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Karina's Column

An insider’s view on the City of London and beyond

An anti-globalisation duet: Trump & Corbyn


Why domestic bank M&A is set for a boom

As Donald Trump and his toupee continue to ride high in the US presidential opinion polls, I find myself musing on his fellow jockey, UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mirror images of each other on the political spectrum, they will never lead their respective countries. Yet the unelectable duo are worth listening to, for they represent large elements of the population that are opposed to the globalised world we live in.

Take their attitude to free trade. Trump calls for a 15% tax for outsourcing jobs and a 20% tax for importing goods, and sees trade deals as “killing American jobs.” He believes trade negotiators are a bunch of “saps” and says he would appoint corporate leaders to do the job properly. Corbyn warns that TTIP, the prospective trade deal between the EU and the US, is nothing but a capitulation to “greedy bankers and multinationals.”

His refusal to campaign for Britain to stay in the EU has, ironically, withdrawn a major weapon from the Conservative government’s armoury for its future referendum. Corbyn and his allies, who embody the discarded remains of the Left’s 1970’s euro scepticism, see the EU as representing the interests of big capital. Rather paradoxical, given that big business sees the EU as excessively defensive of workers’ rights and the progenitor of too many regulatory burdens to protect citizens.

Trump and Corbyn, one 69 years old and the other 66, both fail John Maynard Keynes’s three imperatives for a balanced government. The economist and statesman wrote: ““The political problem of mankind is to combine three things: economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty….the third needs, tolerance, breadth and appreciation of the excellencies of variety and independence, which prefers, above everything, to give unhindered opportunity to the exceptional and aspiring.”*

For Corbyn, social justice can be achieved without economic efficiency and individual excellence. This would result in a country with not enough profits to pay for a safety net for the disadvantaged. The reality for Trump, who would lay claim to both economic efficiency and individual liberty, is a country where protectionism kills efficiency and individual liberty applies to some, but not all. And certainly not to the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants who water his many lawns and serve in his many restaurants.

Just as surprising as their similarities, are their allies in the anti-globalisation movement. Joining them in the stop-the-world-I-want-to-get-off gang, are financial regulators on both sides of the Atlantic.

The European Central Bank’s post-crisis conventional wisdom is that geographical diversification of multinational banks does not protect against risk and adds a layer of complication. Long gone are the days when banks followed their corporate clients abroad and then proceeded to buy local entities and grow. The European Central Bank “comes out in a rash” when a Spanish bank mentions buying bank assets in emerging economies, affirms a bank CEO. The Federal Reserve in the US takes the same position, according to most accounts.

Regulators learned a lesson from the last financial crisis. It may, of course, not be the right lesson, for every crisis is different – the drying up of wholesale bank funding markets in 2007/2008 was very different from the run on the deposits of 37 banks in the Japanese Empire in 1927.

With foreign expansion off the cards, cost cutting reaching its finale, new digital entrants threatening the traditional business and financial supervisors breathing down their necks, banks will focus on local acquisitions to grow their profits. A domestic M&A boom is forecast for 2016.

Regional movements like those in Cataluña and Scotland are part of the anti-globalisation trend. Allied to the sense of alienation from their existing rulers is an almost blind belief that raising the barriers will lead to paradisiacal economies with full employment.

To these misguided idealists I would add proponents of Brexit, the exit of the UK from the European Union. The world is moving into ever larger trade groupings. Being outside is not a reasonable option for a major country – unless there is an appeal to being emailed instructions from Brussels without having a seat at the table. Norway pays a heavy price for its nominally freestanding position since it is forced to incorporate EU legislation into its own.

In 1944, Keynes warned in the House of Lords against “little Englandism” which pretended that “this small country” could survive by a system of bilateral and barter agreements or by keeping to itself in a harsh and unfriendly world. His words continue to ring true.*

Both Trump and Corbyn remind me of the rutting impalas I saw in Zambia this summer. A fresh male impala, the handsomest and most macho, fights off the others to breed with the herd of females. After around three weeks of non-stop sex, with no time to feed or groom himself, he is weak and easily taken out by a challenger, a young buck from the group of male impalas. If he’s lucky, the exhausted male impala might then re-join the all-male herd or, just as likely, be eaten by a herd of lions.

The only question about the future disappearance of fraternal twins Corbyn and Trump is whether they slip back into their old lives or are gobbled up by the forces of globalisation.

*Universal Man: The Seven Lives of John Maynard Keynes by Richard Davenport-Hines