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Wayfair Clocks 15% Top-Line Decline in Q2

Taylor Johnston

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Truss’s Idea for City Regulation Belongs in the Past

Taylor Johnston

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How long will it take to forget the lessons of the financial crisis? Conservative leadership contender Liz Truss appears to have done so already.

Truss is planning an immediate review of the City regulators’ roles should she win the UK premiership next month, according to campaign insiders. The most eye-catching suggestion is that the twin peaks of our domestic financial regulation system could be combined in a single regulator.

This is, to put it bluntly, a terrible idea.

That is not to say there are no arguments in favour of a catch-all regulator. Uniting all of financial regulation — conduct and prudential or financial stability — in a single institution could, in theory, eliminate siloed thinking and failures of communication between competing bodies.

But it has been less than a decade since the UK abandoned that system in the form of the Financial Services Authority. That might feel like a different era. Yet it was Truss’s Conservative predecessors George Osborne and David Cameron who argued for it to be jettisoned, sending prudential regulation powers back to the Bank of England and refashioning the responsibilities of the Financial Conduct Authority as it now is.

That was undoubtedly in part a political move: marking out a New Labour experiment as a failure. But it was also clear by the time Osborne and Cameron proposed it in 2009 — even before the full report of the banking crisis had been written — that the FSA had failed.

The same is not true now.

The Financial Conduct Authority justifiably attracts criticism. A lot of criticism. There are specific regulatory shortcomings: the scandals over London Capital and Finance and the British Steel pensioners are but two. A crisis of staff morale and recruitment, exacerbated by chief executive Nikhil Rathi’s botched handling of a bonus overhaul. Difficulties adjusting to an expanded remit after Brexit. Complaints that the watchdog is lumbering and insufficiently focused on the big picture.

Those should be arguments for a concerted effort to improve the FCA. They are not cause for ripping up a regulatory model only instituted nine years ago.

The FCA’s failures are not of the type that brought our financial system nearly to its knees, ushering in more than 10 years of state ownership of one of our largest banks. There is not the equivalent justification for radical structural reform.

Meanwhile, the Prudential Regulation Authority actually appears to be functioning relatively well under the auspices of the Bank of England. The BoE’s financial policy work is informed by the supervisory knowledge of the PRA personnel. The PRA has been integrated.

Thoughts that folding the FCA into the BoE might have a similarly happy result are delusional. The FCA is a sprawling organisation. It would be more likely to infect the Bank than be cured by it. In any case the Bank, under criticism for its handling of the post-pandemic inflationary era, has its own problems to tend to without being saddled with the FCA.

The experience of the FSA should be enough to caution against any misplaced optimism the twin mandates could be balanced effectively in an alternative combined organisation. In the words of Martin Taylor, a recent member of the BoE’s financial policy committee: “I can see no possible benefit from doing this and considerable possible downside for both the FCA and PRA.”

Why, then, would Truss consider doing it? If it is because of a concern over a lack of focus on economic growth, that is wrong-headed. We have seen before where prioritising competitiveness over rigour of regulation gets us. No one wants the taxpayer to spend billions of pounds bailing out the banks again (least of all the bankers). It has been controversial enough restoring competitiveness as a secondary objective of the FCA. To make it the guiding principle behind the UK’s financial regulatory policy would be unfathomable.

Politics is the second option. Sam Woods, chief executive of the PRA, has not endeared himself in Westminster with his perceived obstinacy over insurance industry reforms, otherwise known as one of the few Brexit benefits yet to be identified. Eliminating the institutions might neutralise some awkward personnel. Even a review would be a clear threat.

In other circumstances, a review of the roles and responsibilities of the City’s regulators might be a fine idea. Perhaps the FCA’s mandate is too broad for it to master. But any shake-up would be hugely diverting and consuming. There should be bigger priorities for the new Conservative prime minister. The last thing the UK needs is the FSA redux.

cat.rutterpooley@ft.com@catrutterpooley

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Russian Warplanes Destroyed in Crimea Airbase Attack, Satellite Images Show

Taylor Johnston

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Satellite images appear to show several Russian warplanes at an airbase in Crimea have been damaged or destroyed.

Ukraine’s air force said on Wednesday that nine aircraft were demolished in explosions a day before – a claim Russia denied.

The images, from the US-based Planet Labs, show several warplanes in pieces and swathes of scorched earth.

Image:
The airbase before the attack

One person was reportedly killed and more than a dozen others injured in the series of blasts at the Saky Russian military airbase, close to seaside resorts on the annexed Crimean Peninsula.

Kyiv has not publicly claimed responsibility for the attack, but a senior Ukrainian official told Sky News that Ukrainian Special Forces carried out the operation.

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It would be the first known major attack on a Russian military site on the Crimean Peninsula, which was seized from Ukraine by the Kremlin in 2014 and used as a launchpad for the invasion of its neighbour in February.

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Explosions near beach in Russian-occupied Crimea

Russian warplanes have used the base to strike areas in southern Ukraine.

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Crimea holds huge strategic and symbolic significance for both sides.

The Kremlin’s demand that Ukraine recognise Crimea as part of Russia has been one of its key conditions for ending the fighting, while Ukraine has vowed to drive the Russians from the peninsula and all other occupied territories.

The Russian authorities sought to downplay the explosions, saying on Wednesday that all hotels and beaches were unaffected on the peninsula, which is a popular tourist destination for many Russians.

Crimea airbase attack ‘a very public and costly failure’ for Russia

Justin Crump, CEO of the intelligence company Sibylline and ex-British military veteran, said it appeared SU24 and SU30 strike aircraft belonging to naval aviation were destroyed in the attack.

“Ukraine has claimed nine aircraft were destroyed, and the satellite images seem to show at least that,” he told Sky News. “Ukraine carried out this attack but we don’t know for sure how.”

He said: “They have privately indicated special forces were most likely used. This seems credible given an earlier attack on the fleet HQ in Sevastopol two weeks ago. That was a drone strike, but it shows that they have got capability and people operating around Sevastopol, and the US has said no US-supplied weapons were used – so this all points to ingenuity by Ukraine.

“It looks like there were three locations where very large explosions took place, seemingly centred on buildings and ammunition storage, which subsequently affected the nearby aircraft.”

He added: “Russia can replace these aircraft, but they cannot replace the loss of confidence to Crimea as a safe area, including for Russian tourists.

“It is a very public and costly failure that will further fuel paranoia in the Russian military, while Ukraine will seek to remain the element of surprise in its operations.”

Moscow said the explosions were detonations of stored ammunition and had not been caused by an attack.

Russia’s main news agencies quoted an unnamed ministry source as saying that “only a violation of fire safety requirements is considered as the main reason for the explosion of several ammunition stores at the Saky airfield”.

Ukrainian officials appeared to mock Russia’s explanation that a careless smoker might have caused ammunition at the Saky airbase to catch fire and blow up.

In an apparently sarcastic post on Facebook, the Ukrainian defence ministry said: “The Ministry of Defence of Ukraine cannot establish the cause of the fire, but once again recalls the rules of fire safety and the prohibition of smoking in unspecified places.”

It added: “We can’t rule out that the occupiers will ‘accidentally’ find some characteristic ‘insignia’, ‘visiting card’ or even ‘DNA’.”

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‘We will never give up Crimea’

One tourist, Natalia Lipovaya, said that “the earth was gone from under my feet” after the powerful blasts.

Sergey Milochinsky, a local resident, recalled hearing a roar and seeing a mushroom cloud from his window. “Everything began to fall around, collapse,” he said.

A Ukrainian parliament member, Oleksandr Zavitnevich, said on Facebook the airfield – which houses fighter jets, tactical reconnaissance aircraft and military transport planes – was no longer usable.

Russia’s military industrial capacity is said to be “under significant strain”, and the credibility of many of its weapons systems undermined by their association with its forces’ “poor performance in the Ukraine war”, according to UK intelligence.

Russia has long considered the defence industry to be one of its most important export successes, the UK Ministry of Defence said.

But in its daily briefing on Thursday, the MoD said Russia was highly unlikely to be capable of fulfilling some export orders for armoured fighting vehicles because of the exceptional demand for vehicles for Russia’s own forces in Ukraine, and the increasing effect of Western sanctions.

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