UK Budget: Humorous one-liners, or serious changes to the financial world?

Britain’s budget was delivered last week by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, a somewhat theatrical event in which Chancellor Osborne reeled off a series of intentionally humorous jibes aimed firmly at the opposition leader Ed Miliband whilst revealing projects which the government wishes to allocate some £81 million toward in the coming year.

Aside from the traditionally British competitive spirit in the House of Commons which throughout the years has been a battleground between fierce opponents, the commentary peppered with cynical jabs at the shadow party, there were some serious matters which are directly pertinent to London’s financial sector.

Commodities were on the agenda for Chancellor Osborne, who unveiled his plans to reduce the taxes on the North Sea oil industry which has been struggling tremendously since the 50% fall in the oil price since June to around $53 a barrel.

By revealing his pledge to maintain an even keel for such a grass roots industry as the oil sector, Chancellor Osborne reinforces the traditional interests of the British economy, which relies on London as a center of long-established banking institutions, and is not by any means at the forefront of world-changing technology.

For example, California embraced the electric vehicle concept over 30 years ago, and today’s tax breaks in the Golden State are aimed at venture capital funded developers of new methodologies that are steering the way we move from one place to another toward electricity and away from internal combustion, whereas the majority of motorists in Britain still chug around in diesel-powered cars.

A perhaps interesting analysis would be to view the share prices of Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) which keep rising, with a current value of $198.08, 2.4% up from close of business on Friday.

Tesla’s electric vehicles are indeed a taste of the future, and the investing community clearly notes this. Tesla is a fledgling company with a new ideology, competing in an industry sector dominated by 100 year old companies, yet it is a stock market success.

Back in the UK and away from the venture capital-funded innovations of Silicon Valley, the emphasis is on large and well known entities, many of which have some degree of state ownership, however one of Chancellor Osborne’s wise cracks during the delivery of the budget reinforced his own will to turn London into a technology center as well as maintain its standing as a financial powerhouse.

Chancellor Osborne has previously expressed his interest in helping financial technology startups prosper in London, heralding a contrast between the several-hundred year old wood paneled institutions and the radically different Bitcoin and electronic platform firms that he envisages could view London as their home.

During the budget, he announced the provision of new funding for “internet of things” technology, which allow computer-controlled devices such as home-heating systems to interact with each other.

“This is the next stage of the information revolution, connecting up everything from urban transport to medical devices to household appliances. So should – to use a completely ridiculous example – someone have two kitchens, they will be able to control both fridges from the same mobile phone” was Chancellor Osborne’s light-hearted take.

This raised a laugh, but it did not raise a dollar.

Unlike the aforementioned Silicon Valley where private equity firms stump up the capital for such initiatives, Chancellor Osborne expects the British tax payer to foot the £40 million bill for this, which contrary to his Conservative party allegiance, is a socialist ideology and history has proven that taxpayer funded initiatives are often rudderless and have little in the way of accountability, thus not as likely to succeed and thrive as those funded by private equity investors with specific experience and a financial interest, as well as being a burden on the increasingly encumbered British taxpayer.

As far as taking a swing at the banks is concerned, Britain’s lenders were hit hard during the Budget with a £5.3 billion tax raid as reported last week, which resulted in cries of protest from the banking industry.

While this was a populist move, it is not particularly good news for investors in the sector. The chief cause of concern is the increase in the levy on banks’ balance sheet, the ninth since it was introduced in 2011. The Government hopes this will bring in an extra £4.4 billion over five years.

HSBC, which has the largest balance sheet, is likely to be the hardest hit, followed by Barclays, both of which have paid several billion pounds in settlements with regulators recently for transgressions which range from FX benchmark manipulation to mis-selling of insurance policies.

The remainder of the £5.3 billion will come from closing a loophole which has allowed banks to write off mis-selling compensation pay-outs to customers for tax purposes. This adds to the £3.5 billion the coalition hopes to raise from another tax crackdown on the banks announced at the Autumn Statement in December, meaning a total extra bill of almost £9 billion.

LeapRate recently took a detailed and alarming look at national external debt which exposed a vast disparity between high-producing Asia-Pacific nations and emerging markets with vast human resources and large industry such as Mexico, when compared to Europe. Britain, France, Spain and Italy among others have vast external debt, a matter which investors will be pleased to learn Chancellor Osborne is willing to deal with.

The 1997 to 2009 years of socialism and spending other peoples’ money without responsibility have come home to roost, and the UK is now facing a crossroads where it must rectify this in order that the public does not have to suffer the piling of hundreds of billions of pounds of government debt on its children and grandchildren.

Whether this, in the advent of a General Election, is rhetoric, or whether Chancellor Osborne has plans to set the economy on not only an even keel but on a path to greater sustainability than its mainland European neighbors whose economies are in dire straits, is indeed yet to be seen.


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