The ECB “taper” meets “To infinity! And beyond!”

Yesterday was central banker day when we heard from Mark Carney of the Bank of England, Mario Draghi of the ECB and Janet Yellen of the US Federal Reserve. I covered the woes of Governor Carney yesterday and note that even that keen supporter of him Bloomberg is now pointing out that he is losing the debate. As it happened Janet Yellen was also giving a speech in London and gave a huge hostage to fortune.

Yellen today: “Don’t see another crisis in our lifetimes” Yellen May 2016: “We Didn’t See The Financial Crisis Coming” ( @Stalingrad_Poor )

Let us hope she is in good health and if you really wanted to embarrass her you would look at what she was saying in 2007/08. However the most significant speech came at the best location as the ECB has decamped to its summer break, excuse me central banking forum, at the Portuguese resort of Sintra.

Mario Draghi

As President Draghi enjoyed his morning espresso before giving his keynote speech he will have let out a sigh of relief that it was not about banking supervision. After all the bailout of the Veneto Banks in Italy would have come up and people might have asked on whose watch as Governor of the Bank of Italy the problems built up? Even worse one of the young economists invited might have wondered why the legal infrastructure covering the Italian banking sector is nicknamed the “Draghi Laws”?

However even in the area of monetary policy there are problems to be faced as I pointed out on the 13th of March.

It too is in a zone where ch-ch-changes are ahead. I have written several times already explaining that with inflation pretty much on target and economic growth having improved its rate of expansion of its balance sheet looks far to high even at the 60 billion Euros a month due in April.

Indeed on the 26th of May I noted that Mario himself had implicitly admitted as much.

As a result, the euro area is now witnessing an increasingly solid recovery driven largely by a virtuous circle of employment and consumption, although underlying inflation pressures remain subdued. The convergence of credit conditions across countries has also contributed to the upswing becoming more broad-based across sectors and countries. Euro area GDP growth is currently 1.7%, and surveys point to continued resilience in the coming quarters.

That simply does not go with an official deposit rate of -0.4% and 60 billion Euros a month of Quantitative Easing. Policy is expansionary in what is in Euro area terms a boom.

This was the first problem that Mario faced which is how to bask in the success of economic growth whilst avoiding the obvious counterpoint that policy is now wrong. He did this partly by indulging in an international comparison.

since January 2015 – that is, following the announcement of the expanded asset purchase programme (APP) – GDP
has grown by 3.6% in the euro area. That is a higher growth rate than in same period following QE1 or QE2 in the United States, and a percentage point lower than the period after QE3. Employment in the euro area has also risen by more than four million since we announced the expanded APP, comparable with both QE2 and QE3 in the US, and considerably higher than QE1.

You may note that Mario is picking his own variables meaning that unemployment for example is omitted as are differences of timing and circumstance. But on this road we got the section which had an immediate impact on financial markets.

The threat of deflation is gone and reflationary forces are at play.

So we got an implicit admittal that policy is pro-cyclical or if you prefer wrong. A reduction in monthly QE purchases of 20 billion a month is dwarfed by the change in circumstances. But we have to be told something is happening so there was this.

This more favourable balance of risks has been already reflected in our monetary policy stance, via the adjustments we have made to our forward guidance.

You have my permission to laugh at this point! If he went out into the streets of Sintra I wonder how many would know who he is let alone be running their lives to the tune of his Forward Guidance!? Whilst his Forward Guidance has not been quite the disaster of Mark Carney the sentence below shows a misfire.

This illustrates that core inflation does not
always give us a clear reading of underlying inflation dynamics.

The truth is as I have argued all along that there was no deflation threat in terms of a downwards spiral for inflation because it was driven by this.

Oil-related base effects are also the main driver of the considerable volatility in headline inflation that we have seen, and will be seeing, in the euro area………. As a result, in the first quarter of 2017, oil-sensitive items  were still holding back core inflation.

I guess the many parts of the media which have copy and pasted the core inflation/deflation theme will be hoping that their readers have a bout of amnesia. Or to put it another way that Mario has set up a straw (wo)man below.

What is clear is that our monetary policy measures have been successful in avoiding a deflationary spiral and securing the anchoring of inflation expectations.

Actually if you look elsewhere in his speech you will see that if you consider all the effort put in that in fact his policies had a relatively minor impact.

Between 2016 and 2019 we estimate that our monetary policy will have lifted inflation by 1.7 percentage points,
cumulatively.

So it took a balance sheet of 4.2 trillion Euros ( and of course rising as this goes to 2019) to get that? You can look at the current flow of 60 billion a month which makes it look a little better but it is not a lot of bang for your Euro.

Market Movements

There was a clear response to the mention of the word “reflationary” as the Euro rose strongly. It rose above 1.13 to the US Dollar as it continued the stronger  phase we have been seeing in 2017 as it opened the year more like 1.04.  Also government bond yields rose although the media reports of “jumps” made me smile as I noted that the German ten-year yield was only 0.4% and the two-year was -0.57%! Remember when the ECB promised it was fixing the issue of demand for German bonds?

Comment

On the surface this is a triumph for Forward Guidance as Mario’s speech tightens monetary policy via higher bond yields and a higher value for the Euro on the foreign exchanges. Yet if we go back to March 2014 he himself pointed out the flaw in this.

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

You see the effective or trade-weighted index dipped to 93.5 in the middle of April but was 97.2 at yesterday’s close. If we note that Mario is not achieving his inflation target and may be moving away from it we get food for thought.

Euro area annual inflation was 1.4% in May 2017, down from 1.9% in April.

So as the markets assume what might be called “tapering” ( in terms of monthly QE purchases) or “normalisation” in terms of interest-rates we can look further ahead and wonder if “To infinity! And Beyond!” will win? After all if the economy slows later this year  and inflation remains below target ………

There are two intangible factors here. Firstly the path of inflation these days depends mostly in the price of crude oil. Secondly whilst I avoid politics like the plague it is true that we will find out more about what the ECB really intends once this years major elections are done and dusted as the word “independent” gets another modification in my financial lexicon for these times

 

It is all about the banks yet again

If there is a prime feature of the credit crunch in the financial world it is the woes and travails of the banks. That is quite an anti-achievement when you consider that if you count from the first signs of trouble at the mortgage book of Bear Stearns we are now in out second decade of this period having lost one already. Before we come to today’s main course delightfully prepared first by chefs in Italy and then finished off in Brussels I have a starter for you from the UK.

The Co-op Bank

Back on the 13th of February I gave my views on this institution being put up for sale.

So the bank is up for sale and my immediate thought is who would buy it and frankly would they pay anything? Only last week Bloomberg put out some concerning analysis……..Co-Operative Bank Plc, the British lender that ceded control to its creditors three years ago, has plunged in value to as little as 45 million pounds ($56 million), according to people familiar with the matter.

Since then we have had regular reports in places like the Financial Times that a deal was just around the corner whereas I feared it might end up in the hands of the Bank of England. This morning has come news that the ill-fated sale plans have been abandoned and replaced by a doubling-down by the existing investors. From Sky News.

The beleaguered Co-operative Bank is closing in on a £700m rescue deal with US hedge funds amid ongoing talks about the separation of the vast pension scheme it shares with the Co-op Group.

Much of the issue revolves around funding the pension scheme and if I was worker at the Co-op I would be watching that like a hawk. Also the name may need some review as the shareholding of the Co-operative group falls below 5%.

We have also seen in the UK how a bailed out bank boosts the economy in return for taxpayers largesse. From Reuters.

British lender Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS.L) is planning to cut 443 jobs dealing with business loans and many of them will move to India, the bank said

The Veneto Banks

As we move from our starter to the main course we find ourselves facing a menu which has taken nearly a decade to be drawn up. The Italian response to the banking crisis was to adopt the ostrich position and ignore it for as long as possible. Indeed for a while the Italian establishment boasted that only 0.2% of GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) had been spent on bank bailouts compared to much higher numbers elsewhere. Such Schadenfreude came back to haunt them driven by one main factor which was the rise and rise of non-performing loans in the Italian banking sector which ended up with more zombies than you might expect to see in a Hammer House of Horror production. Even worse this was a drag on the already anaemic Italian rate of economic growth meaning that its economy is now pretty much the same size as when it joined the Euro.

There has been a long program of disinformation on this subject and I am sure that regular readers will recall the claims that Monte Paschi was a good investment made by then Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. There have also been the regular statements by Finance Minister Padoan along the lines of this from Politico EU in January.

Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan has defended the way his country dealt with its banking crisis, saying the government had “only spent €3 billion” on bailouts, in an interview with Die Welt published today.

If we are being ultra polite that was especially “odd” as Monte Paschi was in state hands but of course over this weekend came more woe for Padoan. From the European Commission.

On 24 June 2017, Italy notified to the Commission its plans to grant State aid to wind-down BPVI and Veneto Banca. The measures will enable the sale of parts of the two banks’ activities to Intesa, including the transfer of employees. Italy selected Intesa Sanpaolo (Intesa) as the buyer in an open, fair and transparent sales procedure:

I will come to the issue of Intesa in a moment but let us first look at the cost to Italy from this.

In particular, the Italian State will grant the following measures:

  • Cash injections of about €4.785 billion; and
  • State guarantees of a maximum of about €12 billion, notably on Intesa’s financing of the liquidation mass. The State guarantees would be called upon notably, if the liquidation mass is insufficient to pay back Intesa for its financing of the liquidation mass.

This has opened up a rather large can of worms and as Bloomberg points out we can start with this.

Rome will effectively by-pass the EU’s “single resolution board” which is supposed to handle bank failures in an orderly way and the “Banking Recovery and Resolution Directive,” which should act as the euro zone’s single rulebook.

Why? Well as we have looked at before there was the misselling of bonds to retail investors.

The government could have taken a less expensive route, involving the “bail in” of senior bondholders. It chose not to: Many of these instruments are in the hands of retail investors, who bought them without being fully aware of the risks involved. The government wants to avoid a political backlash and the risk of contagion spreading across the system.

Privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses yet again. Also only on the June 8th we were told this.

Italian banks are considering assisting in a rescue of troubled lenders Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca by pumping 1.2 billion euros (1.1 billion pounds) of private capital into the two regional banks

Good job they said no as they would have been over 3 billion short! Oh and Padoan described the problems as “exaggerated” whereas if we return to reality this was always the real problem.

A bail in has the problem of the retail depositors who were persuaded to invest in bank bonds.

Intesa

This seems to have got something of a free lunch here provided courtesy of the Italian taxpayer. From Reuters.

The government will pay 5.2 billion euros ($5.82 billion) to Intesa, and give it guarantees of up 12 billion euros, so that it will take over the remains of the banks.

So it can clear up the mess? Er not quite.

will leave the lenders’ good assets in the hands of Intesa,

So it is being paid to take the good bits. Heads it wins if things turns out okay and tails the Italian taxpayer loses if they do not as it will use the guarantees. Also as you can see it seems to have thought of everything.

You think Santander made a killing with Pop until you realise will even make the state pay for the redundancy package of V&V staff ( @jeuasommenulle )

It may even be able to gain from some Deferred Tax Assets but chasing down that thread is only in very technical Italian.

Comment

There is much to consider here so let me open with the two main issues. The European Banking Union has just been torpedoed by the Italian financial navy. The promised bail in has become a bailout. Next comes the issue of how much all the dilatory dithering has cost the Italian taxpayer? As in the end the cost is way above the sums that Financial Minister Padoan was calling “exaggerated”. I note that BBC Breakfast called the cost 5 billion Euros this morning ignoring the 12 billion Euros of guarantees which no doubt Italy in a by now familiar attempted swerve will try to keep it out of the national debt numbers. Although to be fair Eurostat has mostly shot down such efforts.

Over the next few days we will no doubt be assailed with promises that the money will come back. For some it already has. From the FT.

Intesa Sanpaolo, the country’s strongest lender that will take over the failed banks’ good assets, was the second biggest riser on the eurozone-wide Stoxx 600 index. Shares in the bank were up 3.6 per cent at publication time, to €2.71.

 

 

 

 

 

Of Denmark its banks and negative interest-rates

The situation regarding negative interest-rates mostly acquires attention via the Euro or the Yen. If the media moves beyond that it then looks at Switzerland and maybe Sweden. But there is an outbreak of negative interest-rates in the Nordic countries if we note that we have already covered Sweden, Finland is in the Euro and the often ignored Denmark has this.

Effective from 8 January 2016, Danmarks Nationalbank’s ( DNB ) interest rate on certificates of deposit is increased by 0.10 percentage point to -0.65 per cent.

Actually Denmark is just about to reach five years of negative interest-rates as it was in July of 2012 that the certificate of deposit rate was cut to -0.2% although it has not quite been continuous as it there were a few months that it rose to the apparently giddy heights of 0.05%.

In case you are wondering why Denmark has done this then there are two possible answers. Geography offers one as we note that proximity to the Euro area is associated with ever lower and indeed negative interest-rates. Actually due to its exchange rate policy Denmark is just about as near to being in the Euro as it could be without actually being so.

Denmark maintains a fixed-exchange-rate policy vis-à-vis the euro area and participates in the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, ERM 2, at a central rate of 746.038 kroner per 100 euro with a fluctuation band of +/- 2.25 per cent.

Currently that involves an interest-rate that is -0.25% lower than in the Euro area but the margin does vary as for example when the interest-rate rose in 2014 when the DNB tried to guess what the ECB would do next and got it wrong.

A Problem

If we think of the Danish economy then we think of negative interest-rates being implemented due to weak economic growth. Well the DNB has had to face up to this.

However, the November revision stands out as an unusually large upward revision of the compilation of GDP level and
growth……… average annual GDP growth has now
been compiled at 1.3 per cent for the period 2010-
15, up from 0.8 per cent in the previous compilation.
GDP in volume terms is now 3.4 per cent higher in
2015 than previously compiled,

Ooops! As this begins before interest-rate went negative we have yet another question mark against highly activist monetary policy. The cause confirms a couple of the themes of this website.

new figures for Danish firms’ foreign
trading in which goods and services do not cross the
Danish border entailed substantial revisions

So the trade figures were wrong which is a generic statement across the world as they are both erratic and unreliable. Also such GDP shifts make suggestions like this from former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers look none too bright.

moving away from inflation targeting to something like nominal gross domestic product-level targeting would be a better idea.

In this situation he would be targeting a number which was later changed markedly, what could go wrong?

Also there is a problem for the DNB as we note that it has a negative interest-rate of -0.65% but faces an economy doing this.

heading towards a boom with output above the normal level of capacity utilisation……….The Danish economy is very close to its capacity limit.

Whatever happened to taking away the punchbowl as the party starts getting going?

Oh and below is an example of central banker speech not far off a sort of Comical Ali effort.

Despite the upward revision of GDP, Danmarks Nationalbank’s assessment of economic developments
since the financial crisis is basically unchanged.

The banks

This is of course “the precious” of the financial world which must be preserved at all costs according to central bankers. We were told that negative interest-rates would hurt the banks, how has that turned out? From Bloomberg.

Despite half a decade of negative interest rates, Denmark’s banks are making more money than ever before.

What does the DNB think?

Overall, the largest Danish banks achieved their
best ever performance in 2016, and their financial
statements for the 1st quarter of 2017 also recorded
sound profits…………In some areas, financial developments are similar to developments in the period up to the financial crisis in 2008, so there is every reason to watch out for
speed blindness.

Still no doubt the profits have gone towards making sure “this time is different”? Er, perhaps not.

On the other hand, the capital base has not increased notably since 2013, unlike in Norway and Sweden where the banks have higher capital adequacy.

What about house prices?

Both equity prices and prices of owner-occupied
homes have soared, as they did in the years prior to
the financial crisis.

Although the DNB is keen to emphasise a difference.

As then, prices of owner-occupied homes in Copenhagen have risen considerably, but with the difference that the price rises have not yet spread to the rest of Denmark to the same degree. The prices of rental properties have also increased and are back at the 2007 level immediately before
the financial crisis set in

It will have been relieved to note a dip in house price inflation to 4.2% at the end of 2016 although perhaps less keen on the fact that house prices are back to the levels which caused so much trouble pre credit crunch. Of course the banking sector will be happy with higher house prices as it improves their asset book whereas first-time buyers will be considerably less keen as prices move out of reach.

In spite of the efforts of the DNB I note that the Danes have in fact been reining in their borrowing. If we look at the negative interest-rate era we see that the household debt to GDP ratio has fallen from 135% to 120% showing that your average Dane is not entirely reassured by developments. A more sensible strategy than that employed by some of the smaller Danish banks who failed the more extreme version of the banking stress tests.

A Space Oddity

Politician’s the world over say the most ridiculous things and here is the Danish version.

Denmark should cut taxes to encourage people to work more, which would increase the supply of labour and help prevent the economy from overheating in 2018, Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said…

So we fix overheating by putting our foot on the accelerator?

Comment

If we look wider than we have so far today we see that international developments should be boosting the Danish economy in 2017. This mostly comes from the fact that the Euro area economy is having a better year which should boost the Danish trade figures if this from the Copenhagen News is any guide.

Denmark has been ranked seventh in the new edition of the World Competitiveness Yearbook for 2017, which has just published by the Swiss business school IMD.

But if we allow for the upwards revision to growth we see that monetary policy is extraordinarily expansionary for an economy which seems to be growing steadily ( 0.6% in Q1) . What would they do in a slow down?

We also learn a few things about negative interest-rates. Firstly the banking sector has done rather well out of them – presumably by a combination of raising margins and central bank protection as we have discussed on here frequently – and secondly they did not turn out to be temporary did they?

Yet as we see so often elsewhere some events do challenge the official statistics. From the Copenhagen Post.

Aarhus may be enjoying ample wind in its sails by being the European Capital of Culture this year, but not everything is jovial in the ‘City of Smiles’.

On average, the Danish aid organisation Kirkens Korshær has received 211 homeless every day in Aarhus from March 2016-March 2017, an increase of 42 percent compared to the previous year, where the figure was 159.

Portugal

Let me offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected by that dreadful forest fire yesterday.

The problems facing inflation targets

Today I wish to discuss something which if it was a plant we would call a hardy perennial. No I do not mean Greece although of course there has been another “deal” which extends the austerity that was originally supposed to end in 2020 to 2060 in a clear example along the lines of To Infinity! And Beyond! Nor do I mean the Bank of Japan which has announced it will continue to chomp away on Japanese assets. What I mean is central bankers and members of the establishment who conclude that an inflation target of 2% per annum is not enough and it needs to be raised. The latest example has come from the chair of the US Federal Reserve Janet Yellen. From Reuters.

Years of tepid economic recovery have Fed Chair Janet Yellen and other central bankers considering what was once unthinkable: abandoning decades-long efforts to hold inflation down and allowing price expectations to creep up.

I am not sure if the author has not been keeping up with current events or has been drinking the Kool Aid because since early 2012 the US Federal Reserve has been trying to get inflation up to its 2% per annum target. It managed it for the grand sum of one month earlier this year before it started slip sliding away again. Indeed for a while the inflation target was raised to 2.5% which achieved precisely nothing which is why the change has mostly been forgotten. From December 2012.

inflation between one and two years ahead is projected to be no more than a half percentage point above the Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal,

Of course the Bank of Japan has been trying to raise inflation pretty much since the lost decade(s) began. Anyway here is Reuters again on the current thinking of Janet Yellen.

In remarks on Wednesday, Yellen called an emerging debate over raising global inflation targets “one of the most important questions facing monetary policy,” as central bankers grapple with an economic rut in which low growth, low interest rates and weak price and wage increases reinforce each other.

There is a clear problem with that paragraph as this week’s UK data has reminded us “weak price” increases boosted both retail sales and consumption via the way they boosted real wages. The rationale as expressed below is that we are expected to be none too bright.

The aim would be a change of households’ and businesses’ psychology, convincing them that prices would rise fast enough in the future that they would be better off borrowing and spending more today……..Raising that target to 3 or even 4 percent as some economists have suggested would shift the outlook of firms in particular, allowing them to charge more for goods and pay more for labor without the fear that a central bank would step on the brakes.

They are relying on us being unable to spot that the extra money buys less. Oh and after the utter failure of central bank Forward Guidance particularly in the UK you have my permission to laugh at the Ivory Tower style idea that before they do things consumers and businesses stop to wonder what Mark Carney or Janet Yellen might think or do next!

The theme here is along the lines set out by this speech from John Williams of the San Francisco Fed last September.

The most direct attack on low r-star would be for central banks to pursue a somewhat higher inflation target. This would imply a higher average level of interest rates and thereby give monetary policy more room to maneuver. The logic of this approach argues that a 1 percentage point increase in the inflation target would offset the deleterious effects of an equal-sized decline in r-star.

In John’s Ivory Tower there is a natural rate of interest called r-star.

Meanwhile in the real world

Whilst I am a big fan of Earth Wind and Fire I caution against using their lyrics too literally for policy action.

Take a ride in the sky
On our ship, fantasize
All your dreams will come true right away

You see if we actually look at the real world there is an issue that in spite of all the monetary easing of the credit crunch era we have not seen the consumer inflation that central bankers were both planning and hoping for. The Federal Reserve raised its inflation target as described above in December 2012 because it was expecting “More,More, More” but it never arrived. For today I will ignore the fact that inflation did appear in asset markets such as house prices because so many consumer inflation measures follow the advice “look away now” to that issue.

If we move to the current situation and ignore the currency conflicted UK we see that there is a danger for central bankers but hope for the rest of us that inflationary pressure is fading. A sign of that has come from Eurostat this morning.

Euro area annual inflation was 1.4% in May 2017, down from 1.9% in April.

Tucked away in the detail was the fact that energy costs fell by 1.2% on the month reducing the annual rise to 4.5% from the much higher levels seen so far in 2017. As we look at a price for Brent Crude Oil of US $47 per barrel we see that if that should remain there then more of this can be expected as 2017 progresses. That is of course an “if” but OPEC does seem to have lost at least some of its pricing power.

Actually today’s data posed yet another problem for the assumptions of central bankers and the inhabitants of Ivory Towers. We have been seeing am improvement in the Euro area economy as 2016 moved in 2017 so we should be seeing higher wage increases according to economics 101. From Eurostat.

In the euro area, wages & salaries per hour worked grew by 1.4%…., in the first quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter of the previous year. In the fourth quarter of 2016, the annual change was +1.6%

What if our intrepid theorists managed to push inflation higher and wages did not rise? A bit like the calamity the Bank of England ignored back in 2010/11. As an aside a particular sign that the world has seen a shift in its axis is the number from Spain which for those unaware is seeing a burst of economic growth. Yet annual wage growth is the roundest number of all at 0%.

Comment

Much has changed in the credit crunch era but it would appear that central bankers are at best tone-deaf to the noise. We have seen rises in inflation target as one was hidden in the UK switch to CPI from RPI ( ~0.5% per annum) and the US had a temporary one as discussed above and a more permanent one when it switched from the CPI to PCE measure back in 2000 ( ~ 0.3% per annum). I do not see advocates of higher inflation target claiming these were a success so we can only assume there are hoping we will not spot them.

The reality is quite simple the logical response to where we are now would be to reduce inflation targets rather than raise them. Another route which would have mostly similar effects would be to put house prices in the various consumer inflation measures.

Oh and something I thought I would keep for the end. have you spotted how the US Federal Reserve sets its own targets? I wonder how that would work in the era of the Donald?!

Music for traders

My twitter feed has been quite busy with suggestions of songs for traders. All suggestions welcome.

 

The problems of the banks of Italy part 101

It is time to look again at a topic which is a saga of rinse and repeat. Okay I am not sure it is part 101 but it certainly feels like a never-ending story. Let us remind ourselves that the hands of the current President of the ECB ( European Central Bank) Mario Draghi are all over this situation. Why? Well let me hand you over to the ECB itself on his career so far.

1997-1998: Chair of the Committee set up to revise Italy’s corporate and financial legislation and to draft the law that governs Italian financial markets (also known as the “Draghi Law”)

It is a bit awkward to deny responsibility for the set of laws which bear you name! This happened during the period ( 1991-2001) that Mario was Director General of the Italian Treasury. After a period at the Vampire Squid ( Goldman Sachs) there was further career progression.

2006-October 2011Governor, Banca d’Italia

There were also questions about the close relationship and dealings between the Italian Treasury and the Vampire Squid over currency swaps.

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2010/02/09/145201/goldmans-trojan-greek-currency-swap/?mhq5j=e2

But with Mario linking the Bank of Italy and the ECB via his various roles the latest spat in the banking crisis saga must be more than an embarrassment.

The inspection at Banca Popolare di Vicenza that began in 2015 was launched at the request of the Bank of Italy and was conducted by Bank of Italy personnel. Any subsequent decisions were not the responsibility of the Bank of Italy but of the European Central Bank, because in November 2014 Banca Popolare di Vicenza had become a ‘significant’ institution and was subject to the European Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM). ( h/t @FerdiGiugliano )

So we can see that the Bank of Italy is trying to shift at least some of the blame for one of the troubled Veneto banks to the ECB. At this point Shaggy should be playing on its intercom system.

It wasn’t me…….It wasn’t me

An official denial

At the end of last month the Governor of the Bank of Italy gave us its Annual Report.

At the end of 2016 Italian banks’ non-performing loans, recorded in balance sheets net of write-downs, came to €173 billion or 9.4 per cent of total loans. The €350 billion figure often cited in the press refers to the nominal value of the exposures and does not take account of the losses already entered in balance sheets and is therefore not indicative of banks’ actual credit risk.

Indeed he went further.

Those held by intermediaries experiencing difficulties, which could find themselves obliged to offload them rapidly, amount to around €20 billion.

I suppose your view on this depends on whether you think that 20 billion Euros is a lot or a mere bagatelle. It makes you wonder why the problems at the Veneto banks and Monte Paschi seem to be taking so long to solve does it not?

Meanwhile he did indicate a route to what Taylor Swift might call “Trouble, trouble,trouble”.

At the current rate of growth, GDP would return to its 2007 level in the first half of the 2020s.

An economy performing as insipidly as that is bound to cause difficulties for its banks, but not so for the finances of its central bank.

The 2016 financial year closed with a net profit of €2.7 billion; after allocations to the ordinary reserve and dividends paid to the shareholders, €2.2 billion were allocated to the State, in addition to the €1.3 billion paid in taxes.

The QE era has seen a boom in the claimed profits for central banks and as you can see they will be very popular with politician’s as they hand them over cash to spend.

The ECB is pouring money in

The obvious problem with telling us everything is okay is that Governor Visco is part of the ECB which is pouring money into the Italian banks. From the Financial Times.

According to ECB data as of the end of April, Italian banks hold just over €250bn of the total long-term loans — almost a third of the total.

There is a counter argument that the situation where the Italian banks rely so much on the ECB has in fact simply kicked that poor battered can down the road.

“Some of them [Italian banks] are unprofitable even with the ECB’s cheap funding,” adds Christian Scarafia, co-head of Western European Banks at Fitch.

Fitch also observes that the TLTRO funding is tied up with Italy’s management of the non-performing loans that beset its banks. “The weak asset quality in Italy is certainly the big issue in the country and access to cheap ECB funding has meant that banks could continue to operate without having to address the asset quality problem in a more decisive manner,” says Mr Scarafia. (FT)

It was intriguing to note that the Spanish bank BBVA declared 36 million Euros of profits in April from the -0.2% interest-rate on its loans from the ECB. A good use of taxpayer backed money?

The Veneto Banks

For something that is apparently no big deal and according to Finance Minister Padoan has been “exaggerated” this keeps returning to the news as this from Reuters today shows.

Italian banks are considering assisting in a rescue of troubled lenders Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca by pumping 1.2 billion euros (1.1 billion pounds) of private capital into the two regional banks, sources familiar with the matter said.

Good money after bad?

Italian banks, which have already pumped 3.4 billion euros into the two ailing rivals, had said until now that they would not stump up more money.

As you can see the ball keeps being batted between the banks, the state , and the Atlante fund which is a mostly private hybrid of bank money with some state support. Such confusion and obfuscation is usually for a good reason. A bail in has the problem of the retail depositors who were persuaded to invest in bank bonds.

Monte Paschi

On the 2nd of this month we were told that the problem had been solved and yet the saga like so many others continues on.

HEDGE FUND SAID IN TALKS TO BUY $270 MILLION MONTEPASCHI LOANS ( h/t @lemasabachthani )

Seems odd if it has been solved don’t you think? Mind you according to the FT the European Banking Authourity may have found a way of keeping it out of the news.

The EBA said it would be up to supervisors to decide whether to include any bank in restructuring within the stress tests, and European Central Bank supervisors have decided not to include Monte dei Paschi, people briefed on the matter said.

So bottom place is available again.

Comment

This has certainly been more of a marathon than a sprint and in fact maybe like a 100 or 200 mile race. The Italian establishment used to boast that only 0.2% of GDP was used to bailout Italian banks but of course it is now absolutely clear that this effort to stop its national debt rising even higher allowed the banking sector to carry on in the same not very merry way. This week the environment has changed somewhat with Santander buying Banco Popular for one Euro. Although of course the capital raising of 7 billion Euros needs to be factored into the equation. I guess Unicredit has troubles enough of its own and could not reasonably go for yet another rights issue!

Me on TipTV Finance

http://tiptv.co.uk/living-extraordinary-times-not-yes-man-economics/

 

The British and Irish Lions

I have been somewhat remiss in not wishing our players well on what is the hardest rugby tour of all which is a trip into the heart of the All Blacks. I am thoroughly enjoying it although of course we need to raise our game after a narrow win and a loss. Here’s hoping!

 

 

 

Spain continues to see a strong economic recovery

At the moment we could do with some good news. Saturday night’s dreadful terror attack was at a place I know well beginning from childhood as one set of grandparents lived near to Borough Market. A place that has found some economic good news in the past couple of years or so has been Spain. This followed something of a double whammy as the initial impact of the credit crunch was then followed by the Euro area crisis. As I look back it feels a little strange to see its ten-year bond yield above 7% as it was in July of 2012 when the latter crisis was raging. Of course those with the courage and foresight to buy Spanish government bonds back then were well rewarded if they held onto the position.

Today’s business survey

From Markit:

The recent strong growth rates generated by the
Spanish service sector continued in May. Further
sharp increases were recorded in business activity
and new orders. With workloads rising, and the
prospect of new projects in future, companies took
on extra staff again. Meanwhile, inflationary
pressures moderated during the month.

As you can see there are several points to not here. For example the situation looking ahead is strong.

Moreover, sentiment picked up to the highest in 26
months. More than 55% of respondents predict
output to be higher in 12 months’ time than current
levels.

Also we see that employment is on the rise which is welcome considering the still troubled unemployment picture.

Spanish service providers increased their staffing
levels during May, with new hires needed to work
on current and future projects. The rate of job
creation was solid and only slightly weaker than
April’s nine-month high.

Added to this is a decline in inflationary pressure which starts to make this look rather like a situation where Goldilocks porridge is at exactly the right temperature.

Inflationary pressures showed signs of easing in the
sector during May, with both input costs and output
charges rising at weaker rates than recorded in April.

At the end Markit are very bullish on GDP growth this quarter.

with nearly 1% being signalled for Spain

Should that prove to be true then the forecasts of the Bank of Spain will start to look a little pessimistic.

Based on our estimates, GDP could rise by 2.8% this year, before slipping to more moderate growth rates of 2.3% and 2.1%, respectively, in 2018 and 2019.

Although to be fair it was expecting a growth spurt based on something you do not often hear or read associated with the Euro area.

the expansionary fiscal policy

Official GDP growth

The first quarter of this year was a good one for economic activity in Spain according to its statistics office.

The Spanish economy registers a quarterly growth of 0.8% in the first quarter of 2017. This rate was one tenth higher than that registered in the fourth quarter of 2016.  The growth compared to the same quarter last year stands at 3.0%, the same rate as that recorded the previous quarter.

A phrase so beloved of economists can be deployed which is, export-led growth.

The contribution of net foreign demand of the Spanish economy to annual growth of the quarterly GDP was 0.8 points………Goods and services exports accelerated its rate of growth, increasing from 4.4% to 8.4%

This morning has brought more good news on this front. From Spanish statistics via Google Translate.

The total expenditure of international tourists who visit Spain in April increases by 19.7% compared to the same month of 2016. Average daily spending stands at 137 euros, 5.5% more than in April 2016……..During the first four months of 2017 the total expenditure of international tourists increased by 15.3% compared to the same period of the previous year, reaching 20,394 millions of euros.

Actually Spain was also a good global citizen in that it shared some of the benefits around too.

Imports of goods and services experienced an increase of 4.1 points, from 2.3% to 6.4%

As well as export-led growth there was also investment led growth.

Gross fixed capital formation registered a growth rate of 3.8%, indicating an increase of 1.6 points as compared with the previous quarter.

Unemployment

This is the achilles heel of the Spanish economy as the latest official quarterly survey informs us. Via Google Translate.

The unemployment rate stands at 18.75%, which is 12 cents higher than in the Previous quarter. In the last year this rate has fallen by 2.25 points.

The problem is shown by the fact that even after 3 good years for economic growth unemployment is still at a rate of 18.75% meaning that 4,255,000 Spaniards are recorded as unemployed. The good news is that until this quarter the rate has been falling and with the rate of economic growth the increase seems strange. As does the quarterly fall in employment of 69.800 which tells a different story to the GDP report.

Employment of the economy in terms of jobs equivalent to full-time employment registered a quarterly variation of 0.7%, three tenths higher than that registered in the previous quarter.

Over the past year we see that the two roads give similar answers ( 408k versus 435k) so if pressed one would say that the fall in employment from the labour market survey seems most suspect here. Maybe the 65,000 households surveyed had seen a particularly poor phase.

Monetary policy

This is a little awkward for Spain as the very expansionary policy does not go well with the economic strength we have looked at above. If we look for any sign of the “punch bowl” being taken away as the party gets started we see only a reduction in monthly ECB bond purchases to 60 billion Euros a month from 80 billion. The deposit rate at the ECB remains at -0.4% and helped by some 182.5 billion Euros of buying by the ECB the Spanish government can borrow at negative interest-rates on short-dated bonds and only 0.06% for five year ones. A little bit of a brake will have been applied by the rise in the Euro to around 1.12 versus the US Dollar.

Accordingly policy could not be much looser and it is hard to think of an economy in the past that has tried this sort of experiment in terms of expansionary monetary policy in such a boom.

House prices

So far we are not getting much of a clue from the various indices which tell us that they may be going up or down! This was interesting via Spanish property insight.

The outlier is the 7.74% increase reported by the registrars, using their repeat sales methodology that only looks at the price of property that has sold twice in the period of study.

The catch is that it must be a rather small sample size. Spanish statistics has the annual increase at 4.5%. So is this a case of once bitten twice shy? The index provided by Spanish notaries was set at 100 in 2007 and  was 70.7 at the end of 2016. Mind you for PropertyEU up seems to be the new down or something like that.

Looking at property performance returns in Europe in the last 10 years, Spain is second on the list after Sweden with a 13% return, followed by Ireland and then Portugal with 12 per cent.

Some of the gap can perhaps be provided by rents where as I reported on the 27th of January there has been a boom. From RTN online.

THE AVERAGE price of rental housing in Spain rose 8.8 per cent in the first quarter of 2017 due to increasing demand, according to the rental price evolution report published on Wednesday by Idealista.

Comment

The good news theme coming out of Spain was reinforced by Real Madrid retaining the football Champions League trophy on Saturday evening. The dangers for now seem to be a combination of monetary policy which if we allow for the fact that policy changes take 18 months or so to operate seems way too lax and the way that if a housing boom is underway it is in the rental sector this time around.

Also there is still some ground to be gained as even the really good growth of the last few years has only just got Spain back to its previous peak. With 2010 set as 100 that was the 104.4 of the second quarter of 2008 which if the releases above are accurate should now have been regained. Whichever way you look at that it remains odd that Banco Popular has hit trouble now I think.

Economists letters

In spite of the track record of such events it would appear that some are not deterred.

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2017/jun/03/the-big-issue-labour-manifesto-what-economy-needs

It is always the banks isn’t it?

Modern economic life invariably revolves around the banking sector or as it has been named “The Precious” in a nod to the Lord of the Rings saga. This is because it is inextricably linked to the supply of credit and hence money via the amount of lending they do. Today I wish to look at some ch-ch-changes which have happened this week but this comes also with another notable change from earlier this month. It came from a UK portfolio manager famous for not investing in banks.

New holdings that have resulted from this strategic shift include Lloyds Banking Group. I have often heard Neil say that banks should be viewed as warrants on economic growth. In a modern ‘fiat money’ system, banks play a pivotal role in the economy through the creation of credit. ( Woodford Funds).

Meanwhile if we remain with the UK some things have remained the same as this week saw yet more retrenchment and deleveraging.

Barclays  cut its stake in Barclays Africa Group  to 15 percent sooner than expected on Thursday, ending more than 90 years as a major presence in the continent. (Reuters)

There is something familiar here though as we look at the result of a bank going international.

it will lead to an initial 1.2 billion pound loss.

There is also much going on elsewhere including some familiar names.

Monte Paschi

The saga of the world’s oldest bank has gone as follows. It found itself with ever more non- performing loans which increasingly challenged the solvency of the bank itself. This was met with a barrage of denial and political rhetoric as Italy’s Finance Minister Padoan told us that there would be no bailout and a year or so ago Matteo Renzi who was Prime Minister declared that the shares were good value. After shareholders tired of putting ever more good money after the 8 billion Euros they had put in turned bad this happened last December. From Bloomberg.

Monte Paschi was forced to turn to Italy for aid after it failed to raise extra capital from investors in December. The European Central Bank said then it needed to secure 8.8 billion euros ($9.9 billion) to bolster its balance sheet. The government would contribute about 6.6 billion euros, according to a Bank of Italy calculation, with the rest covered by creditors.

As we have discussed before this looks something of a hybrid as there are both bailout and bail in elements to it. We also learnt never to take financial advice from Matteo Renzi. Another issue is the way that this has gone on and on and on, after all it is now June. The media yesterday proclaimed a solution had been found but the detail was weaker.

The deal, following “intensive” talks between Italy, the EU and the ECB, still requires formal approval.

Remember the miss selling scandal?

Monte Paschi will compensate retail junior bondholders who weren’t properly informed of the risk they were taking on that bonds might be converted to equity, according to the statement. The bank will buy the converted equity from those investors and pay them in “more secure senior instruments.”

That is what depositors were told – “secure” – when the existing bonds were miss sold to them! Also why would investors want to do this?

Monte Paschi is in discussions with funds including Credito Fondiario SpA and Fortress Investment Group LLC about investing in the riskiest tranches of the securitization, which is backed by loans with a face value of as much as 30 billion euros, people said last month. Atlante II, the private investment fund set up with the help of the state to invest in non-performing loans, is expected to buy the largest portion of the same tranches, they said.

Let us remind ourselves that in a bailout the taxpayer usually takes the riskiest debt, otherwise why is a bailout necessary? If I was an Italian taxpayer I would want to know what was going on here and also why I was backing a private fund like Atlante II?

The Veneto Banks

This saga seems to be something of a never-ending story.

the future of the Veneto banks is still uncertain. The 6.4 billion-euro precautionary recapitalization requested for the two small lenders were thrown into doubt last week after the commission rejected a request by the banks to reduce the 1 billion euros of private capital they’re required to raise, according to people with knowledge of the matter. ( Bloomberg).

Still I spotted this earlier and there are translation risks but Finance Minister Padoan does of course have a track record.

the problem of banks was exaggerated

Yet some seem to disagree with this. From Reuters.

“The effects of not solving the crisis at the two banks would not be smaller than those created by a default by Greece,” CEO Fabrizio Viola said in an interview with daily Corriere della Sera………Viola added that the effects should not be underestimated given that the two lenders have extended loans worth 30 billion euros, mainly in the industrial north eastern regions of the country, and “calling them back would create tremendous chaos”.

Usually we find people telling us that they are not Greece!

Banco Popular

This is a different type of situation as the Spanish economy has been doing well in recent times but Banco Popular has been unable to benefit enough from this to offset past troubles. From the Financial Times.

Popular, which earlier this month disclosed a €137m loss for the first quarter, linked to higher provisions on its real estate portfolio.

As ever pouring in more equity via rights issues has been unable to match the scale of the downturn.

Mr Lowe ( an analyst at Berenberg ) estimates the bank, which has a market capitalisation of €2.6bn and raised €2.5bn from shareholders in a rights issue last year, needs to raise €3bn-€5bn in additional capital, on top of asset sales. “If you were to raise €3bn, the market may still question the capital situation,” he said, adding that even in that case, the share count would more than quadruple, creating “huge dilution” for shareholders.

As we see shareholders being blitzed let me raise an issue which gets swept under the carpet. The official prospectus for a rights issue is supposed to be a true and fair record of the situation yet banks keep doing them and then heading south at full speed ahead. But no-one seems to go to jail for what must be misrepresentations. This is an international issue as for me the Royal Bank of Scotland rights issue of 2008 seems an example of this which could not be much clearer.

Bond Vigilantes have provided us with another example of the woes of Banco Popular.

Comment

This September marks the end of a type of lost decade for UK banks as it will be the anniversary of Northern Rock having to go cap in hand to the Bank of England. Who thought we would still be reviewing something of a mess this far down the road back then? However have one or two like Lloyds Bank finally seen the beginnings of a new hope? If so it will be because the UK did at least face up to some of the problems at the time. Sadly not all of them or we would be in a better economic place now.

However if we look at Italy we see an example of country that has used this lost decade to mostly stick its head in the sand and deny everything. So presumably it will take it much longer to even have a hope of a turn for the better.