ALEX BRUMMER: MPs wake up to Gupta and what may be the greatest business debacle of the decade
With a former Tory prime minister at the heart of a scandal and Conservatives dominating the House of Commons it has proved hard to awaken the beast.
But questions over David Cameron’s role at Greensill finance have catapulted the affair into the public domain.
As a result, the finance group’s intimate relationship with Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance steel group has been exposed and the Commons committees responsible have decided that hearings cannot be avoided.
Greensill’s relationship with Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance steel group has been exposed and the Commons committees responsible have decided that hearings cannot be avoided
A wide-ranging inquiry by the Business Committee, with its focus on Liberty Steel, comes none too soon. As a result of unsafe financing arrangements with Greensill, urgent decisions on the future of steel production in the UK and the 5,000 jobs directly linked to the Gupta empire are required.
We know from the heavy cost to the exchequer of keeping the British Steel plant at Scunthorpe afloat, before Chinese buyer Jingye came to the rescue, that there are no cheap solutions to preserving an industry vital to the UK’s strategic needs.
It is also encouraging that, after many months watching Greensill fall apart, the Treasury Select Committee has decided to examine the impact of the collapse on financial stability.
In case the committee is in any doubt, it needs to look not just at the regulatory cracks in London but at impact Greensill’s implosion is having around the globe.
In Switzerland it has carved a hole in the balance sheet of Credit Suisse after a securitisation operation reminiscent of the crisis of 2007-09.
The Swiss bank diced up Greensill’s invoice credits, insured them with Tokio Marine and then sold the structured products on to investors.
In Germany it triggered the collapse of the Greensill bank and has led to a criminal investigation.
It has provoked a New York lawsuit brought by the governor of West Virginia. And in its native Australia the disappearance of Greensill Capital has started a mad scramble for assets, with Citibank among the litigants.
The choice of former City minister Paul Myners and the former Treasury mandarin Nick Macpherson as the first witnesses before the Treasury Committee speaks to their role in exposing a scandal in the making as early as June 2019.
That was long before Cameron began his tawdry effort to persuade the Treasury and the Bank of England that Greensill’s invoice finance model could keep the economy functioning.
The Business Committee has decided there are bigger governance issues involved in the Greensill-Gupta nexus.
It plans to pick up these concerns, alongside problems with audit in supply chain finance. It will examine whether enough due diligence was done before providing taxpayer funds.
Arguably Greensill-Gupta is the greatest business debacle of our time. After much urging there is a decent chance of getting nearer to the truth.
Trapped between China’s tightening grip on Hong Kong and an era of low interest rates, HSBC is between a rock and a hard place. Chief executive Noel Quinn looks as if he has found a way through.
Top executives are being transferred to Hong Kong, although Quinn is tepidly committed to keeping the headquarters in London.
It may have little choice if it wants to preserve Bank of England regulation. The 79 per cent jump in pre-tax profits for the first quarter to £4.2billion reflects comparison with a locked-down first quarter last year, a write-back of provisions taken by the UK ring-fenced bank and Quinn’s scythe to costs.
He will be helped to reach the cost reduction target by lower property bills as the bank adjusts to the post-Covid era.
Investors inured to the horrors of Uighur suppression and bullying in Hong Kong might want to take a fresh look.
This week’s first-quarter results from big tech are unlikely to disappoint with Facebook, Amazon et al expected to report earnings jumps of 25 per cent.
If Oxford Economics is right there could be more to come – as much as £1.16trillion of household savings to be released in the US alone as well as the £200billion or so in UK bank accounts.
That means a digital advertising bonanza fuelling profits at the online powers and ought to be good for media agencies such as WPP and Martin Sorrell’s S4 venture. Whoosh!