The past week has shown us that the world economy is dominated more than ever by the symbiotic relationship of China and America.
Two years after the taper tantrum, this was the week of the Chimerican chill. Economist Moritz Schularick and I coined the word Chimerica in these pages in 2007, combining China and America, to describe the symbiotic relationship increasingly dominating the world economy. That is even truer now, as the past several days have shown. For the first time in financial history, a sneeze in Shanghai gave Wall Street—and almost every other stock market in the world—a cold.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, Chimerica was a marriage of opposites. China saved, exported and lent. America consumed, imported and borrowed. For a few heady years, the odd couple were happy together. Not only did the glut of Chinese savings lower the cost of capital, the glut of Chinese workers reduced the cost of labor. Every asset class on the planet rallied.
But the unbalanced economic relationship between China and America posed a threat to global financial stability. That was our point in 2007: Chimerica was a chimera. Without the flow of Chinese savings into U.S. dollars back then, a result of Beijing’s large-scale intervention to keep its currency weak, American interest rates would surely have been higher and the U.S. housing bubble less inflated. Surprisingly, the 2008 financial crisis didn’t lead to a Sino-American divorce, despite mutual accusations of monetary manipulation. Instead, like any couple who spend long enough in each other’s company, the Chimericans grew ever more alike.
China took steps to make its economy less state-led and export-driven, and more market-led and consumption-driven. But it also picked up some bad American habits. China’s economy became dangerously reliant on easy money and mounting debt, and prone to bubbles, beginning with urban real estate. Growth slowed and inequality rose.
For these reasons, we continued to worry about Chimerica. “If monetary policy is too loose for too long,” we wrote in a November 2013 article for the Journal, “history suggests it can increase the probability of a disorderly asset-price crash. It is not hard to imagine such a scenario in a China that has acquired American levels of leverage, plus a bunch of shaky shadow banks.”
Timing would be key. Several months earlier, when the Federal Reserve announced that it would wind down its bond-buying, the markets had reacted badly, as traders tried to “price in” the effects of tighter Fed policy. In the wake of this “taper tantrum” we worried that if Beijing and Washington tried to exit easy money at the same time, “the global economy could take a big hit”—especially emerging markets with large current-account deficits. “Coordination and sequencing are therefore essential,” we concluded.
In the past few days, the consequences of such a double whammy have become clear: the concurrence of the Chinese equities bust with voices from the Federal Reserve signaling an interest-rate “lift off” this year led to another investor tantrum, with emerging markets again bearing the brunt.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that the Fed, in the person of New York Fed President William Dudley, tamped down rate-increase expectations, prompting a relief rally on Wall Street. For lift-off watchers, December is the new September.
Much less predictable is what Beijing will do. After the bursting of the stock bubble in June, the Chinese government resorted to a bewildering combination of market interventions, exhorting pension funds to buy and threatening sellers with prosecution. These measures have not only failed, they have also damaged the government’s credibility.
Such blunt instruments must be set aside, and the role of the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) redefined so that it becomes more Fed-like in character. China’s leaders need to see that regardless of the Fed’s official dual mandate—to promote stable prices and maximum employment—responsibility for preventing an asset-price crash lies with the central bank alone.
China took the first step in this direction on Monday with the announcement after the close of the Chinese markets that the PBOC was immediately reducing its benchmark one-year lending rate by 25 basis points to 4.6%, as well as cutting the one-year savings rate and lowering the reserve requirement ratio for banks.
But the bigger story this month has been the PBOC’s abandonment of the de facto link between the yuan and the U.S. dollar, heralded by the devaluation of the yuan announced Aug. 11.
These measures should be welcomed by investors as evidence that the PBOC is now leaning against, rather than with, the wind. Yet a mystery remains: Who exactly is calling the monetary shots in Beijing?
A major problem has been the over-readiness of President Xi Jinping to identify himself with economic policy, to the extent that state media seemed to equate the stock market rally in the first half of the year with Mr. Xi’s “Chinese Dream”—a set of aspirations for national rejuvenation. True, Mr. Xi has put Premier Li Keqiang out in front of the government’s response to the stock-market crash. This makes sense in two ways: Formally, all major PBOC actions must literally be signed by the premier. Politically, Mr. Xi is giving himself the option to blame Mr. Li if things go wrong.
What would help is a clear statement to the effect that the PBOC is in charge of Chinese monetary policy. Mr. Xi cannot be expected to proclaim the PBOC’s independence, but he should publicly assert its primacy over other government agencies. One reason markets have been so rattled is the perception that behind the façade of presidential power an ugly turf war is being fought between the PBOC and other agencies, notably the China Securities Regulatory Commission. Despite the international respect that the PBOC’s veteran governor, Zhou Xiaochuan, has earned, he and his senior staff still lack the authority of their Western counterparts.
The good news is that, if its authority is firmly established, the PBOC has the capacity to repair the damage. The bad news is that the future of Chimerica—and the world economy—is now more dependent than ever on the expedients of central bankers. Get ready for more quantitative easing, but this time with Chinese characteristics.
Sunday, August 30, 2015
Saturday, August 29, 2015
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump says he is leading the GOP race because he represents Americans who have had it with their nation coming up short.
“People in this country are smart,” he told listeners at the National Federation of Republican Assemblies’ 2015 conference in Nashville on Saturday.
“We’re tired of being the patsies for everyone,” Trump said.
“There is a big, big, growing-by-leaps-and-bounds silent majority out there. [The 2016 race] is going to be an election based on competence.”
Trump argued he is surging in national polls because he represents the Tea Party supporters ignored by Democrats and betrayed by Republicans.
“I love the Tea Party,” Trump said. “You people have not been treated fairly. These are people who work hard and love their country, and then get beat up by the media. It’s disgusting.”
“At least I have a microphone and can fight back,” the outspoken billionaire added.
Trump indicated he envisions a much wider base for his campaign than traditional Republican voters next election cycle.
“You don’t know how big you are,” he told listeners. “The Tea Party has tremendous power. It’s Democrats, it is evangelicals, it is everybody.”
The New York business mogul also vowed he would not succumb to the prestige and power of Washington’s political establishment if he wins in 2016.
“They go to Washington and they get weak,” Trump said of Democrats and Republicans alike. “They get there and they see these beautiful, vaulted ceilings and they say, ‘Honey, I’ve made it.’ That won’t happen to me, I promise.”
Trump also said he intends on saving taxpayer dollars by focusing his energy on the nation’s capital if elected next year.
“I think I’d maybe never leave,” Trump quipped of the Oval Office. “I’d do the fundraisers in the White House. Whoever the [interview] host is would like it better – ‘Hey, we’re live from the White House.’”
“Do you know how much it costs to fuel those things?” he joked of jets like Air Force One.
“We have so many things to do to straighten out our country,” Trump added. “We can’t waste time.”
Trump’s address at the NFRA’s 2015 conference Saturday was attended by many notable figures from the original Tea Party movement.
The organization’s president is Sharron Angle, who unsuccessfully challenged Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) in 2010.
The NFRA’s executive vice president is Ken Blackwell, a challenger for Ohio’s gubernatorial office who came up short against former Gov. Ted Strickland (D) in 2006.
The group is — despite its name — a grassroots network unaffiliated with the Republican Party that counts on Tea Party voters for its membership.
Trump is currently leading the race for the GOP presidential nomination across national polls.
Thursday, August 20, 2015
From the Dagger and Harford Campaign for Liberty:
Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 7-9pm
1311 West Jarrettsville Road
Forest Hill, Maryland 21050
Please join us Tuesday, August 25th, as Harford Campaign for Liberty moves to its new venue at Harford Vineyard and Winery in Forest Hill!
Try some great locally made wines or a cold craft beer, meet the gracious staff of the winery, and get informed on the latest efforts to FIGHT BACK against the gun-grabbers in Annapolis.
This month, you’ll hear from Delegate Michael Smigiel – he’ll discuss current and future legislative plans to both PRESERVE AND STRENGTHEN our Second Amendment rights.
Plus, the President of the Maryland Association for Gun Rights, Terry Green, will talk about his group’s plans to HOLD OUR POLITICIANS ACCOUNTABLE, and how YOU can participate in the battle.
You think the NRA works hard on your behalf?
Come meet some REAL Second Amendment Activists!
As always, questions for the speakers are welcome, and ANYONE can sign up for 1-3 minutes of “Open Mic” time.
Don’t forget our new meeting address:
Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 7-9pm
Free Admission, Cash Bar
1311 West Jarrettsville Road
Forest Hill, Maryland 21050
Bring a Friend!
Can’t make the 25th? Go online to sign the petition against wasteful taxpayer spending at https://www.tinyurl.com/nocfa and SHARE it with your friends! All petitions will be hand-delivered to the County Council next month.
Harford Campaign for Liberty
Monday, August 17, 2015
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: After two consecutive devastating losses at the ballot box, a political party begins to devour itself, its core voters disgusted with the perceived detachment and insufficient ideological purity of its elites.
Then a man comes onto the scene seeking the party’s leadership. Viewed initially as a quixotic and marginal (even comical) figure, he quickly seizes the hearts and minds of his party’s most disgruntled voters with his blunt manner, who hail him for his “authenticity” and outsider status.
The establishment’s guffaws of disdain turn into squeals of panic as the outsider candidate not only fails to implode as expected — despite his obvious “unelectability” — but instead becomes even more popular with every outrageous policy statement, to the point where polls show him to be far and away the leading choice in a fractured field to win his party’s vote.
The punch line, of course, is that I refer not only to Donald Trump’s ongoing rampage through the GOP’s pre-primary season (and to some extent, the Bernie Sanders surge in the Democratic field), but also to the chaos currently overtaking the United Kingdom, where old-school socialist Jeremy Corbyn looks poised to be elected as the Labor Party’s next leader.
In fact, Labor’s position seems a good deal more precarious than the Republican Party’s: For all the buzz about Trump’s candidacy, few, if any, pundits expect him to win a single primary, much less the GOP nomination.
But Corbyn is for real: The most recent YouGov polling puts him at a 53 percent majority of the Labor Party vote, a full 32 percent ahead of his nearest rival, and ballots are set to go out at the end of the month.
And Corbyn’s politics are indeed nationally toxic in the United Kingdom, an ironic political inversion of Trump’s screechings about Mexican rapists and Megyn Kelly’s monthly cycle.
Corbyn is a true believer in the discredited hard-socialist (to the left even of Sanders’ brand of socialism) policies that relegated Labor to a footnote during the Thatcher era: His economic policy is a variation on “soak the rich,” he’s called for the nationalization of railways and industry, wants to reintroduce the infamous “Clause IV” (calling for collectivization of the means of production, in hearty old Marxist style) into the Labor Party platform, has hinted at seeking closer relations with Putin’s Russia and even refuses to condemn IRA terrorism.
Whatever the popularity of these policies among Labor’s activist base, they are deal-breakers nationally. Prime Minister Tony Blair (the only man to win a national majority for Labor in the last 40 years) took to the pages of The Guardian with a sad plea to his fractious party: “Even if you hate me, please don’t take Labor over the cliff-edge.”
Blair’s warning against political suicide seems likely to fall upon deaf ears, if for no other reason than that he is, indeed, roundly loathed as a sellout “Tory in disguise” by the very elements of Labor that are rallying to Corbyn.
And it’s here that the most interesting parallel between Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump comes to the fore: their supporters. Corbyn is an avowed leftist whose convictions (regardless of their sanity) aren’t in doubt. Donald Trump is a blustering rodeo clown play-acting at politics. And yet if you were to close your eyes and simply listen to the supporters of both men explain their attraction as candidates, you’d hear the same refrains. “He’s authentic.” “He’s telling it like it is.” “The establishment has failed us.” “BUT HE FIGHTS.” Policy positions, in fact, rarely enter into the discussion.
And that explains so very much about the current state of politics in both nations. Trump and Corbyn are important not in themselves, but rather for what they represent: the curdled disillusionment that so many feel toward our politics. It’s among the faithful of the “out-parties,” the losers of national elections, where that disgust has quickly transformed into internal party rebellion.
In both cases, disaffected voters have chosen their avatar less for what he says than for how he says it: Support for Trump and Corbyn is meant less as a declaration of policy allegiance than a kick in the face of otiose, constantly hedging politicians who play it safe.
The problem is that such “authenticity” matters a lot less to the general-election voter than to the ideologically committed party member. And it looks like Labor is going to receive a much swifter, and more brutal, education than the GOP in why it’s folly to place your trust in such things.
From Harford Campaign for Liberty:
Dear Harford Voter,
This May Harford’s County Council voted on 46 amendments to the FY 2016 County Budget – all unanimously passed in the course of two meetings, with little discussion.
One of the amendments added $50,000 to the Budget to construct a parking lot on the land the Center for the Arts has proposed to build its six-phase Arts Center. The Center for the Arts (CFA) wants a parking lot on the site so it can bring potential donors there to better imagine their grand vision.
Billy Boniface, the Director of Administration for our new County Executive, told the Council that Harford would not be on the hook for the $50 grand or for the maintenance of the lot. He assured the Council members the CFA would take care of everything.
When asked for the Memorandum of Understanding that detailed the parking lot agreement though, Boniface said the Memo wasn’t quite finished yet.
Almost three months later, the Memorandum between the County and the Center is still being drafted. Neither the Council nor YOU, the taxpayer, have seen what’s in the agreement.
In a classic Nancy Pelosi move, our Council voted on legislation they hadn’t yet read.
But the CFA is desperate to get something – anything – built on that land. If they don’t show progress on a facility to promote cultural arts by 2018, the Trustee of the Emily Bayless Graham Charitable Trust can revoke the County’s land grant.
If the CFA dissolves, what becomes of the promises in this missing Memorandum? Who will be responsible for maintaining this parking lot?
Does the County Council think the Center’s CEO will be out pouring blacktop every spring if this bloated venture goes belly up?
According to their recent Harford Tourism Grant application, the CFA was running a $63,000 loss for first quarter 2015. Although they hyped a profit of over $100,000 from last year’s Dancing with the Stars event, they still only showed $41,800 in the bank for FY2014’s end. And that’s after receiving a $50,000 grant in 2014 from the previous administration!
Folks, if you were on the County Council, you wouldn’t allow one tree felled on that land until you’d read every word of this Memorandum of Understanding.
If you were the Trustee of that land, reviewing progress every year on behalf of the Graham family, you’d be screaming “Forget about county grants, where’s the money you’re supposed to be raising?”
After ten years of existence, this group has nothing to show but an anemic checking account and an architect bill still in repayment?!
The Center has since scaled back their grand vision from a $60 million Mega Center to a $25 million “first phase”. They want us taxpayers to pony up $16 million in county and state grants to start.
But do they have THEIR $8 million in private donations in the bank and ready to go?
Until they can prove their portion is funded and this venture is profitable, Harford County’s elected officials shouldn’t allow one shovelful of dirt to be turned.
So Does Campaign for Liberty hate the Arts?!
Of course not.
We are hard-working moms and dads wanting to our children to have rich opportunities for ANY talents they may have.
We are small business owners who love our County and hope to see it thrive.
We are musicians, poets, writers, and painters who cherish our rights to free speech and expression.
But growth in Harford County, in any form, must not be linked with burdensome debt. We cannot be a great county by building with borrowed money and taking on swelling interest payments.
We cannot afford to take on projects that years later could cost us millions just to keep open.
Ask your neighbors if they can afford an increase in property and income taxes so that Harford can build a museum, multiple theaters, and space for business conferences.
Many people around this great county are now living paycheck to paycheck. Should they be forced to fund an Arts Center that’s forecast to operate in the negative as soon as it opens?
Tell the County Council NO MORE WASTEFUL SPENDING.
Harford Campaign for Liberty has had an overwhelming reply to our petition against funding this Mega-Plex, and we intend to hand-deliver each individual response to the County Council when they reconvene in September.
BUT WE STILL NEED YOU TO MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD.
SIGN the petition, and let your Council Member know how you feel about this wasteful spending. The form has space for comments, if you want to send a personal message to your representative.
Politicians react to two things – campaign donations, and ANGRY VOTERS.
If our Council members want to be re-elected, they need to REGARD THE ANGER this Center has caused – and then VOTE DOWN any more taxpayer funding of the CFA.
Please sign the petition, and forward your friends and neighbors this email.
Together, we CAN make a difference in this county’s future.
Steering Committee Member
Harford Campaign for Liberty
P.S. If you haven’t signed the petition to reject public funding for the CFA, please take two minutes to click and add your voice to the outcry against wasteful spending.
Thursday, August 13, 2015
Sunday, August 9, 2015
ATLANTA (WXIA) – Conservative columnist and commentator Erick Erickson disinvited Donald Trump from a conservative gathering he is hosting, calling Trump's latest tirade against Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly "inappropriate."
Trump was slated to speak at the annual RedState gathering alongside other White House GOP hopefuls this weekend. The event was slated to culminate with a three-hour "RedState Tailgate" at the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta hosted by Trump Saturday evening.
In a scathing blog post late Friday night, Erickson said that he had given a lot of latitude to Trump due to his reputation as a "blunt talker" and not being a professional politician. However, Erickson says, there is a line of decency that Trump crossed during a CNN interview Friday night with comments about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly.
"You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes," Trump said during the Friday night prime time interview with Don Lemon. "Blood was coming out of her wherever."
Trump on Megyn Kelly: She had 'blood coming out of her wherever'
Trump slammed Kelly's behavior as a moderator at Thursday night's Republican debate, and has taken many opportunities – in interviews and on Twitter – to excoriate her since the end of the debate.
Erickson said that Trump's comments on CNN were over the line of decency, and completely "inappropriate."
"I just don't want someone on stage who gets a hostile question from a lady and his first inclination is to imply it was hormonal," Erickson wrote in the blog post on RedState.com.
Erickson says he has invited Kelly to attend in Trump's place Saturday night.
According to Time magazine, a Trump campaign spokesman released a statement criticizing Erickson and promising to come to Atlanta and hold a campaign stop in another location.
"This is just another example of weakness through being politically correct. For all of the people who were looking forward to Mr. Trump coming, we will miss you. Blame Erick Erickson, your weak and pathetic leader. We'll new be doing another campaign stop at another location," the spokesman's statement said.
The Establisment RNC went after Reagan, too. Trump is no Reagan, but then that's not the point. The point is that the Establishment RNC is no Reagan. So from a voters standpoint, Trump is just as good as ANYTHING the Establishment RNC has to offer. In fact, just being "different" and "not controlled" by them, makes Trump a "better" choice for the voters.
Boycott RedState. Erick Erickson exceeded his authority when he disinvited Trump. He is NOT THE conservative anointed defender of "decency" he claims to be. He's a petit Establishment tool.
Saturday, August 8, 2015
Socialism, according to Dictionary.com, is defined as: "A theory or system of social organization that advocates the vesting of the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, of capital, land, etc., in the community as a whole."
Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, recently appeared on MSNBC's "Hardball with Chris Matthews." Matthews asked, "What is the difference between a Democrat and a socialist?"
Wasserman Schultz laughed, looked stunned, and began hemming and hawing. Matthews helpfully interjected, "I used to think there was a big difference. What do you think it is?" Still, Wasserman Schultz refused to give him a straight answer. "The difference between -- the real question," she said, "is what's the difference between being a Democrat and being a Republican."
Matthews tried again: "Yeah, but what's the big difference between being a Democrat and being a socialist? You're the chairwoman of the Democratic Party. Tell me the difference between you and a socialist."
Still, Wasserman Schultz wouldn't answer the question.
A few days ago Chuck Todd of NBC's "Meet the Press" offered her a chance for a do-over. He replayed the exchange with Matthews, then asked: "Given that (Democratic presidential candidate) Bernie Sanders is an unabashed socialist and believes in social democratic governments -- (he) likes the ones in Europe -- what is the difference? Can you explain the difference?"
And again she either could not or would not answer, and wanted to discuss the difference between Republicans and Democrats.
On the one hand, Wasserman Schultz might have refused to answer because she did not want to put her thumb on the scale of the self-described socialist candidate Bernie Sanders or the likely nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton. No matter what Wasserman Schultz would've said, it would injure one while helping the other.
That's one explanation. But the more likely explanation is simple. There is no real distinction between today's Democrats and socialists. A few years ago Congresswoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., conducted hearings in which she grilled oil executives for alleged price fixing. She threatened to nationalize their business. Did any Democrat speak out against her threat? No.
Newsweek, in 2009, ran a cover story with the headline: "We Are All Socialists Now." Jon Meacham wrote:
"The U.S. government has already -- under a conservative Republican administration -- effectively nationalized the banking and mortgage industries. That seems a stronger sign of socialism than $50 million for art. Whether we want to admit it or not -- and many, especially Congressman (Mike) Pence and (Sean) Hannity, do not -- the America of 2009 is moving toward a modern European state. ...
"... If we fail to acknowledge the reality of the growing role of government in the economy, insisting instead on fighting 21st-century wars with 20th-century terms and tactics, then we are doomed to a fractious and unedifying debate. The sooner we understand where we truly stand, the sooner we can think more clearly about how to use government in today's world. ...
"... This is not to say that berets will be all the rage this spring, or that Obama has promised a croissant in every toaster oven. But the simple fact of the matter is that the political conversation, which shifts from time to time, has shifted anew, and for the foreseeable future Americans will be more engaged with questions about how to manage a mixed economy than about whether we should have one."
Polls, too, show that most Democrats are quite comfortable with socialism. A recent poll found 52 percent of Democrats had a favorable opinion about socialism.
Bernie Sanders has always caucused with Democrats, and they are perfectly comfortable with him. He's still a long shot for the Democratic nomination, but he is rising in the polls. If there is a distinction between him and President Barack Obama on anything major, what is it? Both pushed "universal health care." Both oppose the Keystone pipeline. Both believe taxes should be raised on "rich" people. Both believe in the redistribution of income. Obama wants two years of "free" community college. Sanders wants to make college "free" altogether. Both attack "corporate greed" and both belong to the school of economics that says, "you didn't build that."
Andy Stern, then the head of the Democratic Party-supporting Service Employees International Union, said, "I think Western Europe, as much as we used to make fun of it, has made different trade-offs which may have ended up with a little more unemployment but a lot more equality."
That's an acceptable trade-off in today's Democratic Party.
Jack Kennedy, a tax cutter, defended his plan by arguing it would invigorate the economy. He wanted growth and said, "A rising tide lifts all boats." Today's Democrat, like Wasserman Schultz, would deride Kennedy as a greedy Republican advocate of "trickle down."
Monday, August 3, 2015
Wednesday August 05,2015- 7:00pm
* Aberdeen Holiday Inn Express*
1007 Beards Hill Rd
Aberdeen, MD 21001
Guest speakers will be Aberdeen Mayor – Mike Bennett and Aberdeen City Council Members Sandy Landbeck and Steve Smith…..all candidates for this Fall’s Aberdeen City Election.
Sunday, August 2, 2015
Update - 1/6/16: All three videos have disappeared before the 2016 election. Talk about "Erasing" history. Big Brother and MiniTru would be SO proud!
Saturday, August 1, 2015
You might call Vernon Hill a reverse Paul Revere. Most Americans like to believe that the U.S. is still a land of opportunity, the place where anyone can start a business and make a profit. But Mr. Hill issues a warning that rings loud and clear: The British—and others—are more inviting than we are.
“The regulatory environment has become so onerous in America that it is now easier to start a business in England than in the U.S.,” Mr. Hill says—and he would know.
In 1973 and only 27 years old, Mr. Hill founded Commerce Bank with one branch in Marlton, N.J. The fledgling company focused on customer service and called itself “America’s most convenient bank.” By the time Mr. Hill left Commerce Bancorp 34 years later, only months before the company announced it would be bought by TD Bank for $8.5 billion, he had grown the business to some 460 branches, with 14,000 employees and combined deposits of about $40 billion.
Now he’s replicating that model in the United Kingdom with Metro Bank, which he founded in 2010. And Mr. Hill says there’s an ocean of difference between doing business in the overregulated U.S. and in the U.K. “When I went to Britain I thought the regulatory environment would be much worse,” he says. “It’s infinitely better there.”
The problem in the U.S. starts with towering federal regulations, such as the voluminous reporting and compliance rules in Dodd-Frank, the financial reform act that recently celebrated its fifth birthday. “Regulators are making it impossible for the medium and small banks to comply with the rules,” he says. “The burdens get so intense that it is destroying the small and medium-size banks in America.”
The result is that Dodd-Frank, a law intended to take on the systemic risk of “too-big-to-fail” banks, is multiplying the problem. “The big banks that are too big to fail are bigger now than ever, but the regulations have trickled down to the smaller banks that didn’t cause the financial crisis” Mr. Hill says. As a result, community banks are disappearing. “When I started my first bank in the 1970s there were 24,000 banks in America,” he says. “There are now 7,000 banks. It may soon be 500 or even fewer.”
But it’s more than Dodd-Frank that leaves him frustrated. “The feds have taken anti-money-laundering rules to the extreme,” Mr. Hill says. “We have to monitor every deposit account every 24 hours. Somebody’s monitoring your account every day.” That’s invasive and expensive.
He laments that the Community Reinvestment Act, a catalyst of the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, still hasn’t been repealed. “We are literally required to make loans that we know are going to fail,” he says.
Then there’s the tangle of local regulations that every American small business must cut through. “You don’t need a building permit in Britain. Here [the U.S.] you have to get permits and you have to get inspections,” he says. All that can eat up months and months. “I can build 100 branch banks in Britain before I can get one built in the U.S., thanks to regulators.”
Policy makers and economists in Washington fret about what’s slowing the rate of business startups and entrepreneurial ventures. But Mr. Hill says it’s no wonder, with all this red tape, and it’s no accident that the industry that is really booming, technology, is the one least regulated by government—though the assault against Uber suggests that Silicon Valley might not be immune for long.
Now 69 years old, Mr. Hill hasn’t lost any of his verve. Tall and dapper in a double-breasted suit, he is flamboyant and opinionated, and some might call him a publicity hound. He speaks with a noticeable stutter and I ask him whether this has held him back over his career. “What do you think?” he replies. He was once described as “the best damn banker” in America, and though that might be a stretch, it’s true enough that he has turned small banks into multibillion-dollar profit centers.
Mr. Hill grew up outside Washington, D.C., and attended business school at Wharton in Philadelphia, where our interview took place. During college he worked as the primary loan officer at a bank in New Jersey. “The joke was if you wanted a loan from this bank you couldn’t get it until the afternoon,” he says, “because I hadn’t gotten back from school yet.”
After graduation he got the idea of putting a retail spin on the banking business. He gathered investors to raise the $1.5 million he needed for a state bank charter. Commerce Bank sprouted from one office with nine employees but “no capital, no customers and no brand,” he says. His strategy was to “borrow the best practices of the great retailers,” adding that he learned the value of volume by watching Ray Kroc make money selling McDonald’s hamburgers for 15 cents apiece.
Most branches were open seven days a week and for extended evening hours, sometimes as late as midnight. Commerce did its best to make banking fun: Employees wore red, the company’s color, on Fridays, and a walking mascot of the letter C from the Commerce Bank logo wandered around taking pictures with clients. The idea was to turn customers into fans, who would stay loyal and recruit their friends. Mr. Hill even wrote a book in 2012 titled “Fans Not Customers: How to create growth companies in a no growth world.”
By 2007 Commerce was the 18th largest bank in North America. The previous year Mr. Hill was named to Forbes magazine’s elite 20-20-20 Club, a short list of CEOs who over 20 years had led a public firm to at least 20% average annual return in share price. Others on the list were Warren Buffett and Larry Ellison.
Mr. Hill says that when the company was sold, he personally made $400 million. “I was cash rich,” he says, “but had nothing to do.”
Then a close friend from Britain urged him to take a gander across the pond. Mr. Hill did and says he discovered that there were only five big stodgy banks operating in Britain. “They were worse run than even the American banks,” he says. “They treated the customers like they should feel lucky to have a deposit there.” For instance, their hours of operation generally ran from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m.
No new retail bank had opened in Britain in more than a century. But Mr. Hill quickly raised $100 million of private capital in the U.S. and started Metro Bank. He adopted his American model of creating a customer-first experience. “Everything we did in New York we do in London,” he says. “And everything we did in New York works better in London than it did in New York.”
Mr. Hill doesn’t believe that most depositors shop around and choose a bank based on price—say, the interest rate offered on a savings account. Convenience and service matter. Metro Banks are open seven days a week, mostly 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The big banks have moved away from offering safe-deposit boxes—Barclays justified a phaseout in 2013 by saying they were too “complex and costly”—so Metro has swarmed in to take over that business, which Mr. Hill describes as a moneymaking machine.
Branding matters, too. “You don’t buy an Apple phone because it’s cheap,” Mr. Hill says. “You buy it because you’re buying the Apple world. So that’s what we learned to deliver. We made it a fun experience to go to the bank.” He held grandiose openings with clowns and balloons. They made the bank branches kid friendly and gave dog treats to visiting canines. “In Britain the customer thinks if you love my dog you must love me,” Mr. Hill says.
He’s obsessed with a statistic called “net promote”—the percent of current customers that would recommend the bank to friends—which he insists is the best way to measure brand value. “We’re number one in Britain today in brand loyalty,” Mr. Hill says. “We’re not some boring, unsexy bank.”
Metro Bank now has 36 branches, with a new one opening about every month, and its market value has reached $1.6 billion, multiple times the original investment. The company is expected to go public on the London Stock Exchange next year—and it seems likely that once again Vernon Hill’s investors will enjoy a supersize payday.
New quarterly financial statements were announced July 23. Deposits are up more than 90% year over year, and Metro Bank has passed the $5 billion mark with 500,000 customers.His goal is to grow fivefold over the next five years, which would mean more than 150 locations and $25 billion in deposits and other assets.
Which brings him back to America’s policy debates, the hangover from the 2008 financial panic and Dodd-Frank. What to do with banks that are too big to fail? Mr. Hill doesn’t hesitate. “You have to make them smaller,” he says. “You break them up.” He says that at one point there was a rule that barred any one bank from holding more than 10% of the country’s deposits, but that some institutions, such as Bank of America, have now edged above that figure. He views that as dangerous.
And how much should we be worried about overregulation—or competition from abroad? “Here’s my story in a nutshell and I hope Washington is paying close attention,” Mr. Hill says. “A very successful American business model has been transferred to Britain, where it’s even more successful because it doesn’t have to deal with the same burdens of government.”
He continues: “The politicians keep talking about fairness and helping the little guy. But it’s the little startup businesses that get hurt the most from the heavy hand of excessive government regulation. How is that fair?”