It all seemed so easy, but then along came Italy and Cyprus

Bond yields: watch out for the great rotation.

Watch out for the great rotation was the ubiquitous catch phrase as we entered 2013. Bond yields had become absurdly low, in many cases negative, in real terms. Equities were fairly valued and, with the major central banks of the world printing money like "no tomorrow", inflation would soon take off, reducing bond markets to rubble, whereas stocks would offer good inflation protection. What could go wrong-buy equities and sell bonds?

It all seemed so easy, and by the end of January it all looked fine and dandy-equities were duly perky, and ten-year US Treasury yields had climbed over 2 per cent, from around 1.75 per cent at the end of 2012. Then, in February and March, along came Italy and Cyprus.

Italian elections lead to complete impass and raised the possibility that back-tracking on fiscal reform would rear its forbidden head, and worse, it seemed likely that Eurozone policymakers were about to fire both barrels at their own feet, to paraphrase Dutch Finance Minister Dijsselbloem, using the Cyriot confiscation of bank depositors’ money as a ‘template’ to dress the balance sheets of Europe’s weaker banks. This all lead to a flight to safety in US Treasuries, so yields fell back again, their descent hastened by weak US employment figures.

But now the landscape has changed again with the Bank of Japan’s, (BOJ), incredibly aggressive new quantitative easing policy-much bigger as a percentage of GDP than the US Federal Reserve’s programme. There is finally a chance that the Japanese economy will rise from 20 years of slumber, but there is also a great risk that other major central banks be unable to resist the peer group pressure to emulate the BOJ, by ramping up the scale of their own money printing. Hardly a world conducive to lower bond yields, maybe not even in Japan if the government and BOJ are successful and reach their 2 per cent inflation target.

The US economy is already on a relatively robust recovery path, with an enormous corporate cash mountain about to be put to work in investment, now that the imagined dangers of fiscal cliff, debt ceiling and sequestration are receding, and the Eurozone political masters patently just as fanatically committed as ever to ensure the Euro’s survival. US animal spirits will make this soft patch very short and soon the down-leg for the bond market will resume in earnest.

Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

Getty
Show Hide image

How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.