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

ECB bond purchases: the case for Spain and Italy

Monday, 13 August 2012 Written by 
ECB bond purchases: the case for Spain and Italy The European Central Bank (ECB) is feeling the pressure to add to its balance sheet massive amounts of sovereign debt from eurozone countries that are in distress. Assuming that the bank was to do so, with the clear objective of sharply reducing those countries' long-term interest rates, it begs the question, would the eurozone crisis then be solved? If we were to consider this in the context of Spain and Italy, we would argue that it could only happen if the bank’s intervention not only restored the fiscal and external solvency of the countries in distress, but also revived growth. While these objectives would be fairly easily achieved in Italy, they would not rescue Spain. In fact, even a massive intervention by the ECB in government bond markets would not pull Spain out of its crisis. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

The European Central Bank (ECB) is feeling the pressure to add to its balance sheet massive amounts of sovereign debt from eurozone countries that are in distress. Assuming that the bank was to do so, with the clear objective of sharply reducing those countries' long-term interest rates, it begs the question, would the eurozone crisis then be solved?

If we were to consider this in the context of Spain and Italy, we would argue that it could only happen if the bank’s intervention not only restored the fiscal and external solvency of the countries in distress, but also revived growth. While these objectives would be fairly easily achieved in Italy, they would not rescue Spain. In fact, even a massive intervention by the ECB in government bond markets would not pull Spain out of its crisis.

Strong pressure on the ECB

The high level of long-term interest rates in Spain and Italy is stifling their economies. Strong pressure is therefore being put on the ECB to buy large quantities of government bonds issued by these countries, in the hope it will sharply reduce their long-term interest rates. This could be done directly or indirectly, perhaps by transforming the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) into a bank with funding provided by the ECB.



Massive purchases of government bonds by the ECB: Would the eurozone crisis be ended?

If massive purchases of government bonds by the ECB were to resolve the debt situation in Spain and Italy, the consequential fall in interest rates would need to restore fiscal solvency, restore external solvency and bring back acceptable growth.

Let’s look at these three points now:

1. Fiscal solvency

Fiscal solvency is ensured if the primary budget surplus is greater than the public debt multiplied by the differential between the long-term interest rate and nominal long-run growth.

If long-term interest rates were lowered by ECB interventions to close to the eurozone average, a primary surplus of 4.2 percentage points of GDP would be needed in Italy and 2.8 percentage points of GDP in Spain to ensure fiscal solvency. Italy’s primary surplus is forecast to meet 4% of GDP next year, while Spain’s primary deficit is due to exceed 3%.With lower interest rates Italy would be fiscally solvent in 2013, but by no means would Spain be.

2. External solvency

External solvency is ensured if the primary surplus (excluding interest on external debt) of the current-account balance is greater than the external debt multiplied by the differential between the long-term interest rate and nominal growth.

If the ECB moved long-term interest rates closer to the eurozone average, a primary current-account surplus of 0.8 percentage point of GDP would be needed in Italy, and 3.1 percentage points of GDP in Spain. At present, Italy has a deficit of 1.8 percentage points of GDP, and Spain has a deficit of 2.5 percentage points. As such, with lower interest rates, external solvency would not be guaranteed in Italy, while in Spain, again, the situation is far worse – external solvency would be very far from guaranteed.

3. Growth

The growth prospects are dramatic for Spain and Italy. A fall in long-term interest rates would significantly impact growth in a positive way, but only if the contraction in activity was predominately due to the high level of long-term interest rates. This would be the case if the contraction itself occurred because there was a decline in investment, rather than anything else such as job losses or deleveraging.

While consumption is declining in both countries, the decline in investment is far more dramatic in Spain than in Italy. The sharp decline in investment in Spain can be attributed to the collapse of the construction sector and the need for deleveraging, a problem which is far more acute in Spain than in Italy. As a result, a fall in interest rates would not be sufficient to revive growth in Spain, but would help in Italy.

Conclusion: Would massive purchases of Spanish and Italian government bonds by the ECB stop the eurozone crisis?

In conclusion, if the ECB were to purchase massive amounts of government bonds issued by struggling eurozone countries, a sharp fall in long-term interest rates in Spain and Italy would:

  • restore fiscal solvency in Italy but not in Spain;
  • restore external solvency in neither of the two countries, though the problem is far more serious in Spain than in Italy;
  • revive growth in Italy, but not in Spain where the decline in activity does not stem mostly from high interest rates.

Massive intervention by the ECB in government bond markets would therefore be decisive for Italy, but much less so for Spain.

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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