Friday 25th July 2014
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FRIDAY ANALYSTS TICKER: July 25th 2014 - According to Adam Cordery, global head of European fixed income, Santander Asset Management, and fund manager for the Santander Euro Corporate Short Term and Euro Corporate bond funds, “Pricing of risk assets doesn’t offer much of a margin for error at the moment. And now Europe is starting to go on holiday, market liquidity may get poorer than normal, and any buys today may well have to be holds until September. It is always interesting to note what yields are required to attract clients to financial products. Twenty years ago, bond funds offering yields of 10%+ could generally attract lots of client interest very quickly. However as rates have come down over the years, so the yields clients demand have fallen. Now 4% seems to be the new 10%, he say. Cordery thinks that unfortunately, investors often want today the yield/risk mix that was available last year, so the products that get launched, sold and bought in size may be more risky than people think. “Products with 4% yield will sell well today, but to get to a 4% yield in Euro you need to invest in a portfolio with an average rating of single-B, and that is far from being risk-free. I get the impression the conventional wisdom today is to think that interest rates must surely go up soon and the main risk to bond portfolios is an increase in bund yields. Because of this many investors are buying short-duration products and floating rate notes, perhaps viewing them as a safe choice, almost like cash. It is possible however that these products may yet prove to have a considerable sensitivity to changes in credit market spreads and/or bond market liquidity, and may prove to be no protection at all.” - Commenting on the RBS share price jump, Dr Pete Hahn of Cass Business School, says “It's hard to tell whether the RBS share price jump today is more about relief or optimism. The former is about fewer fines, fewer losses on loans, and fewer costs in a shrinking business and possibly dividends for shareholders. And there's the rub, owning shares (as opposed to interest bearing debt) should be about optimism and long-term growth in dividends. But from a shrinking business? Few would argue that RBS' retail and corporate bank had efficiencies to be gained and cash flow that might be converted to dividends; yet like most banks, RBS' cost of equity remains stubbornly and appropriately above its ability to provide a return on that equity. For shareholders, current improvements should mean dividends in the medium term but a recognition that RBS may lack any merit for new investment and delivering any long-term dividend growth - not good. While many large retail banks are getting safer, in some aspects, and we often speak of them in terms of moving toward utility type models, banks take risks, are cyclical, face competition, have new business challengers, and are simply are not utilities. Investors shouldn't get ahead of themselves here.” - According to the monthly survey held by the central bank of Turkey, the country’s capacity utilization (CU) rate declined slightly to 74.9% in July from 75.3% in June. Meanwhile, seasonally adjusted (SA) CU also declined to 74.3% from 74.7% in June, writes Mehmet Besimoglu at Oyak Yatirim Research. As for manufacturing confidence, the index declined to 109 from 110.7 in May. On SA basis, the index also edged down slightly to 106.4 from 107.2. SA capacity utilisation was broadly stable in 1H14, averaging at 74.7%. This is the same level with the 2013 average. Despite the political turmoil and volatility in financial markets, activity has been relatively resilient. Export recovery & government spending supported production in 1H. Following the elections, public spending relatively decelerated. The turmoil in Iraq also decelerated export recovery from June. Nevertheless, we still expect 3.5% GDP growth in 2014, writes Besimoglu.

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The European Review

By Patrick Artus, chief economist at Natixis

France’s industrial crisis: predictable and set to last

Friday, 03 August 2012 Written by 
France’s industrial crisis: predictable and set to last France’s industrial sector is in the midst of a steadily worsening crisis. There has been a decline in production, employment and productive investment, the external deficit remains significant, and export market shares are declining rapidly. We would argue that this situation was foreseeable, particularly if we add up issues with supply, domestic and external demand, and the impact of the eurozone crisis. Unfortunately, not a lot can be done about the weakness of demand, and the remedies to the supply problem are difficult to implement rapidly. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

France’s industrial sector is in the midst of a steadily worsening crisis. There has been a decline in production, employment and productive investment, the external deficit remains significant, and export market shares are declining rapidly.

We would argue that this situation was foreseeable, particularly if we add up issues with supply, domestic and external demand, and the impact of the eurozone crisis. Unfortunately, not a lot can be done about the weakness of demand, and the remedies to the supply problem are difficult to implement rapidly.

Let’s go through these issues, their causes and their implications.

Cause no. 1: The supply problem

Supply conditions for goods and services continue to deteriorate in France. The low profitability of companies discourages investment hence the production capacity of French industry is on the decline.

Since 2001, French industry sales prices have been falling relative to unit wage costs. Such falls reflect the excessive level of unit wage costs compared to the sophistication of industrial production in France. The downmarket nature of French industrial production prevents an increase in its selling prices, because of the high level of the price elasticity of demand for industrial products made in France: 0.9 versus 0.3 in Germany.

However, the rise in the unit wage cost – relative to selling prices – does not come as a result of the trend in productivity, but what has been happening to wages. This is because the level of costs is pushed up by the level of employers’ welfare contributions.

The subsequent fall in French industry’s profitability is substantial, reducing its capacity to invest and create jobs. This leads to the off-shoring of production capacity to countries where industrial profitability is higher, thereby weakening industry financially and threatening it with a serious crisis in the event of a recession and falling demand.

Cause no. 2: The demand problem

Between 2011 and 2012, French industry suffered from the weakness of both domestic and external demand. This resulted in a lower capacity utilisation rate than normal, which makes the problem of low profitability even more detrimental. And the decline in demand may deteriorate further if there is a fall in real wage incomes and government expenditure.

Cause no. 3: The euro-zone crisis

The eurozone crisis has two negative effects on French industry:

  1. it weakens demand and therefore imports in the eurozone countries that usually would have been France’s customers. This is significant because the eurozone accounts for 46% of French exports – the United Kingdom, which is also mired in a recession, accounts for 6%;
  2. it reduces domestic demand and capacity utilisation rates in Spain and Portugal and persuades industrial companies in these countries to turn to exports. As wage costs are lower in these countries, there is an increase in the competition that has a direct impact on French industry. France’s export market share tends to decline, whereas those of PortugalSpain and Ireland have recovered.

Remedies are very difficult to implement

Of the three issues mentioned, weakness of demand and the effects of the eurozone crisis cannot be controlled, particularly in a situation where there is private-sector deleveraging and a reduction in fiscal deficits. The question for French industry is therefore which remedies can be implemented on the supply side? We have put together the following list of possible measures:

 

  • an improvement in the sophistication of industrial production and in the differentiation of products, which will require innovation, investments, and marketing;
  • increased geographical diversification in companies' sales to increase the weight of emerging countries, which is currently quite low in France;
  • a major reform of the financing of social welfare in France to reduce the weight of welfare contributions paid by companies;
  • a fall in the hourly labour cost, either through a fall in the per capita wage, or through an increase in the number of hours worked (which is obviously a source of conflict).

 

However, these measures are all very difficult to implement rapidly.

It is also important to understand the major fragility of companies that are not very profitable (i.e. they have a shortfall in supply) when they are faced with a significant and lasting decline in demand.

Unfortunately, it looks as though this French industry crisis is not going to go away any time soon.

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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