Tuesday 27th January 2015
NEWS TICKER, JANUARY 27TH: 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 -

Argentina - Ten years on from the default

Friday, 15 June 2012
Argentina - Ten years on from the default In the hubble and bubble in the press around Greece and Spain, some commentators have lately drawn comparisons with Argentina, suggesting that is the way forward. Humbly, we suggest they might be wide of the mark. Greece will exit from a currency union; Argentina has its own currency and can set its own interest rates. In other ways too, the countries are way different and drawing comparisons between them is not helpful to Greece or Greek bondholders. Vanja Dragomanovich explains the long term impact on Argentina of its latest default (back in 2001) and what, if any, lessons might be drawn from that debacle and the long term impact on the Argentine financial markets. http://www.ftseglobalmarkets.com/

In the hubble and bubble in the press around Greece and Spain, some commentators have lately drawn comparisons with Argentina, suggesting that is the way forward. Humbly, we suggest they might be wide of the mark. Greece will exit from a currency union; Argentina has its own currency and can set its own interest rates. In other ways too, the countries are way different and drawing comparisons between them is not helpful to Greece or Greek bondholders. Vanja Dragomanovich explains the long term impact on Argentina of its latest default (back in 2001) and what, if any, lessons might be drawn from that debacle and the long term impact on the Argentine financial markets.

In the hubble and bubble in the press around Greece and Spain, some commentators have lately drawn comparisons with Argentina, suggesting that is the way forward. Humbly, we suggest they might be wide of the mark. Greece will exit from a currency union; Argentina has its own currency and can set its own interest rates. In other ways too, the countries are way different and drawing comparisons between them is not helpful to Greece or Greek bondholders. Vanja Dragomanovich explains the long term impact on Argentina of its latest default (back in 2001) and what, if any, lessons might be drawn from that debacle and the long term impact on the Argentine financial markets.

As Greece edges closer to political and economic immolation, market watchers have been in a flurry, casting around for examples of how a country could survive leaving the eurozone and a hard default. One example being touted around the markets is Argentina, which went through a spectacular default ten years ago but managed to follow it up with a decade of fast growth, a boom in commodity exports and a golden period in banking. Argentina’s finances are in relatively good shape. At $185bn, the country’s total debt load last year equated to just 41.3% of GDP. That’s better than both Spain, whose debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 70%, and Italy, which is saddled with an ­eye-popping 120% burden. Moreover, with GDP growth at 4% and funds available from central bank reserves, pension funds and YPF’s coffers, Argentina has ample cash.

Argentina’s expansion was fuelled by two things: liberal policies and a sharp rise in the prices of com­modities. Argentina is one of the world’s largest exporters of wine, soy, corn and wheat and China is its enthusiastic buyer. And while Greece may try to emulate the policies component of the Argentina story, unless the Chinese take to drinking retsina and cooking with olive oil it will have difficulty replicating the Latin American country’s recovery.

Argentina has also come good on almost 93% of its initial debt obligations, but to this day has not been able to return to international financial markets. In large part this is because of an ongoing dispute with two hedge funds. The bulk of the outstanding amount is owed to the Paris Club, a total of $6.4bn. “Technically, Argentina is not locked out of international markets the way it was in 2001 and 2002 when nobody would lend them money. In theory they could try to raise money but in practice they can’t go back because they would risk a seizure of assets while the [legal] cases are pending,” explains Michael Henderson, emerg­ing markets economist at Capital Economics in London

In 2001 the country defaulted on $100bn of its sovereign debt. Four years later, Argentina’s president at the time, Nestor Kirchner, offered to swap the defaulted bonds for new ones worth 70% less, in a similar deal to what Greece is hoping for. Around three quarters of the bondholders agreed. The process was repeated in 2010 by current president Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner who said at the time that this was the final deal being offered to remaining bondholders.

Two distressed-debt hedge funds opted for litigation in US courts while a group of Italian bondholders asked for an arbitration award at the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes.

The US courts are still pondering the issue. Initially the courts ruled that NML Capital Fund, one of the funds suing Argentina, was entitled to a repayment of $1.6bn, including the payment of interest, only for this to be overruled this spring. Now the remaining debt holders are collectively appealing to the US Court of Appeal with the case due to be heard in mid-June.

While this is going on, not only is Argentina not in a position to issue bonds, it has also little hope  of raising loans from major international institutions as the United States is actively blocking the country’s loan applications on the grounds that it is a recalcitrant debtor. In September last year the US, which holds a 30% voting share in Inter-American Development Bank, voted against a $230m loan to the country.

 Of the remaining debt, $6.4 billion is still owed to the Paris Club of official creditors and Argentina has yet to reach agreement with the Club on how to reschedule the repayments. “For that Argentina would need to get the approval from the IMF and that is not likely to happen as they have a strained relationship,” says Henderson. He argues that that would mean that Argentina would have to let the IMF carry out a health check on its economy and in the process the government would have to admit that the country’s official statistics have been doctored. Just how far the country’s figures have been massaged was made clear by Carlos Maria Regunaga, a former adviser-in-chief to the Argentina’s secretary of commerce and a director at Menas Argentina. Regunaga cites the fact that although consumer price inflation in 2011 was around 22%, “the government denies this and insists that inflation is only 9.5%.”

So where does this all leave Argentina? Over the years it has been turning increasingly inwards for solutions. The government’s tactical arsenal has included printing money, dipping into central bank reserves, seizing the assets of pension funds, controlling imports and exports to tweak its trade balance and privatising pension funds. Moreover, both Kirchner presidents have been fuelling growth by heavy public spending. Despite some questionable actions, the economy has grown. Again, according to official statistics, economic growth came in at over 8% in 2010 and 9% last year. 

Even so, growth has come at a price and the high public expenditure is now a major problem, says Regunaga.  “Historically, the public sector represented an average of 30% of GDP. The Kirchners have increased it to a level of 45% of GDP,” leading to a financial shortage in the public sector, he says. In 2011, for instance, 70% of public sector spending has been financed by printing more pesos and reaching into central bank reserves.

Government raids

The government has been raiding what there is to raid in the country. In April it said it would borrow almost $3bn from the state-run bank Banco de La Nación to cover its funding needs, $2.36bn in 12 instalments and the rest as a lump sum. Argentina also regularly issues bonds directly to pension fund agency Anses, which operates the bulk of Argentina’s pension money after the government nationalised all private pension funds in 2008.“There are no signs that the government will go back any time soon on the nationalisation of pension funds. Why would it?” says a Buenos Aires banker who did not want to be named. “The move has achieved two major objectives: not only did it give the government access to a large sum of money but also major stakes in top companies and seats on their boards of directors,” the banker adds.

This and other political decisions such as strict exchange controls, import and export restrictions and the recent nationalisation of oil company YPF, formerly majority owned by Spanish oil producer Repsol has alienated Argentina from foreign mutual funds and private equity investors. Julio Lastres, managing director at Darby Private Equity, part of Franklin Templeton Investments, explains: “In order to make an investment you have to see how the local capital market has been developing, to see if you can fund the company in the local market and exit through an IPO. And then you typically have the growth of local pension funds that fuel the growth of the local market. But what we hear in Argentina makes it challenging to take a long term view and invest there. You have better places to invest in Latin America.”

Argentina has some presence in the international financial markets through GDP warrants, which were issued as part of two debt restructuring instalments (one in 2005, the other in 2010) to sweeten the deal for bond holders caught out by the country’s default on $100bn of debt in 2001.

The warrants are structured in such a way that the government will pay investors as long as the GDP grows by 3.3% per year, based on the annual GDP. Although initially there was little appetite for these GDP warrants in the open market, as the country’s economy grew so did niche investors’ interest. “We had very good volumes on Argentina’s GDP warrants, hedge funds in particular like them,” says Gabriel Sterne, director at frontier markets investment banking boutique Exotix.

This is also about to change as falling commodity prices and heavy government spending are catching up with Argentina’s economy. While the government predicts that growth this year will be 6% Henderson at Capital Economics forecast that the number will be closer to 2.5%. “Our belief is that Argentina is headed for a recession, most likely next year,” says Henderson, particularly if the global economic backdrop deteriorates over the next year, which could possibly lead to a more disorderly adjustment. With Argentine state accounts under pressure, it would be handy not to have to pay warrant holders. But that might do no favours to Argentina’s already rocky investment reputation. For now, warrant payments are hanging in the balance. Ultimately though, while Argentina has some mounting troubles, it is a story of rich resource management and a deep economy; very different from that of Greece. 

Greece’s economic recovery may also not be as certain as in Argentina’s case as it cannot devalue and does not have such a strong export market to boost its coffers. So if Greece is looking for a blueprint for the exit from the euro and a default it might be better looking somewhere other than Argentina. Or perhaps better yet, try and avoid the default in the first place. n

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