Archive for the ‘Finance and Business’ Category

 (@Jonakallgren) | Published on March 11, 2014 at 20:23 GMT
Bitcoin Boulevard

It is the home of the Dutch royals, a number of international war criminals and, seasonally, to masses of photo-taking tourists, but the Hague in the Netherlands will soon be a hotspot for bitcoin enthusiasts, too.

At 17:57 on 20th March – the precise start of spring in the Netherlands – all of the businesses along two canal-side streets in the city centre will start to accept bitcoin.

In all, nine restaurants and one art gallery will take part in the scheme.

Unofficially the two streets running along the canal – Bierkade and Groenewegje – will also change their name to ‘Bitcoin Boulevard’.

Hard sell

The city of the Hague has been quick to jump on the project with the tourism office promoting the event and the city’s ‘Night Mayor’ – the official who looks after the city’s nighttime activities – due to make the first bitcoin purchase at one of the restaurants.

Hendrik Jan Hilbolling, one of the three organisers behind the project, says he had the idea for Bitcoin Boulevard after convincing his friend, who runs a restaurant on the street, to accept bitcoin for payments.

He discussed the idea with two other bitcoin enthusiasts, Peter Klasen and Henk van Tijen, at a bitcoin meetup. The three then set out to convince all the remaining restaurants to throw away their preconceived ideas, ignore the bad news spinning out of the Mt. Gox implosion and start accepting a cryptocurrency that some of them had not even heard of.

With some it was a hard sell, but one after the other the restaurant owners started seeing the advantages of bitcoin – such as the low transaction costs, the ease of payment for international guests and the promotional value.

As Hilbolling pointed out:

“In the end, who doesn’t want to be a part of a Bitcoin Boulevard?”

The canal may soon be thronged with bitcoiners
The canal may soon be thronged with bitcoiners

Bitcoin happy hour

Bitcoin enthusiasts won’t find it hard to spend their digital coins on the streets: there is a Michelin-star restaurant, a beer hall with more than 160 beers on offer, a café and a vegetarian restaurant.

The M Restaurant will also be holding a daily bitcoin ‘happy hour’, when all guests paying with the digital currency will receive a discount.

People with a bit of extra bitcoin in their wallets can also buy photography, paintings and sculptures from internationally known contemporary artists at the art gallery West.

At this stage, the restaurants and the gallery will not be using a merchant service. Rather they will display the QR code of their wallet on the bar and do simple bitcoin transactions from wallet to wallet. Hilbolling said, however, that this might change as the project develops.

Initially the idea was to conduct a two-month trial, but the businesses have said that if things go well they continue with the Bitcoin Boulevard concept indefinitely.

‘Not just for nerds’

The three organisers, who all have day jobs in the software sector, said that they will themselves not make any profits from the project. Instead, it has been a way for them to spread the word about bitcoin, get to know other bitcoin enthusiasts, and introduce the digital currency to the general public.

Henk van Tijen explained:

“This event is is not just for nerds like ourselves, but for the regular moms and pops, kids and students. The purpose is to make it for a more broad audience.”

To boost bitcoin spending there will be a competition held for the person that spends the most crypto-coin on the street and for the restaurant that has taken the most bitcoin payments. Both winners will be displayed on the Netherlands’ largest advertising screen, which sits over a highway near the city.

So, if you want to have your mugshot on display to Dutch commuters, load up your digital wallet and book a trip to the Hague. Michelin-starred food and international beer await you.

The Party of Freedom benefits from Dutch austerity fatigue

The price of recession

GEERT WILDERS, a far-right populist politician, has been stirring up Dutch politics for nearly a decade, but he has never lured many people onto the streets. Unlike more mainstream Dutch parties, Mr Wilders’s Party for Freedom (PVV) has no dues-paying members and propagates its anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic message largely through the media. But on September 21st, the PVV adopted a new tactic, staging a rally in The Hague to demand a halt to the Dutch government’s latest austerity measures.

According to the police, only a thousand demonstrators turned up. But the low turnout belies Mr Wilders’s popularity. With the Dutch public turning against EU-imposed austerity, the coalition government is paralysed. Polls suggest that if elections were held today the PVV, which calls for the Netherlands to block immigration and to withdraw from the euro and the EU, would come first.

This ideological vision has received mixed reviews. But the more pressing problem for Mr Rutte is that it is not clear he can get his budget approved. The increasingly queasy Liberal-Labour coalition has a narrow majority in the Dutch lower house, but not in the Senate. That leaves the government scrambling for the votes of opposition parties, none of which are eager to help. The leaders of two centrist parties have criticised the government’s budget fiercely for raising taxes and failing to invest in education. If it fails in the Senate, that may mean a cabinet reshuffle. Equally, budget defeat could lead to an early election for the third time in four years.

That option should terrify both the Liberals and Labour. After over a year of recession and austerity, polls show confidence in Mr Rutte’s government at a miserable 12%. On the right, small-business owners feel betrayed by a Liberal-led cabinet that has raised value-added tax and imposed a surtax on high incomes. On the left, union members are abandoning a Labour Party that has accepted lay-offs and pay freezes in the public sector.

The big winners of a tough year have been the parties that have consistently opposed austerity, above all the PVV. As the recession drags on, Mr Wilders, a master of political rhetoric, has capitalised on the crisis and austerity fatigue by savaging the EU, which demanded the extra €6 billion effort. Opinion polls now show the PVV getting over 20% of the vote.

The Dutch are a famously thrifty people and their government has been among Europe’s strongest advocates of austerity. But two years of cuts and recession have made a dent in these Calvinist attitudes: fully 80% of the public now thinks austerity is doing more harm than good. Mr Rutte’s unpopularity stems from his attempt to bring the government’s budget into line with the European Commission’s rules. But in order to get the budget passed, he will need to offer big concessions to centrist opposition parties. Should they flinch, the prospect of Mr Wilders winning the next elections ought to focus minds.

Click here to read the original article.

Nigel Cassidy in Rotterdam, BBC News

The once-model Dutch economy is “now underwater economically”

Maureen Wachtels is trying to relax by making a Victoria sponge in her small but pristine central Rotterdam flat.

For a few moments, the whole process of sifting, mixing and baking helps take her mind off her personal plight.

Not only has she lost a well-paid and enjoyable job because of a life-threatening illness, she is also one of about a million Dutch people who suddenly find themselves in negative equity.

Maureen needs to move to sheltered accommodation as soon as possible. Yet she has only had one offer for her flat, way short of the 200,000 euros that she paid just two years ago.

But this is not just a story of over-optimistic lenders who tempted the Dutch to pile into property in the mistaken assumption that it would continue to rise in value.

The housing dam has broken. Holland is sitting on some 650bn euros in mortgage loans, with many properties worth 25% less than they were before the financial crisis.

No other EU consumers are as deeply in debt. The bursting of the Netherlands real estate bubble is now on a scale only previously seen in the United States and Spain.

‘We can’t sell’

Worst of all, it is endangering banks and jobs – stalling the longed-for recovery that is starting to emerge in neighbouring north European countries.

And all this in a country that until recently was seen as an exemplary economy – one that was quick to criticise others in Europe for not living within their means. The irony is not lost on Dutch citizens.

Maureen Wachtels in her kitchen in her Rotterdam apartment
Maureen says her flat is now worth much less than she paid for it

What remains one of the most open and competitive countries in the eurozone finds itself busting EU deficit limits and having to rapidly impose painful state austerity measures on its people against the clock.

For Maureen Wachtels, it is a surprising turn of events because she thought she was being frugal.

When she was in the market to buy, she borrowed some 200,000 euros, but was told she could borrow almost 500,000 euros – and many did just that.

“We were all forced to buy because at the time there didn’t seem to be any property to rent. Now we are stuck with houses we can’t sell,” she says.

“I never expected that in just two years my asking price would come down from over 200,000 euros to 179,000.

“All I have is an offer for 153,000 euros which I have sent to the bank – but they have not responded.”

She has advised her children to decline their inheritance on her death – because otherwise they could be stuck with her unexpected debts which will total some 35,000 euros.

Tax breaks

The estate agent handling the sale, Dennis Stellio, principal of Match Makelaars in Rotterdam, says the price falls are a good thing – not least because a return to affordability has revived the previously moribund rental market.

Despite this, he feels desperately sorry for clients like Maureen Wachtels who have been caught up in financial events. Mr Stellio believes the origins of the crisis lie in botched economic policy of the previous government.

For instance, until recently tax breaks for mortgage borrowers in the Netherlands were so generous that they inflated the market to the point where most people could no longer afford to buy.

He suggests the fault lies with politicians looking for votes who failed to act on warnings and correct the state’s unsustainable generosity; the mortgage tax breaks were costing taxpayers an estimated 14bn euros a year.

Finally, the system was changed but by then the market was falling.

“The price drop began in 2008 and it won’t stop. In my opinion prices will keep coming down 2 or 3% a year until they end up around half of what they were,” says Mr Stellio.

“They could fall even more as and when the European Central Bank raises interest rates.”

‘You can’t move’

For some, the Dutch experience provides an economic lesson of the risks for a prosperous economy caught up in a post-bubble crunch when it has ceded control of its monetary policy, interest rates and currency.

One man who has closely followed the Dutch housing market is Maarten van Wijk, an economic specialist for the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper.

“If you have a house worth 150,000 euros, but it has a mortgage of 200,000 this has a large psychological effect. You can’t move, you just have to struggle to pay down the mortgage as fast as possible.

“That is money you can’t spend in the economy. It has also come as a surprise to most people.

“If you went to a dinner party before the crisis and told people you were renting a house, people would probably consider you financially backward.

“It was received wisdom that house prices would always go up.”

Escape route

So far forced sales are relatively low – estimated at only 3,000 or so since the crisis began.

Dutch estate agent Dennis Stellio
Over-generous tax breaks distorted the market, says estate agent Dennis Stellio

Banks are offering various relief measures to try and keep people in their homes – not least because the lenders themselves want to avoid writing down their home loans.

One possible future escape route for some stressed homebuyers might be tapping into their accrued personal pension funds – if they have any.

It is an idea under active consideration in a country now exploring any possible avenue to escape a debt crisis of its own making.

Original article found here.

By Matt Steinglass in Amsterdam

Dutch Prime Minister and Liberal party VVD-leader Mark Rutte speaks to members of his party

The Dutch government has postponed the introduction of austerity measures needed to meet EU deficit limits as part of a deal with trade unions and business interests over its 2014 budget.

The so-called social accord, announced on Thursday night, is the latest in a series of retreats from tough austerity policies by a Dutch government that has spent the last several years arguing for budget discipline in Brussels, but now faces a worsening recession at home.

The accord postpones government plans to cut the length of unemployment cover from three years to less than two and to reduce workers’ legal employment protection. It strikes compromises on issues such as reducing tax preferences for pensions and requiring businesses to hire more people with disabilities.

Most significantly, the plan delays until September a decision on whether to implement €4.3bn in tax rises and spending cuts that the government’s own forecasts say are needed to hold the Netherlands’ budget deficit below the EU limit of 3 per cent in 2014.

Mark Rutte, prime minister, said he believed that the accord itself could inspire renewed consumer confidence and improve the economy sufficiently to make deficit cuts unnecessary.

“We hope and expect that if everyone pitches in, and everyone feels that confidence is being created which can lead to a strong economy, we won’t need [the austerity measures],” he said.

This appeared to mark a departure from the government’s previous insistence that the key to restoring consumer confidence was to implement austerity measures and cut the budget deficit.

The new accord is the latest in a series of measures to water down or delay reforms the government announced when it took office in November.

Analysts were unconvinced that it would have a near-term positive effect on the economy.

“It’s wishful thinking,” said Carsten Brzeski an economist at ING, the Dutch banking group. “If it is intended to restore confidence, it is questionable whether changing your programme every two to three months has a positive impact.”

Mr Brzeski questioned whether the European Commission, which must review member states’ budgets in May and June to ensure they comply with deficit limits, would accept the new accord. Olli Rehn, EU budget commissioner, has refrained from imposing sanctions on the Netherlands, despite the country’s violation of the 3 per cent limit this year, but based that decision on his conviction that the government’s reforms were reducing the structural budget deficit in the medium term.

Mr Rutte told Dutch television on Thursday the new accord would raise the annual structural budget deficit by €600m.

The accord stems from negotiations between the government and leaders of the country’s national labour federation, FNV, and of its largest business federation, the VNO-NCW. Such negotiations are a traditional part of the Dutch “polder model” of economic policy making including all stakeholders.

The government was in particular need of a business-labour accord because it lacks a majority in the Dutch Senate. Without national support, it feared it would be unable to pass a budget.

But opposition parties, whose support the government needs in the Senate, criticised the agreement on Friday.

“This is the third time the governing programme has been revised [since the cabinet took office],” said Arie Slob, leader of the Christian Union party. “I don’t know what this cabinet stands for any more.”

Read original article here.

ON THIS TOPIC

Original Reuters article found here

Wed Nov 7, 2012 10:11am EST

 

Nov 7 - The Dutch government's proposed austerity measures could have a
greater negative impact on house prices than on the performance of existing
mortgages, Fitch Ratings says.

Slow implementation, the focus on the highest earners and a partially offsetting
reduction in tax rates, mean we do not expect the much-anticipated reduction in
mortgage tax deductibility to have a significant effect on default rates in a
near future. The rate will fall to 38% from 52%, though phased in at just 0.5% a
year, and only the highest earners will be affected at first. The initial impact
will be small - we calculate the loss of income for an individual in the highest
tax bracket, making interest payments of EUR15,000, will be just EUR75 in year
one, gradually rising to EUR2,100 in year 28.

The proposal to link health-care premiums to personal income from 2014 would
have a greater impact, raising costs to EUR5,650 from EUR1,269 for those earning
EUR70,000 or more. However, as with the changes to mortgage tax relief, the
biggest burden would arguably fall on those best able to bear it (health-care
premiums will fall for those earning less than EUR29,000) and may also be partly
offset by the cut in the top tax rate.

In contrast, proposed cuts in unemployment benefits would - by definition - hit
borrowers who might be less able to continue making mortgage repayments. From
July 2014, unemployment benefits will be paid for a maximum of two years, down
from three currently. For the first year, the amount received will be 70% of a
claimant's last-earned income. It will then fall to the same level as the
minimum wage.

This could lead to an increase in default rates after around three years,
although the impact may be tempered by an economic recovery between now and
implementation. We forecast real GDP increases of 0.7% and 1.5% in 2013 and 2014
respectively, versus a 0.7% contraction this year. Dutch unemployment has
remained low by European standards, and we currently expect it to peak in 2013,
at 6.2%.

Overall, however, the changes could add to the current weakness in the Dutch
housing market. Potential buyers may see them as another reason to avoid
entering the market, alongside economic uncertainty and the desire to wait until
prices have bottomed out. In our latest criteria revision in June we increased
our base case default rate to reflect a deteriorating macroeconomic situation
and possible austerity measures. The emergence of these measures, combined with
the sharper-than-expected falls in house prices over the summer, mean Fitch is
currently assessing its Dutch house price expectations and is likely to review
them in the near future (we already expect a steady house price decline into
year-end).

We plan to comment in more detail on the broader potential ramifications of the
proposals on the Dutch mortgage and housing markets at a later date. It is also
a topic at our upcoming "European RMBS: Looking Beyond the Ratings" events in
Amsterdam tomorrow and London 20 November. Full details are available at
www.fitchratings.com.

The new coalition government announced the measures last week as part of its
effort to make around EUR16bn of budget savings.

The above article originally appeared as a post on the Fitch Wire credit market
commentary page. The original article can be accessed at www.fitchratings.com.
All opinions expressed are those of Fitch Ratings.

Original Reuters article found here.

Thu, Nov 1 2012

AMSTERDAM, Nov 1 (Reuters) – Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, one of the few European Union leaders to survive an election during the euro zone crisis, has agreed to form a pro-EU, pro-austerity coalition with his close rival, Labour, following the general election on Sept. 12.

As one of the few AAA-rated euro zone countries, the Netherlands is expected to remain committed to a policy of fiscal discipline and remaining a close ally of Germany.

COALITION AGREEMENT

Rutte and Labour leader Diederik Samsom reached a coalition deal much faster than expected after the election, and agreed to budget cuts amounting to 16 billion euros ($20.76 billion) over the next four years, and structural reforms including a reduction in tax breaks on home loans.

What to watch:

– Whether both the lower and upper houses of parliament pass the budget cuts.

EURO ZONE CRISIS

The Netherlands is expected to remain committed to tight fiscal policies to tackle the euro zone’s debt crisis. Like other euro zone countries, it must approve an EU fiscal treaty which will enshrine balanced budget rules in national law.

Parliament, which has been critical of euro zone bailouts in the past, has supported all such measures so far. Rutte said in his election campaign he would not give more money to Greece, while Samsom said Greece should be given more time to reform.

What to watch:

– Political and public support for euro zone bailouts

BUDGET DEFICIT

The 2013 budget, agreed by an ad hoc coalition in April after Rutte’s government fell, aims to bring the deficit down to 2.7 percent of GDP with 12 billion euros in tax rises and spending cuts.

The additional 16 billion euros in budget cuts are expected to bring the deficit down to 1.5 percent of GDP by 2017, according to the CPB, the state agency charged with assessing government economic policy.

What to watch:

– Implementation of agreed budget cuts

– Support for other reforms and spending cuts

– Strikes or protests over budget cuts

SOCIAL POLICIES

The Dutch are divided over immigration and the country’s international profile. The new government is expected to backtrack on some anti-immigration policies which were promoted by populist politician Geert Wilders and try to improve the country’s image overseas.

But according to the new coalition agreement, clothing that covers the face such as Muslim veils will be banned in schools, hospitals, public transport and government buildings. Anyone who wears such clothing, or who does not speak Dutch, will not be entitled to receive social security.

 

Original DutchNews article found here

Tuesday 12 July 2011

 

The Dutch central bank has strongly criticised the European Commission for the way it imposed a restructuring plan on ING in return for agreeing to sanction state support for the financial services group, the Financieele Dagblad reports on Tuesday.

 

The central bank says the commission ‘made a number of mistakes’ in assessing ING’s condition and that the divestment plan was too severe.

 

The central bank made the comments during a European Court of Justice hearing into the restructuring. The central bank has officially attached itself to the ING appeal, the paper says.

 

Unusual move

 

The central bank says in its submission that it is unusual for a central bank to get involved in a European dispute over state support, and that the Commission has tried to resist the move.

 

ING received a €10bn bail-out from the Dutch government, which also became guarantor for ING’s €27bn US property portfolio.

 

In return for its approval, the Commission ordered ING to sell off a large part of its activities, including the insurance arm.

 

Forced sale

ING is questioning the decision by the Commission to impose a package of measures such as the forced sale of parts of its insurance operations.

 

The central bank wants the court to recognise that the Commission must take information from a country’s financial supervisory body in such cases.

 

 

Original DutchNews article found here

Tuesday 12 July 2011

 

Amsterdam has fallen from 35th to 50th place in an annual ranking of the most expensive cities for expats.

 

The list, drawn up by consultancy Mercer, rates Luanda in Angola as the most expensive place for expats to live, followed by Japan’s capital Tokyo.

 

Two years ago, Amsterdam was in 25th place. The research covers the cost of accommodation, international education, food, clothing, transport and utilities.

 

‘In most Western European cities the cost of living for expatriates has remained relatively stable over the last 12 months,’ said Mercer senior researcher Nathalie Constantin-Métral .

 

However, many of the region’s cities have still dropped in the ranking because the survey compares them to New York. ‘Price increases there have been more significant than in most European cities,’ Constantin-Métral said.

 

 

 

 

 

Amsterdam, Netherlands, Aug 26, 2010 (Thomson Reuters ONE via COMTEX) — Highlights

– Sales up 10.8% to EUR 7.1 billion (up 4.4% at constant exchange rates)

– Operating income up 17.6% to EUR 347 million

– Net income EUR 202 million

– Underlying retail operating margin 5.2%

Amsterdam, the Netherlands – August 26, 2010 – Ahold today published its interim report for the second quarter and half year 2010. CEO John Rishton said: “We continued to grow sales, volumes and market share in the Netherlands and the United States while delivering solid financial results. Market conditions remained challenging with high levels of competitive promotional activity. We are confident in our ability to continue to balance sales and margins while providing improved value to our customers.”

Ahold Press Office: +31 20 509 5343

Ahold Investor Relations: +31 20 509 5216

HUG#1440337

Ahold Interim Report Q2/HY 2010

Original text found here.