Where's all that bank contagion gone?

How far we have travelled.

It is a very telling measure of how far we have travelled down the path to probable Eurozone survival that contagion, and 'bank' contagion specifically, has become much less of a problem. Despite last month’s chaotic, and briefly almost disastrous, Cypriot bank bail-in, and the horribly inconclusive Italian elections in February, there have been virtually no negative consequences for the fortunes of the wider European financial community. A year or so ago either of these events could have been reasonably expected to have raised real fears that queues would form outside banks all over Europe.
An illustration of this is that the Euro Stoxx Banks index is now trading at around 100, the same level as last October, and way above last year’s low of 73.06, seen in July.

The most important reason for this new-found sanguinity is the European Central Bank’s, (ECB), Damascene conversion under Draghi from Trichet’s Bundesbank poodle to a central bank which is focused on the needs of all seventeen states in the union, the completion of which was epitomised by Draghi’s Clint Eastwood moment last September when he warned the markets that, 'we'll do whatever it takes, and it will be enough' and announced Outright Monetary Transactions. This virtually guaranteed that Eurozone nations would always have access to liquidity, hence breaking the potentially lethal ‘dance of death’ of over-indebted states and their under-capitalised banks, who are in turn laden down with massive investments in their national governments’ bonds.

Of almost equal significance has been Chancellor Merkel's extraordinarily dexterous performance in persuading her people of the manifold benefits of the Euro, (i.e. it's a highly effective export finance scheme for Germany-who are the ultimate, unchallenged Currency War victors), and therefore that bailing-out profligate southern neighbours is absolutely in Germany's interest. I’m happy to predict that this will continue, and indeed go into hyper-drive after she has won September's elections, (hardly in question in the absence of any credible Euro-sceptic opposition), as she will then feel free of the political imperatives that have thus far prevented her from allowing Germany to acquiesce to the issuance of jointly and severally liable Eurobonds, (with all Eurozone nations, including Germany, equally on the hook), and a proper banking union.

These measures will ultimately save the Euro, for another 5 years, say.

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.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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