services out.

My views on investment

Simple, not appealing anymore. London is the financial capital of Europe. It would lose its status and most businesses would most likely exit their investment centres. Although I will cover this in the job section, people losing their jobs will be huge.

My views on jobs

JOB LOSSES overall, with some opportunities in few sectors. This is linked to the immigration policy that would see thousands of European migrants exiting the country. Good news? Not so sure. Yes Brits would find more opportunities but businesses would have to train and pay a lot higher wages than now. Why? Simple. It is the demand and supply concept. You will have more jobs to fill than active workers. Therefore, each employer will have to raise the wages to attract and/or retain the best workers. This will lead to a price inflation and ultimately the consumer will pay that price. We know that in inflation cycles, people spend less and save more, which is not what you need in order to stimulate the economy. The other part is that although on paper you would have more jobs to fill, part of the demand will go away with the EU migrants, therefore businesses will close down creating more unemployment.

Virgin Money chief executive Jayne-Anne Gadhia says a Brexit could cause UK job losses and eventually cause mortgage rate increases. Speaking to the Telegraph, Gadhia says the UK voting to leave the EU would lead to a spiral of inflation, job losses and interest rate hikes that would cause mortgages, and other financial services, to become more expensive.

My views on the housing market

Not covered by many, but I foresee a lot of social issues when it comes to the housing market. House prices in England are stupid. Why? again it is the simple rule of demand and supply. If many EU migrants leave the country, it will mean more homes become empty and thus available but 2 main issues persist for me:

  1. People paid high prices for their house and mortgages and the value of their property will fall. In fact, the interest rates are likely to go up creating a real bottle neck and putting at a stand still the housing market.
  2. Construction will stop with hundred of jobs with it.

I feel that this is a bleak future afor mortgage owners at the moment. However, if like me you are renting, you should look out for bargains as people will have to sell on the cheap.

My views on immigration

This is the topic that most pro exit center their arguments against. My view is simple once again. Immigration is good for the economy, for the culture and the development of a nation. However, I will agree that the EU is too large and should have been restricted and better policed. Some eastern European members should be excluded and other bad pupils like Greece should have been kicked out. I really feel that it is a false debate. The UK has always had borders, unlike other member states, and therefore is able to restrict who comes in and out. If there was a Brexit, what would you do with all the legal immigrants? There is no plan that is my point. Do you think state members such as France would police immigration in the same way? You can bet that the refugees in Calais would soon be in Dover. In fact some measures have already been introduced. Non-EU migrants who have spent more than five years working in the country will be required to earn £35,000 per year or else face deportation

What about terrorism? Surely it is better to work all together than in silo.

So yes to regulation but no to suppression, the economical impact would be damaging.

Conclusion

I will conclude by saying that like any relationship you will have some good and bad times. I firmly believe that the relationship that the UK entertains with the EU offers better outcomes than negatives, and you should not divorce until you have been able to work through your issues (immigration being for Brexit voters the main one). It is quite telling that the Queen (monarch) and the conservative leader David Cameron of all people are in favour of staying. If Britain did exit, I am sure that in the short term, consequences would be little but in the long term would lose out big time. But it is worth remembering that in constitutional terms, the referendum is “advisory”, not “binding”, meaning the Government can choose how to respond, and I am pretty sure they would over rule the nation’s decision.

From my point of view. Stay in the EU, renegotiate few terms and see where it takes us. After all, an ideal world doesn’t exist.

Happy voting

Benoit Mercier

 

Will oil cause the next recession?

That was the debate I was having with few friends couple of days ago and I must say that algthough we did not all agreed I am pretty convinced that it will. In fact, a member of my family is out of work at the moment because he use to transport oil between South America as a middleman and his services are no longer required creating the first bankrupcy of the year that I know of. Hard to take but why pay someone in the middle when prices are so low by going direct. More margins are being made at the moment as very few companies share the benefits with the consumer. Only recently have supermarkets and airlines have started lowering their prices. Why? Officially because they bought their stock of petrol at a higher price as they secure deals many months ahead. The reality…PROFIT. Would I blame them, of course not.
Many forecasters believe consumers will spend the windfall, and thus boost the economy. But almost all of the savings from lower pump prices so far have been used to rebuild household assets and reduce debt. Consumers tend to increase their savings in tough times; they’ve been doing so during the six-year recovery.

Lower oil prices, however, could come with a downside. As they work their way through the system, deflation could follow. Already, 10 of the 34 largest economies in the world have seen year-over-year declines in consumer prices. The risk is that deflationary expectations could follow, encouraging consumers to withhold purchases in anticipation of even lower prices. If that is the case, excess capacity and inventory would build up rapidly and large quantities forcing price down.

Do you agree?

Benoit Mercier