Thursday 11th February 2016
NEWS TICKER: Following a recent Morningstar Analyst Ratings meeting, the firm has downgraded the Morningstar Analyst Rating for the L&G All Stocks Index Linked Gilt Index fund to Bronze. The fund previously held a Silver rating. Jose Garcia Zarate, senior fund analyst at Morningstar says, “We continue to have a positive view on the fund’s price, its tracking accuracy, and the parent company’s commitment to the provision of passive investing solutions. However, we have concluded that the heavily long-dated nature of the underlying market exposes investors to a volatile return profile over a market cycle. In particular, a rules-based passive fund tracking this market is particularly vulnerable to the downside relative to category peers that have the discretion to tweak duration. As such, we feel a Bronze rating reflects more accurately our conviction in this fund’s ability to outperform its category peers over a full market cycle.” - The US Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) says it has rescheduled the Technology Advisory Committee (TAC) public meeting to Tuesday, February 23rd, from 9:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., at CFTC’s Washington, DC headquarters. The meeting was originally scheduled for January 26, but was cancelled because Federal Government offices in the Washington Metropolitan Area were closed due to inclement weather. The TAC will discuss: the CFTC’s proposed Regulation Automated Trading (Reg AT); swap data standardisation and harmonization; and blockchain and the potential application of distributed ledger technology to the derivatives market. The CFTC says members of the public who wish to submit written statements in connection with the meeting should submit them by Monday, February 22nd - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has called a ministerial meeting this morning to discuss the latest key domestic developments including the open issues whose implementation is required for the completion of the 1st programme review as well as farmers’ escalating protests against the planned overhaul of the income tax and the social security pension system, says Eurobank in Athens. Minister of Finance Euclid Tsakalotos warned earlier this week that the programme review should conclude by the end of February noting that Greece will be “in trouble” if it carries on into May-June - India’s Power, coal and renewable energy minister Piyush Goyal yesterday offered a $1trn prize to Australian power and energy firms to come and invest in the country’s power sector. Goyal's pitch comes as the government is pegging economic growth at 7.3% for Q4 2015, marking a slight drop on previous quarters but still outpacing China. Goyal says India's power sector is at an inflection point as the Modi government is focusing on structural reforms with an integrated outlook for the energy sector – Tomorrow (February 11th), the Latvian parliament (Saeima) will hold a vote of confidence on the new composition of the Cabinet of Ministers set up by incoming premier Māris Kučinskis. The first ceremonial sitting of the new government will be held tomorrow at 15.00 in the Green Hall of the Cabinet of Ministers. Ināra Mūrniece, acting president and speaker of the Saeima will also participate in the sitting - freemarketFX, the currency exchange, has appointed services veteran Rich Ricci as Chairman. Formerly CEO of Barclays Corporate and Investment Banking - JP Morgan Asset Management has appointed Paul Farrell as head of UK Institutional Clients. Based in London, Farrell will join JPMAM in April and will report to Patrick Thomson, head of International Institutional Clients. Farrell will be responsible for leading the sales team that manages and builds client relationships with Institutional Pension Funds in the UK & Ireland. He will have responsibility for direct client relationship management in the defined benefit as well as business development in the defined contribution marketplace and will work closely with our consultant client team led by Karen Roberton. Farrell joins most recently from Dimensional Fund Advisors, where he served as Head of UK Institutional Clients and was responsible for new business development, client service and consultant relations. Before that he was head of UK Strategic Clients at BlackRock - Vistra Group, a provider of fund admin services, has bought UK-based business expansion services provider Nortons Group, the accounting and advisory service. The Nortons team, led by Andrew Norton and Pete Doyle, is joining the Vistra Group to boost their existing range of services and benefit from Vistra’s global reach. Martin Crawford, CEO of Vistra Group, says: “Offering support services to companies moving abroad is a core business for Vistra and of growing importance. Nortons has the expertise, the experienced staff, and the network to add significant value to this service line. We are very proud to welcome Andrew Norton, Pete Doyle, and their colleagues to our international team and look forward to expanding our global reach with their experience and leadership". The acquisition of Nortons is expected to complete by the end of February and will take the combined headcount of the Vistra Group, inclusive of the soon to be merged Orangefield Group, to over 2,200 staff in 39 countries - Asian markets had another tough day. Japan's Nikkei Stock Average fell 2.3% to its lowest closing level since late 2014, and reaffirming a trend across the last few months the yen remained near its strongest level against the dollar in over a year. Despite the Bank of Japan's decision last month to introduce negative interest rates, a policy that tends to weaken the local currency, the yen has strengthened in recent sessions to levels not seen since 2014. The Japanese 10-year treasury yield traded shortly in negative territory, and touched -0.08%, before stabilising above the neutral mark. The dollar was last up 0.1% against the yen at ¥ 115.00. Australia's S&P ASX 200 fell 1.2%, the downward drift being led by energy stocks. The Australian Dollar consolidated yesterday’s gains and is currently testing the next resistance, which lies at $0.71. AUD/USD up 0.21 in local trading. Other Asian currencies did well today against the dollar. The South Korean won rose 0.74%, the Taiwanese dollar edged up 0.60%, while the Indian rupiah climbed 1.05%. That uptick was not reflected in equity markets. The Topix index slid 3.02%. In Singapore the STI slipped 2.14%, while New Zealand equities were down 0.85% respectively. China's markets are still closed for the Lunar New Year holidays – The story today is all about Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen’s testimony to the US Congress. Analysts say that the market is pricing in no further rate increases in the near future and given the volatility in the markets and the general air of panic right now among investors, it would be a catastrophic move for the Fed to raise interest rates even a quantum in coming months. Truth is that no matter how well Yellen paints the US economy is it a story of two halves: yes, job numbers are rising, but there looks to be a lot of slack in the overall economy and this is contributing to a gradual weakening of the US dollar (but not against the euro). In fact, Europe is making the US look good; hence the wild swings in investor sentiment. Still, bank stocks look to remain vulnerable for the remainder of the quarter. This week's economic calendar is light; hence the focus on the Fed. The other bit of advanced market news is that expectations are rising for a rate cut by Norges Bank. Emerging market currencies are broadly trading higher this morning. The South African rand rose 0.85% against the US dollar, with USD/ZAR back below the 16.0 mark at around 15.9350. The Russian ruble also took advantage of this respite and gained 0.65% versus the greenback, which helped USD/RUB to edge lower to 79.10. In terms of data, watch out for industrial and manufacturing production figures from France, the UK and Italy and CPI data from Denmark and Norway - In commodities, Brent crude oil was last up 2.4% at $31.05 a barrel in thin trade on speculation about possible production cuts, but remains down nearly 9% for the week and roughly 19% for the year. Peter Rosenstreich, head of market strategy at Swissquote Bank explains, "Crude oil has been able to rebound off the 12-year low ($27.78) after falling sharply by nearly 8% on Tuesday. The positive catalyst was the news that Iran has indicated that they would be willing to work with Saudi Arabia on production limits. However, markets remain sceptical of this or any coordinated production cuts. There seems to be no relief on selling pressure in sight as the US government released reports indicating that demand will remain soft by lower demand growth forecasts. In addition, the Paris based International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that the supply glut will continue through 2016 as production cuts have been made at a slower pace than forecasted.” In other market news this morning, spot gold in London was down 0.2% at $1188.05 an ounce, while three-month copper futures on the London Metal Exchange fell 0.7% to $4,463 a ton.

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The European Review

By Patrick Artus, chief economist at Natixis

Are there available instruments to stimulate euro zone growth, and are they likely to be used?

Friday, 15 June 2012 Written by 
Are there available instruments to stimulate euro zone growth, and are they likely to be used? A consensus is emerging that euro zone growth must be boosted to prevent several countries from slipping into a depressive cycle where production declines and unemployment increases without the fiscal deficit or the external debt correcting. We have drawn up a list of available instruments to boost euro zone growth (wage increases, fiscal deficits, European investments, a range of actions by the ECB, weakening of the euro) and seek to determine which measures are most likely to be implemented. The risk is that agreement between European countries is only reached on policies that do not provide a substantial boost to growth in the euro zone – faster (spontaneous) wage increases in Germany, increase in investments by the EIB and structural funds, a third VLTRO, a cut in the euro repo rate – and not on policies that would have a much greater impact, such as fiscal stimulus in Germany, purchases of government bonds by the ECB, massive currency purchases (dollars) by the ECB. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

A consensus is emerging that euro zone growth must be boosted to prevent several countries from slipping into a depressive cycle where production declines and unemployment increases without the fiscal deficit or the external debt correcting.

We have drawn up a list of available instruments to boost euro zone growth (wage increases, fiscal deficits, European investments, a range of actions by the ECB, weakening of the euro) and seek to determine which measures are most likely to be implemented.

The risk is that agreement between European countries is only reached on policies that do not provide a substantial boost to growth in the euro zone – faster (spontaneous) wage increases in Germany, increase in investments by the EIB and structural funds, a third VLTRO, a cut in the euro repo rate – and not on policies that would have a much greater impact, such as fiscal stimulus in Germany, purchases of government bonds by the ECB, massive currency purchases (dollars) by the ECB.

There is a consensus over growth stimulus in the euro zone

There is a growing consensus that growth in the euro zone needs to be boosted. The recession is leading to a situation in an increasing number of countries where the fiscal deficit is no longer being reduced (Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece).



Meanwhile, despite the slowdown in domestic demand, the external deficit remains substantial in Portugal and is no longer being reduced in Spain, Greece and France due to the weakening of activity and exports in the euro zone. Indeed, rising unemployment is pushing down real wages in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal while companies everywhere remain cautious and are investing little.

So a depressive dynamic is emerging: declining activity and falling wages without any improvement in fiscal or external deficits. This has given rise to a growing view that action needs to be taken to boost growth in the euro zone. We will therefore draw up a list of policies that could stimulate growth in this region and gauge the likelihood of these being introduced.

The (possible/likely) policies to stimulate euro-zone growth

1. Faster wage growth in Germany

Rather than an explicit economic policy, this is more the effect that full employment and high corporate profitability have on wage growth in Germany. Indeed, wage agreements reached in Germany mean an annual four per cent rise in nominal wages in 2012, or around two per cent in real terms, is conceivable. Our research suggests that every percentage point annual increase in wages in Germany results in a EUR 14 bn income injection.

2. Fiscal stimulus in Germany

Whereas other euro zone countries are having difficulty reducing their fiscal deficits, Germany has virtually eliminated its deficit. A coordinated fiscal policy in the euro zone, therefore, could involve a more expansionary fiscal policy in Germany. Indeed, a one percentage point of GDP rise in Germany’s fiscal deficit would amount to an income injection of around EUR 30 bn – a bigger boost to euro zone growth.

3. European investments

It is often suggested that, since euro zone countries have no more leeway to boost their economy, stimulus needs to be carried out at the European level, either in the form of additional investments by the EIB or in the form of additional investments by European structural funds. A 10 per cent increase in investments both by the EIB and European structural funds (excluding agricultural policy) would mean an additional EUR 14 bn of investment per year.

4. Driving down long-term interest rates through ECB government bond purchases

Spain and Italy are faced with considerably higher long-term interest rates than their growth rates, which is crippling their economies. Direct purchases of Spanish and Italian government bonds by the ECB would help to drive down their interest rates, so the Securities Markets Programme (SMP) should be reactivated for substantial amounts. Indeed, this has proved successful in the United Kingdom where massive purchases of Gilts by the Bank of England have kept long-term interest rates very low despite the magnitude of the country’s fiscal deficit. Central banks can control long-term interest rates if they are willing to buy the necessary quantity of government bonds.

5. A third VLTRO

The three-year repos in December 2011 and February 2012 enabled Spanish and Italian banks to obtain cheap funding at one per cent and finance massive purchases of domestic government bonds, which resulted in a temporary fall in interest rates on these bonds.

A fresh long-term repo would have two positive effects. It would help to finance the external deficits of Spain and Italy (and also those of other countries) as well as contribute to the financing of the fiscal deficits in Spain and Italy.

6. A cut in the euro repo rate

There is still some room for manoeuvre for a cut in the euro repo rate while maintaining a big enough margin between the repo rate and the deposit rate at the ECB. A 25 or 50 basis point cut in the repo rate would be justified in light of the euro zone’s growth outlook and the muted rise in unit wage costs. The cut would likely lead to a depreciation of the euro and bolster growth. We have projected that a 100 basis point cut in the repo rate would increase euro zone growth by 0.2 percentage point per year for two years with a 50 basis point cut by 0.1 percentage point per year.

7. Sharp depreciation of the euro

Even after its recent fall, the euro is still overvalued by around 10 per cent.

Despite the lack of buyers, the euro is depreciating only slightly because the euro zone has no external borrowing requirement. In order to obtain a sharp depreciation of the euro, the ECB would have to accumulate substantial foreign exchange reserves (mainly in dollars) without sterilising these reserves, i.e. adopting the same policy as emerging countries, Japan and Switzerland.

While a depreciation of the euro would increase activity in the euro zone as a whole, it would do little to benefit the least industrialised euro zone countries (Greece, Spain, and even France).

So which measures are likely to be implemented?

Faster wage growth in Germany is already taking place and an increase in European investments is very likely. Moreover, considering the growth outlook and the rise in long-term interest rates, a third very-long-term repo (VLTRO 3) and a cut (25 to 50 bp) in the refi rate are also likely.

However, we do not believe Germany will introduce a fiscal stimulus package (due to the refusal by the Germans to “pay for the others”), nor will there be a reactivation of the SMP (the monetisation of public debts jars with the ECB and Germany), nor foreign-exchange interventions to drive down the euro (due to the resulting monetary creation, since it would not be sterilised).

Meanwhile, the effectiveness of a VLTRO 3 is questionable: do the banks want to buy more government bonds at a time when interest-rate risk is still high and there will be other stress tests on government bond portfolios in the future?

We are therefore  left with a stimulus consisting in EUR 14 bn in wages in Germany, EUR 14 bn in European investments and a 25 to 50 bp cut in the repo rate, which could add 0.2 percentage points per year to euro zone growth at best.

Patrick Artus

A graduate of Ecole Polytechnique, of Ecole Nationale de la Statistique et de l'Adminstration Economique and of Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris, Patrick Artus is today the Chief Economist at Natixis. He began his career in 1975 where his work included economic forecasting and modelisation. He then worked at the Economics Department of the OECD (1980), before becoming Head of Research at the ENSAE. Thereafter, Patrick taught seminars on research at Paris Dauphine (1982) and was Professor at a number of Universities (including Dauphine, ENSAE, Centre des Hautes Etudes de l'Armement, Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées and HEC Lausanne).

Patrick is now Professor of Economics at University Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne. He combines these responsibilities with his research work at Natixis. Patrick was awarded "Best Economist of the year 1996" by the "Nouvel Economiste", and today is a member of the council of economic advisors to the French Prime Minister. He is also a board member at Total and Ipsos.

Website: cib.natixis.com/research/economic.aspx

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