As you might imagine, for the last 48 hours here in France pretty much the only topic of conversation has been the Charlie attacks of last Wednesday. The general view among people I know – nowhere near the Paris bubble, by the way – is one of doubt. “It all looked military,” my dentist remarked, “very smooth, very quick. These men were professionals”. The Romanian specialist working with her agreed: “We saw this many times in the old days in the East before freedom,” he told me, “it had false flag written all over it”.
Looking at the timelines involved, one gets the same impression: twelve people shot dead in six minutes, a ruthlessly murderous getaway, and then the heartless despatch of a cop three blocks away.
But I’ve been boning up on the facts, watching the videos, and then given it the overnight test. I retain an open mind, but the balance of my opinion is swinging towards a genuine terrorist attack. One, the killers didn’t even know the address of Charlie Hebdo. They literally didn’t case out the location at all, and so at first went to the wrong address. On forcing their way into the Charlie offices, they still didn’t know what floor it was on.
Second, much emphasis has been laid on the fact that they spoke fluent French. Well, they are French, so that’s hardly surprising. They were mentored in Britain (it is alleged) but their nationality, I’m told, is French.
Third, they hadn’t worked out an escape route. They just shot their way out in a somewhat random manner. Fourth, they got out and killed the cop, wasting valuable time in doing so. Fifth, they almost ran out of petrol – and were therefore easily spotted and traced. Sixth, they didn’t change vehicles. All four of these actions were pretty stupid.
Seventh, on reaching Longpont, they abandoned the vehicle and dashed off into a large forest. That means their chances of escape are close to zero: it’s an enormous forest there, but they’re virtually surrounded. And last but not least, a third member of the group gave himself up last night having been “mentioned in social media”. Not the reaction of a hardened SBS officer, that one.
I am (perhaps dangerously) on the record many times as stating that the vast majority of jihadist recruits are not that bright – “chavs” as normal British Muslims sometimes call them.This was a sloppy operation with all the hallmarks of a an Arab terror attack minus the officers.
But the attack does of course play into the hands of several truth-benders out there. Most notable winners from this tragedy are Marine LePen of the far-Right Front Nationale, Washington and its campaign to convince everyone that Islamic militancy is the greatest threat there is to world peace, the French establishment who – for all their bleeding hearts yesterday – on the whole don’t like Charlie Hebdo – and the British security services….who this morning commandeer almost the entire Daily Telegraph to get their message out there. The headline is horribly predicable:
Somebody should keep a diary of how many times we’ve been told this by MI5 over the last five years. But this is all about budgets, and not letting those silly politicians get complacent. Not forgetting, however, David Cameron’s desire for his Falklands-factor-lantern-jawed-national-hero aspirations.
In short, the attack plays into the hands of Establishments everywhere. But that doesn’t prove a conspiracy: it just confirms the fact that Islamists are thickos who think they can take on the world and win. Well, they can’t: there are only so many John McCains who can’t tell sh*t from putty.
Whether or not the actions of three idiots on Wednesday were spawned by geopolitical conspirators, they did have the desired effect of taking everyone’s eye of one ball bigger than a Montgolfier balloon. I’m referring to the bizarre actions of Banco Santander yesterday.
Veteran Sloggers will know only too well the low opinion I have of Santander. I withdrew my investments from the bank three years ago on the basis of American sources in Spain. I have also said since 2012 that the entire Spanish banking system is a flying ponzi scheme with no engines – and wobbly wings.
I get a lot of stick for saying this, which surprises me given the facts. As the FT’s Alphaville pointed out yesterday, ‘Previously we’ve noted Santander’s logic-defying habit of printing out scrip dividend payments at a rate 50 per cent above earnings. Then we were bewildered that no one seemed to mind that as recently as 2012 the bank was secretly using Goldman Sachs to warehouse its stake in its Brazilian subsidiary so as to scrape through EBA capital requirements.’
Quite so. In five months, Santander’s share price has dived from €7.93 to €6.86. It only stopped there because the regulator suspended trading in the bank yesterday. It did so as a result of a quite extraordinary announcement: that it would pitch for a capital increase of as much as 7.5 billion euros from the markets, and cut its dividend payouts sharply, ‘to ease investor concerns about the strength of its balance sheet’.
Hello? The capital increase is as near as damnit 10% of the bank’s stock market valuation…a valuation which might still be tumbling today had the regulator not stepped in. Boss Ana Botin ( new head of the odd Mafiaesque Botin family that’s run the bank forever) tried some damage limitation by saying she wanted the money “because we see substantial growth opportunities”.
The markets gave the remark about 1.5 seconds thought before piling into Italian banks in the hope of being on the ground floor of a takeover. So later, Ms Botox said no, she meant internal structural growth. Right. Got it.
Santander’s profit shot up to €5.8 billion in 2014, a whopping YOY increase of 32%. But now internal growth opportunities mean it wants a further €7.5 billion to do the job.
It smacks of trying to spread risk…aka, reduce over-dependence on investments that could very quickly turn to junk. I wouldn’t touch this one with a bargepole: but that’s not advice, it’s just a statement of fact. I’ve felt since around 2010 that the two biggest accidents in the EU waiting to happen are Santander and Deutsche. Guess which bank went for the biggest capital-raising haul over the last year? Deutsche. Guess which bank has, after yesterday, the No 2 slot in that league? Santander.
Spookily, any and all analysis of the Santander eccentricity was missing from the Barclaygraph’s business pages yesterday – although a small piece on it has popped up this morning. Instead, it was ra-ra-ra-recovery bollocks time again: ‘There may actually be hope after all for our troubled supermarkets’ from Alistair Neverite-Heath, and ‘Is turning around Tesco easier than we thought?’ from Graham Ruddick. Hard to sound so buoyant after Tesco’s appalling year, and the explosive growth of Lidl – but the Torynaff is out there doing its best. And Tesco shares promptly went up 15% because the new guy seems to be well-respected. Ho Hum.
The ECB’s Bundesbank battle over QE was reported as ‘markets surge in expectation of QE’, and the property market players’ valuations attracted criticism for ‘lagging behind a buoyant market’. But in the interests of balance (no doubt because the Twins had gone for a nap) other smaller articles slipped into place, noting the ‘lethal’ Chinese slowdown, the ‘imminent’ 19% correction in the UK housing market, and Standard Chartered firing 4,000 employees.
The Chinese mess is barely understood in the West, but BoA’s report about it pulled no punches: “The most likely scenario is a bad debt surge as growth slows, followed by a credit crunch in the shadow banking system, followed by a major recapitalisation of the banks’ it concluded, ‘A credit crunch is highly probable’. The report is called “Deflation, Devaluation, and Default”. And let’s face it, if anyone should know all about that sort of thing, it’s Bank of America.