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.

Paul McMillan
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"We're an easy target": how a Tory manifesto pledge will tear families apart

Under current rules, bringing your foreign spouse to the UK is a luxury reserved for those earning £18,600 a year or more. The Tories want to make it even more exclusive. 

Carolyn Matthew met her partner, George, in South Africa sixteen years ago. She settled down with him, had kids, and lived like a normal family until last year, when they made the fateful decision to move to her hometown in Scotland. Matthew, 55, had elderly parents, and after 30 years away from home she wanted to be close to them. 

But Carolyn nor George - despite consulting a South African immigration lawyer – did not anticipate one huge stumbling block. That is the rule, introduced in 2012, that a British citizen must earn £18,600 a year before a foreign spouse may join them in the UK. 

“It is very dispiriting,” Carolyn said to me on the telephone from Bo’ness, a small town on the Firth of Forth, near Falkirk. “In two weeks, George has got to go back to South Africa.” Carolyn, who worked in corporate complaints, has struggled to find the same kind of work in her hometown. Jobs at the biggest local employer tend to be minimum wage. George, on the other hand, is an engineer – yet cannot work because of his holiday visa. 

To its critics, the minimum income threshold seems nonsensical. It splits up families – including children from parents – and discriminates against those likely to earn lower wages, such as women, ethnic minorities and anyone living outside London and the South East. The Migration Observatory has calculated that roughly half Britain’s working population would not meet the requirement. 

Yet the Conservative party not only wishes to maintain the policy, but hike the threshold. The manifesto stated:  “We will increase the earnings thresholds for people wishing to sponsor migrants for family visas.” 

Initially, the threshold was justified as a means of preventing foreign spouses from relying on the state. But tellingly, the Tory manifesto pledge comes under the heading of “Controlling Immigration”. 

Carolyn points out that because George cannot work while he is visiting her, she must support the two of them for months at a time without turning to state aid. “I don’t claim benefits,” she told me. “That is the last thing I want to do.” If both of them could work “life would be easy”. She believes that if the minimum income threshold is raised any further "it is going to make it a nightmare for everyone".

Stuart McDonald, the SNP MP for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch East, co-sponsored a Westminster Hall debate on the subject earlier this year. While the Tory manifesto pledge is vague, McDonald warns that one option is the highest income threshold suggested in 2012 - £25,700, or more than the median yearly wage in the East Midlands. 

He described the current scheme as “just about the most draconian family visa rules in the world”, and believes a hike could affect more than half of British citizens. 

"Theresa May is forcing people to choose between their families and their homes in the UK - a choice which most people will think utterly unfair and unacceptable,” he said.  

For those a pay rise away from the current threshold, a hike will be demoralising. For Paul McMillan, 25, it is a sign that it’s time to emigrate.

McMillan, a graduate, met his American girlfriend Megan while travelling in 2012 (the couple are pictured above). He could find a job that will allow him to meet the minimum income threshold – if he were not now studying for a medical degree.  Like Matthew, McMillan’s partner has no intention of claiming benefits – in fact, he expects her visa would specifically ban her from doing so. 

Fed up with the hostile attitude to immigrants, and confident of his options elsewhere, McMillan is already planning a career abroad. “I am going to take off in four years,” he told me. 

As for why the Tories want to raise the minimum income threshold, he thinks it’s obvious – to force down immigration numbers. “None of this is about the amount of money we need to earn,” he said. “We’re an easy target for the government.”

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. 

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