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Mortgage-backed securities, the financial products credited as a main catalyst in the 2008 global banking crisis, are back in the news and back in favour with the investment community.

Last week Lloyds Banking Group agreed to offload a portfolio US residential mortgage-backed securities it inherited from Halifax Bank of Scotland for £3.3 billion.

These securities are reported by Lloyds to have a book value of around £2.7 billion, meaning the sale will deliver a pre-tax gain somewhere in the region of £540 million.

So, good news for Lloyds, which has stated it will put the proceeds towards raising its tier one capital and putting some money towards its £957 million pension deficit.

Among the purchasers of the Lloyds portfolio of securities is Goldman Sachs International, which has paid around £200 million for a portion of the portfolio.

Which brings us to another fascinating bit of news to come out the US courts in recent weeks in which Goldman Sachs successfully argued some historical revisionism in its involvement in a notorious mortgage-backed securities deal Royal Bank of Scotland traders lost an estimated $870 million on.

HM Revenues and Customs (HMRC) has come to the end of its financial year, so an opportune time to check back on its Scottish insolvency activity based on the previous year.

As you may recall, Insider featured a piece back in January in which a number of Scottish-based insolvency specialists all told a similar story: HMRC had run out of budget to pay insolvency practitioners in the autumn of 2012.

The original article can be found here

HMRC, in a roundabout way, denied it had run out of budget for insolvency work but admitted to having received additional funding in December of 2012.

In January a spokesman for the revenue told Insider: "HMRC do not lack funding to pay for insolvency services.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) published its latest official employment statistics on March 20 in which it notes Scotland's rate of employment rose by 19,000 in the three months covering November to January.

Great news, as this would suggest there's a bit of a jobs boom under way, and a welcome turnaround on the 27,000 reduction in employment recorded the previous quarter covering August to October.

The ONS figures for the three months to October suggested employment in Scotland stood at 2,463,000.

By the end of January 2013, the employment figure had risen to 2,483,000, or thereabouts as the ONS put the figure at 19,000.

Finance Secretary John Swinney welcomed the news, saying: "Employment is on the increase and our employment rate is the joint fifth highest of the UK nations and regions."

Of course, seasonal jobs in the run up to Christmas would account for a spike in employment.

But the ONS notes in its most recent update covering November to January it has postponed its estimates of workforce jobs for December until its April 2013 release "due to operational difficulties which have resulted in a need for further quality assurance".


Rumour has it HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) ran out of budget to pay insolvency practitioners at the halfway point in its financial year.

That's the 'word on the street' anyway, and confirmed - sort of - from discussions with four Scottish insolvency professionals this week.

HMRC has of course denied this - sort of.

A spokesman for the revenue told Business7: "HMRC do not lack funding to pay for insolvency services.

"In fact, in December HMRC released additional funding in Scotland to ensure legal action continued where it was appropriate."

So there you have it: HMRC hadn't run out of budget but thought it right to mention it was given "additional funding" in December.

The Bank of England has agreed to pump another £50 billion of made up money into the flagging UK economy in an effort to kick-start economic growth.

UK interest rates have also been held at a record low of 0.5 per cent - the rate it has been since March 2009.

This, of course, is terrible news for savers, and indeed pensioners, as the buying up of gilts - UK government bonds - artificially depresses annuity rates.

Quantitative easing is basically the creation of new money - literally out of thin air.

The Bank of England creates this new money by way of a sale of Treasury investment bonds - basically a promise to pay later for cash now.

When a new owner takes on an iconic brand thoughts quite quickly turn to what will happen next.

Under the control of Bedford based Wells and Young's it would appear McEwan's will be given a bit more attention than it was in the Heineken years.

The independent brewing firm seems a more natural home for the likes of 80 Shilling and Export than the vast machine of a multinational drinks company.

The new owners have promised "significant" investment in marketing and are in the process of setting up a dedicated Scottish office.

It has been interesting watching the reaction over the past few weeks to some fairly hefty payouts across the corporate sector.

Bankers like Bob Diamond, Stephen Hester and Eric Daniels all walked away with millions of pounds worth of benefits and shares.

Alongside them hundreds of other bankers were paid more than £1 million each to a collective outcry of horror.

Compare and contrast this to the joyous outpourings shown in newspapers and broadcast media when John Lewis announced all of its staff - including the executive team - were getting the equivalent of 18 per cent of their salary.

Taxing oil

By Scott McCulloch on Mar 23, 11 04:33 PM in Energy

You have to wonder at the logic the Chancellor George Osborne applied to the Supplementary Rate of Corporation Tax for the North Sea oil and gas sector, pushing the rate up from 20 to 32 per cent in an attempt to appease the public on rocketing fuel costs.

For an oil and gas region which has already reached peak production, this could be a massive blow if the big players decide to mothball their UK North Sea operations until we reach the Chancellors hallowed $75 a barrel oil cut off.

Derek Leith, oil and gas partner at Ernst & Young believes the Government has backtracked on a commitment last year to ensuring investment in the North Sea by creating a stable and fair UK oil and gas tax regime.

Leith says, that script has been binned.

He said the rise from 20 to 32 per cent "demonstrates to industry in an unambiguous fashion that there is no real concept of fiscal stability in the UK."

Leith adds: "It is hard to comprehend that mature oil and gas fields, which already pay petroleum revenue tax as well as corporation tax, will now suffer a marginal tax rate of 81 per cent. Many companies will be frantically re-appraising their plans for capital investment in the UKCS in the coming days.

"The prospect that the rate will reduce if the oil price falls before a certain level, and the possibility of some measure of relief for new gas fields will carry little weight with oil companies in the light of such a significant increase in tax."

On Saturday I was lucky enough to be having dinner with my wife in the Rhubarb restaurant at Prestonfield House Hotel in Edinburgh.

A gift voucher we had which had been languishing on a shelf was finally being put to good use.

It was only the second time I had eaten at James Thompson's lavishly decorated and opulent sanctum.

Even though the decoration has the capacity to overwhelm what I noticed most was that when we arrived at 6.30pm the dining rooms and bar areas were extremely busy.

Deals, deals, deals

By Greig Cameron on Jan 27, 11 02:34 PM in

There were signs in the final few months of 2010 the deals market was hotting up again.

The Wood Group deal for PSN and Sir Tom Hunter disposing of Office grabbed a lot of the headlines and rightly so.

While most players in the market felt 2011 would see that pick up continuing there was always a nervousness about whether the recovery was really under way (possibly not if the latest GDP stats are looked at).

But there have already been a string of interesting transactions in January.

Authors

Alasdair Northrop

Alasdair Northrop

Editor of Insider, editor in chief of Business7 and business editor of the Daily Record provides his take on the big stories.

View all of my postings.
Scott McCulloch

Scott McCulloch

Delivering a no nonsense view on the Scottish business community.

View all of my postings.

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