[Dave Birch] I’m reading up to try and learn more about banking as I think this will improve my understanding of the payments business, but I’ve been side-tracked today because I’m considering joining in with the lawsuit to stop CERN from switching on their Large Hadron Collider (LHC). Apparently, there is a concern that when the assorted euro-boffins start their atom-smashing antics, they may create “strangelets” and mini-black holes:

The builders of the world’s biggest particle collider are being sued in federal court over fears that the experiment might create globe-gobbling black holes or never-before-seen strains of matter that would destroy the planet.

[From Atom-smasher fears spark lawsuit – Science- msnbc.com]

These mini-black holes would suck matter out of this universe and send it into other dimensions, where it would never been seen again. I was wondering if this might be what happened to the THIRTY SEVEN BILLION DOLLARS that’s gone missing from UBS recently. It certainly cannot be explained by conventional physics. If the chairman of UBS had stood in front of a roaring bonfire and thrown $100 bills into the flames at the rate of one a second for the last two years, he would have lost a mere $6.3 billion. Oh wait, perhaps he was burning 500 euro notes not $100 bills. They have much higher money density: in that case I stand corrected and he could just about have done it without string theory or 11 additional dimensions coming into play.

All he had to do was resign though. The Hong Kong Standard reports a more robust line on gambling bankers who pick the wrong horse. Two employees of the Agricultural Bank of China came up with a better strategy than UBS. They took about three million quid from the bank vaults. They then used the money to buy lottery tickets: their plan was to replace the missing money with the lottery winnings and hope that no-one noticed (much the same plan as Jerome Kerviel of Societe Generale fame as far as I can tell). Generally speaking, Chinese bank employees are not familiar with the work of Adam Smith:

Adventure upon all the tickets in the lottery, and you lose for certain; and the greater the number of your tickets the nearer your approach to this certainty.

[From Adam Smith Quotes]

In the U.K you get to keep the Porche and the massive pension and take a few weeks gardening leave. In China, the rogue traders with the novel asset management strategy were executed.

Now let’s look switch to look at some small numbers. You know how much I love collecting trivia about money, so the wonderful David Owen article in The New Yorker (31st March) was a dream come true.

Primarily because zinc, too, has soared in value, producing a penny now costs about 1.7 cents. Since the Mint currently manufactures more than seven billion pennies a year and “sells” them to the Federal Reserve at their face value, the Treasury incurs an annual penny deficit of about fifty million dollars—a condition known in the coin world as “negative seigniorage.”

[From Dept. of Currency: Penny Dreadful: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker]

You might think that losing money when you own a mint is quite hard to do, but don’t worry about them too much. Overall, their income was over $2 billion and there’s still plenty of money to be made on $20s! As I never tire of telling people, the Issuing Department of the Bank of England is the most profitable nationalised industry in history, with revenues of X and costs of only Y.

Owen’s is a super article that, like all New Yorker articles, was a pleasure to read for the sheer quality of the writing as much as anything else. It’s full of genuinely interesting facts. Perhaps my favourite figure, though, was the simple calculation of whether it is worth stopping to pick up a penny or not. In the U.S.,

Breaking stride to pick up a penny, if it takes more than 6.15 seconds, pays less than the federal minimum wage.

[From Dept. of Currency: Penny Dreadful: Reporting & Essays: The New Yorker]

In the U.K., the national minimum wage is

£5.52 per hour for workers aged 22 years and older

[From HM Revenue & Customs:National Minimum Wage]

That category includes me. So it takes 1/552 * 3600 seconds to earn a penny at minimum wage. If my calculations are correct, that’s 6.52 seconds, which reflects the more leisurely pace of life in this other eden, demi-paradise (which I mention only to support the campaign to have 23rd April, the first day of this year’s Digital Money Forum, adopted as National Shakespeare Day).

These opinions are my own (I think) and presented solely in my capacity as an interested member of the general public [posted with ecto]

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