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FT editorial: call City’s bluff to move abroad


7:31 pm - March 9th 2011

by Sunny Hundal    


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I missed this earlier… the Financial Times today has an astounding editorial comment.

It is also very spot on. An excerpt:

While everyone pays lip-service to the need for a safer system, not everyone’s commitment runs very deep. In recent months the financial sector has been lobbying ever more fiercely against structural change or higher capital requirements, arguing that the banks are pretty much safe as they are.

Institutions have warned that further regulation would simply result in defections to less onerous jurisdictions. HSBC is talking to its shareholders about whether it should move its domicile to Hong Kong. Standard Chartered has hinted that it might do the same.

Such threats should be faced down, not just because they are unreasonable but because they are of questionable credibility.

It is not clear what “moving abroad” actually means. Were a bank such as Barclays to shift its headquarters, the impact on the UK would surely be minimal as it would still do much of its business and pay taxes in the country.

What is more likely anyway is that rather than upping sticks altogether, some banks may reduce their new investments in Britain. This might make the City slightly less of a hot spot, but it would not be a disaster. And were it to be the price of financial stability, this would be a price worth paying.

This is the argument many on the Left had been making for years – that the City was holding governments hostage to low regulation and massive bonuses by threatening to move.

For the FT to say the government should call their bluff shows not only how shallow this threat is, but illustrates how little the FT thinks the banks have changed.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Let um go. If all these Rupert’s want to piss off to China then go. Take your useless families with you.

It would do the South of England some good to eat the usual tory shit sandwich. They had no problem killing of the manufacturing of the north of England in the 80’s. “Market forces” we were told. Except market forces did not apply to lazy tory farmers, and the banking casino gamblers who when they lose come crawling to the tax payer to bail them out.

By ,by and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The FT editorial line is a hardline – as it that of both the governor of the Bank of England and the retiring director of the CBI:

CBI chief Richard Lambert warns against big bonuses in wake of spending cuts
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/businesslatestnews/8079165/CBI-chief-Richard-Lambert-warns-against-big-bonuses-in-wake-of-spending-cuts.html

The FT argument is broadly correct but does not work citing StanChart as they do 97% of their business overseas. They created 7,000 new jobs last year and not one was in the UK. There is a need to strike a balance between Britain correctly wanting a safe system and chasing away new investment. The danger of chasing away new investment is much more real than threats to leave.

Barclays offered to move to Amsterdam if they succeeded in taking over ABN AMRO in 2007, so moving HQ is not such a big deal. HSBC might move back to Hong Kong if they perceive that to be in their interest. However, one has to be a bit skeptical about bank rhetoric. This is not all a one-sided relationship although the banks want you to believe it is. Universal banks gain a great deal from having access to a major central bank. They are not going to throw that away in a fit of pique. Being based in London offers them lots of hidden benefits. Not least access to British crown dependencies and overseas territories. Their business going through crown dependencies would come under a lot more scrutiny if they were not HQ in London. Moreover, if they moved the British authorities could legitimately order them to ring-fence and separately finance all their UK operations.

so Richard W…it is a paradox that folks such as the Murphmeister and Tax justice want to close down the tx benefits of these dependencies…which would make it easier for the banks to move abroad? just pointing out to the Sallies and Sunnies that the banks pay a lot of tax to the UK just by employing so many staff…and poaying high bonuses…so why not kill the goose?

5. So Much For Subtlety

I wonder about the logic of this. Really I do. Can we all agree that at some point, if we raise taxes too high, we will kill the golden goose? There is a point where people will move or simply stop working? I am old enough to remember taxes in Britain being up around the 98% mark. I assure you, a lot of people took early retirement around my way. Not even fat cats but family businesses. A lot of people moved off shore.

Can we all agree it would be bad for Britain if they did? Not just because we would lose older businesses like HSBC but also because new ones would not come here, new ones would not start, middle sized companies would not grow to be larger ones and so on?

So the question ought to be not whether they will go or not, if taxes were 100% they would, but whether we have reached that limit yet and hence if the costs outweigh the benefits?

To which the answer is obviously yes I would think.

The cost to HSBC of being based in the UK rather than HK is about 25% on their share price. It is massively significant.

Basically, with Basel 3 coming in, balance sheet levies and stricter capital controls here, holding most of your assets in HK means you can deploy them much more cheaply and effectively.

There are indeed advantages to being based in the UK, but if the cost/benefit analysis swings the wrong way these global banks *WILL* move. It is incredibly easy for them to do so.

If they do though, there will be a significant cost to the economy in jobs and lost tax revenues. Let alone the damage to the image on the city and the UK as a good place to locate.

The UK relies on financial services to a great extent. Those on the left are deluded if they think everything will be fine if a lot of it departs, and more myopic if they think those banks can’t or won’t leave. They can, and they will if the costs outweigh the benefits.

“The UK relies on financial services”. Perhaps it’s time to fix that problem.

It’s not really a question of facing down ‘Britain’s banks’ over whether they want to get out of Britain. Both Standard Chartered and HSBC have the majority of their business in the far east, a move to Hong Kong would hardly be a massive surprise. Remind what HSBC stands for again? And where it was actually founded?

9. Chaise Guevara

“It is not clear what “moving abroad” actually means. Were a bank such as Barclays to shift its headquarters, the impact on the UK would surely be minimal as it would still do much of its business and pay taxes in the country. ”

This. It’s not like these firms have to leave one country every time they start business in another. Banks will continue pouring new investment into emerging economies, but that doesn’t mean they’ll suddenly abandon their historical regions of business that have lower profit margins.

@ 1:

So without the income generated by the City of London, how are we to pay for expensive welfare projects etc.?

“They had no problem killing of the manufacturing of the north of England in the 80’s.”

Given that manufacting as a percentage of GDP declined almost twice as much under Blair and Brown as it did under Major and Thatcher, I think your ire might be better directed towards the Labour Party than the Tories.

““Market forces” we were told. Except market forces did not apply to lazy tory farmers, and the banking casino gamblers who when they lose come crawling to the tax payer to bail them out.”

You mean the banking casino gamblers who were bailed out by Gordon Brown, I presume? Remind me again, which party did he belong to?

@ 7:

““The UK relies on financial services”. Perhaps it’s time to fix that problem.”

Yes, preferably by building up other sectors of the economy, rather than by knocking the banking sector down.

@10: “So without the income generated by the City of London, how are we to pay for expensive welfare projects etc.?”

Yeah – but what’s the benefit of that when the banks crash the economy again?

Britain at risk of another financial crisis, Bank of England chief warns
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/economics/8362951/Britain-at-risk-of-another-financial-crisis-Bank-of-England-chief-warns.html

Mervyn King: Banks putting profits before customers
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-12655035

Mervyn King: Bankers exploit gullible borrowers to pay for their bonuses
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/mar/05/mervyn-king-bankers-bonuses

Great interview in the FT of Carmen Reinhart on recurring patterns in 800 years of financial crises:
http://video.ft.com/v/82349517001/May-3-800-years-of-financial-crises

She is co-author of a book with Kenneth Rogoff: This Time Is Different – 8oo years of financial crises (Princeton UP, 2009)

The UK relies on financial services to a great extent.

I think Tylwer may have missed the financial crisis we’re going through entirely. I hear a lot of people who work in finance are doing this these days.

13. Cynical/Realist?

Look, the crisis wasn’t even caused by the banks or the banking industry anyway. That’s just lies being peddled by the elite with vested interests. It was caused by perfectly natural changes in solar activity, leading to… hang on, I’m getting my denials all mixed up again aren’t I?

” … Manufacting as a percentage of GDP declined almost twice as much under Blair and Brown …. ”

Indeed. That is why I am not a Blairite.

“Yes, preferably by building up other sectors of the economy, rather than by knocking the banking sector down.”

Where possible, though it will be necessary to address areas where the financial sector crowds out manufacturing.

I think Tylwer may have missed the financial crisis we’re going through entirely. I hear a lot of people who work in finance are doing this these days.

I think Sunny may have missed the fact that the financial crisis did not mean that the financial sector still produces a lot of revenue and jobs in the UK. I notice a lot of people seem to be doing that these days.

Sunny, just because a sector is damaged does not mean it is no longer productive – and if we did lose enough of the big banks that London was no longer a financial centre, we would lose a lot of other businesses as well, and all their tax revenue. And all the jobs they create.

If you think we could replace them with something else, fair enough (I think our economy is, with careful handling, elastic and skilled enough to probably do so actually, but the pain would be felt whilst it happened). Personally, I’d prefer to suggest more diversification so we are not so dependent on the city, but possibly without a scorched earth policy. After all, if the big banks are finding it difficult or expensive to do business in Britain, how will smaller businesses feel?

@ 12 Sunny

Finance Industries contribution to GDP: 13-17%

Lets not forget that the top 1% of taxpayers pay 24% of taxes.

Over the last decade I used to pay the equivalent of about 15-25 median income earners in income tax in the UK, per year, every year.

Now I don’t….

Your loss – not mine. It doesn’t take many high earners to move abroad to have an effect on the tax base, before you account for all the secondary effects of rich, educated entreprenuerial business types leaving the country.

By all means, chase bankers and other assorted high earners out of the country, but then don’t whine like a little b*tch about us not paying for your unafforable welfare state.

17. Chaise Guevara

@ Tyler

“It doesn’t take many high earners to move abroad to have an effect on the tax base, before you account for all the secondary effects of rich, educated entreprenuerial business types leaving the country”

Regardless of whether it happened in your case, this misses the point that, when someone leaves, someone else will probably get their old job – and end up making up for that lost tax revenue. Even if you’re a self-employed entrepeneur, you’ll be leaving a gap in the market for someone else to fill.

@ 17 Chaise

That’s the problem with finance – no-one has my old job. It came with me. It’s *very* easy to move these jobs around the world, especially within the same timezone, as all you need is a desk, a phone line, a fast internet connection and a big computer. More so as a lot of the people working in the the city are foreigners anyway, and have no fixed ties to the UK, so are equally (or more) at home in Geneva, Zurich or wherever else.

Just in my small market I know people who used to work in London now working from Paris, Conneticut and Zurich yet doing the same jobs. Our brokers were orginally based only in London and Joburg. Now about a third of them are based out in Nyon, Switzerland and more are on the way there….

Like I said, a phone and a computer.

We need to compare the value of the banking jobs lost abroad with the costs for the UK economy of another financial crisis – which Mervyn King clearly regards as likely without reform of the banks and banking.

Try Andrew Haldane on The $100 billion question:
http://www.bankofengland.co.uk/publications/speeches/2010/speech433.pdf

Forced bank break-up makes sense, says BoE financial stability chief
http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2010/mar/30/andrew-haldane-break-up-banks

20. Chaise Guevara

@ 18 Tyler

“Like I said, a phone and a computer.”

In your case, sure. But if a player like Barclays decided to up sticks and move out of Britain – and it won’t – it would leave an entire bank’s worth of market gap to fill (or, more realisitically, would exit by selling its UK business to competitors).

Chaise,

You can run a banking operation from overseas you know.

Yes, the domestic banking structure would remain. But since most of the taxes from the finance industry come from the investment branches, and since the overall running can be done from anywhere (because actual travel between centres is a miniscule cost in relative terms). It’s not as if the investment banking or whatever is what the people on the front desks of banks do in between customers.

22. Sevillista

@Tyler

You mistakenly assume that if the financial sector reduced in size (as, say, tighter regulation made them move) that resources will be completely unproductive.

Clearly a ridiculous statement.

The land will be used by other businesses, the labour used in other ways (more engineers might, say, do engineering rather than banking, talented people from our best unis may start their own business rather than taking bureaucratic jobs in banking). The business environment would not be so skewed towards the interests of the City (e.g. interest rates), stimulating growth elsewhere in the economy. Regulation would not be so skewed to the interests of the city, benefitting working people rather than a small global elite.

Watchman: I think Sunny may have missed the fact that the financial crisis did not mean that the financial sector still produces a lot of revenue and jobs in the UK.

If you read the actual editorial above watchman, you’ll see the FT answers those points.

This threat is shallow and should be faced down by the government. However if we are to achieve more serious, extensive and lasting change the threats may well become very real.

Global simultaneous policy provides an answer to this problem. Simpol is the global grassroots democratic organisation with the means to make it happen.

Global People Power is the only answer!

Also, whilst I’m on the subject (I don’t think anybody posted it yet, apologies if they did).

http://www.positivemoney.org.uk. THESE are the sort of proposals that WILL get the banks preparing to move without Simultaneous Policy!

@ 21 Watchman

Case in point. HSBC’s internet banking is run from Asia. Short of some branches everything can be moved abroad if it makes financial sense.

@ 22 Sev

I don’t assume anything. Given your statement the assumptions seem to be all yours. However, the finance industry seems to be the best way we have to allocate capital. Government muppetry is clearly not.

“By all means, chase bankers and other assorted high earners out of the country, but then don’t whine like a little b*tch about us not paying for your unafforable welfare state.”

There’s no need to be rude.

But the 1% pays 25% point is a worrying one, isn’t it?
That’s a lot of, erm, leverage.
And does it get even more extreme at the very very top, ie what proportion does the top 0.1% pay?
It wouldn’t take that many people leaving to start making quite a large hole.
It needn’t be the whole firms going of course for that to happen.

Perhaps the UK economy could do with some rebalancing.
But if my right leg is weak I don’t redress the balance by cutting off my left one, do I?

Well said FT!

Call their bluff. Wave a happy cheerio to the sulkers who go!

Never to reurn to our shores and decimate our economy again.

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 21 Watchman

“Yes, the domestic banking structure would remain. But since most of the taxes from the finance industry come from the investment branches, and since the overall running can be done from anywhere (because actual travel between centres is a miniscule cost in relative terms). It’s not as if the investment banking or whatever is what the people on the front desks of banks do in between customers.”

Firstly, the fact that the taxes come from the investment branches does not necessarily mean that all or even most of the GDP/tax boost from these branches will go to the country where the back-office staff who manage the investment accounts live.

Secondly, Barclays et al do this anyway.

30. Frances_coppola

Moving business to other jurisdictions is not necessarily quick, cheap or easy, as some people here seem to think. In 1996 I worked on a project at SBC Warburg to repatriate trading books from Hong Kong to London. Top brass thought we could just wave a wand and start trading from London: they set a generous three months for the transfer and expected us to deliver it well within that timeframe and for not much money. They were totally bemused to discover that the scale of changes required to IT and human systems made it impossible to deliver the transfer in that timeframe or at low cost. It actually took 9 months (and would have taken much longer if people hadn’t been prepared to work silly hours and weekends for months on end) and cost an AWFUL lot of money.

That’s not to say that some banks wouldn’t move. Standard Chartered and HSBC may well do so – but then they have less reason to stay really. But don’t underestimate the costs and upheaval that would be involved.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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    FT editorial: call City’s bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Gasct0R via @libcon

  79. StevenPJarvis

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  80. Steve Evans

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  81. Alex Fleetwood

    att: @hannahnicklin RT @Marthalanefox: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  82. Edward Andersson

    Go for it George! RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  83. Simon Weigh

    I've never seen the FT make an editorial comment this strong RT @libcon: FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  84. Gordon Rae

    FT stands up for proper capitalism, says govt shd call City bluff on moving abroad. http://bit.ly/h6uPqi via @Marthalanefox @Libcon

  85. Jon Cheetham

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  86. steevbishop

    RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  87. Simon Blanchard

    RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  88. sunny hundal

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  89. SMTRodent

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  90. Benrik

    RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  91. azulbuho

    FinancialTimes editorial: We should call City's bluff over threats to move abroad.
    http://bit.ly/h6uPqi
    (via @libcon)

  92. Jon Foster

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  93. Paul Wood

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  94. Neil Hawkins

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  95. Swamp Thang

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  96. Paul Williams

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  97. Peri Stanley

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  98. notPICNIC

    RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  99. Joe McLewin

    RT @Marthalanefox: RT @libcon: Astounding FT editorial says government should call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  100. David Ritter

    'Such threats should be faced down'. Amazing FT editorial says government should call City bluff on skills exodus http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  101. Anne McCrossan

    RT @stevebridger wow > RT @Marthalanefox @libcon Astounding FT editorial says govt shd call City bluff on moving abroad http://bit.ly/h6uPqi

  102. MakeMyHomeGreen

    FT editorial: govt shd call City bluff on moving abroad http://t.co/yGWANJZ UK bank annual tax avoidance could refurb all UK housing by 2050

  103. t.j greene

    http://bit.ly/hHSUPu should Enda make a name for himself first?

  104. t.j greene

    http://bit.ly/hHSUPu should Enda make a name for himself first?

  105. t.j greene

    http://bit.ly/hHSUPu enda must consult richard bruton's bro to considr options

  106. Greg Sheppard

    FT editorial: call City’s bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/BQrg8rI via @libcon

  107. >>Nostalgia For Infinity - Linkfest: March 6th – March 11th

    […] FT editorial: call City’s bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy – While everyone pays lip-service to the need for a safer system, not everyone’s commitment runs very deep. In recent months the financial sector has been lobbying ever more fiercely against structural change or higher capital requirements, arguing that the banks are pretty much safe as they are. Institutions have warned that further regulation would simply result in defections to less onerous jurisdictions. HSBC is talking to its shareholders about whether it should move its domicile to Hong Kong. Standard Chartered has hinted that it might do the same. Such threats should be faced down, not just because they are unreasonable but because they are of questionable credibility. Tags: finance business economics recession banks tax […]

  108. Kassandra Hansen

    FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/iRwZd2

  109. Joe Gardner

    FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/j4HaMy

  110. Reese Young

    FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/iZC6r7

  111. Reese Young

    FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/iZC6r7

  112. Calvin Barba

    FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/iylIZm

  113. Bethany Okamoto

    FT editorial: call City's bluff to move abroad | Liberal Conspiracy http://bit.ly/iBlBqH

  114. dan hancox

    @AlecBaldwin The Financial Times of London argues for calling the bluff of the super rich on 'fleeing' http://t.co/T2cJUa7

  115. sunny hundal

    An editorial by the FT in March said HSBC's bluff to move abroad should be called. "Impact minimal" http://t.co/PVd8kD9

  116. Nicolas Chinardet

    An editorial by the FT in March said HSBC's bluff to move abroad should be called. "Impact minimal" http://t.co/PVd8kD9

  117. Purbeck Pashmina

    An editorial by the FT in March said HSBC's bluff to move abroad should be called. "Impact minimal" http://t.co/PVd8kD9

  118. Greig Byrne

    An editorial by the FT in March said HSBC's bluff to move abroad should be called. "Impact minimal" http://t.co/PVd8kD9

  119. R Omonira-Oyekanmi

    An editorial by the FT in March said HSBC's bluff to move abroad should be called. "Impact minimal" http://t.co/PVd8kD9

  120. Earth to banks: Where will you go if we tax you? | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] are many reasons why this is a gamblers’ bluff that should be called (even the Financial Times has said so), but, increasingly, the main reason is going to be that governments are beginning to circle the […]





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