Seven financial surprises to watch out for in the coming year
Matthew Lynn Jan 03, 2013
When Gary Cooper turned down the part of Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind, he quipped: “I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face, and not Gary Cooper.” Any columnist knows how Cooper must have felt in hindsight. Predictions are as likely to make you look stupid as smart. Still, with the caveat that my abilities to map out the future are about as good as Cooper’s, here are a few things that may or may not happen in 2013.
The BBC is privatised
Its reputation is in tatters. The Jimmy Savile and Lord McAlpine affairs have exposed an organisation that is too big to be managed effectively. The government is short of money and the hole in its budget will get even wider as the year progresses.
Last time Britain was in a fiscal mess it raised a lot of cash by selling off state assets: firms such as British Telecom and British Gas. There isn’t much family silver left to flog, but there is the BBC. A few more scandals and it could be sold. Google, for one, would snap it up. Of course, whether the government actually owns the BBC is debatable – but a quick Act of Parliament could always fix that.
HSBC leaves Britain
The banking giant moved domicile from Hong Kong to Britain after buying the Midland Bank, mainly due to its concerns over the outlook for the former colony as it switched from British to Chinese rule. But London now looks a less attractive base for a financial multinational and HSBC has only a fraction of its business in Britain.
New rules could demand a split between retail and wholesale banking, while the new EU banking union will impose a raft of new rules. With business booming in Asia, HSBC doesn’t need the hassle of dealing with European regulators. Hong Kong now looks perfectly stable. It is time to return home.
Capital flees Edinburgh
Edinburgh has a surprisingly successful financial services industry. But the vote on Scottish independence, scheduled for 2014, will loom large next year. At least a few big Edinburgh institutions will wonder if they really want to be based in a country of five million people that might not even be an EU member. If HSBC left Hong Kong ahead of the Chinese takeover, wouldn’t you want to leave Scotland ahead of potential independence? By the end of 2013, houses in the New Town will be going cheap.
Lead indicators for Britain's economy
Mark Carney resigns
The Canadian central banker has been installed as the new governor of the Bank of England to near-universal acclaim. By the time he moves into Threadneedle Street, expectations will be sky-high. But by autumn, it will all be turning sour.
Britain will have lost its triple-A credit rating. Sterling will be in freefall. The gilts market will be collapsing as Britain re-enters recession. The Libor investigations will be exposing price-fixing across the City. The Bank, as lead regulator, will get most of the blame.
The Bank’s staff, angered at an outsider having been drafted in to reform the institution, will be in mutinous mood, and will be leaking against the governor. By Christmas, Carney will have fled back to Canada.
British Shell Petroleum is born
In 2004, British oil giant BP came close to merging with Shell, according to the memoirs of former CEO Lord Browne; 2013 could be the year the deal gets done. BP still hasn’t recovered from the Gulf of Mexico disaster, but is in good enough shape to tempt a buyer.
The ambitious Russian energy firm Gazprom will launch a bid for BP to turn itself into a global player. Amid a protectionist outcry about selling such a key asset to the Russians (especially to a firm often seen as an instrument of the Kremlin), Shell will step in as a white knight and be welcomed with open arms. Competition worries will be swept aside, and British Shell Petroleum will be born.
Apple buys Sony
Apple has lost some of its mojo recently. It’s struggling to find a winning vision now founder Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm. But it has a hundred billion in the bank. So CEO Tim Cook will do what CEOs with lots of cash and few ideas have always done: start answering the calls of investment bankers proposing a mega-merger. Sony might fit the bill.
Two decades ago Sony was Apple, but it hasn’t had a hit for a long time. It could offer Apple a crack at the television industry, entry into the games console market, and high-quality content through its music and films division. The fit could be perfect.
Amazon takes over our post
What does anyone get in the post any more? Junk mail and parcels from Amazon. Yet while we buy more stuff online and get it delivered via the Post Office, the service gets worse. Sooner or later, Amazon will work out that the biggest threat to its growth is the reliability and speed of deliveries. How can it fix that? By taking over the Post Office. A cash-strapped government will happily sell. With Amazon in charge, our 2014 Christmas post might arrive on time.
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