Wednesday 4th May 2016
NEWS TICKER: MARKET ROUNDUP —Markets tanked today (almost everywhere bar the PRC) as economic data from China and an 18% lunge in profits at HSBC sapped market confidence. The bank reported an adjusted profit before tax of $5.4bn for the first quarter, down 18% on the same period last year. Citing challenging market conditions, the bank reported first quarter(Q1) pretax profit before adjustments of $6.1bn, down from $7.1bn in the first three months of 2015 but beating analysts’ forecasts of a pretax profit of $4.3bn, according to Reuters. In Hong Kong this morning the bank’s shares were up on the news, as expectations had been for much worse. Earnings per share came in at 20 cents, down from 26 cents per share in the same period last year. HSBC held its first-quarter dividend in line at 10 cents per share. In London HSBC fell 3.5p to 449p as the bank said it put in a "resilient" performance in difficult market conditions, with the entire investment banking sector suffering after stock markets tumbled at the start of 2016 amid an oil price rout. However, as we reported earlier today indexes across Europe paid the price of lower than expected manufacturing data from the Caixin/Markit Manufacturing Purchasing Managers' index (PMI), rather than Chinese bourses. The DAX fell 1.5% lower and the CAC40 dropped 1.1%. Commodity stocks were also on the back foot despite the price of oil rising 0.4% to 45.99 US dollars a barrel. Glencore ended the day down 7.5p to 155.5p, Rio Tinto fell 96.5p to 2205p and BHP Billiton slipped 34.8p to 897.4p – AQUISITION—M&A maven Cavendish Corporate Finance has advised bfinance on the investment in the company by private equity funds managed by Baird Capital. Current bfinance CEO David Vafai will continue to lead the consultancy in this next, exciting phase of its growth. He will be joined on the board by Andrew Ferguson, managing director at Baird Capital, and CFO Mark Brownlie, as directors. Also joining the board as chairman is Tim Trotter, who founded public relations group Ludgate, co-founded Citywire, the information service for the global fund management industry and is a non-executive chairman at a number of financial services and asset management related blue-chip companies. The deal with Baird follows a strong period of successes for bfinance. Recent high-profile mandates for bfinance include advising on a $1bn alternative beta strategy programme for a U.S. corporate pension plan, a USD 1.2bn private equity search for Swedish State pension fund AP7, and multiple searches across asset classes on behalf of Australian superannuation funds. The deal marks a strong start to the year for Cavendish. It follows shortly after the sale of Periproducts to Venture Life Plc, the sale of Gloucester Rugby club to new owner Martin St Quinton, the sale of B2B creative marketing agency Twogether to Next 15 Plc and the debt raise for Pets Corner following a highly successful 2015 during which the company completed over 20 deals –AIIB/ADB— In a shift in strategy the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank has signed a financing memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Asian Development Bank, the second partnership signed in the space of a few month by the challenger development bank. AIIB, set up to counter the ‘hegemony’ of Western dominated aid institutions, has been struggling to dispel its image as a rival to existing NGOs. The bank secured a similar arrangement with the World Bank during the International Monetary Fund-World Bank spring meetings in Washington last month. This MoU sets the stage for the banks to share funding costs for projects. The ADB said it is already in talks with the AIIB around ventures in the road and water sectors, the first of which is expected to be a 64-kilometre highway connecting two cities in Pakistan’s Punjab Province. - ASIAN TRADING SESSION - The Nikkei and Topix indexes took the brunt of risk off sentiment today as investors gave a distinct thumb down to last week’s decision by the Bank of Japan not to cut rates further. The Nikkei225 fell 7.41%, while the Topix went down 7.25% in a somewhat bloody trading session. Continuing with the pattern set down for most of this year, the yen by contrast continues to appreciate, touching at one point 105.81 again the dollar, the yen’s highest point for almost two years. The Bank of Japan in response rattled a few sabres, threatening to intervene should the yen appreciate further; but investors continued to test the yen’s upper limit. Yann Quelenn, market analyst at Swissquote noted this morning: “The yen has climbed 13% against the dollar since the start of the year and there a strong support lies at 105.23, which is now clearly on target.” The other story in the Asian session was the surprise move by the Reserve Bank of Australia to cut The Reserve Bank of Australia on Tuesday cut the cash rate to a record low of 1.75 per cent in a bid to head off falling prices and an economic downturn. Market commentators now expect a second cut before the end of the year, although some say the June quarter inflation figure, out in August, will determine the RBA's next move. The latest cut puts Australia firmly into the group of countries with an ultra-loose monetary programme, or should that be a noose around falling interest rates and bond yields. Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens said the decision was based on last week's surprisingly weak inflation figures. "Inflation has been quite low for some time and recent data were unexpectedly low," he said in a statement. The AUDUSD fell to 0.7572 from 0.7720 on the news, though the ASX All Ordinaries rose 1.94% on the day, with the S&P/ASX100 rising 2.24%. The index is now up 6.8% on the month, though up only 1.32% over the year. Aside from China and Australian indexes, boards across the region ran red for most of the session. The S&P BSE Senses was down 1.75%. The Kospi100 was also off by 1.50%, while in Singapore the Straits Times took a beating, losing 4.39% today, bringing it down 0.26% over the month and down 2.58% over the year. The Hang Seng also had a tough day, falling 3.68% today, though it is up by 0.87% over the month and down 5.65% over the year. In China, the Shanghai Composite was up 1.13% in trading today, though it is still down 0.56% over the month and down 15.44% over the year. The Shenzhen Composite had a better day, up 3.29%, and is up 1.45% over the month, but still down 16.45% on an annualised basis. The upbeat market sentiment was interesting, given that the Caixin Manufacturing PMI weakened to 49.4 in May from 49.7 in April, softer than market expectations and marking a 14th month of contraction; data that usually would have sent investors to the hills. Go figure. The data indicated that softness in labour markets and exports continue. Meantime, the central bank set the USDCNY mid-point at 6.4565. There is still mixed data emanating from China. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s latest China: An Equity Strategist’s Diary research report highlights the nugget that YTD 241 non-government bond issuances have been cancelled or postponed, 120 of which were deferred in April, compared with 315 across the whole of last year. Some 709 bonds worth a total of RMB1.04trn came to market in last month (an 85% success rate). However, says the bank, if the bond market corrects sharply, sectors that rely most on the credit markets to support their day-to-day activities (including developers, banks, brokers, industrials and utilities) could suffer disproportionately as their reliance on credit has grown significantly during the past six months. Among the 120 bond issues affected in April, 70% were from industrials (50 bonds), financials (18) and materials (17). The bank also says a perceived implicit government guarantee on bonds and other moral hazards in the shadow banking sector, including wealth management products, is largely behind the mispricing in corporate credit. With the country’s overall default risk perceived to be low, bonds have become a cheap source of long-term financing for corporations compared to other traditional credit products. At the end of April, an AA+ rated five-year bond yielded 4.3% while the benchmark rate for a one-year to five-year loan was 4.75%. A five-year AA- rated bond offered 6.6%. The overnight repo rate annualised was 2%; seven-day repo, 2.5%; six-month discounted bill, 3%; and the one-year benchmark loan rate came in at 4.35%. Alternative sources of finance cost between 12% and 15% for P2P; 8% for a two-year trust; 19% for private lending in Wenzhou; and 18% to 20% for offline wealth management companies. BAML says a sharp uptick in the number of corporate defaults, coupled with the increasing number of cancelled or postponed bond issuances, shows that the market is starting to reprice risk although this process could last until the end this year. The peak maturing period is April/May with between RMB80bn and RMB790bn of bonds maturing over the period. From June onwards maturities fall to around RMB600bn a month for the rest of the year—SAUDI ARABIA—In another move to liberalise the Saudi Arabian capital markets, the Capital Market Authority (CMA) has approved a request by the Saudi bourse to relax settlement cycles for investors, making the country’s inclusion in the MSCI Emerging Markets Index more likely from next year. It has also announced an overhaul of foreign ownership regulations for listed companies, as it seeks to encourage participation by international institutional investors in a wide ranging programme of privatisations. The CMA announced today that it was widening the definition of Qualified Financial Investors (QFI) to include financial institutions such as sovereign wealth funds and university endowments as well as banks. The regulator says the minimum value of assets under management for QFIs will be reduced to SAR3.75bn (about $700m), compared with the current level of SAR18.75bn ($3.5bn). From the end of June 2017, QFIs will be able to own up to 49% of a company’s capital, “unless company’s bylaws or any other regulation provides for foreign ownership to be limited to a lower percentage". Individual QFIs will be able to own up to 10% of a company’s share capital, compared with the current level of 5%. Foreign investment is now an important element in the government’s wide-ranging economic diversification program, which will also involve partial privatisation of some of the country’s key state owned firms. Over the last few weeks Saudi has signalled its intention to list a 5% stake in Saudi Aramco, a move that could raise in excess of $100bn. The opening of the Saudi stock exchange, the GCC’s largest, to QFIs in June of last year was hailed as a milestone at the time, but has so far failed to attract large scale foreign investment into Saudi equities. Licensed QFIs to date include Blackrock, Ashmore Group, Citigroup and HSBC. However, up to now the firms, in combination own less than 0.1% of the Tawadul’s market capitalisation—STOCK EXCHANGE NEWS—Börse Stuttgart reports turnover in excess of €6.7bn in April 2016. The trading volume was almost on a par with the previous month. Securitised derivatives accounted for the largest share of the turnover. The trading volume in this asset class was more than €2.7bn. Leverage products contributed more than €1.4bn to the total turnover, while the trading volume of investment products was more than €1.2bn. At more than €1.4bn, turnover from equity trading at Börse Stuttgart was around 9% higher than in the previous month. German equities accounted for more than €1.1bn of the total turnover – an increase of more than 7% in comparison with March - while international equities contributed about €299m. Trading in debt instruments generated turnover of around €1.6bn in April, with trading volumes almost as high as in the previous month. Corporate bonds accounted for the largest share of the turnover, with approximately €918m.The order book turnover in exchange-traded products (ETPs) was more than €916m in April. Trading in investment fund units generated turnover of €8m —ASSET MANAGEMENT —Aberdeen Asset Management says pre-tax profits have fallen to £98.8m in the six months to March 31st, down from £185.4m over the same period a year earlier after investors have backed off from emerging markets. The asset management has been affected by changes in end investor asset allocation choices as fund outflows over the period amounted to £38.2bn (£16.7bn on a net basis says the asset management maven); however, the pace of outflows has slowed, compared with the previous six months, when investors withdrew £41.7bn (£22.6bn in net basis). Aberdeen has £292.8bn worth of assets under management, down from £330.6bn a year ago, although it marked an improvement on the £283.7bn at its financial year-end. Despite the challenges, Aberdeen has been active in turning around its fortunes, promising to cut annual costs by £70m by 2017 and has diversified its business proposition by a series of acquisitions, including the takeover of hedge-fund manager Arden, risk-graded portfolio provider Parmenion, and fund-of-funds investment manager—CORPORATE NEWS—Advance Utilico Emerging Markets Ltd says it has has extended its £50m senior secured multi-currency revolving credit facility with Scotiabank for a further two years to April 2018. Shares in Utilico are down 0.1% to 176.75 pence—SPANISH ELECTIONS – Looks like Spain is heading for another hung government. News agency The Spain Report says the latest poll of polls data from Electograph shows only minor changes compared to the results of the last general election on December 20th last year. The order of the parties remains the same: PP, PSOE, Podemos, Ciudadanos and United Left. No party is currently forecast to be close to an overall majority, of 176 out of 350 seats in Congress. Over the past four months, polls have at times suggested a slight shift towards a right-wing PP-Ciudadanos coalition and, in the latest round, the possibility that a joint Podemos-United Left electoral list might overtake the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) as the reference for the Spanish left, says the news agency—POLITICAL RISK—maven Red24 advises professionals to avoid visiting Kabul. The firm reports that yesterday, the US Embassy, issued a statement warning of an increased threat of attacks in the Taleban’s spring offensive (Operation Omari) against Afghanistan's government and its Western-backed allies, including the US, on April 12th. Crowded public areas, police and military interests, foreign embassies, foreign guest houses, hotels and government buildings/sites have been listed as probable targets; no information was provided regarding the timing of any planned attacks. Red24 says Taleban attacks in Afghanistan generally increase during the spring and summer months, which generally extend until September, when warmer weather allows militants greater access through usually snowed-in mountain passes from their traditional strongholds along the mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border. “Given the extreme and ongoing threat of terrorism in Afghanistan, such warnings by government authorities are taken seriously and regularly result in additional security force deployments. The warning is particularly pertinent given the attacks carried out in the capital on 19 April, following the launch of the offensive, in which at least 24 people were killed as a result of a car bomb attack, in the vicinity of several government ministries and the US Embassy in the Pul-e-Mahmood Khan and Shahr-E-Naw areas. Further incidents are expected to persist,” says the firm in an alert issued today.

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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.

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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