£37bn, but the words aren’t worth the paper they are written on

Today’s announcement of £37bn of investment in British banks was accompanied by words from Gordon Brown at his press conference about rewarding “hard work, effort and enterprise” rather than “irresponsibility and risk taking”.

This is a sentiment I agree with wholeheartedly but one I find very strange coming from the government who only a year ago scrapped Taper Relief, effectively increasing the CGT rate for hard working and enterprising small business owners by 80% from 10% to 18%. Given the number of SME’s in the PR industry this is particularly pertinent to this sector.

At the same time they reduced the rate on speculative asset transactions e.g. share sales and buy-to-let from a maximum rate of 40% to the same new rate of 18%. The overall benefit to the Treasury? A reported “massive” £350m – small beer these days!

The government subsequently made a small gesture to the SME community by introducing entrepreneur relief on the first £1m of gains by owner managers – arguably peanuts in the scheme of things.

So at a time when the country needs, as the PM rightly points out, “hard work, effort and enterprise”, they have created a tax environment that draws no distinction between this and “irresponsibility and risk taking” in asset markets. Unless this decision is reversed in the pre-budget report I find I cannot take these messages seriously.

A £bn here a £bn there…

According to various sources the nitty gritty of the Government’s bank recapitalisation plan is going to be announced tomorrow morning. The coverage reminds me of a quote from The West Wing “A billion here a billion there. Sooner or later it starts to add up to real money.” The important point is what will our £39bn/£50bn get us? By my back of an envelope calculations, based on Friday’s closing share prices and the current rumours, taxpayers are indeed (as per ft.com) about to become the controlling shareholders in HBOS and RBS.

Royal Bank of Scotland

Market capitalisation on Friday £11.9bn.
Rumoured ordinary share investment (according to ft.com) £15bn
Post investment shareholding = 15/(15+11.9) = 56%


Market capitalisation on Friday £6.5bn.
Rumoured ordinary share investment (according to ft.com) £9bn
Post investment shareholding = 9/(9+6.5) = 58%

Of course the HBOS situation will then be further confused by the rumoured £5bn investment in Lloyds TSB and the (apparently) still planned merger of the two.

Finally there is the issue of whether given the current investment environment we should even be investingon the basis of Friday’s closing price anyway? Shrewd investors know how to take advantage of weakness. It will be interesting to see what deal Gordon Brown will have negotiated for us as his track record isn’t the best or perhaps he is already in bed.