Banks still haven’t learnt. They think they can regulate themselves. That’s just not so.
- Hildegard Fässler, Swiss MP and Finance Specialist
The latest UBS derivatives trading scandal backdated to 2008 has renewed the call to impose strong regulation on financial institutions. Despite UBS CEO, Oswald Grübel’s efforts to improve UBS risk management , the latest scandal reflects a lack of progress from the supposed move towards a “low-risk client driven model“.
One would asked, what happened to the bank’s “reformed” internal risk management and external audit function?
Some of the measures promoted by international regulatory bodies and leading economists include imposing higher capital standards, ringfencing investment banking from the wider banking organisation and in some cases separating of investment banking operations from their parent organisation.
Related link: Of course it’s right to ringfence rogue universals (Financial Times)
Melbourne won the 2011 title of most livable city, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual survey. (See BBC’s Melbourne edges out Vancouver to top liveable city list)
The result came as a bit of a surprise. Since my university days, I have always known Melbourne to be a great place to live – an open, lively, diverse, sporty and cultural society, access to good quality fresh produce, decent infrastructure, a decent rate of economic growth, a variety of connections to the rest of the world by plane.
However, over the years, my impression that this great city was slipping down the ranks because of the huge population increase, lack of affordable housing, overstretched public health system, overcrowded public transport and ageing infrastructure and the exceptional rising cost of living. Unfortunately, there have been a lack of real political leadership (from both sides of politics) at the state/ federal level after years of white paper churning. Just asked any average Melbournian about the state of the city? Australia has become a really unaffordable place to live or visit.
The only explanation that I could thought of to why these worsening issues did not affect the city’s overall rating is probably because their target audiences are those really affluent people who don’t really depend on the city’s crumbling public, over-utilised infrastructure or services.
As a casual observer of Australian politics I can’t help feeling tired and fed up with the current performance of the ALP at the federal and state levels. This video by Clarke and Dawe had accurately described what’s happening in the Labor government. This is a government that lost its agenda setting ability and is either in denial or lacked ideas to reverse its current position.
I had so much hopes for Australia when the ALP (Australian Labor Party) went through a disciplined and focused campaign to defeat the second longest serving Prime Minister – John Howard and took office. At the start, Rudd looked like a capable PM, financial conservative guy with foreign affairs expertise with Gillard looking liked a capable, strong deputy PM and taking on industrial relations and education portfolio amongst other things. Things looked pretty good and I thought Australia was entering into a golden age of economic and social policy progress. My admiration went to their latest level when a centre-left ALP managed to keep the Australian economy in shape through the darkest times of the 2008 GFC (global financial crisis) by riding on the China boom.
But since then everything seem to fall apart and I had my dose of reality check. This government was unable to defend their policies has gradually lost its support for its programmes and overall support despite a negative and uninspiring opposition. Australians were increasingly more worried for their future despite a blooming economy. The ALP’s internal discipline faltered, the great opportunity to push through difficult reforms despite a federal-state ALP government never came, education review led to more questions about Australia’s research future, national infrastructure investment did not fly, home insulation programme was canned, the mining super profit tax was watered down, climate change agenda captured by the Coalition, refugee issue remained a question mark.
As a Sinophile, I was most disappointed by the dearth of leadership and ideas to engage China in a meaningful and with the forward looking vision to prepare the country for the rise of a new global power and the new opportunities beyond natural resources. Instead I saw policies and behaviours that reflected tints of yellow peril. United States is without a doubt still a global superpower and an important ally, but Australia has to prepare for the new reality.
If the federal ALP government wants to retain the confidence of the Australian public, they better get their act together and stopped repeating that these are difficult times for any government. Stop the denial and take it on the chin! Guess what? That’s why the Australian public voted them into government in the first place.
Recently, I have been doing research on the nature of China’s outward foreign direct investment and its impact on Australia. I found the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, Columbia University to be an invaluable source.
Between Karl Sauvant (former UNCTAD Director) and Ken Davies (former Global Relations Head, OECD), there have been numerous useful articles including:
(Credit: Remko Tanis)
Corporate accounting scandals, subprime mortgage crisis and European sovereign debts concerns aside, the next looming overseas financial crunch to hit Australia and where it can really hurt is China’s mounting municipal debts. The FT and Citibank estimated the bad debts to be around USD 294 billion -350 billion respectively. While there is little doubt that China can cope with this debt, how the Chinese Government is going to reduce the local governments’ bad debt exposure. Could this reduction avoid massive demand cuts for Australia’s commodities that could (directly) impact up to 10% of Australia GDP?
At the start of global financial crisis (GFC), the Chinese government announced a 4 trillion yuan (USD 586 billion) national stimulus plan, with 38% of the stimulus allocated to infrastructure projects. Local banks lending limit were lifted, and urged to support the country’s growth in midst of the GFC. The market became awashed with easy money and local governments embarked a massive infrastructure spree. Many such projects were being financed through quasi-independent companies. Some of such companies were created by local governments in order to subvert lending restrictions imposed on Central government.
Last week, these practices finally hit the headlines when Liu Jiayi, the Head of the National Audit Office, in a report to the National People Congress (report in Chinese), cast doubt whether those over-exposed local government has the means to repay their loans or would ended up as bad debts? The State Council (China’s Cabinet) responded by ordering all provinces to review all debts, cease illicit local financing and investment and detail a financial health report by end of 2010.
Undoubtedly this directive would result less infrastuture projects and decrease demand for Australian commondites. The Australian mining industry and the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics (ABARE) will want to incorporate this development in their mid-term growth forcast in light of the weakness in the global banks.