Sunday 7th February 2016
NEWS TICKER: Friday, February 5th: According to Reuters, Venezuela's central bank has begun negotiations with Deutsche Bank AG to carry out gold swaps to improve the liquidity of its foreign reserves as it faces debt payments of some $9.5bn this year. Around 64% of Venezuela's $15.4bn reserves are held in gold bars, which in this fluid market impedes the central bank's ability to mobilise hard currency for imports or debt service. We called the central bank to confirm the story, but press spokesmen would not comment - The Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) says official foreign currency reserves stood at $357bn (equivalent to seven times the currency in circulation or 48% of Hong Kong M3) as at the end of January, down compared with reserve assets of $358.8bn in December. There were no unsettled foreign exchange contracts at month end (end-December: $0.1bn) - BNP Paribas today set out plans to cut investment banking costs by 12% by 2019 to bolster profitability and reassure investors about the quality of its capital buffers. The bank is the latest in a line of leading financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, Barclays and Deutsche Bank which look to be moving away from capital intensive activities. BNP Paribas has been selling non-core assets and cutting back on operations including oil and gas financing for the last few years as it looks to achieve a target of 10% return on equity. Last year the bank announced a €900m write-down on its BNL unit in Italy, which pushed down Q4 net income down 51.7% to €665m - Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE)-listed tech company, Huge Group, will move its listing from the Alternative Exchange (AltX) to the JSE main board on March 1st - Moody's says it has assigned Aaa backed senior unsecured local-currency ratings to a drawdown under export credit provider Oesterreichische Kontrollbank's (OKB) (P)Aaa-rated backed senior unsecured MTN program. The outlook is negative in line with the negative outlook assigned to the Aaa ratings of the Republic of Austria, which guarantees OKB’s liabilities under the Austrian Export Financing Guarantees Act – As the first phase of talks between Greece and its creditors draws to an end, International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde stressed to journalists in Greece that debt relief is as important as the reforms that creditors are demanding, notably of the pension system. "I have always said that the Greek program has to walk on two legs: one is significant reforms and one is debt relief. If the pension [system] cannot be as significantly and substantially reformed as needed, we could need more debt relief on the other side." Greece's pension system must become sustainable irrespective of any debt relief that creditors may decide to provide, Lagarde said, adding that 10% of gross domestic product into financing the pension system, compared to an average of 2.5% in the EU, is not sustainable. She called for "short-term measures that will make it sustainable in the long term,” but did not outline what those measures might be. According to Eurobank in Athens, IMF mission heads reportedly met this morning with the Minister of Labour, Social Insurance and Social Solidarity, Georgios Katrougalos, before the team is scheduled to leave Athens today. According to the local press, it appears that differences exist between the Greek government and official creditors on the planned overhaul of the social security pension system. Provided that things go as planned, the heads are reportedly expected to return by mid-February with a view to completing the review by month end, or at worst early March. In its Winter 2016 Economic Forecast published yesterday, the European Commission revised higher Greece’s GDP growth forecast for 2015 and 2016 to 0.0% and -0.7%, respectively, from -1.4% and 1.-3% previously - Fitch says that The Bank of Italy's (BoI) recent designation of three banks as 'other systemically important institutions' (O-SIIs) has no impact on its ratings of the relevant mortgage covered bond (Obbligazioni Bancarie Garantite or OBG) programmes. Last month, BoI identified UniCredit, Intesa Sanpaolo. and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena as Italian O-SIIs. Banco Popolare and Mediobanca have not been designated O-SIIs. This status is the equivalent of domestic systemically important bank status under EU legislation. Fitch rates two OBG programmes issued by UC and one issued by BMPS, which incorporates a one-notch Issuer Default Rating (IDR) uplift above the banks' IDRs. The uplift can be assigned if covered bonds are exempt from bail-in, as is the case with OBG programmes under Italy's resolution regime and in this instance takes account of the issuers' importance in the Italian banking sector – Meantime, according to local press reports, Italian hotel group Bauer and special opportunity fund Blue Skye Investment Group report they have completed the rescheduling and refinancing of Bauer’s €110m debt through the issue of new bonds and the sale of non-core assets, such as the farming business Aziende Agricole Bennati, whose sale has already been agreed, the Palladio Hotel & Spa and a luxury residence Villa F in Venice’s Giudecca island – Meantime, Russian coal and steel producer Mechel has also agreed a restructuring of its debt with credits after two intense years of talks. The mining company, is controlled by businessman Igor Zyuzin - Asian markets had a mixed day, coming under pressure. Dollar strengthening worries investors in Asia; from today’s trading it looks like dollar weakening does as well. Actually, that’s not the issue, the dollar has appreciated steadily over the last year as buyers anticipated Fed tightening; but it has hurt US exports and that has contributed to investor nervousness over the past few weeks, which is why everyone is hanging on today’s The nonfarm payrolls report, a bellwether of change – good or bad in the American economic outlook. Back to Asia. The Nikkei 225 ended the day at 16819.15, down 225.40 points, or 1.32%; and as the stock market fell the yen continued to strengthen. The Nikkei has shed 5.85% this week. The dollar-yen pair fell to the 116-handle, at 116.82 in afternoon trade; earlier this week, the pair was trading above 120. It is a hard lesson for the central bank, whose efforts to take the heat out of the yen by introducing negative interest rates has done nothing of the sort. Australia's ASX 200 closed down 4.15 points, or 0.08% after something of a mixed week. The index closed at 4976.20, with the financial sector taking most of the heat today, with the sector down 0.7%. In contrast, energy and materials sectors finished in positive territory, buoyed by gains in commodities. The Hang Seng Index closed at 19288.17, up 105.08 points (or 0.55%) while the Shanghai Composite was down 0.61%. down 17.07 points to 2763.95. The Shenzhen composite dropped 20.36 points (1.15%) to 1750.70, while the Kospi rose marginally by 0.08% to 1917.79. Today is the last day of trading on the Chinese exchanges for a week.

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The European Review

By Patrick Artus, chief economist at Natixis

France needs supply-side policies to stimulate growth

Tuesday, 14 February 2012 Written by 
France needs supply-side policies to stimulate growth France’s ailing economy urgently requires stimulation – and this must come from supply-side policies. Previously buoyed by borrowing, the strength of real estate and an increase in fiscal deficits, France is now suffering from significant economic weaknesses that can only be overcome by a stimulation of supply via institutional, tax and labour market reforms. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

France’s ailing economy urgently requires stimulation – and this must come from supply-side policies. Previously buoyed by borrowing, the strength of real estate and an increase in fiscal deficits, France is now suffering from significant economic weaknesses that can only be overcome by a stimulation of supply via institutional, tax and labour market reforms.

 

The French economy is experiencing a decline in investment, an inability to rebuild exports, continuing market share losses and a rapid rise in unemployment. Although previously bolstered by an increase in private sector indebtedness, growth in residential construction (until 2008), and a temporary increase in fiscal deficits, economic growth has fallen to virtually zero as of the second quarter of 2011.



However, unlike similar situations in Spain and the UK, France’s underperformance is due to a deterioration of supply rather than a decline in demand. Certainly, France’s weak economy cannot be blamed on a rapid correction in the fiscal deficit, nor to a decline in real wages. In fact, there has been a worsening of supply-side conditions since the late 1990s, highlighted by a decline in profitability, the tightening of profit margins (particularly in the industrial sector) and the distortion of income sharing in favour of wages and to the detriment of profits, itself the equivalent to an economy-wide fall in profit margins.

The result is a country where companies are hampered by poor levels of investment. Indeed, the economy has become stuck in a mid-market product range, as portrayed by the sharp drop in French exports caused by an appreciation in the euro. Furthermore, France is exhibiting advanced deindustrialisation (in the past decade both manufacturing employment and manufacturing volume as a proportion of GDP have steadily decreased), weak growth of companies (limiting the number of companies big enough to export) and a high proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) that are prematurely sold to large groups. 

Reforms to restore the economy

Supply-side reforms are urgently required: in particular, tax reform to reduce companies’ welfare contributions, labour market negotiations to take into account both wages and employment, and institutional reforms to encourage the growth of innovative SMEs.

Firstly, France must reduce welfare contributions, especially those paid by companies. It is well known that welfare contributions negatively affect employment. Therefore to boost the supply of goods, and the demand for labour, there needs to be a reduction in government expenditure on wages and welfare benefits, or (as happened in Germany and the UK in 2007 and 2011 respectively) an increase in VAT.

Secondly, the country’s labour market lacks a corrective force in periods of rising unemployment. Current pay talks are purely wage-based and do not take into account the need to reduce unemployment and create new jobs. The result is that increasing unemployment does not have a significant impact on wages and therefore unemployment levels can remain high for long periods without reducing wages.

Therefore the government needs to ensure that pay talks involve both wages and jobs, in order to create a trade-off between wage increases and job creation. Certainly, the close link between unemployment and wage increases can be seen in Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK – a labour market scenario that France must replicate.

Finally, institutional reforms are needed to boost SME growth. France’s already weak export levels are compounded by the low proportion of companies big enough to export their goods. In order to stimulate growth among SMEs, France should create a Small Business Act and Small Business Administration to improve relationships between large groups and their subcontractors, simplify administrative paperwork and improve cooperation between companies and the education system.

Going forward

In the short term, these reforms (government spending cuts, a VAT hike, reduction in wages in exchange for additional jobs, etc.) would inevitably lead to a fall in demand. But the current view – that the solution to the economy’s woes lies in stimulating demand – must be abandoned in favour of supply-side policies if a recovery is to be achieved. 

The acute question remains in play: Is there a political party ready to carry out this programme after the presidential elections?

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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