Category Archives: insight

Does being richer make you feel better than being cooler?

Economists (and actuaries) like to measure things.

The easier to measure and the more reliable the measure, the more we like to measure it. This is not unlike the drunk looking for his keys under the street lamp because that’s where the light is even if it isn’t where he dropped the keys.

Sometimes the most important things to measure are very difficult to measure reliably. Happiness is one of these things.  Economists have been trying to measure this for decades with interesting, counter-intuitive and sometimes contradictory results.

Recent research suggests that maybe money does make people happier after all.

The Perfect Storm – Part 0

The world of financial reporting for insurers has never been this close to the edge.

There is more change brewing now even than when Europe adopted “European Embedded Values” and later “Market Consistent Embedded Values”. The irony is that Embedded Values may well fall away as a result of the latest change.

So what is changing?

  1. Solvency Assessment and Management (SAM) is still planned for 2015 in South Africa. SAM will change the calculation of actuarial reserves, or Technical Provisions as they are now known, for regulatory reporting purposes. Solvency II in Europe is now likely to follow rather than precede SAM by a few year, but with nearly identical implications.
  2. IFRS4, the accounting standard covering insurance contracts, is due for a radical change effective in 2016/2017, although this is years later than originally planned. IFRS4 “Phase 2” as it is referred to throws out most of what we’re used to in terms of profit recognition, financial impact of assumption changes, impacts of asset and liability mismatches and may very well push insurers to value their assets on a different basis.
  3. IFRS9, a new standard replacing IAS39 and covering financial instruments, whether these are assets or liabilities, will poke and prod insurers into different decisions now and possibly before knowing exactly how IFRS4 will pan out.
  4. Finally, although this part is still speculative, Embedded Value reporting may fall away as SAM and Solvency II achieve much of the objections of Embedded Value.

This post is the first in a series covering important aspects if the change in financial reporting standards, covering news of the developments as it emerges as well as the likely implications for financial reporting, product design, ALM, financial reinsurance and others. I’d encourage you to post comments or questions on this or later posts and I’ll try to answer those through the series.

  • Part 1 – IFRS reporting under SAM
  • Part 2 – EV in a SAM/Solvency II world
  • Part 3 – Apocalypse! – SAM as the tax basis
  • Part 4 – Acquisition accounting under IFRS4 Phase II – a little speculation

Worrying signs of renewed credit crunch

The last month hasn’t been pretty for economic performance, credit or retail sales. Everyone from Richemont to Mr Price has taken a beating.  Woolies is down about 13% in the last month.

And now both Capitec and African Bank are reporting worse default experience (respectively through temporary strike-blips or through a cyclical downwards trend) and are pulling back on credit extension.

I think I buy African Bank’s more pessimistic view than Capitec’s “blip from the strike and growth will slow”. The reality is economic growth has been very low for several years and much of the consumption over this period has been through a reinflating credit “bud”.  It’s not at bubble proportions, but when that bud starts slowing in growth the true impact of several years of poor economic and basically non-existent employment growth will be felt.

I still need to update 2013 predictions, but so far I’m not feeling particularly optimistic about being a credit retailer and certainly not enough to justify the still-high PE multiples.


Different types of predictions

As part of the run-up to my overview of my own predictions for 2012, I thought i should highlight why I bother at all.
Most predictions, most of the time, will be wrong. Crystal balls aside, it is nearly impossible to reliably, accurately predict future complex events. However, the process of rigorously considering what might happen, what could go wrong, what the drivers of change are – all of those are really useful.
But why then bother making ultimate predictions if the “process” is where the value is? As it turns out, making the final prediction is part of the process. Paying poker without money at stake is a pointless exercise; there are no consequences to poor play (be it luck or skill that was lacking).
Making that firm and final prediction is important to ensure the process was rigorous and not an off the cuff guess.
Finally, evaluating part performance can’t suggest whether the predictions are improving, whether they are consistently biased or whether the system is working.
So, most predictions are wrong, but some are useful.

Kings, constitution and SAM legislation

I haven’t posted in ages – plenty happening on the work front, which is mostly good news. I also don’t really have time to comment properly on this article but Wits academic, Robert Vivian, but it’s interesting reading all the same.

Read Vivian’s letter first and then come back to my comments.

I can’t help but feel Vivian doesn’t actually understand the rationale for the proposed system and therefore gets a little frothy at the mouth about how awful it is. That’s not to say his criticisms shouldn’t be taken seriously – there are flaws in the proposed approach but it’s not clear to me that these are worse than a system that moves at the pace of continental drift because of exceptionally slow Parliamentary processes.

This maybe reflects a imperfectly functioning legislative process, which is a separate issue to discuss entirely.

It also reflects the reality that very few in Parliament (our country and most others I would imagine) have the time or technical knowledge to influence many of these laws anyway. Requiring a parliamentary process may not actually change the law-making function.

The final point here is that there is precedent here from a European perspective, so we’re not totally out on a limb in South Africa.

Maybe Vivian could rather suggest some tweaks that put his mind at ease about sentencing individuals to death by law without returning us to a stagnating world of too-slow legislative changes?

IBM knew

HP and Dell are both struggling enormously to make money.

Consider this: Since Apple Inc. shifted the direction of computing with the release of the iPhone in June 2007, HP’s market value has plunged by 60 percent to $35 billion. During that time, HP has spent more than $40 billion on dozens of acquisitions that have largely turned out to be duds so far

The latest reminder of HP’s ineptitude came last week when the company reported an $8.9 billion quarterly loss, the largest in the company’s history

Read the whole article – it’s fascinating. The key thing that I started thinking about when I heard the headline is that IBM saw all this in 2005. They sold their ThinkPad brand to Lenovo.

Spotting the big trends and making bold decisions is sometimes less risky than not.