Recently by Scott McCulloch

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.

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."

Royal bank of Scotland will take little comfort from its $100 million settlement award from the US Securities and Exchange Commission from Goldman Sachs admission it was economical with the truth in its selling of toxic bond deals wrapped up in Abacus 2007-AC1.

RBS is now "considering all options" which obviously includes the possibility of pursuing Goldman's for a considerably larger chunk of the $870 million it lost in the Abacus investment deal.

Those losses stemmed from the fraudulent omission Goldman's hedge fund client, Paulson & Co was not only selecting mortgages for the portfolio, but was also making side bets those mortgages would drop in value.

A very cosy arrangement for Goldman's, which also charged Paulson & Co $15 million for the privilege of selecting mortgage backed securities to go into Abacus both Goldmans and Paulson must have known were at the very least suspect.

They say what happens in the United States eventually filters through to the UK.

So the evidence given by the United States Federal Reserve chairman, Ben Bernanke to the Committee on Financial Services, U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, D.C on February 10 makes for interesting reading.

In his written submission to the committee on the Federal Reserve's exit strategy from what he describes as the "extraordinary lending and monetary policies that it implemented to combat the financial crisis and support economic activity" he adds an interesting footnote.

He states: "The Federal Reserve believes it is possible that, ultimately, its operating framework will allow the elimination of minimum reserve requirements, which impose costs and distortions on the banking system."

The full text of Mr Bernanke's evidence to the committee can be read here

THE news Scottish banks have been "unfair and aggressive" towards their most vulnerable retail customers will come as little surprise to their business customers.

The Scottish affairs select committee, made up of a panel of MPs, has found the taxpayer supported banks have been using what it described as "unsavoury practices" against its most vulnerable customers.

Examples provided by the Citizens Advice Bureau made for grim reading, with some customers complaining they were forced into taking loans to avoid defaulting on non-related financial products, excessive charges for overdraft extensions and rate hikes on credit cards - to name but a few.

Colin Borland, public affairs manager for the Federation of Small Businesses in Scotland said he welcomed the views expressed by committee.

He said the FSB in Scotland has for the last 18-months been highlighting similar "unfair and aggressive" practices levelled at small business customers by their lenders.

The announcement the UK has now left recession after reporting 0.1 per cent growth brought some cheer to businesses hoping the longest period of gloom since the Great Depression is finally behind us.

The problem the government faced was the fact entering into a seventh consecutive quarters of negative growth would give the appearance we were headed down the road to depression.

The ONS figures also have an error range built-in, which are generally not published, but the figures range from between -0.2 per cent and +0.4 per cent.

Of course the 0.1 per cent growth figure will be adjusted to provide a more accurate account in the coming months, but for now we will have to settle for the less accurate range figure.

So, are we really out of recession just shy of 550 days of negative growth?


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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