Monday 2nd May 2016
NEWS TICKER: Central bank policy is still dominating the trading agenda, even though most analysts believe that the Fed will, if it does move, move only once this year and will raise rates by a quarter of a percent. The statement of the US FOMC was terse and most likely signals extreme caution on its part, though there is a belief that hawkish voices are rising in the committee. The reality is though that the US economic growth story is slowing. Many think the June meeting will spark the uplift. Let’s see. The US dollar is continuing to lose ground across the board after data showed the US economy expanded at its slowest pace since the second quarter of 2009, according to the BEA, which FTSE Global Markets reported on last Friday. GDP increased at a 0.5% annualised rate - versus an expected 0.7% - after rising 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2015 as personal consumption failed to boost growth in spite of low gasoline prices. Central bank caution makes sense in that context, however timing will be sensitive. If the central bank moves in the autumn it threatens to unbutton the presidential elections; but the reality is that mixed data will emanate from the US over this quarter which will make a June decision difficult. It’s tough being an FOMC member right now. The Bank of Japan meanwhile signalled its intention to stay the course this week with current policy, which discombobulated the markets. The Japanese markets were closed today for a public holiday, so it won’t be entirely clear if the market will suffer for the central bank’s decision. Certainly if fell 3.61% yesterday and is down 5% on the week. so the omens aren’t great. Of course, the pattern that is well established of late is that as the market falls, the yen appreciates. The yen was trading at 107.14 against the dollar last time we looked, compared with 108 earlier in the session, having at times touched 111/$1 yesterday (the lowest point for more than 18 months) The month to date has seen a rise in both the short term and long term volatility gauges. Coinciding with the rise, Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrant activity has also significantly picked up. Nikkei 225 Structured Warrants showed increased activity with daily averaged traded value up 33% month-on-month. The Nikkei 225 Index Structured Warrants had significant increase in trading activity year-on-year with total turnover up by 6.8 times. – ASIAN TRADING SESSION - Australia's ASX 200 reversed early losses to close up 26.77 points, or 0.51%, at 5,252.20, adding 0.3% for the week. The uptick today was driven by gains in the heavily-weighted financials sub-index, as well as the energy and materials sub-indexes. In South Korea, the Kospi finished down 6.78 points, or 0.34%, at 1,994.15, while in Hong Kong, the Hang Seng index fell 1.37%. Chinese mainland markets were mixed, with the Shanghai composite dropping 7.13 points, or 0.24 percent, at 2,938.45, while the Shenzhen composite finished nearly flat. The Straits Times Index (STI) ended 12.42 points or 0.43% lower to 2862.3, taking the year-to-date performance to -0.71%. The top active stocks today were SingTel, which gained 0.26%, DBS, which declined 1.03%, NOL, which gained closed unchanged, OCBC Bank, which declined 1.00% and CapitaLand, with a 0.63% fall. The FTSE ST Mid Cap Index gained 0.60%, while the FTSE ST Small Cap Index rose 0.49%. Structured warrants on Asian Indices have continued to be active in April. YTD, the STI has generated a total return of 1.3%. This compares to a decline of 4.9% for the Nikkei 225 Index and a decline of 6.3% of the Hang Seng Index. Of the structured warrants available on Asian Indices, the Hang Seng Index Structured Warrants have remained the most active in the year to date with Structured Warrants on the Nikkei 225 Index and STI Index the next most active – FUND FLOWS – BAML reports that commodity fund flows went back to positive territory after taking a breather last week, supported again by inflows into gold funds. “The asset class is currently the best performer, with year to date % of AUM inflow at 15%, far ahead of all other asset classes. Global EM debt flows reflected the bullish turn of the market on EMs, recording the tenth consecutive week of positive flows. On the duration front, short-term funds recorded a marginal inflow, keeping a positive sign for the last four weeks. The mid-term IG funds continue to record strong inflows for a ninth week. But it looks like investors have started to embrace duration to reach for yield, as inflows into longer-term funds have recorded a cumulative 0.8% inflow in the past two weeks,” says the BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research team – GREEN BONDS - Banco Nacional de Costa Rica is the latest issuer with a $500m bond to finance wind, solar, hydro and wastewater projects. The bond has a coupon of 5.875% and matures on April 25th 2021. Banco Nacional will rely on Costa Rican environmental protection regulations to determine eligible projects. This is the fourth green bond issuance in Latin America, according to the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI). Actually, Costa Rica is one of the global leaders in terms of renewable energy use. In the first quarter of 2016 it sourced 97.14% of its power from renewables. Hydro's share alone was 65.62%. – SOVEREIGN DEBT - After coming to market with a 100 year bond last week, the Kingdom of Belgium (rated Aa3/AA/AA) has opened books on a dual tranche bond; the first maturing in seven years; the second in 50 years, in a deal managed by Barclays, Credit Agricole, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Natixis and Société Générale. Managers have marketed the October 22nd 2023 tranche at 11 basis points (bps) through mid-swaps and the June 22nd 2066 tranche in the high teens over the mid of the 1.75% 2066 French OAT – LONGEVITY REINSURANCE - Prudential Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company (PRIAC) and U.K. insurer Legal & General say they have just completed their third longevity reinsurance transaction together, further evidence that longevity reinsurance continues to be a vehicle for UK insurers seeking relief from pension liabilities exposed to longevity risk. “This latest transaction builds on our relationship with Legal & General and solidifies the platform from which future business can be written,” explains Bill McCloskey, vice president, Longevity Risk Transfer at Prudential Retirement. “It's also a testament to our experience in the reinsurance space and our capacity to support the growth of the U.K. longevity risk transfer market.” Under the terms of the new agreement, PRIAC will issue reinsurance for a portion of Legal & General's bulk annuity business, providing benefit security for thousands of retirees in the UK. PRIAC has completed three reinsurance transactions with Legal & General since October 2014 – VIETNAM - Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has affirmed its 'BB-' long-term and 'B' short-term sovereign credit ratings on Vietnam. The outlook is stable. At the same time, we affirmed our 'axBB+/axB' ASEAN regional scale rating on Vietnam. The ratings, says S&P, reflect the country's lower middle-income, rising debt burden, banking sector weakness, and the country's emerging institutional settings that hamper policy responsiveness. Even so, the ratings agency acknowledges these strengths are offset by Vietnam's sound external settings that feature adequate foreign exchange reserves and a modest external debt burden. The country has a lower middle income but comparatively diversified economy. S&P estimates GDP per capita at about US$2,200 in 2016. “Recent improvements in macroeconomic stability have supported strong performance in the sizable foreign-owned and export-focused manufacturing sector (electronics, telephones, and clothing). This strength will likely be offset by weaker domestic activity as the impetus to growth stemming from low household and company sector leverage is hampered by weak banks and government enterprises, and shortfalls in infrastructure. We expect real GDP per capita growth to rise by 5.3% in 2016 (2015: 5.6%) and average 5.2% over 2016-2019, reflecting modest outlooks for Vietnam's trading partners. Uncertain conditions in export markets and the slow pace in addressing government enterprise reforms, fiscal consolidation, and banking sector resolution add downside risks to this growth outlook – RUSSIA - Russia's central bank held interest rates steady at 11% today, in line with expectations, although it hinted that if inflation kept on falling it would cut soon. Last month, the bank held rates steady, warning that inflation risks remained "high" and that the then oil price rise could be "unsustainable." However, the decision came at a time of renewed hope for Russia's beleaguered economy and the country's oil industry with commodity prices showing tentative signs of recovery. The central bank noted that it "sees the positive processes of inflation slowdown and inflation expectations decline, as well as shifts in the economy which anticipate the beginning of its recovery growth. At the same time, inflation risks remain elevated." Yann Quelenn, market analyst at Swissquote explains: "The ruble has continued to appreciate ever since it reached its all-time low against the dollar in early January. At that time, more than 82 ruble could be exchanged for a single dollar note. Now, the USDRUB has weakened below 65 and even more upside pressures on the currency continue as the rebound in oil prices persists. The outlook for Russian oil revenues is more positive despite the global supply glut. Expectations for increased oil demand over the coming years and the fear of peak oil are driving the black commodity’s prices higher – MARKET DATA RELEASES TODAY - Other data that analysts will be looking out for today include Turkey’s trade balance; GDP from Spain; the unemployment rate from Norway; mortgage approvals from UK; CPI and GDP from the eurozone; CPI from Italy; and South Africa’s trade balance – FTSE GLOBAL MARKETS – Our offices will be closed on Monday, May 2ndt. We wish our readers and clients a happy and restful May bank holiday and we look forward to reconnecting on Tuesday May 3rd. Happy Holidays!

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TV Closure Channels Opposition

Sunday, 01 July 2007
TV Closure Channels Opposition A majority of Venezuelans appear to support continued student protests over the closure of an opposition television channel in May this year, despite President Hugo Chavez insisting the demonstrations were part of a US plot to topple him. Chavez replaced RCTV, the country’s oldest broadcaster, with a state network last month. Since then, there have been regular protests by thousands of students accusing the president of undermining democracy. Chavez’s critics say his move to curb TV news and analysis are evidence of centralisation after the president politicised the military, judiciary and oil industry. Chavez is considering indefinite re-election, has won powers to rule by decree and is forging a single governing party to steer his self-styled socialist revolution. Ian Williams reports on a country in ferment.

A majority of Venezuelans appear to support continued student protests over the closure of an opposition television channel in May this year, despite President Hugo Chavez insisting the demonstrations were part of a US plot to topple him. Chavez replaced RCTV, the country’s oldest broadcaster, with a state network last month. Since then, there have been regular protests by thousands of students accusing the president of undermining democracy. Chavez’s critics say his move to curb TV news and analysis are evidence of centralisation after the president politicised the military, judiciary and oil industry. Chavez is considering indefinite re-election, has won powers to rule by decree and is forging a single governing party to steer his self-styled socialist revolution. Ian Williams reports on a country in ferment.

At the end of May the screens went dark for Venezuela’s most popular TV station when Hugo Chavez’s government refused to roll over the expiring 20 year broadcast license for the privately owned RCTV and allocated its slot to yet another government owned station. Far away in Chile the Senate condemned it as a move against free speech, and human rights and journalists organisations’ across the world have complained in similar terms. As so often, the event is being presented in stark black and white terms by both supporters and opponents of Chavez. As usual, reality is a little more nuanced.

RCTV would not be anyone’s example of objective journalism — but there is also plenty of evidence that the Venezuelan government is squeezing dissident media, with ominous implications for the future. However, so far, everything has been done “legally” and through regulation rather than outright repression, suggests Patrick Esteruelas of the Eurasia Group, the global political risk and advisory firm.

Technically, under the media law, RCTV’s licence should have been automatically renewed, but the government added allegations of sexism and racism to lend verisimilitude to the real political agenda. RCTV was vigorously anti-government, and there is little doubt that its closure was politically motivated. It was alleged, and rebutted that the station had supported the 2002 coup — but there was no “due process” to test the allegations either way.

Diego Arria, who was information minister in Venezuela between 1978 and 1979 points out that while the RCTV was indeed a harsh critic of government — it was a critic of all governments, “including the one I served in. It was extremely critical and independent, but we did not consider closing it. It is the only station with a national reach”. Arria also acerbically comments on Chavez’s administration. “This is a military government, half of it is composed of officers. We should start calling them by their ranks to remind people” [of that fact].

RCTV continues on the Internet and on Cable, so it is not completely stifled — but only 20% of the population has access to cable, and few of those will be among the poorer sections of the population upon whose support Chavez relies. Ominously, the state-owned media, which now includes six TV and eight radio stations, ignored the vociferous student protests about the closure.

Allegedly, when ex-Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, was asked why he allowed newspapers to function uncensored, replied that few Serbs read newspapers, and those that did were not going to vote for him anyway. It was the radio and TV that he strictly controlled. Chavez seems to have adopted the same principle. The El Nacional newspaper is still critical but as Arria says, “newspapers are expensive, and have limited reach, while radio and TV really get out to the people”.

Eurasia Group’s Patrick Esteruelas rebuts the accusations that RCTV promoted the 2002 coup — although neither did it broadcast the protests that led to its reversal. “Even so, the channel played a fairly questionable role with its heavy editorialising,” he says. On the other hand, he explains, “It is the latest peak of the trend since the 2004 election. In the past the press operated in much greater freedom but now there is a culture of fear and self-censorship.”

A new media law, which was introduced in Venezuela in 2005 and which is locally known as the ‘Rebound Law’, extended in broad terms the bounds of what is defined as libellous or violent.  The law has also led to an increase in self-censorship and accommodation with the government on the part of some of the media owners. It has resulted in toned-down and non-aggressive criticism, and led to a change in the nature of TV news and analysis broadcasting. Before the law was introduced, early morning news and current affairs shows “had politicians arguing, lots of commentary — now it’s cartoons,” says Esteruelas.

Even the remaining private stations, such as Venevision, seem to have recognised the realities of power and have come to an editorial accommodation with the administration in order to remain on the air.

Washington’s campaign against Chavez has in some measure helped legitimise the president’s behaviour not only domestically but across the region, where Washington often seems blind to the unpopularity of many of its policies. This time, however it may be that Chavez might have gone too far.

A DATOS poll in June found 66.9% of respondents opposed the closure of RCTV. This chimed with a survey from Datanalisis in April that found nearly 70% opposed the shutdown however, most respondents were more concerned with the loss of their favourite soap operas than with press freedom. Esteruelas cautions that the “popular backlash is not just motivated by freedom of the press. It is also that the government has cut some of the nation’s most popular TV programming and replaced it with very dull fare”. Venezuelans are now missing their favourite TV shows, such as Who wants to be a Millionaire? and are not happy with re-runs interspersed with what is essentially feel-good propaganda for the government that now occupy the slot.

The DATOS poll of 600 Venezuelans, taken in early June, showed 56.2% of respondents in favour of the student demonstrators continuing their protests against closure with 23.8% against. Significantly 75% opposed the possible closure of Globovision, the last major independent station which still has 16 years of its licence to run. However, the  fact that its potential closure is on the agenda suggests public  appreciation of how flexible the rule of law has become. Only 7.6% of respondents thought the main pro-government state channel, praised by Chavez, was “good” or “very good”. DATOS found 81.1% of viewers thought it was “bad” or “very bad”.

President Chavez, a frequent and vocal critic of the United States and who was re-elected by a landslide in December 2006 on the back of his generous social spending, was dismissive of the poll results. “This is all part of the conspirators’ plan,” he said in his weekly TV show. “This is an attempt to incite them.” Chavez has accused the students of being part of a US-backed “soft revolution”.

It is unlikely.  However, even deprived TV addicts are not enough to overthrow a government.  Esteruelas says “at the moment there is no alternative, certainly not from the completely discredited opposition.” With gaping social and ethnic divides in the country, it is true that many middle class Venezuelans — and the media that some of them own — could not bring themselves to recognise Chavez’s election victory, and the opposition tactics have been almost criminally stupid.

The merging of all the (many) other leftist parties into one “Bolivarian” organisation does not bode well for the emergence of serious opposition to Chavez’s manifest authoritarian tendencies. Rising oil prices and the pork-barrel public expenditures have helped maintain popular support, but rising consumption and regulation and expropriation of the food sector have led to more food imports than ever before, while oil exports now account for 91% of exports.

Esteruelas identifies how sensitive the economy, and the government is to the maintenance of current oil prices since production is going down, and Chavez’s policies have cut off the foreign investment and expertise needed to develop and expand production. “There is no room for even a small dip in prices.” Of course, at the moment, betting on continuing oil price rises seems safe, but it may not always be so, which ties Chavez’s oil-barrel politics, both internationally and domestically to the global economy he  despises so much. As with the opposition, the crucial test of how authoritarian he is will be how he reacts to losing a parliamentary majority.

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