Wednesday 28th January 2015
NEWS TICKER, JANUARY 28TH: BNP Paribas’ 4th Quarter 2014 Results will be available on Thursday February 5th from 6:00 am (London time) on the bank’s website. A live webcast in English with synchronised slides of the analysts presentation hosted by Jean-Laurent Bonnafé (CEO) will be available on the website starting at 1:30 pm (GMT). - Kurdish forces say they have expelled the Islamic State fighters from the Syrian town of Kobani, near the Turkish border. However, this is the now the fourth time in as many months that this news has been disseminated - - Deutsche Börse will announce its preliminary results for the 2014 operating year on February 19th - S&P has lowered the Russian credit rating to junk with negative outlook as the sliding oil prices and tensions in Ukraine now look to be a serious threat to the country’s financial and political stability, says SwissQuote. The FX analytics firm notes that the USD/RUB is testing 70 offers. “Should the sell-off gains momentum above 70, we expect the CBR to intervene to temper the ruble depreciation. The CBR meets on January 30th and is expected to keep the bank rate unchanged at 17%. Given the selling pressures on the ruble, we do not expect any cut yet. Russia’s forex reserves eases toward 2009 lows, $379.4bn as of January 16th. With the free-floating RUB, the FX reserves will certainly keep fading, therefore should bring the CBR to find alternative ways to intervene to slowdown the debasing”. - Latvia’s prime minister’s office, has issued a statement about events in the Ukraine. "We express our concern about the deteriorating security and humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine. We condemn the killing of civilians during the indiscriminate shelling of the Ukrainian city of Mariupol on 24 January 2015. We note evidence of continued and growing support given to the separatists by Russia, which underlines Russia's responsibility. We urge Russia to condemn the separatists' actions and to implement the Minsk agreements. We recall the European Council conclusions of 18 December 2014, where we said that "the EU will stay the course" and that we are "ready to take further steps if necessary." In view of the worsening situation the office asks “the upcoming Foreign Affairs Council to assess the situation and to consider any appropriate action, in particular on further restrictive measures, aiming at a swift and comprehensive implementation of Minsk agreements,” says the statement. Latvia has assumed the presidency of the EU for the six months to June. - Data from the IMF suggests that The Netherlands has raised its gold holdings, having bought 9.61 tonnes in December last year. Russia too continues to build its gold reserves and has increased stock for the ninth consecutive month, buying 20.73 tonnes last month. The purchases by the Dutch central bank follows its move in November to repatriate more than 120 tonnes of gold from vaults in the United States - UK GDP looks to be weaker than expected but remains good news for investors. “The first estimates of the Q4 GDP numbers came in slightly below expectations at 0.5% and markedly slower than the previous three quarters of 2014. The primary driver of the reduced growth rate was the construction sector, which saw output fall by 1.8%. However, the slowdown was not enough to prevent the fastest full year growth rate of 2.7% since the financial crisis,” says Helal Miah, investment research analyst at The Share Centre. “Despite numbers being slightly weaker than expected, we believe the UK economy remains relatively robust. After a fantastic few years in the construction sector it is quite natural to see a return to normal markets conditions. The services element of the UK economy remains healthy and the full benefits of the plunge in the price of oil are still to come. Low inflation will hold back interest rate rises and we therefore believe that for investors the equity market remains the asset class of choice.” - Societe Generale Securities Services (SGSS) has launched a new website, Sharinbox, for corporations and their registered shareholders and employees who benefit from free share plans, stock options plans and other incentive schemes. Operational since December 13th last year, the website, www.sharinbox.societegenerale.com, provides users with direct, multilingual access to an online resource with information regarding their share and employee ownership plans in order to manage their personal data and transactions – According to Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets, “Given the headwinds being felt by major oil companies around the world, the share price performance since the beginning of last year, while uninspiring, has still out performed the oil price which given the macro economic back drop is all the more surprising … We’ve already seen the effects that the slump in the oil price is having on the oilfield service providers in the US, with both Baker Hughes and Halliburton announcing job losses as the companies see rig counts drop, and margins decline. We’ve also seen WBH Energy, a Texas based shale producer file for bankruptcy. Despite all these concerns the shares have outperformed, though that probably has more to do with the buyback program the company has been doing than anything to do with outperformance relative to its peers. The company has been buying back shares on a fairly steady basis over the past 12 months and this undoubtedly will have accounted for the relative outperformance”.The FSCS has started paying compensation in respect of 13 firms, including seven investment advice firms and three life and pension advice firms that have gone into default. The financial advice firms which have entered default, according to the scheme are: Barry Norris & Associates, Premier Financial Advice, The Financial Consultancy (UK), True Financial Management (formerly HNL Financial Services), Unleash Advice Partnership, and AJ Buckley Financial Management formerly AJ Buckley Overseas, City Insurance Consultants. Last week, the FSCS published its plan and budget for the coming year, which revealed investment advisers would be paying £125m towards the FSCS annual levy for 2015/16. Life and pension intermediaries are paying a £57m levy, an increase of £24m compared to the £33m the FSCS levied against the funding sub-class for 2014/15. Since it was set up in 2001, the FSCS has paid out more than£975 million in compensation to customers of defaulted advice firms. In November 2014, the FSCS said it had dealt with the default of 2,391 independent advice firms since it was set up. - Retail Sales in the United Kingdom unexpectedly increased in December, as the drop in oil prices boosted the country’s spending power. The increase came from a 5.2% gain in computers, telecoms, toys, and sporting goods sales, while food sales alone contributed 1.3%. There was a decline in sales of some items, such as clothing and household goods, reflecting a boost from Black Friday discounts the previous month - The Source Goldman Sachs Equity Factor Index Europe UCITS ETF has been launched, the second Source ETF to be launched that provides access to Goldman Sachs’ multi-factor indices. “Smart beta funds have proven successful in certain markets, providing investors with the potential to generate better returns than the more common market-cap weighted benchmarks, particularly on a risk-adjusted basis,” says Michael John Lytle, chief development officer at Source. “The Goldman Sachs series of factor-based indices offer exposure to multiple factors, rather than just the one or two that are applied to many other funds on the market.” – Mixed news from the US over the weekend. Housing starts in the US surged, as builders broke ground in December on the most houses in almost seven years. Work began on 728,000 houses at an annual rate, a 7.2% increase from November and the most since March 2008. On the other hand, building permits, a representation for future construction declined 1.9% in December to a 1.03m pace, however more Americans filed applications for unemployment benefits last week, signaling that the holiday employment turnover is taking its toll on the jobs market. Jobless claims dropped by 10,000 to 307,000 in the week ending January 17th down from a revised rate of 317,000 in the prior week, a Labor department report shows. Applications for jobless benefits were expected to decline to 300,000, according to market surveys by economists - German ZEW Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim said its index of investor and analyst expectations, which aims to predict economic developments six months in advance, climbed for a third consecutive month in January to 48.4 from 34.9 in December. Economists forecast an increase to 40, according to the median of 37 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. The sentiment index jumped to the highest level in 11 months - Singapore Exchange is partnering Clearbridge Accelerator to address financing gaps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and entrepreneurs face by providing the investing community with greater transparency. SGX said on Monday (Jan 26) it signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with CBA, a Singapore venture capital and incubation firm specialising in early-stage investments. Under the agreement, both parties will form a joint-venture (JV) company to develop the fund-raising platform, which aims to address financing gaps SMEs and entrepreneurs face by providing the investing community with greater transparency. The JV will identify and form a strategic equity partnership with an experienced platform operator and industry stakeholders such as financial institutions to operate the new capital-raising platform. It will also identify other partners and collaborators to create demand among investors for the offerings on the platform, according to the press release. The move to help smaller firms raise funding marks the entry of SGX into a new business area. Besides operating the stock market, which caters to the equity needs of more to established firms, SGX also offers a platform for bonds as well as derivatives and commodities. Enterprise development agency SPRING Singapore will play a supporting role in the formation of the JV, as part of its ongoing efforts to make the financing environment more conducive to SMEs and entrepreneurs, the statement added. - Hedge funds swung to betting on price falls in cotton, soybeans and wheat, amid ideas of easier supplies, as they cut bullish positioning in agricultural commodities to the weakest in three months Managed money, a proxy for speculators, cut its net long position in futures and options in the top 13 US-traded agricultural commodities, from coffee to cattle, by more than 43,000 contracts in the week to last Tuesday, according to data from the Commodity Futures Trading Commission regulator - Richard Bruton TD, Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, today announced that the Viagogo Group, which operates www.viagogo.com, the ticket marketplace, intends to double its workforce in Ireland over the next three years, taking it from 100 to over 200 employees. The jobs are supported by the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation through IDA Ireland -

Blog

The European Review

By Patrick Artus, chief economist at Natixis

Is Greece offered any other choice to a slow death and a sudden death?

Friday, 06 July 2012 Written by 
Is Greece offered any other choice to a slow death and a sudden death? The adjustment programme that Greece is putting in place with the Troika, even if it is toned down and spread out over time, will eventually lead to a fall in Greeks' purchasing power until Greece's external deficit disappears. And in light of Greece's economic structure and the disproportion between its imports and exports, this will imply a collapse in living standards in Greece. The other possibility for Greece is to leave the euro and massively devalue its currency, but this would instantly mean a loss of purchasing power due to the deterioration of the terms of trade, and a massive decline in domestic demand, which would in any case be inevitable because there would then be no more lenders to finance Greece's external deficit. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

The adjustment programme that Greece is putting in place with the "Troika", even if it is toned down and spread out over time, will eventually lead to a fall in Greeks' purchasing power until Greece's external deficit disappears. And in light of Greece's economic structure and the disproportion between its imports and exports, this will imply a collapse in living standards in Greece. The other possibility for Greece is to leave the euro and massively devalue its currency, but this would instantly mean a loss of purchasing power due to the deterioration of the terms of trade, and a massive decline in domestic demand, which would in any case be inevitable because there would then be no more lenders to finance Greece's external deficit.

For Greece to escape a slow death (austerity programme) or a sudden death (exit from the euro), a massive European aid plan would be needed to rebuild the Greek economy and create jobs, a plan that is unlikely at present, and very different from the present bailout which merely finances debt servicing on Greek government bonds held by public investors.

The logic of the adjustment programme for Greece: Slow death



Even if Greece and the Troika renegotiate the adjustment programme, its fundamental characteristics will remain the same:

·                                  a restrictive fiscal policy to eliminate the fiscal deficit;

·                                  a fall in wages to improve competitiveness and reduce domestic demand, until Greece's external deficit disappears.

The main idea of the adjustment programme is that Greece's domestic demand exceeds its production capacity, thereby generating a structural external deficit. So Greeks "are living beyond their means", with a rise in living standards far exceeding growth in production capacity, and it is therefore legitimate to reduce domestic demand both through a restrictive fiscal policy and wage cuts.

The fall in wages could also bring about an improvement in competitiveness, hence an improvement in foreign trade, but its main objective is to reduce domestic demand and imports.

The problem with this approach is that:

·                                  it is showing its ineffectiveness: despite the decline in domestic demand, the current-account deficit has declined little; due to the shortfall in activity, public finances are no longer improving;

·                                  its cost in terms of jobs and purchasing power is gigantic. Greece is a country in which the weight of industry is very small and where, as a consequence, the disproportion between imports and exports is very great.

A substantial decline in purchasing power in Greece is therefore needed to eliminate the external deficit, with a further fall of about 30% in real wages. Purchasing power would have to be brought back to the level of the early 1990s to balance the current account, and this is of course rejected by the population. The fundamental problem is twofold:

·                                  even if there is a fall in wages, the improvement in price-competitiveness is limited by price stickiness;

·                                  since the size of industry is small, the adjustment must be achieved mainly through a fall in imports, hence a decline in income.

Exit from the euro and devaluation: Sudden death

Faced with this prospect of a "slow death" due to the austerity programme, Greeks could decide to leave the euro and devalue. But in that case the shock would be sudden and terrible, because there would be both:

·                                  a rise in import prices;

·                                  an obligation to eliminate the external deficit, because no one (neither the private sector nor the public sector) would any longer lend to Greece;

·                                  a weak positive impact of the gain in competitiveness, due to the small size of industry.

Greece would default on its gross external debt, and would therefore no longer have to service that debt, which is positive (it would gain six percentage points of GDP in interest payments on external debt). But the rise in import prices would even further exacerbate the foreign trade imbalance, while the potential for external borrowing would disappear. There would inevitably have to be a reduction in domestic demand to restore the foreign trade balance despite the rise in import prices, hence inevitably a collapse in imports in volume terms.

This is reminiscent of the process in Argentina, in similar circumstances, in the early 2000s: a collapse of activity following the huge devaluation, the need to switch to a current-account surplus which required dividing imports by three - hence a collapse in the real wage due to imported inflation, and in domestic demand and employment.

From 2003 onwards, there was  a sharp improvement in Argentina's situation, but it is important to remember that it had considerable structural advantages by comparison with Greece at present:

·                                  substantial weight of industry (22% of jobs);

·                                  before the crisis, exports and imports of the same size;

·                                  a smaller current-account deficit to reduce (five percentage points of GDP).

The shock would be far more violent and prolonged for Greece.

So what would be the solution for Greece?

We have seen that Greece is at present offered two solutions:

·                                  a "slow death", through a stifling of the economy via the austerity plan, even if it is softened down;

·                                  a "sudden death", if there is an exit from the euro and devaluation.

In either case, gradually or suddenly, there must be a substantial decline in purchasing power to eliminate the external deficit which is no longer financeable. For Greece to escape this dreadful choice, Europe's aid would have to be allocated not to debt servicing on Greece's government bonds held by public investors (EFSF, ECB) - which in and of itself is an incredible situation where Europe is borrowing in order to pay to itself the servicing of the Greek debt it holds - but to help rebuild the Greek economy and create jobs, which is definitely not being done at present.

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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