The ECB's Asset Quality Review is a work of art - minimalist art

A masterpiece of reverse engineering.

In creating what was a potentially vital part of the project to keep the Euro afloat, the European Central Bank had a mission. They were to design a bank asset quality review that was just tough enough to gain credibility, but not too tough, for fear of scaring the horses and inducing queues of depositors to form outside banks when the results come out.

What we got was a masterpiece of reverse engineering, aimed at achieving just what was required - just enough. It can't be denied there are some tough-sounding parts, some tidbits of rectitude - an examination of gross liquidity ratios, excessive LTRO usage, and rigorous scrutiny of off-balance sheet exposures and the risk-weightings which banks choose to apply to their assets.

We are assured these matters will all receive diligent attention in the AQR, and may even lead to a subjective decision to raise the required capital ratio above the standard level of 7 per cent, (8 per cent for large, systemically important banks). Ok, sure, we'll wait and see what happens!

Very sensibly the AQR will take a Q4 2013 snapshot of balance sheets, so as to discourage banks from indulging in an unseemly fire sale of assets or reduction in customer loans by not giving them enough time to do so.

We even got some headmasterly rhetoric from Mario Draghi along the lines that we must have no fear, the AQR would be stringent enough so that some banks do actually fail, to ensure the process had credibility (preferably very small ones that have little chance of spreading contagion fear). He further insisted that governments must have a backstop in place. This was a thinly veiled tilt at Germany, who is in turn insisting that every cent is bled out of private bond and equity holders, of every possible description, first, before the European Stability Mechanism is tapped for bank re-capitalisation.

The trouble is, this AQR does very little to address the potentially lethal death embrace of banks and their governments that exists as a result of the banks' enormous holdings of sovereign bonds. This is to be expected: a proper risk-adjusted examination of the various hues of government bonds stuffed into banks' balance sheets, with realistic risk weightings, would be far too scary and if it ever saw the light of day, and might just bring the whole Tower of Babel crashing down.

So there were are, just enough to give the banks another year to de-leverage before the European Banking Authority stress tests and, with results not due for a year, just enough time for Germany to become satisfied with the ESM's rules of engagement.

Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank (ECB), earlier this year. 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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Labour is launching a stealthy Scottish comeback - thanks to Jeremy Corbyn and the Daily Mail

The Scottish Labour strategy is paying off - and hard evidence that it works may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017

When I suggested to a senior Scottish Labour figure earlier this year that the party was a car crash, he rejected my assertion.

“We’re past that,” he said gloomily. “Now we’re the burnt-out wreck in a field that no-one even notices anymore.”

And yet, just as the election campaign has seen Jeremy Corbyn transformed from an outdated jalopy into Chitty Chitty Bang Bang magically soaring in the polls, Scottish Labour is beginning to look roadworthy again.

And it’s all down to two apparently contradictory forces – Corbyn and The Daily Mail.

Kezia Dugdale’s decision to hire Alan Roden, then the Scottish Daily Mail’s political editor, as her spin doctor in chief last summer was said to have lost her some party members. It may win her some new members of parliament just nine months later.

Roden’s undoubted nose for a story and nous in driving the news agenda, learned in his years at the Mail, has seen Nicola Sturgeon repeatedly forced to defend her government record on health and education in recent weeks, even though her Holyrood administration is not up for election next month.

On ITV’s leaders debate she confessed that, despite 10 years in power, the Scottish education system is in need of some attention. And a few days later she was taken to task during a BBC debate involving the Scottish leaders by a nurse who told her she had to visit a food bank to get by. The subsequent SNP attempt to smear that nurse was a pathetic mis-step by the party that suggested their media operation had gone awry.

It’s not the Tories putting Sturgeon on the defence. They, like the SNP, are happy to contend the general election on constitutional issues in the hope of corralling the unionist vote or even just the votes of those that don’t yet want a second independence referendum. It is Labour who are spotting the opportunities and maximising them.

However, that would not be enough alone. For although folk like Dugdale as a person – as evidenced in Lord Ashcroft’s latest polling - she lacks the policy chops to build on that. Witness her dopey proposal ahead of the last Holyrood election to raise income tax.

Dugdale may be a self-confessed Blairite but what’s powering Scottish Labour just now is Jeremy Corbyn’s more left-wing policy platform.

For as Brexit has dropped down the agenda at this election, and bread and butter stuff like health and education has moved centre stage, Scots are seeing that for all the SNP’s left wing rhetoric, after 10 years in power in Holyrood, there’s not a lot of progressive policy to show for it.

Corbyn’s manifesto, even though huge chunks of it won’t apply in Scotland, is progressive. The evidence is anecdotal at the moment, but it seems some Scots voters find it more attractive than the timid managerialism of the SNP. This is particularly the case with another independence referendum looking very unlikely before the 2020s, on either the nationalists' or the Conservatives' timetable.

Evidence that the Scottish Labour strategy has worked may be more plentiful come 8 June 2017. The polls, albeit with small sample sizes so best approached with caution, have Ian Murray streets ahead in the battle to defend Edinburgh South. There’s a lot of optimism in East Lothian where Labour won the council earlier in May and MSP Iain Gray increased his majority at the Scottish election last year. Labour have chosen their local candidate well in local teacher Martin Whitfield, and if the unionist vote swings behind him he could overhaul sitting MP George Kerevan’s 7,000 majority. (As we learned in 2015, apparently safe majorities mean nothing in the face of larger electoral forces). In East Renfrewshire, Labour's Blair McDougall, the man who led Better Together in 2014, can out-unionist the Tory candidate.

But, while in April, it was suggested that these three seats would be the sole focus of the Scottish Labour campaign, that attitude has changed after the local elections. Labour lost Glasgow but did not implode. In chunks of their former west of Scotland heartlands there was signs of life.

Mhairi Black’s a media darling, but her reputation as a local MP rather than a local celebrity is not great. Labour would love to unseat her, in what would be a huge upset, or perhaps more realistically go after Gavin Newlands in the neighbouring Paisley seat.

They are also sniffing Glasgow East. With Natalie McGarry’s stint as MP ending in tears – a police investigation, voting in her wedding dress and fainting in the chamber sums up her two years in Westminster – Labour ought to be in with a chance in the deprived neighbourhoods of Glasgow’s east end.

Labour in Scotland doesn’t feel like such a wreck anymore. Alan Roden’s Daily Mail-honed media nous has grabbed attention. Corbyn’s progressive policies have put fuel in the tank.

After polling day, the party will be able to fit all its Scottish MPs comfortably in a small hatchback, compared to the double decker bus necessary just a few years back.

But this general election could give the party the necessary shove to get on to the long road back.

James Millar is a political journalist and founder of the Political Yeti's Politics Podcast. He is co-author of The Gender Agenda, which will be published July 21 by Jessica Kingsley Publishing.

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