The unemployment stats on Wednesday triggered a new round of speculation about whether George Osborne was likely to meet his two fiscal targets: balancing the structural current deficit and having debt falling as a ratio to GDP by the end of the parliament.
Neither target is quite as tough as you might think, however, as the Guardian has pointed out today. On the debt target, technically, the government could borrow billions more than it is currently planning and still not breach it, as long as it slowed borrowing towards the end of the parliament and showed debt was falling by 2015. This is unlikely to happen (partially because it could breach the other target), but it is possible.
Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed a discrepancy in the press releases issued this morning by UKFI and by Virgin on the sale of Northern Rock.
In the UKFI announcement there was no mention of Wilbur Ross, the US billionaire, or his company. By contrast the press release from Virgin Money says explicitly: “The acquisition is funded by an investment consortium led by Virgin Group and WL Ross & Co.”
It seems ministers are keen for Sir Richard Branson to be the smiling face of the deal, rather than the man dubbed by Fortune Magazine the “King of Bankruptcy”.
So who is Ross? He is a very canny financial investor who has made a speciality out of distressed assets. Recently he was part of a consortium which saved Bank of Ireland from full state ownership by taking a combined 35 per cent stake through rights issues: that consortium was made up of Fidelity Investments, Fairfax Financial Holdings and WL Ross & Co.