Jim Armitage: Let’s hear it for those generous bankers - after all, those billions of dollars of fines should give world’s economy a boost
Numbers look large but not when set against profits they were making
Jim Armitage is the City editor of The Independent and London Evening Standard group of newspapers. He has been a reporter and editor for more than 20 years and was recently shortlisted for the Press Gazette financial journalist of the year and The Society of Editors financial journalist of the year awards. He contributes news, investigative reports and comment to the Independent titles plus a daily column in the Evening Standard.
Saturday 23 November 2013
Who says banks are socially useless?
Figures emerged last night showing that the biggest banks in Europe have pumped more than $77bn (£48bn) into their local economies since the financial crisis.
And that’s just Europe. In the US, banks led by JP Morgan Chase and Bank of America have given, or are planning to give, their countries more than $100bn since the 2008 crisis. It is the untold positive story about banks that you haven’t heard. What generous souls they are.
Except, of course, these donations are far from voluntary. Far from it.
These are the amounts that investment banks have either paid in state fines or set aside after ripping off their customers or, in some cases, getting caught laundering their cash and breaking sanctions for them.
It’s not all gone directly to the governments who’ve caught them. The sums also include, in the case of Lloyds and a few others, an element of compensation for victims, but hopefully much of those windfalls will find their way into the economy eventually.
The numbers look large, of course, but not when set against the kinds of profits these companies were making in the run up to the financial crisis while they were pulling off most of these misdemeanours. JP Morgan alone made the best part of $30bn in profits in 2006 and 2007. Not only that, but the fines also seem more of an irrelevance when you look at how much profit the banks are making now. Helped, you could argue, by the fact that it’s got the too-big-to-fail discount on its borrowing, plus state aid in the form of quantitative easing, JP Morgan is now making more than ever: nearly $40bn over the past two years.
Fans of Jamie Dimon will say that it’s unfair to characterise the bank as being unscathed by its mounting legal bills. They’re part right: JP Morgan’s fines did push it into a loss for the last quarter. But it will be back to its old oligopoly profitmaking ways in no time.
And let’s not forget, five years since the crisis, and still nobody in these big banks has gone to jail.
Congo could delay oil law after EU and US pressure
International pressure mounts on the Congolese government to pause for thought before passing lax new laws for its soon-to-boom oil industry.
As The Independent wrote earlier this week, the proposed Oil Code in the Democratic Republic of Congo does little to prevent the kind of corruption and opacity in the sale of state assets that has plagued the country’s minerals rights. It also paves the way for potential oil drilling in the Unesco world heritage centre that is the Virunga National Park.
Sources in Kinshasa say, however, that the EU ambassador is about to have an audience with the president of the country’s national assembly to express European displeasure. The US this week wrote to the Prime Minister and parliament detailing the country’s concerns. Big donor countries, all.
Now a subcommittee of DRC members of parliament are having another look at the proposed bill.
Let’s hope they can come up with a new draft that will pave the way to create an orderly, lucrative oil industry that brings schools, hospitals and jobs to this impoverished country without laying waste to its nature reserves.
Jet firm profits soar in wake of Africa’s minerals boom
One side effect of the African oil and minerals boom: big profits for the British company that provides the air evacuation service for injured or sick workers.
Hangar 8 just reported full-year profits up 69 per cent to £8.3m, partly due to the rise in the number of emergency airlifts it’s making these days from Nigeria, DRC and central Africa. From broken legs to dengue fever, the risks miners take are many, with the mines isolated and lacking in medical resources. Hangar 8 treats the sick in medically equipped planes while whisking them off to the nearest decent hospital. Often that means repatriating them back home.
Just one thing: I wonder if the companies are as caring with their local employees as their expats?
Ridiculous as Dow hits new highs despite the profit alerts
It made me chortle to see the Dow Jones Industrial Average shoot to record highs this week. How utterly absurd that, with a jobless rate of 7.3 per cent (a figure that rose last month), and an economy still deeply damaged by the financial crisis, the US should be seeing its companies valued so highly.
The ridiculousness of the situation was laid out particularly starkly by the fact that, just as the Dow was going through 16,000 points for the first time on Thursday, there were no fewer than five profit warnings from big, consumer-facing companies. Even Target – America’s answer to Primark – warned it was going to miss its… er… targets, due to “constrained” spending by its customers.
It’s not that the surging share prices are irrational, you understand. Given incoming Fed Governor Janet Yellen’s doveishness on quantitative easing, investing in shares is entirely sensible. For now.
It’s just a matter of time before the QE morphine runs out...
Incidentally, being passed around the dealing rooms of Wall Street this week is a rather amusing graph overlaying the last few months’ Dow Jones rally with those leading up to the 1929 crash. It’s a near perfect match.
Charts like these are as unscientific as hanging seaweed outside your front door for a weather forecast but, as Dan Greenhaus of broker BTIG points out, it’s interesting in itself that the thing’s pinging around the Street.
Everybody knows the pain is on its way once the QE morphine runs out.
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