The Novo Banco saga has been one of misrepresentation and woe

Yesterday saw an announcement from the Bank of Portugal on a saga which has run and run and run.

Banco de Portugal and the Resolution Fund concluded today the sale of Novo Banco to Lone Star, with an injection by the new shareholder of €750 million, which will be followed by a further injection of €250 million to be delivered by the end of 2017.

Indeed there is an element of triumphalism and back-slapping.

The conclusion of this operation brings to a close a complex negotiation process with the new shareholder, European institutions and other domestic institutions, in close cooperation with the Government.
The completion of the sale announced on 31 March brings about a very significant increase in the share capital of Novo Banco and terminates the bank’s bridge bank status that has applied since its setting up.

The opening issue is why this New Bank which is what Novo Banco, means that was supposed to be clean, needs an increase in capital? Let us look deeper.

As of this date, Novo Banco will be held by Lone Star and the Resolution Fund, which will hold 75% and 25% of the share capital respectively. It will be endowed with the necessary means for the implementation of a plan ensuring that the bank will continue to play its key role in the financing of the Portuguese economy.

The story gets a twist as we see that Lone Star will be walking away with 75% of Novo Banco and in return the Portuguese taxpayer does not get one single Euro. The implication is that the Resolution Fund is keen to get it off its books at almost any price.

Step Back In Time

If we follow the advice of Kylie Minogue we can go back to August 2014 when the Bank of Portugal was dealing with this.

The Board of Directors of Banco de Portugal has decided on 3 August 2014 to apply a resolution measure to Banco Espírito Santo, S.A.. The general activity and assets of Banco Espírito Santo, S.A. are transferred, immediately and definitively, to Novo Banco, which is duly capitalised and clean of problem assets. Deposits are fully preserved, as well as all unsubordinated bonds.

BES had collapsed and I note again that Novo Banco was supposed to be clean of problem assets. However it did not take long for what Taylor Swift would call “trouble, trouble, trouble” to emerge as a rather unpleasant Christmas present arrived a few months later for bondholders. From my article on the 4th of April.

The nominal amount of the bonds retransferred to Banco Espírito Santo, S.A. totals 1,941 million euros and corresponds to a balance-sheet amount of 1,985 million euros………This measure has a positive impact, in net terms, on the equity of Novo Banco of approximately 1,985 million euros.

So just under 2 billion Euros was required to steady the ship of our “clean” bank and you can see why no one was in a rush to buy it!

Money Money Money

If we go back to the origination of this there was a bold statement from the Bank of Portugal.

This means that this operation does not involve any costs for public funds.

However there was this.

The State will bear no costs related to this operation. The equity capital of Novo Banco, to the amount of €4.9 billion, is fully underwritten by the Resolution Fund.

Ah good so the banking sector was paying up.

The Resolution Fund’s sources of funding are the contributions paid by its member institutions and the proceeds from the levy over the banking sector, which, according to applicable regulations, are collected without jeopardising the solvency ratios.

Meanwhile if we rejoin the real world that is the same Portuguese banking sector that was in severe disarray so the money had to be found from elsewhere.

the Fund took out a loan from the Portuguese State. The loan granted by the State to the Resolution Fund will be temporary and replaceable by loans granted by credit institutions.

At this point it sounds rather like the Amigo loans advertised in the UK where you can borrow the money but somebody else has to guarantee it, in this case the Portuguese taxpayer. Also if this were an episode of Star Trek the USS Enterprise would be on yellow alert at the use of the word “temporary”. If we step forwards to just over a year ago the Resolution Fund told us this.

the conditions of the
loan of €3 900 million extended to the Fund in August 2014

which are?

Currently, the maturity date of said loan is 31 December 2017. The review that has now been
agreed upon will allow the extension of that maturity date in a way that ensures the capacity of
the Resolution Fund to meet in full its obligations through its regular revenue, and regardless of
the positive or negative contingencies to which the Resolution Fund is exposed.

Ah so it is To Infinity! And Beyond?! Oh and the temerity of the idea that the banks might have to back the er banking sector resolution fund.

without the need to raise any special contributions.

Number Crunching

Here is Reuters from September 2015.

“Once more, I repeat, there is no direct impact (on taxpayers), since the Portuguese state did not nationalise the bank nor take a direct stake in Novo Banco’s capital,” minister and government spokesman Luis Marques Guedes said.

Okay that is clear so let us look at the view from Europe’s statistics agency Eurostat a mere one month later.

 The second most significant impact to the deficit in 2014 was in Portugal (3.0pp of GDP) and it was also mainly due to a bank recapitalisation……. The recapitalization of Novo Banco. In the third quarter of 2014, the Portuguese Resolution Fund injected 4.9 bn euro (2.8% of GDP) into Novo Banco. As the sale of Novo Banco did not occur within one year after the capitalisation, the capital injection has impacted the deficit of Portugal in 2014 for its full amount.

Comment

Let us consider this in terms of the two main variables which are time and money. The time element is that the new clean bank was supposed be sold quickly whereas it took more than three years. The money element is that the Resolution Fund underwrote the bank capital to the tune of 4.9 billion Euros. There was then a swerve to get just under 2 billion Euros off some bondholders as the word clean somehow meant dirty, Now we see that where 100%= 4.9 billion back then now 75% = 1 billion as we note the value destruction leaving the Resolution Fund with its 25% apparently worth 0.333 billion Euros but backed by a loan of 3.9 billion Euros.

So quite a large gamble has been taken by the Portuguese authorities with taxpayers money whereas if things go well Lone Star has been able to get assets very cheaply. It has 75% of the capital after only paying around 20% of the total Of course should it go wrong then we can refer back to my timeline for a banking collapse. We had this back in autumn 2014.

6. The relevant government(s) tell us that the bank needs taxpayer support but through clever use of special purpose vehicles there will be no cost and indeed a profit is virtually certain.

And at some date in the future ( like when Eurostat rules on this for example) we are likely to see this.

It is also announced that nobody could possibly have forseen this and that nobody is to blame apart from some irresponsible rumour mongers who are the equivalent of terrorists. A new law is mooted to help stop such financial terrorism from ever happening again.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/uk-inflation-understated/

 

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Will the Spanish economic boom be derailed by separatism?

There is a truism that political problems invariably follow economic ones. If that is true in Spain at the moment then there has been quite a lag as it was several years ago now that the consequences of the Euro area crisis reached a crescendo. If we look back we see the economy as measured by GDP peaked at 103.7 in 2008 and then fell to 100 in the (benchmark) 2010 as the credit crunch hit. But then the Euro area crisis hit as GDP fell to 96.1 in 2012 and 94.5 in 2013 and the latter year saw the unemployment rate rise above 26%. So that was the nadir in economic terms as a recovery began and saw GDP rise again to 95.8 in 2014 and then 99.1 in 2015 followed by 102.3 in 2016.  So we see that in essence there has been something of a lost decade as earlier this year the output of 2007 was passed as well as a recent strong recovery. If economics was the driver one might have expected political issues to arise in say 2014.

What about now?

At the end of last week the Bank of Spain published its latest projections for the economy. Firstly it is nice to see that they have fallen in line with my argument that the lower oil price provided a boost to the Spanish economy mostly via consumption.

In particular, compared with the expansionary fiscal policy stance of the period 2015‑16 and the declines in oil prices observed between mid‑2014 and 2016 Q1

Of course that is a clear contradiction of the official inflation target of 2% per annum being good for the economy but I doubt many will point that out. You may note that they try to cover off the consumption rise as a response to the crunch.

Moreover, the expansionary effect resulting, in recent years, from certain spending (on consumer durables) and investment decisions being taken after their postponement during the most acute phases of the crisis is expected to gradually peter out.

Factoring in everything it expects this.

Indeed it is estimated that, in 2017 Q3, GDP growth could have decelerated somewhat, as anticipated in the June projections. As a result of all the above, it is estimated that, after growing by 3.1% this year, GDP will grow by 2.5% in 2018 and by 2.2% in 2019.

A driver of the economic growth seen so far has been export success.

Accordingly, for example in 2016, GDP growth was more reliant on the external component than had been estimated to date.

Also there are hopes that this will continue.

The data on the Spanish economy’s external markets in the most recent period have been more favourable than was expected a few months ago.

Although there is a worry which will be familiar to readers of my work.

owing to the exchange rate appreciation effect,

Oh and there is a thank you Mario Draghi in there as well!

by the continuing favourable financial conditions.

What could go wrong? Well……

Turning to the risks surrounding these GDP growth projections, on the domestic front, the political tension in Catalonia could potentially affect agents’ confidence and their spending decisions and financing conditions

This issue is currently playing out in the banking sector where some are fearful of no longer being backed by the Bank of Spain and hence ECB. Banco Sabadell has just announced it will have a board meeting this afternoon to consider moving its corporate address to Alicante in response. Of course if you wanted custom in Catalonia this is not the way to go about it as we mull the words of the Alan Parsons Project.

I just can’t seem to get it right
Damned if I do
I’m damned if I don’t

What about the business surveys?

Firstly the Euro area background is the best it has been for some time.

The final September PMI numbers round off an impressive third quarter for which the surveys point to GDP rising 0.7%.
The economy enters the fourth quarter with business energized by inflows of new orders growing at the fastest rate for over six years and expectations of future growth reviving after a summer lull.

However that sort of economic growth has been something of a normal situation for Spain in recent times. Let us look at the detail for it.

New orders rose across the service sector for the fiftieth month running, with the latest expansion the strongest since August 2015. Where an increase in new business was recorded, this was attributed by panellists to improving economic conditions.

From this there was a very welcome side-effect.

Responding to higher workloads, service providers increased their staffing levels solidly in September

If we move to the economy overall then we see this.

Taken alongside faster growth in the manufacturing sector, these figures point to a positive end to the third quarter of the year. Over the quarter as a whole, we look to have seen only a slight slowdown from Q2, suggesting a further robust GDP reading is likely. IHS Markit currently forecasts growth of 0.7% for Q3.”

Today’s Euro area survey on retail sales does not reach Spain but yesterday’s retail sales release shows they are struggling relatively with annual growth in August at 1.7% but retail sales are erratic.

Population and Demographics

There has also been some better news on this front as highlighted by this below.

The resident population in Spain grew in 2016 for the first time since 2011. It stood at 46,528,966 inhabitants on January 1, 2017, with an increase of 88,867 people.

This matters because the decline in population exacerbated a problem highlighted by Edward Hugh back in 2015. One of his worries was the ratio of births to deaths which had been shifting unfavourably and was -259 last year. This led to this and the emphasis is mine.

Furthermore, INE projections suggest the over-65s will make up more than 30% of the population by 2050 (almost 13 million people) and the number of over-eighties will exceed 4 million, thus representing more than 30% of the total 65+ population.
International studies have produced even more pessimistic estimates and the United Nations projects that Spain will be the world’s oldest country in 2050, with 40% of its population aged over 60. At the present time the oldest countries in Europe are Germany and Italy, but Spain is catching up fast.

Comment

Spain is an example of what is called a V shaped economic recovery as it has bounced strongly as opposed to the much sadder state of play in Greece which has seen an L shaped or if you prefer little bounce-back at all. If you were using economics to predict secessionist trouble you would be wrong about 100 times out of 100 using it. However if we move to what caused trouble in Greece when it had its recent political crisis we see that the driving force was the monetary system of which a signal is that the ECB is still providing over 32 billion Euros of Emergency Liquidity Assistance to it.

So as we stand the impact on the Spanish economy is small as businesses may be affected but moves if they physically happen will boost GDP and shift mostly from one region to another. However if there is any large movement of funds then all this changes as eyes will turn to the banking system at a point when people are wondering if and not when the Bank of Spain will step in? After all would it help a bank that is no longer in Spain? There are rumours that UK banks could have gone to the ECB if they had back in the day thought ahead about their locations. But imagine the scenario if a bank in Catalonia tries to go to the ECB when there is doubt over whether it was in the European Union?

Personally I would expect, after a suitable delay, the ECB would step in but the price would be high as Greece has found out from the years of the Troika which have been so bad they change their name to the institutions.

Tomorrow

I have a morning appointment with my knee specialist so I intend to post an article but it could easily be somewhat later than usual.

 

 

 

 

Can QE reductions co-exist with the “To Infinity! And Beyond! Critique?

Today looks set to take us a step nearer a change from the world’s major central bank. Later we will here from the US Federal Reserve on its plans for a reduction in its balance sheet. If we look back to September 2014 there was a basis for a plan announced.

The Committee intends to reduce the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings in a gradual and predictable manner primarily by ceasing to reinvest repayments of principal on securities held in the SOMA.  ( System Open Market Account).

Okay so what will this mean?

The Committee expects to cease or commence phasing out reinvestments after it begins increasing the target range for the federal funds rate; the timing will depend on how economic and financial conditions and the economic outlook evolve.

So we learnt that it planned to reduce its balance sheet by not reinvesting bonds as they mature. A sensible plan and indeed one I had suggested for the UK a year before in City AM. Of course back then they were talking about doing it rather than actually doing it. Also there was a warning of what it would not entail.

.The Committee currently does not anticipate selling agency mortgage-backed securities as part of the normalization process, although limited sales might be warranted in the longer run to reduce or eliminate residual holdings. The timing and pace of any sales would be communicated to the public in advance

Thus we were already getting the idea that any such process was likely to take a very long time. This was added to by the fact that there is no clear end destination.

The Committee intends that the Federal Reserve will, in the longer run, hold no more securities than necessary to implement monetary policy efficiently and effectively, and that it will hold primarily Treasury securities.

This was brought more up to date this June when we were told that any moves would be in what are baby steps compared to the US $4.5 trillion size of the balance sheet.

For payments of principal that the Federal Reserve receives from maturing Treasury securities, the Committee anticipates that the cap will be $6 billion per month initially and will increase in steps of $6 billion at three-month intervals over 12 months until it reaches $30 billion per month.

They will do the same for mortgage-backed securities except US $ 4 billion and US $20 billion are the relevant amounts. But as you can see it will take a year to reach an annual amount of US $0.6 trillion. Thus we reach a situation where balance sheet reduction can in fact be combined with another chorus of “To Infinity! And Beyond!” Why? Well unless they have ended recessions then the reduction seems extremely unlikely to be complete until it is presumably being expanded again. Indeed for some members of the Federal Reserve this seems to be the plan. From the Financial Times.

 

Mr Dudley has said he expects the balance sheet to shrink by roughly $1tn to $2tn over the period, from its current $4.5tn. This compares with an increase of about $3.7tn during the era of quantitative easing.

The ECB

There was a reduction in monthly QE purchases from the European Central Bank from 80 billion Euros to 60 billion which started earlier this year. But so far there has been no announcement of more reductions and of course these are so far only reductions in the rate of increase of its balance sheet. Then yesterday there was a flurry of what are called “sauces”.

FRANKFURT (Reuters) – European Central Bank policymakers disagree on whether to set a definitive end-date for their money-printing programme when they meet in October, raising the chance that they will keep open at least the option of prolonging it again, six sources told Reuters.

Of course talk and leaks are cheap but from time to time they are genuine kite flying. Also there is some potential logic behind this as the higher level of the Euro has reduced the likely path of inflation and the ECB is an institution which takes its target seriously. Now the subject gets complicated so let me show you the “Draghi Rule” from March 2014,

Now, as a rule of thumb, each 10% permanent effective exchange rate appreciation lowers inflation by around 40 to 50 basis points.

So the Euro rally will have trimmed say 0.3% off future inflation. However some are claiming much more with HSBC saying it is 0.75% and if so no wonder the ECB is considering a change of tack. Mind you if I was HSBC I would be quiet right now after the embarrassment of how they changed their forecasts for the UK Pound £ ( when it was low they said US $1.20 and after it rallied to US $1.35 they forecast US $1.35!).

This is something of a moveable feast as on the 9th of this month Reuters sources were telling us a monthly reduction was a done deal. But there is some backing from markets with for example the Euro rising above 1.20 versus the US Dollar today and it hitting a post cap removal high ( remember January 2015?) against the Swiss Franc yesterday.

As we stand the ECB QE programme amounts to 2.2 trillion Euros and of course rising.

The Bank of England

We see something of a different tack from the Bank of England as it increased its QE programme last August and that is over. But it is working to maintain its holdings of UK Gilts at £435 billion as highlighted below.

As set out in the MPC’s statement of 3 August 2017, the MPC has agreed to make £10.1bn of gilt purchases, financed by central bank reserves, to reinvest the cash flows associated with the maturities on 25 August and 7 September 2017 of gilts owned by the Asset Purchase Facility (APF).

Today it will purchase some £1.125 billion of medium-dated Gilts as part of that which may not be that easy as only 3 Gilts are now eligible in that maturity range.

However tucked away in the recent purchases are an intriguing detail. You see over the past 2 weeks the Bank of England has purchased some £1.36 billion of our longest dated conventional Gilt which runs to July 2068. So if Gilts only ever “run off” then QE will be with us in the UK for a very long time.

The current Bank of England plan such as it is involves only looking to reduce its stock of bond holdings after it has raised Bank Rate an unspecified number of times. I fear that such a policy will involve losses as whilst the rises in the US have not particularly affected its position there have been more than a few special factors ( inflation, North Korea, Trumpenomics…), also we would be late comers to the party.

The MPC intends to maintain the stock of purchased assets at least until the first rise in Bank Rate.

Will that be like the 7% unemployment rate? Because also rise from what level?

at least until Bank Rate has been raised from its current level of 0.5%.

Comment

As you can see there is a fair bit to consider and that is without looking at the Bank of Japan or the Swiss National Bank which of course has if its share price is any guide has suddenly become very valuable. We find that any reduction moves are usually small and much smaller than the increases we saw! Some of that is related to the so-called Taper Tantrum but it is also true that central banks ploughed ahead with expansions of their balance sheets without thinking through how they would ever exit from them and some no doubt do not intend to exit.

The future is uncertain but not quite as uncertain as central banks efforts at Forward Guidance might indicate. So if we address my initial question there must be real fears that the next recession will strike before the tapering in the case of the ECB or the reductions of the US Federal Reserve have got that far. As to my own country the Bank of England just simply seems lost in its own land of confusion.

 

 

 

 

 

Can Portugal trade its way out of its lost decade?

The weekend just gone has brought some good news for the Republic of Portugal. This came from the Standard and Poors ratings agency when it announced this after European markets had closed on Friday.

On Sept. 15, 2017, S&P Global Ratings raised its unsolicited foreign and local currency long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings on the Republic of  Portugal to ‘BBB-/A-3’ from ‘BB+/B’. The outlook is stable.

Bloomberg explains the particular significance of this move.

Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno expects greater demand for his nation’s debt from a broader array of investors to spur lower borrowing costs both for the government and corporations, after the country’s credit rating was restored to investment grade status by S&P Global Ratings.

So the significance of their alphabetti spaghetti is that Portugal has been raised from junk status to investment grade. I will deal with the impact on bond markets later but first let us look at the economic situation.

Portugal’s economy

The key to this move is an upgrade to economic prospects.

We now project that Portuguese GDP will grow by more than 2% on average between 2017 and 2020 compared to our previous forecast of 1.5%.

This is significant because one of my themes on the Portuguese economy is that if we look back over time it has struggled to grow by more than 1% per annum on any sustained basis. This has led to other problems such as its elevated national debt to economic output level and makes it very similar to Italy in this regard. So should it be able to perform as S&P forecast it will be a step forwards for Portugal in terms of looking forwards.

If we look for grounds for optimism there is this bit.

We expect Portugal will maintain its strong export performance over the forecast horizon, reflecting solid growth in external demand and an uptick in exports.

Export- led growth is of course something highly prized by economists.

A solid external performance is likely to bring goods and services exports to around 44% of GDP in 2017, from below 29% just seven years ago.

Portugal has done well on the export front but S&P may have jointed the party after the music has stopped as this from Portugal Statistics earlier this month implies.

In July 2017, exports and imports of goods recorded year-on-year nominal growth rates of +4.6% and +12.8%
respectively (+6.7% and +6.6% in the same order, in June 2017)…….The deficit of trade balance amounted to EUR 1,057 million in July 2017, increasing by EUR 446 million when compared with July 2016.

Okay so worse than last year. I often observe that monthly trade figures are unreliable so let us move to the quarterly ones.

In the quarter ended in July 2017, exports and imports of goods grew by 9.0% and 13.4% respectively, vis-à-vis
the quarter ended in July 2016.

If we look back we see that if we calculate a number for the latest quarter then we now have had a year of monthly data showing a deterioration for the trade balance. Just to be clear exports have grown but imports have grown more quickly. So the monthly trade deficits have gone back above 1 billion Euros having for a while looked like going and maybe staying below it.

If we move to the other side of the trade balance sheet we see that imports have surged which will be rather familiar to students of Portuguese economic history ( as in a reason why they have so frequently had to call in the IMF). This year the rate of growth ( quarterly) has varied between 12.2% and 15.9% in the seven months of data seen.

There is a clear tendency for ratings agencies to be a fair bit behind the news and the export success story would have fitted better a year or two ago. Let us wish Portugal well as we note the recent growth has been in imports and also note that in general in 2017 so far the Euro has risen putting something of a squeeze on exports which compete in terms of price. The trade weighted exchange-rate rose from 93 in April to 99 now in round terms. So the gains of the “internal devaluation” which involved a lot of economic pain are being eroded by a higher exchange rate.

Debt

If you look at the economy of Portugal then the D or debt word arrives usually sooner rather than later. This is why an improved trade performance is more important than just its impact on GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). This is how it is put by S&P.

Estimated at about 236% in 2017, we view Portugal’s narrow net external debt to CARs (our preferred measure of the external position) as being one of the highest among the sovereigns we rate, albeit on a steady declining trend.

There has been deleveraging but of course this drags on growth before hopefully providing a benefit.

Data from the Portuguese central bank, Banco de
Portugal, indicate that resident private nonfinancial sector gross debt on a nonconsolidated basis was still at a high 217% of GDP in June 2017, down from 260% at end-2012.

So far I think I have done well in avoiding mentioning the ECB ( European Central Bank) but this is an area where it has really stepped up to the plate.

The ECB’s QE has helped to further bring down the government’s and corporate sector’s borrowing costs.

Although it does pose a challenge to this assertion from S&P.

While we view the high level of public and private sector indebtedness as a credit weakness, we observe that external financing risks have declined significantly reflected in a substantial improvement in the government’s borrowing conditions.

Maybe but you cannot ignore the fact that the ECB has purchased some 29 billion Euros of Portuguese government bonds as part of its ongoing QE programme. To this you can add purchases of the bonds of Portuguese corporates and of course the 91 billion Euro rump of the Securities Markets Programme which also had Greek and Irish bonds. If you read about lower purchases of Portuguese bonds it is mostly because the ECB already has so many of them. Last time I checked large purchases of something tend to raise the price and lower the yield.

According to the latest ECB data, the central bank acquired €0.4 billion of Portuguese government bonds in August 2017, hitting a new low since the beginning of the
PSPP. The peak was in May 2016, at €1.4 billion.

The banks

Even S&P is none to cheerful here pointing out that the sector remains on life support.

It remains reliant on ECB funding.

Indeed the prognosis remains rather grim.

Banks’  earnings generation capacity also remains under significant pressure given the ultra-low interest rates, muted volume growth, and still large stock of
problematic assets (about 19% of gross loans) and foreclosed real estate assets (including restructured loans not considered in the credit-at-risk definition) as of mid-2017.

Internal Devaluation

If you improve your position via an internal devaluation involving lower wages and higher unemployment then moves like this are simultaneously welcome and risky.

In our opinion, consecutive increases in the minimum wage, most recently by 5.1% in January 2017, accompanied by measures to offset some of the additional cost for employers, are unlikely to have weakened the cost competitiveness of Portuguese goods and services.

Comment

Portugal is a lovely country so let us look at something which is really welcome.

As such, the jobless rate has almost halved from its peak of 17.5% during 2013 and is currently at 9.1% (July 2017), in line with the eurozone average and lower than in France, Italy, and Spain.

Good. However this does not change the fact that Portugal has travelled back to between 2004 and 2005. What I mean by that is that annual GDP peaked at 181.5 billion Euros in 2008 and after the credit crunch hit there was a recovery but then a sharp downturn such that GDP in 2013 was 167.2 billion Euros. The more recent improvement raised GDP to 173.7 billion Euros in 2016 and of course things have improved a bit so far this year to say 2005 levels.

Why is there an ongoing problem? Tucked away in the S&P analysis there is this.

we consider that Portugal’s fragile demographics, weakened by substantial net emigration and a declining labor force, exacerbate these challenges. Low productivity growth would likely stifle the economy’s growth potential (though this is not unique to Portugal), without further improvements in the efficiency of the public administration,
judiciary, and the business environment, including with respect to barriers in services markets (for example, closed professions).

Let me end by pointing out the rally in Portuguese bonds today with the ten-year yield now 2.5% although having issued 3 billion Euros of such paper with a coupon of 4.125% in January it will take a while for the gains to feed in. Also let me wish those affected by the severe drought well.

 

 

 

Central banks face an ongoing exit strategy problem

Today features one of the earliest themes of this blog. It can be summarised around the line never get yourself into something without a plan to get out of it. Back in my early days on this website I suggested that when the time came to roll back the interest-rate cuts and Quantitative Easing ( QE) that central banks would dither and delay and thereby act too late. We now know that in generic terms what was happening then wasn’t the half of it as more and more QE was to follow around the world as well as more interest-rate cuts taking some negative. So the problem became ever larger as central banks had more skin in the game and would be even more afraid of any setbacks should they withdraw policy stimulus.

Also there was another feature likely to lead to a delay. You see by the 18th of January 2011 I was pointing out this.

Even worse than this if we go back to the Bank of England’s forecasts for 2010 we can see that they underestimated inflation in 2010 by a considerable amount. This continues the Bank of England’s forecasting record which is now so poor in this area it is abject.

The nuance that has developed over time is that central banks seem to be most woeful at forecasting the most important factor at the time. For example the Bank of England has more recently kept getting wage growth wrong and the ECB raised the issue of 5 year inflation swaps and then led itself down the garden path. Whilst there will be official denials this fact of course is likely to add to the existing penchant to dilly and dally on any policy tightening.

Sweden

This morning has seen this announcement from the Riksbank.

Given this, the Executive Board of the Riksbank has decided to hold the repo rate unchanged at -0.50 per cent and does not expect to raise it until the middle of 2018. Purchases of government bonds will continue during the second half of 2017, as decided in April. At the end of the year, the purchases of government bonds will thus amount to a total of SEK 290 billion, excluding reinvestments.

So it remains very expansionary and here is the apparent justification.

Economic activity is strong and inflation is close to the target of 2 per cent.

Even odder is the enthusiasm for making Swedes better off by making them poorer.

Monetary policy needs to remain expansionary for inflation to continue to be close to 2 per cent……..However, it has taken time and a great deal of support from monetary policy to bring up inflation and inflation expectations

As you can see the view here is that without the policy of the Riksbank the economy of Sweden would somehow disappear off a cliff. But its problem is highlighted in its report.

The Swedish economy is strong. The upturn in inflation has continued and been faster than expected. In   July, inflation was 2.4 per cent in CPIF terms, and 2.1 per cent in terms of the CPIF excluding energy  prices. GDP growth was unexpectedly high in the second quarter. Monthly indicators point to the strong  developments continuing through the second half of the year. Although the inflation outcome for July is  primarily explained mainly by temporarily higher prices for foreign travel, the underlying development  appears stronger than expected. Inflation is therefore expected to be somewhat higher during the  remainder of the year than was forecast in July.

There is something familiar in their inability to forecast either GDP or inflation as we note inflation is above target! Now perhaps they did forecast Del Potro stunning Roger Federer this morning in the US Open tennis but in terms of the day job this continues the poor record of the Riksbank. This matters when you are undertaking what is an extreme monetary policy experiment as for example first-time buyers are unlikely to see this as a triumph.

The rate of increase of housing prices has gradually risen  throughout 2017. In July, housing prices rose by an annual rate of  9 .6 per cent. Surveys show that the general public and estate  agents continue to expect rising housing prices in the period  ahead.

Apologies for the formatting issue but there is a clear problem for Sweden via this issue. There are other issues as we look into the detail of corporate borrowing.

 has increased  in significance in recent years for real estate companies in  particular ( they are talking about securities issuance here)

and personal borrowing.

. Lending to households in the form of pure consumer  loans without collateral has increased at an ever‐higher pace and,  in July, the annual rate of growth amounted to 8 per cent.

Oh and the suggestion that interest-rates could rise next year is an example of Swedish recycling of the Forward Guidance of Mark Carney as this from September last year proves.

Not until the second half of 2017 does the Executive Board consider it appropriate to begin slowly increasing the repo rate.

ECB

By the time you read this you may already know the policy announcement from Mario Draghi but the Riksbank has undertaken a form of trolling.

This could happen if, for example, the Riksbank’s monetary policy deviates too far from that of other countries.

They mean the Euro of course and this morning’s announcement implies they expect little from the ECB today.

Oh Canada

Yesterday’s announcement from the Bank of Canada may have provoked a stream of letters signed Mark of Threadneedle Street mentioning destruction of legacy and questioning whether they understand the true purpose of Forward Guidance.

The Bank of Canada is raising its target for the overnight rate to 1 per cent. The Bank Rate is correspondingly 1 1/4 per cent and the deposit rate is 3/4 per cent.

The rationale really rather reminds us of the situation in Sweden.

Given the stronger-than-expected economic performance, Governing Council judges that today’s removal of some of the considerable monetary policy stimulus in place is warranted.

Of course if we look at house price developments in parts of Canada ( Toronto and Vancouver) there is another similarity and you could argue that the response is far too late as well as being too small.

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here. As I pointed out earlier the monetary expansionism moved on in both scale and concept ( including corporate bonds in several places and even equities in Japan). It also moved on in time as depending on how you count it we are approaching a decade of this. Thus makes me have a wry smile when central bankers use the buzzword “normalisation” when what must seem normal to millennials for example is where we are now!

But if we stay with the normalisation theme then 1% or so in Canada and the US does not take us far does it? The real issue is shown by economic growth in Sweden and indeed today from the Euro area which has been shown to have been stronger than first thought.

 

But in both places we still have negative interest-rates and ongoing QE bond buying programmes leaving us mulling the words of Coldplay.

Oh, no, I see
A spider web, it’s tangled up with me,
And I lost my head,
The thought of all the stupid things I’d said,

Me on CoreTV Finance

http://www.corelondon.tv/bond-bubble-fiction-reality-not-yes-man-economics/

 

Why have the bond markets lost their bark and their vigilantes?

The credit crunch era took us on quite a journey in terms of interest-rates. At first central banks reduced official short-term interest-rates in the hope that they would fix the problem. Then they embarked on Quantitative Easing policies which were designed to reduce long-term interest-rates or bond yields. This was because quite a few important interest-rates are not especially dependent on official interest-rates and may from time to time even move in the opposite direction. An example is fixed-rate mortgages. However if they are a “cure” then one day all the downwards manipulation of interest-rates and yields needs to stop. Of course the fact that it is still going on all these years later poses its own issues.

The United States looked as though it was heading on that road last year on two counts. Firstly the Federal Reserve was in a program to raise interest-rates and secondly both Presidential candidates indicated plans for a fiscal stimulus. When Donald Trump was elected as President he reinforced this by telling us this as I reported back on November 9th.

We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.

This was somewhat reminiscent of the “New Deal” of President F.D. Roosevelt although I counselled caution at the time and of course any fiscal expansion would be added to by the plan for tax cuts. The two impacted on bond markets as shown below.

There has been a clear market adjustment to this which is that the 30 year ( long bond) yield has risen by 0.12% to 2.75%.

In the US this tends to have a direct impact on fixed mortgage-rates as many places quote a 30 year one.

What happened next?

US bond yields did rise and in mid March the 10 year Treasury Note yield rose to 2.63% meaning that it was approaching the long bond yield quoted above. Meanwhile the long bond yield rose to 3.21%. However as we look back now those were twin peaks and have been replaced by 2.07% and 2.69% respectively.

Why might this be?

Whilst there does seem to be some sort of concrete plan for tax cuts there is little sign of much concrete around any infrastructure spending. So that has drifted away and there has been an element of this with official interest-rate rises. The US Federal Reserve has raised them to a range between 1% and 1.25% but seems to be in no hurry to raise them further. It does plan to reduce its balance sheet but the plan is very small compared to its size.

The Recovery

The US economy has continued to grow in 2017 as shown below.

Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 3.0 percent in the second quarter of 2017 (table 1), according to the “second” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP increased 1.2 percent. ( These are annualised figures )

This has not been enough to unsettle bond markets especially if we add in that so far in 2017 inflation has if anything faded. Here are the latest numbers from NASDAQ.

Excluding food prices and fuel, core PCE measure – the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation – increased 1.4% in July year over year compared with 1.5% in June. However, it edged up 0.1% in July on a monthly basis. Therefore, it is still far from the Fed’s target of 2%.

For once it does not matter if you use a core inflation measure as it comes to the same answer as the headline! Although the annual rate has only fallen by 0.2% for the core measure since March as opposed to 0.4% for the headline. But we are left with okay growth and fading inflation which gives us a reason why bond markets have rallied and yields fallen.

What about wages?

The various output gap style theories that falling and indeed low unemployment rates would push wage and in particular real wage growth higher have not come to fruition. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

From July 2016 to July 2017, real average hourly earnings increased 0.8 percent, seasonally adjusted. The increase in real average hourly earnings combined with no change in the average workweek resulted in a 0.7-percent increase in real average weekly earnings over this period.

Japan

If we stay with the subject of wages here is today’s data from Japan. From the Financial Times.

 

Unadjusted labour cash earnings fell 0.3 per cent year on year in July, down from a 0.4 per cent increase a month earlier, according to a preliminary estimate by the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare…….Special cash earnings, which includes bonuses, were down 2.2 per cent on the same month a year ago.

If we widen our discussion geographically and look at the US where there is some wage growth we see that in other places there is not as real wages in Japan fell by 0.8%. If we stay with Japan for a moment then we see that in spite of the media proclamations over the past 4 years that wages are about to turn upwards we are still waiting. Bonuses were supposed to surge this summer. So the “output gap” continues to fail and there is little pressure on bond yields from wage growth in Japan.

QE

This of course continues in quite a few places. In terms of the headline players we have the 60 billion Euros a month of the European Central Bank and the yield curve control of the Bank of Japan which it expects to be around 80 trillion Yen a year. I raise these points as a bond yield rally in these areas would require these to be substantially reduced or stopped. We expect little substantive change from the ECB until the election season is over but some were expecting a reduction from it as the Euro area economy improved. As time passes it will have to make some changes as its rules suggest it will run out of German bonds to buy next spring and the more it shuffles to avoid that the more likely it will run out of bonds to buy in France, Spain and even Italy.

Added to this are the sovereign wealth funds as for example Norway which seems to be rebalancing in favour of US Euro and UK bonds. There are also the investment plans of the Swiss National Bank.

Comment

So we see a dog that has little bark and has not bitten. Some of this is really good news as unlike the central banker cartel I am pleased that so far inflation has for them disappointed. Although as we look ahead there may be issues from some commodity prices. From Mining.com

December copper futures trading on the Comex market in New York made fresh highs on Tuesday after the world’s number one producer of the metal reported a sharp drop in production.
Copper touched $3.1785 a pound ($7,007 per tonne) in morning trade, the highest since September 2014. Copper is now up by more than 50% compared to this time last year.

So Dr,Copper may be giving us a hint although I also note that hedge funds are getting involved so this may be a “financialisation” move as opposed to a real one.

Another factor which would change things would be some real wage growth. Perhaps along the lines of this released by the German statistics office last week.

The collectively agreed earnings, as measured by the index of agreed monthly earnings including extra payments, increased by an average 3.8% in the second quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter of the previous year. This is the highest rise since the beginning of the time series in 2011. The Federal Statistical Office (Destatis) also reports that, excluding extra payments, the year-on-year increase in the second quarter of 2017 was 3.4%.

If we move to my home country then it remains hard to believe with our penchant for inflation we have a ten-year Gilt yield of 1.01% as I type this. Even worse a five-year Gilt yield of 0.43% as you will lose the total yield in inflation this year alone. I can see how a “punter” might buy at times front-running events or the Bank of England but how can it be an investment unless you expect quite an economic depression?

 

 

 

What makes a currency a safe haven these days?

The subject of safe havens is something that comes to mind as one considers the situation concerning North Korea. An unhinged leader combined with nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile technology does not make for a stable mix and of course there is Kim Jong-Un to consider as well. Mind you Twitter took the news of a possible Korean H-Bomb very calmly yesterday as it was soon replaced in the headlines by Wayne Rooney’s difficulties and today events are led by a headline which could refer to North Korea but fortunately McStrike is in fact the first strike at MacDonald’s in the UK.

So let us consider an environment where risk is higher and maybe a lot higher. This poses an early issue as my time in derivative and particularly options markets taught me that we as humans are very bad at quantifying things to which we give a low probability. We are even worse when it is something we do not want to happen. Establishments magnify this issue as I recall the excellent work of the Nobel prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman on the NASA Challenger space shuttle disaster. He was part of the enquiry and was officially told that the odds were millions to one whereas when he interviewed individual engineers they told him that individual parts had a one in five hundred chance of failure. It turned out that the disaster was not a surprise as the surprise was that it had not happened before.

What does risk-off do now?

The Japanese Yen

Each time the rhetoric or a North Korean missile rises the Japanese Yen follows it. This felt especially odd when one of the missiles overflew Japan and tripped civil defence alarms as well as no doubt having the self-defence force scrambling. Also the rally to 109.60 this morning against the US Dollar will have steam coming out of the ears of the Bank of Japan on two counts. Firstly because a lower value for the Yen is part of Abenomics and secondly it will send equity markets lower ( 190 points on the Nikkei 225 index).Still the Bank of Japan will be able to occupy itself by buying yet more equities.

If we look deeper into Yen strength in risky times I note this from the IMF in November 2013.

since the mid-1990s, there have been 12 episodes where the yen has appreciated in nominal effective terms by 6 percent or more within one quarter and these coincided often with events outside Japan

Why might this be?

Safe haven currencies tend to have low interest rates, a strong net foreign asset position, and deep and liquid financial markets. Japan meets all these criteria

The first point if we modify low to lower to bring it up to date gives us food for thought on what determines interest-rates. We are usually told domestic considerations but there is a correlation between strong trade positions and negative interest-rates for example. As to the foreign asset position then unlike its public-sector which has lots of debt Japan is in fact the largest creditor. From Reuters.

Japan’s net external assets rose to their second-highest amount on record at the end of fiscal 2016, driven by rising mergers and acquisitions overseas by firms and portfolio investment, the Finance Ministry said Friday.
The net value of assets held by the government, businesses and individuals stood at ¥349 trillion ($3.12 trillion) — just behind 2014’s record ¥363 trillion. It meant Japan remained the biggest creditor nation for the 26th straight year, the ministry said.

There is a twist though as you might think the Yen rallies because of the money beginning to be brought home but in fact according to the IMF not so.

In contrast, we find evidence that changes in market participants’ risk perceptions trigger derivatives trading, which in turn lead to changes in the spot exchange rate without capital flows.

In essence it is expectations of a change rather than actual capital flows. I would imagine that the carry trade ( where foreign investors borrow in Yen) are a factor in this.

Swiss Franc

Many of the same factors are at play here which is why in the early days of this website I labelled the Yen and Swiss Franc as the “Currency Twins”. We can reel off negative interest-rates, trade, carry trade and so on including with a wry smile that official policy is in the opposite direction! There are two main differences the first is that there tend to be actual inflows into Swiss Francs. The second is the way that net private assets have been replaced by the Swiss National Bank. From a Working Paper from the Graduate Institute of Geneva

At the end of 2016, the Swiss net international investment position (NIIP, the value of foreign assets held by Swiss residents, net of liabilities of Swiss residents to foreign investors) reached 131 percent of GDP ……. The net international investment position of the private sector was thus close to balance in 2015, and only amounted to 24 percent of GDP at the end of 2016.

So we have seen something of a socialisation of Switzerland’s net investment position. Does that matter? I suspect so but markets seem less worried as the Swissy has rallied against the US Dollar by 0.75% to 0.9574 today.

Euro

It is hard not to raise a wry smile at the articles saying the Euro is no longer a safe haven currency as we note its rise today! Here is Kathy Lien of Nasdaq from last week with an explainer of sorts.

However the central bank’s positive economic outlook, their hawkish monetary policy bias

In future my financial lexicon for these times will have negative interest-rates and large QE as part of my “hawkish” definition. Anyway as we note that it is the countries with ongoing types of QE who are the new apparent safe havens we are left mulling the chicken and egg conundrum. Being a funding currency in the global carry trade is another consistent factor.

US Dollar

So far the era of the military dollar seems to have ended. Maybe it awaits a proper test as in an actual war but considering the stakes I would rather not find out.

Comment

So we see that a potential factor in being a safe haven currency is for official policy to be for the currency to fall? Not quite true for the Euro at least explicitly although of course it used to be expected ( outside the Ivory Towers who still do) that negative interest-rates and QE  weaken a currency. A side effect of the official effort is clearly that the QE and supply of money aids and abets those who wish to borrow in that currency and at times like this even if they do not actually reverse course markets price in that they might. The currency then sings along to “Jump” by Van Halen. You can turn the volume up to 11 Spinal Tap style if actual carry trade reversals happen.

Also there is the issue of what is a safe haven? In terms of Japan it is clearly not literal as it is in the likely firing line. We see that front-running expected trends remains the main player here as opposed to clear logical thinking. Also we see that another safe haven only flickers a bit these days as bond markets rally a bit but nothing like they used to That is another function of the QE era as how much more could they rise? Also I note that equity markets do not seem to fall that much as the FTSE 100 is off 10 points as I type this.

So a safe haven may simply be front-running? If so it means we need to dive even deeper in future as does this below for Switzerland show strength or potential weakness?

Specifically, assets held by Swiss residents abroad represent 671 percent of GDP, while claims by foreign investors on Switzerland amount to 541 percent of GDP. With this leverage, a movement in asset prices and exchange rates that affects more assets than liabilities has a sizable impact on the NIIP.