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.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.