Saturday 6th 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

The Calculation for Spain

Tuesday, 31 July 2012 Written by 
The Calculation for Spain To alleviate its debt and escape its state of crisis, we think Spain has two strategies to choose from. The first one, already in place since 2009, involves a reduction in the fiscal and external deficits while accepting aid from other eurozone countries. If Spain were to continue with this strategy, it would need to incorporate regular debt purchases by the ECB and possibly the ESM, and provide assistance to recapitalise its banks. The second strategy would be to leave the euro, which would mean a default on its gross external debt and a sharp devaluation of its currency. Both of these strategies contain negatives that need to be considered: the question is, which one would be the least detrimental to the country’s economic future? http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

To alleviate its debt and escape its state of crisis, we think Spain has two strategies to choose from. The first one, already in place since 2009, involves a reduction in the fiscal and external deficits while accepting aid from other eurozone countries. If Spain were to continue with this strategy, it would need to incorporate regular debt purchases by the ECB and possibly the ESM, and provide assistance to recapitalise its banks.

The second strategy would be to leave the euro, which would mean a default on its gross external debt and a sharp devaluation of its currency.

Both of these strategies contain negatives that need to be considered: the question is, which one would be the least detrimental to the country’s economic future?

Strategy One: Spain's present strategy of adjustment...A Catch-22 situation?

Spain’s high levels of external debt mean it cannot increase its external borrowing (except for emergency borrowing from the EU or the ECB). Therefore, it must balance its current account.



Its present strategy of adjustment is clear: a restrictive fiscal policy; an improvement in cost-competitiveness to rebalance foreign trade; and the acceptance of European aid to recapitalise banks in distress. The last action hinges on purchases of government bonds to push down long-term interest rates. However, this strategy is risky.

A scenario may help us better understand this strategy: a fall in real wages due to price-stickiness discourages household demand, which has a knock-on effect to make business investment decline. Hence, there is a major decline in domestic demand and activity, making it very difficult to reduce fiscal deficit. In early 2012 we saw this in action when Spain’s fiscal deficit widened considerably, due both to tax revenue short-falls and higher-than-expected government spending. A continuation of this strategy therefore may lead to a further increase in unemployment and a decline in activity.

There could also be a reduction in the external deficit due to the decline in purchasing power. That said, imports would have to be reduced by a further 20% for Spain's current account deficit to disappear, which would mean a decline of at least 12% in domestic demand and real income.

The only hope for this strategy is that improvements in cost-competitiveness could increase Spain's exports and market share, and improved profits could eventually increase business investment.

Strategy Two: Exit from the euro, default and devaluation...A possible solution or suicide?

The other strategy would be for Spain to leave the euro, sharply devalue its currency, and inevitably default on its gross external public and private debt. This would obviously be a big problem for Spanish multinational companies, given the size of debt and the impossibility of servicing it following devaluation.

But what would the likely consequences of this strategy be?

For a start, it requires an immediate rebalancing of foreign trade. The country could no longer borrow, which would result in a much weaker economic situation in the short term.

Our econometric estimate shows elasticity to the real exchange rate of 0.73 for Spain's exports and 0 for imports, in volume terms. If we assume 30% devaluation, the foreign trade gain in volume terms would be 7.7 percentage points of GDP, which is very substantial.

Devaluation would increase the price of imports and therefore reduce real income by about 5.9 percentage points, which would leave a net gain of approximately 2 percentage points of GDP.

When the Spanish peseta was devalued in the early 1990s (twice in 1992, once in 1993), the current account deficit disappeared in 18 months, exports accelerated strongly, while domestic inflation reacted only slightly to the rise in import prices. The decline in GDP only lasted one year, and from that point growth was strong because of falling interest rates.

In today’s instance, devaluation would also increase the competitiveness of tourism and increase the surplus for these services in local currency, though perhaps not in foreign currencies such as the euro.

As financing becomes completely domestic, it is not impossible that there could be a reduction in the sovereign risk premium.

Devaluation could subsequently attract direct investment by businesses. With 30% devaluation, for example, labour costs in Spain would fall to EUR 14 per hour, 60% less than in Germany. However, since the size of Spanish industry is relatively small, new activities need to be considered for it to generate a large surplus.

Conclusion: What strategy to choose for Spain?

If the improvement in Spain's cost-competitiveness and profitability does not produce quick results, the present strategy will fail: wages would have to be reduced on a greater scale to eliminate the external deficit, and the fiscal deficit would remain very high.

The other strategy (leaving the euro, devaluation and default) could be successful if the devaluation attracted new activities, but it involves a lot of uncertainties – such as the impacts on Spanish multinationals, interest rates and foreign trade.

As stated earlier, both strategies are rather bleak, but positive aspects are still evident. Considering all of the factors, we believe that the strategy of devaluation and default could be the most efficient, particularly due to the high price elasticity of exports and the fact that Spain's entire current account deficit is accounted for by the interest on its external debt. As in 1992, it could also be effective due to the domestic financing of fiscal deficits, which will prevent a rise in interest rates.

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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