Not another Gaffe!
I’ve just put in a request to have an Harmonica for Xmas. Don’t really know why. I’ve never been musical other than singing in the shower. Anyway – here goes – it’ll be all blues and soul around Nocton this Christmas.
Arrangements are in hand for a night out at Lincoln Xmas Market.
We’re meeting with friends and touring the environs of Bailgate to savour some mulled wine and perhaps more. Never been to a proper Xmas market before although my wife has been to several on the Continent. She recommends Prague although very cold in December.
Wonder how the 2 cities compare?
Did I take this shot yesterday near Mablethorpe or last year in Marienbad? Well, I may as well claim that it’s Mablethorpe which will give it a little local flavour. Could have been anywhere, anytime by anyone.
Good things can start anytime, so I’m starting this blog today. Perhaps my notes will turn out to be rather good not like the weather which is a little “Decemberish” if you know what I mean. Things have turned in the last few days from being temperate, moderate and well-behaved to much colder and harsh. The frosty coat on the car took minutes to clear yesterday and now its cloudy-over, grey and mushy blue.
Been to the Doctors at Metheringham this morning. They wanted some blood so being a generous one I gave them 4 phials. Lovely little Practice housed in a Nissan hut equivalent – but everyone smiles even the receptionists.
Housebuyers may have to wait a year for better market conditions, say economists
Homeowners hoping for a revival in the housing market could have to wait at least another year, economists have warned, as rising unemployment, a squeeze on household finances and problems in the mortgage market continue to exert pressure on prices.
Economists have cautioned that it is too early to say that the market, which has already fallen about 20 per cent, has turned a corner. Most are sticking to forecasts of a 25 to 35 per cent drop in prices from top to bottom. They think monthly mortgage approvals must double to 70,000-80,000 before prices can stabilise or start to rise.
A barrier to that scenario is the continued shortage of good mortgage deals, especially for first-time buyers. At present, homebuyers with a deposit of less than 40 per cent are excluded from the most competitive deals, while good loans for those with a deposit of 10 per cent or less have all but vanished in recent months.
Easter traditionally marks the peak time for house sales and before this year’s holiday there have been tentative signs that the property market is awakening. Nationwide Building Society said house prices rose 0.9 per cent last month, the first increase since 2007. A separate, closely watched survey from the Bank of England showed mortgage approvals jumped 20 per cent in February to 37,937, the highest level since May 2008.
Adding to the more positive mood, the Halifax index for the first quarter of this year showed the smallest quarter-on-quarter fall in prices since the first quarter of last year. Meanwhile the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) said that interest from potential buyers rose for the fourth month in a row during February.
But Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, thinks house prices will not bottom out until mid-2010, by which point they will be 15 per cent lower, at mid-2003 levels.
He said: “Housing market activity is still very low by long-term norms and any pick up in activity over the coming months is likely to be gradual and fitful. Soaring unemployment, muted wage growth and unwillingness of many people to commit to buying a house when they are fearful are likely to continue to weigh the market down.”
Jeremy Leaf, of RICS, said: “Potential buyers continue to come through estate agency doors but without mortgage finance, transaction levels are likely to remain close to all time lows. Worryingly, the lengthy process of obtaining a mortgage, even for those with big deposits, is contributing towards the blockage in the market.”
That could begin to change after HSBC unveiled a 4.99 per cent deal for borrowers with a 10 per cent deposit. A survey from the Bank of England showed that banks and building societies expected to lend more to homebuyers over the next three months. However, this has yet to be seen.
There is evidence that cash buyers have started dipping their toes back in the market. This perhaps explains why new buyer enquiries have been strongest in London and the South East, areas popular with the sort of wealthy buyer with money to spend. Cash sales now account for 40 per cent of transactions as some older, richer buyers turn to property as a more lucrative alternative to low-paying deposit accounts.
However, the critical state of the economy, which is expected to remain in recession until next year, means that even buyers who are convinced that property is cheap are treading warily. Unemployment recently hit 2 million, and some analysts think it could climb to 3.3 million next year, the highest level since official records began in the 1970s.
Household budgets also remained under pressure as food prices have continued to rise. Even though housing affordability is improving it it still not back to the levels at the bottom of the last downturn.
Roger Bootle of Capital Economics said: “There is little evidence that the rise in buyer interest is feeding into sales activity. House prices will fall further.”
April 10, 2009
Don’t be fooled by ‘green shoots’ in housing market
There is still some way to go before house prices stabilise and we are a very long way from a recovery
Facts, Mark Twain once observed, are stubborn things. But statistics, he noted, are more pliable. It is with this caution that we should observe the latest data on the housing market.
Last week Nationwide reported that house prices rose by 0.9 per cent in March. The Bank of England, meanwhile, said that mortgage approvals jumped 19 per cent in February. Some commentators, including the Centre for Economics and Business Research, interpreted these statistics as evidence that the housing market is near the bottom. The same commentators even put a positive spin on separate figures from the Halifax showing that prices actually fell 1.9 per cent on the month – an annualised rate of 25 per cent – by arguing that at least the pace of decline was slowing.
The truth, sadly, is that we still have some way to go before house prices stabilise and we are a very long way from a recovery.
Apart from the folly of looking at a single month’s statistics in isolation, it should be noted that the Nationwide and Halifax measures are no longer as reliable because the volume of home sales has fallen so much. Neither lender will reveal exactly how many customers their figures are based on, but the Land Registry reports that property transactions are down about 60 per cent on their long-term average, suggesting that the sample size of both surveys has reduced significantly. As any statistician will tell, you, the lower the sample size, the greater the chance of error.
Given that the customer base of each lender is also geographically skewed – with the Halifax traditionally lending more in the North and Nationwide in the South – the figures are far from a reliable indicator of what is happening in any one town. Perhaps a better reflection of the state of the housing market are the figures from Hometrack that show that vendors are receiving an average of only 88 per cent of asking prices and that it takes a record three months to sell a home.
Nor should anyone be fooled into thinking that a recovery is imminent because of what appears to be a large increase in lending. The total number of mortgage approvals may have risen by 19 per cent in February, to 37,937, but this was from a low of 31,791 and is still 44 per cent down on a year ago and 67 per cent down on the year before that. Lending still needs to increase substantially before there is a positive impact on house prices, and that is before rising unemployment is taken into account.
That is not to say that there are no positive signs. As we report on page 74, a number of banks, including HSBC, Abbey and RBS, have slowly started loosening their lending criteria by reducing the size of deposits needed to qualify for loans. Though these developments reflect lenders’ growing confidence in the housing market, they should be viewed in perspective. With the notable exception of the HSBC deal, the rates remain prohibitively high and first-time buyers would still need to raise an average deposit of more than £15,000. Even the HSBC deal has a series of tough conditions attached that make the loan more attractive to higher earners. The bank knows that these borrowers are better placed to cope if house prices fall farther, so the deal is hardly a huge vote of confidence in the housing market.
Buyers must still beware.
Pension savers can ill-afford another blow
Would you accept a cut in your employer’s pension contributions to save your job? The answer, most likely, is yes. Sadly, increasing numbers of workers could soon face such a demand as companies try to cut costs as the recession bites.
Employees of Aon, the insurer, became the first to suffer this fate when the company cut contributions by half this week. The move was doubly significant because Aon is the UK’s leading pensions consultant, advising other big companies.
But as lower employer contributions are equivalent to a pay cut, nobody should accept this lightly. Reducing pension benefits ought to be a last resort, taken only to save a business from going bust. Employees who find that cuts are unavoidable would be wise to try to make up the shortfall by increasing personal contributions, not least because stock markets are now exteremely low by historic standards.
There is little that the Government can do to stop companies from such action. However, with saving for retirement facing this new assault, now would be entirely the wrong time to cut tax relief on pension contributions, as some believe may happen in the Budget. Pension saving needs more support, not less.
Dear David Vernon Goddard,
I work with Mitch Albom on his new website, and noticed that you recently wrote about Mitch and his work on your blog. So I thought you might be interested to know that we just launched a new website at www.MitchAlbom.com.
There’s a huge amount of content on the new site, including dozens of videos and articles related to Mitch’s books; a link to live-stream his daily talk radio program; message boards where fans can share their thoughts and comments with Mitch and other readers; a special section devoted to Reading Groups; a community service section where organizations can post volunteer events and users can search by zip code to find opportunities in their local communities; an archive of every column Mitch has written for the Detroit Free Press (more than 4,000), including all his new columns as he writes them; his ESPN sports commentaries; clips from movies made from his books; a section devoted to theatre productions of plays; and a place for teachers to share stories about using Mitch’s books in the classroom. And there’s much more as well.
You’ll need to register in order to access certain parts of site, and we encourage you to sign up for the Newsletter as well. In the next couple of weeks Mitch will be making an announcement about his new book, Have a Little Faith.
We hope you’ll visit soon and return often.
Please note that your email address has not been added to any list and this is the only message you will receive from us. If you wish to receive information about Mitch and his work in the future please sign up for the Newsletter at www.MitchAlbom.com.
Fiction nurtures the soul – a must for even hard-hearted politicians
March 11, 2009
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A prominent federal politician recently boasted he hadn’t read a fiction book since he left school.
Now, while my personal tastes will lead me to the non-fiction shelf more often than novels, it was a bit disconcerting to hear a prominent public figure speak so derisively of fiction.
This revelation from a parliamentary colleague got me thinking. Where would we be if we all lost the lessons of some of the great works of fiction? Where would we be if young people listened to this politician and stopped reading anything but textbooks? Is it a good thing that a leading politician would boast about cutting himself off from the world of novels? Why should we encourage young people to keep reading novels when there are so many other forms of modern entertainment?
People read for all sorts of reasons. Some novels are just rollicking good stories and others hold deeper lessons. A novel can be an enjoyable read and also expand the mind.
Fiction gives us an understanding of the motivations of people that is unmatched by any other art form. And that, of course is the beauty of fiction: it exposes every situation imaginable. Fiction provides a window into the human heart and human mind.
We all live one life, but readers can live thousands of lives. Novels can open the mind. Researchers have argued that people who read novels and who have to think about the connection between a character’s thoughts and their actions are better at social interaction. Children who read novels are developing their imagination, and therefore their ability to “think outside the square” and solve problems.
Lisa Zunshine of the University of Kentucky has described reading a good detective novel as weightlifting for the mind. A work does not need to be non-fiction to be serious, to help us be better people, to give insights that textbooks and non-fiction works would struggle to give us.
As we experience difficult economic times, it pays to read Keynes, Stiglitz and Krugman of course. But it also pays to read Steinbeck. Set in the Great Depression, his The Grapes of Wrath is a soaring testament to the virtues of common people. As he follows the struggles of the Joad family, cast out of their farm through no fault of their own, every page is a reminder of the burdens of those who are thrown on an economic scrap heap through no fault of their own, and the case for helping them through. It is also a homily of hope about human kindness, about the best and worst of the human condition. It’s a timeless book, yet a book of particular resonance as we enter tough times again. Continued…
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Birmingham schoogirl’s short story selected for national publication
Mar 10 2009 by Tony Collins, Birmingham MailSCHOOLGIRL Rebecca Hardy is used to telling stories.
And now, the 13-year-old from Bartley Green has made it into print after having one of her tales published in a book to be circulated across the country.
Rebecca, who attends Hillcrest School in Stonehouse Lane, Bartley Green, saw her short story beat off more than 2,700 entries from over 500 schools.
And her entry, called Memories of my Past, has been published in an anthology of short stories entitled The Cry of the Wolf.
Rebecca is one of only 22 talented young writers to be published in two collections of the best secondary school entries to the 2009 Evans Schools Short Story competition.
They were published to help mark World Book Day on Thursday 5 March.
The young story writers were asked to create their own short tales using a series of first lines supplied by leading children’s authors as the starting point.
Rebecca used a first line provided by Jenny Valentine – “When I woke up it was still dark and I knew straight away everything was different” – to craft an evocative account of childhood memories.
She said: “It’s about a girl’s life and she sees herself growing up and how she first learnt to walk. It was fun because I had imagined it myself.
“I have always been interested in writing and have been involved in a lot of story competitions, even at primary school. But I was quite shocked when I found out my story had been chosen,” she added.
Rebecca will be presented with her copy of The Cry of the Wolf during an assembly at Hillcrest School on March 10. A further 100 copies of the book will be given to her school by publishers Evans, free of charge.
The Cry of the Wolf is on sale in bookshops for £3.99, with all profits to be donated to World Book Day.
Next Book will be “Snow Falling on Cedars”
Remember New venue to be confirmed by Pat and a different time.
20th March in the afternoon!!!!
Taking a Depression Seriously
By DAVID BROOKS
Published: March 9, 2009
The Democratic response to the economic crisis has its problems, but let’s face it, the current Republican response is totally misguided. The House minority leader, John Boehner, has called for a federal spending freeze for the rest of the year. In other words, after a decade of profligacy, the Republicans have decided to demand a rigid fiscal straitjacket at the one moment in the past 70 years when it is completely inappropriate.
The G.O.P. leaders have adopted a posture that allows the Democrats to make all the proposals while all the Republicans can say is “no.” They’ve apparently decided that it’s easier to repeat the familiar talking points than actually think through a response to the extraordinary crisis at hand.
If the Republicans wanted to do the country some good, they’d embrace an entirely different approach.
First, they’d take the current economic crisis more seriously than the Democrats. The Obama budget projects that the recession will be mild this year and the economy will come surging back in 2010. Democrats apparently think that dealing with the crisis is a part-time job, which leaves the afternoons free to work on long-range plans to reform education, health care, energy and a dozen smaller things. Democrats are counting on a quick recovery to help pay for these long-term projects.
Republicans could point out that this crisis is not just an opportunity to do other things. It’s a bloomin’ emergency. Robert Barro of Harvard estimates that there is a 30 percent chance of a depression. Warren Buffett says economic activity “has fallen off a cliff” and is not coming back soon.
Stock market declines are destroying $23 trillion in wealth, according to Lawrence Lindsey. Auto production is down by two-thirds since 2005. In China, 20 million migrant laborers have lost their jobs. Investment in developing countries has dropped from $929 billion in 2007 to $165 billion this year. Pension systems are fragile. Household balance sheets are still a wreck.
Republicans could argue that it’s Nero-esque for Democrats to be plotting extensive renovations when the house is on fire. They could point out that history will judge this president harshly if he’s off chasing distant visions while the markets see a void where his banking policy should be.
Second, Republicans could admit that they don’t know what the future holds, and they’re not going to try to make long-range plans based on assumptions that will be obsolete by summer. Unlike the Democrats, they’re not for making trillions of dollars in long-term spending commitments until they know where things stand.
Instead, they’re going to focus obsessively on restoring equilibrium first, and they’re going to understand that there is a sharp distinction between crisis policy-making and noncrisis policy-making. In times like these, you’d do things you would never do normally. When it’s over, we can go back to our regularly scheduled debates.
Third, Republicans could offer the public a realistic appraisal of the health of capitalism. Global capitalism is an innovative force, they could argue, but we have been reminded of its shortcomings. When exogenous forces like the rise of China and a flood of easy money hit the global marketplace, they can throw the entire system of out of whack, leading to a cascade of imbalances: higher debt, a grossly enlarged financial sector and unsustainable bubbles.
If the free market party doesn’t offer the public an honest appraisal of capitalism’s weaknesses, the public will never trust it to address them. Power will inevitably slide over to those who believe this crisis is a repudiation of global capitalism as a whole.
Fourth, Republicans could get out in front of this crisis for once. That would mean being out front with ideas to support the wealth-creating parts of the economy rather than merely propping up the fading parts. That would mean supporting President Obama’s plan for global stimulus coordination, because right now most of the world is free-riding off our expenditures. That would mean eliminating all this populist talk about letting Citigroup fail, because a cascade of insolvency would inevitably lead to full-scale nationalization. It would mean coming up with a bold banking plan, rather than just whining about whatever the Democrats have on offer.
Finally, Republicans could make it clear that that the emergency has to be followed by an era of balance. This crisis was fueled by financial decadence, and public debt could be 80 percent of G.D.P. by the time it’s over. Republicans should be the party of restoring fiscal balance — whatever it takes — not trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.
If Republicans were to treat this like a genuine emergency, with initiative-grabbing approaches, they may not get their plans enacted, but voters would at least give them another look. Do I expect them to shift course in this manner? Not really.
Clear signs of global depression: Spanish minister
Tue Mar 10, 2009 6:45am EDT
MADRID (Reuters) – There are clear signs of a global economic depression , Spanish Industry Minister Miguel Sebastian said on Tuesday.
The global financial crisis has caused a generalized fall in economic confidence, industrial production, trade and led to job destruction, Sebastian said in a speech to Spain’s Congress.
“These factors are unmistakable symptoms of a global depression that demands a combined and coordinated response by all countries,” Sebastian said.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Victoria Main)