In the run-up to last Thursday’s EU referendum, policy direction, announcements and news flow dried up as the politicians became increasingly consumed with the debate. Following the tumultuous decision taken by the British people, this piece considers the in-tray that the Government - above all, DECC, but in addition other parts of Whitehall - needs to return to on energy and climate matters.
Last week’s gloomy Global Economic Outlook from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (the OECD) raises further questions on the degree of reliance placed by policymakers on monetary policy as an engine to boost output in a low growth, ultra-low inflation, economic environment. Markit Economics’ recent study of combined PMI indicators for the UK and the Eurozone indicated growth in the second quarter of 2016 of 0.2% and 0.3% in each respective market. The OECD downgraded the forecast for UK GDP growth in 2016 to 1.7%.
Last week’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) set of interim recommendations on the UK retail banking sector represents the culmination of nearly two years work from the new competition regulator analysing plans for structural, market, and anti-trust reform of the industry. It is important to remember the political context which gave rise to the enquiry.
One of the Government’s themes for the Queen’s Speech for the 2016-17 Parliamentary session is improving life chances for the British people. Through the measures on the digital economy, transport and infrastructure, the Government’s intention is to make long-term social and economic reforms the focus of the remainder of this Parliament. Whether in practice that will happen with the aftermath of the European Referendum likely to hang over UK politics for several years, and darkening economic stormclouds gathering over the economy in terms of weaker performance on growth, exports, the current account deficit and productivity, remains to be seen.
With just six weeks left to go, the battle over the UK’s continued membership of the European Union is rising in volume and intensity. A key issue for investors in UK-traded financial services products and markets is undoubtedly what effects the decision made on June 23 will have on the climate for purchasing or retaining bonds, equities or other assets linked to either the performance of sterling or the stock market. Ultimately these are reflections on the underlying health of the UK economy itself, and the likely economic temperature if the UK stays within or leaves the Single Market, both in the short term and medium-to-long term.
One of the key policy responses to the financial crisis which led to the Great Recession was the subsequent action taken by EU Heads of Government through the European Council in June 2009 to strengthen the regulatory system governing all financial services providers within the Single Market area. In establishing a new European Banking Authority (EBA), within a European System of Financial Supervisors, which could take decisions on the basis of majority voting, member states also adopted a trio of regulations applicable throughout the Single Market – known together as the Single Rulebook.
In most parts of the world, the Millennial Generation has more personal and economic freedom than any which preceded it, but is also facing a squeeze on wealth and assets not experienced in the last 70 years. The UK Government’s Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission considers that social mobility is in danger of going into reverse in some areas of the UK, and that inequality of assets between generations could worsen matters.
These are key months in the future of financial services, and for the power of traditional banks in the global economy. The recent Citigroup report spelled out in clear terms the potential of Blockchain technology, which underpins the digital currency Bitcoin, to revolutionise financial services way beyond payment and remittance services, into asset management and insurance. The report modelled projected surges in Blockchain use in retail banking services and automation of some routine financial advice, with a multi-trillion potential market in new peer-to-peer lending created by the app economy, while having the effect of losing 1.7m retail banking jobs in the EU and US. A recent McKinsey study showed that in Western Europe as much as 40% of new deposits could come via digital-only banking by the end of the decade, and 80% of people in developed Asian markets would be prepared to shift their accounts to banks offering digital only platforms.
Boom and Bust
The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) has been up and down a rollercoaster over the last decade. Launched with considerable optimism in 2005 as one of the European Union’s prime policy instruments for tackling climate change by placing a price on greenhouse gas emissions, it has since gone through what can be most appropriately termed a “boom and bust” cycle.
At the end of Phase I in 2007, the price of an EUA effectively hit zero, as there was no provision to carry Phase I EUAs into the second phase.
Referendums are transformative events. Governments may come and go, but a decision to stay in or leave an economic union like the EU is an irrevocable judgement on the nation’s destiny – the most important decision in the lifetimes of voters in the UK. The implications will affect everything from the regulation of the air we breathe to the pensions we invest in. For the financial services sector, the general investment climate in the UK, as well as the contours of central bank policy on the equity banks must retain as capital buffers will be shaped by the outcome on June 23.
The world of financial services is changing fast. The implications of blockchain technology or decentralised ledgers may not yet be a hot kitchen table topic but has the potential to utterly change the worlds of banking, insurance, asset management, and access to finance. In short, it could transform the economy around us. Though the US remains the largest base for investment in FinTech companies developing peer to peer finance and smart payment mechanisms with over $12bn investment in FinTech startups in 2015, more than doubling year on year growth, the UK is the fastest growing global market. With over £3.5bn annual investment in the sector in the UK, it is Europe’s FinTech leader over competition from Paris and Frankfurt.
2015 was a significant year for climate and energy policy and markets: from the momentous Paris agreement to Obama’s continuing push on the Clean Power Plan; from the new British Government’s fresh (and controversial) energy approach to, at last, some stability for the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS), which may have real implications for the longer-term.
According to recent research by management consultancy A.T. Kearney, the global market for 3D printing is set to grow from $4.5 billion today to $17.2 billion by 2020. With this rapid growth will come added scrutiny from policy makers and regulators. To support its long term growth, and for the industry to fulfil its remarkable potential, a supportive regulatory and policy framework will be critical. To help build this framework, and to put in place policies that will stimulate industry growth and accelerate the uptake of 3D printing technology across the economy, it will be imperative for industry associations to play their part and to engage with key policy makers and regulators.
Like many growing sectors in the sharing and on-demand economy, meal-sharing platforms are changing how individuals interact and consume. Innovative businesses are providing alternative catering services, often with a community or social focus, that disrupt the traditional choice between restaurants, takeaways and home-cooking.
Politicians have shown they are serious - to achieve a positive outcome, the negotiators need to do the same.
For those not acquainted with the international negotiations on climate change - perhaps even more so for those who have that first-hand experience - they are at best an irritant, at worst a pointless relevance. Since the UNFCCC process began in the early 1990s after the international community agreed that “dangerous” climate change should be addressed, negotiators have gathered year after year in different parts of the world to discuss how the international community can take action to mitigate the climate problem and how the most seriously affected regions (usually in poorer countries) can adapt to the changes brought about by the steady increase in atmospheric and sea temperatures.
On a day when the entire financial services industry in the UK and in Continental Europe dissected the long-awaited – albeit leaked – European Commission Action Plan on Capital Markets Union, a few eyebrows were raised about some potential implications for the fintech community. Regulators at national and supranational level are still pondering over an optimal regulatory framework to promote the fintech industry whilst at the same time ensuring adequate consumer protection; but not necessarily on a like-for-like basis with the established providers, who are already beginning to use the ‘level playing field’ argument to challenge the disruptors.
In our previous analysis piece on the topic of online dating we explored the importance of industry regulation, as market actors continue to innovate and find new ways of marketing and delivering their services to users. New technology, in the form of smartphones, tablets, or wearable tech devices, has provided online dating companies with new tools to deliver their services and reach out to new customers.
The EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), the EU’s flagship climate policy instrument aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions at least economic cost and incentivising investment in the low-carbon economy, has been back in the news - for once in a positive sense.
In a speech at the European Parliament plenary debate on Monday 6th July, First Vice-President of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, said that the Commission “remains strongly committed” to present a circular economy package towards the end of this year. The reasons are quite simple: Vice-President Katainen, Commissioner Vella, Commissioner Bienkowska, and others, essentially believe that the new circular economy package can bring:
The dominant media narrative on climate and energy policy under the Coalition Government had become something of a cliche. The Liberal Democrats were ‘the green heart’; the Tories were ‘arch-advocates of oil and gas’; the Lib Dems, led by Secretary of State Ed Davey, were the ‘champions of disruptive utilities companies’, taking on the power of the Big 6; and the Tories were ‘in the pockets of the big energy companies.’