The success story of Spain faces new as well as old challenges

Back in the Euro area crisis the Spanish economy looked in serious trouble. The housing boom and bust had fit the banking sector mostly via the cajas and the combination saw both unemployment and bond yields soar. It seems hard to believe now that the benchmark bond yield was of the order of 7% but it posed a risk of the bond vigilantes making Spain look insolvent. That was added to by an unemployment rate that peaked at just under 27%. The response was threefold as the ECB bought Spanish bonds under the Securities Markets Programme to reduce the cost of debt. There was also this.

In June 2012, the Spanish government made an official request for financial assistance for its banking system to the Eurogroup for a loan of up to €100 billion. It was designed to cover a capital shortfall identified in a number of Spanish banks, with an additional safety margin.

In December 2012 and January 2013, the ESM disbursed a total of €41.3 billion, in the form of ESM notes, to the Fondo de Restructuración Ordenada Bancaria (FROB), the bank recapitalisation fund of the Spanish government. ( ESM)

Finally there was the implementation of the “internal competitiveness” model and austerity.

What about now?

Things are very different as Spain has been in a good run. From last week.

Spanish GDP registers a growth of 0.4% in the third quarter of 2019 compared to to the previous quarter in terms of volume. This rate is similar to that recorded in the
second trimester.The interannual growth of GDP stands at 2.0%, similar to the previous quarter.

There are two ways of looking at this in the round. The first is that for an advanced economy that is a good growth rate for these times, and the second is that it will be especially welcome on the Euro area. Combining Spain with its neighbour France means that any minor contraction in Germany does not pull the whole area in negative economic growth.

However there is a catch for the ECB as Spain has slowed to this rate of economic growth and had thus exceeded the “speed limit” of 1.5% per annum for quite a while now. That will keep its Ivory Tower busy manipulating, excuse me analysing output gaps and the like. In fact once the dog days of the Euro area crisis were over Spain’s economy surged forwards with annual economic growth peaking at 4.2% in the latter part of 2015 and then in general terms slowing to where we are now. As to why the ESM explanation is below.

 Strong job creation followed the economic expansion, and employment has recovered by more than 2.5 million. Structural reforms have been paying off: competitiveness gains have supported economic rebalancing towards tradable sectors, and exports of goods and services have stabilised at historical highs (above 30% of GDP). The large and persistent current account deficit, which had reached 9.6% of GDP in 2007, has turned into a surplus averaging 1.5% of GDP in 2014-18.

Actually the IMF must be disappointed it did not join the party as turning around trade problems used to be its job before it came under French management. But Spain certainly rebounded in economic terms.and has been a strength of the Euro area.

Looking at the broader economy, Spain returned to economic growth in 2014 and continues to perform above the euro area average in that category

Over the past six months external trade has continued to boost the economy in spite of conditions being difficult.

On the other hand, the demand external presents a contribution of 0.2 points, eight tenths lower than the quarter past.

The impact of all this has improved the employment situation considerably.

In interannual terms, employment increases at a rate of 1.8%, rate seven tenths
lower than the second quarter, which represents an increase of 332 thousand jobs
( full time equivalents) in one year.

In terms of a broad picture GDP in Spain peaked at 104.4 in the latter part of 2007 then had a double-dip to 94.3 in the autumn of 2013 and now is at 110.9. So it has recovered and moved ahead albeit over the 12 years not made much net progress.

Problems?

According to the ESM the banks remain a major issue.

Several legacy problems also remain in the banking sector. These include larger and more persistent-than-expected losses of SAREB, which pose a contingent liability to the state. Banks have adequate capital buffers, but should further strengthen them towards the euro area average to withstand any future risks. In addition, the privatisation of Bankia and the reform of cajas need to be completed.

Of course banking reform has been just around the corner on a Roman road in so many places. Also the balance sheet of the Spanish banks has received what Arthur Daley of the TV series Minder would call a “nice little earner”.

Housing prices rise 1.2% compared to the previous quarter.The annual variation rate of the Housing Price Index has decreased 1.5 points to 5.3%,

Annual house price growth returned in the spring of 2014 which the banks will welcome. The index based in 2015 is now at 124.2.

However not all ECB policies are welcomed by the banks.

Finally, banks still face pressure on profitability due to the low interest rate environment, and potentially from a price correction in financial assets if the macro environment deteriorates. ( ESM )

An official deposit rate of -0.5% does that to banking profitability. I do not recall seeing signs of the Spanish banks passing this on in the way that Deutsche Bank announced yesterday but the heat is on. I see that the ESM is covering its bases should house prices fall again.

If we look at mortgage-rates then they are falling again as the Bank of Spain records them as 1.83% in September which looks as though it may be an all time low but we do not have the full data set.

Comment

The new phase of economic growth has brought better news on another problem area as the Bank of Spain reports.

Indeed, the non-financial private sector debt ratio
relative to GDP stood at 132%, 5 pp down on a year earlier and 4 pp below the euro area average.

The ratio of the national debt to GDP has fallen to this.

Also, in June 2019 the public debt/GDP ratio stood at 98.9%, a level still 13 pp higher than the euro area average.

 

and these days it is much cheaper to finance as the 7% yields of the Euro area crisis have been replaced by some negative yields and even the benchmark ten-year being a mere 0.31%.

On the other side of the coin first-time buyers will not welcome the new higher house prices and there are areas of trouble.

In this respect, consumer credit grew in June 2019 at a year-on-year rate of around 12%, and non-performing consumer loans at 26%, raising the NPL ratio slightly to 5.6% ( Bank of Spain)

What could go wrong?

Another signal is the way that the growth in employment has improved things considerably but Spain still has an unemployment rate that has only just nudged under 14%.So there is still much to do just as we fear the next downturn may be in play.

A fifth successive monthly deterioration in Spanish
manufacturing operating conditions was signalled in October as a challenging business climate negatively impacted on sales and output……At 46.8, down from 47.7 in September, the index also posted its lowest level for six-and-half years.   ( Markiteconomics )

 

A decade after the credit crunch hit UK banks have made so little progress

This week has opened with an outbreak of cognitive dissonance in my home country the UK. It opens with a worthy enough spirit and principle from the Treasury Select Committee of HM Parliament.

Regulators must act to reduce unacceptable number of IT failures in financial services sector, warns Treasury Committee.

There is an obvious flaw in the “Regulators must act” opening as we so often see examples of them being fast asleep although of course the official term for this is “vigilance.” Indeed I note that in the comments section last week the issue of regulatory capture had arisen again which for newer readers is where an industry infiltrates and takes control of its regulator. It does not have to be an industry as we see how HM Treasury alumni are every single Deputy Governor at the Bank of England which is officially “independent” of er the Treasury…..

Moving back to the issue at hand the TSC summarised it here.

The Treasury Committee launched its IT failures in the financial services sector inquiry on 23 November 2018. It followed a series of high-profile service disruptions within the financial services sector, most notably the TSB IT migration in 2018. Issues following the migration caused significant disruption to customers for a prolonged period of time, and we have an ongoing inquiry into Service Disruption at TSB1. There have also been many
other incidents, including those at Visa and Barclays.

They do not say it but the prolonged failure at TSB was especially embarrassing as it was supposed to be a new bank but in reality was a bureaucratic exercise exhuming it out of the bloated Lloyds Banking Group. So it turned out to have all the same and maybe worse problems than the other banks as its IT meltdown showed.

It was far from just being the TSB though.

IT failures, or incidents (used interchangeably), within the financial services sector appear to be becoming more common. Over the past 18 months there have been major
incidents at TSB and Visa, along with a litany of incidents at other firms. This increasing trend is recognised by the FCA, which stated in 2018 that “outages in the financial services sector are becoming more frequent and publicised” and that “the number of incidents reported to the FCA has increased by 187 per cent in the past year”.

This matters more these days as we switch to banking online.

Research by UK Finance found that 71 per cent of UK adults used online banking in 2017, and that this trend has been increasing. At the same time, the number of high-street
bank branches has been falling, with a 17 per cent reduction in the number of branches between 2012 and 2018.

The Problem

The real issue here is the fact that the UK establishment have been happy to use taxpayer’s money and the policies of the Bank of England to provide a put option for banks and their management. The subsequent zombified banking sector has no great incentive to improve its IT which was so bad when the credit crunch hit that the Bank of England felt it could not cut interest-rates below 0.5%. This was because the creaking IT infrastructure could not handle 0% let alone negative interest-rates. When this did happen at the Cheltenham and Gloucester which was part of Lloyds Banking Group the work around was that the capital owed was reduced to save a 2001 A Space Odyssey HAL 9000 style moment from happening.

Next comes the idea of the Regulator acting quickly and decisively as Citywire points out.

Calls for the Financial Conduct Authority to offer ‘stronger and faster intervention’ are at least partially ‘justified’ the regulator’s chief executive Andrew Bailey has admitted.

There was this issue.

At the beginning of the year mini-bond manufacturer London Capital & Finance went bust after the FCA ordered it to freeze its accounts, following what appeared to be many years or warnings about the business.

Which led to this bit.

It remains unclear how the firm was able to promote unregulated mini-bonds via regulated Sipp and ISA wrappers for many years.

Sometimes it is so bad it is funny.

It also faced much ridicule after banning former Co-operative Bank chair and church minister Paul Flowers in 2018, five years after the organisation collapsed and the tabloids dubbed him  the crystal Methodist due to his drug use.

More recently this has hit the headlines.

The shuttering last week of Woodford Investment Management after a series of big bets went sour and put it in breach of FCA rules on liquidity limits will be freshest in the mind.

Also in a rather familiar fashion the regulator seems to have overlooked this.

Former star fund manager Neil Woodford and his business partner reaped close to £20m in dividends in the last financial year amid a crisis at their investment house, according to an FT analysis ( Financial Times )

HSBC

The story here was supposed to be an HSBC boom driven by its involvement in the Far East. You may well recall its regular hints of its head office leaving the UK when it wants to put pressure on the UK government. Of course being a major bank in Hong Kong is not quite what it was so let me hand you over to the South China Morning Post.

HSBC, one of three lenders authorised to issue currency in Hong Kong, said on Monday that its third-quarter profit fell 24 per cent as it reported weaker results in its retail banking and global markets businesses.

The bank said its business in the city remained “resilient” despite a weakened business climate in its largest market, as months of protests and civil unrest have sent the city’s economy into a “technical recession”.

“Resilient” eh? I did not realise that things were quite that bad! The share price is down over 4% today at £5.90 and whilst HSBC has done better than other banks until now the future does not look quite as bright.

Barclays and RBS

From CNBC.

The British lender posted £292 million in net loss attributable to shareholders for the three-month period ending Sept 30. Data from Reuters’ Eikon predicted a loss of a £19.2 million for the quarter. Barclays had posted a £1 billion net profit in the same period last year.

The shares have risen due to rising Brexit hopes recently but £1.70 is still very poor.

From City-AM.

RBS reports an operating loss of £8m for the nine months to the end of September 2019, falling from £961m in the same period last year.

A challenging quarter in the NatWest Markets division, where total income plunged by £419m to £150m in the wake of flattening yield curves, also dragged down the bank.

This leads to this response.

The mis-selling and other charges overshadowed underlying progress at the bank

Oh no sorry. That was from November 2nd 2012 on here!

Metro Bank

I hardly know where to start with this one, so let me point out that the £8 share price of this summer has been replaced by one of £2

Comment

The fundamental issue here is that we are now more than a decade away from the credit crunch. The major flaw in bailing out the banks was that they then had no incentive to change. Even worse that we would repeat the mistakes of Japan and end up with a zombified banking structure. If we look at the world of IT we see the Bank of England confirming it here.

The TFS was designed to reinforce pass-through of a cut in Bank Rate from 0.5% to 0.25% and in doing so
reduce the effective lower bound in the UK…….The existence of the TFS meant that the MPC reduced its estimate of the effective lower bound from 0.5% to
close to, but a little above, 0%. ( Governor Carney June 18th )

So in spite of a sweetener of £116.7 billion the banks still cannot cope with 0% interest-rates. Ironically they may be doing us a favour of course.

Next comes the way that PPI has been a type of Helicopter Money QE for the UK economy and here we get on a rather dark road. That a quid pro quo for the banking scandals and bonuses as well as the put option for bank survival is that they put some of the money in the hands of the UK consumer.

Podcast

 

 

 

How will Italy cope if its economy shrinks again?

Over the past few says the Standard and Poors ratings agency has been running its slide rule over Italy and yesterday in his final press conference Mario Draghi of the ECB indulged in some trolling.

No, of course not. Things have changed completely and frankly, everybody now in Italy said and stated that the euro is irreversible. So while there may have been hypothetical doubts in one part of the governance of the country, there aren’t any more, so it’s been accepted.

I am not sure if that was a promise or a type of threat! The problem with this sort of rhetoric though had already been highlighted by Mario himself.

 Incoming economic data and survey information continue to point to moderate but positive growth in the second half of this year.

It was in the bit where he felt the need to point out that growth would be positive and was perhaps a response to this from Markit earlier that day.

The eurozone economy started the fourth quarter
mired close to stagnation, with the flash PMI
pointing to a quarterly GDP growth rate of just
under 0.1%………Optimism about future prospects deteriorated further in October to the lowest for over six years,

They had even dragged Mario into it.

The survey indicates that Mario Draghi’s tenure at
the helm of the ECB ends on a note of near-stalled
GDP, slower jobs growth, near-stagnant prices and
growing pessimism about the outlook.

As you can see they gave a different picture which was of marginal/no growth that looked set to deteriorate. Actually Mario was worried about that too if we look further down his speech.

The risks surrounding the euro area growth outlook remain on the downside. In particular, these risks pertain to the prolonged presence of uncertainties, related to geopolitical factors, rising protectionism and vulnerabilities in emerging markets.

Also whilst Markit did not give specific detail for Italy this was troubling.

The rest of the euro area saw a near-stalling of
growth, with output rising at the weakest pace since
the current upturn began in August 2013

What about Italy?

This reminds me of something from the French statistics office that I quoted on Wednesday.

Italian economic growth has remained almost non-existent for more than a year (0.0% in Q2 after +0.1% in Q1).

If you are already not growing and things are getting worse that has a clear implication and it takes us back to our “Girfriend in a coma” theme for Italy. This is where it does not fully participate in economic upswings but sadly does in downswings.

If we look at the area that causes the most concern around the world right now the Italian statistics office told us this earlier this month.

In August 2019 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index increased by 0.3% compared with the
previous month. The change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three
months was -0.3%.  The calendar adjusted industrial production index decreased by 1.8% compared with August 2018 (calendar working days being 21 versus 22 days in August 2018).

The manufacturing sector declined by 2.8% on a year ago and the manufacture of transport equipment fell by 6.9%.

So the pattern here was of recovery in 2015 followed by growth in 2016 and 17 but the growth slowed at the beginning of 2018 and has turned into declines. The underlying index is at 104.9 where 2015=100 so we see that the growth spurt is slip-sliding away.

The problem is that there is another catch.

The unadjusted industrial new orders index decreased by 10.0% with respect to the same month of the previous year (-4.0% in domestic market and -16.3% in non-domestic market).

This meant that the seasonal adjustment needed to do some quite heavy lifting to get us to this.

The seasonally adjusted industrial new orders index increased by 1.1% compared to July (+1.1% in domestic market and +1.0% in non-domestic market); the average of the last three months decreased by 1.6% compared to the previous three ones.

The Banks

If Italy is to change its economic path then it needs a reformed banking sector but as this from Reuters highlights we are back to the same old problems.

 Italy wants to shield Monte dei Paschi (BMPS.MI) from bad loan losses as it prepares the bailed-out bank for a sale, but faces resistance from European Union competition authorities, two sources close to the matter said.

Yep we are back to the world’s oldest bank which to link to the start of this story has operated much of this century under what are called the Draghi Laws. As ever the can is being kicked via a Special Purpose Vehicle or SPV.

Sources have told Reuters the Treasury wants to lower the impaired debt ratio to 5% by spinning off some 10 billion euros in problem loans that would be merged with the assets of Treasury-owned bad loan manager AMCO.

We find ourselves taking a trip into a type of fantasy land yet again.

Monte dei Paschi values debts unlikely to be repaid in full at just over half their nominal value and its worst performing loans at 38%.

That compares with an estimated average price of 27% of nominal value for soured loan transactions in Italy this year, a Banca IFIS report states.

How much? Well here is another way of putting it.

One of the sources said a sale would imply a 1.5 billion euro loss for Monte dei Paschi, hurting the bank’s minority shareholders but not the Treasury, which would benefit from the lower transfer price since its controls 100% of AMCO.

This is a situation that we have observed time and time again in the Italian banking crisis. This is where fantasy numbers are used to fudge the situation but sooner or later they end up facing reality. In this case it is minority shareholders in Monte Paschi who would take the punishment and remember they may well recall being told by Prime Minister Renzi that the bank was a good investment.

Fiscal Position

On Monday we got a reminder that it is not the fiscal deficits that are a problem for Italy.

The government deficit to GDP ratio decreased from 2.4% in 2017 to 2.2% in 2018. The primary surplus as a percentage of GDP was 1.5% in 2018, up by 0.2 percentage points with respect to 2017.

The government debt to GDP ratio was 134.8% at the end of 2018, up by 0.7 percentage points with respect to the end of 2017.

We have had a lot of political rhetoric about it borrowing more but overall Italy has not. The picture has been confused by Eurostat’s inability to produce seasonally adjusted numbers for Italy but the unadjusted ones are if anything lower than in 2018.

In the short-term it remains very cheap for Italy to borrow with its ten-year yield being a mere 1.01%. That is amazingly cheap in the circumstances and can only represent the expectation of being able to sell to the ECB at a higher price as there is a genuine danger of a downwards spiral in an economic slow down.

Comment

We find that the ongoing Italian economic weaknesses such as low growth in the good times and a banking sector full of zombies ready for Halloween leave it exposed to any economic downturns. It is a lovely country and on some viewings has economic strengths as the Bank of Italy reports.

Exports continued to increase in the second quarter, despite the contraction in international trade. The current account surplus rose further, to 2.8 per cent of GDP; foreign sales may have faltered in the following months.

But this leads to another fail for economics 101 as this should lead to economic dynamism except in Italy it never does.

Economic activity in Italy increased only slightly in the second quarter and, in the light of the available data, it could have remained almost stationary in the third……..There is still the risk that the unfavourable developments in industry will be transmitted to the other sectors of the economy.

Any further weakness in economic growth will put even more pressure on this.

The Government estimates net borrowing at 2.2 per cent of GDP this year, the same as in 2018. The debt-to-GDP ratio is expected to rise from 134.8 to 135.7 per cent of GDP.

So whilst I wish Mario Draghi a happy retirement it is also true that his tenure at the ECB has done little for his home country and via the way policy has been tilted towards an increasingly zombified banking sector may in fact have made things worse.

the next fact can be swung several ways.

Since 2015, the resident population has been decreasing, setting up a phase of demographic decline
for the first time in the last 90 years. At 31 December 2018 the population amounted to 60,359,546
residents, over 124 thousand less than the previous year (-0.2%) and over 400 thousand less than four
years earlier.

On the positive  side it helps GDP per person and fewer people must help the green agenda. On the negative side an ageing and shrinking population is less able to deal with the sizeable national debt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The story of India, its banks and five interest-rate cuts in a year

This morning has brought us a reminder of what has become one of the certainties of life. Oh for the time when we thought they were simply death and taxes whereas now we can add interest-rate cuts to this list. So without further ado let me look to thw sub-continent and had you over to the Reserve Bank of India,

On the basis of an assessment of the current and evolving macroeconomic situation, the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) at its meeting today (October 4, 2019) decided to: reduce the policy repo rate under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF) by 25 basis points to 5.15 per cent from 5.40 per cent with immediate effect.
Consequently, the reverse repo rate under the LAF stands reduced to 4.90 per cent, and the marginal standing facility (MSF) rate and the Bank Rate to 5.40 per cent.
The MPC also decided to continue with an accommodative stance as long as it is necessary to revive growth, while ensuring that inflation remains within the target.

As you can see the 0.25% interest-rate cut has been accompanied by some Forward Guidance of more being on the way. This is another reminder of my point earlier this week that central bankers are pack animals as to any impartial observer the whole concept of Forward Guidance has not worked or we would not be where we are. Still it does flatter central banking egos and make them feel important. After all it was only on the 4th of April I was pointing out they were telling us this.

The MPC also decided to maintain the neutral monetary policy stance.

Now I do not know about you but five interest-rate cuts in a year only three-quarters finished does not especially look neutral to me. So they were certainly not singing along with the Who.

I can see for miles and miles
I can see for miles and miles
I can see for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles
Oh yeah

Indeed there was dissent back then about the rate cut.

This time around the vote was again 4-2 so there is a reasonable amount of dissent about this at the RBI.

Furthermore it is worse than this because when I have contact with central bankers and point this out I do get the reply that it does not matter if Forward Guidance is wrong. This proves that the thin air up in top of their Ivory Towers does affect the brain.

What has caused this?

We have another reminder of central bankers being pack animals. What is Indian for Johnny Foreigner anyway?

Since the MPC’s last meeting in August 2019, global economic activity has weakened further……..The macroeconomic performance of major emerging market economies (EMEs) was weighed down by a deteriorating global environment in Q3…….worsening global growth prospects.

You could circle the world via central bankers doing this but would then be reminded of the wisdom of Maxine Nightingale.

Ooh, and it’s alright and it’s coming along
We gotta get right back to where we started from

In terms of the domestic economy there was this.

On the domestic front, growth in gross domestic product (GDP) slumped to 5.0 per cent in Q1:2019-20, extending a sequential deceleration to the fifth consecutive quarter.

So we are reminded of a couple of things. In addition to the slowing growth we have the fact that 5% GDP growth is considered slow in India. Oh and they mean second quarter as it is slightly unusual to present the numbers in a fiscal year style.

Now the central banking Johnny Foreigner facade crumbles away.

Of its constituents, private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) slowed down to an 18-quarter low.

So the weakness was mostly domestic after all. Perhaps they were hoping no-one would read this far down the report.

You will not be surprised to learn that there was also an issue here.

Industrial activity, measured by the index of industrial production (IIP), weakened in July 2019 (y-o-y), weighed down mainly by moderation in manufacturing. In terms of uses, the production of capital goods and consumer durables contracted……… The Reserve Bank’s business assessment index (BAI) fell in Q2:2019-20 due to a decline in new orders, contraction in production, lower capacity utilisation and fall in profit margins of the surveyed firms.

Also this is hardly hopeful.

The sales of commercial vehicles, a key indicator for the transportation sector, contracted by double digits in July-August.

Meanwhile as this is India there is also a reflection on the Monsoon season.

Abundant rains in August and September have led to improved soil moisture conditions in most parts of the country, particularly central India, compared to the corresponding period of the last year. Overall, the prospects of agriculture have brightened considerably, positioning it favourably for regenerating employment and income, and the revival of domestic demand.

Some Perspective

The Statistics Times has crunched some numbers so let us start with a perspective on what the growth rate was only recently.

Real GDP or Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at constant (2011-12) prices in the year 2018-19 is estimated at ₹140.78 lakh crore showing a growth rate of 6.81 percent over First Revised Estimates of GDP for the year 2017-18 of ₹131.80 lakh crore.

I often get asked about GNP, well as GNI is the new GNP.

GNI (Gross National Income)  ₹139.32 lakh crore

If we look further back.

In new series, figures are available since 2004-05. GDP of India has expanded by 2.57 times from 2004-05 to 2018-19.

According to IMF World Economic Outlook (April-2019), GDP (nominal ) of India in 2019 at current prices is projected at $2,972 billion. India contributes 3.36% of total world’s GDP in exchange rate basis. India shares 17.5 percent of the total world population and 2.4 percent of the world surface area. This projection would make India as 5th largest economy of the world.

Trouble,Trouble Trouble

One of my earliest themes as a blogger was that central banks have lost control of real world interest-rates.

Monetary transmission has remained staggered and incomplete. As against the cumulative policy repo rate reduction of 110 bps during February-August 2019, the weighted average lending rate (WALR) on fresh rupee loans of commercial banks declined by 29 bps. However, the WALR on outstanding rupee loans increased by 7 bps during the same period.

In terms of economic theory this is along the lines of what was called Liquidity Preference Theory at least in terms of principles. It is why I think interest-rate cuts below around 1.5% are ineffective and at times can make things worse and not better. We now have a new nuance that due to its unique circumstances India has some features of this at interest-rates of around 5%.

Comment

If we start with an international perspective then we have another week where Australia and India have cut interest-rates. This means that the number of interest-rate cuts in the credit crunch era must be pushing past 750 confirming my view of them being one of the new certainties of life.

Next comes the issue of “The Precious! The Precious!” which I have avoided so far explicitly although of course regular readers of my work will have spotted the implicit reference via the transmission of interest-rate cuts. Let me make me point with this from the RBI on the 26th of September.

Rumours are being circulated in sections of social media about operations of banks to create panic among the public. All are advised not to fall prey to such baseless and false rumours.

And Tuesday.

There are rumours in some locations about certain banks including cooperative banks, resulting in anxiety among the depositors. RBI would like to assure the general public that Indian banking system is safe and stable and there is no need to panic on the basis of such rumours.

The trigger for this is described by @fayedsouza

The RBI must communicate with depositors 1. When will they get access to their money? 2. How did the bank fraud go unnoticed for a decade? 3. Which other bank fraud have you missed while napping over the last 10 years? #PMCBankScam

 

Do not forget Greece is still in an economic depression

Today I intend to look at something which I and I know from your replies many of you have long feared. This is that the merest flicker of better news from Greece will be used as a way of obscuring the fact that it is still in an economic crisis. At least I think that is what we should be calling an economic depression. So let me take you straight to the Financial Times.

Today, on the face of things, the emergency is over and the outlook is bright. The authorities have lifted capital controls, imposed four years ago. Greece’s 10-year bond yield touched an all-time low in July. Consumer confidence is at its highest level since 2000. Elections in July produced a comfortable parliamentary majority for New Democracy, a conservative party committed under prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to a well-designed programme of economic reform, fiscal responsibility and administrative modernisation.

Firstly let me give the FT some credit for lowering its paywall for a bit. However the latter sentence is playing politics which is an area they have got into trouble with this year on the subject of Greece but I will leave that there as I keep out of politics.

As to the economics you may note that the first 2 points cover financial markets rather than the real economy and even the first point is a sentiment measure rather than a real development. If we work our way through them it is of course welcome that capital controls have now ended although it is also true that it is troubling that they lasted for more than four years.

Switching to Greek bonds we see that they did indeed join the worldwide bond party. I am not quite sure though about the all-time July low as you see it is 1.31% as I type this compared to being around 1% higher than that in July! Perhaps he has not checked since it dipped below 2% at the end of July which is hardly reassuring. As to why this has happened other than the worldwide trend there are 2 other factors. Firstly there is the way that the European Stability Mechanism has changed the debt envelope as the quote from Karl Regling below shows.

 In total, Greece received almost €290 billion in financial support, of which €205 billion came from the EFSF and the ESM.

So the Greek bond yield is approaching what the ESM charges. Another factor is they way that it has confirmed my “To Infinity! And Beyond!” theme as the average maturity was kicked like a can to 42.5 years. Next is a factor that I looked at on the 9th of July and Klaus also notes.

The general government primary balance in programme terms last year registered a surplus of 4.3% of GDP, strongly over-performing the fiscal target of 3.5% of GDP.

This is awkward for the political theme of the article as it was achieved by the previous government. Also let me be clear that whilst this is good for bond markets there is a big issue for the actual economy as 4.3% of demand was sucked out of it which is a lot is any circumstance but more so when you are still in an economic depression.

So it is a complex issue which to my mind has seen Greek bond yields move towards what the ESM is charging which is ~1%. Maybe the ECB will add it to its QE programme as well as whilst it does not qualify in terms of investment rating it could offer a waiver.

Greek Consumer Confidence

I have to confess referring to a confidence signal does set off a warning klaxon. But let us add in this from the Greek statistics office.

The overall volume index in retail trade (i.e. turnover in retail trade at constant prices) in June 2019, increased by
2.3%, compared with the corresponding index of June 2018……..The seasonally adjusted overall volume index in June 2019, compared with the corresponding index of May 2019, increased by 2.5%.

So there has been some growth. However there is a but and it is a BUT. You might like to sit down before you read the next bit. The volume index in June was 103.5 which compares to 177.7 in March 2008 and yes you did read that right. I regularly point out that monthly retail sales numbers are erratic so let me also point out that late 2007 and early 2008 had a sequence of numbers in the 170s. Even worse this century started with a reading of 115.4 in January 2000.

So we have seen a little growth but not much since the index was set at 100 in 2015 and you can either have a depression lasting this century or quite a severe depression since 2008 take your pick. Against that some optimism now is welcome but does not really cut it in my opinion.

Economic growth

There is a reference to it.

Even before these clouds appeared on the horizon, however, Greece was not rebounding from the debt crisis with the vigour of other stricken eurozone economies such as Ireland, Portugal and Spain.

That is one way of putting a level of GDP that has fallen 18% this decade. In 2010 prices it opened this decade with a quarterly performance of just over 59 billion Euros whereas in the second quarter of this year it was 48.3 billion. I am nit sure that “clouds on the horizon” really cover an annual growth rate struggling to each 2% after such a drop. Greece should be rebounding but of course as I have already pointed out the dent means that 4.3% of economic activity was sucked out of it last year. So no wonder it is an L-shaped and not a V-shaped recovery. At the current pace Greece may not get back to its previous peak in the next decade either.

Comment

There are some references to ongoing problems in Greece as for example the banks.

A second factor is the fragility of Greece’s banks. By the middle of this year, they were burdened with about €85bn in non-performing loans. To some extent, however, liquidity conditions are now improving.

Not mentioned is the fact that according to the Bank of Greece more than another 40 billion Euros needs writing off. From January 19th.

An absolutely indicative example can assess the immediate impact of a transfer of about €40 billion of NPLs, namely all denounced loans and €7.4 billion of DTCs ( Deferred Tax Credits).

That brings us to another problem which is that the debt was supposed to fall from 2012 onwards whereas even now there are plans for it to grow. So whilst the annual cost has been cut to low levels the burden just gets larger.

Also there has been a heavy human cost in terms of suicides, hospitals not being able to afford drugs and the like. It has been a grim run to say the least. The ordinary Greek did not deserve anything like that as they were guilty of very little. The Greek political class and banks were by contrast guilty of rather a lot. The cost is an ongoing depression which looks like it will continue for quite some time yet. After all I welcome the lower unemployment rate of 17% but also recall that such a rate was considered quite a disaster on the way up.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide, no escape from reality
Open your eyes, look up to the skies and see ( Queen)

 

What to do with a problem like Japan?

Next week on Thursday we will get the latest policy announcement from the Bank of Japan and it may well be a live meeting. With other central banks acting – and by this I mean easing policy again – there will be pressure on the Bank of Japan to maintain its relative position. But yesterday provided a catch which at the time of writing is in fact a version of Catch-22. This is because financial markets did the opposite of what Mario Draghi and the ECB wanted. At first markets went the right way and let me highlight bond markets as they digested these words from Mario Draghi at the press conference.

First of all let me start from one thing about which there was unanimous consensus, unanimity, namely that fiscal policy should become the main instrument.

This curious statement which is way beyond any central banking mandate even came with an official denial of its purpose.

they are packages not meant to finance Government deficits,

But my point is that the market move then U-Turned and bond yields rose. So for example the German bond market future fell by over 2 points from its peak. The ten-year yield rose and is now -0.51%. Next the Euro fell but then rose strongly and is now 1.108 versus the US Dollar.

Such developments will be watched closely in Tokyo with the concept of more easing leading to a stronger currency being something that would make Governor Kuroda want something a bit stronger than his morning espresso. Actually even something which is good news may have him chuntering as it reminds him of the demographics issue that Japan faces. From NHK news this morning.

Japan now has more than 70,000 centenarians, according to the health ministry. A new high has been reached every year for 49 years in a row.

The ministry says 71,238 people will be 100 or older as of September 15. That’s 1,453 more than last year………

There were only 153 centenarians when the ministry conducted its first survey in 1963. The figure surpassed 10,000 in 1998 and 50,000 in 2012.

Officials attribute the rapid rise to medical advances and campaigns to stay fit.

The ministry says it will provide support to enable elderly people to maintain their well being.

In this area economics lives up or rather down to its reputation as the dismal science as the good news above reminds us of Japan’s shrinking and ageing population.

The Banks

We rarely here these mentioned as of course the Japanese banks passed into the zombie zone some years and indeed decades ago. But The Japan Times is on the case today.

Since negative rates were introduced in 2016, Japanese bank shares have languished as their lending profitability dwindles. Nishihara estimates another rate reduction could wipe out as much as ¥500 billion ($4.6 billion) of bank profits, though lenders could make up ¥300 billion if they charge ¥1,000 per account annually.

They do not specify but they seem to be assuming Japan will match the ECB ( and its last move) and cut interest-rates from -0.1% to -0.2%. As to the making money from fees this would be especially awkward in Japan for this reason.

Such levies could help to address Japan’s unusually high number of accounts, easing costs for banks, then-central bank Deputy Gov. Hiroshi Nakaso said in 2017. There are about seven accounts per adult in Japan, the most in the world, according to International Monetary Fund figures.

I mean who cares about the people when The Precious is a factor?

Smaller Banks

These are a case of “trouble,trouble,trouble” as Taylor Swift would say.

Troubled regional banks are plunging into riskier corners of the credit markets, in a battle to survive ultralow interest rates and an industry shakeout.

A clear backfire from the QE or as we are in Japan QQE era. If you are wondering why QE became QQE in Japan think of how the leaky Windscale nuclear reprocessing plant became the leak-free Sellafield. I am just trying to remember if it was 13 or 19 versions of QE before the name change but I imagine you get the idea either way.

As to the smaller banks.

The latest case came last week. Local lenders were among the buyers of samurai bonds — those denominated in yen and issued by non-Japanese companies — sold by Export-Import Bank of India with a BBB+ rating, just three steps away from junk, that may have dissuaded the financial firms in the past. In another unconventional move last month, a few regional banks also put their money in the first negative-yielding note issued by a Japanese agency.

The title of “samurai bonds” is worrying enough in itself. Then moving into negative yielding bonds, what could go wrong?

I do enjoy the description of Japan’s face culture as “taking a more lenient view”.

Even Japan’s two major rating firms, which have tended to take a more lenient view, are sounding alarms. Downgrades and outlook cuts of regional lenders have increased to 13 so far this year at Japan Credit Rating Agency and Rating & Investment Information, the most for similar periods in data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 2010.

Oh and please remember when you read the quote below that the third arrow of Abenomics was supposed to be economic reform.

The government also said earlier this year that legislation will be submitted to the Diet in 2020 that will exempt regional banks from the anti-monopoly law for 10 years to facilitate mergers.

Banks are banks

It would seem that banking behaviour is the same wherever we look.

Japan Post Bank improperly sold investment trust products to elderly customers in violation of its rules in a total of some 20,000 cases, according to informed sources.

An investigation by the Japan Post Holdings Co. unit newly discovered some 2,000 cases of improper investment trust sales at 200 post offices, the sources said. Most contracts were conducted in fiscal 2018, which ended March 31.

Bank of Japan

There is often a lot of hot air about private ownership of central banks but as today’s Bank of Japan Annual Review points out, well you can see for yourself.

The Bank is capitalized at 100 million yen in accordance
with Article 8, paragraph 1 of the Act. As of the end of
March 2019, 55,008,000 yen is subscribed by the
government, and the rest by the private sector.

Some food for thought is provided by the word gearing. Why? Well the Bank of Japan has 486,523,186,968,000 Yen of Japanese Government Securities alone on its books.

Life Insurers

A problem for Japan’s life insurers is that they cannot get any interest or yield in Japan without rocketing up the risk scale. So according to Brad Setser they have been doing this.

But that changes when insurers cannot get the returns they want (or need) at home, and they start investing abroad in a quest for yield. Japanese life insurers (and for that matter Post Bank and Nochu) have looked abroad because yields at home are zero, and Japanese firms (in aggregate) don’t need to borrow.

Ah Post Bank again. How much?

For Japan, the data above shows a broader set of institutions—but the life insurers hold around $1.6 trillion, a sum that is around a third of GDP.

Comment

As you can see there are lots of questions about the financial system in Japan. That may move the Bank of Japan to copy the ECB as it notes that shares in The Precious have risen ( Deutsche Bank if up 0.25 Euros at 7.59).

Moving to the real economy it has not had such a bad 2019 so far. Whilst economic growth was revised down from 1.8% to 1.3% in annualised terms in the second quarter that is still better than I though it would be. For Japan these days an annual GDP growth rate of 1% is about par for the course and is better in individual terms due to the shrinking population. But as we look ahead we see a Pacific Region which is in trouble economically and of course a Consumption Tax rise ( which impacted so heavily in 2014) is due soon. So over to you Governor Kuroda.

Oh and something I have not mentioned so far which is that the Yen is at 108.

 

 

 

Which Euro area bank needed Dollars from the US Federal Reserve?

Today it is the turn of Europe to be in focus and let me briefly break my rule of looking at the real economy first because there is something going on which if it continues could easily hit it. As I seem to be not far off alone in noting this here is one of my own tweets from this morning.

There are two main things going on here. Firstly as I have pointed out before there is a shortage of US Dollars which tends to get worse as we approach year end. The tighter the situation is expected to be then the earlier people get ready and thus those considered more risky find it harder to get some.

Next comes the issue of the mechanics. This is an example of what have been called central bank FX swaps or liquidity swaps. Here is the ECB ( European Central Bank ) explainer.

Under normal circumstances, if a bank in the euro area needs US dollars, for example because it needs to provide a US dollar loan to a client, the bank turns to the market. But if US dollar funding costs are too high or if the market is disrupted, the bank can go to its national central bank. In this particular case, the ECB can get dollars thanks to the currency agreement with the Federal Reserve.

The next bit is both true and a maybe misleading.

Many of these currency agreements act mainly as a safety net and have never been activated.

According to the ECB website it can borrow up to US $80 billion from the US Federal Reserve. Actually I am not sure that is up to date but I would not worry about that too much as on a crisis the size would quickly be increased.

These are in existence in other areas for example there was a time that there were fears about the Irish banks and a need for UK Pounds back in the day.

The agreement allows pounds sterling to be made available to the Central Bank of Ireland as a precautionary measure, for the purpose of meeting any temporary liquidity needs of the banking system in that currency.

Such a line could be used post Brexit for example should UK banks need Euros or Euro area ones need pounds. But in essence and indeed the experience so far these swaps are for supply of the US Dollar as Aloe Blacc pointed out.

I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
Well I need a dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
Hey hey
And I said I need dollar dollar, a dollar is what I need
And if I share with you my story would you share your dollar with me

Actually our Aloe made a decent fist of explaining why a swap line might be used,

Bad times are comin’ and I reap what I don’t sow
Hey hey
Well let me tell you somethin’ all that glitters ain’t gold
Hey hey
It’s been a long old trouble long old troublesome road
And I’m looking for somebody come and help me carry this load

 

The Economy

Whilst the banking sector seems to be rumbling on with the same signs of indigestion we have been observing over time there have been some better hints from the real economy. For example let me hand you over to the Italian statistics office.

In July 2019, estimates for both value and volume of retail sales saw a slight fall when compared with a
month earlier, as the value was down 0.5% and the volume decreased by 0.7%.

As you can see it starts badly but stay with me.

In the three months to July 2019 the retail trade index increased both in value and in volume terms,
growing by 0.5% when compared to the previous three months (Feb – Apr 2019).  Year-on-year both measures of retail trade showed growth for the second consecutive month: the value rose by 2.6%, while the quantity sold was up 2.8%.

The reason why I have noted this is because this area has been a struggle for Italy and because in Italy an annual rate of growth of 2.8% stands out like a sore thumb. Unfortunately Italy’s statisticians have posted the wrong chart ( value not volume) something which no-one else seems to have noted. But even so this looks like a better phase for retail sales than even in the Euro boom.

Maybe it was always there even in the GDP figures.

This result synthetizes inventories negative contribution and domestic demand positive one (-0.3 pp. and +0.3 pp. respectively).

Should inventories simply do nothing Italy will have some economic growth from its domestic impetus. Not a lot and there is manufacturing to consider but for Italy anything is a bonus. Oh and you may have spotted that there is another tick in the box for my argument that low inflation boosts economies via retail sales and real wages. Because with the volume and value figures so close there is very little or no inflation here.

Someone has not noticed this however.

ECB presidential nominee Christine Lagarde pledges to act with “agility” against what she describes as inflation that is persistently too low ( Bloomberg )

Another possible route comes from Germany where things are at least not getting that much worse.

In July 2019, production in industry was down by 0.6% on the previous month on a price, seasonally and calendar adjusted basis according to provisional data of the Federal Statistical Office (Destatis). In June 2019, the corrected figure shows an decrease of 1.1% (primary -1.5%) from May 2019………4.2% on the same month a year earlier (price and calendar adjusted).

Comment

If we start with the Euro area economy then as I pointed out last week things are not as grim as some are saying, The money supply numbers have improved in 2019 and there are one or two flickers of action. However this morning has also brought a signal of trouble as China is not doing this for fun.

CHINA CUTS BANKS’ RESERVE REQUIREMENT RATIO CHINA CUTS RESERVE RATIO BY 0.5 PPT ( @PriapusIQ)

You may note that by acting to increase the money supply they are helping the banks first or behaving like us western capitalist imperialists.

Meanwhile I could type a fair bit about Euro area banks but instead let me show you the tweet of their share prices which speaks volumes. Share prices are far from always right as otherwise they would rarely move but look how long this has been going on.

 

Is this the real reason the ECB will act next week?