Thursday 5th May 2016
NEWS TICKER: Moody's says it has downgraded the ratings of Exeltium SAS's €1,000m 15 year floating rate bank term loan (Facility A), €155m 15 year floating rate institutional term loan (Facility B1) and €280m 15 year fixed rate institutional term loan (Facility B2), together, the senior debt, to Baa3, from Baa2. The senior debt matures in June 2030. Moody's has also downgraded the rating of Exeltium's €153m subordinated bonds, the junior bonds, maturing in December 2031 to B3, from Ba3. The outlook on the ratings is stable. The downgrade of the senior debt ratings reflects, says Moody’s, wholesale electricity market price falls in France, resulting in a material risk that Exeltium's customers will opt out of electricity purchases from 2020 to 2024 and a fall in the weighted average credit quality of clients to Baa3, from Baa2 and iii) the weakened credit quality of the put counterparty, a large French industrial rated Ba2 negative that is obliged to purchase 51% of volumes subject to Client opt-out (the Put Option). Moody's has also revised its French wholesale electricity price assumptions downwards, reflecting the current price environment and Moody's assumption that lower prices will be sustained. The industrial logic of the project is significantly weakened in a low electricity price environment. In Moody's revised base case, the rating agency assumes that clients would opt-out of electricity purchases between 2020 and 2024. Over this period, Moody's assumes that just over half of Exeltium's electricity would be sold under the Put Option, with the remainder sold at market rates. - CORPORATE REPORTING - Lufthansa Group says is maintaining its full-year earnings forecast for an adjusted EBIT which is “slightly above” the previous year’s €1.8b, after reducing its operating losses for the first quarter, having introduced substantial cost cuts and despite a decline in revenues. The firm’s adjusted EBIT loss for the three months to the end of March fell by more than two-thirds to €53m ($61m). Revenues fell slightly to €6.9bn because of pricing pressures in the group’s passenger airlines, says chief financial officer Simone Menne. Lufthansa’s passenger airline division improved its adjusted EBIT by €244m and that for Austrian Airlines was up by €23m. However, currency effects, however, dragged on the result at Swiss International Air Lines, where adjusted earnings fell by €28m. However, the firm issued a health warning that its forecast does not take into account any negative effects of possible strike actions and that it does not expect that pricing pressures will ease any time soon. Lufthansa Group turned in a net loss of €8m, compared with a €425m profit last year, but stresses that this included a large benefit from transactions relating to US carrier JetBlue Airways. Taking this into account, it says, the first quarter net result equates to an improvement of €70m. - SOVEREIGN DEBT - THE UK’s DMO says the auction of £2.5bn of 1.5% treasury gilt 2026 says bids worth £4.473bn were received for the offer of which £2.125bn was sold to competitive bidders and £374m sold to gilt edged market makers (GEMMs). An additional amount of the Stock totalling up to £375.000 million will be made available to successful bidders for purchase at the non-competitive allotment price, in accordance with the terms of the information memorandum. Higher priced bids came in at £98.566, providing a yield of 1.653% and the lowest accepts was £98.526, providing a yield of £1/656% - CYBER SECURITY - Global Cyber Alliance, an organisation founded by the New York County District Attorney's Office, the City of London Police and the Center for Internet Security, say they will collaborate with M3AAWG to push the security community to more quickly adopt concrete, quantifiable practices that can reduce online threats. The non-profit GCA has joined the Messaging, Malware and Mobile Anti-Abuse Working Group, which develops anti-abuse best practices based on the proven experience of its members, and M3AAWG has become a GCA partner for the technology sector – ASSET MANAGEMENT JOBS - IFM Investors today announced the appointment of Rich Randall as Global Head of Debt Investments. Mr. Randall takes on this senior leadership role from his prior position as Executive Director of Debt Investments, which he had held since joining IFM Investors in 2013. Randall replaces Robin Miller, who will semi-retire from IFM Investors after a 17-year association with the company. Miller will remain with IFM Investors and will transition to the role of Senior Advisor and Chair of Investment Committee within the organisation. In his new role, Randall will manage IFM Investors’ global debt investment teams and maintain the organization’s global debt investment process and relationships with investors. He will also oversee the sourcing of infrastructure debt opportunities internationally. He will continue to be based in IFM Investors’ New York offices and will report directly to CEO Brett Himbury – ACQUISITIONS - Intercontinental Exchange says it has backed off from its counterbid for the London Stock Exchange. In a statement issued by ICE, chief executive Jeffrey Sprecher says LSEG did not provide enough information to make an informed decision on the value of the merger. "Following due diligence on the information made available, ICE determined that there was insufficient engagement to confirm the potential market and shareholder benefits of a strategic combination. Therefore, ICE has confirmed that it has no current intention to make an offer for LSEG – POLITICAL RISK – Global risk analysts Red24 reports that political parties, including the National Movement for the Organisation of the Country (MONOP) and the Fanmi Lavalas party, held a series of demonstrations in Port-au-Prince, yesterday. The action was launched to show support for the Commission to Evaluate Haiti Elections (CIEVE), a body established to verify the 2015 elections. The latest call to action came amid heightened tensions between the aforementioned political parties and former president Michel Martelly's Parti Haitien Tet Kale (PHTK), which launched general strikes against CIEVE on 2 May. Further opposition party-led demonstrations are expected to continue in the near-term due to the indefinite postponement of the country's 24 April run-off election and issues surrounding the evaluation of the 2015 elections – INDEX TRADING – Investors have not yet leant into the wind as a ruff of mixed data discombobulated markets yet again, with a lacklustre Asian trading session. More pertinently perhaps, investor sentiment is hanging in advance of tomorrow’s US labour market report. Peter O’Flanagan ClearTreasury reports that uncertainty around Brexit has impacted business sentiment in the UK and “if we are seeing this filter through into Q2 data there may well be additional downside for UK data until we have a referendum result. That may not be an end to the uncertainty as the “Out” campaign appears to be gathering some momentum. Depending on what poll you look at, it would appear the “uncertain” portion of the polls is narrowing, and while the position is currently still far too close to call by looking at the polls, bookies are still favouring the ‘In’ campaign with a 75% probability of remaining”. In the Asian trading session meantime, Japanese stock indexes fell to three week lows, and in line with sentiment this year, the yen has touched yet another 18-month high against the dollar, no doubt testing the resolve of the central bank not to act, despite stating that the yen is way over-priced. The Nikkei225 was down 3.11% today. The Hang Seng ended down 0.37%, while the Shanghai Composite rose marginally by 0.23%. The ASX All Ordinaries ended 0.17% higher, though the Kospi fell 0.49% and the FTSE Bursa Malaysia dropped 0.75%. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 0.53 points or 0.02% lower to 2772.54, taking the year-to-date performance to -3.82%. The top active stocks today were SingTel, which gained 0.53%, DBS, which declined 2.22%, OCBC Bank, which declined 1.06%, UOB, which declined 1.04% and Wilmar Intl, with a 0.57% advance. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index declined 0.27%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index rose 0.01%. OIL PRICES RISE - The story today was oil as prices climbed in the Asian session, with the Brent crude price breaking through $45; wildfires in Canada were behind the rise. Wildfires look to be burning out of control in the Alberta oil sands region of Canada, which mines and ships heavy crude to the US. Oil companies there have reduced operations as non-essential employees are evacuated. Moreover, US oil output fell last week by more than 100,000 barrels a day to 8.83m, its lowest level since September 2014, though inventories continue to rise. US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for delivery next month was up $1.19, or 2.7%, at $44.97 while Brent prices for July supply rose 94 cents to $45.56. The price of oil has rallied recently because of the 400,000 bpd cut in US oil output (IEA data), US dollar weakness and Asian demand optimism. The next OPEC meeting scheduled for June 2nd will likely be another watershed, as all recent meetings have been. One beneficiary of the recent rally in oil prices is Russia, where the ruble has appreciated 14% against the US dollar this year. As well, investor sentiment towards Russia risk is highly influenced by the oil price. Year-to-date the dollar-denominated Russia RDX equity index is up 25%, and that compares with a gain of 6% for the MSCI EM Index and 1% for the S&P 500 Index reports Chris Weafer at macro-advisory.com. Weafer says the current oil price also makes the removal of financial sector sanctions less urgent for 2016 and eases both short-term geo-political and economic pressure on the Kremlin and reduces social stability concerns. “Oil should rise by [the end of the decade] but be less important by mid-next decade. Medium-term, an oil price rally to over US$100 per barrel is perfectly feasible due to the combination of steadily rising Asia demand (in particular) and the lack of investment by the oil majors since late 2014. Longer-term, the age of oil, or the importance of oil, may already be over or significantly in decline. The strong growth in alternative energy and the commitments made as part of the Paris Agreement make that a very high probability”. Gold is still seen under pressure this morning, say Swissquote’s Michael van Dulkin and Augustin Eden in their morning note today, which they attribute as usual to “pre Non-Farms trading (or lack thereof). We’re of the opinion, however, that employment is OK in terms of the US economic picture such that while there will be short term volatility around it, there’s little point giving this print much attention. Better to concentrate on US inflation data which, if it starts rising, could boost Gold (an inflation hedge) much more efficiently. There is, after all, a fair amount of concern that current easy US monetary policy could lead to inflation overshooting the 2% target when it does finally pick up.” In focus today, UK Services PMI (flat).

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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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