Thursday, January 31, 2013

Dutch consumers shafted on mortgages? Say it ain't so

I've always thought it was clear that Dutch mortgage rates were being set artificially high due to overconcentration in the  banking sector: ABN, ING, and Rabobank dominate.

Exhibit "A" was friends I knew of _ with perfectly healthy finances _ having to pay around 6 percent interest rates for their mortgages while retail depositors were being offered 2 percent on their savings accounts. I figured, with a 4 percent margin, even I could run a profitable bank. And of course banks had the option to get funding even more cheaply than 2 percent from the ECB.

But amazingly, the Dutch antitrust regulator NMa did a study and concluded (my summary): "nothing to see here, move along." (Dutch language).
Key quote:
"A focused investigation into possible coordination did not deliver any evidence of price-fixing between mortgage brokers or other violations of antitrust law" -NMa, May 2011.

Anyhow, today, a Dutch politician, Stef Blok, has woken up and come to the realization that perhaps there is a problem here after all:

From the Volkskrant today:

"The mortgage market in the Netherlands is primarily the battleground of the big Dutch banks: ING, ABN Amro and Rabobank. But because the first two _ due to the crisis _ received state support, they were obliged to charge a higher mortgage rate than competitors who made it through the crisis without support. That was one of the conditions of Dutch state aid.  ING was released from this condition in November, but for a long time, the Rabobank could set rates by itself. So there could be no question of much competition, as minister Blok observed, and therefore the intererest rates are possibly higher than necessary."

The coffee, NMa. Wake up and smell it. Please.

The sad thing is that if all the consumers who are now * still * paying a percent or more too much interest on their mortgages were to successfully sue over this, what good would it do? Due to other financial woes, the banks are all undercapitalized to the point where probably none of them could survive having to give up this ill-gotten 1 percent advantage they have on a sizeable chunk of mortgages, much less pay back the years of income they've gotten from it.

And if they were forced to pay up, they'd go bankrupt. And then, the state would have to intervene to bail the banks out and prevent armageddon; and a state bailout means taxpayers would foot the bill. Net result: a new subsidy from non-home-owners to homeowners.

Justice is hard to find in the banking world.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Queen Beatrix's Abdication Speech In English

(any translation mistakes are mine. Original text at bottom)

28 Januari 2013
As you all know, I hope to celebrate my 75th birthday in several days. I am thankful that it has been granted me to see this day come in good health. At the end of this year we will commemmorate that 200 years ago our country became a kingdom, which ushered in a new era in our history. The coincidence of these two occassions has prompted me to decide to retire from my position this year. It seems to me a good moment to actually take this step, which I have considered for some years now.
I've always considered it an exceptional privilege to commit a large part of my life to the service of our country, and, in concert,  to be able to give form to my duty to the monarchy. Prince Claus was a great support to me in that for many years.
Right up until today this fine role has granted me great satisfaction. It is inspiring to feel oneself involved with people, to sympathize with sadness and to share in times of joy and national pride. I have been able to experience that as well in the Carribean parts of our kingdom, where I have always also found much warmth and friendliness. Therefore I am not abdicating because the job is too burdensome, but from conviction that the responsibility for our country should now be in the hands of a new generation. It is with the greatest faith that I will transfer the monarchy on April 30 of this year to my son, the Prince of Orange. He and Princess Maxima are completely prepared for their future role. They will serve our country with dedication, faithfully preserve the constitution, and with all their talents, impress their own mark upon the kingship.
I feel myself strengthened by the thought that making room for my successor does not mean that I say goodbye to you. I hope that I can meet many of you, upon a time. I am deeply thankful to you for the trust that you have given me in the many fine years in which I was privileged to be your queen.

28 januari 2013
Zoals u allen weet, hoop ik over enkele dagen mijn 75ste verjaardag te vieren. Ik ben dankbaar dat het mij gegund is deze dag in goede gezondheid tegemoet te gaan. Aan het éinde van dit jaar zullen wij herdenken dat ons land tweehonderd jaar geleden een koninkrijk werd, waarmee in onze geschiedenis een nieuw tijdperk aanbrak. Het samenvallen van deze twee bijzondere gebeurtenissen is voor mij de aanleiding geweest te besluiten dit jaar uit mijn ambt terug te treden. Het lijkt mij een goed moment om deze stap, die ik al enige jaren overweeg, nu daadwerkelijk te nemen. 
Ik heb het altijd als een uitzonderlijk voorrecht beschouwd een groot deel van mijn leven in dienst van ons land te kunnen stellen en overeenkomstig mijn opdracht invulling te mogen geven aan het koningschap. Daarbij was Prins Claus mij vele jaren tot grote steun.
Tot op de dag van vandaag heeft deze mooie taak mij veel voldoening geschonken. Het is inspirerend zich bij mensen betrokken te voelen, mee te leven met verdriet en te delen in tijden van vreugde en nationale trots. Dat heb ik eveneens mogen ervaren in de Caraïbische delen van ons koninkrijk, waar ik ook altijd veel warmte en hartelijkheid heb ondervonden.  Ik treed dan ook niet terug omdat het ambt mij te zwaar zou vallen, maar vanuit de overtuiging dat de verantwoordelijkheid voor ons land nu in handen van een nieuwe generatie moet liggen. Het is met het grootste vertrouwen dat ik op 30 april van dit jaar het koningschap zal overdragen aan mijn zoon, de Prins van Oranje. Hij en Prinses Máxima zijn ten volle op hun toekomstige taak voorbereid. Zij zullen ons land met toewijding dienen, getrouw de grondwet onderhouden en met al hun talenten een eigen invulling geven aan het koningschap. 
Gesterkt voel ik mij door de gedachte dat het plaats maken voor mijn opvolger niet betekent dat ik afscheid neem van ú. Ik hoop dat ik velen van u nog dikwijls kan ontmoeten. Ik ben u diep dankbaar voor het vertrouwen dat u mij heeft gegeven in de vele mooie jaren waarin ik uw koningin mocht zijn.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Does S/M fall within Staphorst's zoning plan?

Saw this on a friend's Facebook page (h/t R.V.)

There's more going on in the quaint little vacation bungalows of Holland than one might imagine...


Vacation home owners complain about S/M cottages.

Multiple owners of vacation homes in the recreation park "t Veldhuijs" in Ijhorst are suffering disturbance from little S/M houses in the park, and they've brought this to the attention of the municipality of Staphorst. The city confirmed this yesterday.
The S and M activities have been going on for three years already in a chalet in the park. Last year other homeowners protested that. However, then the complaints concerned only one cottage. The city of Staphorst is investigating whether sadomasochism falls within its zoning code.


I think the highlight reel from that meeting could be quite amusing.

Sunday, January 20, 2013


The Dutch weather service was warning of 'motsneeuw' yesterday, reminding me that this country has more words for its weather than the eskimos have for snow.

The longest part of any Dutch news broadcast is the weather report, 10 solid minutes or so. They put it last because it's the most interesting part. Certainly the only part with any practical usefulness.

So back to motsneeuw.

I guess it's a real word, drawn by analogy from the word "motregen." Motregen is like that kind of rain that's so weak and pathetic that it doesn't qualify as rain. However, it is strong enough that if you have go to the store and back in motregen, you will come back soaking wet.

I guess in English we might say motregen is a "heavy mist." Fog won't get you wet, mist won't get you wet either, but a heavy mist just might.

I see Wikipedia calls motregen 'drizzle,' but I think that's wrong, because a drizzle is definitely a kind of light rain, and motregen doesn't quite rise to the level of rain.

Motsneeuw. A kind of misty snow so light that you might not notice it, except it makes it difficult to breathe and tears your face to shreds if you try to bike through it.


I use this space as a brain dump, almost a note pad.
Lots of English translations of Dutch information, especially if I think something could also be useful for others. For speed I start with Google translate and then put on finishing touches myself.
*Use at your own risk.*