James Moore: London's regulators are as scary as a Disney movie with the lights turned on
Outlook: US regulators have been more alive to the situation. Even the FBI has got in on the act
W asn't financial regulation supposed to have turned over a new leaf? With phrases like "proactive", "intrusive" and "harsh" taking over from "light touch" and "risk based".
That is certainly what the Financial Services Authority would have us believe. Talking tough has been the name of the game in recent months. The FSA's outgoing boss, Hector Sants, even suggested that banks should feel "frightened" of the watchdog.
If events at JP Morgan are anything to go by, that fear is about the same as what you might expect to feel from watching a Walt Disney cartoon in the middle of the day with all the lights turned on. And a teddy bear at the ready.
Like most banks, JP Morgan has griped about the FSA's new regulatory landscape. But, then, banks are pre-programmed to complain vociferously about any increase in regulation, however small that increase might be. Turkeys don't vote for Christmas.
The question that needs to be asked is whether the FSA's talk resulted in any real action. The JPMorgan affair doesn't suggest an answer we should be comfortable with.
Why was it motivated to locate such an important operation as its chief investment office in London? Which, in the view of most US banks, is basically a mere branch office at the centre of the Europe, Middle East and Africa region. Even if it was under the (as it turns out less than) watchful eye of one of the bank's highest flyers, the now dethroned Queen of Wall Street Ina Drew, it seems a strange decision to make. London hardly presents lots of advantages when it comes to, say, tax.
One of the explanations for the decision might be because the regulations and the people enforcing them were less likely to result in awkward questions being asked in London than they might have done in New York.
It is worth noting that US and British regulators have known about JP Morgan's London trading losses for some time. But it certainly appears that US regulators have been more alive to the situation. Despite the fact that the snafu occurred on this side of the pond, things appear to be moving rapidly Stateside. Even the FBI has got in on the act. Here, a month after the regulators knew about the problem, they had still not ordered the bank to produce a blow-by-blow account of what went on through the commission of a section 166 report, which is usually done quite soon after problems have been identified.
It's true that banks will always make losses. But as more and more revelations have emerged about the operations of JP's chief investment office, it has become clear that this is not just the case of a simple trading loss. When the dust has settled, questions need to be asked about why the regulators on this side of the Atlantic have been so (apparently) slow to react.
The perils of tearing up employment rights
David Cameron is advised by a number of very clever people who have a habit (as very clever people often do) of saying rather stupid things. Adrian Beecroft, the venture capitalist and philanthropist, is the latest.
On Thursday, the Government is set to publish his recommendations for sweeping reforms to employment laws, which will involve tearing up a swath of employment rights.
The theory sounds enticing: make it easier to fire people and you also make it easier to hire people and thus encourage the economy to start going again.
The reality is rather more complex. For a start, just because the former is true, doesn't necessarily mean the latter is equally true. Faced with a troubled global economy, multinationals with operations in multiple countries will be delighted if one of them makes it easier to fire staff. And that's where they will turn when it comes to making redundancies. Will they necessarily rehire those people when things look more cheery? That is far from being guaranteed.
Second, Mr Beecroft appears to have forgotten that household consumption accounts for 48 per cent of Britain's GDP. This is already being hit by the fact that consumer confidence is seriously lacking. Inducing genuine fear in people who already feel insecure isn't going to help.
Mr Beecroft's ideas are cut from a similar cloth to those put forward by Steve Hilton, a previous Cameron adviser who thought it was a good idea to abandon virtually all consumer rights. But they will no doubt be lapped up by a restive and ideologically driven right wing. And who cares about practicalities when you've people like that to appease?
Hedge fund deal that doesn't make sense
Despite facing all sorts of difficulties with its flagship AHL fund, Man Group was on the acquisition trail again yesterday, buying rival FRM for a maximum of $82.8m in cash plus a share in future performance fees.
Given that the deal brings with it $8bn of assets under management, handy at a time when AHL has been shedding them at quite a rate, that amounts to about 1 per cent of them. Less than FRM actually charges its clients.
Now it's true that Man has an enviable distribution network, but unless it has put in place some blockbuster incentives (always a possibility) that really doesn't amount to very much. Which begs the question, why? The deal makes all sorts of sense from Man's perspective: if your own product isn't working and you're a big beast, go out and buy someone else's. It appears to make much less sense from FRM's, unless its product (a fund of hedge funds) is facing difficulties of its own.
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