Through the Brexit looking glass

Curiouser and curiouser

This is purely a Brexit rant. I am not a fan of Brexit. If that sort of thing bores you then move along, nothing to see here.

The Ermine sits in his eyrie surveying the discombobulation that is Brexit in puzzlement. It was all supposed to be so easy in 2016. I’m reminded of that cartoon of the guy in the signalbox 1 watching train wrecks all around, muttering that’s no way to run a railroad.

Funny old crew, Brexiters. Despite the Leave conspiracy theory that it’s all Remainers wot are doing the wrecking, I think the most useful idiots in this game, from a Remainer point of view, are the misnamed European Research Group 2 . These are professional wreckers, the 21st century equivalent of Red Robbo and his crew at British Leyland. With top hats and Eton accents. I’d also remind Leavers that theirs is a broad church that contains two diametrically opposed constituencies.

One team of leavers set against the other

One of the tenets of Brexit fundamentalism is that there should be no backsliding on 2016. There was a single vote in June 2016, they got the result they wanted, that is the fundamentally determined fricking will of the people and shall stand for all time despite the bullshit said on all sides. Continue reading “Through the Brexit looking glass”

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O tempora o mores

Midnight CET today is meant to have been the culmination of Theresa May’s premature invoking of Article 50 to leave the EU. She did that, without really having much idea what success looks like with Brexit, in an unforced error which seems to have played into the hands of the other side, who naturally looked after themselves and their own interests. Not sure we are any closer to knowing what a successful Brexit does look like. I am of the opinion that there’s no such thing, which explains why the search party keeps returning empty-handed.

A spaffage of headbangers, each and every one rich enough to survive a bout of disaster capitalism and profit from it

The Brexit crew seem to be channelling Thomas Edison, but they seem to lack his talent

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work

 

Thomas Edison, on the electric light bulb

Why you need Financial Independence – The Sovereign Individual

Let’s take a deeper look a Jacob Rees-Mogg, headbanger at the end on the left. Hopefully his crew are unwittingly acting more as useful idiots in weakening the No Deal ultra-case, but it ain’t done yet.

The Latin in the title is a hat tip to JRM’s tendency to break out into Latin, to confuse the bejesus of of those not drug up right in some elite British public school. Fortunately the proles have Google on their side

Where did he get his twisted ideas from? Maybe his Dad, who wrote The Sovereign Individual, basically Thomas Hobbes updated for the 21st century. Let’s hear it from JRM’s Dad

Nation-states will experience a sharp drop in revenue…but retain the unfunded liabilities and inflated expectations and social spending inherited from the industrial era…tax consumers will be the losers.”

The Sovereign Individual

To summarise, it’s a libertarian manifesto, Ayn Rand updated. Look after yourself and your own, and may the devil take the hindmost.

The Sovereign Individual was written in the last years of the last century, but its predictions do track some of what has come to pass in the ensuing twenty years

Rhys on Medium has a good summary. The SI looks at the metamorphoses of society through the intustrial revolution to now through the lens of capital, the capacity to impose your will on others through capital and violence on the one hand, and information and myth on the other. Daddy Rees-Mogg’s analysis bears witness on today’s world.

the arrow of time runs left to right, the form of the means of production and mastery or slavery vertically

You need financial independence to be less enslaved to those with more. Violence isn’t a fist-fight in the street, it is the ability of the church, nation-state, or sovereign individuals like Jacob Rees-Mogg to make you do their bidding. The Church used the Inquisition, the Nation-State police forces and armed forces (in connection with other nations states) and Jacob Rees-Mogg and his libertarian ilk will use their superior capital assets.

Continue reading “O tempora o mores”

Red and White dragons fight under the edifice of Brexit as the end of the ISA year approaches

March is still a time to get one’s affairs sorted and use the ISA and SIPP allowances by the end of the tax year. It’s been hard to get excited about that this year. The rough Beast of Brexit slouches towards whatever it’s denouement will be. We seem hell-bent on turning a sackful of Great British Pounds into a sack of Lesser British (for the moment) farthings. Life goes on despite all this noise and hum, and the end of the tax year needs dealing with, lest opportunities pass by.

Sharp investors do their lump sum investment into their ISAs as soon as the new tax year starts. That’s because it makes sense, logically. Time in the market, dear boy – it is a corollary of the fact that integrated over decades markets march skywards. The reason most of us don’t do that is because we fear taking a market crash the day after we invest. If you invest over 20 years the 19 years it doesn’t happen will cancel out the effect of the one year it does, but, well, loss aversion and all that. We are irrational that way, slimy meatsacks that humans are.

Many have the good excuse that they have to earn the money that goes into the ISA over the year,  but that doesn’t apply to me. I ran the other way, and extracted £20k from my Charles Stanley ISA earlier this year. I figured there was a chance of a lot of shit doing down sometime this year. It didn’t happen, so I didn’t run out of money, and I have shifted that 20k into iWeb. So I am fully invested this tax year. Wait, but surely there’s the possibility of opportunities in the Brexit bunfight? I have more potential capacity even though I have completely used this year’s ISA allowance.

That is because I have more than one ISA. Charles Stanley’s recent price hike meant they are no longer that good for the long term. Their flexibility is useful for a fellow soon to use up cash reserves ahead of drawing my pension. So I am happy to pay their usurous charges for a couple of years in return for flexibility.

People with multiple ISAs need to check they can contribute to an old ISA before the tax year end

If you didn’t put any money into an ISA last year, providers have a nasty habit of stopping you topping up unless you jump through extra hoops. Once upon a time I had aims of keeping the amount with any one ISA provider below the £50k FCA protection limit. That gets unworkable fast, I would have to balkanise holdings across several providers. Although I am cynical about the value of compound interest in getting you to FI, once you are there and provided you don’t draw down1 on a stash, the total does get out of hand fast – all the win with CI is at the end. There’s a diversification case for having two unrelated ISA platforms, but after that it’s diminishing returns. With more providers, your risk of getting timed out for inactivity increases.  I found even after two years of inactivity I had to go through the reactivation process again.

At worst they may need you to go through all the anti money laundering hoops again. It takes time to go through that check, so give yourself  a couple of weeks. Make a test deposit roundabout now, at the latest, if you have left this well alone. Sensible souls who have been pound cost averaging into the market since last April can stop reading and go do something more useful with your time. It’s the first deposit in any tax year where you will run into that sort of grief. Continue reading “Red and White dragons fight under the edifice of Brexit as the end of the ISA year approaches”

Dutch Brexit humour from outside the nuthouse

Note: If you think we are conducting Brexit in a competent manner and it’s all a great idea, let me save you the time; don’t bother with the rest of this, OK?

Once upon a time, when that Jacob Rees-Mogg were a nipper, he sat on the knee of Daddy Rees-Mogg in charge of the Thunderer. Our lad Jacob was regaled with tales of Imperial derring-do, and he thought that’s the world he’d grow up in. Sadly, his cosseted public-skool upbringing never forged character in the crucible of adversity, so he got to grow up thinking that the world really was like he had been taught by daddykins, that it remembered the British Empire with fond sepia tones like the Road to Mandalay declaimed by BoJo rather than say, the trains oozing blood in the Punjab when in the shambles of the secretive Partition as the British scarpered. Sure, Britain did less badly de-Imperialising than some of her European neighbours, but let’s not celebrate that as something that will be a source of great common cause and better trade deals in the 21st century, eh, Jakes me old mucker? It’s probably safe to assume that Empire is recalled more fondly by the aristocratic class of this septic isle than the erstwhile subjects in all those red bits on the map, so check your facts Jakey-boy before sending your henchmen to go batting on that wicket in the trade talks, should we ever get that far.

Right now we Brits are making such absolute twats of ourselves on the international stage, what with striking a deal with the EU and seeming to agree, then saying well, no, that’s not what we actually meant all along, though hold the line, caller, while we actually work out what it is that we meant.

May picks up the old hotline to Jake’s pad where he celebrated her defeat with champagne for his buddies. Yes, I know, with friends like that who needs enemies and all that, but any port in a storm, eh? Brr, brr may I speak to JRM please? “heeelooooow, Jacob Rees-Mogg here, what’s that? (screws monocle into eye) oh what do we want? Simples, Treesa me gal, dont’cha-know, one wants not to give a bally inch. We keep all our cake and eat it, those dashed Continentals will soon come to their senses, they need us more than we need them. Stiff upper lip, Treesa, still upper lip and all that. Tally-Ho” Click.

It’s left people scratching their heads and wondering WTAF is going on here1. Hat tip to the Dutch government. Sometimes, faced with a clusterfuck over which you have precious little control, a spot of humour is the best answer. That’s exactly what they’ve done with their latest website to help their businesses understand Brexit. 2 Obviously they can’t really help them because nobody understands Brexit as it’s being made up on the hoof, but they’ve depicted it as a great big obstreperous woolly mammoth looming over small biz’s attempts to work out which way is up with Brexit.

And yeah, I’m doing the sneering Remainer bit here, because, to be honest, the absolute snafu being made here with Brexiters fighting with each other to imagine what success looks like does look bloody stupid. It looks bloody stupid inside the country, it must look like a collective nervous breakdown outside, though I tip my hat to the Irish Times in calling it a peculiarly English breakdown. Of the two constituencies of Brexit, I have some sympathy with the people who lost out to globalisation3, and I guess Theresa May’s original agreement would have been a serviceable answer to their complaints. I’m not sure it would have been a solution to their problems, but nevertheless, it would have delivered the result of the misbegotten referendum and allowed us to get on with life.

But it wasn’t to be, because there is another part of this heart of darkness, and it consists of people rich enough to not care one whit about the knock-on effects of their dreams. These are the toffs and aristocrats of Jacob-Rees-Mogg’s European Research Group. Just like you can take a bet that any country that has ‘democratic’ in its name is probably not democratic in any accepted term of the word, the ERG is neither European nor does it do any research, if you define research as inquiry into a topic where you don’t know what the answer to your inquiry is beforehand. These are guys who have a very purist view of sovereignty – pretty much ‘we are top dog and no other bugger has influence on what we do‘. Ahem, chaps and chapesses, along with that whole sun never sets on the Imperium no longer being a thing

that was the late 19th/early 20th century, guys

some dashed clever buggers invented something called trade, y’know, where you buy and sell stuff and services to foreigners. It goes on a bit more nowadays that it used to. Anytime you want other people’s money, well, you get to dance a little to their tune. It also pays to speak nicely to them rather than charge around like you own the joint. You do seem to have your heads stuck in a time when you did own the joint, it’s been nearly 80 years since then.

The ERG and their ilk are despicable rich bastards that don’t have to giveashit

And they don’t give a shit. Sure, the entire UK body politic has conspired to make a pig’s ear of this, but I’d like to direct Donald Tusk’s infernal ire better. I reserve a special place in Hell for Jacob Rees-Mogg, BoJo and all the strutting rich bastards who seem to be getting a massive horn out of sticking spanners in the works, and telling people that the only way to think about sovereignty is the way Kim Jong-Un thinks about it. Presumably Jacob’s got My Way on repeat on the old gramophone, with some pliant serf to wind the dratted thing up when the spring runs down.

If this is the way we are negotiating our first and possibly largest trade deal or non-deal with our largest and nearest trading partner, then as far as negotiating with Trump-land and China, well, so help us God. It reminds me of Tacitus’ description of the Druids retreating to Anglesey and hurling curses at the invading Roman Army across the Menai Straits.

On the beach stood the adverse array, a serried mass of arms and men, with women flitting between the ranks. In the style of Furies, in robes of deathly black and with dishevelled hair, they brandished their torches; while a circle of Druids, lifting their hands to heaven and showering imprecations, struck the troops with such an awe at the extraordinary spectacle that [it was] as though their limbs were paralysed, they exposed their bodies to wounds without an attempt at movement.

Apparently the troops got a right bollocking for such wussy behaviour along the lines of WTF is wrong with you lot, are you men or mice, and they stormed the island swimming across the Menai Straits with their horses. There’s a lesson in there, and it’s that hurling curses across a watery boundary at the other side doesn’t end well.

This is not a professional way of carrying on, people. We look like incompetent buffoons, and a great big blue furry buffoon looks about right. Hats off to the Dutch

Project Fur – you gotta have a larf, else you’d cry

At least they will be shot of it soon enough. We have to live with the massive monster of our projected id – it’s Forbidden Planet all over again without the pretty girl to make it better.

Forbidden planet – beware the power of the twisted darkness within the ERG

So here’s a gratuitous picture of Altaira

Altaira

before we have one of the villains of the show, the “I drink champagne wiv my Brexit Bruvvas when ‘my’ side loses a battle they deserve to lose” Jacob Rees-Mogg

Jacob Rees-Mogg

Now I’d rather have JRM for prime minister than Boris Johnson, but that’s not setting the bar high. In fact I’d prefer the Dutch woolly mammoth to either…

Our next PM, the fella with the blue wooly head!

because when it comes to British politics, let’s take a leaf out of Hippocrates.

Rule 1: Do no harm


  1. I am aware of the Brexiter’s line that you have to keep the enemy on it’s toes and not knowing WTF is going on during negotiations. Sometimes you do have to play the capricious fool. However, I think that the problems here stem from Brexit hiding two quite opposing world-views, and like the Red Dragon and the White Dragon under Vortigern’s castle, they fight endlessly so no stable structure can be built on the house divided.  Where are Merlin and Arthur now? We need them now in the kingdom’s hour of need, there is only greed and evil in those that rule today… 
  2. since obviously nobody in Britain speaks foreign any more, what with our Imperial glory meaning all we have to do is yell louder at our subjects till they get it, Google can help us with that
  3. In theory these guys would be ably represented by the Labour Party,  it’s fairly simple and honest what they want – less austerity, a better welfare state, some middling and low level jobs that pay enough to live on. They don’t really give a toss about the trade deals. However, if anybody can work out what Jeremy Corbyn thinks about Brexit, well, could they tell him, please, because there’s no consistent signal that comes out of the noise from his mouth, apart from that it’s not what the other lot wants. Which other lot, Jezza? in fact which part of which other lot? Oh, fuhgeddaboutit. 

Run towards the light, not away from the darkness

Warning – Brexit content, and I was/am a remainer. It the topic bores you, switch off and do something more constructive with your time now 😉

The Ermine sits in his eyrie, and surveys the increasing twisted wreckage of the British political landscape before him, and wonders, how did it really all come to this?

It took me too long to realise a philosophical fact about life. In general, run towards what you do want, rather than away from what you don’t want. Imagine sitting by a candle – if you want to run away from the darkness you have no end of directions to go, whereas if you are in the darkness and want to run towards the light, the aim is easy, as every night moth knows.

You gain simplicity in running towards a goal, and pay in decision making if you try and execute the ‘anywhere but here’ command. You get in your car and drive towards where you want to go, you don’t drive away from your home town.

There are exceptions, of course. If you were in the town of Paradise recently, get the hell out of here was a good move. That’s the sort of problem that is urgent and important. Some things that are important aren’t urgent, however.

There’s an argument that being in the EU or not is something that is important to many. But it wasn’t urgent. What was urgent was for Cameron to save his ass, so he couched his question is simplistic terms, and it looks like we get to live with the consequences of asking the question in such a stupid way without asking what sort of independent existence outside the EU matters to you, Sir? What does success look like?

There are several answers to that question, though the main axes, which aren’t particularly interdependent, seem to be

  • greater national self-determination over trade policy and legislation
  • control of immigration

In not asking the question ‘what do we want to happen here?’ Cameron turned something that was important but not urgent into something that is both. Well done you, Dave. Clearly a public school education doesn’t imbue an understanding of philosophy even if it does teach you to lead, sort of, until the going gets touch, in which case you run away from the SNAFU you have created because it falls into the ‘too hard’ bucket.

True character will out – it fell into the ‘too hard’ camp and he was off like a whippet

Two years later and we still don’t know what success looks like. Put two Brexiters in a room and you get five different answers, none of which are compatible with each other. That is the tragedy of chasing the negative. Well done us.

What’s wrong in the world gets a lot more attention than what’s right

That’s the problem with a lot of decision-making. Too much of it is running away from what is wrong, rather than towards what is right. I admire a lot of the younger FIRE-folk for getting this right – freedom to use their time for their own goals is what they want, FIRE is a means to an end. They are living Stephen Covey’s second rule – Begin With the End in Mind. Where do you want to go?

I didn’t do that. I wanted to be free of work. I had some terrific luck which saved me from the consequences of violating Covey’s second rule and executing the ‘anywhere but here’ command, though I was at least guided by instinct towards  freedom rather than, say, not working for The Firm but stacking shelves in Tesco.

Why is working getting more crap?

I am reading a dog-eared copy of Britain on the Couch, which from the cultural references must’ve been written in the late 1990s. The Ermine was just over halfway through his working life, and Oliver James observed that the heady mix of higher and more individualistic aspirations, combined with a greater exposure to comparing ourselves with others, as portrayed in the media was screwing us up at a faster rate than increasing material wealth seems to be making us happier. It was the increasing gamification of the workplace that started to make me sick of it, irrational spurious requirements to justify your existence every quarter, the knowledge it was a zero-sum game etc.

The writing was already on the wall halfway through my career. Nick asked me this, and it was an interesting question

I’m curious Ermine, what do you see as the purpose of work? Purely an exchange? Looking back on a full career, do you see it all as BS or enjoyable at the time (until things started changing and going south.)
I think I actually enjoy the challenge work provides, I will always keep my toe dipped for that reason and the various protection mechanisms it offers (until this goes south anyway.) What gets me very badly is time pressure, work (too many things to juggle), side work, sorting the house, general life. For me I feel striking a balance could make things much more enjoyable…or as I get closer I’ll discover I’m wrong and have an existential crisis.

I had a good run. 25 years of no real trouble, two years of hell and then three tough years of saving hard to get out. There were several things running against me. Some of it was simple globalisation – the west does not need to staff its research and development facilities with expensive Westerners when they can outsource the job. Some of it was the sorts of things that Oliver James wrote about, the increasing surveillance and the gamification of the workplace. Reading articles like this about gamification taken to extremes gives me the creeps. Oliver James called that trend out twenty years ago…

I’m not even particularly sensitive to that sort of incentivisation – I don’t really do badges. I was a member of a professional confederation and happened to storm the theoretical part of one of their training courses, so they were chasing me to get hold of me to award the certificate and get the gong, and were clearly puzzled at how hard work it was to get hold of an Ermine 😉 Similarly for a club where I sorted out their online presence several years ago and was given an award. I have to tell myself that many see this as a big deal, because I don’t want to charge around upsetting people who worked hard to get the gong for me, but I don’t really feel it inside. I am an introvert, and more internally referenced. The sort of challenges and goal-setting that clearly reward others leaves me cold.

I’m only a third of the way through the book, but it’s always puzzled me why the Britain of now is so immeasurably richer than the London that I grew up in, and while physical disease is much lower, mental health and general distress with life seems worse. I was fortunate – I was able to buy my way out of it, because much of the trouble seems to be associated with the way we work now. Work seems to take up a lot more headspace now that it used to. My Dad needed to clock on on time but when he clocked off he was absolutely done with work. Looking at people now, work didn’t drift too much into my time off. But I look at the way many people work, and there are always on the job in some way it seems, tethered to their smartphones  – I see these as a tool of oppression in the modern world, not emancipation.

Calling Extrovert FIRE Folk

For the first few years of my FI journey it seemed to be the introverts making most fo the running, I started reading Jacob ERE and many others seemed to lie on the introverted axis. However, all you extroverts in the Fi movement seem to have suddenly found your mojo and are making more of the running, what with meet-ups an the like. So if you’re the life and soul of the party but you find talking about saving makes people’s eyes glaze over then here’s a couple of events you can find some like minds.

There’s apparently a Financial Independence UK Facebook Group (wonder what Oliver James would have had to say about Facebook 😉 ) who are getting together on Nov 24th in Surrey a little way off the A3.

Then there’s a Financial Independence London facebook group who are meeting up on the 5th December, I guess you search FB for Financial Independence London

I’m not sure I fit in anywhere to this outgoing part of the FIRE community, but what the hell, each to their own; knock yourselves out, guys.

Battening down the hatches and exploring the opportunities of Brexit

Regardless of your views on Brexit’s ultimate desirability or not, it’s likely to bring choppy waters to the UK in the near future. You’ve heard quite enough of Remainers saying that, but the view is shared by some Brexiters. Take a random look at LeaveHQ’s contentAfter all, Britain is about to set up a new startup called UK PLC in the world, and we have good people like Liam Fox and Boris Johnson at the helm, what on earth could go wrong…?  In my youth the British elite seemed to be able to screen for competence and eliminate buffoons like BoJo and fops like Fox, but clearly this process has broken down. There’s nothing wrong with saying that Brexit is a tough job with notable risks, let’s spit on our hands and get to work to maximise the utility and minimise the costs. But that’s not what’s being done. The ruling party is a house divided, and so it doesn’t know what Brexit means. Other than Brexit, and I think we all got that over a year ago.

What we do know is that Brexit will be a point of change, the nature and type of change is uncertain, but in the short term will not be increased trade, the date is reasonably set though subject to late-stage fudging. There will be threats and opportunities to be had. It’s worth considering these ahead of time. I’ve already done an investing for Brexit post, but the inflation of the stock market since then makes the stock market more dangerous.

The boy scouts bit

It’s reasonable to expect shit to go down on the transition. There are some obvious things to do – stockpile water, bogroll, tins, dry carbs and motor fuel (outside the house and in approved fuel cans, people!). The Ermine is fortunate enough not to consume medication, but if you need this then having some advance supply would be wise, and do all this before Christmas, because the history of the world shows that if you are going to panic, then panic early or not at all.

I would hope Brexit would be a transient supply chain disturbance issue, but let’s face it, the government seems to be ill-prepared for some of the obvious interruptions to local trade. If you want to get more into this then UK Preppers are your friend. I’m not sure I want to live in their world for more than a couple of weeks…

Personal Finance – threats and opportunities

One of the great things about Brexit is that it is a planned and a local shitstorm. You don’t normally get advance warning about financial challenges, and nor do you usually get a massive store of assets that are definitely not involved with the crisis. Brexit isn’t going to threaten the world economy. The Brexiter Peter North was offering us a ten-year recession.

Britain is about to become a much more expensive pace to live. It will cause a spike in crime. […] Basically it will wipe out the cosseted lower middle class and remind them that they are just as dispensable as the rest of us.

The Ermine has already dealt with some of the threats, before the vote, by shifting into global assets and gold. There are other aspects of derisking:

I owe nobody any money, other than the credit card which is paid off each month. This is a big win in times of trouble, and I am probably not exposed to the jobs market1

I have ramped down my allocation to equity markets over the last year, not to do with Brexit, but to do with overvaluation. Tragically that increases my exposure to Brexit induced devaluation.

I was going to draw my DB pension early, but I can’t think of anything I really want to invest in at the moment, so I run down cash, indirectly buying more annuity. Everyone else lucky enough to have a DB pension seems to be asking how much the CETV is. I wish I knew what asset class promising a good future income stream they were going to invest it in!2

I made several mistakes shortly after the vote, and several wins around it too, but overall I experienced a very significant numerical win from Brexit in my equity holdings. One of the problems now is that stocks are on very high valuations worldwide, buying equities anew is not so attractive. Monevator made a good move with the Brexit dividend, buying his flat with it, so he is less exposed to the overvalued stock market to the tune of one London flat3

the threats are more important to me than the gains

If Brexit is an economic success and I adopted a brace for impact position, then I look a bit stupid, but I get to live in a country that is doing well, though I’ve lost money on my ISA I have gained it in the future income stream of my pension. That’s a win as far as I am concerned, apart from the hurt to my pride in being wrong. I’ve had a lifetime of practice in being wrong, it’s no big deal. You Brexiters can have a jolly good laugh at my expense. I’m big enough to take the ribbing for my lack of faith in Bulldog Blighty.

If Brexit leads to a 10 year recession, that’s at least a third of my life blighted by that from now on, and my globalised ISA becomes a larger proportion of my future assets/income stream. Just to add spice to the mix, the stock market is at very high valuations. I hold two years worth of cash expenses because that’s how long I have to reach the age to draw my pension without penalty.

I hold most of last year’s ISA contribution in cash in my ISA, and may do the same with this year, because there may be opportunities in Brexit to buy UK assets cheaply in the turmoil. This is hard to execute because you never catch the low-water mark, so you buy stuff, then see it plunge 20% and have to be prepared to take the chance of buying similar assets and holding the trash you already have. While all the time you have this horrible screaming noise in your ears from the media telling you all is lost. What I need is for Monevator to do this again, at a suitable point, to stiffen the spine in April 2019. Let’s look on the bright side, it’ll be a new ISA year…

I already hold a lot of gold in ETF form. Rather foolishly I hold it in my ISA. In general you should hold gold outside an ISA, since it pays no dividend. Should the price appreciate to approach the capital gains limit, then sell the ETF and buy another gold etf. I hold SGLP, I could sell that and buy say PHGP at the same time, crystallise the capital gain but stay exposed to the same asset class. As long as there’s not a flash hike in the gold price in the 10 minutes between transactions I am OK. However, given it is in the ISA, the gold gives me some more working capital, if I have the balls to sell it and buy pounded-down UK stock indices.

Repositioning myself for Brexit

Cash and gold represent about 12% and 9% of my ISA. A lot of the shares part is sky-high, and fortunately a lot was bought before this time two years ago. The cash, however, is bad news, it’s GBP.

What can I do with it to get it out of the country?

  1. Buy foreign currency
  2. Spreadbet foreign currency
  3. buy global government bonds
  4. buy gold
  5. buy world equities
  6. buy world equities hedged to GBP

5 and 6 aren’t attractive, because I feel equities are overvalued now. I already hold a lot of VWRL and IGWD anyway. 4 isn’t that attractive either, because I hold a lot of gold ETFs from the first round of this Brexit aggravation in 2016.

1 and 2 are difficult for me because I want to do this in my ISA, the cash is already in the ISA. I could take it out and try and put it back in, unfortunately the Brexit date 29th March 2019 is very awkwardly close to the turn of the tax year (5th April), it’s possible that the financial system will seize up. It did after the original Brexit vote so it is likely to do so again4. They’re a possibility for next year’s ISA contribution, I guess.

For this year’s ISA, one obvious thing to do is to buy bonds. They are supposed to be the yin of the equity yang. Not so much corporate bonds, which seem to vary with equities these days. I’m already jumpy that the stock market is overvalued, so it’s government bonds I want. I know absolutely nothing about bonds, never been interested because my defined benefit pension has always been more fixed income than I would ever need for a notional 60:40 equities:bonds balanced portfolio for someone of my age and risk tolerance. There was an interesting thread on Monevator about bonds, but I am not sure I understand it well enough. The pointers seems to be to use currency hedged bond funds, which make great sense except for a guy who is explicitly looking for safety against the pound going down the toilet, I don’t want to hedge to the GBP. I read youngFIGuy’s piece on how he invests but it’s for the long term, and I am trynig to forestall a particular short term adversity. Here’s Lars Kroijer on Monevator taling about government bonds. He says:

If your base currency has government bonds of the highest credit quality (£, $, €) then those should be your choice as the minimal risk asset.

Err, no, Lars. With all due respect, not £. The last UK government took the piss having the referendum to alleviate a cat-fight in the Tory party. Not only did that shit on my future to feed tossers like Jacob Rees-Mogg, but the entire prosecution of the process of leaving the EU has been dominated by internecine fighting and precious little effective progress. I’d rather live in the UK than say Uganda, but I don’t view the £ as having the highest stability at all. So the last thing I want is UK government bonds for this particular job. That’s a no to YoungFiGuy’s VGOV, although that is fine for his purposes. Given that premise that UK government bonds may be risk-free in one way, but track the fail I am trying to hedge, Lars carries on

If your base currency does not offer minimal risk alternatives, you have the choice of lower-rated domestic bonds where you take a credit risk, or higher-rated foreign ones where you take a currency risk. Keep in mind that any domestic default would probably happen at the same time as other problems in your portfolio, and your domestic currency would probably devalue. That would render foreign currency denominated bonds worth more in local currency terms.

Exactly. in his next paragraph, it’s basically short-term foreign bonds i want. But looking at, say this US bond, I see shocking volatility.  And given it’s only a year, I am chuffed to discover currency ETFs – a class of thing I didn’t even know existed. Let’s take a look at SGBB

The ETFS Bearish GBP vs G10 Currency Basket (SGBB) is designed to provide investors with a short exposure to the British Pound relative to a basket of G10 currencies by tracking the Diversified GBP Short Basket Index (GBP) (TR) (the “Index”).
That’s about right, what did it do over the referendum?
Pretty much what you’d expect. It’s a bit dear, at 0.5% p.a, and of course I eat buy and sell costs plus the spread at iWeb. So I put it into iWeb to see how much it would cost and what the spread was, and couldn’t find it. I asked them on web chat if they offered it and it seemed to be frowned upon:
Thank you for waiting, it looks like the company may be a derivative and if that is the case we won’t be able to offer it. We will need to do some further checks for the company which can take up to 2 working days.

Blimey. Well that’s pissed on that idea then. I didn’t think ETFS securities was such a bunch of dodgy geezers, but it seems they are viewed with suspicion5. Hargreaves Lansdown do this one but disturbingly they say the ongoing charge is 1.24%. I suppose I could do it in my SIPP with them. I pay £24 on the turn, couldn’t work out if I get to pay the 0.5% Stamp duty on this.

Surely the market has priced Brexit in

and will do a great big meh on the day? I’m not sure the market has priced the stupendous incompetence that could be displayed, the danger of a no deal Brexit seems to be mounting. Some of the trend to no deal comes from the bad faith of the likes of Rees-Mogg and the shadowy European Research Group, the quality of whose thought is to be seen here. These are cakeists6, and I’m not personally convinced that Britain has such a compelling offer. Leo Varadkar has a point when he said

“We are two years telling people that it can’t be cherry-picking, it can’t be cake and eat it, so it [the white paper] needs to understand we are a union of 27 member states, 500 million people.

We have laws and rules and principles and they can’t be changed for any one country, even a country like Britain. Any relationship in the future between the EU and UK isn’t going to be one of absolute equals.”

The ERG hasn’t got that yet, to wit:

Which is why we are writing to reassure you of our continued, strong backing for the clear vision of an internationally-engaged, free-trading, global Britain which you laid out at Lancaster House.

That’s the internationally-engaged Britain that has just told the 450 million strong nearest trading partners to f*ck right off.  I’m not convinced a no deal Brexit is priced in by the market at all. I’m prepared to lose money if we do better than that and there’s a stonking rise in the £.

Obviously it may all be a grand game of chicken, but I’d say that the EU can do without the UK better than t’other way round, and it’s pretty obvious that there will be less UK trade with the EU when we are outside the EU than before. That’s fine, may be a price well worth paying to cut ourselves adrift from these moribund losers as some would see it. We don’t have to be members of the EU to trade with it, other countries seem to manage. But there does have to be some sort of agreement. At the moment it’s we want to have our cake and eat it, or we’ll walk away. Looks like walk away it is, then. That’s not in the price at all, IMO.

 


  1. probably is because at the moment my deferred DB pension is easily enough to live on, so my ISA holdings and residual SIPP give some buffer. But it is possible to imagine inflation and taxes rising so I struggle, in which case I am stuffed. I am not going to do engineering again after five years out of the field, I am not entrepreneurial by nature and I am too old. 
  2. OK, I know the answer. The asset class is BTL residential property, FTW! 
  3. He’s of course now exposed to a differently overvalued asset class, London property, but given it’s his first purchase and he wants to live in London, the utility value is high, and if it’s the Brexit dividend then it’s free money anyway… 
  4. that could mean that for all this fine talk I will be unable to take advantage of any Brexit opportunities, squeezed out by all the shares selling going on in the market jamming retail websites. 
  5. iWeb has since rung me up to confirm, this is considered a derivative and therefore not available to retail investors on their platform. It is news to be that not all listed shares are considered tradable. Need to sit down and think about this, because perhaps this red flag is there for a reason and ETFS really are dodgy geezers. 
  6. they want to have their cake and eat it 

getting under the skin of Brexit

A lot of political discourse these days consists to yelling insults to the other side across an unoccupied no man’s land of the vacated centre. The Ermine is/was a Remainer, largely from the economic point of view, but I thought I would use Kindle Unlimited (KU) to try to get a understanding of what the other side thinks. I’ve already used Brexit Central, but the advantage of KU is that political screeds often end up on Kindle Unlimited, so you can sample a lot fast. 1 I wanted to try and get inside the heads of the majority, to let people develop their arguments, rather than take the soundbites. Plus people are more civilised when they think they are talking to the converted.

There’s a lot of dross on KU, some of the Brexit stuff confirmed the Guardian’s stereotype of the Brexiter as old racist white guys who hated immigrants. I wish I could remember the authors or the books in question, they yattered on about “common sense” but were basically latter day Enoch Powells without his rhetorical gift, and disliked all immigrants including white Eastern European ones. This kind of author made themselves known from the first paragraph.

I wasn’t after that, I was trying to get a handle on the case for Brexit. Two KU authors helped me get an idea, one was Daniel Hannan’s Why Vote Leave, with an honourable mention for supporting cast to his jingoistic book How we invented Freedom.  The other was Andrew Mather, who falls definitely into the category of old white guy 😉 One should always be wary of people who cite their membership of MENSA2 in an indirect appeal to authority but one should equally be wary of inferring the general from the particular, people who are wrong in some aspects aren’t therefore wrong in all. Mather’s book was

Brexit: Why We Won: What Remain will never understand about the Leave victory

which seemed to be a good place to start as a Remainer trying to understand the leave result. These aren’t the only decent books from Brexiters, but these were the ones I read rather than skimmed. I came away from the exercise with more respect for the internal consistency of the leave argument for its supporters.

The price I paid for this project is that Amazon now thinks I am  on a diet of the Daily Express, Breitbart, and this is the sort of reading they offer up, I guess one has to suffer for one’s art 😉

Last time there was a bit about trigger warnings, global warming conspiracies and social justice warriors, so I seem to getting less intolerant with distance from this exercise. I didn’t realise that Brexiteers swam in such waters 😉

Amazon is of the view that there is some correlation between Brexiteers and climate change denial, and oddly enough those that rail against speed cameras repressing their inner Mr Toad. It’s a funny old world, and it shows the toxicity of the way filters amplify extremes. In the analogue world you would walk past the billboards for the Tories, then the one for Labour, whereas on the Internet there’s some guy running ahead fo you swapping out the opposition’s ads for ads for cars, lingerie and PPI claims before your sensitive head gets troubled with uncongenial points of view.

Some of the problem of Remain’s argument was that it was bloodless and talked in terms of abstractions,  ‘the British economy’. I quite like this description of how dialectic tends to swing between the poles of abstraction and reflection, which puts the issues more poetically than I could.

The [British] economy is an abstraction, and for the last thirty years or so it has gone along with the assumption that neoliberal assumptions of free trade, globalisation and lower taxation are all good, and indeed ‘the economy’ has expanded greatly as a result. The Britain I graduated into, less than a decade after the last EEC referendum, was far poorer in general than the Britain of 2016, but not everyone was poorer than now in every way. As JMG described, the issue with abstraction is

it becomes impossible to miss the fact that the supposed universality of the world-theories of abstraction has been obtained by excluding countless things that don’t fit. Some of those excluded things are bits of data that contradict the grand theories, but some are much vaster: whole realms of human experience are dismissed as irrelevant because they don’t fit the theoretical model or the methods of inquiry that a given age of abstraction happens to prefer.

Let me take one example of human experience – youth unemployment. I graduated into Mrs Thatcher’s first recession, and found my first job a month after unemployment reached its high-water mark, worse for that age group than at any time since. I was unemployed for six months. The experience left enough of a mark that I never took that chance again,  finishing work from one company on Friday and starting at the next on Monday, until I went to work for the very last time 30 years later. Continue reading “getting under the skin of Brexit”