The Committee of the Commissioners for the Reduction of the National Debt is meeting next month. It’s the first since a dinner in 1986 to mark the 200th anniversary of their establishment under William Pitt. It must have seemed like a good idea in 1786, since the debt had ballooned to £250m and his administration wanted to be seen to be doing something about it.

The commissioners’ mission, it has to be said, has not been an unqualified success. That sum would finance the UK government for about three hours at the current rate of spending, and for all our chancellor’s fine projections of a government surplus to reduce the debt, there is no realistic possibility of achieving one in the next five years.

Still, the meeting shouldn’t be without interest. It’s not only the sums that have inflated since 1986; there are now three deputy governors of the Bank of England, so they could outvote any alliance between George Osborne and his least favourite Speaker, John Bercow, on the committee.

There’s unlikely to be anything as vulgar as a vote. Instead, the participants might try and decide what it is they are trying to reduce. In April the National Debt clocked at £1,487.7bn,  or about £25,000 for every man, woman and child in the UK. However, £375bn of this debt is owned by the BoE itself, following its Quantatitive Easing programme. The BoE is owned by the government, so there’s a perfectly respectable argument that the National Debt is a mere £1,112.7bn. Doesn’t that make you feel better?

Royal Mint strikes gold

Admit it, you’ve always wanted a 2 1/2 euro coin. A two euro tip can look mean, while a five euro note is excessive. Just don’t try and use the new coin in France, or you might meet your Waterloo,  just like the commemoration on the coin. It’s legal tender in Belgium, to mark the 200th anniversary of the battle, but since the Belgian mint is charging E6 a pop, few will appear in change even in Brussels.

Apart from the satisfaction of irritating the French, the issue follows a trend from mints everywhere, to diversify from the prosaic business of stamping billions of everyday coins. Our own Royal Mint lists 87 “products” and 107 coins issued so far this year, including the Royal Birth silver proof fiver (75 per cent sold!).

These coins are hardly more currency than is a gold necklace – the Churchill £20 silver coin for £20 is a rare exception – but because they’re called currency, they escape VAT. The Mint has long exploited this anomaly, and now it’s going into bullion trading for small investors – very small, with a £20 minimum purchase in units of 0.001 oz.

You’d need powerful glasses even to see 0.001 oz of gold, so don’t expect to take delivery. The Mint will guard it even better than if it were in a Covent Garden safe deposit box, while allowing small investors to speculate with confidence and a reasonable spread between buying and selling prices.

If you view gold as an insurance policy rather than an investment, this is not much help, since you won’t be able to get at it if the sky falls. As an investment, gold today is way out of fashion, which probably means it’s worth thinking about as another asset class. The Mint’s minibars are certainly better value than the 2 1/2 euro piece.

Put it on the Bill

An addition to the Bill Mackey memorial list of early warning signs of financial trouble: the official corporate history. The gem of this genre remains BZW, the First 10 Years, which was also its last 10, so we might note the 768-page thumper (even longer than the latest annual report) that is the first 150 years of HSBC.

It’s been a disappointing week for the world’s local bank, since the Mansion House speech failed to say anything about rolling back the bank levy, despite the leaks beforehand. It’s all very well the Chancellor extolling the wonders of London as a world financial centre, but if UK banks are taxed here on their worldwide deposits, they’ll make their head office elsewhere.

This is my FT column from Saturday

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