Money

Charges for Browsing

The BBC have a report about bridal shops making a charge to look at wedding dresses. This is to try and stop people who come in to try on the dresses as recreation.

Whilst I can see that this may be a problem for the shops, I know that when we got wed we would have seen it as outrageous. Monica toured lots of shops before she found 'the dress' - and I'm pretty sure she would have simply walked out if anyone had tried this.

Ah well, whilst the majority of people hand over the cash without quibble, these things will go on - after all, it is their wedding day and this does give people licence to extract money in any way they can....

What was that, Darling?

Always nice to reference Blackadder. So, Alistair Darling has sought to dig Labour from a hole of their own making by raising the personal tax-free allowance by £600. Not only does this allow stupid people to think 'Oh good, I'm £600 better off' (when they're not) he's paid for it by borrowing £2.7billion - i.e. the country is going further into debt to dig Labour from this hole - one that anyone with any sense saw coming a year ago.

He is also going to 'lower the level at which 40p tax is paid - so higher earners did not gain from the change.'

Yep, and some more of the middle classes get moved into the top tax bracket.

It's a threshold raise for one year only (they 'aim' to continue the support, but....)

Of course, this is nothing to do with the upcoming by-elections. Oh no. Just as certain tax breaks made as 'one offs' had nothing to do with the general election in 2005. 'A one-off council tax refund of £200 for every household with a member aged 65 or older. Annual winter fuel payment of £200 for over-65s and £300 for over-80s' (source)

On the other hand, it is better to have a government which realises they've cocked up and seeks to put it right - but they've put it 'right' by increasing national debt. They could have saved a lot of cash by removing the expensive and also pointlessly invasive ID card scheme. A scheme which has the appearance of increasing, but doesn't substantially increase actual security. Scrapping this illiberal scheme would have also righted another mistake.

Yes, it's a tax break today (or rather it's removing a tax increase) - but it'll have to be paid for tomorrow.

Bash Problem - sorted

With thanks to those who tried to help, the final script for my Bash problem is below. Problem:

To grab the fund price from the L&G website for an index tracker. To email the price to me, and to store that price in a CSV file to allow easy import to Quicken. There is no ticker available for auto download to quicken that I could find, so the ticker is made up. (LGTRKFTSE). This means the prices are associated with the correct share.

The script may not be the most elegant of solutions, but it works. There is a slight modification from the version I arrived at in the previous post - that is I needed to shift the decimal point, as the price is quoted in pence, but I need it in pounds.

Note that ^M is entered as ctrl-V ctrl-M

# Get the fund prices for L&G tracker and email me daily

# Get the file cd ~ wget -q http://www.legalandgeneral.com/investment/fundprice1_index.jsp --output-document=fundprices.txt

# Find the data I want grep --after-context=10 "UK Index Trust (Acc) (R)" fundprices.txt | sed -e :a -e 's/<[^>]*>//g;/ ~/fundprices.txt

# Trim Excess tabs tr -d '\t' < fundprices.txt > fundpricesout.txt

# I only want the closing price grep -m 1 '[0-9]' ~/fundpricesout.txt > fundprices.txt

# Shift the decimal point cp fundprices.txt fundpricesout.txt sed 's/[0-9][0-9]\./\.&/g' fundpricesout.txt | sed 's/\.//2' > fundprices.txt

# Output the CSV record for easier import to Quicken echo -n "LGTRKFTSE," >>fundprice.csv cat fundprices.txt >> fundprice.csv echo -n $(date +%d/%m/%Y) >> fundprice.csv echo "BRK" >> fundprice.csv

# Strip off the ctrl M characters sed 's/^M//g' fundprice.csv > fundpricesout.txt cp fundpricesout.txt fundprice.csv

# This bit reformats the file cat fundprice.csv | tr '\n' ',' > fundpricesout.txt sed 's/BRK,/\n/g' fundpricesout.txt > fundprice.csv cp fundprice.csv fundpricesout.txt sed 's/,LG/\nLG/g' fundprice.csv > fundpricesout.txt # The above is only needed as for some silly reason I couldn't get # rid of the newline in the file containing the price # It's not pretty, but it works

grep '[0-9]\.[0-9]' fundpricesout.txt > fundprice.csv # This bit cleans out any lines without a price. # It sometime happens if there is a network problem, and I am happy to miss a datapoint # as long as the file is in the right format.

# Mail me the price for the day mail -s "Prices for `date +%Y-%m-%d`" myemail@foo.bar < ~/fundprices.txt

# Tidy up a bit rm fundpricesout.txt rm fundprices.txt

This is set to run as a cron job on weekdays. Monthly, I am emailed the csv file.

How Taxes Work

How Taxes Work . . . This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read on — it does make you think!!

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to £100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay £1, the sixth would pay £3, the seventh £7, the eighth £12, the ninth £18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay £59.

That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).

"Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by £20." So now dinner for the ten only cost £80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?"

The six men realized that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in £2, the seventh paid £5, the eighth paid £9, the ninth paid £12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of £52 instead of his earlier £59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a pound out of the £20," declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. "But he got £7!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man, "I only saved a pound, too . . . It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!".

"That's true!" shouted the seventh man, "why should he get £7 back when I got only £2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO POUNDS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.

Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!

via Snopes and Division of Labour, following a post from a Drunken Wasp

Free Fifty Quid

Selftrade have an offer on at the moment (UK Only) whereby one can get a free 50 quid for opening an account. This is something which virtually anyone can take advantage of (even if they ultimately don't want the account). I've used this service when they were comdirect, then squaregain and have had no problems.

Essentially, they're an 'execution only' broker. They buy and sell shares when told to by the customer. They do this reasonably cheaply. As I write, for ishares there are no fees at all when buying.

To get the 50 quid, you need to be recommended by an existing client (I'm one) - to do this the existing client needs to log in and enter your email address (a 'throwaway' can be used if you're concerned about spam - I've never had spam from them).

Then the new person needs to do one of three things (don't discount these, see below!):

  1. make one trade worth at least £500
  2. transfer an account from another broker
  3. deposit some share certificates worth at least £500

For people without existing shares, the easiest to do is the first option. Even if cash is tight.

If I've read this right, here's how to do it:

  1. Open a dealing account (free).
  2. When convenient (e.g. After payday) transfer in £500 using a debit card.
  3. Buy some ishares (e.g. ISF, a FTSE 100 tracker) (this is no commission for ishares, for regular shares there would be)
  4. Soon thereafter 50 quid is deposited (I get 50 quid at this point too, which is why I'm posting about it at all!)
  5. Assuming you don't want to keep the equities, then you'd sell the ishares (costing £12.50). You can transfer your cash out by BACS (so the cash would be out of your current account for three or four days)
  6. Net profit to you is roughly £37.50 for about 5-10 minutes work. (I say roughly as there may be some price movement between buying and selling - the market would have to drop 7.5% to wipe out the profit - if the buy and sell were close together then it's not impossible, but it would be extreme!

Of course, it'd be up to you what you do with the account, you might decide to keep it going, to not sell whatever it is you bought... it's none of anybody's business but your own.

If you're thinking 'it sounds to good to be true', what's in it for selftrade is that they're hoping that you keep the account going, and buy/sell shares through them in the future. Essentially, they're spending £100 trying to acquire your business, hoping you'll stick around long enough to repay them in fees several times over - it's up to you whether you actually stick around!

To take advantage of this, I would need to know which email address you'd like me to use (if you use the comment form below, the email address will not appear on this site).

The current deadline to fulfil the condition and be eligible for the offer is October, though they periodically extend this.

Card Cloned

I was in Tesco yesterday and my card was not accepted. Odd, I resolved to ring the card company when I got home. I forgot. Today I had a call - and I rang them back on their number (they were fine with that, unlike a previous company).

Yesterday there was a payment to someone like totaljobs.com for a few hundred pounds. This was following a transaction for 78p to some obscure place. It triggered some alarm bells with the card company and they froze things until they could talk to me.

The 78p was a test to see if the skimming worked.

I didn't authorise these transactions - somehow the card had been skimmed (amazing really, I never let the card out of my sight in shops and restaurants as I am aware of skimming possibilities).

Fortunately things had been caught, no money changed hands - unfortunately I now have to get a new card.

Tesco Credit card handled the whole thing pretty well.

Cinema Tickets

I wanted to get cinema tickets this weekend, and normally don't like to use the automated booking line for the cinema for several reasons 1) I can walk there during the week to get tickets for the weekend. This lets me point at the screen to choose my own seats (yes, one has some flexibility when talking on the phone, but one has none using the online system). (Update: this has now changed)

2) The phone line costs, over two pounds extra for four tickets. I really do not understand this, surely any cost would be per phone call, not per ticket. In addition they get certainty of selling the ticket and they have to pay for less staff manning all the individual cinemas! The same is true when booking online. It's almost as mysifying as a ferry company charging more for ferry tickets as the gap increases between outbound and return journeys. The only explanation is blatant profiteering.

3) The call can be frustrating

Unfortunately I did not have a chance to go to the cinema in person in the week and so I had to use the automated line. I have discovered a nice dodge.

When it says 'Please state the name of the cinema you require', saying 'Operator' puts you straight through to a Human Being.

This is so useful to know, I've put it here so I can find it again using the helpful search box on the homepage.

The film? Underworld: Evolution

Mizuho Error

A typo has cost the Japanese Mizuho Corporation some 27 billion yen. Losses may rise to 100 billion yen. Essentially, they wanted to sell one share for 610000 yen, but instead sold 610000 shares for 1 yen.

27 billion yen is around 128 million pound sterling at today's rates.

Whoops.

What makes the story particularly amusing is that they sold 42 times more shares than are actually in existence and "since the number of sold shares exceeded the number of existing shares, there is a possibility that Mizuho may not be able to hand shares over to the investors who bought them."

Boringly, it isn't quite that much of a discount as the Japanese market has rules which limit price fluctuations.

Story via Slashdot See also: East Asia Watch and Barking Moonbat

The Hard Ecu

Fifteen years ago today, the then Chancellor, John Major, proposed a new European currency. This was dubbed the 'Hard Ecu'. The name, ECU, stood for 'European Currency Unit' and was a damned silly name - but one which held for a while as to call it 'Pound, Shilling, Dollar, Franc' or some other name would likely cause turf wars over the name rather than the principle.

The Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, said that currency union was unlikely in her lifetime. The Euro entered circulation in 2002, having been traded for several years as a seperate currency. Ironically, despite the involvement of the British in 1990, the UK is one of three EU countries which did not sign up for the Euro.

Letter to Card Company

Let's see what this gets, it's a letter prompted by the card fun this evening.

My particular card is a Tesco one, but it's run by Royal Bank of Scotland. I wonder what they'll say? Probably something bland and non committal.

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to express a fundamental concern about your security systems.

This evening I arrived home to find a message asking me to ring the "credit card centre" as soon as possible. The number given was not one I recognised.

When I rang the number, I was immediately asked for my card details and I was a little surprised. To give out card details, including security details to someone who phones up and asks for them is a fundamental security flaw.

Even if in this instance it was legitimate, this approach is open to abuse as you are effectively suggesting to your customers that these details should be given out to anyone who phones up and leaves a phone number.

The man I spoke to tried to find out from my name why the message was left, but could not get into the system without these details.

I tried to explain my concern to him, and asked whether I could simply ring the number on the back of my card. As I was trying to explain this he was saying that if I could not give him my security details then he'd have to terminate the call and I would not be able to use my card.

This is most definitely not appropriate. There was no way that I was going to give these details to someone when I could not verify who I was talking to – and I should not have been pressured to do so.

What should have occurred is that the original message on the answering machine should have asked me to telephone "the number on the back of my Tesco Personal Finance credit card, or on the top of the statement". In this way I could have been sure who I was talking to. In the end I rang this number and the issue was dealt with. I mentioned this to both people I talked to on the phone, but did not get the impression that they even understood the issue.

I appreciate that you need to validate spending from time to time, but in an era of "phishing" scandals I feel that to be left an unusual number on the answer-phone is a huge error, as it could be repeated by the dishonest without raising alarm bells in the customer's mind – especially when the solution mentioned above is so easy. The customer should be told never to give out these details except when they phone the number on their statement/card.

Credit Card Madness

I had a phone call on my answerphone when I got in today. Paraphrasing: 'Hello, it's the credit card centre, please can you ring us on <number I didn't recognise> as soon as possible?' (Essentially they wanted to confirm that my spending today was done by me).

Okay... so I rang. 'Royal bank of Scotland credit cards, can I have your card number, please?' (I have no RBS accounts, but it looks like Tesco use these guys for their card)

'Erm... no.'

'Why not?'

'Well, I'm ringing to return of a message left on my answering machine, and I don't recognise the number, so I'm not giving you my card details. There are lots of scams out there'.

'Okay, perhaps if I could have your name?'

They used my name in the message, so no harm done. I told them.

'Can I have the first two numbers in your security code, please?'

'No'

'Why not?'

Arrrrghghghhghhh!

I tried explaining that giving a phone number that bore no relation to anything on the card was not a good thing as it encouraged punters to give their card security details to cold callers. This makes it really quite awkward in a world of 'phishing' scams. I suggested that the message should have been 'please phone using the contact number printed on your card'

The guy eventually said 'I can't access any details unless you pass clearance, so I am going to have to terminate this call.'

He was not listening to what I said, and I got the distinct impression that he thought I was being awkward for the sake of it. True, I was being awkward, but this is a fundamental flaw in their security procedures. It may not open up problems immediately, but it is exploitable.

I said to him 'if I ring back using the number on my card, will I get through to the same place' - and he responded 'yes'... so why give out a different number?

I'm not impressed. The financial institutions should have a basic rule that customers should not give out details unless they can be sure that they're talking to the bank. - and here they were positively encouraging me to do so.

Idiots.