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Nicky Morgan calls for FCA to investigate London Capital & Finance failures

The powerful Treasury Select Committee chairman Nicky Morgan has written to the Financial Conduct Authority demanding it considers a full-blown investigation into regulatory failures around the collapse of mini-bond company London Capital & Finance.

In what was a clear threat to the City watchdog, she wrote that if it refuses to launch such a probe, she will urge the Treasury to force it to.

LCF collapsed in January leaving more than 11,000 largely elderly investors facing the loss of nearly all their money.

The Evening Standard has revealed how the regulator was warned in 2015 and 2017 about risks around the company but failed to act until December of last year, by which time the public had invested £236 million in its bonds.

Yesterday the Serious Fraud Office said it had arrested four people in association with the collapse and had launched a full investigation.

It was also confirmed today that one of the businesses it lent to, London Oil & Gas, had collapsed into administration. LoG invested £40 million in North Sea oil explorer Independent Oil & Gas which LFC’s administrators say is the only money bondholders are likely to get back.

Independent chief executive Andrew Hockey today said he welcomed the administrators’ support.

LCF was regulated by the FCA but the mini-bonds it wrongly marketed as ISA-compatible were not.

Morgan said: “The FCA is currently investigating LC&F’s marketing material and the Serious Fraud Office is investigating individuals associated with the company. Yet there is a broader need to understand what can be learned in a regulatory sense from the events at LC&F.”

Morgan wrote to the chairman of the FCA, Charles Randell, that the regulator must investigate four key areas.

*Did the FCA act fast enough in its supervisory action against LCF in December?

*Are other firms using their FCA authorisation in a way that may mislead consumers?

*Should more should be done to explain and clarify to consumers how much protection the FCA gives them?

*Should mini-bonds should be allowed to be unregulated?

The letter reveals that the FCA’s Andrew Bailey has already told the Treasury Select Committee that he is concerned about firms which give the public the misleading impression that they are fully regulated when in fact, only a small part of their business is.

However, the FCA’s failure to act on repeated warnings are likely to come under serious question in any investigation.

Mini-bonds offering high interest rates such as LCF’s 6-9% have flourished against the backdrop of the low interest rates from other investments. Several have proved too-good-to-be-true, but the collapse of LCF is by far the biggest of its type.

The Evening Standard has disclosed in recent months how LCF paid an agent 20% to 25% commission up front from the bondholders’ cash, then lent the money to a small number of highly risky business ventures with links to individuals associated with the bond company.

Questions have been asked in the House of Commons by MPs whose constituents have been affected by the company. One, Gavin Newlands, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire North, said he has a constituent who invested £60,000 with LCF and £20,000 with Blackmore Bonds, a company whose products were marketed through the same sales agent, earning a similar sized commission.

Speaking of the LCF situation, Newlands said in parliament to leader of the House Andrea Leadsom last week: “Can we have a debate on this scandalous and fraudulent issue?”

Leadsom responded: “I had heard of this appalling collapse, and the honourable gentleman is right to raise it. There will be people who have really suffered financially as a result of this.” She suggested he seeks an adjournment debate to “raise it directly with ministers”.

Anthony Hilton: Long-term market stability is a model of imperfection

Theories are designed to explain how the things work and to make predictions; that is as true for everything from nuclear physics to physical fitness.

It is more difficult to develop theories in the social sciences because of the unpredictability of human reactions.

In economics there are many theories but they often are bad at prediction, because there are so many diverse influences at work. It should be easier to formulate theories about the functioning of financial markets on the grounds that investors — who are predominantly professional — target the best available return and borrowers try to minimise cost: clear unambiguous objectives.

Academic finance has taken the principle of profit motivation on board and given us two main investment theories, dating back to the Sixties:

The Efficient Market Hypothesis (EMH), whose principle is investors won’t leave a fiver on the pavement; and The Capital Asset Pricing Model (CAPM), which says that the higher the risk, the higher the return.

Fund managers are ambivalent about the EMH, observing bubbles and crashes. But they seem content enough to use market indexes as benchmarks for active and passive investment. As for CAPM, it is a wonder it has survived the now ample evidence that high-risk stocks ultimately deliver lower returns than low-risk ones.

So professional investors have one theory, EMH, they don’t really believe in, and another, CAPM, that is at best unreliable. It leaves them relying on instinct, or simply going with the flow.

Hence the need for a better understanding of how finance works.

Dimitri Vayanos and Paul Woolley at the Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality at the London School of Economics have taken 12 years to come up with an alternative framework* which seems to do a better job of explaining the real world.

Their approach differs in one significant way from the standard model: they take into account that the ultimate asset owner now rarely invests directly himself but delegates responsibility to a professional manager.

This is where all the trouble starts. The manager has his own set of objectives and responsibilities and these may not always coincide with those of his clients. Moreover, the client is never quite certain of the manager’s competence and the manager for his part is keen to inspire confidence.

One way trustees of pension and other funds control delegated risk is to give the manager a benchmark, usually a market cap index, and instruct him not to stray too far from that.

Even if trustees do not do this, the manager is keen to keep shortfalls against the index or peer group returns to a minimum.

Vayanos and Woolley show this seemingly sensible practice is at the root of many flaws in present day financial markets. It works like this.

One sector of the market, say tech stocks, may start to do much better than many managers expected. To avoid a bad shortfall against the benchmark they are obliged to buy the very stocks they had earlier dismissed as expensive.

Their purchases and those of other managers chasing performance push the sector even higher.

The result is a bubble with high-risk stocks pushed to unrealistic levels that predicate sub-standard returns. Extreme versions of this occur infrequently, but the underlying pressures are constantly at work.

The research shows that the damage caused by these distortions extend beyond the stock markets. In particular, the focus on short-term price performance by investors causes corporate chiefs to do the same: promoting strategies that benefit their company’s share price often to the detriment of the long-term cashflow of the business.

The policy implications of this research are extensive and Woolley has now set up a company, Ricardo Research, to help disseminate the advice to large funds that can help them to handle delegation more effectively. The aim is to improve long-term returns while making markets more stable.

It seems to have taken a theory designed to explain imperfection to come up with a model of how to achieve, if not perfection, at least a better social outcome.

*Ricardo Research: A model of imperfection, ricardoresearch.com/idea/a-model-of-imperfection

City broker TP Icap to move staff to Europe if the UK crashes out of the EU

BROKER TP Icap could move almost 100 of its staff to Europe to handle a hard Brexit, chief executive Nicolas Breteau said today.

With 10 days to go until the UK is meant to leave the EU and no deal in place, the middle-man on trades between big banks and hedge funds has activated his plans to handle a worst-case scenario. Breteau said the work its UK broking desks do for EU clients would have to be shifted to places such as Paris, Frankfurt, Madrid or Amsterdam after a hard Brexit, entailing “moving some brokers on the ground”.

He added: “We’re talking less than 100 — around 4% of our brokers in a worst-case scenario. We believe that whatever happens, the UK will probably remain the main financial centre for financials and energy products but a lot will depend on the type of Brexit deal we end up having and the reaction of our clients.”

The company is also seeking approval from the French financial regulator for a subsidiary dealing with EU clients.

TP Icap’s shares jumped 11.6p, or 4%, to 315.2p today as pre-tax profits of £245 million — up 5% on last year — beat City hopes despite a tough trading environment.

Global broking revenues — the biggest part of the business — saw revenues up 3% thanks to higher volatility, which particularly aided its rates and equities division. But its energy and commodities arm was hit by weaker US markets, trade war fears and Iranian sanctions.

The firm was created via the merger of Icap and Tullett Prebon but previous boss John Phizackerley was sacked last year.

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Poverty and profit - the business of development aid | DW Documentary

NPR News: The White House Is Out With Its Annual Economic Report

The White House Is Out With Its Annual Economic Report
Steve Inskeep talks to Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, about President Trump’s economic report. NPR’s Scott Horsley weighs in on the conversation.

Read more on NPR

Business Card

A member of our business team, Dorothy, was mainly in charge of the creation of the business card, whilst also using my advice and input to make an effective and professional business card.

This is what the front of our business card looked like, including our brands logo and all relevant information

One aspect i enjoy from the final outcome of the business card is how organised it was, considering the cleanliness and conciseness of the structure. We made the business card with the aim to mirror our website. We did this by using the websites minimalism aspect, earthly tones, and by making the brand name the main focal point. By sticking to a minimalist theme, it makes again use of negative space to prevent overwhelming our target market and to be as precise as possible. I like how Dorothy used mountain imagery to portray our outerwear collection, and by using earthly tones it sticks to our brands vision of being ethical and sustainable whilst also being visually appealing. Her use of a border separates the edges making everything appear more confined and structured. Lastly, by making the logo the central focal point, it makes the attracts the audiences attention to the brands name and logo. 

This is what the back of our business card appeared like once printed.

One thing i would improve on is the soft typography of the contact information. I would have improved by using a bolder, darker font, as the current contact details blend into the background of the card, disrupting the easy accessibility of the brands aim. Another thing i would have personally included in the design is our tagline as i consider it important for our brands visions and aims to be clear to all potential consumers. 

Despite these, i especially enjoy the back of the business card as the mountain flows throughout, creating a fluid, and flowing graphic design. This is a clever spin on other basic business cards, as it differentiates ourselves in a unique, and appealing way. Additionally, i liked how Dorothy has considered the rule of thirds when placing the logo and how it is off central point. This would instantly attract consumers to the brands logo, therefore making an effective business card. 

Showcases our business cards appeared like just after printing.