Saturday, 20 August 2016

Why Brexit Isn't Reflected in Retail Sales (yet)

In the aftermath of Brexit economic forecasts predicted a downturn in customer spending, but this week's statistics, released by the Office for National Statistics, showed that this prediction was incorrect. Retail sales are up 1.4% on June 2016, and 5.9% on July 2015.
Brexiteers are holding this out as evidence that the UK's decision to leave the EU will not create the economic apocalypse the Remain Campaign promised. A number of matters complicate this. The most obvious being that the UK hasn't actually left the EU yet. Article 50 has not been triggered. Whilst there has definately been a slowdown in foreign investment and a number of large corporations are looking outside of the UK for new bases, the fact remains that the UK is still in the common market.
Therefore, the UK still enjoys tariff-free trading. The prices in the shops have not increased. This brings us to the fundamental point: the prices have not changed so the average customer has no need to change their spending habits. The papers may be full of doom and gloom about the UK's economic outlook, but the average Joe only cares about what the money in his back pocket can buy him. Until he sees a change there he won't change himself.
What's more, as a country that's only beginning to comfortably put the recession behind them, the average person's expenditure isn't lavish enough that they can suddenly decide to cut the fat because it simply isn't there. Big ticket purchases made in July 2016 were probably planned a year in advance, or more. People aren't going to put off buying that new car or washing machine after saving up for so long just because the economic forecast is bleak. It's been bleak for years.

Turning now to the value of the pound, which has dropped significantly since the referendum, the real impact of Brexit is brewing. Right now the weakened pound isn't being reflected on ticket prices. This is because companies plan their product purchase prices months in advance. Additionally, a lot of big businesses agree to buy currencies at a set rate  as early as a year in advance (it's usually more expensive than the day's rate, but it provides a kind of insurance for this situation). This is the reason why we don't see a reflection of a volatile currency market in our everyday shopping.
The pound is now set to stay weak, with some forecasters going as far to say that it will reach parity with the euro within 18 months, although other analyists predict it hovering around the 90p mark. This means that businesses will have to absorb these costs or pass them onto the customer, and there's no prizes for guessing which one it will be (don't be too hard on businesses, for a lot of them the weakened pound would completely erode their profit margin).
What does all this mean? Very simply, the prices in the shops will begin to increase. When this happens the average person will have to adjust their spending and that's when Brexit will start coming out in retail sales. If anyone is thinking about making a big ticket purchase my advice would be to do it now, while you can.

Therefore, neither side is correct in toting the July 2016 retail sales as proof of Brexit's success or failure and the sooner they all stop holding it up as word from our lord sterling, the better.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

The Layers of Failure Responsible for Dublin's Housing Crisis

Anyone who lives in Ireland knows that there is an unprecedented housing crisis happening in its capital, as well as mounting mini-crises in other cities around the island. Supply and demand are completely out of kilter. The unfortunate thing about housing issues is that they can't be solved quickly. The drafting of blueprints through to the key-in-the-front-door of any large scale property development takes years.
This leaves students, like myself, who need accommodation with a near impossible task. There are no easy or quick solutions; the end of the housing crisis will only come about when a broad range of properties are built.

The government shoulder a large portion of the blame for the current state of affairs. There has been a severe lack of investment into construction over the last five years; it's a dangerous game that they're playing. A housing crisis generates inflation of rents and property values, which leads to economic inflation. Economic inflation is associated with strong economic growth, so it makes it look as if Ireland's doing well for itself. The government can then roll out this line come election time.
The problem is that this leads to what is known as a 'property bubble', and bubbles always burst. The thing about politics is that it's very short-term, politicians are more worried about keeping their seat in the Dáil than they are about tomorrow's Ireland.

So, we have this base line of failure from the government not investing in housing. Who else is to blame? Property developers. Developers are more concerned with the end price of units than they are with the needs of a city. They want to maximise their investment so, understandably, concentrate their efforts on upmarket housing that will attract a big ticket price, made even more valuable because of a) the lack of housing and b) the grotty condition of what's available. If you've been paying €1,200 a month to live in a hole you'll be so blinded by damp walls that you'll take on whatever rent/mortgage your wage can get you because you're desperate to escape.
Whatever about morales, you can't exactly blame the players for a broken game. The planning permission stage should help stop people from being priced out of living in the city, and to be fair it sometimes does. But if people get knocked back from building yuppie apartments that doesn't mean they'll submit plans for affordable family homes.

The final layer of failure is the sticking plaster that the government has placed on this gaping wound. Schemes such as allowing homeowners to earn up to €12,000 tax free from renting spare rooms to students are not only failing students, but are insulting. Many homeowners charge a small fortune to begrudgingly allow a student 'guest'. Rules such as curfews and having to leave Friday morning while Monday morning firmly remind students that they aren't welcome. What's more, most students aren't children. The idea of paying to stay in someone's spare room hampers the idea that college is a time of independence and learning to care for yourself. It robs them of the personal growth higher education is meant to give them.
I know this because, at 22, I'm not prepared to take a step down in life and become someone's disliked lodger. I'm not prepared to pay €200 a week to be told when I can put clothes in a washing machine or put up with howling infants. I don't want to reply to an advert that tells me I can eat dinner "in the kitchen because we have family dinner in the dining room". And I don't think a governmental response that's the equivalent of smacking my independance in the face is the appropriate way to combat a housing crisis that comes up year after year, bigger and uglier each time.

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Ireland's Proposed Sugar Tax

When I first wrote about the UK's proposed (and later introduced) sugar tax I knew that it was only a matter of time before Ireland followed suit. Not because we're one of the fattest countries in the EU, but because we're one of the most creative when it comes to hidden taxes.
There's a whole debate surrounding whether this tax will be of any use to the Irish public. I fleshed out some of the main issues here; an increase of, at most, 23% is actually a relatively small amount of money. People can lessen the costs by switching to generic brand or buying in bulk. From a health perspective, this tax would be ineffective.
Swapping to diet versions of sugary drinks would evade the tax, but it would only be marginally better for health. After all, it's not just weight that fizzy drinks attack. It's the teeth. The acid in these drinks erode enamel and contribute to tooth decay. Artificial sweeteners bring their own problems, which I won't go into here but as a gloss think increased hunger from the brain being tricked by signals from the tongue caused by the drink's sweet taste into believing that food is coming. Stomach acids starts a churning, but no energy is delivered.
If the government is serious about improving the nation's health, which I don't believe it is, the answer is to encourage the food industry to provide better alternatives. A fine example of this is the lack of availability of small bottles of milk. Milk is great drink because it contains calcium, which helps strengthen teeth, and protein, which helps us feel full and avoid snacks. It's especially important for growing children and women. However, it has its drawbacks. No one wants to drink room temperature milk and it doesn't keep very well outside of a fridge. The current lack of 200ml bottles means that people see milk as a drink you have in the home, not on the go. Where smaller bottles are available, or advertising has been spent on putting a milk product across as an on the go drink, the milk is laden with sugars, i.e. flavoured milk.
Another problem is the lack of education about the benefits of plain milk. The diet industry scaremongers people into thinking that semi-skimmed is responsible for all our spare tyres (when in actuality diet drinks are more to blame).
The National Dairy Council haven't sponsored this blog post. That long milk plug was about highlighting the other measures that can be taken, in conjunction with a sugar tax, to help improve the nation's health. It's exactly this kind of pro-active, long-term thinking that the Irish government won't engage in. They're only interested in lining the coffers.


Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Ghostbusters Reboot Review

This has been quite a controversial film, so instead of a general review I'm going to break it down point by point to flesh out exactly where this film went right and where it went wrong.
Cast Melissa McCarthy was the biggest name in this film and as one of the leading 'funny girl' actresses out there she was a perfect pick. Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and Kate McKinnon also starred and performed their roles well.
Female Probably the most headline-grabbing feature of this film, or certaintly the most concentrated on, was that this was an all female reboot. In the run up to Ghostbusters release it seemed as if this would be some kind of extended girl power flick, but it wasn't at all. Watching the film I didn't find myself thinking for one moment about the fact that the characters were women. It was just a film which happened to have women in it. It wasn't a feminist power-movement; it was just another film.
Plot The plot was well thought out and held the audience's attention. Basically there's a baddie who is trying to release a load of spooks on New York. The Ghostbusters must take him down. Having an female lead cast throws a fresh light on some of the humour of the film, but unlike a lot of comedies that star women, it's not gender exclusive comedy.
Script This is where the film really fell down for me. The comedy was hit and miss. Whilst there were some funny lines, made better by the actresses immersion in their roles, there was an over-reliance on one dimensional toilet humour. Thinking back to the original, it failed to deliver that same level of clever, yet accessible, comedy.
There was also a painful portrayal of the black character, Patty, as this streetwise, sassy woman juxtapositioned against three university educated white women. As far as comic relief goes, yes by all means add a sassy character, but don't make the massive boo boo of relying on that cringey stereotype of 'the black woman with street smarts'.
Special effects This element of the film was fabulous. It updated the 1984 film's look and delivered ghosts that were luminous and theatrical. Ghostbusters has never been a film that's designed to scare, so flamboyant and humorous spooks really hit the nail on the head.
There were also some great shots of the city being taken over by the ghosts and, again, these were funny and fantastic, and completely in line with what you'd expect from this franchise.
The Original Quite a few nods to the original film were made, most notably an excellent soundtrack which covered the most famous songs. Lots of cameo appearances too.
The Film's Success The film hasn't been very successful. At the time of writing, it's yet to make back its production costs. There are a number of contributors to this.
The advertising of this film has not been there. Sure, before it's release the trailer received a great deal of focus because of the controversy (sadly, even though it's 2016 this is the correct word) around rebooting the classic film with an all female cast. When the film itself was released, however, there seemed to be very little word about it. The Waterloo Station stunt was a good idea, but limited in its reach. More television advertisement would have been welcome. Social media also lacked.
Another bullet to the chest was that, upon its release, it received a lot of very critical reviews. Part of this is likely down to it being very difficult to live up to the original. Not only has the 1984 film stood the test of time, it stars beloved actors that have done the same. What's more, it's a film that's usually shown around the holidays so many people associate it with Christmas, close family times, childhood etc. So the 1984 film has got the benefit of being really good, but also the experience of the film and the nostalgia factor. It's a solid 10/10. Any new film would struggle to live up to that. Sexism also comes into play, although I think it faces more sexism from the people who haven't seen it rather than from people who have.
The combination of these two factors led to an intense amount of ridicule and impossible to meet standards. I think people from both sides of the debate have been too critical, but for different reasons. Because women don't usually get lead comedy roles there seems to be an intense scrutiny with some groups seeing it as women have yet to prove they're funny, and with other groups not wanting to be labeled as only liking the film because it's an all female cast. This has led to a tough challenge for Ghostbusters, one which it was never going to be able to meet.
The Future The film definitely seemed to line itself up for a sequel, but considering its lack of success it's doubtful one will be given the go ahead. It's a shame because it was a decent film and it does make headway for women being given broad comedic roles that doesn't just have them making jokes about bras and boys.
The Verdict It's worth watching, but go with an open mind. Hopefully it's the beginning of more female led films that appeal to a mixed gender audience.