Greece reaches a Euro area target or standard

Yesterday saw an announcement by the European Commission back on social media by a video of the Greek flag flying proudly.

The Commission has decided to recommend to the Council to close the Excessive Deficit Procedure (EDP) for Greece. This follows the substantial efforts in recent years made by the country to consolidate its public finances coupled with the progress made in the implementation of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) support programme for Greece.

It sounds good although of course the detail quickly becomes more problematic.

Greece has been subject to the corrective arm of the Stability and Growth Pact since 2009. The deadline to correct its excessive deficit was extended several times. It was last set in August 2015 to be corrected, at the latest, by 2017.

That reminds us that even before the “Shock and Awe” of spring 2010 Greece had hit economic trouble. It also reminds us that the Euro area has seen this whole issue through the lens of fiscal deficits in spite of calamitous consequences elsewhere in both the economy and the country. I also note that “the corrective arm” is a rather chilling phrase. Here is the size of the change.

The general government balance has improved from a deficit of 15.1% in 2009 to a surplus of 0.7% in 2016

Greeks may have a wry smile at who is left behind in the procedure as one is at the heart of the project, one has been growing strongly and one is looking for the exit door.

If the Council follows the Commission’s recommendation, only three Member States would remain under the corrective arm of the Stability and Growth Pact (France, Spain and the United Kingdom), down from 24 countries during the financial crisis in 2011.

Let us wish Greece better luck than when it left this procedure in 2007. Also let us note some very curious rhetoric from Commissioner Dombrovskis.

Our recommendation to close the Excessive Deficit Procedure for Greece is another positive signal of financial stability and economic recovery in the country. I invite Greece to build on its achievements and continue to strengthen confidence in its economy, which is important for Greece to prepare its return to the financial markets.

Another positive signal?

That rather ignores this situation which I pointed out on the 22nd of May.

The scale of this collapse retains the power to shock as the peak pre credit crunch quarterly economic output of 63.3 billion Euros ( 2010 prices) fell to 59 billion in 2010 which led to the Euro area stepping in. However rather than the promised boom with economic growth returning in 2012 and then continuing at 2%+ as forecast the economy collapsed in that year at an annual rate of between 8% and 10% and as of the opening of 2017 quarterly GDP was 45.8 billion Euros.

Achievements? To achieve the holy grail of a target of a fiscal deficit on 3% of GDP they collapsed the economy. They also claimed that the economy would return to growth in 2012 and in the case of Commissioner Moscovici have claimed it every year since.

A return to financial markets?

Whilst politically this may sound rather grand this has more than a few economic issues with it. Firstly there is the issue of the current stock of debt as highlighted by this from the European Stability Mechanism on Monday.

Holding over 51% of the Greek public
debt, we are by far Greece’s biggest creditor a long-term partner

I note that the only reply points out that a creditor is not a partner.

The ESM already disbursed €39.4 bn to and combining EFSF it adds up to € 181.2 bn.

That is of course a stock measure so let us look at flow.

I am happy to announce the ESM
has today effectively disbursed €7.7 bn to Greece

I am sure he is happy as he has a job for life whether Greek and Euro area taxpayers are happy is an entirely different matter especially as we note this.

Of this disbursement, €6.9 bn will be used for debt servicing and €0.8 bn for arrears clearance

Hardly investment in Greece is it? Also we are reminded of the first rule of ECB ( European Central Bank ) club that it must always be repaid as much of the money will be heading to it. This gives us a return to markets round-tripping saga.

You see the ESM repays the ECB so that Greece can issue bonds which it hopes the ECB will buy as part of its QE programme. Elvis sang about this many years ago.

Return to sender
Return to sender

There is also something worse as we recall this from the ESM.

the EFSF and ESM loans lead to substantially lower financing costs for the country.

Okay why?

That is because the two institutions can borrow cash much more cheaply than Greece itself, and offer a long period for repayment. Greece will not have to start repaying its loans to the ESM before 2034, for instance.

Indeed and according to a speech given by ESM President Regling on the 29th of June this saves Greece a lot of money.

We have disbursed €175 billion to Greece already. This saves the Greek budget €10 billion each year because of the low lending costs of the ESM. This amounts to 5.6 percent of GDP, and allows Greece the breathing space to return to fiscal responsibility, healthy economic developments and debt sustainability.

No wonder the most recent plans involved Greece aiming for a fairly permanent budget surplus of 3.5% of GDP. With the higher debt costs would that be enough. If we are generous and say Greece will be treated by the markets like Portugal and it gets admitted to the ECB QE programme then its ten-year yield will be say 3% much more than it pays now. Also debt will have a fixed maturity as opposed to the “extend and pretend” employed so far by the ESM.

What if Greece joining the ECB QE programme coincides with further “tapers” or an end to it?

If you wish to gloss over all that then there is this from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

http://www.ekathimerini.com/219950/opinion/ekathimerini/comment/time-for-greece-to-rejoin-global-markets

Is austerity really over?

There are issues with imposing austerity again so you can say it is now over. I looked at this on the 22nd of May.

The legislation contains more austerity measures, including pension cuts and a higher tax burden that will go into effect in 2019-20 to ensure a primary budget surplus, excluding debt servicing outlays, of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product.

It was noticeable that one of the tax rises was in the amount allowed to be earned before tax which will hit the poorest hardest. But according to Kathimerini yesterday the process continues.

The government is slashing state expenditure by 500 million euros for next year……..The purge will mainly concern health spending, while credit for salaries and pensions will be increased.

Comment

The background economic environment for Greece is as good as it has been for some time. Its Euro area colleagues are in a good phase for growth which should help exports and trade. According to Markit this is beginning to help its manufacturing sector.

Having endured a miserable start to 2017, the latest survey data is welcome news for Greek manufacturers as the headline PMI pointed to growth for the first time since August last year.

If we look for another hopeful signal it is from this as employment has been a leading indicator elsewhere.

The number of employed persons increased by 79,833 persons compared with April 2016 (a 2.2% rate of increase) and by 23,943 persons compared with March 2017 (a 0.6% rate of increase).

The catch is that in spite of the barrage of official rhetoric about reform that Greek economy has gone -1.1% and +0.4% in the last two quarters with the latter number being revised up from negative territory. But the worrying part is that elsewhere in the Euro area things are much better when Greece should be a coiled spring for economic growth. Let me give you an example from the building industry where it is good that the numbers are finally rising. But you see annual building was 80 million cubic meters in 2007 and 10 million yes 10 million in 2016. That is an economic depression and a half….

 

The UK sees falling house prices and production data

Today is one of the data days for the UK economy so let us get straight to one of the priorities of the Bank of England. From the Halifax.

House prices have flattened over the past three months. Overall, prices in the three months to June were marginally lower than in the preceding three months. The annual rate of growth has fallen, to 2.6%; the lowest rate since May 2013.

The timing is significant as the Funding for (Mortgage) Lending Scheme of the Bank of England began in the summer of 2013. This kicked off the rises in UK house prices we have seen. However Governor Carney’s morning espresso will have a taste analogous to corked wine as he notes these numbers and looks at the £75.5 billion of cheap funding he has given the banks since last August via the Term Funding Scheme. Can’t a central banker even bribe the banks to do things anymore?

There was in the report some grist to my mill if you recall that I warned that house prices looked like they would slip slide away in 2017.

House prices fell by 1.0% between May and June. This was the first monthly decline since January (1.1%)……House prices in the last three months (April-June) were 0.1% lower than in the previous three months (January March). This was the third successive quarterly fall; the first time this has happened since November 2012.

As you can see we are now looking back nearly five years to a different time when we had just emerged from worrying about a possible “triple dip” in the UK economy. However if we look for perspective the overall picture is as shown below.

Nationally, house prices in June 2017 were 9% above their August 2007 peak. The average house price of £218,390 is £63,727 (41%) higher than its low point of £154,663 in April 2009.

Of course this hides a large amount of regional variations as some places have struggled whilst London has soared. Also tucked away there was something rather unexpected unless the bank of mum and dad is at play.

The number of first-time buyers (FTBs) reached an estimated 162,704 in the first half of 2017, only 15% below the peak in 2006 (190,900), according to the latest Halifax First Time Buyer Review. The number of new buyers is up from 154,200 in the same period in 2016 and more than double the market low in the first half of 2009 (72,700).

The Real Economy

This morning has not been a good day for the underlying UK economy as we note the production figures.

In the 3 months to May 2017 compared with the 3 months to February 2017, the Index of Production was estimated to have decreased by 1.2%, due mainly to falls of 1.1% in manufacturing and 3.5% in energy supply.

As we have a wry smile one more time about the ( good in this instance) poor old weather taking the blame we see some poor figures. If we look at the month in isolation we continue to be disappointed.

In May 2017, total production was estimated to have decreased by 0.1% compared with April 2017, due to falls of 0.2% in manufacturing and 0.8% in energy supply; transport equipment provided the largest contribution to the manufacturing decrease, followed by food products, beverages and tobacco.

The bit that stands out there is the reference to transport equipment as that is consistent with other data showing a slowing in this area. Whilst engine production was up car production was down. Also these numbers fit very badly with the Markit PMI reading of 56.3 for May which indicated a good rate of growth as opposed to the fall reported by the official data.

Looking deeper I see that the wild and erratic ride of the pharmaceutical sector continues.

The decrease in manufacturing is due mainly to the highly volatile pharmaceutical industry, which fell by 7.8%, following a decrease of 12.0% in the 3 months to April 2017.

It rose by 1.1% in May and if we look at its pattern it should do better and help out in July so fingers crossed.

Trade

Here the news was much more normal although in this area that means bad.

Between April and May 2017, the total trade (goods and services) deficit widened to £3.1 billion, reflecting an increase in imports on the month (2.7%). The main contributor to this was an increase in imports of trade in goods….. There was a larger increase in goods imported from non-EU countries, mainly due to increases in mechanical machinery, followed by material manufactures (non-ferrous metals and silver) and oil.

If we look for some more perspective the same general pattern is to be seen.

Between the 3 months to February 2017 and the 3 months to May 2017, the total UK trade (goods and services) deficit widened from £6.9 billion to £8.9 billion.

A driver of this again appears to be a weaker phase for the UK automotive industry.

driven predominantly by increased imports of goods from non-EU countries; transport equipment (cars, aircraft and ships), oil and electrical machinery were the main contributors to this increase.

These numbers are of course just more in a decades long series of deficits. Also I note that the figures have yet to regain “national statistics” status so they are more unreliable than usual.

Some better news came on the inflation front as we had another data set which indicated that the inflationary pressure is easing.

Between April 2017 and May 2017, goods export and import prices decreased by 1% and 0.8% respectively……. the sterling price of crude oil decreasing by 6.2% in the 3 months to May 2017

Construction

The same beat was hammered out by these numbers today.

Construction output fell in May 2017 by 1.2%, in both the month-on-month and 3 month on 3 month time series…….The 3 month on 3 month decrease represents the largest 3 month on 3 month fall in output since September 2012, driven by falls in both repair and maintenance, and all new work.

This was particularly unexpected because for a start the warm weather which took some of the blame for the industrial production fall is usually a boost to construction. Also all the talk of higher infrastructure spending seems to have met a somewhat different reality.

most notably from infrastructure, which fell 4.0% following strong growth in April 2017.

Oh and yet again we have rather a mis-match with the business survey from Markit.

Comment

There were two bits of good economic news today. These were that the inflationary burst looks like it is fading and that house prices have stopped rising and may be falling. Of course the Bank of England will no doubt consider this as bad news. On the other side of the coin we are now in the phase where post the EU Leave vote the economic water was always likely to be colder and more choppy. We are in a phase where production and manufacturing are struggling with little sign that trade is providing much of a boost. Care is needed with the numbers as ever ( especially construction and trade) but our economy is now only grinding ahead and won’t be helped by this news from yesterday and the emphasis is mine.

Despite improvements in both GDP per head and NNDI per head, real household disposable income (RHDI) per head declined by 2.0% in Quarter 1 2017 compared with the same quarter a year ago

Please spare a thought for Bank of England Chief Economist Andy Haldane at this difficult time. For newer readers this “sage” pushed for a “Sledgehammer” expansion of policy when the economy was doing okay and has now switched to talking about rate rises as it slows fulfilling the policy making nightmare of being pro cyclical.

Some Friday Humour

I bring you this from the Wall Street Journal last night.

Japan shows Europe how to dial back stimulus without spooking investors

Only a few hours later Business Insider was reporting this.

the Bank of Japan (BoJ) went all-in earlier today, pledging to buy an unlimited amount of 10-year bonds at a yield

Up is the new down yet again.

British and Irish Lions

I hope that our Kiwi contingent will not be too offended if I wish the Lions all the best for their historic opportunity tomorrow. Victories in New Zealand are rarer than Hen’s teeth can they manage 2 in a row? Here’s wishing and hoping…….

 

Greece, how long can it keep going like this?

Today’s topic reminds me of the famous quote by Karl Marx.

History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.

Sadly Karl did not tell us what to do on the 4th,5th and 6th occasions of the same thing as I note the news from Reuters on Friday.

The legislation contains more austerity measures, including pension cuts and a higher tax burden that will go into effect in 2019-20 to ensure a primary budget surplus, excluding debt servicing outlays, of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product.

This sounds so so familiar doesn’t it which of course poses its own problem in the circumstances. This continues if we look at the detail.

The income tax exemption is reduced to 5,600-5,700 euros from 8,600 euros to generate revenues of about 1.9 billion euros. The lower threshold will mean an increased tax burden of about 650 euros for taxpayers.

Up to 18 percent cuts in main and supplementary pensions and freezing of benefits thereafter until 2022. The cuts will result in savings of 2.3 billion euros.

I do not know about you but if I was raising taxes in Greece I would not be raising them on the poorest as lowering the lower income tax threshold will hit them disproportionately. After all it was the very rich who helped precipitate this crisis by not paying tax not the poor. But the underlying principle’s are pretty much what we have seen since the spring of 2010 especially if we add in this part.

Sale of stakes in railways, Thessaloniki port, Athens International Airport, Hellenic Petroleum and real estate assets to generate targeted privatization revenue of 2.15 billion euros this year and 2.07 billion euros in 2018.

This reminds me of the original target which was for 50 billion Euros of revenue from privatisations by 2015. As you can see the objectives are much smaller now after all the failures in this area and of course these days assets in Greece have a much lower price due to the economic depression which has raged for the last 7 years. Back then for example the General Index at the Athens Stock Exchange was around 1500 as opposed to just below 800 now suggesting that this is yet another area where Greek finances are chasing their tail.

The same result?

Last week saw yet more sad economic news from Greece.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 1 st quarter of 2017 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 0.1% in comparison with the 4 th quarter of 2016, while it decreased by 0.5% in comparison with the 1 st quarter of 2016. ( Greece Statistics).

This meant that yet another recession had begun which will be a feature of the ongoing economic depression. Another feature of this era has been the official denials an example of which from the 8th of March is below.

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was confident that the times of recession were over and that “Greece has returned back to growth” as he told his cabinet ministers……..After seven years of recession, Greece has returned to positive growth rates he underlined.

He was not alone as European Commissioner Pierre Moscovici was regularly telling us that the Greek economy had recovered. This means that as we look at the period of austerity where such people have regularly trumpeted success the reality is that the Greek economy has collapsed. The scale of this collapse retains the power to shock as the peak pre credit crunch quarterly economic output of 63.3 billion Euros ( 2010 prices) fell to 59 billion in 2010 which led to the Euro area stepping in. However rather than the promised boom with economic growth returning in 2012 and then continuing at 2%+ as forecast the economy collapsed in that year at an annual rate of between 8% and 10% and as of the opening of 2017 quarterly GDP was 45.8 billion Euros.

What is astonishing is that even after all the mishaps of 2015 with the bank run and monetary crisis there has been no recovery so far. The downwards cycle of austerity, economic collapse and then more austerity continues in a type of Status Quo.

Again again again again, again again again again

The Time Problem

The problem here is simply how long this has gone on for added to the fact that things are still getting worse or at best holding station in economic output terms. This means that numbers like those below have become long-term issues.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in February 2017 was 23.2% compared to 23.9% in February 2016 and the downward revised 23.3% in January 2017.

It is nice to see a fall but falls at the rate of 0.9% per annum would mean the unemployment rate would still be around 20% at the end of the decade following the “rescue” programme which I sincerely hope is not the “shock and awe” that Christine Lagarde proclaimed back then. If we move to the individual level there must be a large group of people who now are completely out of touch with what it means to work. I see a sign of this in the 25-34 age group where unemployment was 30.4% in February compared to 29.3% in the same month in 2012. This looks like a consequence of the young unemployed ( rate still 47.9%) simply getting older. As the female unemployment rate is higher I dread to think what the situation is for young women.

Meanwhile tractor production continues its rise apparently according to the German Finance Minister.

Schaeuble: Reforms Agreed By Greece Are Remarkable, Goal Is To Get Greece Competitive, It Is Not There Yet ( @LiveSquawk )

It reminds me of last summer’s hit song “7 Years” but after all this time if we had seen reform things would be better. The fact is that there has been so little of it. Putting it another way the IMF ( International Monetary Fund) has completely failed in what used to be its objective which was helping with Balance of Payments crises. Even after all the economic pain described above the Bank of Greece has reported this today.

Mar C/A deficit at €1.32 bln from €772.4 mln last year, 3-month C/A deficit at €2.53 bln from €2.37 bln last year ( h/t Macropolis )

QE for Greece

This is being presented as a type of solution but there are more than a few issues here. Firstly the reform one discussed above as Greece does not qualify. But also there is little gain for a country where its debt is so substantially in official hands anyway and the bodies involved ( ESM, EFSF) let Greece borrow so cheaply for so long. In fact ever more cheaply and ever longer as each debt crunch arrives. It would likely end up paying more for its debt in a QE world where it issues on its own and the ECB buys it later! So it could be proclaimed as a political triumph but quickly turn into a financial disaster especially as the ECB is likely to continue to taper the programme.

Also people seem to have forgotten that the ECB did buy a lot of Greek debt but more recently has been offloading it to other Euro area bodies who have treated Greece better than it did. One set of possible winners is holders of Greek government bonds right now who have had a good 2017 as prices have risen and yields fallen and good luck to them. But the media which trumpets this seems to have forgotten the bigger picture here and that if the hedge funds sell these at large profits to the ECB then the taxpayer has provided them with profits one more time.

Comment

So we arrive at yet another Eurogroup meeting on Greece and its problems. It is rather familiar that the economy is shrinking and the debt has grown again to 326.5 billion Euros in the first quarter of this year. There will be the usual proclamations of help and assistance but at the next meeting things are invariably worse. Is there any hope?

Well there is this from Greek Reporter.

The size of Greece’s underground economy — where transactions take place out of the radar of tax authorities — is estimated to be about one quarter of the country’s official GDP, according to University of Macedonia Professor Vassilis Vlachos….. Among the main factors contributing to the shadow economy increase, according to Vlachos, is the citizens’ sense that the tax burden is not distributed fairly and that there is a poor return in term of public services, as well as inadequate tax inspections……Based on the findings of the survey, participation in the shadow economy is at 60 percent for the general population and rises to 71.6 percent among the unemployed.

If he is correct then this is of course yet another fail for the Troika/Institutions. As to the official data there are some flickers of hope such as the recent industry figures and retail sales so let us cross our fingers.

 

The Greek crisis continues on its road to nowhere

Yesterday on my way to looking at the UK Public Finances I pointed out that Greece had a national debt to GDP ratio of 179% at the end of 2016. This came with some cheerleading from the Institutions ( they used to be called the Troika until the name became so damaged) and some of the media about a budget primary surplus of 4.2% of GDP although if we put debt costs back in the surplus shrinks to 0.7%. You may recall that the PSI or Private-Sector Involvement of 2012 was supposed to bring the debt position under control but the ongoing economic depression blew that out of the water as the economy tanked and debt rose.

A consequence of this situation is that as we head to the heights of summer Greece will need yet more funding as it has debt repayments to make. Actually repayments is too strong a word as the debt will in fact be rolled from one Euro area institution to another. Bloomberg updates us on the issue.

The heavily indebted Mediterranean nation needs the next installment of about 7 billion euros ($7.6 billion) to repay lenders in a few months

It always turns out like this as this is a road we have been down more than once.

The IMF says two conditions must be met before it co-finances the country’s ongoing third bailout. First, Athens must agree to a set of credible reforms, particularly of its pension and tax systems. Second, the IMF insists that the euro area ease Greece’s debt burden.

This is all so familiar as we are always told there has been great success on reform yet somehow more is always needed! Also the debt burden needs easing yet again.

Debt relief

The problem here comes from the number below.

The latest figures show Greece’s debt stands at 179 percent of its gross domestic product, or about 315 billion euros….. Currently the country owes about 216 billion euros to the European Stability Mechanism, the euro-area bailout fund (and its predecessor), as well as to other euro-area countries.

At the beginning of the saga Greece faced high interest costs as the theme was as US Treasury Secretary Timmy Geithner pointed out was one of punishment. This only made things worse as the economy shrunk further so the PSI was enacted. The flaw was that the ever-growing amount of debt held by the Euro area and IMF was excluded from any write-down as we muse the first rule of ECB club which is that it must always be repaid. As this ballooned an alternative more implicit rather than explicit debt relief programme was put in place . From the ESM ( European Stability Mechanism).

Moreover, the EFSF and ESM loans lead to substantially lower financing costs for the country. That is because the two institutions can borrow cash much more cheaply than Greece itself, and offer a long period for repayment. Greece will not have to start repaying its loans to the ESM before 2034, for instance.

It calculates the savings for Greece as follows.

Thanks to the debt relief measures approved by the Eurogroup, the Greek government saved an equivalent of 49% of its 2013 GDP. This includes savings of 34% of GDP thanks to eased conditions on EFSF loans to Greece.

You may note that Greece is always “saving” money and yet the debt burden gets worse. A clue to that is the section on economic progress which trumpets the current account, fiscal deficit and something which apparently the IMF needs to be told.

Greece has made major progress in carrying out structural reforms – it is the best performing economy in terms of implementing OECD recommendations on structural reforms.

Somehow it misses out what now must be called the Great Economic Depression which has ravaged the Greek economy. Also is this one of the reforms?

The government is preparing to honor a pledge to offer permanent status to civil servants in key posts of the public sector, Kathimerini understands, with legislation boosting their rights expected to head to Parliament soon.

 

Also a board member showed the confusion with this sentence in a speech on the 6th of March.

As the Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem said, there is no immediate liquidity squeeze over the next months, but that does not mean that Greece does not need money.

Er?

The medicine

In spite of where we stand this remains the same as the FT points out.

Greece agreed this month to adopt measures that would improve its primary budget surplus – before paying debt servicing costs – by 2 per cent of gross domestic product.

It is a bit like the old-fashioned treatment of bleeding the patient where it was reported a success but sadly the patient died isn’t it? As usual the rhetoric is being revved up and last night Prime Minister Tsipras was doing exactly that although I note he has passed the responsibility for the changes to the next government.

The measures would be divided roughly equally between cuts in pensions due to be made in 2019 followed by a sharp reduction of the income tax threshold in 2020. But they could be implemented earlier if the budget surplus target veers off-track.

What is the economic outlook for Greece?

The background is favourable as the overall picture for the Euro area is good. However the business surveys do not seem to have picked this up. From the Markit PMI.

At 46.7 in March, down from 47.7 in February, the latest figure signalled a seventh successive deterioration in Greek manufacturing sector conditions. The rate of decline accelerated from the previous month, and was marked overall. Underlying the latest contraction was a sharp fall in new order intakes

There is a clear difference here with the official data which tells us this for January and February combined.

3.7% (rise) in the Manufacturing Production Index.

The official view is pretty much what it has been for the last five years.

Looking forward, the Bank of Greece expects GDP to grow by around 2.5% in 2017, although a downward revision of the December 2016 forecasts is likely due to the negative carry-over effect of the sharp decline in output in Q4 2016 (attributed mainly to the decline in gross fixed capital formation and government consumption). Downside risks to the economic outlook exist related to delays in the conclusion of the second review of the Programme, the impact of increased taxation on economic activity and reform implementation.

The situation regarding bank deposits in Greece is complex because the definition has changed however I note that the ECB gave Greece an extra 400 million Euros of Emergency Liquidity Assistance last month. So the money which left in 2015 has remained abroad. The latest bank lending survey of the Bank of Greece tells us this.

The demand for total loans remained also unchanged during the first quarter of 2017

Comment

This saga has been an economics version of Waiting for Godot. The price of Godot never arriving has been this.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in January 2017 was 23.5% compared to 24.3% in January 2016 and the upward revised 23.5% in December 2016…….

Yes it has fallen a bit but if we compare to the pre credit crunch low of 7.9% you get an idea of the scale of the issue. Also this now defines long-term unemployment especially for the young ( 15-24 ) where nearly half ( 48%) are unemployed.

As the band strikes up a familiar tune and we see claims of reform and progress I think this from Elvis is appropriate for Greece.

We’re caught in a trap
I can’t walk out
Because I love you too much baby

Why can’t you see
What you’re doing to me
When you don’t believe a word I say?

We can’t go on together
With suspicious minds
And we can’t build our dreams
On suspicious minds

 

 

It is always about the banks or in central banker speak “The Precious”

If we look back over the credit crunch era we were told that bailing out the banks would lead us into a better future. The truth nearly a decade later in some cases ( Northern Rock in the UK) is that we see a situation where central banks have enormous balance sheets and low interest-rates dominate with the Euro area and Japan in particular having negative interest-rates. That is most odd in the Euro area as of course we have been told only this morning by the Purchasing Managers indices that growth in France and Germany is strong. So something has changed and is not quite right and if we look we see signs of trouble in the banking industry even after all the bailouts and accommodative monetary policy.

Royal Bank of Scotland

This has turned out to be the doppelgänger of the concept of the gift which keeps on giving. Each year we have had promises of recovery at RBS from whoever is in charge and each year that fades to then be replaced by the same in a so far endless cycle.  Rather like Greece actually. Also the original promise of the UK taxpayer getting their money back seems further away than ever as the price of £2.40 is less than half of what was paid back then. Quite an achievement when we see so many stock markets close to all time highs.

As to the economic effect well claims of benefits have had to face a stream of bad news of which there was more yesterday. From the BBC.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost following a decision to close almost 160 RBS and NatWest branches.

RBS blamed a “dramatic shift” in banking, with branch transactions falling 43% since 2010.

In the same period, online and mobile transactions have increased by more than 400%.

Whilst online and mobile transactions have plainly surged it is also true that all bad news is claimed as somebody else’s fault. If you have a zombie bank wallowing on then you will of course be affected by change especially in this sort of timeframe.

RBS remains still majority-owned by taxpayers following its multi-billion government bailout almost a decade ago.

If we look back to the UK motor industry bailouts were stopped because the business model no longer applied yet that critique seems to have been forgotten. I note that after of course a fair bit of economic pain the motor industry is producing record figures.

Co-op Bank

I wrote about the latest problems of this bank on the 13th of February and this morning I note we have a sort of official denial of trouble in the Financial Times.

Co-Operative Bank says “a number” of suitors have come forward since it announced plans to fin a buyer in February.

This gives rather a different picture to this from Sky News on Tuesday.

Co-op Bank bonds have been trading at little more than 80p in the pound this week, underlining investors’ pessimism that a £400m repayment due in September will be made.

Talk is cheap but apparently those bonds are not cheap enough?! Easy money if you believe the hype especially at a time of low interest-rates and yields.

But you see I warned about this back in February.

The problem in my opinion is that when a bank has trouble the record is simply that so far we have never been told the full truth at the beginning.

And note this from Sky News.

One insider said the Bank of England had hosted a meeting last week at which the Co-op Bank’s problematic pension schemes had been discussed.

The losses of £477 million last year and the announced need for £750 million should there not be a sale are hardly good portents. Back in February I feared the Bank of England might find itself stepping in and that danger has increased in the meantime.

Portugal

My eyes were drawn to this yesterday from Patricia Kowsman of the Wall Street Journal.

Portugal state-owned bank raises EUR500M carrying hefty 10.75% interest. Says 49% of buyers asset managers, 41% hedge funds. Majority in UK.

In these times an interest-rate of 10.75% is extraordinary for a state-owned bank and compares to a ten-year bond yield for Portugal that has been around 4% for a while. Why might this be so?

Also on Wednesday, a group of major international investors that suffered losses on Novo Banco’s senior bonds issued a warning to the Portuguese authorities and indicated that an agreement to minimize those losses would be beneficial to the country. The group, led by BlackRock and PIMCO, said Portugal and Portuguese banks continue to pay the Bank of Portugal’s decision to transfer obligations from the New Bank to BES ‘bad’ at the end of 2015.( Economia)

So a past bailout has caused what Taylor Swift would call “trouble,trouble, trouble” and if we return to Patricia the record of Caixa Geral de Depósitos has been very poor.

Well, it’s a state-owned bank that had a EUR1.86B loss last year, big NPLs, in a country with a v weak banking system ( NPLs are Non Performing Loans)

We find ourselves in a situation where a past bailout ( BES) have made life more difficult for a current one and the Portuguese taxpayer ends up being held over a barrel especially after the European Commission declared this.

CGD will also take actions to further strengthen its capital position from private sources

This bit raised a wry smile.

the Commission analysed the injection of €2.5 billion of new equity into CGD by Portugal and found that it generates a sufficient return that a private investor would have accepted as well.

Can they see the future now? Shall we call it forward guidance…..

Italy

Speaking of forward guidance around this time last year Finance Minister Padoan was telling us that bailouts were not going to be required for Italy’s banks and Prime Minister Renzi was telling us what a good investment the shares of Monte Paschi were. Anyway if we move to this Wednesday Reuters were reporting this.

Italy’s plans to bail out two regional banks pose a tough dilemma to European regulators, who are still considering whether Monte dei Paschi qualifies for state aid, three months after giving a preliminary green light.

Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca said

If they hang on long enough with Monte dei Paschi maybe something will turn up. Oh and there is Unicredit the largest bank which I called a zombie on Sky News about five years ago. It is issuing another 13 billion Euros of shares which further dilutes shareholders who of course have had to dig deep into their pockets before. Also there were plenty of rumours that it was a big recipient from the ECB TLTRO ( cheap money for banks) this week. Looking more generally Frederik Ducrozet of  Bank Pictet thought this.

Extrapolating from the share of each country in previous operations, Italy and Spain would account for at least 60% of total TLTROs holdings.

Greece

The official mantra has been along the lines of D-Ream’s “Things can only get better” and yet this happened this week. From the Bank of Greece.

On 22 March 2017 the Governing Council of the ECB did not object to an ELA-ceiling for Greek banks of €46.6 billion, up to and including Wednesday, 5 April 2017, following a request by the Bank of Greece.

The increase of €0.4 billion in the ceiling reflects developments in the liquidity situation of Greek banks, taking into account private sector deposits flows.

In a situation where we keep being told the Greek economy is improving?

Comment

This is like an economic version of the never-ending story. Proclamations of success and triumph are followed by “move along please, nothing to see here” and then well you know! In addition to the bailouts there are other schemes to help the banks. For example the cheap loans offered by the Bank of England under its Term Funding Scheme have now reached some £47.25 billion. If we move to Europe I note that Bank Pictet think this.

In aggregate, the maximum subsidy from those long-term loans at a negative rate is EUR3bn on an annual basis, compared with a total cost of the ECB’s negative deposit rate of around EUR5.5bn (a number that will grow to over EUR8bn as QE continues).

As you can see some of it is hidden or to be more precise not generally known. The biggest critique is simply the “lost decade” for the banking sector we seem trapped in and we learnt explicitly from the chief economist of the Bank of England earlier this week that different rules apply to his “Precious”. From Chris Giles of the Financial Times.

why does the chief econ of BoE think banks accounting for a third of the productivity puzzle is peanuts?

When people look away though banks seem to return to type.

Credit Suisse Group AG increased its bonus pool 6 percent…….The bank is increasing its bonus pool for the first time since 2013 in spite of a second consecutive annual loss.

 

Reuters

After posting this I note that a long post from Reuters has a different perspective to mine.

Banks used to have a cosy relationship with Britain’s government. Now they say they are struggling to be heard as the country prepares to leave the EU…….

 

Or perhaps not albeit from a different corner.

Senior bankers expected special treatment from the government after Britain voted to leave the EU. They expected ministers to champion their cause, above other industries,

 

 

The claims of Grecovery turned into a continuing economic depression for Greece

Today has started with something that has become all to familiar over the past 7 or so years. From Kathimerini.

Greek farmers protesting against bailout-related income cuts are clashing with riot police outside the agriculture ministry in central Athens.

Police fired tear gas to prevent farmers from forcing their way into the ministry building, while protesters responded by throwing stones.

This is of course the human side of the austerity regime which has been applied to Greece again and again and again.

Protesters are angry at increases in their tax and social security contributions, part of the income and spending cuts Greece’s left-led government has implemented to meet bailout creditor-demanded budget targets.

Yet sadly there is also a theme where some as in those at the higher echelons of society are more equal than others. From Keep Talking Greece.

Greece’s ministers, lawmakers, mayors and other high-ranking public officials are able to enjoy generous tax reductions reaching up to 2,000 euros per year.

Even worse this was tucked away in a 2016 bill which did this.

The provision was included in the law to decrease or even cut the poverty allowance to thousands of low-pensioners.

Many of the problems could have been avoided if Greece had found a way to tax the wealthy. Yet they seem to continue on their not very merry way.

It appears that the former head of gas grid operator DESFA, Sotiris Nikas, granted himself a promotion that boosted his retirement lump sum by 100,000 euros to 258,000 euros, ( Kathimerini)

What about economic growth?

There was a familiar pattern to those who have followed the Greek economic depression as  From Keep Talking Greece.

Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was confident that the times of recession were over and that “Greece has returned back to growth” as he told his cabinet ministers……..After seven years of recession, Greece has returned to positive growth rates he underlined.

Reality was not a friend to Mr. Tsipras as soon after the Greek statistics office released this.

The available seasonally adjusted data1 indicate that in the 4th quarter of 2016 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms decreased by 1.2% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2016, against the decrease of 0.4% that was announced for the flash estimate

Which meant this.

In comparison with the 4th quarter of 2015, it decreased by 1.1% against the increase of 0.3% that was announced for the flash estimate of the 4th quarter.

If we look at the pattern then it has turned out to be what economists call an “L” shaped recovery or in fact no recovery at all. What I mean by this is that the Greek economy as measured by GDP (2010 prices) peaked at 63.3 billion Euros as the output for the second quarter of 2007 and then fell to  46 billion Euros per quarter as 2013 started and is still there. Remember all those who proclaimed that so-called “Grecovery” was just around the corner? Well it was a straight road and in fact had a gentle decline as the latest quarter had a GDP of 45.8 billion Euros. Thus the Greek economic depression over the last decade has involved a contraction of economic output of 28%.

If you prefer that in chart form here it is.

Yet the Institutions as the Troika are now called stick their collective heads in the sand.From Amna on the 7th of February.

The recent IMF report saying that Greece’s debt load is unsustainable was “unnecessarily pessimistic,” Eurogroup President Jeroen Dijsselbloem said on Tuesday.

The banks

Where an economy is really in trouble then we can find a banking system which has had a type of heart attack and the Greek banking system did as Kathimerini points out.

the huge pool of NPLs ( Non Performing Loans) in Greece that now add up to 107 billion euros after their increase by 1.5 billion in the first couple of months of 2017.

As to the deposits in the banks they have yet to regain the losses of 2015. Care is needed about the many claims that bank deposits have plunged again as the numbers has seen some ch-ch-changes with the order of 6 billion Euros removed. Any way the recent peak at 179.1 billion Euros for domestic residents the the summer of 2014 compares with 130..9 billion Euros in January.

The main growth industry for Greek banks seems to be this.

Eurobank Financial Planning Services (FPS), is the second bad-loan management firm to obtain a license from the Greek authorities to operate in the local market. It follows the permit issued to Cepal, a joint venture by Alpha Bank and Aktua.

On my way to looking at past house prices I found the Bank of Greece 2008 Interim Report which told us this.

the Greek banking system remains fundamentally sound, safe and stable.

Oh and this.

In the euro area, the situation is less worrying than in the United States as far as financial stability is concerned; however, risks of a deterioration do exist.

House prices

It was only yesterday I was looking at the central role of house prices in the UK economy but in spite of a barrage of measures the ECB ( European Central Bank) has failed to influence them much at all.

According to data collected from credit institutions, nominal apartment prices are estimated to have declined marginally on average by 0.6% year-on-year in the fourth quarter of 2016, whilst in 2016 as a whole apartment prices fell on average by 2.2%, compared with an average drop of 5.1% in 2015. ( Bank of Greece )

Ironically that is the sort of medicine which would benefit the UK but for Greece there has been another feature of the economic depression where “apartment prices” have fallen by 40% since 2007.

The shadow economy

The shadow or unrecorded economy has seen a few name changes in recent times but I have been trying to find out more about it in Greece since the crisis began. Yesterday there was a flash of light from Bloomberg.

When Maria’s employer, a large communications company in Athens, gave her additional tasks at one of its new units, it told her she wouldn’t be paid for the work in euros.

“I was informed that this extra payment of 150 euros per month would be in coupons that I can use in supermarkets,” said the 45-year-old, declining to provide her last name for fear of losing her job.

So as the austerity grip tightens more slips through the net.

Payments in kind are among practices companies are using in Greece as they seek to cap payroll costs, undermining efforts to balance the books of the country’s cash-strapped social security system………By some estimates, the so-called black market already accounts for as much as a quarter of Greece’s economy.

What we would like to know is how much the size of the shadow economy has grown. The fact that it has grown seems beyond doubt but how much?

Comment

As the Greek economic depression heads towards the decade mark where even “lost decade” simply does not cut it there have been many themes. A sad one I found in the 2008 Bank of Greece report which told us about structural reform, yes the same structural reform that is still being promised now.

Some time ago I wrote about the “Roads To Nowhere” in Portugal which were empty because of the high tolls charged. Well here is a view on Greece.

It’s often cheaper to fly to Berlin than pay the road tolls for a small car from Thessaloniki (Greece’s 2nd city) to Athens…….The insanely priced and ever growing road toll network in Greece is a major drag on economic development.Roads too expensive for many to use (h/t @teacherdude )

International Women’s Day

Let me mark this with the exchange between Sarah Jane of Sky News and Lord Heseltine.

Lord Heseltine: ‘She’s got a man-sized job to do’ : ‘It’s a woman-size job now’ ( about Prime Minster Theresa May)

This led to some humour from Charlie Reynolds

If I was Michael Heseltine’s mother’s dog I’d watch my step today

 

 

 

 

Greece is drowning under all the debt its “rescue” brought

After looking at the recent economic success of Spain on Friday, which was confirmed this morning by the official data showing 3.2% GDP growth in 2016 it is time to look at the other side of the Euro area coin. This is a situation that continues to be described by one of the songs of Elton John.

It’s sad, so sad
It’s a sad, sad situation
And it’s getting more and more absurd
It’s sad, so sad
Why can’t we talk it over
Oh it seems to me
That sorry seems to be the hardest word

This is the situation facing Greece which is on its way back into the news headlines after of course another sequence of headlines proclaiming a combination of triumph and improvement. What is triggering this is some new analysis from the IMF or International Monetary fund and it is all about the debt burden. It is hard not to have a wry smile at this as the IMF has been telling us the burden is sustainable for quite some time in spite of it obviously not being so as I have regularly pointed out in here.

The IMF analysis

The Financial Times has summarised it like this.

Greece faces what is likely to be an “explosive” surge in its public debt levels that within decades will mean it will owe almost three times the country’s annual economic output unless given significant debt relief, the International Monetary Fund has warned in a confidential report.

Not that confidential then! Or perhaps conforming to the definition of it in Yes Prime Minister. Worrying after some better news in relative terms from the World Economic Forum suggesting that Greece was a lot further down the list of national debt per person (capita) than you might think. Japan of course was at the head at US $85.7k per person and intriguingly Ireland second at US $67.1k per person but Greece was a fair way down the list at US $32.1k each. Of course it’s problem is relative to the size of its economic output or GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

If we look at the detail of the IMF report it speaks for itself.

The fund calculated that Greece’s debt load would reach 170 per cent of gross domestic product by 2020 and 164 per cent by 2022, “but become explosive thereafter” and grow to 275 per cent of GDP by 2060.

If we switch to Kathimerini we find out the driving force of the deterioration in the debt sustainability analysis.

Greece’s gross financing needs are estimated at less than 20 percent of GDP until 2031 but after that they skyrocket to 33 percent in 2040 and then to 62 percent by 2060.

If we step back for some perspective here we see confirmation of one of my main themes on Greece. This has been that the debt relief measures have made the interest burden lighter but have done nothing about the capital debt burden which has in fact increased in spite of the PSI private-sector debt reprofiling. We can bring in that poor battered can now because the Euro area and the IMF thought they had kicked it far enough into the future not to matter whereas the IMF is now having second thoughts. In short it has looked at the future and decided that it looks none too bright.

The crux of the matter is the amount of the austerity burden that Greece can bear going forwards. Back in May 2016 the IMF expressed its concerns of future economic growth.

Against this background, staff has lowered its long-term growth assumption to 1¼ percent, even as over the medium-term growth is expected to rebound more strongly as the output gap closes.

That will do nothing for the debt burden and will have been entwined with the extraordinary amount of austerity required under the current plans.

This suggests that it is unrealistic to assume that Greece can undertake the additional adjustment of 4½ percent of GDP needed to base the DSA on a primary surplus of 3½ percent of GDP.

As an alternative the IMF suggested something of a relaxation presumably in the hope that Greece could then sustain a higher economic growth rate.

The Euro area view

This was represented last week by Klaus Regling of the European Stability Mechanism or ESM.

I think it’s really important for Greece because it will reduce interest rate risk and improve Greek debt sustainability.

What was that Klaus?

we are dealing here with a bond exchange, where floating rate notes disbursed by the ESM and EFSF to Greece for bank recapitalisation will be exchanged for fixed coupon notes. There are measures related to swap arrangements that will reduce the risk that Greece will have to pay a higher interest rate on its loans when market rates go up………In addition, the EFSF waived the step-up interest rate margin for the year 2017 on a particular loan tranche. A margin of 2% had originally been foreseen, to be paid from 2017 on.

As you can see each time Greece is supposed to pay more they discover it cannot and we need more “short-term” measures which according to Klaus will achieve this.

All this will go a long way in easing the debt burden for Greece over time, according to our debt sustainability analysis. It could lead to a cumulative reduction of the Greek debt to GDP ratio of around 20 percentage points over the time horizon until 2060.

It does not seem a lot when you look at the IMF numbers does it. Also Euro area ministers repeated something which they have said pretty much every year of the crisis, from the FT.

Mr Dijsselbloem, who is also the Dutch finance minister, said that Greece was recovering faster than anyone expected.

Really? What was that about fake news again?

Retail Sales

We can learn a lot from these numbers and let us start with some badly needed good news.

The overall volume index in retail trade (i.e. turnover in retail trade at constant prices) in November 2016, recorded an increase of 3.6%.

Although sadly some of the gloss fades when we note this.

The seasonally adjusted overall volume index in November 2016 compared with the corresponding index  of October 2016 recorded a decrease of 0.2%.

So overall a welcome year on year rise and the strongest category was books and stationery. However perspective is provided if we look at the index which is at 69.7 where 2010 was 100. As that sinks in you get a true idea of the economic depression that has raged in Greece over the period of the “rescue” and the “bailout”. Most chilling of all is that the food beverages and tobacco index is at 55.6 on the same basis leaving us with the thin hope that the Greeks have given up smoking and fizzy drinks.

Also it is far from reassuring to see the European Commission release consumer confidence data for Greece indicating a fall of 3.4 to 67.8.

Comment

There is much to consider here but we find ourselves looking back to the Private-Sector Initiative or debt relief of 2012. I stated back then that the official bodies such as the ECB and IMF needed to be involved as well because they owned so much of the debt. It did not happen because the ECB said “over my dead body” and as shown below what were then called the Troika but are now called the Institutions pursued a course of fake news.

Thanks to Michael Kosmides of CNN Greece who sent me that chart. As we note the fake news let me give you another warning which is that Greece these days depends on its official creditors so news like this from Bloomberg last week is much less relevant than it once was.

The yield on Greece’s two-year bonds surged 58 basis points to 7.47 percent, while those on benchmark 10-year bonds rose 22 basis points to 7.13 percent as of 2:41 p.m in London.

The real issue is that Greece desperately needs economic growth and lots of it. As I pointed out on December 16th.

Compared to when she ( Christine Lagarde of the IMF) and her colleagues were already boasting about future success, the Greek economy has shrunk by 19%, which means that the total credit crunch contraction became 26%