Considering that they make objects which are almost universally desired, the housebuilders have a pretty rotten public image. Desecrators of the countryside, constructors of ticky-tacky boxes, and panderers to the lowest common denominator are just some of the routine insults they have to endure. Now Ed Miliband has seen the chance to build on the trouble he caused with his proposal to freeze energy prices, with an attack on the land hoarders.

Never mind the facts, he might have said, I’ve already made up my mind. Holding land without viable planning permission is hardly hoarding, and Mr Miliband’s numbers are fantasy. Yet like all the worst insults, there’s some truth in his accusation. Much of the profit from housebuilding is the gain on the value of the land; actually doing the work to produce the homes is rather a chore.

It may soon become a more expensive chore. House price inflation is seeping into the building trade, in the prices of both labour and materials. The history of past housing booms shows that the number of skilled workers doesn’t rise much; they simply charge more,  while new or mothballed capacity for heavy materials fails to match rising demand.

Mr Miliband’s attack has distant echoes of Labour’s development land tax in the 1960s. A populist measure with the same visceral appeal, it proved impossible to apply. Its implementation also marked the top of that property boom. Of course, it’s different this time.

Welcome to Bob’s World

Vacuities that bring despair
To those confiding souls
Who find that they have bought a share
In marvellous horizons, where
The Desert terrible and bare
Interminably rolls.

This is probably not quite what those rushing into the new vehicle for the banking talents of Bob Diamond expect, but the exotically-named Atlas Mara Co-Nvest might have appealed to Hilaire Belloc and his Modern Traveller..

It’s unlikely that many long-term holders of Barclays will be following their former leader into Atlas’s African banking adventure. He may have transformed their business, and compared to the value destruction in other British  banks, they’ve got away lightly, yet the fact remains that Barclays shares are little more than half their peak reached seven long years ago.

The African growth story is now widely assumed, a triumph of hope over experience if ever there was one. Owners of banks there will spot Mr Diamond with his $325m (a down payment only, surely) even before he crosses the Atlas mountains, and will know that if Atlas Mara fails to buy anything within a year, the outside shareholders can wind it up.

If it all goes swimmingly, Mr Diamond could make another fortune to add to the one Barclays paid him. Should Atlas buy something, and the share price rises by 15 per cent, he and his co-founder will get 20 per cent of the annual rise in the market value of the business. In Bob’s world, this is called aligning the interests of the shareholders and the founders.

What an outrage!

It’s that time of year again, and Saxo Bank is making its usual Outrageous Predictions. In December 2012 its economist Steen Jakobsen forecast a bear market for gold (pretty well spot on) and faster US growth (tick).

This year he’s going for an EU-wide tax on bank savings, a nasty hangover for holders of absurdly-rated tech stocks, and Brent crude at $80 as deflation hits the US while Germany falls back into recession. Many emerging markets will look like submerging markets.

Perhaps the most intriguing prediction (please don’t call it a forecast) is that the Bank of Japan will cancel all its government debt. An even more outrageous suggestion would be for all western central banks to follow suit, with strange and magical effects on national finances.

Fortunately, Mr Jakobsen’s other outrageous predictions for 2013 were miles off. Greece is still in the euro, Spanish interest rates haven’t hit 10 per cent, and the DAX index didn’t plunge. So don’t let his dismal science depress you.

This is my FT column from Saturday

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