Financial Markets…Season In London

“The British have no reason to wait before rolling out the Christmas decorations,” writes Correspondent Vivian Lewis ( from London, “as they do not have Thanksgiving to finish first. And the shoppes here are doing a roaring trade even now. The idea is to catch the shoppers early, before another store has won their business. This is accomplished by price reductions and discounts for buying more than one item. Falalalala began in October and is now in full swing.

“The contrast to last year is palpable, and statistics from October are impressive. We went to Ikea to buy a new bed (required now that we have three grandchildren who sleep in twin beds), and there were mobs of shoppers, again, a great contrast to last year.

“John Lewis, the family emporium on Oxford Street, reported sales up 16% over last October. (My husband is descended from a brother of the founder of the U.K. chain now owned by its employees, not by family members.) Overall, London in October spent 2.6% more than a year earlier.

“But there is a threat from a new pair of Lehman Brothers, the firm whose collapse last year wiped out big spending by City financial services executives. This year’s Lehmans are not from across the Atlantic, but from across the River Tweed. Scots Alisdair Darling and Gordon Brown, respectively Chancellor of the Exchequeur and Premier, want to tear up bankers’ bonus deals.

“The Queen, who has no say in the matter, will present the government’s position in her crown speech on Wednesday. Bonuses will be limited in amount and only become payable after three years. There goes Xmas spending…

“In theory, the bonus ban is aimed at reducing incentives to take excessive risk. In fact, it is mostly punitive in intent, aimed at keeping Labour’s constituents happy after Brown and Darling used taxpayer money to bail out a bunch of badly run expansion-mad banks. Bonuses in non-state-owned banks are a target, although they were not a cause of the financial meltdown last year.”