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UK Banks – Digital Dinosaurs

UK Banks – Digital Dinosaurs

Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,

“Tuppence wisely invested in the bank…”

As UK bank reporting season kicks off, the dull, boring, predictable UK banks should look good. But the reality…

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UK Banks – Digital Dinosaurs

Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,

“Tuppence wisely invested in the bank…”

As UK bank reporting season kicks off, the dull, boring, predictable UK banks should look good. But the reality is they are dinosaurs – their failure to digitise and evolve leaves them vulnerable to tech-savy FinTechs and Challenger filling their niche. If the future of modern finance is a Tech hypersonic missile… British Banks are still building steam trains. 

Today see’s the start of the UK bank reporting season. Yawn….

I wrote a piece for the Evening Standard y’day – Another set of numbers to disguise the rot. (I’ve reused some of it this morning – lazy, eh?) Exactly as I predicted in that note, Barclays came in strong this morning with a decent lift from its investment banking businesses. Lloyds and HSBC will also produce acceptable numbers and limited losses on post pandemic recovery.  The sector outlook looks positive, the regulator will allow them to increase dividends, and there is higher income potential from rising interest rates.

But… would you buy the UK banks?

They face substantial market and ongoing pandemic risk. The cost of economic reality falls heavy across them all. This morning the headlines are about Medical groups screaming out for a renewal of lockdown measures to protect the NHS – a move that will 100% nail-on recession and cause multiple small businesses to give up. The threat of recession in the UK is pronounced – exacerbated by global supply chain crisis and risks of policy mistakes. The worst outcome for banks would be stagflation resulting in exploding loan impairments.

Lloyds is the most vulnerable to the UK economy – hence it’s underperformed the others. Even without renewed Covid measures, potential policy mistakes by the Bank of England in raising interest rates too early, or by government by raising taxes and austerity spending, will hit business and consumer sentiment hardest, causing the stock prices to crumble back towards its low back in Sept 2020 when it hit £24.72. It’s got the largest mortgage exposure – but no one really expects a significant housing sell-off. (When no-one expects it – is when to worry!)

If you believe the UK’s economic potential is under-stated, then Lloyds has the best upside stock potential among the big three. If the economy recovers strongly, Lloyds goes up. If it stumbles, then so will Lloyds!

Barclays is a more difficult call. It’s a broader, more diversified name. It retains an element of “whoosh” from its markets businesses – which have delivered excellent returns from its capital markets businesses fuelled by low rates, but it also runs a higher-than-average reputational risk for generating embarrassing headlines. But, when the global economy normalises, higher interest rates will impact the fee income of all the investment banks, thus impacting Barclays to a greater extent than Lloyds. Barclay’s international business gives it some hedge against a UK economic slide.

HSBC is the most complex call. The UK banking operation is a rounding error compared to the Bank’s Hong Kong business. The bank is pivoting towards Asia, orbiting China and other high-growth Far East economies where it seeks to attract rising middle-class wealth. It’s underperformed due to a distaste among global investors for its China business, but also the perception it’s just too big a bank to manage effectively.

If its China strategy was to pay off, it will be a long-term winner. But that’s no means certain – Premier Xi’s crackdown on Chinese Tech threatens to morph into a China first policy, and the space for a strong foreign bank in China’s banking system looks questionable, even as the developing crisis in real-estate could pull it lower.

Ok – so good for UK banks…

Whatever the respective bank numbers show this week, the banks will remain core holdings for many investors. Generally, big banks are perceived to be “relatively” safe. Regulation has reduced their market risk profiles, and strengthened capital bases since the post-Lehman unpleasantness in 2008 which saw RBS rescued by government.

Conventional investment wisdom says the more “dull, boring and predictable” a bank is, the more valuable it will be perceived in terms of stable predictable dividends, sound risk management, and for not surprising investors. Strong banks are perceived to be less vulnerable to competition with deep moats around their business.

Since 2008 that’s changed – in ways the incumbent banks have completely missed. The costs of entry have tumbled as banking has evolved into a completely different service. New, more nimble Fin-Techs like Revolut, digital challenger banks such as Starling, and cheaper foreign competitors, including the Yanks, are not only eating their lunch, but dinner as well.

The old established UK banks don’t seem to have a clue it’s happening. These incumbent banks look like dinosaurs wondering what that bright shiny light getting bigger in the sky might be. Despite proudly boasting of hundreds years of history, they are constrained by old tech ledger systems and never built centralised data-lakes from their information on individuals or the financial behaviours of crowds to improve and develop their services and income streams.

The future of banking is going to be about Tech and how effectively banks compete in a marketplace of online digital facilities and services. Banks that you use tech smartly will see their costs tumble, freeing up resources to do more, better! (When I ran a major bank’s FIG (Financial Institutions Group) about 100 years ago – the best banks were those with lowest cost-to-income ratio!)

There is an excellent article outlining FinTechs and Challengers from Chris Skinner this morning: Europe’s Challenger Banks are Challenging (and worth more than the old names). Let me pluck a bite from his piece: “Revolut is the most valuable UK tech start-up in history and the eighth biggest private company in the world, worth an estimated US$33 billion, according to CB Insights. Revolut has more than 16 million customers worldwide and sees over 150 million transactions per month.”

The new generation of nimbler Fin Techs and Challengers can innovate product offerings with sophisticated new systems and software. In contrast, UK bank IT departments are engaged in digital archaeology.  I understand only 17% of Senior Tech positions are held by women. Within the banks, I’m told its still a boys club, where the best paid IT jobs are for ancient bearded D&D playing coders brought into to patch 50 year-old archaic systems. Legacy systems leave the big banks with impossible catch up costs.

It’s probably unfair to say the big UK banks don’t know what’s happening – their management can’t be that unaware? Surely not…. But…. Maybe..

Although the banks brag how well diversified they are with over 37% of UK board members female – how much have they really changed? Hiring on the basis of diversity is a fad. At the risk of lighting the blue-touch paper and this comment exploding in my face, I would hazard to suggest the appointment of senior ladies who’ve worked their way up the existing financial system simply risks confirmation-bias on how things are conventionally done in banking.

They might do better hiring outside movers and shakers – rather than listening to themselves.

The bottom line is its not just their failure to innovate tech that’s a crisis. Over the years the UK banks have become increasingly sclerotic – slow to shift and adapt. The middle to senior levels of banking are hamstrung by bureaucracy, a satisficing culture, stifled innovation, a compliance fearful mindset, and senior management fixated on impressing the regulators first and foremost.

If the future of modern finance is a Tech hypersonic missile… British Banks are still building steam trains.

Tyler Durden Fri, 10/22/2021 - 05:00

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“The Omicron Variant” – Magic Pills, Or Solving The Africa Problem?

"The Omicron Variant" – Magic Pills, Or Solving The Africa Problem?

Authored by Kit Knightly via Off-Guardian.org,

Yesterday the WHO labelled the sars-cov-2 variant B.1.1.529 as a “variant of concern” and officially named it “Omicron”.

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"The Omicron Variant" – Magic Pills, Or Solving The Africa Problem?

Authored by Kit Knightly via Off-Guardian.org,

Yesterday the WHO labelled the sars-cov-2 variant B.1.1.529 as a “variant of concern” and officially named it “Omicron”.

This was as entirely predictable as it is completely meaningless. The “variants” are just tools to stretch the story out and keep people on their toes.

If you want to know exactly how the Omicron variant is going to affect the narrative, well The Guardian has done a handy “here’s all the bullshit we’re gonna sell you over the next couple of weeks” guide:

  • The Omicron variant is more transmissable, but they don’t know if it’s more dangerous yet (keeping their options open)

  • It originated in Africa, possible mutating in an “untreated AIDS patient” (sick people are breeding grounds for dangerous “mutations”)

  • “it has more than double the mutations of Delta…scientists anticipate that the virus will be more likely to infect – or reinfect – people who have immunity to earlier variants. (undermining natural immunity, selling more boosters, keeping the scarefest going)

  • “Scientists are concerned” that current vaccines may not be as effective against the new strain, they may need to be “tweaked” (get your boosters, and the new booster we haven’t invented yet)

  • “Scientists expect that recently approved antiviral drugs, such as Merck’s pill, will work as effectively against the new variant” (more on this later)

  • It’s already spreading around the world, and travel bans may be needed to prevent the need for another lockdown

We’re already seeing preparations for more “public health measures”, with the press breathlessly quoting “concerned” public health officials. We’re being told that a new lockdown won’t be necessary…as long as we remember to get boosted and wear masks and blah blah blah.

Generally speaking, it’s all fairly boilerplate scary nonsense. Although it is quite funny that the Biden administration has already put a bunch of African nations on a travel ban list, when Biden called Trump a racist for doing the same thing in 2020.

AFRICA

It’s interesting that the new variant has allegedly come from Africa, perhaps “mutating in the body of an AIDS patient”, since Africa has been the biggest hole in the Covid narrative for well over a year.

Africa is by far the poorest continent, it is densely populated, malnourishment and extreme poverty are endemic across many African nations, and it is home to more AIDS patients than the entire rest of the world combined. And yet, no Covid crisis.

This is a weak point in the story, and always has been.

Last Summer, the UK’s virus modeller-in-chief Neil Ferguson attempted to explain it by arguing that African nations have, on average, younger populations than the rest of the world, and Covid is only a threat to the elderly. But five minutes of common sense debunks that idea.

The reason Africa has a younger population, on average, is that – on average – they are much sicker.

There are diseases endemic to large parts of Africa that are all but wiped out in most of the Western world. Cholera, typhus, yellow fever, tuberculosis, malaria. Access to clean water, and healthcare are also much more limited.

And while it has been nailed into the public mind that being elderly is the biggest risk factor for Covid, that is inaccurate. In fact, the biggest risk factor for dying “of Covid” is, and always has been, already dying of something else.

The truth is that any REAL dangerous respiratory virus would have cut a bloody swath across the entire continent.

Instead, as recently as last week, we were getting articles about how Africa “escaped Covid”, and the continent’s low covid deaths with only 6% of people vaccinated is “mystifying” and “baffling” scientists.

Politically, African nations have shown themselves far less likely to buy into the “pandemic” narrative than their European, Asian or American counterparts. At least two “Covid denying” African presidents – Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi and John Magufuli of Tanzania – have died suddenly in the last year, and seen their successors immediately reverse their covid policies.

So maybe the Omicron Variant is a way of trying to fold Africa into the covid narrative that the other continents have already fully embraced. That will become clear as the story develops.

Of course, it’s also true that being “African” is media shorthand for being scary, relying on the deeply-seated xenophobia of Western audiences. See: “Africanized killer bees”.

But, either way, Africa is the long game. There’s a more obvious, and more cynical, short term agenda here.

THE MAGIC PILLS

Let’s go back to the Guardian’s “Omicron” bullet points, above:

  • Scientists are concerned by the number of mutations and the fact some of them have already been linked to an ability to evade existing [vaccine-created] immune protection.

  • Scientists expect that recently approved antiviral drugs, such as Merck’s pill, [will work effectively] against the new variant

The “new variant” is already being described as potentially resistant to the vaccines, but NOT the new anti-viral medications.

Pharmaceutical giants Merck and Pfizer are both working on “Covid pills”, which as recently as three days ago, were being hyped up in the press:

US may have a ‘game changer’ new Covid pill soon, but its success will hinge on rapid testing

In the US, an emergency use authorisation can only be issued if there is no effective medication or treatment already available, so the vaccines not being proof against Omicron would be vital to rushing the pills onto the US market, at least.

If Omicron is found to be “resistant to the vaccines”, but NOT the pills, that will give governments an excuse to rush through approving the pills on an EUA, just as they did with the vaccines.

So, you bet your ass that testing is gonna be “rapid”. Super rapid. Blink-and-you’ll-miss-it rapid. Rapid to the point you’re not even sure it definitely happened. And now they have an excuse.

Really, it’s all just more of the same.

A scare before the new year. An excuse to make people believe their Christmas could be in peril. An exercise in flexing their control muscles a bit, milking even more money out of the double-jabbed and boosted crowd, now newly terrified of the Omicron variant, and a nice holiday bump to Pfizer’s ever-inflating stock price.

At this point either you can see the pattern, or you can’t. You’re free of the fear machinery, or you’re not.

There is one potential silver lining here: It feels rushed and frantic. Discovered on Tuesday, named on Friday, travel bans on Saturday. It is hurried, and maybe that’s a reaction to feeling like the “pandemic” is losing its grip on the public mind.

Hopefully, as the narrative becomes more and more absurd, more and more people will wake up to reality.

It has been pointed out that “Omicron” is an anagram of “moronic”.

One wonders if that’s deliberate and they’re making fun of us.

Tyler Durden Sat, 11/27/2021 - 23:45

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Israel Moves To Ban All Foreigners From Entry Amid Omicron Variant Fears

Israel Moves To Ban All Foreigners From Entry Amid Omicron Variant Fears

Israel’s Knesset is set to hold a special emergency "coronavirus cabinet" late Saturday night where government officials will vote on enacting a complete closure of…

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Israel Moves To Ban All Foreigners From Entry Amid Omicron Variant Fears

Israel's Knesset is set to hold a special emergency "coronavirus cabinet" late Saturday night where government officials will vote on enacting a complete closure of the country to foreign travel. The ban will tentatively be in effect for the next two weeks.

Already Israel has banned all foreigners arriving from the majority of African countries in recent days on fears that the highly-mutated Omicron coronavirus variant, which first emerged in South Africa, could be the next deadly wave - and with the vaccine possibly doing little to stop it.

AFP/Getty Images

The greatly tightened travel and tourist restrictions are expected to be announced late Saturday night or early Sunday. It's expected to also include a new mandatory quarantine of three days or more for vaccinated Israeli citizens who've returned from traveling abroad. For unvaccinated inbound Israeli citizens the quarantine will be a week.

The fresh travel rules come as authorities scramble to do contact tracing on exposures related to at least one confirmed Omicron case:

Authorities are scrambling to locate 800 Israelis who may have been exposed to the new Omicron variant of COVID-19, a defense official said Saturday.

The Health Ministry confirmed one case of the new variant in Israel, and said there were seven other suspected cases who were awaiting test results.

Four of the suspected cases returned to Israel recently from international travel, and three had not traveled, raising fears of community transmission in Israel.

Prime Minister Bennett ahead of the vote said the government is "preparing for any scenario." And concerning the new still somewhat mysterious variant, the country's interior minister said, "It looks like it might be more infectious, so we’re taking action as fast as possible."

Just days ago the health minister Nitzan Horowitz announced that Israelis will likely have to get a fourth shot, also as children between the ages of 5 to 11 have begun receiving the jab. Ironically the foreign tourist ban is now being re-imposed for one of the most highly vaxxed nations on earth.

At least 80% of all Israelis 16 and older are now considered fully vaccinated.

Tyler Durden Sat, 11/27/2021 - 23:15

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Mexican Authorities List Conditions To Reboot “Remain In Mexico” Program

Mexican Authorities List Conditions To Reboot "Remain In Mexico" Program

Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times,

Mexican authorities have laid out a series of conditions for reviving the “Remain in Mexico” program, the Trump-era…

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Mexican Authorities List Conditions To Reboot "Remain In Mexico" Program

Authored by Tom Ozimek via The Epoch Times,

Mexican authorities have laid out a series of conditions for reviving the “Remain in Mexico” program, the Trump-era framework under which asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico to await the processing of their claims, with the development coming in context of the Biden administration’s plans to reinstate the policy following a court order.

Mexico’s Foreign Ministry said in a Nov. 26 announcement that talks have “intensified” with the United States on rebooting the program, known as the Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), but that Mexican authorities are waiting for a formal response from the Biden administration on a number of concerns.

“The government of Mexico … has raised various concerns of a humanitarian nature regarding the asylum procedure in the United States,” the ministry said, adding that it has “highlighted the need to improve conditions for migrants and asylum seekers, so that they have better legal advice” regarding the processing of their clams, which Mexico said, “must be carried out as expeditiously as possible.”

One of the conditions is for the United States to accelerate development programs for southern Mexico and Central America in order to address the root causes of migration.

Another is for Washington to offer individuals deported under the MPP program medical care and vaccination against COVID-19 “to protect their right to health and prevent the spread of COVID-19 in communities on both sides of the border.”

Mexico has also requested that the United States respect designated return points, taking into account local security conditions and the capacity of Mexican authorities “to provide adequate care to migrants.”

Another “essential” request is for Washington to provide funding for shelters and non-government organizations “in order to improve conditions for migrants and asylum seekers in a substantive way.”

The demands come as talks between the two countries continue on reimplementing the MPP program after a court in August ordered that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reverse its June decision to halt the policy.

“In compliance with the court order, we are working to reimplement MPP as promptly as possible,” DHS spokesperson Marsha Espinosa told Axios.

”We cannot do so until we have the independent agreement from the Government of Mexico to accept those we seek to enroll in MPP,” Espinosa added.

“We will communicate to the court, and to the public, the timing of reimplementation when we are prepared to do so.”

The Biden administration is facing an unprecedented surge in illegal immigration that critics say is fostered by its lax enforcement policies, including halting MPP and curtailing the use of Title 42, which is used to expel illegal immigrants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tyler Durden Sat, 11/27/2021 - 16:45

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