16 August 2019

Scott Reid

16 August 2019

Good morning,

Phew.
 
With A Level and Highers results now behind us, we can file away our tweets filled with 140 characters of encouragement and humble self-deprecation for another year.
 
Life goes on, regardless of whether you “only” received a D in Maths, a B for Disney Studies, two pints and a packet of crisps. Grades alone do not maketh the man. Judging value is never all academic. Ask my partner; he received an A in Practical Cake Decoration, but failed History and English the first time around, and is now a flourishing primary school teacher whose mastery of a Victoria Sponge is questionable at best. 
 
Now, the hordes on social media will turn their attention to that next burning question on the polemical calendar: is university really worth it anyway?
 
Judging by their post-results day manoeuvrings, the answer from the universities themselves would seem to be “more so than usual”. According to this morning’s Times, students are being offered scholarship incentives of up to £4,500 to fill vacant places, despite a fall in the number of those achieving the top grades at A Level to its lowest level since 2007 (25.5% A* and A).
 
For those considering whether to take up a place, other stories doing the rounds at the moment aren’t exactly encouraging. The Guardian this week reported that the average graduate debt – tuition compounded by maintenance costs and high rates of interest – now stands at more than £50,000 for a three-year degree for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
 
Just like the student racing to meet an essay word count the night before a deadline, tertiary education has become a numbers game. Some of the media coverage would have you believe the exercise amounts to little more than bean counting which is a reductive argument for both future recruit and potential alma mater.
 
For those of you advising anxious teens currently, I would humbly countenance against an approach that places too much emphasis on potential earnings, ashandsome as they might be, if government projections are to be believed.
 
I might be biased, but the increasing importance of the soft skills that further education helps students develop more than outweighs its costs. Whether a STEM degree, History of Art or – we might scoff – a BA in Disney Studies after all, the byproduct benefits of creativity, confidence and curiosity will leave you immeasurably better off – and not only in a financial sense.

News

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson has softened her resistance to a cross-party government led by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn. Swinson suggested she would now meet with Corbyn alongside Conservative MPs Dominic Grieve, Oliver Letwin, Caroline Spelman, and Guto Bebb on how to stop a no-deal Brexit. The Liberal Democrat was met with criticism from opposition party leaders yesterday after dismissing Corbyn’s plan as “nonsense”. (£)
 
Israel has blocked two US Democratic congresswoman from entering the country over their support for an anti-Israeli boycott movement. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were due to visit the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem next week, where Omar had described the Israeli government’s actions as “an insult to democratic values”. President Trump supported the move, tweeting that Omar and Tlaib “hate Israel and all Jewish people”.
 
Gibraltar has released an Iranian oil tanker which was detained last month on suspicion of breaking sanctions. The territory released the ship having received written assurances that its cargo would not be discharged in Syria. US authorities criticised the tanker’s release after a plea for continued custody to a Gibraltar courthouse was not heard.

Business & Economy

A prominent US-based financial investigator has published a 175-page report suggesting that General Electric hid $38.1 billion in potential losses. Harry Markopolos, who previously flagged warnings about Bernard Madoff’s $65 billion Ponzi schemes, said GE’s accounting fraud amounted to more than 40% of the blue chip’s market capitalisation. GE’s share price fell 15% during yesterday’s trading, despite the company denying the allegations.
 
A survey of banking services has rated Metro Bank first, and Royal Bank Scotland last for customer satisfaction among retail and business customers. According to the poll conducted by the Competition and Markets Authority, 82% of Metro Bank and First Direct customers were satisfied with their bank’s service in the personal banking category, including quality of overdrafts and branches. Handelsbanken, MetroBank and Santander took the top three positions for business banking. (£)
 
Virgin Galactic has announced that its New Mexico spaceport is now “operationally functional”. The site, which is the world’s first specifically designed commercial spaceport, will now be the sole focus for Virgin Galactic’s test flights, redirecting traffic from other sites in California. More than 600 people have already paid £64.2 million to secure tickets on the spaceport’s maiden voyages, for which dates are yet to be announced.

Markets

What happened yesterday?

The latest spat in Sino-US trade relations sent European stocks further into the red yesterday, with the FTSE 100 losing 1.13% to close at 7,067.01 points. The European-wide based STOXX 600 also lost 0.3%, having fallen as much as one per cent during earlier trading to its lowest since February.
 
The anxiety stemmed from Chinese intentions to counter the latest US tariffs on up $300 billion, but which were in turn rebuffed by President Donald Trump’s comments that any deal would have to “be on the United States’ terms.”
 
The pound enjoyed a better day, however, on the back of stronger-than-expected retail data, which showed retail sales up 0.2% in July. Sterling was up on both the dollar by 0.44% at $1.21, and by 0.83% on the euro at €1.09.
 
In equity news, a series of ex-dividends weighed heavily on RBS (-10.48%), Anglo American (5.19%), Phoenix Group Holdings (-5.55%) and Evrax (-5.40%) which were among the day’s biggest losers. Their descent was joined on the FTSE 250 by Kaz Minerals (-15.28%) as the miner reported lower revenues and core earnings during the first half of 2019 due to lower commodity prices.

What's happening today?

AGMs
Acorn Income
Tcs Group S
 
EGMs
Highbridge Gbp
UK mortgages
Xlmedia

Intl. Economic Announcements
(10.00) Balance of Trade (EU)
(13.30) Housing Starts (US)
(13.30) Building Permits (US)
(15.00) U. of Michigan Confidence (Prelim) (US)

Columns of Note

New Yorker staff writer David Cassidy suggests that President Trump’s trade war with China is reinforcing the idea of a “#TrumpRecession”. Although Cassidy cautions against reading too much into the large losses experienced on the US stock market this Wednesday, he does suggest that it shows Trump is serious about hurting China, a goal that can most quickly be achieved by raising taxes in the US to cut consumer spend on Chinese products. (£)
 
Following a government intervention in the decision to scrap the UK’s membership of Interrail last week, Joy Lo Dico at the Financial Times looks at how the scheme became the modern Grand Tour. Charting a 10-day trip between Krakow, Venice and London with her son, Lo Dico suggests Interrail’s benefits aren’t as much the destinations as the experience itself. (£)

Did you know?

Applicants to Harvard, where 4.7% applicants are admitted, are more likely to be successful than applicants to work at Wal-Mart, where 2.6% job applications are successful.

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons
In recess until 3rd September
 
House of Lords
In recess until 3rd September
 
Scottish Parliament
In recess until 2nd September