Who's been swimming naked?

It's hedge funds.

With apologies to Warren Buffett, who first coined the pithy aphorism, "You never know who's swimming naked until the tide goes out", but we may just be about to discover who has been; again.

Not only has the US Federal Reserve recently told us that the party is about to finish, with a projection that they will probably terminate their bond buying program of Quantitative Easing by this time next year, but last week, the People’s Bank of China, in a tactic no doubt sanctioned by government, administered a sharp "smack on the wrist" for domestic banks, allowing the overnight bond collateral repo rate to hit 13.8 per cent on 20th June, up from 2 or 3 per cent last month. This was designed to teach banks that unlimited liquidity was no longer going to be on tap-especially not to fund property lending. The PBOC has since injected a little more cash, but rates still remain elevated. Reports have filtered out that the PBOC has told banks it will provide them with liquidity if required, but only to fund "real" lending to the economy, rather than for property speculation.

Coupled with the Fed’s actions, this development is doubly significant, and spooked markets globally. The end of an era of unlimited, cheap liquidity seems to be drawing closer, and the implications of China’s move may be felt across many parts of the globe, perhaps nowhere more acutely than in Australia and Africa. It appears China’s administration is finally getting serious about promoting a much-needed re-balancing of its economy; away from property development, and investment generally, and towards personal consumption. To me that sounds like a recipe for less demand for the type of commodities which Australia and Africa produce.

Following the Fed’s announcements, we had already seen emerging markets suffer, as fast money raced out and headed back to the States. Suddenly the easy game of chasing yield around the world, while borrowing US Dollars to fund the practice, didn’t seem quite so rewarding or risk free. China’s policy changes add another layer of uncertainty and fragile emerging markets may be embarrassed swimmers, but many have learnt the lessons of the 1998 Asian crisis and have diligently built large foreign exchange reserves in recent years, so I’d say hedge funds are more likely to be the "‘exposed" this time, as they have been hunting voraciously for yield, whilst banks’ proprietary trading has been seriously curtailed since the onset of the crisis.

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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Keir Starmer MP: Choosing ideological purity before power is a dereliction of duty

The former director of public prosecutions believes getting involved with Brexit negotiations is crucial. 

 

Three weeks after Brexit, Keir Starmer held a public meeting in his London constituency of Holborn and St Pancras. “We had hundreds turning up,” he remembered. “The town hall was absolutely packed - it was standing room only and we had to turn people away. We haven’t had a public meeting of that size for some time.”

When it comes to Brexit, Starmer is an obvious Labour asset. Director of public prosecutions from 2008 to 2013, he has the legal background to properly scrutinise an EU deal. His time spent as a shadow immigration minister means he understands some of the thorniest problems facing negotiators.

But instead, the MP finds himself on the shadow back benches.

“My decision to resign was driven by Jeremy’s decision on the referendum,” he told The Staggers. “I was particularly troubled by his suggestion that we should invoke Article 50 straight away, and start the exit process [Corbyn has since backtracked on this suggestion]. 

“That is not for me a question of left-right politics. When he said that, I felt he was in fundamentally a different place from me in terms of how we fight for the future of our country.”

Starmer is not a man to enjoy life in opposition, and he has little time for airy promises. “Jeremy talks of dealing with inequality and housing projects, and a fairer society - all of which I would agree,” he said. “What I haven’t seen is the emergence of detailed policy that would get us to these places.”

He also gives purists in the party short shrift. “I would reject wholeheartedly any notion of a Labour Party that is not committed to returning to power at the first opportunity,” he said. “Of course that needs to be principled power. But standing on the sidelines looking for the purest ideology is a dereliction of the duty for any Labour member.”

Starmer believes Labour should be joining Scottish and Northern Irish leaders in trying to influence Brexit negotiations. He sees the time before invoking Article 50, the EU exit button, as crucial. 

Nevertheless, the man named after the Scottish founder of Labour, Keir Hardie, is pessimistic about the future of the UK. 

“It is going to be increasingly difficult to resist a further referendum in Scotland,” he said. “It will be increasingly difficult to keep Scotland as a part of the UK. I hope that doesn’t happen, but everyone knows David Cameron has put that at risk.”

Starmer may be a London MP, but he follows events in the rest of the country closely. While still in his shadow cabinet post, he embarked on a countrywide tour to learn more about attitudes to immigration.  

He condemns the increase in racist attacks post-Brexit as “despicable”, but insists there is “a world of difference” between these and genuine concerns about resources. “If you lose your job because there has been an influx of labour from another country, that is a legitimate cause for concern.”

He is equally scathing about the Government’s net migration cap. “If immigration is simply seen as a numbers game, nobody will ever win that debate,” he said. “The question should be: what is it we want to achieve?

“What do we expect of those who are arriving? What is the basic deal?”

In January, Starmer visited the informal camps in Calais and Dunkirk. “What I saw in Calais was appalling,” he said. “It is an hour from London. 

“To see families and children in freezing, squalid conditions without any real hope of a positive outcome was enough to make anybody think: ‘This is not the way to solve the refugee crisis.’”

The new PM, Theresa May, built her reputation on a rigid asylum policy, but Starmer believes a strong opposition can still force change. “If you take the Syrian resettlement scheme, that started life as a scheme for victims of sexual violence,” he said. “When pushed, it became a scheme for 20,000 Syrians but not if they reached Europe. When pushed, the Government accepted the case for some unaccompanied children in Europe to come to this country. 

“Labour needs to keep pushing.”

For now, though, Labour is divided. Starmer has been tipped as a future leader before, in 2015, but declined to run because of a lack of political experience. One year and a Brexit on, he certainly has some of that under his belt. But he rules himself out of the current leadership challenge: “I am 100 per cent behind Owen.” What will he do if Jeremy Corbyn wins? “Let’s cross each bridge when we come to it.”

Starmer is clear, though, that Labour can only win an election if it comes up with a more ambitious project, an economy with purpose. And the Brexit negotiations provide an opportunity. “We have to ask ourselves,” he said. “Do we simply want a series of trade agreements, the more the merrier? Or do we want deals that achieve certain ends? It is a moment to recast the future.”