The economic consequences of a falling Turkish Lira

Over the past few days we have seen the expected height of summer lull punctured by events in Turkey. This morning there has been a signal that this has become a wider crisis as our measure of this the Japanese Yen has rallied to 110.2 versus the US Dollar. It has pushed the Euro down 1.2 to 125.3 Yen as well. That sets the tone for equity markets as well via its inverse relationship with the Nikkei 225 equity index which was done 414 points at 21884. Another more domestic sign is the search for scapegoats or as they are called these days financial terrorists.

*TURKEY STARTS PROBE ON 346 SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS ON LIRA: AA ( @Sunchartist )

The most amusing response to this I have seen is that they should start with @realdonaldtrump.

What has happened?

Essentially the dam broke on the exchange rate on Friday. In the early hours it was trading at 5.6 versus the US Dollar then as Paul Simon would put it the Lira began “slip sliding away” . Then the man who may well now be financial terrorist number one put the boot in showing that he will to coin a phrase kick a man when he is down.

I have just authorized a doubling of Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum with respect to Turkey as their currency, the Turkish Lira, slides rapidly downward against our very strong Dollar! Aluminum will now be 20% and Steel 50%. Our relations with Turkey are not good at this time!

It was time to finish with Paul Simon and replace him with “trouble,trouble,trouble” by Taylor Swift as the already weak Turkish Lira plunged into the high sixes versus the US Dollar. As ever there is doubt as to the exact bottom but it closed just below 6.5 so in a broad sweep we are looking at a 16% fall on the day. Last night in the thin Pacific markets it quickly went above 7 and if my chart if any guide ( 7.2 was reported at the time) the drop went to 7.13. So another sign of a currency crisis is ticked off as we note the doubt over various levels but if course the trend was very clear.

The official response

There were various speeches whilst mostly seemed to be calling for divine intervention. This seemed to remind people even more of a company which of course famously claimed to be doing God’s work.

The particular target of 7.1 had seemed so far away when it was pointed out but suddenly it was near on Friday and exceeded overnight. As ever when there are challenges to the “precious” there is an immediate response from the authorities.

To support effective functioning of financial markets and flexibility of the banks in their liquidity management;

  • Turkish lira reserve requirement ratios have been reduced by 250 basis points for all maturity brackets.
  • Reserve requirement ratios for non-core FX liabilities have been reduced by 400 basis points.
  • The maximum average maintenance facility for FX liabilities has been raised to 8 percent.
  • In addition to US dollars, euro can be used for the maintenance against Turkish lira reserves under the reserve options mechanism.

That was from the central bank or CBRT which estimated the benefit as being this.

With this revision, approximately 10 billion TL, 6 billion US dollars, and 3 billion US dollars equivalent of gold liquidity will be provided to the financial system.

I guess it felt it had to start with the Turkish Lira element but these days that is the smaller part. This also adds to the action last Monday which added some 2.2 billion US Dollars of liquidity. So more today and an explicit mention of a Turkish Lira element.

There was also a press release on financial markets which did at one point more explicitly touch on the foreign exchange market.

3) Collateral FX deposit limits for Turkish lira transactions of banks have been raised to 20 billion euros from 7,2 billion euros.

This did help for a while as the Turkish Lira went back to Friday’s close but it has not lasted as it is 6.83 versus the US Dollar as I type this.

Why does this matter?

Turkey

The ordinary person is already being hit by the past currency falls and now will see inflation head even higher than the 15.85% reported in July.  There was some extra on the way as the producer price index rose to 25% but of course that is behind the times now. The author Louis Fishman who writes about Turkey crunched some numbers.

For many of middle class, a good wage for last 3-4 years has been around 6000-7000 Turkish Lira a month. It has unfortunately decreased in the dollar rate but was still sustainable. This is no longer true. Someone who made 6500 TL in January 2015 made 2,826$ a month. Now: 1,014$.

For a while there will be two situations as foreign goods get much more expensive and domestic ones may not. But as we have noted with the inflation data over time domestic prices rise too.

We have note before the foreign currency borrowing in Turkey which will be feeling like a noose around the neck of some companies right now. From the 13th of July/

Since 2003 $95bn has been invested into the country’s energy sector, of which $51bn remains to be paid. This figure represents 15% of the $340bn owed by non-financial companies in overseas liabilities, according to data from the nation’s central bank. ( Power Technology)

So there will be increasing foreign currency stresses as well as bank stresses in the system right now. The financial chain will be under a lot of strain as we wait to see what turns out to be the weakest link. So far today bank share prices have fallen by around 10% and of course that is in Turkish Lira.

Internationally

As ever we start with the banks where in terms of scale the situation is led by the Spanish and then the French banks with BBVA and BNP being singled out. Italy is under pressure too via Unicredit but this is more that it had troubles in the first place rather than being at the top of the list. There is some UK risk but so far the accident prone RBS does not seem to have been especially involved in this particular accident.

Wider still we have seen currency moves with the US Dollar higher but the peak so far seems to be the South African Rand which has fallen over 3% at one point today adding to past falls. Of course again there is a chain here around various financial markets as we wait to see if anything breaks.

Comment

These situations require some perspective as it is easy to get too caught up in the melee. So let us go back to the 8th of June 2015 where we looked at this.

Turkey’s lira weakened to an all-time low……..The currency tumbled as much as 5.2 percent…….The lira dropped the most since October 2008 on a closing basis to 2.8096 per dollar……..The Borsa Istanbul 100 Index sank 8.2 percent at the open of trading.

Familiar themes although of course the levels were very different. Were there signs of “trouble,trouble,trouble”?

So we have an economy which has chosen economic growth as its policy aim and it has ignored inflation and trade issues.

Since then Turkey has seen sustained inflation and trade problems leading us to the source of where we are now. I see more than a few blaming the tightening of US monetary policy and what is called QT as drivers here but I think they are tactical additions on a strategic trend which is better illustrated by this from the 13th of July.

Turkey’s annual current account deficit in 2017 was around $47.3 billion, compared to the previous year’s figure of $33.1 billion.

As ever if you get ahead of the rush you can feel good as these from the 3rd of May highlight from Lionel Barber.

Good market spot: Turks are buying gold to hedge against booming inflation and a falling currency

Which got this reply from Henry Pryor.

Anecdotally central London agents tell me they are seeing an increase in Turkish buyers this year…

Or if you do not want to bother with the analysis just take note of the establishment view.

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim from October 2013.

Turkey’s economic achievements are an inspiration for many other developing countries

 

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Will we always be second fiddle to the banks?

The situation regarding the banks is one that has dominated the credit crunch era as we started with some spectacular failures combined with spectacular bailouts. Yet even a decade or so later we are still in a spider’s web that if we look at say Deutsche Bank or many of the Italian banks still looks like a trap. Economic life has been twisted to suit the banks such that these days a new Coolio would be likely to replace gangsta with bankster.

Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta’s paradise
Keep spending most our lives, living in the gangsta’s paradise

Power and the money, money and the power
Minute after minute, hour after hour

Although upon reflection with all the financial crime that the banks have intermediated perhaps he was right all along with Gangsta. This morning has brought more news on this front as we note this from Sky News about HSBC.

HSBC has agreed to pay $765m (£588m) to the US Department of Justice (DoJ) to settle a probe into the sale of mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis.

It is the latest bank to settle claims of mis-selling toxic debt before the financial crisis.

HSBC has paid a lot less than the  Royal Bank of Scotlandwhich agreed to pay $4.9bn in May and Barclays’ $2bn settlement with the DoJ in March.

This is just one example of the many criminal episodes emanating from the banks and if we stay with HSBC there was also this reported by The New Yorker.

 In 2012, a U.S. Senate investigation concluded that H.S.B.C. had worked with rogue regimes, terrorist financiers, and narco-traffickers. The bank eventually acknowledged having laundered more than eight hundred million dollars in drug proceeds for Mexican and Colombian cartels. Carl Levin, of Michigan, who chaired the Senate investigation, said that H.S.B.C. had a “pervasively polluted” culture that placed profit ahead of due diligence. In December, 2012, H.S.B.C. avoided criminal charges by agreeing to pay a $1.9-billion penalty.

The tale of what happened next is also familiar.

The company’s C.E.O., Stuart Gulliver, said that he was “profoundly sorry” for the bank’s transgressions. No executives faced penalties.

Yet in spite of all the evidence of tax evasion and money laundering in the banking sector the establishment bring forwards people like Kenneth Rogoff to try to deflect the blame elsewhere. First blame cash.

Of course, as I note in my recent book on past, present, and future currencies, governments that issue large-denomination bills also risk aiding tax evasion and crime. ( The Guardian )

Then should anything look like being some sort of competition raise fears about it too.

But it is an entirely different matter for governments to allow large-scale anonymous payments, which would make it extremely difficult to collect taxes or counter criminal activity.

Does he mean like the banks do?

Competition seems to get blocked

This morning has seen this reported by the Financial Times.

Britain’s peer-to-peer lending industry fears being stripped of one of its key advantages after the UK regulator proposed to block the access of many retail investors, alarming some senior executives in the nascent sector. “This is a moment,” said Rhydian Lewis, chief executive of RateSetter, one of the UK’s biggest peer-to-peer lending platforms. “They are looking to restrict this new industry and it is wrong. This is how things get stymied.”

Still in some ways it is a relief to see the Financial Conduct Authority or FCA actually have some powers as after all it was only last week they were telling us they were short of them.

Given the serious concerns that were identified in the independent review it was only right that we launched a comprehensive and forensic investigation to see if there was any action that could be taken against senior management or RBS. It is important to recognise that the business of GRG was largely unregulated and the FCA’s powers to take action in such circumstances, even where the mistreatment of customers has been identified and accepted, are very limited.

It is important to recall that this was a very serious business involving miss selling and then quite a cover up which the ordinary person would regard as at the upper end of serious crime. Businesses were heavily affected and some were forced into bankruptcy. Yet apparently there were no powers to do anything about what is one of the largest financial scandals of this era in the UK. It is hard not to mull on the fact that a few years ago the FCA was able to ban someone for life from working in the City of London because of evading rail fares.

However if you are a competitor to the banking sector you find that inquiries and regulation do apply to you. However what was the selling of derivative style products to small businesses somehow escapes the net.

It is not the banks fault

A very familiar theme has been played out since the Bank of England announced a rise in UK interest-rates at midday on Thursday. The reality is that many mortgage rate rises were announced immediately but as social media was quick to point out there was something of a shortage of increases in savings rates. Here is one way this was reported by the BBC over the weekend.

Millions of people could get a better return on savings by switching deals rather than waiting for banks to increase rates, experts say.

A huge number of savers leave money languishing in old accounts with poor rates of interest, often with the same provider as their current account.

The City regulator says they are missing out on up to £480m in interest.

So it’s our own fault and we need to sharpen up! As us amateurs limber up the professionals seem to be playing a sort of get out of jail free card that in spite of being well-thumbed still works.

Following the previous Bank rate rise in March, interest paid on half of all savings accounts failed to rise at all. Of those that did, the average rise did not match the Bank of England’s increase.Since Thursday’s rise there has been very little movement in rates,………..

Oh and March seems to be the new November at least at the BBC.

We also got a hint as to why the environment might be getting tougher for peer-to-peer lenders.

Bank of England governor Mark Carney suggests new entrants are increasing competition, creating better deals.

Comment

There is quite a bit to consider here as we look around UK banking. Looking at RBS there is the problem that the UK is invested at much higher levels. The 251 pence of this morning is around half the level that the UK government paid back in the day. Perhaps that explains at least some of the lack of enthusiasm for prosecuting it for past misdemeanours. Especially as the sale of 7.7% of its shares back in June illustrated a wish to get it off the books of the UK public-sector which still holds around 62%.

I note over the weekend the social media output of HSBC finds itself under fire reminding us of an ongoing issue..

Planning your next trip? Get cash before you go, to make the most of your holiday time.

The response is from Paul Lewis who presents Radio 4’s MoneyBox.

Dreadful advice. (a) HSBC rates not great (b) using a HSBC card abroad is subject to a hefty surcharge but using a Halifax Clarity card is not. This is why never go to a bank for advice it’ll only give you sales.

The old sales/advice issue rears its ugly head again as we note that the advice will of course be rather good for the profits of HSBC.

Moving onto the FCA and the Bank of England it is hard to see a clearer case of regulatory capture or as Juvenal put it so aptly back in the day.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Or who regulates the regulators?

 

 

Can the Portuguese economy rely on the Lisbon house price boom?

It is time to head south again and touch base with what is happening in sunny Portugal. In the short-term the UK weather may be competitive but of course in general Portugal wins hands down which is why so many holidaymakers do their bit and indeed best for retail sales and the tourism industry over there. No doubt they helped cushion things when the economy was hit by the double whammy of the credit crunch followed by the Euro area crisis but now the Bank of Portugal was able to report his in its May Bulletin.

In 2017 GDP grew by 2.7%, in real terms, after increasing by 1.6% in the previous year.

This is significant on several levels. The most basic is that growth is happening. Next comes the fact that for Portugal this is a performance quite a bit above par. This is because as regular readers will be aware the background is of an economy that has struggled to maintain economic growth above 1% per annum. It is also means that the statement below has been rather rare.

In Portugal, GDP growth stood close to the
euro area average.

Accordingly the nuance is a type of statement of triumph as not only has Portugal seen absolute economic problems it has been in relative decline. Tucked away in the detail was good news for issues which have plagued the Portuguese economy.

The factors behind the acceleration of the Portuguese economy in 2017 were exports and
investment. This composition of growth is particularly important in correcting a number of
structural problems persisting in the Portuguese economy. The strong performance of Portuguese
exports mostly resulted from a recovery in the pace of growth of external demand for Portuguese
goods and services, in particular from euro area partners.

So the “Euroboom” helped and one part of the story allows the central bank to do a bit of cheerleading.

These developments have a structural dimension, including the closure of firms which are more oriented towards the domestic market and the establishment
and expansion of new firms that export higher value-added goods and are oriented towards more diversified geographical markets than in the past.

However us Brits may well have done our bit for something which is also going well.

In 2017 the market share gain of Portuguese exports was also associated with extraordinary growth in tourism exports. The dynamism observed in the tourism sector in Portugal exceeds that of a number of competing
countries, namely the other countries in Southern Europe.

This issue matters because Portugal has in recent decades been something of a serial offender in terms of finding itself in the hands of the IMF ( International Monetary Fund). A familiar tale of austerity and cut backs then follows which is one of the causes of its economic malaise. The May Bulletin implicitly confirms this.

Bringing the GDP per worker in Portugal closer to the average of European Union (EU) countries is a particularly important challenge for the Portuguese economy.

Indeed and tucked away in the better news on investment is something of a warning.

Construction benefited from favourable financing conditions, an increase in demand from
non-residents and strong growth in tourism and related real estate activities……….This is particularly relevant for an economy such as Portugal, where housing has
a very high share of the capital stock and the level of capital per worker is low compared with
the other European countries.

This brings us to the background of Portugal being a low wage, low productivity and low growth economy. An issue is this way it leads this European league table.

In 2015, Portugal was the country with the largest weight of construction in the stock of fixed
assets, with 91.7% (41.5% associated with dwellings and 50.2% associated with other buildings
and structures)

Unemployment

The better economic situation has led to welcome developments in this area as you might expect. From Portugal Statistics on Friday.

The April 2018 unemployment rate was 7.2%, down 0.3 percentage points (p.p.) from the previous month’s level,
0.7 p.p. from three months before and 2.3 p.p. from the same month of 2017.

This area has been a particular positive as the unemployment rate has gone from a Euro area laggard to one improving the overall average. Whilst in Anglo-saxon and Germanic terms it still looks high for Portugal it is an achievement.

only going back to November 2002 it is
possible to find a rate lower than that.

On a deeper level we learn something from the employment trends. For newer readers in the credit crunch era rises in employment have become a leading indicator for an economy. Looked at like this then there was a change in the summer of 2013 and since then an extra half a million or so Portuguese have found work. Returning to economic theory this is a change as it used to be considered a lagging indicator whereas now we often see it being a leading one.

House Prices

The Bank of Portugal will be pleased to see this and will have its claims of wealth effects ready.

In the first quarter of 2018, the House Price Index (HPI) rose 12.2% in relation to the same quarter of the previous
year, 1.7 percentage points (p.p.) more than in the fourth quarter of 2017. This was the fifth consecutive quarter in
which dwelling prices accelerated

Perhaps this is what they meant by this.

Monetary and financial conditions contributed to this economic momentum, with the ECB’s monetary policy remaining accommodative.

A couple of areas stand out according to Reuters.

The National Statistics Institute said house prices in the Lisbon area rose 18.1 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier to an average of 1,262 euros per square meter. In Porto house prices rose 17.6 percent.

So Portugal now has the capital city house price disease. Just under half of recent turnover in houses by value has been in Lisbon. Yet the ordinary first-time buyer is seeing prices move out of reach.

Comment

The new better phase for Portugal is very welcome for what is a delightful country. But beneath the surface there are familiar issues. Let me start with an area that should be benefiting from the house price boom which is the banks.

Nevertheless, NPLs remain at high levels, in turn, weighing on banks’ profitability, funding and capital costs. High NPLs also hinder a more efficient allocation of resources in the corporate sector and thus weaken potential growth.

You may note that the European Central Bank prioritises the banks over the corporate sector as it reminds us that non performing loans remain an issue. Also there is the ongoing problem on how the new  bank Novo Banco went from being perceived as clean to dirty like it was a diesel.

The FT’s Rob Smith has a story today on the latest complication. Novo Banco is planning to push ahead with its bond sale, which involves tendering outstanding senior bonds, despite a new legal challenge from a London-based hedge fund, which argues that it has actually already defaulted on its senior debt. ( FT Aplhaville).

Also there is this pointed out by @WEAYL around ten days ago.

CGD, BCP and Novo Banco lent 100 million to the venture capital company ECS at the end of 2017. The next day they received the same amount in a distribution of the fund’s capital managed by ECS. (Economic Online)

Next comes the issue of demographics of which I get a reminder whenever I go to Stockwell or little Portugal.

The resident population in Portugal at 31 December 2017 was estimated at 10,291,027 persons (18,546 fewer than in
2016). This results in a negative crude rate of total population change of -0.18%, maintaining the trend of population decline, despite its attenuation in comparison to recent years.

Even worse the departed are usually the young, healthy and educated.

Should the trade wars get worse, then there will be an issue for the car industry as it is around 4% of economic output and has been doing well.

The ongoing problem that is Deutsche Bank

Yesterday saw what might be called an old friend return to the fore. Back in the day I worked at Deutsche Bank or more specifically for Morgan Grenfell which it purchased. Also we have had reason to follow the story of it on here due to several factors. Firstly it is not only intrinsically linked to the German economy it is of course involved all over the Euro area economy as well as being a global bank. But also because it not only was hurt by the impact of the credit crunch and then of course by the Euro area crisis but a decade or so later from the former it has never really shaken off the view that things went very wrong. You could call it a balance sheet problem or a derivatives based one or a combination of both. Perhaps it is better to put it under the label of trust as in lack of.

Or to put it another way we have seen a form of official denial this morning and we know what to do with them! From Reuters.

“At group level, our financial strength is beyond doubt,” new CEO Christian Sewing said in a letter to staff, candidly admitting that the news flow around the bank was “not good”.

We of course know what to think when somebody tells us something is beyond doubt and if we did not this from the Financial Times helps us out.

My dear colleagues, the last few years were tough. Many of you are sick and tired of bad news. That’s exactly how I feel. But there’s no reason for us to be discouraged. Yes, our share price is at a historic low. But we’ll prove that we have earned a better valuation on the financial markets. We’ve achieved a lot we can be proud of. Now we need to look forward.

It would seem that those backing things with their money are not entirely clear about the “beyond doubt” financial strength as a share price at a historic low tends to indicate exactly the reverse. Also share prices are supposed to look forwards.

Number Crunching

This morning the relief around the actual formation of an Italian government plus no doubt some rallying of the fund management troops has seen the share price rise to 9.5 Euros. But this only corrects around half of yesterday’s 7% fall which saw it bottom at 9.06 Euros and close at 9.18. This compares rather badly with the 15.88 Euros at which it closed 2017 especially as we are supposed to be in a Euro boom. Compared to a year ago the share price is some 42% lower and those of a nervous disposition might do well to look away from the over 94 Euros of early 2007.

The price was lower back in the autumn of 2016 as we mull what “historic low” means? But banks are supposed to do well in the good times and yet Deutsche seems back in the mire. Or to put it another way Welt are pointing out that it was once the same size in terms of market capitalisation as JP Morgan whereas it has now fallen to one- sixteenth of it.

Across the pond

The Wall Street Journal has pointed out this.

The Federal Reserve has designated Deutsche Bank AG’s sprawling U.S. business as being in a “troubled condition,” a rare censure for a major financial institution that has contributed to constraints on its operations, according to people familiar with the matter.

It went on to explain what this meant.

The Fed’s downgrade, which took place about a year ago, is secret and hadn’t previously been made public. The “troubled condition” status—one of the lowest designations employed by the Fed—has influenced th bank’s moves to reduce risk-taking in areas including trading and lending to customers.

It also means the bank has had to clear decisions about hiring and firing senior U.S. managers with Fed overseers. Even reassigning job duties and making severance payments for certain employees require Fed approval, the people said.

In one respect this is a welcome move in that it is a regulator acting although we also need to note that the US Fed seems much more enthusiastic about such moves for foreign banks. After all at home it has just announced plans to ease the Volcker Rule.

The issue for Deutsche Bank is that this development calls into question its plans for the US. Is it even in charge of its operations and did it or the US Fed drive the announced changes?

In many ways this is one of the most damning things you can say about a bank.

The Fed also reupped its criticism of Deutsche Bank’s financial documentation. Examiners expressed frustration at what they described as the bank’s inability to calculate, at the end of any given day, its exposures to what banks and other clients it had in specific jurisdictions, and over what duration, some of the people said.

Standard and Poors

We have learnt over time that the ratings agencies are like the cavalry which arrived the day after the battle of Little Big Horn. But sometimes they do add a little value.

June 1, 2018–S&P Global Ratings today lowered its
long-term issuer credit ratings (ICR) on Deutsche Bank AG and its core
subsidiaries to ‘BBB+’ from ‘A-‘. The outlook is stable.

So stable that they are downgrading it? Anyway we get some detail as to why this has happened.

The lowering of our long-term issuer credit rating reflects that Deutsche
Bank’s updated strategy envisages a deeper restructuring of the business model
than we previously expected, with associated non-negligible execution risks……the bank
appears set for a period of sustained underperformance compared with peers,
many of whom have now finished restructuring.

Or to put it more bluntly you are in pretty poor shape if you are behind the sorry crew listed below.

By contrast, key peers such as
Barclays, Commerzbank, Credit Suisse, and the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS)
have now worked through their restructuring and business model optimization
and are already starting to see improved performance.

Comment

The fundamental problem here in my opinion is the view held by many within it that Germany will always have at least two banks of which Deutsche Bank will be one. Even in the protected world of banking that is an extreme position. Combined with the credit crunch and then the Euro area crisis this means that it is time for the Cranberries.

Zombie, zombie, zombie, ei, ei
What’s in your head?
In your head
Zombie, zombie, zombie

It seems to have little clear purpose other than its own survival as it struggles from one crisis to the next. So far it emerges from each of them weaker than before but the official view mimics the “Tis but a scratch” of the Black Knight.

I note some reporting that the ECB says the turnaround is going well whereas I also note that things seem not so hot in a land down under.

Australia is preparing criminal cartel charges against the country’s third-biggest bank and underwriters Deutsche Bank and Citigroup over a $2.3 billion share issue, in an unprecedented move with potential implications for global capital markets. ( Reuters)

It’s a mistake……

These days even higher house prices do not seem to be enough. From its own research in January.

During the current real-estate cycle, i.e., from 2009 to 2017, house prices have risen 80% in large metropolitan areas (A cities) and c. 60% in B and C cities….The tight market situation has pushed house prices up even more strongly in
2017 than in the preceding years. According to bulwiengesa (which covers 126 cities), house prices rose c. 6 ½% and apartment prices more than 10% on average.

The Italian bond and bank crisis of May 2018

Oh what a difference a couple of days can make, especially in Italy right now. However we can see the cause of this quite easily and have done so more than a few times in the past. Back at the end of the last century when the Euro currency concept was being prepared its supporters argued that it would bring economic convergence to its member countries. The reality for Italy has been this if we look for an individual measure of economic performance.

The convergence issue has been a disaster for Italy. Ironically it seemed to be holding station with Germany before the Euro began but since it the German locomotive has powered ahead leaving the Italian carriage in a siding. If you had set out to diverge the two economies it would have been hard to do better ( worse?) than this. Also my theme that Italy struggles in the relatively good times was at play in the early part of the century. Then it was hit hard by the credit crunch and the Euro area crisis and sadly has still not fully sorted its banking problems.

Poverty

Another way of observing the Italian economic experience has been provided in a paper from the Universities of Modena and Rome which point out another reversal.

The paper explores the changing risk of poverty for older and younger generations of Italians throughout the republican period, 1948 to the present day. We show that
poverty rates have decreased steadily for all age groups, but that youth has been left behind. The risk of poverty for children aged 0-17, relative to adults over 65, has
increased steadily over time: in 1977, children faced a risk of poverty 30 percent lower than the elderly, but by 2016 they are 5 times likelier to be poor than someone in the age
range of their grandparents.

It is easy to always look at the bad side so let us take a moment of cheer as we note that in general poverty has fallen since the second world war and mankind has stepped forwards. However the rub as Shakespeare would put it is that the times may be a-changing and the poverty we see now in Italy is concentrated in younger age groups. This reminds me of another statistic.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 31.7%, -0.9 percentage points over the previous month.

So as the overall unemployment rate is 11% then the youth unemployment rate must be treble that of older age groups. Which means that they have gone back to the future.

As a matter of fact, young Italians today face approximately the same risk of poverty as their equals in age in the 1970s. No economic miracle has happened for them, and none is expected.

This seems to have been a deliberate policy as we note this.

 Our analysis points to the welfare state, which offers better protection for the elderly than it does for
the young and their families………More importantly, the
elderly continued their march towards a poverty-free existence, while the youth did not.

This leads to a rather chilling statement.

Overall, in the last seven decades, Italy has become no country for young people.

Some of this is an international issue as for example the UK had the triple-lock for the basic state pension but some is specifically Italy.

National Debt

This is an issue but not in the ordinary way. This is because what can be described as the third biggest national debt in the world has not be caused by fiscal recklessness. In recent times Italy has been restrained. The problem has been the one described above which is the lack of economic growth. On such a road to nowhere even small fiscal deficits see the national debt rise in relation to economic output or GDP (Gross Domestic Product).

Perhaps the new Prime Minister will live up to his “Mr. Scissors” nickname in this area but it will be hard for a man facing a confidence vote to do much I would think.

Italian bonds

As you can imagine this has felt just like old times for me and in spite of yesterday being a glorious bank holiday at least until the evening thunderstorm I was transfixed for a while by what was happening. Two old rules of mine worked as well.

I like the idea of applying something I was taught at the LSE albeit with a personal spin as so much has found its way into the recycling bin. Nobody seems to pick it up either which means it is set fair for the future. The other is that you buy an intraday fall of more than two points. That worked as well but with the caveat that it was a case of the “quick and the dead” and you would have been stopped out today.

Moving to the state of play as I type this we see what has become a bloodbath. The Italian BTP bond future has fallen 5 points to a low of 124 and this compares to a bit over 139 as recently as the 7th of this month. Putting it another way the ten-year yield has risen from 1.76% to 3.1%. This may not seem large moves so let me explain the issue in the QE ( Quantitative Easing) era.

  1. They are bigger than you think and an example of this is the way the US Treasury Bond market used to have a trading halt after two point moves. Annoying at the time but does give a breather.
  2. In the QE era there is the view that the central bank will bail things out and that to quote Flo “the dogs days are over”
  3. This may have tempted investors to increase position size to make a profit which of course would now be in trouble.
  4. As implied volatilities fall it is tempting not only to put on derivative positions but to increase their size as human nature is particularly vulnerable at such times.

We have two clear examples of such events. One I traded through which was the LTCM crisis of the late 90s which was a case of intellectual arrogance and of course we had the travails of the VIX index earlier this year.

Whatever It Takes

The famous saying from ECB President Draghi from the summer of 2012 of course had to save the Euro as an implication but some translated it as “to save the Italian banks”. We have followed over time the multitude of issues here but as we looked at last week another problem emerged on Thursday. From @YanniKouts.

The minute the markets will realize that Italy will restructure its debt, the Italian banks and eventually the economy will collapse. Corralito.

Since then the share prices of the Italian banks have moved into yet another bear market. Our old friend Monte Paschi the world’s oldest bank is at 2.32 Euros down 5% today or 1 Euro lower than a fortnight ago. Those of a nervous disposition might like to look away now as I point out that compares to a pre credit crunch peak of more like 7700 Euros. In a way the Italian financial crisis can be summed up by Prime Minister Renzi saying it was a good investment. Oh and as Polemic Paine reminds us a past theme is in play right now.

Waiting for second round effects from all the private hands that clamoured to buy the Italian banks’ dodgy debt.

These days the role of the ECB has increased as of course it is also the banking supervisor which I think is a bit like being Liverpool’s goalkeeping coach.

Comment

There is much to consider here and let me throw in something from this morning’s data which will not help. From the ECB.

The annual growth rate of the narrower aggregate M1, which includes currency in circulation
and overnight deposits, decreased to 7.0% in April, from 7.5% in March.

Another hint of an economic slow down albeit broad money was a little better. Moving to the financial crisis this will be felt by individual Italians as they are savers and for example around 64% of Italian debt is held by domestic hands. So they are losing and whilst overseas investors are in a minority that is still some 685 billion Euros due to the size of the market. Thanks to the Bruegel group for the data. This is of course before we get to the stock market and those holding bank debt. Remember when we were told what great deals the bank debt was? Also the “protecting savers” part from President Mattarella not only goes into my financial lexicon for these times but will be part of what historians will call the Mattarella Error.

As a final though this has answered a question we have been asking for a while. What would get the Euro to fall? This has been answered as we note it has dropped to 1.15 and a bit versus the US Dollar and even the UK Pound £ has nudged a little higher to the nearly the same number.

 

 

 

When will Deutsche Bank, Barclays and TSB get off the zombie bank path?

It is time to take a look at an old friend except it is more along the lines of hello darkness my old friend from Paul Simon. This is because my old employer Deutsche Bank has had a very troubled credit crunch era. In spite of better economic times in Germany and indeed much of the Euro area it never seems to quite shake off its past problems or the rumours of something of a supermassive black hole in its derivatives book. This has not been helped by this morning’s figures. From CNBC.

Deutsche Bank posted first-quarter net profits of 120 million euros($146 million) Thursday, a 79 percent fall from last year’s figure.

The first impression is that this is not much for Germany’s biggest bank especially as 2017 and the early part of 2018 was supposed to be the Euroboom. Also there is this to be taken into account.

he net profit number was significantly lower than a Reuters poll prediction of 376 million euros. The Frankfurt-based lender has been under scrutiny from shareholders for posting three consecutive years of losses, including a 497 million euro loss for 2017.

Thus we see that Deutsche Bank has been a serial offender on this front and if we look back no doubt it was knocked back by the Euro area crisis but times improved and of course there have been so many bank friendly policies pursued by the European Central Bank. For example most bond holdings either sovereign or corporate will have been boosted by all the QE bond buying that has and indeed still is taking place. Then there have been all the liquidity support programmes ( LTROs) which may have fallen off the media radar but there are still 741 billion Euros of them expiring in 2020 and 21. Of course this leads to a situation I pointed out yesterday which is a very bank (asset) friendly consequence.

House prices, as measured by the House Price Index, rose by 4.2% in the euro area and by 4.5% in the EU in the
fourth quarter of 2017 compared with the same quarter of the previous year……….Compared with the third quarter of 2017, house prices rose by 0.9% in the euro area and by 0.7% in the EU in the fourth quarter of 2017.

Germany saw a 3.7% year on year rise.

Also according to ECB research bank profitability is not impacted by negative interest-rates.

It finds that both profitability and cost efficiency have continued to improve on the back of rising bank
operating incomes in Sweden and falling operating expenses in Denmark, even when faced with negative monetary policy rates and the banks’ reluctance to
introduce negative deposit rates.

In fact it even confessed to the QE subsidy albeit by referring to somewhere else.

In particular, “realised and unrealised gains” on
securities have helped improve the profitability of Swedish banks. Other contributory
factors probably include the economic recovery and the government bond purchase
programmes pursued by the Riksbank.

What next?

The traditional remedy is to lay-off a few people, often much more than a few people,

Deutsche Bank (XETRA: DBKGn.DE / NYSE: DB) has announced strategic adjustments to shift the bank to more stable revenue sources and strengthen its core business lines.

Or to put it another way.

The bank will scale back activities in US Rates sales and trading……..Commitment to sectors in the US and Asia, in which cross-border activity is limited, will be reduced. ….. The bank will be undertaking a review of its Global Equities business with the expectation of reducing its platform.

This is something of a merry-go-round these days where a new boss comes in and announces changes and of course get at least a couple of years for him/herself, more if we add in the usually large pay-off. Those who think that DB requires a complete change of atmosphere direction and philosophy will not be reassured by this bit though.

A Deutsche Bank veteran who started as an apprentice, Sewing

Barclays Bank

In a way the problems at Barclays have been provided with something of a smokescreen by all the troubles at Royal Bank of Scotland. Let’s face it almost anything looks good when compared to it. But there has certainly been a lost decade for shareholders as the just under £7 has been replaced by £2.16 as I type this. Of course many banks saw dives but it the lack of any recovery that is the real problem to my mind. There was the bounce back above £3 in the early days but that now is mired in problems and indeed the courts as the involvement of middle-eastern shareholders gets investigated.

Bringing this up to date as in this morning we see this. From the BBC.

Barclays reported a pre-tax loss of £236m, compared with a profit of £1.68bn for the same time last year.

Okay and why?

“This quarter we… reached an agreement with the US Department of Justice to resolve issues related to the sale of Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities between 2005 and 2007,” said chief executive Jes Staley.

“While the penalty was substantial, this settlement represents a major milestone for Barclays, putting behind us a significant decade-old legacy matter.”

That was for £1.4 billion and I guess it was seen as a good time to throw some more fuel on an ongoing sore.

The bank also put aside an additional £400m to cover an increase in payment protection insurance (PPI) mis-selling claims.

I have lost count of the number of times we have been told that in modern vernacular the PPI scandal is like, so over. The number below relies on you thinking that losses are a legacy issue and profits are for life.

But excluding litigation costs, pre-tax profit rose by 1% to £1.7bn.

Seeing as the facts are pretty much known this seems a case of one rule for you and one rule for me.

Last week, it was revealed that Mr Staley is facing a fine by UK regulators for breaching rules when he tried to identify a whistleblower at the bank.

The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) and the Prudential Regulatory Authority (PRA) began their probe into Mr Staley’s conduct a year ago.

Lower ranked employees would be sacked for that.

TSB

For those unaware the TSB was the Trustee Savings Bank which has been revived as a way of spinning out some customers from Lloyds Banking Group. The latter ended up being too large via the way the UK government back then persuaded it to take on Halifax Bank of Scotland which effectively torpedoed Lloyds. Anyway there has been a litany of IT issues which began last weekend leading to #tsbdown and #tsbfail proliferating. I can though find one happy customer.

The official view from CEO Paul Pester is this.

Our mobile banking app and online banking are now up and running. Thank you for your patience and for bearing with us.

Yet lot’s of people are still claiming that they do not work. We get told so often that bankers need to be highly paid to get the best people and yet realities like this suggest that the individuals involved are far from the best.

Comment

As we look back we see a banking world that in some areas has recovered but in others has not. The issue of IT ( Information Technology) has been an ongoing sore as I recall replies on here suggesting 1970s style systems still exist because they are afraid what might happen if there are changes. But there is also the issue of share prices where RBS which no doubt is relieved that for once it is not in the news today is nowhere near what the UK taxpayer paid. Barclays I have mentioned. Then there is Deutsche Bank where 12 Euros has replaced the 17 of mid-December and the mid 90s pre credit crunch. Who would have predicted that a decade ago?

Time for the sadly recently departed Delores from the Cranberries to echo out again.

Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie
What’s in your head, in your head?
Zombie, zombie, zombie-ie-ie, oh

Me on Core Finance

What is it about RBS and the banks?

A major feature of the credit crunch was the collapse of more than a few banks as a combination of miss pricing, bullish expansionism and arrogance all collided. This led to the economic world-changing as for example the way we now have extremely low ( ZIRP) and in more than a few places negative interest-rates and of course all the QE bond purchases which are ongoing in both the Euro area and Japan. So lower short and long-term interest-rates and that is before we get to the cost of the bailouts themselves. The US and UK acted early but others took longer as my updates on Italy for example explain and describe. It’s Finance Minister ( Padoan ) even had the cheek to boast about not helping its banks which then created ever larger bad loans.

The essential problem is that this is still ongoing as the news from Royal Bank of Scotland overnight tells us.

Royal Bank of Scotland on Tuesday agreed a $500m settlement with New York State over mis-selling residential mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the financial crisis………..The agreement requires the bank to pay $100m in cash and to provide $400m of consumer relief in New York. It is the latest in a series of settlements with US authorities that has resulted in banks handing over $150bn in payments and fines since the crisis.

This is yet another in a series that feels like rinse and repeat but we are now a decade on from things heading south for RBS as on the 22nd of 2008 what was the largest rights issue ever in the UK took place. The £12 billion cash from that did not even last 6 months as on the 13th of October the UK government stepped in. In other words the documents from that rights issue look to have been about a misleading as they could be along the lines of Sir Desmond Glazebrook in Yes Prime Minister who when asked about the rules replied “They didn’t seem quite appropriate”.

So we have ended up with something that looks like a bottomless pit although as ever it is put PR style.

Ross McEwan, chief executive, said: “We have been very clear that putting our remaining legacy issues behind us is a key part of our strategy.”

Legacy issues indeed and of course a much larger one is on its way.

RBS, part-owned by the UK government, has set aside $4.4bn to deal with residential mortgage-backed security claims in the US and recently revealed its first annual profit in nine years.

This poses its own question as we mull the latest development which is for only one state.

Ian Gordon, an analyst at Investec, said the deal with New York was “a disturbingly large single-state settlement ahead of the main event”.

Any new settlement would add to this.

 

RBS has been trying to close the door on misconduct issues from the crisis and in 2017 agreed to pay £4.2bn to the US Federal Housing Finance Agency in relation to mortgage-backed securities.

What about the law?

This seems to have been missing from the banking sector and especially in the case of the 2008 rights issue of RBS. However this morning has brought news that you can be jailed for financial crimes. From the BBC.

A group of fraudsters who conned UK consumers out of £37m by selling passports and driving licences through copycat websites have been sentenced to more than 35 years in jail.

The six people, led by Peter Hall and including his wife Claire, operated websites that impersonated official government services.

Perhaps the establishment was upset by the way they were impersonated but we are left with the thought that as the crime was compared to the banks small-scale it could be punished. Along the way something seemed rather familiar though.

 “This was a crime motivated by greed. This group defrauded people so they could enjoy a luxury lifestyle.”

If we actually move to banking crime a somewhat different set of rules seem to apply. Yesterday the Financial Conduct Authority finally banned the man called the Crystal Methodist due to his drug taking proclivities but of course Chair of the Co-op Bank which nearly collapsed.

Mr Flowers was Chair of Co-op Bank between 15 April 2010 and 5 June 2013. The FCA found that Mr Flowers’ conduct demonstrated a lack of fitness and propriety required to work in financial services.

So our first thought is to sing along with the Doobie Brothers.

Gotta keep on pushin’ Mama
‘Cause you know they’re runnin’ late

After all most of us knew there was “trouble,trouble,trouble” as Taylor Swift would out it in June 2013. However when you see what he was banned for it is hard not to let off some steam.

The FCA found that while Chair Mr Flowers:

 

used his work mobile telephone to make a number of inappropriate telephone calls to a premium rate chat line in breach of Co-op Group and Co-op Bank policies;

and used his work email account to send and receive sexually explicit and otherwise inappropriate messages, and to discuss illegal drugs, in breach of Co-op Group and Co-op Bank policies despite having been previously warned about his earlier misconduct.

In addition, after stepping down as Chair, Mr Flowers was convicted for possession of illegal drugs.

As you can see destroying a bank and causing losses in some cases substantial to a large number of people does not appear on the charge sheet whilst calling a premium rate chat line does.

Helping the economy

We were told the economy would not be able to survive without the banks yet as time has gone on they are still deleveraging. From Which.

In December last year, RBS/Natwest announced that it was closing a staggering 259 bank branches in 2018 – a quarter of its branch network. That included 62 RBS and 197 NatWest branches, plus 11 Ulster Bank branches which were previously announced.

The UK taxpayer will also be grimly observing this as the share price falls another 5 pence at the time of typing this to £2.59 as opposed to the £5.02 paid for its holding.

Comment

There are various problems with the state of play. The first is the way that the law pretty much only applies one way regarding the banks. If we misbehave we can expect to be punished sometimes severely. I have no axe to grind with that until we note that it at best intermittently applies to the banks themselves and even less to those at the top of the food chain. For example whilst Santander is perfectly at liberty to pay bonuses which Nathan Bostock would have received at RBS this raises hackles to say the least when it was from the GRG section which wrecked havoc amongst so many small businesses. It seems that bank directors are even more an example of the “precious” than the banks themselves. If we do not make changes how can we expect matters to improve?

When a bank is bailed out we are never told the full truth as this emerges later and sometimes much later as the news today is around a decade after the event. When the truth requires drip feeding well that speaks for itself. Also I note that in the intervening decade this issue goes on and on. From the Financial Stability Board.

The activity-based, narrow measure of shadow banking grew by 7.6% in 2016, to $45.2 trillion for the 29 jurisdictions……..Monitoring Universe of Non-bank Financial Intermediation (MUNFI) – This measure of
all non-bank financial intermediation grew in 2016 at a slightly faster rate than in 2015 to an aggregate $160 trillion.

We need to take care as one day that will rise to a lot of money! Also wasn’t this supposed to have been a problem pre credit crunch?