Greece GDP growth is accompanied by weakening trade and falling investment

Let us take the opportunity to be able to look at some better news from Greece which came from its statistics office yesterday.

The available seasonally adjusted data indicate that in the 3
rd quarter of 2018 the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in volume terms increased by 1.0% in comparison with the 2
nd quarter of 2018, while in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017, it increased by 2.2%.

So Greece has achieved the economic growth level promised for 2012 in the original “shock and awe” plan of the spring of 2010. Or to be more specific regained it as the 1.3% growth of the second quarter of 2017 saw the annual growth rate rise to 2.5% at the opening of this year before falling to 1.7%. So far in 2018 Greece has bucked the Euro trend but in a good way as quarterly economic growth has gone 0.5%,0.4% and now 1%.

If we continue with the upbeat view there was this on Monday from the Markit PMI business survey of the manufacturing sector.

Greek manufacturing firms signalled renewed growth
momentum in November, with the PMI rising to a six month high. The solid overall improvement in operating
conditions was driven by stronger expansions in output and
new orders. That said, foreign demand was not as robust,
with new export order growth easing to a 14-month low.
Manufacturers increased their staffing numbers further
in November, buoyed by stronger production growth and
domestic client demand.

So starting from a basic level there is growth and it is better than the average for the Euro area with a reading of 54 compared to 51.8. Also there is hopeful news for an especially troubled area.

In line with stronger client demand, manufacturing firms
expanded their workforce numbers at the fastest pace for
three months. Moreover, the rate of job creation was one of
the quickest since data collection began in 1999

Concerns

If we move to the detail of the national accounts we see that even this level of growth comes with concerns.

Exports of goods and services increased by 2.8% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Exports of goods increased by 1.0% while exports of services increased by 3.8%.

This looks good at this point for what was called the “internal devaluation” method where the Greek economy would become more price competitive via lower real wages. But it got swamped by this.

Imports of goods and services increased by 7.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018. Imports of goods increased by 8.3% while imports of services increased by 2.2%.

If we look deeper we see that the picture over the past year is the same. We start with a story of increasing export growth looking good but it then gets swamped by import growth.

Exports of goods and services increased by 7.6% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017. Exports of goods increased by 7.9%, and exports of services increased by 8.0%…… Imports of goods and services increased by 15.0% in comparison with the 3 rd quarter of 2017. Imports of goods increased by 15.0%, and imports of services increased by 16.0%.

This is problematic on two counts and the first one is the simple fact that a fair bit of the Greek problem was a trade issue and now I fear that for all the rhetoric the same problem is back. Perhaps that is why we are hearing calls for reform again. Are those the same reforms we have been told have been happening. Also I note a lot of places saying Greek economic growth has been driven by exports which is misleading. This is because it is the trade figures which go in and they are a drag on GDP due to higher import growth. We can say that Greece has been both a good Euro area and world member as trade growth has been strong over the past year but it has weakened itself in so doing.

Investment

An economy that is turning around and striding forwards should have investment growth yet we see this.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 14.5% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

Ouch! Time for the annual comparison.

Gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) decreased by 23.2% in comparison with the 3rd quarter of 2017.

Whilst those numbers are recessionary as a stand-alone they would be signals of a potential depression but for the fact Greece is still stuck in the middle of the current one. For comparison Bank of England Governor Mark Carney asserted that UK investment is 16% lower than it would have otherwise have been after the EU Leave vote so Greece is much worse than even that.

There are issues here around the level of public investment and the squeeze applied to it to hit the fiscal surplus targets. If this from National Bank of Greece in September is to turn out to be correct then it had better get a move on.

A back-loading of the public investment programme, along with positive confidence effects, should provide an additional boost to GDP growth in the H2:2018,

What did grow then?

Rather oddly the other sectoral breakdown we are provided with shows another fall.

Total final consumption expenditure decreased by 0.2% in comparison with the 2nd quarter of 2018.

But the gang banger in all of this is the inventories category which grew by 1321 million Euros or if you prefer accounts for 2.4% quarterly GDP growth on its own. This is not exactly auspicious looking forwards as you can imagine unless there is about to be a surge in demand. The only caveat is that we do not get a chain-linked seasonally adjusted number.

Comment

As you can see there is plenty of food for thought in the latest GDP numbers for Greece.On the surface they look good but the detail is weaker and in some cases looks simply dreadful. That is before we get to the impact of the wider Euro area slow down. The problem with all of this is that of we look back rather than the 2.1% economic growth promised for 2012 Greece saw economic growth plunge into minus territory peaking twice at an annual rate of 10.2%. Or the previous GDP peak of 60.4 billlion Euros of the spring of 2009 has been replaced by 48 billion in the autumn of 2018.

Meanwhile after the claimed triumphs and reform and of course extra cash the banks look woeful. So of course out comes the magic wand. From the Bank of Greece.

The proposed scheme envisages the transfer
of a significant part of non-performing exposures
(NPEs) along with part of the deferred
tax credits (DTCs), which are booked on bank
balance sheets, to a Special Purpose Vehicle
(SPV). value (net of loan loss provisions). The
amount of the deferred tax asset to be transferred
will match additional loss, so that the
valuations of these loans will approach market
prices. Subsequently, legislation will be
introduced enabling to transform the transferred
deferred tax credit into an irrevocable
claim of the SPV on the Greek State with a
predetermined repayment schedule (according
to the maturity of the transaction).

More socialisation of losses?

 

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The challenge for the ECB remains Italy and its banks

This week has seen something of an expected shifting of the sands from the European Central Bank ( ECB) about the economic prospects for the Euro area. On Monday its President Mario Draghi told the European Parliament this.

The data that have become available since my last visit in September have been somewhat weaker than expected. Euro area GDP grew by 0.2% in the third quarter. This follows growth of 0.4% in both the first and second quarter of 2018. The loss in growth momentum mainly reflects weaker trade growth, but also some country and sector-specific factors.

What he did not say was that back in 2017 quarterly growth had risen to 0.7% for a time. Back then the situation was a happy one for Mario and his colleagues as their extraordinary monetary policies looked like they were bearing some fruit. However the challenge was always what happens when they begin to close the tap? Let me illustrate things by looking again at his speech.

The unemployment rate declined to 8.1% in September 2018, which is the lowest level observed since late 2008, and employment continued to increase in the third quarter…….. Wages are rising as labour markets continue to improve and labour supply shortages become increasingly binding in some countries.

There is a ying and yang here because whilst we should all welcome the improvement in the unemployment rate, we would expect the falls to slow and maybe stop in line with the reduced economic growth rate. So is around 8% it for the unemployment rate even after negative interest-rates ( still -0.4%) and a balance sheet now over 4.6 trillion Euros? That seems implied to some extent in talk of “labour supply shortages” when the unemployment rate is around double that of the US and UK and treble that of Japan. This returns us to the fear that the long-term unemployment in some of the Euro area is effectively permanent something we looked at during the crisis. In another form another ECB policymaker has suggested that.

I will focus my remarks today on the economies of central, eastern and south-eastern Europe (CESEE), covering both those that are already part of the European Union (EU) and those that are EU candidate countries or potential candidates………..Clearly, for most countries, convergence towards the EU-28 average has practically stalled since the outbreak of the financial crisis in 2008

Care is needed as only some of these countries are in the Euro but of course some of the others should be converging due to the application process. Even Benoit Coeure admits this.

And if there is no credible prospect of lower-income countries catching up soon, there is a risk that people living in those countries begin questioning the very benefits of membership of the EU or the currency union.

I have a couple of thoughts for you. Firstly Lithuania has done relatively well but the fact I have friends from there highlights how many are in London leading to the thought that how much has that development aided its economy? You may need to probe a little as due to the fact it was part of Russia back in the day some prefer to say they are Russian. Also the data reminds us of how poor that area that was once called Yugoslavia remains. It is hardly going to be helped by the development described below by Balkan Insight.

At the fifth joint meeting of the governments of Albania and Kosovo in Peja, in Kosovo, the Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama backed the decision of the Kosovo government to raise the tax on imports from Serbia and Bosnia from 10 to 100 per cent.

Banks

Here the ECB is conflicted. Like all central banks its priority is “the precious” otherwise known as the banks. Yet it is part of the operation to apply pressure on Italy and take a look at this development.

As this is very significant let us break it down and yes in the world of negative interest-rates and expanded central bank balance sheets Unicredit has just paid an eye-watering 7.83% on some bonds. Just the 6.83% higher than at the opening of 2018 and imagine if you held similar bonds with it. Ouch! Of that there is an element driven by changes in Italy’s situation but the additional part added by Unicredit seems to be around 3.5%.

If we look back I recall describing Unicredit as a zombie bank on Sky News around 7 years ago. The official view in more recent times is that it has been a success story in the way it has dealt with non performing loans and the like. Although of course success is a relative term with a share price of 11.5 Euros as opposed to the previous peak of more like 370 Euros. Now it is paying nearly 8% for its debt we need not only to question even that heavily depreciated share price and it gives a pretty dreadful implied view for the weaker Italian banks such as Monte Paschi which Johannes mentions. Also those non-performing loans which were packaged up and sold at what we were told “great deals” whereas now they look dreadful, well on the long side anyway.

Perhaps this was what the Bank of Italy meant by this.

The fall in prices for Italian government securities has caused a reduction in capital reserves and
liquidity and an increase in the cost of wholesale funding. The sharp decline in bank share prices has resulted
in a marked increase in the cost of equity. Should the tensions on the sovereign debt market be protracted, the
repercussions for banks could be significant, especially for some small and medium-sized banks.

Comment

We can bring things right up to date with this morning’s money supply data.

Annual growth rate of narrower monetary aggregate M1, comprising currency in circulation and overnight deposits, stood at 6.8% in October, unchanged from previous month.

So we are holding station to some extent although in real terms we are slightly lower as inflation has picked up to 2.2%. Thus the near-term outlook remains weak and we can expect a similar fourth quarter to the third. Actually I would not be surprised if it was slightly better but still weak..

Looking around a couple of years ahead the position is slightly better although we do not know yet how much of this well be inflation as opposed to growth.

Annual growth rate of broad monetary aggregate M3 increased to 3.9% in October 2018 from 3.6% in September (revised from 3.5%).

On the other side of the coin credit flows to businesses seem to have tightened.

Annual growth rate of adjusted loans to non-financial corporations decreased to 3.9% in October from 4.3% in September

Personally I think that the latter number is a lagging indicator but the ECB has trumpeted it as more of a leading one so let’s see.

The external factor which is currently in play is the lower oil price which will soon begin to give a boost and will reduce inflation if it remains near US $60 for the Brent Crude benchmark. But none the less the midnight oil will be burning at the ECB as it mulls the possibility that all that balance sheet expansion and negative interest-rates gave economic activity such a welcome but relatively small boost. Also it will be on action stations about the Italian banking sector. For myself I fear what this new squeeze on Italian banks will do to the lending to the wider economy which of course had ground to a halt as it is.

 

The ESM is being made ready to lead the next set of Euro area bailouts

Yesterday saw something of a change in the way that the Euro area would deal with a future crisis. A special purpose vehicle or SPV that was created in response to the post credit crunch crisis is expanding its role. This is the ESM or European Stability Mechanism which was the second effort in this area as the initial effort called the European Financial Stability Fund or EFSF turned out to be anything but that. However that was then and this is now at let me explain the driving force behind all of this which the EFSF highlighted in a press release on the 9th of this month.

The European Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) raised €4 billion today in a new 5-year benchmark bond, completing the EFSF’s funding needs for 2018………..The spread of the 0.20% bond, maturing on 17 January 2024, was fixed at mid swaps minus 13 basis points, for a reoffer yield of 0.258%. The order book was in excess of €5.3 billion.

As you can see it can borrow on extraordinarily cheap terms as it borrows at 0.26% for five years. Back in the day there were questions as to what interest-rate these collective Euro area institutions would be able to borrow at? We now know that they have been able to borrow if not at Germany;s rate ( it was around -0.15% on that day) at what we might consider to be a Germanic rate. Or as Middle of the Road put it.

Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp

In a way it is extraordinary but amidst the turmoil these two vehicles which whilst they still have differences are treated by markets pretty much as they are one have been able to do this. From the 2017 annual report.

The ESM has a strong financial capacity. The EFSF
and the ESM together have disbursed €273 billion in
loans since inception. The ESM has an unused lending
capacity of €380 billion, after taking into account
the maximum possible disbursements to Greece.

As you can see there is still plenty of ammunition in the locker and once the Euro area switched course from punishing nations ( too late for Greece) it allowed it to trumpet things like the one below.

As a result of ESM and EFSF lending terms, our five beneficiary countries saved a total of €16.6 billion in debt service payments in 2017, compared to the assumed market cost of funding. Greece alone saved €12 billion last year, the equivalent of 6.7% of the country’s GDP.

Yet it is in fact a geared SPV which is another of its attractions until of course the day that really matters.

to ensure the preservation of the paid-in capital of €80.4 billion.1 This money was paid in by the 19 euro area countries, and is by far the largest paid-in capital of any IFI.

Okay so what changes are planned?

This was explained on Friday in Les Echos by ESM Chair Klaus Regling.

The ESM will play a more important role in financial crisis management together with the European Commission. At the beginning of the crisis, there was the troika consisting of the Commission, the ECB and the IMF. With the third programme for Greece in 2015, the ESM was added and it became a quartet. In the future, in principle, a tandem composed of the Commission and the ESM will deal with assistance programmes for countries in financial difficulty. The IMF and the ECB will play a less important role than 8 years ago.

The IMF move seems sensible on two counts. Firstly it should never have got itself involved in the Euro area in the first place as it has a balance of payments surplus. Secondly and this is of course interrelated to the first point the Euro area cannot always rely on it having a French managing director. The ECB may be more subtle as we mull whether its (large) balance sheet will be deployed in other roles? As an aside it is hardly a sign of success if you have to keep changing the names.

The banks

As we know “the precious” must always be protected in case anyone tries to throw it into Mount Doom. There are obvious issues in Greece to be dealt with.

Both Piraeus Bank and the National Bank of Greece dropped to all time record lows today. ( h/t @nikoschrysoloras )

Actually Piraeus Bank has dropped another 5% today so he could rinse and repeat his message. It seems that the triumphant last bailout is going the way of the previous triumphant bailout. Also there is my old employer Deutsche Bank which has got near to breaking the 8 Euro barrier today which will help to bring the Germans on board. Adding to the fear about its derivatives book is the allegation that some US $150 billion of the Danske money laundering scandal went through the books of  DB’s US subsidiary. Sometimes this sort of thing gets really mind-boggling as we observe the period when Danske had a bigger market capitalisation than DB partly driven by money laundering that was facilitated by DB. Do I have that right?

Anyway in the future Klaus Regling may well be stepping in. From his interview with Les Echos.

In June, we agreed that the ESM will provide the backstop. Its volume will be the same as the volume of the Single Resolution Fund. This is being built up with bank contributions and it will reach 1% of bank deposits at the end of 2023, in other words €55 to 60 billion. The decision to use this security net in case the resolution fund is insufficient has to be taken very quickly, even if the parliaments of some countries need to be consulted.

They seem to be hurrying along for some reason…..

 This will be in 2024 at the latest and it could be earlier.

Exactly how can the troubled banking sector which in relative terms is not far off as weak as it was when the credit crunch hit pay for all of this?

Italy

Regular readers will be aware that due to their astonishing track record we take careful note of official denials. Well on the 6th of October the ESM wrote to the Editor of Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

The claim that the ESM is guaranteeing Italy’s state debt is wrong. Italy has never lost access to international financial markets. Therefore, Italy has never had a rescue programme with the ESM or its temporary predecessor institution, the EFSF. For the same reason, the ESM has neither guaranteed Italy’s state debt nor has it granted Italy any emergency loans.

Of course not as Italy would have to do as it is told first and presently there is little or no sign of that. But one day…

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here and the likely new role of the ESM is at the top. It is convenient for politicians to pass their responsibilities to technocrats as the latter can take the bad news from a country bailout. However whilst it will need to be approved by the 19 Euro area parliaments these things have a powerful tendency to turn out different to the description on the tin. Just look at the Greek bailout for example.

Whereas the banking moves seem more sotto voce in this but as we seem to be in the middle of if not a crisis a phase where we have seen bank share prices tumble we need to be on alert. It is not just the Euro area girding its loins as for example it was only a few short months ago we were noting plans for more capital for the Bank of England. It is quite an indictment of the bank bailout culture that all these years later we seem to be as David Bowie so aptly put it.

Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

The Bank of Japan reminds us it is all about the banks

It is time for another part of our discovering Japan theme as we travel to Nagoya, where Governor Kuroda of the Bank of Japan was talking earlier today. Let us open with some good news.

The real GDP has been on an increasing trend, albeit with fluctuations, and the output gap — which shows the utilization of capital and labor — widened within positive territory from late 2016, for seven consecutive quarters through the April-June quarter of 2018 . Under such circumstances, the duration of the current
economic recovery phase, which began in December 2012, is likely to have reached 69 consecutive months this August. If this recovery continues, its duration in January next year will exceed the longest post-war recovery phase of 73 months.

So reasons to be cheerful part one, and below we get part two, but as you can see part three is a disappointment.

In the Outlook Report released last week, the real GDP growth rate for fiscal 2018 is projected to be 1.4 percent, and this is clearly above Japan’s potential growth rate, which is estimated to be in the range of 0.5-1.0 percent. As for fiscal 2019 and 2020, the real GDP growth rates are both projected to be 0.8 percent.

Economics gets called the dismal science but at the moment central bankers are trying to under perform that with the UK having a growth “speed limit” of 1.5% and the ECB saying something similar. The Bank of Japan is even more downbeat which is partly related to the demographics of both an ageing and declining population. This is partly because the previous foundation of their Ivory Towers called the output gap has failed so badly in the credit crunch era but the more eagle-eyed amongst you will have noted a reference to it above. How is that going?

The Output Gap

It is “boom,boom,boom” according to the Black-Eyed Peas and the emphasis is mine.

In the labor market, the active job openings-to-applicants ratio has been at a high level that exceeds the peak of the bubble period, and the unemployment rate has declined to around 2.5 percent. The number of employees has registered a year-on-year rate of increase of around 2 percent, and total cash earnings per employee have risen moderately but steadily.

As you can see the Japanese output gap is already struggling as we are apparently beyond bubbilicious in terms of demand but wage growth is only moderate. What about inflation?

The year-on-year rate of change in the consumer price index (CPI) has continued to show relatively weak developments compared to the economic expansion and the labor market tightening, and that excluding fresh food
and energy prices has been at around 0.5 percent.

In fact after deploying so much effort Governor Kuroda abandons his favourite measure for a higher one.

The year-on-year rate of increase in the CPI (all items less fresh food) has continued to accelerate, albeit with fluctuations. Although there is still a long way to go to achieve the price stability target of 2 percent, the year-on-year rate of change recently has risen to around 1 percent, which is about half the target .

Actually the state of play here is as  strong of a critique of the original claims about QE as we have as according to the central bankers it would raise inflation. Whilst it has created asset price inflation there has been a lack of consumer inflation except in places where currencies have fallen, and in Japan not even much of that. Indeed whilst I would welcome the development below Governor Kuroda will be crying into his glass of sake.

What lies behind this likely is that people’s tolerance of price rises has decreased.

 

Monetary Policy

We have found something which has given the Bank of Japan food for thought. Output gap failure? Rigging so many markets? Impact on individual Japanese? Of course not! It is worries about the banks.

The Bank fully recognizes that, by continuing such monetary easing, financial institutions’
strength will be cumulatively affected by low profitability, mainly through a decrease in
their lending margins, and that it could have an impact on financial system stability as well
as the functioning of financial intermediation.

This is a little mind-boggling as we note that policies which were instituted to help the banks are now being described as hurting them. This is because the banks did not have to change and pretty much carried on as before knowing that they are too big to be allowed to fail. Also I though central banks and regulators were on the case these days but apparently not.

That is, if financial institutions become more active in risk taking to secure profits amid the low interest rate environment and severe competition continuing, the financial system could destabilize should large negative shocks actually occur in the future.

This if we think about it is quite a confession of failure. We have already looked at how economic policy has been directed to suit the banks and in Japan’ case that has continued for nearly thirty years now. Next we seem to have a loss of faith in the new regulations which were supposed to fix this. Finally we have something of a confession that it could all happen again!

If we looked wider we do see some context for example in the way that the European bank stress tests were widely ignored over the weekend. I think that those interested have already voted via bank share prices in 2018, but we do see something rather familiar via @jeuasommenulle.

While everybody is having fun bashing EU banks and pointing out that market volatility on Italian govies will hurt bank capital… the US quietly removes rules that make market volatility impact capital in the 1st place 🤪

Yep back to mark to model rather than mark to market. Just like last time in fact, what could go wrong?

You and I get told what to do but the banks get a different message.

encourage them to take concrete actions as necessary.

The Tokyo Whale

The Bank of Japan has been living up to its reputation and moniker.

The Bank of Japan bought a monthly record of 870 billion yen ($7.68 billion) in exchange-traded funds in October, apparently aiming to support equities as investors turned bearish amid sell-offs in U.S. shares. ( Nikkei Asian Review)

Back on the 23rd of October I pointed about I was bemused by the Japanese owned Financial Times report on a “stealth taper”.

The central bank has become more flexible on its annual ETF purchase quota of around 6 trillion yen — a mark it will likely exceed by year-end at the current pace. ( NAR)

Another Japanese style development comes from this.

 But its large-scale purchases under Gov. Haruhiko Kuroda’s massive monetary easing program were criticized for propping up share prices for a limited range of companies and distorting the market.

To which the classically Japanese response is of course to rig even more of them.

This prompted the BOJ to decide this July to spread out buying more widely.

 

Comment

The comments about an interest-rate hike from Japan are mostly driven by this from today’s speech.

Japan’s economic activity and prices are no longer in a situation where decisively implementing a large-scale policy to overcome deflation was judged as the most appropriate policy conduct, as was the case before.

The problem with such rhetoric comes from the section about as we note that Bank of Japan bought a record amount of equities via ETFs in October. Also this summer it give a specific pronouncement on this subject which was repeated today.

Specifically, the Bank publicly made clear to “maintain the current extremely low levels of short- and long-term interest rates for an extended period of time, taking into account uncertainties regarding economic activity and prices including the effects of the consumption tax hike scheduled to take place in October 2019.”

Indeed he even hints at my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme.

it has become necessary to persistently continue with powerful monetary easing while considering both the positive effects and side effects if monetary policy in a balanced manner.

So they will continue the side effects but carry on regardless unless of course the side effects become an even bigger problem for the banks. The status quo continues to play out.

Whatever you want
Whatever you like
Whatever you say
You pay your money
You take your choice
Whatever you need
Whatever you use
Whatever you win
Whatever you lose.

Podcasts

I plan to begin a new series of weekly podcasts this Friday.If anyone has any thoughts or suggestions please let me know.

 

 

 

The economy of Spain provides some welcome good news for the ECB

A rush of economic data over the past 24 hours allows us as to follow Sylvia’s “I’m off to sunny Spain”. This gives us another perspective as we switch from the third largest economy ( Italy) yesterday where economic growth has ground to a halt again whereas in the fourth largest it is doing this according to the statistics office.

The Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.6% in the third quarter of 2018 to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that registered in the second quarter of the year. The annual growth of GDP stands at 2.5%, a rate similar to that of the quarter preceding.

As you can see two countries which were part of the Euro area crisis are now seeing very different circumstances. At the moment Spain is a case of steady as she goes because quarterly growth has been 0.6% for each of 2018’s quarters so far.

If we back for some perspective we are reminded of the trouble that hit Spain. It did begin to recover from the initial impact of the credit crunch but then the Euro area crisis arrived at economic growth headed into negative territory in 2011-13 peaking at a quarterly decline of 1% at the end of 2013. This was followed by improvements in 2014 such that quarterly growth reached 1.2% in the first quarter of 2015. Since then quarterly growth has been strong for these times varying between the current 0.6% and the 0.9% of the opening of 2017.

So we see that Spain saw the hard times with annual economic growth falling to -3.5% late in 2012 but can rebound as illustrated by the 4.1% of late 2015. Those who have followed my updates on Greece will recall that I often refer to the fact that after its precipitous and sustained decline it should have had in terms of economic recovery a “V-shaped” rally in economic growth. Well Spain gives an example of that whereas Greece has not. If we switch to yesterday’s theme Spain is a much happier case for the “broad-based economic expansion” claims of Mario Draghi and the ECB because whilst economic growth has slowed it is still good and is pulling the Euro area average higher.

Inflation

If we continue with the mandate of the ECB we were told this by Spain statistics yesterday.

The annual change in the flash estimate of the CPI stands at 2.3% in October, the same registered in September
The annual rate of the flash estimate of the HICP is 2.3%.

So inflation is over target and has been picking up in 2018 with the current mix described below.

In this behavior, the decrease in the prices of electricity stand out, compared to the increase
registered in 2017, and the rise in gas prices.

From the point of the ECB if we look at inflation above target and the economic growth rate and point out that it is withdrawing the stimulus provided by monthly QE. However the water gets somewhat choppier if we look at another inflation measure.

The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index (HPI) in the second quarter of 2018 increased six tenths, standing at 6.8%. By type of housing, the variation rate of new housing stood at 5.7%, remaining unchanged
as compared with the previous quarter. On the other hand, the annual variation of second-hand housing increased by seven tenths, up to 7.0%.

The first impact is the rate of annual change and this is more awkward for the ECB as it is hard not to think of the appropriateness of its -0.4% deposit rate for Spain. Its impact on mortgage rates especially when combined with the other monetary easing has put Spain on a road which led to “trouble,trouble,trouble” last time around. For those of you wondering what Spanish mortgage rates are here via Google Translate is this morning’s update.

In mortgages on homes, the average interest rate is 2.62% (4.3%) lower than August 2017) and the average term of 24 years. 59.8% of mortgages on housing is made at a variable rate and 40.2% at a fixed rate. Mortgages at a fixed rate they experience an increase of 3.9% in the annual rate. The average interest rate at the beginning is 2.43% for mortgages on variable-rate homes. (with a decrease of 5.5%) and 2.99% for fixed rate (3.1% lower).

As fixed-interest mortgages are only around half a percent per annum higher the number taking variable-rate ones seems high. However I have to admit my view is that Mario Draghi has no intention of raising interest-rates on his watch and the overall Euro area GDP news from yesterday backs that up. Of course we are switching from fact to opinion there and as a strategy I would suggest that any narrowing of the gap between the two types gives an opportunity to lock in what are in historical terms very low levels.

Labour Market

The economic growth phase that Spain has seen means we have good news here.

The number of employed increases by 183,900 people in the third quarter of 2018 compared to the previous quarter (0.95%) and stands at 19,528,000. In terms seasonally adjusted, the quarterly variation is 0.48%. Employment has grown by 478,800 people (2.51%) in the last 12 months.

Higher employment does not necessarily mean lower unemployment but fortunately in this instance it does.

The number of unemployed persons decreased this quarter by 164,100 people (-4.70%) and it stands at
3,326,000. In seasonally adjusted terms, the quarterly variation is -2.29%. In recent months unemployment has decreased by 405,800 people (-10.87%).  The unemployment rate stands at 14.55%, which is 73 hundredths less than in the previous quarter. In the last year this rate has fallen by 1.83 points.

But whilst the news is indeed better we get some perspective by the fact that the unemployment rate at 14.55% is not only still in double-digits but is well over that Euro area average. Indeed it is more than 10% higher than in the UK or US and around 12% higher than Japan.

As to the youth employment situation the good news is that the number of 16-19 year olds employed rose by nearly 12% to 165.500 over the past year. However some 137,800 are recorded as unemployed.

Comment

The Spanish economy has provided plenty of good news for the Euro area in the past few years, but that does not mean that there are no concerns. We have already looked at the issue of house prices and the past fears which arise from their development. Also for those who consider this to be because of the “internal competitiveness” model will be worried by this described by El Pais.

External demand, which helped in the worst moments to pull the Spanish economy, subtracted 0.5 points per year from GDP. And in the quarter, exports fell by 1.8%, entering for the first time negative rates since the third quarter of 2013. While it is true that imports also decreased by 1.2%.

Some of this no doubt relates to the automotive sector which for those who have not followed developments has been a success for Spain albeit that some of the gains have come from cannibalising production from elsewhere in the Euro area. An example of a troubled 2018 has been provided by Ecomotor today by revealing that VW Navarra has cut its production target by 10,000 cars for 2018. Oh and I nearly forgot to mention the Spanish banks especially the smaller ones hit by the court ruling on Stamp Duty.

But returning to the good news the economic growth means that Spain has seen the debt to GDP ratio that had nudged above 100% drop back to 98.3%. That is the road to a ten-year bond yield less than half that of Italy at 1.56% in spite of the fact that the planned fiscal deficit at 2.7% is higher.

What if Italy slips back into an economic recession?

A feature of bond market and debt crises is not only how far the market falls but how long it lasts. This is because as the majority and sometimes vast majority of debt issued has a coupon ( interest) fixed for its term and so fluctuations in the meantime do not matter for them. The catch is that new deficits need to be financed and existing debt needs to be rolled over and it does matter for them. An example of that is provided by Italy which will issue 2 billion Euros of 5 year bond and 2.5 billion of a ten-year one next week and these will be much more expensive than would have been predicted not so long ago. According to the Italian Treasury or Tesoro some 200 billion Euros of maturities are due next year if we ignored the rolling over of Treasury Bills.

Thus you can see how it takes a while for the costs of a bond market decline to build but build they do. The exact amount varies as for example last Friday we were looking at the nadir for the market so far with a ten-year yield of 3.8% and as I type this it is 3.5%, but both spell trouble. We see regular examples of why this may be bad but let us move to an area where contagion is possible.

The Italian banking system holds €350 billion of government bonds. If 10-year government-bond yields hit 4%, banks’ equity capital will just about equal their nonperforming loans. ( Felix Zulauf in Barrons)

Did anybody mention the Italian banks?

You may not be surprised to read that the ECB press conference yesterday was pretty much a Q&A session on Italy and during it President Draghi told us this.

However we have now the bank lending survey of this quarter. It does say that basically, terms and conditions applied by Italian banks on new loans to enterprises and households for house purchases, tightened. Terms and conditions – so not standards – terms and conditions tightened in the third quarter of 2018, driven by a higher cost of funds and balance sheet constraints.

So things have got tighter for the Italian banks and they have passed it the higher costs to both personal and corporate borrowers. The subject did not go away.

On Italy, I don’t have a crystal ball; I don’t have any idea whether it’s 300 or 400 or whatever. So it’s difficult. But certainly these bonds are in the banks’ portfolios. If they lose value, they are denting into the capital position of the banks; that’s obvious, so that’s what it is.

This was in response to a (poor) question about at what level of the yield spread would the Italian banks hit trouble and the suggestion it might be 400? A better question would be based on Italian yields alone. Also central bankers are hardly likely to tell you a banking crisis is in its way! But you may note that Mario mentioned 3% as opposed to 4% to perhaps cover himself. Also as a former Governor of the Bank of Italy and the Draghi in the Draghi Laws which cover Italian banking his “crystal ball” should be one of the best around.

This brings me to the issue of the Atlante Fund where Italian banks essentially bailed out other Italian banks. We do not seem to get any updates on it now. Can anybody think what might be happening to a portfolio of non-performing Italian bank loans right now? I recall being told that the deals to take such loans were really good value and that my fears were over done. Now I note that the same Unicredit that I called a Zombie bank around 7 years ago on Sky News looks rather like a Zombie bank to me if you look at all the cash piled in since then and the current share price. This whole issue has been a banking crisis in slow motion so let me remind you of the latter parts of my timeline for a banking collapse.

9. Debt costs of the relevant sovereign nation or nations rise.

10. Consequently that nation finds that its credit rating is downgraded.

11. It is announced that due to difficult financial times public spending needs to be trimmed and taxes such as Value Added Tax need to be raised. It is also announced that nobody could possibly have forseen this and that nobody is to blame apart from some irresponsible rumour mongers who are the equivalent of terrorists. A new law is mooted to help stop such financial terrorism from ever happening again.

12. Some members of the press inform us that bank directors were both “able and skilled” and that none of the blame can possibly be put down to them as they get a new highly paid job elsewhere.

13. Former bank directors often leave the new job due to “unforseen difficulties”.

The Budget Plan

If we move on from the “doom loop” that exists between the Italian economy and its banks we get the current fiscal plan which is to run a deficit of 2.4% of GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). Some number-crunching has been undertaken on this by Olivier Blanchard at the Peterson Institute with some intriguing results.

So, take 0.8 percent of GDP to be the relevant measure of expansion………..To give the government the benefit of the doubt, take a multiplier of 1.5. Then, one would expect an increase in output of 1.5 * 0.8 = 1.2 percent on account of the fiscal stimulus.

So we are in the world, or at least what is left of it, of economics 101 where the extra fiscal stimulus will increase GDP by 1.2%. However there is a catch.

Turn to the other half of the story, the increase in interest rates. Since mid-April, Italian bond yields have risen by about 160 basis points……….Recent estimates of the effects of the OMT suggest slightly lower numbers for Italy, in the region of a 0.8 percent output contraction for a 100-basis-point increase in bond rates.

Some of you may have already completed the mathematical implication of this.

Putting fiscal multiplier effects and contractionary interest rate effects together—and being generous about the size of the multiplier and conservative about the effect of the interest rate increase—arithmetic suggests that the total effect on growth will be 0.8 * 1.5 – 0.8 * 1.6 ≈ –0.1. While this number comes with a large uncertainty band, the risks are skewed to the downside.

So via his methodology up is the new down. Or more formally the fiscal expansion seems set to weaken and not boost GDP.

One cautionary note is Olivier’s own record in this area as he was Chief Economist at the IMF when it was involved in the disastrous fiscal experiment in Greece which he sweeps up in this paper as “many politicians and economists argued”. This is of course one of the longest running feature of the credit crunch era as encapsulated by point 12 of my banking crisis time line above.

Comment

The issues above are brought into sharper focus if we note this Mario Draghi and the ECB yesterday.

while somewhat weaker than expected

That rather contradicted the by now usual “broad-based expansion” line which was backed up by some misleading analysis of the monetary situation. The minor swerve was the claim that M3 growth had risen by 0.1% which is true but only because August had been revised lower. The more major omission was the absence of a reference to it being 5.1% last September,

So if we add the expected slow down to the already troubled Italian situation we get a clearer idea of the scale of the problem. If we look back we see that GDP growth has been on a quarterly basis 0.3% and then 0.2% so far this year and the Monthly Economic Report tells us this.

The leading indicator is going down slightly suggesting a moderate pace for the next months.

They mean moderate for Italy.So we could easily see 0% growth or even a contraction looking ahead as opposed some of the latest rhetoric suggesting 3%  per year is possible. Perhaps they meant in the next decade as you see that would be an improvement.

 

 

What has happened to the Greek banks?

This week the Greek banking sector has returned to the newswires. You might think that after the storm and all the bailouts it might now be if not plain sailing at least calmer waters for it. Here is ForeignPolicy.com essentially singing along to “Happy days are here again”

The Greek banking sector has totally transformed as a result of the financial crisis. Legislation, restructuring and recapitalization have led to a sector that is now internationally recognized for its high capitalization levels and for substantial improvements in stability, governance and transparency. As Professor Nikolaos Karamouzis, Chairman of EFG Eurobank and Chairman of the Hellenic Bank Association, states, “we have been through four stress tests – no other system has been stressed as much.”

However even a view drizzled in honey could not avoid this issue.

“The question of non-performing loans in the Greek banking system is a crucial one”.
Panagiotis Roumeliotis, Chairman, Attica Bank…….About €30-35 billion is tied up in the large NPLs of some 100 companies, who are on the books of all the systemic banks.

The problem with taking sponsored content is that it steps into a universe far.far.away.

In a first for the country, Attica Bank recently securitized €1.3 billion of its bad loans. A move that could be copied by others and which its Chairman, Panagiotis Roumeliotis, says will make it “one of the healthiest banks in Greece.” Initiatives like this mean that the country’s targets for reducing NPLs are being met or exceeded.

Also I note a couple of numbers of which the first gives us perspective.

Another big challenge is recovery of deposits, which flew out of the country until restrictions were put in place in 2015. Since then, €8.5 billion has been repatriated.

Whilst that sounds a lot, compared to the decline it is not especially when we consider the time that had passed as the data here takes us to February 2017. Next comes some number crunching which is very useful for someone like me who argued all along for Greece to take the default and devalue route. Which just as a reminder was criticised by those in the establishment and their media supporters are likely to create a severe economic depression which their plan would avoid!

The 4 systemic banks have undergone 4 stress tests and 3 rounds of recapitalization since 2010, for close to €65 billion.

With all that money it is a good job they are so strong. Hold that thought please as we move to a universe beyond, far,far away.

Unlike the subprime banking crisis of other countries, the crisis in Greece wasn’t due to any particular problem in the sector. Rather, it was a consequence of the Greek sovereign debt crisis that created contagion. Coming out of that crisis, though, the sector has been transformed.

Someone seems to have forgotten all those non performing loans already.

Bringing this up to date

If we step forwards in time to the end of August suddenly we were no longer singing along to Sugar by Maroon 5. From Kathimeriini.

Greek banks Alpha and Eurobank posted weak second-quarter results on Thursday, with Alpha swinging to a loss and Eurobank barely profitable as both focus on shrinking their bad debt load.

So not exactly surging ahead and whilst the amount of support from the European Central Bank has reduced considerably we were reminded yesterday that the problem created in 2015 has not yet gone away.

On 9 October 2018 the Governing Council of the ECB did not object to an ELA-ceiling for Greek banks of €5.0 billion, up to and including Wednesday, 7 November 2018, following a request by the Bank of Greece.

The reduction of €0.2 billion in the ceiling reflects an improvement of the liquidity situation of Greek banks, taking into account flows stemming from private sector deposits and from the banks’ access to wholesale financial markets.

So that is good in terms of the reduction but as I pointed out above bad in that some is still required. After all Greece has now left its formal bailout albeit that the institutions still keep a very close watch on it. But even more significant was the next bit.

The ongoing improvement of the liquidity situation of Greek banks reflects the improved condition of the Greek financial system. The recent stock market developments in respect of the banking sector are not related to the soundness of Greek banks and are due to purely exogenous factors, such as rises in interest rates internationally and in Greece’s neighbouring countries in particular.”

We have learnt in the credit crunch era that the blame foreigners weapon is only deployed when things are pretty bad and a diversion is needed. Rather oddly the Financial Times seemed to be giving this some support.

The turbulent conditions have hit European banks across the continent, as declines in the value of banks’ holdings of Italian debt eat away at their capital base in a dangerous spiral known as the ‘doom loop’.

That applies to Italian banks yes and to some extent to others but I rather suspect we would know if Greek banks had been punting Italian bonds on any scale. Yesterday Kathimerini put the  state of play like this.

Greek banking stocks have lost more than 40 percent so far this year, and the selling pressure grew in recent days.

All rather different to the honey coated Foreign Policy article is it not? Also in the rush to blame others some genuine concerns are in danger of being overlooked.

. I disagree with the statement below Greek banks used 23% of their “real” Tier 1 capital reserves to support the reduction of NPEs. DTCs as a % of total regulatory capital are now ~75%. Banks “burned” EUR 6.6bn of “real” CET 1 capital to reduce their NPE’s by EUR 16.8bn. ( @mnicoletos on Twitter )

As you can see the argument here is that the Greek banks are finding that dealing with sour loans is beginning to burn through their capital. Using the numbers above suggests that each 1 Euro reduction in bad debts is costing around 40 cents. We do not know that will be the exact rate going forwards but if we take it as a broad brush suddenly the “high capitalization levels” look anything but and no doubt there are fears that the capital raising begging bowl will be doing the rounds again.

Piraeus Bank

This had tried to steal something of a march on the others but this from Reuters last week says it all.

Piraeus Bank  said plans to issue debt to bolster its capital were on track on Wednesday as Greece’s largest lender by assets faced a near 30 percent share price fall.

Quite why anyone would buy one if its bonds escapes me but that was and may even still be the plan.

Piraeus Bank’s restructuring plan, which it has submitted to supervisors at the European Central Bank, involves the issuance of debt, likely to be a Tier-2 bond, among other measures.

But if you are willing to take the red pill from The Matrix then maybe you might be a believer of this.

analysts said the 29.3 percent fall in its shares to 1.16 euros by 1020 GMT was the result of negative investor sentiment affecting the whole banking sector,

Comment

There is a fair bit to consider here but let us do some number crunching. We can start with this from Kathimerini referring to yesterday’s report from Moody’s.

The ratings agency said asset quality remains the main challenge for local lenders, with assets at end-June adding up to 291 billion euros and NPEs at 89 billion euros.

So should the Non Performing Exposures eat up capital at the rate described above that would be another 35 billion Euros or so.  That of course is a very broad brush but one might reasonably think that troubles in that area might be much more of a cause of this than blaming Italy and Turkey.

The banks index has followed up its 24 percent slump in September with a fresh 15 percent decline in the first seven sessions in October, sending the capitalization of the four systemic banks below 5 billion euros between them, from 8.7 billion at the start of the year. ( Kathimerini )

So 69 billion Euros has been poured into them according to Foreign Policy and of course rising for them to be valued at less than 5 billion Euros? As to what they were worth well here you are.