Supermarket Income REIT Presentation

I watched a webinar from Supermarket Income REIT (SUPR) yesterday on the Investor Meet Company platform. This is not a company I currently hold but I may consider investing in it even though it is in the currently deeply unfashionable sector of commercial property trusts.

They have a focus on omni-channel supermarket properties and 80% of their leases are indexed to inflation with a WAULT of 15 years. They have hedged 100% of their debt exposure to 2026 at 2.6%. They claim it is a defensive, counter-cyclical company with a low LTV.

80% of their portfolio is leased to Tesco and Sainsburys and they have just established a new ESG committee, but who hasn’t?

Their indexed leases have caps of about 4 to 5% on about 5% of their portfolio.

The presentation was eminently clear with good slides.

There is also a recent report published by Edison on the company.

The current discount to NAV is 10.6% and the dividend yield is 5.8% according to the AIC so it is not as cheap as some REITs at present. But that may be because of the defensive nature of the business (supermarkets are unlikely to be affected much by the recession as people have to eat) and the historic good performance figures over 5 years.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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We Are All Doomed…..Maybe, and More Green Washing from Up Global

The media reports on COP27 suggest we are all doomed as it is unlikely that we will keep to the target of 1.5 degrees of global warming. This is an unduly pessimistic outcome. A rise in temperature can actually be beneficial in many parts of the world, if damaging in others.

It is certainly sensible to try and reduce carbon emissions in the long-term but there needs to be a cost/benefit justification and a focus on countries that are the biggest carbon emitters – namely China, India, USA, and Russia. For the UK to aim for net zero makes no economic sense.

Meanwhile the UK Government has committed £11.6 billion to a “climate fund” to support a mix of energy transition, climate financing and forest and nature preservation measures. Some of these may be worthy objects but can the country really afford many billions on such projects when our own population is suffering from shortages of food and heating?

There is also a demand for “reparations” for the damage that has been caused by high carbon emissions that has resulted in floods and droughts. That is debateable to begin with and it ignores the benefits brought to the world by the cheap energy available from oil and gas. That has increased food production and enabled the world population to increase to a level that would otherwise have starved. See the book “How the World Really Works” by Prof. Vaclav Smil for the evidence on this subject. Reparations should certainly therefore be rejected.

I am certainly not supportive of the Just Stop Oil campaigners who are simply irrational and I will continue to invest in oil/gas companies but not in coal mining companies while I have been investing in alternative energy funds. Burning coal is a bad option in comparison with generating electricity from wind farms, hydro-electric schemes, solar arrays and other projects.

But we do need to reduce the world’s population if we are to improve the environment which is an objective most of the climate campaigners simply ignore.

Companies are of course jumping on the bandwagon of “green-washing” by issuing policy statements that support ESG policies. The latest example in my stock market portfolio is from Up Global Sourcing (UPGS) who announced today their ESG strategy. This includes a commitment to net zero Scope 1 and 2 and emissions by 2040 and net zero Scope 3 emissions by 2050. Other commitments are:

  • 50% less plastic packaging by 2025 (compared to a 2019 baseline), with the remaining plastic packaging to contain an average of 30% recycled content and be 100% recyclable or reusable.
  • Gender balance in leadership roles by 2030.
  • 40% of Board representation to be female by 2025.
  • 20% of UK workforce to be made up of ethnic minorities by 2030.
  • 60% of UK workforce to be recruited from the local community by 2030, versus 47.2% % today.

Simon Showman, Chief Executive of the company commented: “Striving to do the right thing has always been core to everything that Ultimate Products does”. Surely we can do without such platitudes. As regards the stated objectives it’s worth bearing in mind that the directors making such commitments will likely be long gone by the dates promised. Am I a cynic or just a realist?

Meanwhile the company is part of the global economy with production of the products it sells in the Far East (87% from China) and being shipped thousands of miles via polluting ocean-going vessels burning oil.

If that makes economic sense then I am happy for them to carry on but we could do without the “holier than thou” commitments.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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More News on Globo Case

Globo was a company subject to a large fraud back in 2015 which caused the company to collapse and investors lost everything. Shareholders might have thought that any legal proceedings were dead but not so. The FCA have published a note on how they have been progressing the case which is here: https://www.fca.org.uk/news/press-releases/fca-progresses-market-abuse-claim-against-globo-plc-chiefs

In summary despite the Greek courts rejecting extradition requests to face criminal charges against the former CEO and CFO, the FCA is now progressing a civil case and the High Court has rejected an application to strike out the proceedings.

As a former shareholder in Globo it is good to hear that the case is still being pursued although I did not lose money on my shareholding having decided that there were too many unexplained and unaccountable problems being reported and therefore selling before it went bust. But many other shareholders were not so lucky.

After 7 years it would be good to have some conclusion on this example of how fraud can fool auditors such that the reported accounts were a complete fiction.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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JPMorgan Global Growth AGM and Twitter Fees

Yesterday I attended the Annual General Meeting of JPMorgan Global Growth and Income Plc (JGGI). This is a global investment trust as the name implies and the meeting was a “hybrid” AGM with a number of shareholders present in person but I attended on-line. Questions could be posed on-line but voting was only via proxy in advance for those attending on-line. I found this a perfectly satisfactory arrangement.

The meeting commenced with a presentation from the managers after brief words from the Chairman about the recent merger of the trust with the Scottish Investment Trust which almost doubled the size of the company. The result will be lower management fees.

The trust is a “high conviction, bottom-up stock selection” investor with 80% active share, i.e. it is definitely not a closet index tracker. As one investor pointed out, this results in a high stock turnover as they are sensitive to changes in the current valuations of companies.

The annualised return since 2008 has been 2.4% ahead of the MCSI All Country World Index per annum but they slightly underperformed last year. But it has a good long-term record and usually trades at a premium to NAV.

The manager emphasised that they aim to own the “best” companies but talked about the 185 different data points they measure on companies re ESG factors – a very tiresome subject that is now promoted by all fund managers. I just want them to make money!

There were some negative comments on Apple, Tesla and Lyft (they prefer Uber). They like Amazon, NXDP, LVMH etc where they are overweight.

There were a few questions from the audience. One was is the dividend covered by earnings? The answer was NO. The justification given was that it is best to invest in the best companies and not worry about the dividend cover. Would it not be best to reinvest the profits? Most investors prefer a reasonable dividend and the company has retained profits from capital that it can pay out.

All resolutions were passed based on the proxy counts before the meeting.

In summary this was a useful meeting which was well managed. For those who want good international coverage and like active management this is a share worth considering.

I shall be tweeting about this report of course. Also yesterday Elon Musk suggested that he would introduce a subscription service on Twitter at $8 per month which would give users some priority in search which he considered essential to defeat spam and reduce the number of adverts they see. There would also be verification of users who subscribed. In reality he is changing the business model from total reliance on advertising.

I am all in favour of those changes. More moderation is required on Twitter and if charging helps to reduce the number of garbage and abusive comments then so much the better.

Musk is also planning to halve the number of Twitter staff. It’s not many companies that have so many non-essential staff that half can be fired. It will be interesting to see the outcome of these changes for investors in Twitter.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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The Economy, Politics and Financial Fraud

With not a lot happening in my stock market portfolio today, I have some time to comment on wider issues. With the USA Federal Reserve raising interest rates and the Bank of England doing likewise, there is clearly a commitment to tackle inflation aggressively. This will undoubtedly put a damper on the economy in due course and lead to a recession in the UK as has been widely forecast anyway.

Is raising interest rates wise at this time? I think it is because the era of cheap money (i.e. when it was possible to borrow money at less than the rate of inflation) should never have been permitted.

We still have very low unemployment rates from a historic perspective while the Government is still handing out money in the form of energy support cash which it has to borrow to fund. The Government also remains committed to the “triple-lock” on state pensions to protect the elderly such as me which I find simply unjustifiable when the rest of the population have no such protection from a rising cost of living.  

The concept of a “balanced budget” where taxation matches Government expenditure has been forgotten and the excuse of keeping the economy afloat in the face of the Covid epidemic has been used to justify excessive spending.

Meanwhile the cost of asylum seekers and illegal immigrants is enormous with as many as 1 million illegal immigrants in the UK. Nearly £1.3 billion per year is now being spent housing asylum seekers, with costs likely increasing as dinghy arrivals rocketed over the summer

The rise in small boat crossings in the English Channel is driving the migration figures with at least 40,000 arriving that way in the current year and claiming asylum. A large proportion are young men from Albania who are economic migrants. See this BBC analysis for the data: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers-53734793

The Government seems incapable of stopping this “invasion” as the Home Secretary recently called it despite the UK having historically a strong navy. In reality the UK navy has spent billions of pounds on large aircraft carriers (£7.6 billion for two) which are white elephants in modern warfare while it has insufficient border patrol vessels or is unable to use them effectively.

Other parts of the UK economy are in a parlous state with the transport network being horribly congested while as much as £45 billion is being spent on Phase 1 of HS2 alone – another expensive white elephant. At the same time terrorist organisations aiming to achieve their objectives by undemocratic means such as “Just Stop Oil” are allowed to disrupt the transport network and divert police operations at enormous cost.

The NHS is at breaking point with costs rising but simply having enough staff, hospital beds and ambulances seems to be incapable of being provided.

The level of fraud and crime in general is rising and it’s worth reading the recent report of the Parliament Justice Committee on fraud in the UK. Here are some brief extracts:

“Justice response inadequate to meet scale of fraud epidemic. Prioritising traditional forms of crime has left the justice system ill-equipped to deal with continuing rise in fraud, the Justice Committee has found.  

The Committee finds that the level of focus from policing is inadequate to deal with the scale, complexity and evolving nature of fraud. Only 2% of police funding is dedicated to combatting fraud despite it accounting for 40% of reported crime. Lines of accountability are confused with responsibility split between local and national forces. Action Fraud has proven itself unfit for purpose and while a replacement reporting system is expected in 2024, victims should not have to wait this long to see improvements in the service they receive.  

In addition to a lack of investigation of fraud crimes, there is also a lack of prosecution. The ONS estimates that there are an estimated 4.6 million fraud offences each year, but in the year ending September 2021 just 7,609 defendants were prosecuted for fraud and forgery as the principal offence by the CPS.  

Chair of the Justice Committee, Sir Bob Neill MP said:

Fraud currently accounts for 40% of crime and the figure is growing. People are losing their life savings and suffering lasting emotional and psychological harm. But the level of concern from law enforcement falls short of what is required.

We need the criminal justice system to have the resources and focus to be able to adapt to new technologies and emerging trends. The current sense of inertia cannot continue, we need meaningful action now.”

There is currently an epidemic of fraud in England and Wales. The number of cases has grown steadily over the past decade and accelerated rapidly to unprecedented levels during the pandemic. This trend has shown no sign of abating as the country returns to normal life. Around 875,000 cases are reported each year, however the Office for National Statistics has estimated that the real number could be as high as 4.6 million. 40% of recorded crime is now fraud and is calculated to cost society £4.7 billion a year”.   

It’s altogether a quite depressing picture of the UK economy, and of our legal and democratic systems that seem unable to respond to these problems in any reasonable timescale. Meanwhile UK politicians seem happy to focus on trivia such as woke issues.

Even the weather has turned bleak and life is thoroughly downbeat.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Market Conditions, Fonix Mobile Webinar and Aston Martin

The stock market seems to have calmed down now that we have some political stability in the country, it seems we might not run out of gas this winter after all and may be able to keep the lights on. But small cap companies are still very depressed with stock market investors preferring to put any spare cash into big or mid-sized oil/gas companies. Big miners are still holding up reasonably well because of the high dividends they are paying despite the gloom over the prospects for consumption in China.

I am not trying to buck the trend and have even bought some BP, Shell and Rio Tinto shares recently. I feel that all those new speculators in small cap company shares that joined in during the boom times have departed the market and are not likely to return soon. Once bitten, twice shy may be their motto.

I reduced my holdings in smaller companies as their share prices declined but I still hold some of them. One such is Fonix Mobile (FNX) who gave a presentation of their annual results on the Investor Meet Company platform today. I’ll briefly summarise what they do:

The company specialises in carrier billing systems, i.e. charging fees to your mobile phone as an alternative to credit card payments (75% of revenue), and in text messaging services (22% of revenue). They are experts in core verticals such as media, charity donations and online gaming but any transactions of less than £40 qualify so can be used also for such things as car parking payments.

What do I like about this company? The positives are:

  • Steady growth in revenues and profits in the last 4 years (they listed on AIM in October 2020).
  • High return on capital.
  • Pay a decent dividend.
  • High recurring revenue and high customer retention.
  • Focus on internally generated growth not acquisitions.
  • Limited foreign adventures.

They do have an international development strategy but that’s mainly focused on Ireland at present with some activity via partners in Germany and Austria. They are also evaluating other markets but they suggest they have room to grow in their existing markets. They are mainly investing in product development and sales/marketing. They only have 40 staff at present with about 15 in product development.

The management presented well and a recording is available of course.  Note though that the shares are tightly held and there is limited trading in the shares with a bid/offer spread of over 2.5%.

There are other companies in the carrier billing market, e.g. Bango and Boku, but the focus on certain verticals in the UK clearly has enabled them to build a solid niche.

I see Aston Martin (AML) published another poor set of results this morning – a year to date loss of £511 million and debt rising to £833 million although claimed revenue was up. The company blamed “supply chain challenges and logistics disruptions”. It still looks a complete basket case to me and I suggest only car aficionados should consider investing in it. When the anticipated recession really bites will folks be buying “ultra-luxury” cars as they call them? My only slight interest is that after holding it for 9 years my Jaguar XF will soon need replacing – a big bill today for some maintenance work on it. Let me have your suggestions for new petrol or hybrid luxury vehicles, or perhaps I will be able to pick up a low-cost Aston Martin when they near bankruptcy?

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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AEW UK REIT, JGGI Merger and ShareSoc’s investor Basics

Yesterday I watched a presentation by AEW UK REIT (AEWU) on the Investor Meet Company platform. This is a property investment trust which I hold but like many property companies the share price has done badly in recent weeks and it’s now on a discount to NAV of over 24%. The portfolio manager, Laura Elkin, explained that the company’s objective is to achieve a high income for investors through active management.

One of the main concerns of investors in such companies is that with interest rates rising, property investing may become less attractive as they typically have significant amounts of debt used to finance property purchases and may need to refinance their debt at more expensive levels. But AEWU have fixed their debt at 2.9% p.a. for the next 5 years and they have a high current cash holding. Their loan to NAV ratio is only 31%.

The current dividend yield is 8.7% although that is not covered by current earnings. This arises from some property disposals resulting in a high cash holding but they expect the dividend will soon be covered again.

There are apparently opportunities arising to buy properties at good prices and they are having conversations with open-ended property fund managers who are having to dispose of assets after falls in the property sector and pension funds having to realise cash.

Another question was whether their property leases were indexed linked. Generally not. Indexed linked leases often have a cap and collar which provides only limited protection and AEWU’s leases are generally fairly short term anyway so can often be relet at higher prices. But that does surely mean that if the economy grinds to a halt then vacancies might increase and pressure to reduce letting prices will rise.

One interesting comment was that the office market is being hit by the ESG agenda. Prices are being affected by the quality of the property in that regard and this is meaning some improvement of properties is required to make them more attractive before reletting.

This was a useful presentation and a recording is available. AEWU have a good long-term record but property trusts are currently out of favour. Taking a long-term view, commercial property is looking to me to be quite an attractive sector at current price levels and AEWU seems to be nimble enough to take advantage of opportunities.

There was news today of a proposed merger of JPMorgan Global Growth and Income (JGGI) trust with JPMorgan Elect (JPEI) trust. The latter is a rather peculiar investment trust with three classes of shares – Growth, Income and Cash. Holders of any of the latter can switch between the classes without incurring tax liabilities.

Total assets of Elect are relatively small at £341 million in comparison with JGGI’s £1446 million so it is certainly a rational move so far as Elect holders and the manager are concerned. Is there any benefit for JGGI holders? There is some minor advantage of a larger asset base reducing overall costs so I will probably vote in favour as a holder of JGGI.

Investing Basics: ShareSoc has launched a series of videos. See https://www.sharesoc.org/investor-academy/investing-basics/ . It’s a meritorious attempt to educate people on the basics of investment in an easy-to-use format and in a few short sessions. It may help some people although this may not be a good time to encourage people to take up stock market investment. The markets are volatile at present with poor returns in the short-term discouraging new investors.

But shares are beginning to look cheap particularly in the small cap sector and where can one get an income of 8.7% which is what AEWU is paying in dividends? No instant access bank or savings account is paying more than 2.5% while gilt yields are higher but still nowhere near 8.7%. There is a capital risk in investing in REITs but there is also in gilts. Corporate bonds may be another alternative to look at but information on those is quite limited.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Financial Stability with Sunak?

It looks like Rishi Sunak has a good chance of becoming Prime Minister after Boris Johnson withdrew his challenge with a judicious and well phrased statement. I welcome Sunak who I always thought was the best candidate and his financial background should at least mean that he understands how to manage the economy and stabilise markets – the same cannot be said for Penny Mordaunt.

Liz Truss and her Chancellor did not seem to comprehend that the UK cannot plough ahead with massive tax cuts and increases in Government borrowing without considering the international reaction from the IMF and those who would need to finance the borrowing.

Neither they nor the advisors in the Treasury and the Bank of England seem to have learned from history. Back in 1974 after a boom generated by Barber the Conservatives lost an election to Labour but by 1976 Harold Wilson had resigned and James Callaghan faced a run on the pound, The UK Government had to go to the IMF for a massive loan obtained with promises of budget cuts.

The moral is that the UK cannot make financial decisions about the economy and Government debt without taking into account the reaction of lenders. The Prime Minister and Chancellor might have thought they were masters of their own destiny but they were grossly mistaken about the real world we now live in.

Barber’s tax-cutting boom also generated high inflation so you can understand why the international financial community ran scared in the face of another similar result. That raised the spectre of falling gilt prices and higher gilt yields thus destabilising both gilt and equity markets. Pension funds were badly affected because of the LDI investment strategies used by pension funds which caused them to dump property funds.

Liz Truss does not seem to have realised that the UK is a small player in international financial markets. The UK cannot act regardless of the opinion of others however attractive it might be to play to the home crowd by pushing for a “growth” policy.

Perhaps she was badly advised by those too young to remember past events in history. But Rishi Sunak had a different plan which we will no doubt now fall back on.

Some people have called for a general election at this point in time but the last thing we need is several months of political knock-about theatre. That would not inspire international confidence. Sunak should help to stablise markets even if he has some tough problems to cope with such as the ongoing energy crisis, war in Ukraine and high inflation. But my view is that a Sunak premiership should be good for the UK stock market.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Retail Investor Trading and Their Bad Habits

There is a very good article by Michael Taylor that has been published by Sharescope on the subject of the behaviour of retail investors, and their bad habits. It is based on an academic article.

I quote from some of it:

“1. Retail investors tend to trade as contrarians after large earnings surprises, both positive and negative”. Retail investors typically love to buy stocks with profit warnings – the old catching a falling knife trade. They are also quick to book profits on stocks with earnings surprises to the upside. This is why “cut your losses and run your winners” is an oft-used phrase. It’s the exact opposite of what the study in the article found retail investors do.

2. Contrarian trading behaviour did not appear to be information-driven on average. The study found that most retail investors were doing their trading post announcement. Rather than taking a view on the stock before the announcement, they were reacting to the surprise (and often as a contrarian).

3. Contrarian behaviour appeared to be attention related. Retail investors were more likely to trade as contrarians more intensely on stocks they held. I believe this is because many retail investors are risk-averse. Rather than cutting their losses, they preferred to take on more risk rather than admit they were wrong. I think this because many of these portfolios that were looked at had significant negative returns compared to the market by going against momentum.”

You can read the full academic article here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3544949

I don’t think I suffer from most of the bad habits mentioned above although I certainly tend to trade post announcements. I cannot see the point of trying to trade on imaginary news and trading before announcements is positively dangerous as there tends to be little trading then so prices can fall for no reason.

But I have seen the above errors many times in the numerous retail investors I have talked to over the years, particularly in the inexperienced ones.

With the gyrations in the market at the moment I am probably trading too often. Should one buy back a stock after it has fallen and you sold it? I certainly do so if the fundamentals suggest it is good value or that the market has temporarily over-reacted to negative news. At present the stock market is being swept by emotions so a couple of rules I would suggest: 1) Wait a few hours before reacting to news and trading unless the news is very clear (and by the time you can react the price will have moved anyway); 2) Make sure you are sober before trading and not distracted by other events – you need a clear head and need to avoid emotional reactions.

You need to accept your mistakes, ditch the losing stocks and run your winners. That means accepting your mistakes on selling as well as buying.  

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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Transport Disruptions and How to Stop Them

In the South-East of England we are suffering from major transport disruptions. First from rail strikes affecting London commuters and second by the activities of Just Stop Oil on the road network.

The RMT union have announced further strikes on November 3, 5 and 7 and are balloting their members on pursuing them for another six months. I issued a tweet yesterday which suggested the way to stop these strikes was to give an ultimatum to employees to either work normally or get fired. The problem is that train drivers are so highly paid that a few days out is affordable.

Rather surprisingly I got a response from the RMT which said “In your haste to sound draconian you’ve not considered who would staff the railway or train the replacements if you’ve fired them all? Nothing would move for years!!”.

My response was “Well it worked when Ronald Reagan did it for air traffic controllers, did it not?”. This refers to the events in August 1981 in the USA. To quote from Wikipedia: “After PATCO workers’ refusal to return to work [over a pay dispute], the Reagan administration fired the 11,345 striking air traffic controllers who had ignored the order, and banned them from federal service for life. In the wake of the strike and mass firings, the FAA was faced with the difficult task of hiring and training enough controllers to replace those that had been fired. Under normal conditions, it took three years to train new controllers. Until replacements could be trained, the vacant positions were temporarily filled with a mix of non-participating controllers, supervisors, staff personnel, some non-rated personnel, military controllers, and controllers transferred temporarily from other facilities”.

The US airlines continued operations with minimal disruptions and the Reagan move had a significant impact on union activities in other organisations effectively resetting labour relationships in the USA. Strikes fell in subsequent years. From 370 major strikes in 1970 the number fell to 11 in 2010, and it had a positive effect in reducing inflation.

Just as Margaret Thatcher handled the coal miners in the UK, Reagan’s firm resolve on facing up to the unions created a new and better culture.

As regards the Just Stop Oil (JSO) campaign the closure of the Dartford Bridge created enormous traffic jams and delayed people for many hours. The whole of south-east London was affected as many people commute around the M25. The Metropolitan Police tweeted they had “made 404 arrests linked to JSO activity. We have needed nearly 5500 officer shifts diverted from local communities in London, to deal with the serious disruption caused by this activity”. The total cost including the delays to people must be many millions of pounds.

The Police seem to be totally ineffective in stopping the activities of JSO. People get arrested but then released. Fines, if any, are minimal. There is a Bill currently going through Parliament that might assist – The Public Order Bill – see https://www.parallelparliament.co.uk/bills/2022-23/publicorder . It creates a number of new offences relating to “locking-on”, obstructing major transport works and interfering with the use or operation of key national infrastructure. It also confers preventative powers for the police to search for and seize articles related to protest-related offences and provides for a new preventative court order, the Serious Disruption Prevention Order, to disrupt the activities of repeat offenders”. But will it be applied vigorously?

The Police already have considerable powers that are not used and JSO could be proscribed as a “terrorist organisation” as they meet the criteria. Let us hope the Public Order Bill is passed quickly. But it’s really down to the Government to take a lead on this matter even if they may be distracted by financial matters at present.

Peaceful demonstrations are OK but disruption to normal life should not be permitted under any circumstances.

Roger Lawson (Twitter: https://twitter.com/RogerWLawson  )

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