Sunday, 1 January 2017

Peace on Earth, goodwill to all and a happy New Year.









 
You might be forgiven reading much of the press for thinking the traditional seasonal sentiment for this time of year is something of a sarcastic parody of what passed in 2016.  It has even spawned headlines like Is 2016 the worst year in history ?  But that would be a mistake I think.


Yes there have been conflicts and tensions  in Syria, West Papua, and the Ukraine to name a few of the top of my head.  We have seen relations between the USA and Russia and the USA and China more  strained than for decades.   So bad in fact  the much respected journalist John Pilger described it as the third world war already under way.




On the other side of the argument we have seen a half century long armed conflict in Colombia end , and there are several studies showing the recent trend in deaths in wars is declining.


Unfortunately battle deaths are not the only casualties in war. For 2012, the first and latest year for which its estimates are available, the Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) estimates that more than 172 million people were affected by conflict worldwide. Of this total 149 million or 87 percent were conflict-affected residents (CARs). Internally displaced persons (IDPs) accounted for another 18 million and refugees for five million.

That preceding paragraph comes from 2016 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics

From here we also learn that  hunger /undernourishment has decreased notable in both absolute and relative terms over the last 25 years. 

The same paper also comments on one other significant question:

"Does the world produce enough food to feed everyone?

The world produces enough food to feed everyone. For the world as a whole, per capita food availability has risen from about 2220 kcal/person/day in the early 1960s to 2790 kcal/person/day in 2006-08, while developing countries even recorded a leap from 1850 kcal/person/day to over 2640 kcal/person/day. This growth in food availability in conjunction with improved access to food helped reduce the percentage of chronically undernourished people in developing countries from 34 percent in the mid 1970s to just 15 percent three decades later. (FAO 2012, p. 4) The principal problem is that many people in the world still do not have sufficient income to purchase (or land to grow) enough food."

That last sentence is quite a problem.  Bearing in mind that food is perishable and there is really only so many calories one can eat without  producing  ill effects,  you have to wonder at both the logic and inhumanity of this.   Where do all the surplus calories/food go?  Either to waste or to producing unhealthy body weight.


So what of the other part of that sentence - the income bit ? Certainly over the last 2 centuries it seems things have improved overall.


(from https://ourworldindata.org/world-poverty/)


So from the purely economic and anthropocentric long terms view things are getting better.  There may be hiccoughs and  delays but slow improvements are happening.   Who you might wonder is paying for this marvel of continuous improvement?

Try this from our Earth biodiversity

  Just to illustrate the degree of biodiversity loss we're facing, let’s take you through one scientific analysis...
  • The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate.
  • These experts calculate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species will become extinct each year.
  • If the low estimate of the number of species out there is true - i.e. that there are around 2 million different species on our planet -  then that means between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur every year.
  • But if the upper estimate of species numbers is true - that there are 100 million different species co-existing with us on our planet - then between 10,000 and 100,000 species are becoming extinct each year.

In a generalised form, here is a graph of the dates of Earth overshoot day.  That's the day each year where statistically we consume and pollute more than we believe the Earth can accommodate.

(In 2016 Earth overshoot day was August 8th).


It isn't Trump or Brexit or any of those things from 2016 that really  worries me.  It is the  clear long term trend in this graph that is the real problem.  Good will to all men (& women) isn't enough , not nearly enough.  Nor is fear that leads to inward looking isolationism.  The antidote to fear is gratitude.  Consume less, share more.  Be grateful to live in times where we have ample resource like food enough to feed everyone if we desire to.  Be thankful we have medicine and technology to improve lives.   Something has to change.  The smart move it so change ourselves to avert the worst that might be imposed upon us.  The window of opportunity may be short lived , I cannot tell, but appreciate you do have the opportunity to make a difference like no other generation so far has.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Those pesky kids again


About a month ago there was a piece in the JEP on mental health and kids under 10. http://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/2016/11/03/under-10s-on-mental-healths-workload/
It troubled me , especially the bit more than 800 children referred to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services since 2011 were under the age of ten.  So I did a bit of sniffing about.  Since we are talking sensitive stuff and children and professional services it was never likely that anything substantive would be obvious.

However I did come across one very worrying thing told me by several sources concerning autism spectrum children, particularly asperger's.   There is a facility to  request an assessment for ASD/Aspergers.  No problem with that.  However my information is that if school suspects a child might be autistic spectrum, it is policy they cannot  indicate or suggest that is the case.  I cannot fathom this.  It means a child having some difficulties can go right through school getting no help  even though school is aware there might be something amiss that can be diagnoses and assisted.  It relies on parents being aware and knowing enough to ask specifically for the right assessment.

 There is a quick summary of Aspereger Syndrome at https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/asperger-syndrome The UK policy and  practice on autism is at  https://www.nfer.ac.uk/publications/ASR02/ASR02.pdf 

Two other things I came across reading up n this.  It is not uncommon for high functioning  people to only get assessed /diagnoses late in life.  There is an inheritance trait, though no specific gene influence is known.  The parent becomes aware and gets assessed because the child has been assessed.  That's only adds to the concern about the non disclosure policy in schools - parents might  find they have and can be helped too.


The other is the reported  tendency for people with high functioning ASD to be found disproportionately in some jobs, such as notably engineering.  Eg http://spectrum.ieee.org/biomedical/diagnostics/engineers-and-autism

 

I'll relate you an anecdote of my time at University when I was  a Student Union Officer.  One of the supposed perks of holding  one of the execute roles as I did few over 2 years was tickets to the various balls and Hall parties that happen annually.  There were quite a few  at Nottingham University - at least 15 a year.  I never knew quite how it became public but in my third term of office it was revealed I had never actually taken any of these free tickets to these events. There was quite a commotion about it.  Some saw it as good news- more tickets for the party goers on the executive, others  thought it inappropriate -all the exec members had a duty to represent the SU at such things. In the end they had to have a vote on it and I was instructed to go to a least one.  I never had a problem doing  formal events where there was a protocol, I was even able to give  impromptu speeches to  large student gatherings.  But  going to that party was easily the most daunting of all the  things I had to do.  Without clear rules/reference points I was lost.  


So you will not be surprised I think  to know that I recognised some of the traits in the  material I had been reading. I took an online test just to see. https://www.aspergerstestsite.com/aq-test/ I wasn't even borderline but way into the typical scores for Asperge'rs people.  Of course it is not a formal assessment, or a diagnosis.  But its not a surprise.  Of course there might be other reasons fo rsome of the traits that are picked up by that test.  Being  in care as a child for starters.  I don't know anything about my first year of life, but learning at the age of about 7 that the people you thought were your parents aren't and understanding, if only in a vague way, all that you think is solid and safe might be changed at the stroke of a pen by some anonymous bureaucrat might have had some influence  too.


What am I going to do about it? Nothing.  What point is there in seeking a diagnosis and putting a label on things  now. Whatever the cause for my  rather unusual scores and tendencies re unstructured social groups and understanding  individual people, I've made it to my mid 50's in far better shape than so many who have been through the care system , or had a disorder analysis (the two are probably correlated too). The world is just going to have to learn to deal with me as I am just I have had to cope with it  the way it is.  My one regret is if I do have Asperger's I may have unwittingly lumbered my children with issues I'd rather they didn't have to deal with.  It might be a different matter for some other child or parent out there struggling  for whom an assessment and diagnosis and a bit of help realy would make a world of difference. 

 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Good advice


Despite my technical backgound, or more likely  because of it, I've never had a smart phone.  The same applies to cars, those little bubbles of isolation.  So I think I can be excused for posting this.


Thursday, 27 October 2016

Taxing matters



I have been rather amused by the sudden realisation by the middle class of Jersey that their so wonderfully effective and efficient low taxing government is costing them more in tax than if they lived in the UK.  It has long been thus for some lower earners.  Actually it has also been the case for many who save and invest personally too  - if they had taken advantage of the UK's (now defunct) PEP's and still going  ISA's.  There are indeed a few who have amassed a tax free million pot.  See How to be an ISA millionaire Even at the FTSE100 dividend yield of  around. 3.5% that's £35,000 income  tax free.  Of course Jersey has no equivalent to these tax efficient saving and investing schemes


For lower earners the problem is the Jersey government's inability to comprehend that  increasing tax thresholds don't help those who fall somewhat below the thresholds.  In the  UK many equivalents of child allowances etc are credits - paid items, not exemptions.  In effect they boost income rather than allow a reduced tax bill.  It makes a difference because of course in Jersey once you are a 0 rate tax payer that's the end of the benefit.  So if like me your income is  below the thresholds by more than  a child's allowance, that allowance is worthless. That situation  does not occur in the UK where tax credits are paid.


Nor is it the case that such people will be  cushioned by having social security benefits.  The ability to claim those is quickly eroded by the  impact of capital  the potential claimant may have.  And this is not just theoretical stuff.


Each government department in Jersey  has a different perception about what is and isn't in need of assistance.  Equally each appears to think any income or assets you might have can be applied to offset any help you might get from their department alone. You can lose several times over as the same capital or income is used against you by each department  that might otherwise help.  It is a fine example of the inconsistent approach of a piecemeal  non-system without any common coherent thinking.  It is unsurprising given we elect individuals who have between them  no coherent strategy and each policy is a cobbled together compromise of individualist  foibles and interests. There is no plan or design or underpining philosophy here.


Thus it is quite possible to be in the situation I find myself.  No income tax, health charge or care charge to pay because our income falls way short of the threshold in marginal taxation.  Since I am not an employee I don't pay class 1 social security.  I am theoretically liable to play full class 2 social security ( ~£6,000 per year!), but even they have realised you cannot get blood from a stone.  Asking people with income  significantly below the tax threshold to pay that sort of money is madness.  So I have an exception. Of course I'm not entitled to most benefits and not building my pension contribution.


You might have the picture from the foregoing that we are not exactly rolling in it.  But the Education Department would disagree.  If either of my bright children want to go to university in a few years time I am, according to them, so well off that we wouldn't get a penny in help with the living costs or tuition fees.


I'll leave it to you dear reader to figure out the logic of how you can be so poor as to not be liable for tax or social security payments but simultaneously be so well off you can be expected to find £60,000 plus for each child to go to university. 

Thursday, 20 October 2016

No, Ministers



There is a consultation out on pay, technically actually remuneration, for Ministers. Ministers are past holders - usually such people are not paid for work, they are remunerated. (The same is often true for directors of companies, but the Manpower returns seem unable to grasp the essence of post holders are not employees).  It isn't a States consultation, but the States Member's Remuneration Body.  The details are at States Members Remuneration beyond 2018.pdf


The consultation quite explicitly asks about the Chief Minister's  remuneration because they have more responsibilities.  "In the first instance we suggest that pay differentiation should apply only to the Chief Minister, who undoubtedly has significant additional responsibilities when compared with other members. In our view, a supplement of 15% of salary (in other words £7,000 (after rounding) at the present level of salary) would be appropriate. This would apply from the election of the Chief Minister in 2018".

A lot in that proposal rests on what is meant or understood by responsibility.  For the longest time in politics generally to be responsible meant to be answerable for , to be held accountable for.   Especially in British parliamentary system , the Ministers were the temporary public face while the unseen unheard civil service was the  semi permanent advisory and implementation mechanism.  If things went wrong in their department, the Minister was held responsible, could lose their post, though more likely would  be expected to resign. It may not even be  mal administration,  just error of judgement. 

In theory the tough sanction on the Minister puts  proper focus on them properly and fully scrutinising what happens in their department.  Ignorance is no defence.  There is a feeling these days that far from taking responsibility, Ministers are inclined to try to defend the failings.


It is arguable under such a system when working as intended more responsibility, ie more things to  take the flak, and possible lose your position for, deserves a higher remuneration to compensate for the higher risks.

The question now is are Jersey's Ministers, including the Chief Minister, really responsible, accountable for anything?  Just last night we saw civil service officers being put up in front of camera to defend policy, not the minister. When was the last time a Jersey Minister resigned over failings in their  department?  Are they accountable, really?  I'd say not, and if not, the argument for increased remuneration is  faulty.

There are other arguments for not increasing, or actually decreasing, Minister's pay relating to research on performance and incentives.  See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc
But that's a different debate and not one the SMRRB is ever likely to want to consider - being composed largely of the very people who would under such  logic be paid less.....

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Not good enough to be true?



It is often said that if an investment looks too good to be true it probably is.  I read in  the  report of the winding up of  Lumiere Wealth that investors were being offered 14% return on their money from a couple of Brazilian investments.  See http://jerseyeveningpost.com/news/2016/10/05/nvestors-face-losing-life-savings-in-lumiere-closure/  That may well sound too good to be true in the current low interest rate environment.

It is of course very sad that people have lost significant sums of money in the scheme .  However it is not really fair to say the investors were being unrealistic in hoping for a 14% return.  To add great insult to injury, the Brazilian stock market index has gone from 45,000 in  October 2015 to around 60,000 today - a gain of 33%. See brazil stock-market



Monday, 3 October 2016

No stamp of approval


Jersey likes to crow about the various companies based here, everything it seems from African mining to international arms traders. Here's one that many people have heard of, Stanley Gibbons.   But I'm guessing this wont make the headlines of the local commerce friendly media.
 
 
The board of directors are listed https://subscriptions.stanleygibbons.com/stanleygibbons/view/content/sg_page_whos_who You might recognise a few local names, a former chairman of the JFSC, and another former chairman of CI Traders. . It has been going 150 years, though was only brought to Jersey about 5 years ago as I recall.

Nothing dodgy there, surely a sound investment prospect?

So here's the annual report out today. Not good.

Most of the directors listed on their web site stood down over the year it seems. Rats jumping the sinking ship is the metophor that springs to mind. Actually the company appears to me to have come within a day or so of being suspened from AIM for not producing the report on time. Here are a few snippets.

Litigation
Following its acquisition of Mallett plc in October 2014, the Company learned that government regulators in the United States were investigating transactions that had occurred since 1 January 2010 involving a former client of Mallett Inc., Mallett's New York-based subsidiary. The former client is not a related person or affiliate of the Group. This issue had not been disclosed to the Company by the directors of Mallett plc during the due diligence process prior to the acquisition.


Buy back
In fact, whilst the new management team has already acted swiftly to resolve the first two cash outflows detailed above, it is the last element which has both proved more complex to isolate and represents a more fundamental deterioration in the Groups core business. It is now clear that the non-cash sale/reinvestment profile of the Stanley Gibbons Investment division`s investment contracts, sold between 2005 and 2013, which also retained an element of contractual buy-back, also fuelled the worsening net debt position. The Group no longer offers investment plans with contractual buy back options of any kind .
 
 A number of the Groups previous investment contracts, Guaranteed Minimum Return Contract ("GMRC" and the Capital Protection Growth Plan ("CPGP") both were contracts that had an element of contractual buyback. The contractual buy backs within the CPGPs were at a level of the original purchase price and within the GMRCs were above the purchase price to include a finance charge. This finance charge is recognised in the profit and loss throughout the period of the contract. These contracts were sold between 2005 and 2013 and have resulted in a restatement of prior year earnings relating to open contracts as at April 2014, as described in note 31b).  The GMRC and CPGP contracts ceased to be sold in April 2011 and December 2013 respectively.
 
Revenue recognition
 The Board has revisited the accounting treatment previously adopted in connection with certain transactions and has concluded that it was not in accordance with the applicable accounting standards. Accordingly the Board has decided to adopt some, significantly changed, accounting policies in the presentation of the accounts. These have resulted in a restatement of prior years' results and a substantial write-down of balance sheet assets. These changes stem largely from fundamental errors in the accounting treatment previously adopted, most notably of investment product "sales" recognised in previous years. 
 
Comments from the  auditors 
 Matters on which we are required to report by exception
In respect solely of the limitation on our work relating to the matters identified above in the Basis of Qualified opinion paragraph:

    we have not received all the information and explanations we require for our audit; and
   we were unable to determine whether proper accounting records have been kept.

We have nothing to report in respect of the following matters where the Companies (Jersey) Law 1991 requires us to report to you if, in our opinion:

    proper returns adequate for our audit have not been received from branches not visited by us; and
   the financial statements are not in agreement with the accounting records and returns.