Tag Archives: NL

Darkness through inaction

I had the weirdest dream, it was dark. When I woke up, the cat woke me up and I was slightly weirded out. Everything was pitch black. Was I dead? Was I blind? I looked at my watch, and the time was bright green, I was not blind. I looked around, it took a lot longer than usual. It was the darkest black. I slowly walked to the wall, I turned the lights off and on, nothing happened. Then I remembered my emergency flashlight (better safe than sorry) and it gave some light. I looked around, everything was black. I walked to the windows and looked out, outside was black too, yet this was London, close to Hyde Park, no light anywhere. I walked to the kitchen and got the emergency tea lights and the candleholders. Over a dozen were placed all over the apartment, all IKEA and all working. Three in the living room, one in the bedroom, one in the kitchen, all whilst checking what had happened to the stove, there was gas so I placed the filled kettle on the stove. I inspected the apartment and I got a decent insight in the damage. There was no heating, there was no light, but there was gas and there were candles. 

This is not imaginary, people in Lebanon know what I am talking about and when we consider the Independent (at https://www.independent.co.uk/news/business/gas-prices-rise-electricity-bills-b1935122.html) and they give us ‘Gas price spike will add £29bn to UK electricity bills next year, analysis finds’ yet this is only half the story, you see there is a growing shortage of electricity and it is getting worse. I had hoped for 2-3 more years, but that is less and less likely. So even as my version will not apply to many, but some will face it, it is now becoming heating versus light versus food. Yet there is a workaround. I spoke about it in the past. Even as Elon Musk has an advantage with his car battery, he is not alone and for plenty of applications there are alternatives. Consider a battery, rechargeable batteries, the size of 4 D-type batteries in a row. A stage where you can have one, a harness of two of those beauties linked to charge systems. And there are several solutions. In WW2 people used bicycles. So your home trainer becomes a more powerful charger. There are of course the solar panels, but it is not a solution for all, some will put some version of a wind-vane on their roof. All options to charge the batteries. So when we see that, we also need a new light source. Emergency lighting based on LED systems will come more and more into play, some are more festive and there are several solutions there. It is however a solution I saw in Sweden that could be the larger station. 

Swedish plug

This plug is a lot smaller than others and there is the station, an additional power net in every home and the people with decent DIY skills can do it themselves. And in the beginning it will be merely light and chargers, but over time we will see more and more shift to the low power consumption curve. In the Netherlands electricity prices went up by 57%, so how long until that is a setting no one can afford? Some state (using ‘could’) that electricity prices in the UK will rise by 30%, do you think you have a lot of time? And then we need to consider both the US and Canada, they might not be in the same boat, but they will see the prices rise too. As such the ideas I am giving you now are not new and not unique and taking notice of these dangers sooner rather than later is also important. There are solutions now and some are not elegant, not the prettiest, but they work and that will always be better than sitting it out in complete darkness. And in the stage where you can have 10 4 Watt LED’s are the equivalent of 10 30 Watt lightbulbs, it  is not a lot, but it might be enough and as the batteries are stronger you can have 8 hours with 10 8 Watts that compare to 10 60 Watt bulbs. Even though the bedrooms will suffice with 4 Watt solutions. And this situation is not that far away. The price hikes will force people to take that stand soon enough. And the sooner you can start, the better off you are because when 20,000,000 start on the same day the only people who will end up with lights are those willing to pay the 450% markup, commerce taught us that lesson in a pretty harsh way in the past already.

Feel free to take no notice, but when you forgot your Tea lights at IKEA and you wake up in complete darkness, it will be too late, I hope you will never face that. Yes, I admit that this setting in London is remotely small, but at present it is no longer zero, which is a setting you did not face a year ago, neither did you face a 30% price hike and that is now (by some) a speculated setting a mere year away.

Consider what you have, what you face and what could be and arm yourself for that situation, your choice, your consequence. And also consider the optional savings you make especially in a 30% price hike when you have a solution that takes 75% less energy, even if the battery is the last  part you get, you will already be making a saving.

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About that house you wanted!

It seems the Dutch are ready to take on the advice the Wijfels commission is giving. Even though not direct, it will end up that you have to pay 20% cash up front for any house or apartment you desire. And indeed, there was the subtle ‘line’ that if you do not have that kind of cash, you should address your pension funds. Interesting on how they are willing to open up pension funds to fund that.

Am I against it? There are two sides to this. On the one hand investing into your own future is perfectly sane. If only there was some level of certainty. You see, the fact that banks leave its taxpayers with their risky investments is one thing, the issue on your house is another.

How does this differ? Actually, it should not. A good house is a good house. However, consider some of the housing. How these houses are currently so much over any normal affordable income. It is nice to see a newscast in comparison with Germany; however, when we look at the quality and square meter price, then these prices are far from average. Of course, when seeking apartments in places like Munich, then yes, the prices might seem comparable. Yet, where we see average Munich prices, that is pretty an average price for living anywhere in the Netherlands. I agree that it is not fair that those factors are accountable to the banks, yet, they were at the centre of events when the prices were artificially pushed upwards.

As they sold mortgages no one cared too much about prices as the interest was tax deductable. When that 7%-9% is no longer part of tax deductibility, then we have a situation where the consumer now pays for it all. Add to that coming up with 20% (in due time) and someone slyly mentions the need to access ones retirement funds, we see another political play to get pensions into the banking equation. There is supporting evidence from all kind of sources. An interesting read was how on average house prices went down in US/UK and other places by well over 20%, whilst in the Netherlands the prices lowered less than 8%. It is unfair to just name one factor, as several economic factors had been in place in other nations too. The US crash never hit the European sides that hard, Europe might still fighting the backwash from those days, but on average Europe never had too much of the hardship the US faced. Another reason is the fact that the Netherlands is pretty much ‘full’. Whilst many nations have plenty of housing space outside of the great cities, the Netherlands has become a connection of large cities, with next to nothing to separate them.

Still this play as such to push people towards their retirement finds is slightly less than acceptable. There is however the other side that must be highlighted too. According to Ernst & Young, between 1996 and 2012, the outstanding mortgage has gone from 138 to 650 billion Euros, That means that outstanding mortgages currently have risen half a trillion Euro’s in just 15 years. Some might think that this is not a lot, yet, consider that that the Dutch population is under 17 million, which seems like the banks remain dealing with 100% of unpaid mortgages. If these numbers are correct, then it bears reason that these numbers should be looked at. Is that actually true? You see, feeling it is wrong, and knowing it is wrong (even with supporting evidence) seems nice from the writers point of view, however what about the reader?

There we get the issue that gives us the crux. When comparing apartments in the Netherlands and comparing them To Sweden and Germany, I noticed something. I lived in two of these locations, so I know what to look for. I compared the Dutch http://www.huizenzoeker.nl, Swedish http://www.bovision.se and German http://en.immostreet.com/germany. When comparing an apartment in Rotterdam and Kista (outskirts of Stockholm) we see a comparable raise of prices, yet overall we get a lot more apartment in Stockholm then in Rotterdam, for comparable prices (30%-40% more living space). This comparison takes an astute dive when we look at Germany, especially Bavaria; where all over the place we can buy 5 bedroom villa’s for a lot less than a two bedroom crinkly monkey apartment in Rotterdam. As such we get a first inkling; if we need 40K to buy a 5-bedroom villa is one thing, needing the same for a 2-bedroom apartment becomes a whole other matter. Interesting how this was not mentioned.

So why so much issues about the mortgage changes? We see a political engine too eagerly bowing to the needs of banks, bowing to a group that has visibly forsaken a population, a group that have left many billions in debts and we still bow to their ‘needs’? Now with the additional need to open up retirement finances that had remained relatively safe until now.

Yet, with the massive outstanding mortgages, what is left?
In addition, knowing that level of outstanding debts, are their demands out of proportions? That question becomes a whole lot more interesting when we consider the following from Bloomberg (source: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-04-23/dutch-mortgage-bond-market-threatened-by-capital-rules-dsa-says.html).

This part throws a whole new hole in these issues. Banks are pushed to outside influences, and even though the government pretend to be fighting the good fight to protect this market, it is interesting that this part was not that visible on the news. It might be that the Wijfels report shows this, but I have not read it, so I cannot tell.

My issue is now with this part of the Bloomberg article “Dutch banks are the second-largest issuers of RMBS in Europe, relying on sales of the securities to help fill a 452 billion-euro funding gap between deposits and loans, Dutch central bank data show.” Excuse me?

Looking at some quick 2011 population numbers:
Germany 81.8 million , France 65.43 million, United Kingdom 62.74 million, Netherlands  16.69 million.

EXCUSE ME?

How (or better why) exactly are the Dutch banks the second largest in Residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS)? Even if 100% of the Dutch population is now under mortgage (which is statistically impossible), those numbers are showing an enormous gap. What are we not told? Even if we consider the 25% difference in mortgage funding there are a few questions that should be asked out there. What have the banks been up to, and exactly what questions are not being asked, or better, what part are people and perhaps even politicians not getting information on? Half a trillion Euro funding gap reads like that there is a deficit of half a trillion Euro. That could never be covered by 6 billion in cut backs. Before you think that this has nothing to do with governments then think again, if that shortage is not addressed then that money will have to come from somewhere else. What are the odds that this needs to come from taxation in one way or another next?  More important is the news that people saw over the last year. What buffers do banks have, and if so, how come the Bloomberg (a respectable bringer of news) information was not part of the newscast?

Is this an orchestrate play? It seems to me that a clear yes is in play, however, there are sides to this that do not make sense and they are outside of government controlled sources, sources that currently seemed to remain largely unmentioned. To me it seems that both banks and politicians might need to publicly answer some questions in regards to some of these issues and it would be nice that this is done before banks are given any more leeway or options to shift certain finance issues around.

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Exploitation fears for tax-payers

The Dutch NOS reported another go with banks in the view of business. Bernhard Wientjes has been voicing the opinion that some of the banks (ABN/AMRO and SNS Reaal) should be sold. It was brought in the air of ‘when you have no more money you start selling the silver cutlery’ would be the next step. As the Dutch government needs to cut 6 billion, the cutting spree could be a lot less. Well, in this matter I personally stand with Finance minister Jeroen Dijsselbloem who is not that eager to do that. There is logic for not doing this, as this relief would be for one year only and after that the cuttings would still need to be found next year. I am worried that certain business men are now in a state to strong hand certain political decisions. I leave it up to the reader whether those decisions are purely for the need of greed.

If business is linked to greed (often called ‘enterprising solutions’) then that would clearly fit in the views of Bernhard Wientjes. As chairman of the VNO-NCW it would be an enterprising solution that is right up his alley. The VNO-NCW is a fusion of the VNO (League of Dutch Commercial Enterprises) and the NCW (Dutch Christian Business Society). Their mission is to support and further the needs of Dutch corporations both on a National and international level. In this he is doing exactly what he is expected to do.

Yet, in this light, at a point where two banks would be sold far below value and at the expense of the tax-payers, one should clearly ask and look at the possible windfall for Bernhard Wientjes and his friends should this work out in that way.

There is a clear valid question whether the Dutch Silver cutlery is currently in a safe position. The reality of 6 billion of cutbacks will start to show a strangling result, yet, this was the danger all along when previous political alliances (2006-2010) were clearly pushing the outstanding invoice forward. Now that there are no more options, the consequences are likely to be dire, and as such in his position Bernhard Wientjes is clearly trying to look forward for Dutch corporations. I see this specific step as a dangerous one and until Dutch banks are clearly on a minimum set standard nothing should change. In addition, I am all in favour at present to keep these institutions nationalised to prevent their boards to just seek additional high risk gains at anyone’s expense to meet personal commission goals, whilst ignoring local needs (mortgages and such).

Even seeing these banks as possible training steps for younger jobseekers on the dole, to give them short term jobs whilst staying on the dole, would give them additional food for job experience. The answers that some view that this is not how it is supposed to be, I would counter, with ‘what solutions do you have?’. We need to change the way we think and operate. Instead of trying to balance which pocket the money is coming from, we should accept that the money is coming from the suit the government wears and see how far we can walk with this suit. Instead of staying on principle of keeping tabs what pocket it comes from, use the principle of it comes from us anyway and focus on instilling knowledge and experience. That will strengthen the young to get a good shot in getting something better with a decent chance. If you have any doubt, then consider that the Netherlands is only one of 3 countries where youth unemployment rates are below 10%. Many of the Southern European countries are way over 40%. If the future of youth employment is about experience, then make sure that the youth are getting a running start now is going to be important down the line. If their future could be a decent job in Germany, then giving them an edge as they compete with desperate youthful jobseekers from Spain, Italy or Greece is essential. Do not think that those kids are any less. Those who graduated from Universidad Complutense de Madrid are more than top Notch. 7 of their graduates ended up with a Nobel price and graduates from there ended up with 2 dozen of other internationally acclaimed awards. So, if we are looking at future events, getting the youth ready NOW will be an essential step.

Yet, this week has even more issues involving banks. A report that is due to be released tomorrow on advised banking changes. The ‘advice’ is to change the mortgage market. In the Netherlands it is currently possible to get a 105% mortgage so that the house and the notary costs and change of owner registration can all be covered. The commission chaired by Herman Wijfels is now advocating that the mortgage cannot be any higher than 80%. This is to prevent that the debt of selling a house at loss would end up hitting the banks. It seems that the banks are all over their need for ‘securing’ for the little man (read the average consumer). Taking into account that the average house in the Netherlands is around $350,000 the question, especially in this era of lack of funds is where on earth will a person get $70,000 in savings when the Dutch taxation system makes it almost impossible to get that kind of money saved up. They also mentioned that this should not be done until the housing market is stronger and prices are on the rise. Like that will help people to get the money. It is interesting that there is no mention of the much more reliable and fair Swedish system. Perhaps the report due out tomorrow will mention it, but I have not been privy to the full report. In the Swedish system a house often has a two tiered mortgage. You have the bottom part which envisions the gross off it (let’s say 80% for argument sake) at a low base percentage. The rest goes into the top part. Now that part (in my case) was almost 2.5% interest higher, but the mortgage was 105% covered. So instead of the unaffordable savings needs, we have a slightly higher mortgage. So, even if we have to accept a slightly cheaper house, we at least can get a house and not be looking at houses, never being able to afford any of it. The question becomes on what it was about. The fact that a report leaks is no news, but that the report leaks just around the same time Bernhard Wientjes is making a play to sell banks is a rather convenient coincidence.

These events are important to consider. This is because the same issues are playing in the UK. Consider that Lloyds is in need of an extension as they are selling 631 branches. This and the issues around the Royal Bank of Scotland do have links, as the UK government needs to cut cost by a lot more than 6 billion (having a Trillion in deficit makes that an awkward necessity). So will we see the same play as some are now seeing if they can sell banking interests at no more than tuppence on the pound? There is absolutely no known plans at present (in case you got scared or overly enthusiastic), but the issues remain, and the solution as such would be there in equal measure. To allow the young unemployed to become part of the bank on internships and training places, so that we can offer a solution where those seeking jobs will have actual work experience in their CV. These measures might seem small, yet the confidence boost that the younger jobseekers gain, could be the winning factor. In addition, extra hands, helping to boost the value of these banks would mean that when sold, they will go for a much better and more realistic value then they are currently set at. All this in a combined effort to strengthen commonwealth economy and their assets, for the simple reason that the European Economic outlook remains grim at best and relying on overly confident reports of economic prospects, that get downgraded quarter after quarter is not doing anyone any good.

 

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