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

The core reason for asymmetry between the German and French economies: corporate profitability

Friday, 25 May 2012 Written by 
The core reason for asymmetry between the German and French economies: corporate profitability The main explanation for asymmetry between the French and German economies is that in France, companies’ production capacity is unable to keep up with domestic demand, whereas in Germany it is growing faster than domestic demand. This difference is related to corporate profitability: high and rising in Germany, but low and falling in France, which is limiting French companies’ investment capacity. There are two plausible causes for the profitability gap between German and French companies: the higher level of product sophistication and diversification that gives more pricing power to German companies; and the nature of labour market negotiations, where the link between the labour market and the economy is much stronger in Germany than in France. Yet – if no new economic policies are introduced to improve the profitability of French companies – it is more than likely that the country’s economic situation will not improve. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

The main explanation for asymmetry between the French and German economies is that in France, companies’ production capacity is unable to keep up with domestic demand, whereas in Germany it is growing faster than domestic demand. This difference is related to corporate profitability: high and rising in Germany, but low and falling in France, which is limiting French companies’ investment capacity. There are two plausible causes for the profitability gap between German and French companies: the higher level of product sophistication and diversification that gives more pricing power to German companies; and the nature of labour market negotiations, where the link between the labour market and the economy is much stronger in Germany than in France. Yet – if no new economic policies are introduced to improve the profitability of French companies – it is more than likely that the country’s economic situation will not improve.

The economic asymmetry between France and Germany

The main reason for economic asymmetry between France and Germany, which also explains the differences between their current account balance situations, is the ability of companies to build up production capacity to meet domestic demand.



Indeed, domestic demand in France has increased much faster than GDP meaning that its inability to meet excess demand through domestic production has cost them potential economic growth. And its production capacity for industrial products in particular has been unable to keep up with domestic demand. This is in stark contrast to Germany, however, where domestic demand is actually weak relative to supply.

The role of corporate profitability

A key explanation for the differences between German and French companies’ investment capacity is corporate profitability, particularly in the manufacturing industry. Indeed, corporate profitability has been growing in Germany but declining in France since 2000. This is because, unlike in Germany, French companies are faced with cost increases that exceed price increases, particularly in the industrial sector. Furthermore, French companies have been unable to pass on increases in production costs to consumers, explaining the long-run decline in profitability since 2001.

Indeed, the low profitability of French companies is an obstacle to investment that German companies are not lumbered with. Furthermore, German firms’ self-financing rate (the ratio of savings to fixed capital) essentially exceeds 100%, explaining why there is a faster rate of productive investment in Germany. Meanwhile, the greater capacity for investment in Germany will be amplified if it becomes more difficult to obtain credit, which is likely to be the case in France due to the impact of new prudential rules for banks.

Causes of low corporate profitability in France

There are two major causes for French companies’ poorer profitability:

1. Less sophisticated industrial products

The fact that French industrial companies are unable to pass increases in production costs on to consumers shows their weak pricing power and the low level of product sophistication. Demand for French products is therefore price sensitive, which is not the case for German products, and explains why France’s export market share fell when the euro appreciated between 2002 and 2008 yet Germany’s did not. Meanwhile, it could also be said that France is stuck in a vicious circle: the low product sophistication of French companies reduces their profitability, which reduces their ability to invest and enhance the quality of their products.

2. The nature of labour market negotiations

The rise in unemployment and the weakness of activity has caused a significant slowdown in wage growth in Germany. However, this has not occurred in France, where wages have been less sensitive to the performance of the economy. Since wage costs remain high, it is more difficult for French companies to enhance corporate profitability after periods of weak growth.

Indeed, profitability remained low in France from 2003 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2012, yet improved in Germany. So labour market negotiations in France seem to favour "insiders" (employees who have kept their jobs) instead of encouraging firms to hire new staff. But in Germany it is easier to negotiate the wages of existing employees and therefore to recruit new staff.

Which economic policy approaches should be used in France in order to address these issues?

Government policy should seek to boost corporate profitability by:

  • Lowering labour costs to restore profit margins for French companies and to boost investment. This can be achieved through tax reforms that reduce the weight of welfare contributions;
  • Helping French companies to invest more despite their low self-financing rate. This could include government intervention such as public-sector funding or loans via state-owned banks, as well as through the development of a large corporate bond market;
  • Helping companies to improve product sophistication through government research grants, government contracts for technological products, and offering support for new industries: digital, energy, etc.;
  • And finally, by changing the nature of negotiations between unions and employers in France to ensure the employment component is taken into account in negotiations.
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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