Comment: Sectors labouring under different conditions

Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
Terry Murden. Picture: TSPL
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HOW the other half lives. On the day that the living wage was raised to £7.45 an hour for those working in the public sector, it was revealed that the average salary in the North Sea oil and gas industry is £64,000 against the national rate of £25,000.

The disparity will surprise no-one, but it does indicate how the economy operates on different levels and with different challenges.

While public sector workers feel the cold snap of the austerity measures, the oil industry is enjoying the warming glow of a price per barrel consistently above $100, strong global demand, and improved technology that enables operators to make it economic to exploit hitherto untapped reserves.

But the industry’s buoyant activity, revealed in the latest survey from Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce, is not the sole cause of a wages boom; it is also a result of skills shortages that have forced employers to offer salary increases of up to 12 per cent in order to attract and retain quality staff. This has led to a degree of cannibalisation among companies struggling to fill vacancies.

There is a clear need for colleges and industry to work together to ensure labour shortages and escalating rates of pay do not hinder the sector’s progress.

HSBC sees challenges, not just problems

HSBC is making headlines for all the wrong reasons, yet in spite of the potential $1.5 billion (£940m) it could be fined for breaching money laundering rules in the US, the bank continues to make serious profits and the markets expect more growth, particularly in Asia.

Indeed, fines and payment protection insurance compensation aside, the third-quarter numbers are mainly positive: underlying profit before tax was $5bn, up 125 per cent on the same period last year; loan impairments were down significantly; the capital position continues to strengthen, with the core tier one ratio at 11.7 per cent, against 10.1 per cent at the end of 2011, and 11.3 per cent at the end of June.

Chief executive Stuart Gulliver is making good progress on the restructuring strategy and on reducing costs so the bank is likely to be ahead of target on savings by the end of next year.

Crucially, there is an improving outlook in key markets: China is expected to have a soft landing in 2013 and the US housing market is showing some signs of healing.

With a balance sheet less exposed to some of the deep-seated problems of some of its rivals, a strong capital position and a weighting of activity towards the growing eastern economies, HSBC looks well capable of shrugging off what Gulliver regards as the sins of the sector’s past.

Consumers have little appetite for spending

THE rebound in consumer sentiment appears to have been short-lived. A post-Olympics boom in September prompted hopes that the shopper was returning to the high street, encouraged by lower inflation and a host of new gadgets. The omens looked good in the run-up to the all-important weeks ahead of Christmas.

But the latest figures from the British Retail Consortium suggest the tide has once again turned with trading at its weakest in a year.

With the services sector also showing signs of sluggishness it looks like the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee may be persuaded to pump a little extra funding into the economy on Thursday.