Will the UK taxpayer ever get back the money invested in Royal Bank of Scotland?

Today we find ourselves arriving at what has become an annual event although sadly there is never any money for a party although we are invariably promised that there will be plenty of cash next year. This is of course the announcement of more bad figures from Royal Bank of Scotland as we look back over all the promises made on its behalf which stretch back now to the beginning of the credit crunch. Let us step back in time to the 13th of October 2008.and see what the then Chancellor Alistair Darling told us  in the Guardian.

There is every reason to be confident that, as we go through this, the British taxpayer will get his money back.

The UK taxpayer invested at around £5 per share and this morning’s price is £2.44 so it looks as though Alistair will have to remain confident for quite some time and maybe forever. Also we learn that so-called alternative facts come from official sources as well as unofficial. But as time has passed others have proclaimed triumph only to see disaster.

Here is The International Financing Review from 2012.

In some ways, however, RBS is well ahead of the pack…….RBS was forced to concentrate on what it was good at and should come out of its current (second) restructuring as one of the more efficient banks in the industry.

I am not sure how much more they could have been wrong! But they were not alone as this from a former employer of mine Union Bank of Switzerland proves.

However, with 2013 expected to be the last year of significant restructuring for RBS, it is likely to be one of the first European banks to have dealt with legacy issues.

We can put that as a clear fail as the 2017 figures will show us later as we mull whether RBS will ever be able to sing along with Taylor Swift regarding legacy issues.

Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake
I shake it off, I shake it off

Along the way we have at least managed a little humour as this from Bluebullet on Twitter from 3 years ago shows.

Dear Dragons Den, I have 80% share. Losses this year are £8 billion. I am paying out £0.5 billion in bonuses. Would you like to invest? #RBS

Today’s data

Chief Executive Ross McEwan told us this only last year.

“I am determined to put the issues of the past behind us and make sure RBS is a stronger, safer bank,” chief executive Ross McEwan said.

 

“We will now continue to move further and faster in 2016 to clean up the bank and improve our core businesses.”

Does he think so? Well according to this in the Guardian he does although you may spot the bit that makes him think so.

“The bottom line loss we have reported today is, of course, disappointing but given the scale of the legacy issues we worked through in 2016, it should not come as a surprise,” said the RBS chief executive, Ross McEwan, who was paid £3.5m for 2016.

Okay so what was the loss declared?

Royal Bank of Scotland has reported losses of £7bn for 2016, taking its losses since its 2008 government bailout to more than £58bn.

 

The taxpayer-backed bank has also admitted that it will not return to profit until 2018, indicating that it will report 10 years of losses before it returns to the black.

There are a litany of issues here as we note yet another large loss. For Mr McEwan there is an awkward trend to explain as losses have gone £1.5 billion then £2 billion and now £7 billion as he has promised improvements. For the UK taxpayer there is the issue that the losses since the bailout are now larger than the funds invested. Next there is the fact that things are apparently so bad even these serial fakers cannot claim a profit is just around the corner!

If we switch to the Financial Times we see two of my themes being deployed as a defensive mechanism. Firstly losses are always described as a one-off which are nine years and rising of them is risible and secondly the way a bit like inflation measure we keep getting them until the “correct answer” is given.

In total, these one-off conduct and restructuring costs amount to £10bn. This pushed down the bank’s capital reserves, with the common equity tier one ratio dropping to 13.4 per cent, from 15.5 per cent a year ago. On a pre-tax basis, RBS reported an operating loss of £4.1bn, compared to a £2.7bn loss a year earlier. Its core business, comprising commercial and retail banking, delivered its eighth successive quarter of £1bn operating profit, stripping out one-off items.

So it made a profit right?

Reform

I have been critical of other countries on such matters so it is now time to apply similar methodology to the UK and the botched efforts with Williams & Glyns should lead to sackings of those involved. From the Financial Times.

This includes the £750m cost for the new Williams & Glyn plan unveiled last week. RBS has spent some £1.8bn over a number of years on attempting to divest Williams & Glyn.

They have splashed the cash and then given up after buying time with our money in a saga rather like Novo Banco in Portugal.

There are also more problems on the horizon as of course RBS was involved in so much miss selling and the issues with small businesses seem to just grow and grow. As to optimism well there does not seem to be much on display here in this from the Financial Times.

Mr McEwan is targeting £750m of cost savings this year, as part of a total £2bn of planned cuts over the four-year period, which is expected to involve hundreds of job losses and branch closures.

Comment

Actually the banking environment is really rather favourable. For example the UK economy returned to solid economic growth nearly four years ago and the Bank of England regularly rustles up a new bank subsidy plan. The latest one called the Term Funding Scheme  has now grown with little public attention to just under £42 billion. On that theme there was this from City AM yesterday.

Mortgage lending hit £18.9bn in January, new figures have shown – two per cent up on the same month last year, and the best January since 2008.

Enough to cheer both a banker’s and a central banker’s heart. Indeed the theme has been reinforced this morning by mortgage approvals rising to above 44,000 in January according to the British Bankers Association. The most similar bank to RBS is Lloyds Banking Group so how did it do this year?

Pre-tax profits increased by 158% to £4.24bn, a level last seen in 2006 before the financial crisis. ( BBC )

Next nearest is Barclays so what about it?

The bank reported a profit before tax of £3.2bn for 2016, up from £1.1bn the year before. ( BBC )

As you can see if they are from Venus RBS looks like it is from Mars. It needs a change and needs to go one way or another. What I mean by that is the taxpayer should fully own it and raise the current stake of around 72% to 100% or it should be sold-off and left to stand on its own. The current half-way house is doing no good at all. The fact that Lloyds is now nearly fully in the private sector ( ~96% of shares) is a guide but maybe not as much as we think as of course the shares were more easily sold off because it was already doing better than RBS.

 

Could the Bank of England end up taking over the Co-op Bank?

One of the consequences of the credit crunch and the consequent banking bailouts is the way that the banks dominate financial life. We can in fact take that further because in the same way that British Airways was described as a pension fund with an airline subsidiary can we now be described as a financial sector with a real economy subsidiary? It so often feels like that.

Actually there is some fascinating number-crunching we can do as banks interact with central banks and as so often ECB (European Central Bank) gives us food for thought. Earlier @insidegame pointed out this.

ECB deposit facility usage €495.763 billion.

Interesting that banks are so willing to deposit at an interest-rate of -0.4% is it not? That hardly suggests confidence in the system. Well there is another 955.27 billion Euros held by them in the ECB current account at the same -0.4% interest-rate. Indeed at a time of apparent economic success someone is also borrowing some 590 million from the Marginal Lending Facility.

Marginal lending facility in order to obtain overnight liquidity from the central bank, against the presentation of sufficient eligible assets;

There is more to consider as we note that what is supposed to be a penal interest-rate is a mere 0.25%.

Co-op Bank

This is an institution about which Taylor Swift might well have written “trouble,trouble,trouble” for. This morning the Co-op group has announced this.

As a minority investor in The Co-operative Bank, the Co-op Group is supportive of the plan to find the Bank a new home. We will continue to work with the Bank and other investors through the process. We are focused on finding the best outcome for our members, two million of whom are Bank customers, as well as the members of our shared pension scheme which is well funded and supported by the Group. Our goal is to ensure the continued provision of the type of co-operative banking products our members want.

So the bank is up for sale and my immediate thought is who would buy it and frankly would they pay anything? Only last week Bloomberg put out some concerning analysis.

Co-Operative Bank Plc, the British lender that ceded control to its creditors three years ago, has plunged in value to as little as 45 million pounds ($56 million), according to people familiar with the matter.

The shares are privately owned so prices are not published but we are told this about trading and prices.

Shares in the Manchester, England-based lender, which don’t trade publicly, are quoted between 10 pence and 30 pence by investment banks offering private trading among institutional investors, said the people who asked not to be identified because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The shares were worth about 3 pounds after the bank was rescued by bondholders in 2013, falling to about 50 pence in September before plummeting in recent weeks amid questions over its financial strength, the people added.

There are two initial issues raised by this. The first is that “worth” is not the same as price and related to that I would say that the £3 price after the 2013 rescue was a combination of a false market and wishful thinking. In a closed private market, how can I put this? You can pretty much price it as you like and wait and see if anyone is silly enough to buy at that price? I think we are clear now that the answer was no! So the fall in the price has in my opinion been more an acquaintance with reality than any real change.

The institution would already have been on the radar of the Bank of England.

Co-Op Bank will probably operate below regulatory capital guidance until at least 2020, the bank said Jan. 26, as it replaces crumbling IT systems and separates its pension fund from its former parent.

One thing that raises a wry smile is that the banks are always described as having “crumbling IT systems”. How can this be when pre credit crunch we were told that they were run by people of such talent that they deserved vast salaries and remuneration packages? Someone should try a case for miss selling there. I believe the Co-op Bank has now outsourced such matters to IBM.

The Prudential Regulation Authority or PRA has been looking into this although its moves are awkward in the sense that they give the Co-op bank another downwards push.

The PRA increased its so-called Pillar 2A capital requirements, financial buffers linked to a lender’s idiosyncratic risks, to 14.1 percent of risk-weighted assets in November. By contrast, the level set for Lloyds Banking Group Plc, Britain’s largest mortgage lender, is 4.5 percent.

Bonds,Bonds Bonds

There is no bull market here indeed we see the reverse as the Co-op Bank’s bonds have seen quite a bear market.

The bank’s 206 million pounds of junior bonds due December 2023 dropped 4 pence to 45 pence on the pound on Wednesday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, while 400 million pounds of senior bonds maturing in September this year were little changed at 85 pence, with a yield of 34.5 percent.

In these times of zero and indeed negative interest-rates which we reminded ourselves about at the opening of this article an interest-rate of 34.5% can be described thus.

Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

The official view is quite different as the BBC explains.

The bank has four million customers and is well known for its ethical standpoint, which it says makes it “a strong franchise with significant potential” when it comes to a sale.

This seems like a reality was a friend of mine moment, or of course perhaps viewed through the prism of its previous drug-taking chairman Paul Flowers, who pursued the new methods of counting GDP with quite an enthusiasm. Meanwhile the last Fitch Report told a different tale.

Co-op Bank’s relaunch is crucial for it to become a viable business, but losses and capital erosion continue to hamper its progress. We expect Co-op Bank to report losses until at least 2017, and significant investment in new systems could extend losses into the medium term. Profitability should begin to benefit in 2018 when fair value adjustments related to the 2009 acquisition of Britannia Building Society are fully unwound.

Comment

This is a sad, sad story as there is much to recommend mutual organisations although of course much of that disappeared in the 2013 rescue. When the credit crunch hit there were hopes ( including mine) that the mutual system might help but sadly it has done little if any better than the share owned banks. The same greed culture ravaged it and may yet ravage us as taxpayers. This is particularly disappointing from an organisation which has promoted itself ad being based on ethical foundations.

Right now the Bank of England will be trying to encourage and goad someone into buying this. The problem is that the shortlist at the moment has one maybe which is the TSB. The problem in my opinion is that when a bank has trouble the record is simply that so far we have never been told the full truth at the beginning. A bit like the rule that you never buy a share until the third profit warning. After all if the outlook was good the hedge funds would keep it wouldn’t they? So there remains a genuine danger that the Bank of England will end up stepping up and apply its new bank resolution procedure. At such a time it would be on my timeline for such events.

5. The relevant government(s) tell us that they are stepping in to help the bank but the problems are both minor and short-term and are of no public concern.

6. The relevant government(s) tell us that the bank needs taxpayer support but through clever use of special purpose vehicles there will be no cost and indeed a profit is virtually certain.

7.Part-nationalisation of the bank is announced and taxpayers are told that a profit will result from this sound and wise investment.

8. Full nationalisation is announced to the sound of teeth being pulled without any anaesthetic.

As to the individuals concerned there is this.

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 “unforeseen difficulties”.

 

 

 

The problems of the banks have not gone away

As we progress through 2017 we will reach the decade point for the credit crunch era especially in UK terms if we count from the collapse of the Northern Rock building society in October 2007 when it required liquidity support from the Bank of England. We are also left mulling establishment promises like this as quoted by the BBC.

Northern Rock is to be nationalised as a temporary measure, Chancellor Alistair Darling has said.

Now whilst some of it was taken over by Virgin Money giving the UK taxpayer a loss. some of it remains with UK Asset Resolution Limited.

Today, UKAR comprises of approximately 200 colleagues and is responsible for around 215,000 customers holding £33.1 billion of mortgages and loans.

Around £9 billion of that is from Northern Rock and the rest is from the failure of Bradford & Bingley which also failed. So we are left mulling the meaning of the word temporary one more time.

The next theme we kept being promised was that this time would be different and that there would be fundamental reform of the banking system. Actually that reform got kicked into the very long grass in the main and has yet to fully arrive. Back in 2011 the BBC reported it like this.

The ICB called for the changes to be implemented by the start of 2019…….The BBC’s business editor, Robert Peston, called it the most radical reform of British banks in a generation, and possibly ever.

Of course since then we have seen various delays and “improvements” to the plan as we wonder if it will ever be implemented or whether banks will collapse again first. So the reform so lauded by Robert Peston became this in February last year.

Sir John Vickers, who headed up the Independent Commission on Banking (ICB), said: “The Bank of England proposal is less strong than what the ICB recommended.”

In a BBC interview, he added: “I don’t think the ICB overdid it.”

The Bank of England rebuffed the criticism.

As ever the Bank of England moved to protect the banks rather than the wider economy.

Deutsche Bank

Today has seen yet more woe and bad news reported by Deutsche Bank which has never really shaken off the impact of the credit crunch. From Bloomberg.

The bank’s net loss narrowed to 1.89 billion euros in the three months through December, from a loss of 2.12 billion euros a year earlier. Analysts had expected a shortfall of 1.32 billion euros.

As I look at this there is the simple issue of yet another loss. After all the German economy is doing rather well with economic growth of 1.9% in 2016 and the unemployment rate falling to 5.9% with employment rising. So why can’t Deutsche Bank make any money?

Deutsche Bank took 1.59 billion euros of litigation charges in the fourth quarter, more than the 1.28 billion euros analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected on average. While 2015 and 2016 were “peak years for litigation,” this year will continue to be “burdened by resolving legacy matters,” Deutsche Bank said in slides on its website.

Ah “legacy issues” which is the new version of Shaggy’s “It wasn’t me!”. Here is a breakdown of where they stand.

Last month, Deutsche Bank finalized a settlement with the Justice Department over its handling of mortgage-backed securities before 2008. The bank agreed to pay a $3.1 billion civil penalty and provide $4.1 billion in relief to homeowners. This week, it was fined $629 million by U.K. and U.S. authorities for compliance failures that resulted in the bank helping wealthy Russians move about $10 billion out of the country.

Also we have some signals as to what may be coming over the horizon.

A criminal investigation of the trades by the Justice Department is ongoing. The bank also hasn’t resolved investigations into whether it manipulated foreign-currency rates and precious metals prices.

Apart from that everything is hunky dory. If we look at this overall there is a very odd relationship between countries and banks these days. Banks get “too big to fail” support both explicitly and implicitly but they are also fined fairly regularly and hand over cash to taxpayers. Mind you some care is need here because Deutsche Bank is backed by the German taxpayer but the fines above have gone to the US and UK treasuries.

The one case where banks have some argument for saying official policy hurts them is in the case of negative interest-rates and of course the ECB has a deposit and current account rate of -0.4%. But whilst there is an element of truth in this there are also issues. The most obvious is that the banks wanted many of the interest-rate cuts that have been made and have also benefited from the orgy like amount of QE (Quantitative Easing) bond buying. The second is that the ECB has allowed them to borrow at down to -0.4% as well in an attempt to shield them.

These are bad results from my old employer and perhaps the most troubling of all is the impression created that clients are moving business elsewhere. For a bank that is invariably the worst situation. This is how it is officially put by the chairman.

Deutsche Bank has experienced a “promising start to this year,”

The share price had been on a strong run but has dropped 5% today so far.

Unicredit

Ah the banks of Italy! They seldom get far away from the news. It has seen its rights issue plan approved today as we mull why it need so much extra capital if things are going as well as we are told? From Bloomberg.

Unicredit Spa will sell new shares for more than a third less than their current price in a 13 billion-euro ($14 billion) rights offer aimed at strengthening its capital position.

The bank will sell stock at 8.09 euros a share and offer 13 new shares for every five held….. The offer price is 38 percent less than the theoretical value of the shares excluding the rights, known as TERP.

So more woe for shareholder as we note that the recent rally from around 19 Euros to just below 27 requires the perspective that the price was 423 Euros at the pre credit crunch peak. Also this is not the only rights issue that has been required.

In 2012, amid the global financial crisis, UniCredit sold shares at a 43 percent discount to raise 7.5 billion euros.

Also the mood music became a combination of grim and bullying.The offer document suggested that even with the extra capital there was no guarantee that things would be okay and hinted that if the bank did not get its money then shareholders would be even worse off if the bank failed.

It’s Chief Economist Erik Neilson (ex Goldman Sachs) is very opinionated for someone who works for an organisation that has performed so badly.

Comment

We are continually told that this time is different and that the banks have been reformed and then yet more signs of “trouble,trouble,trouble” as Taylor Swift would put it emerge. In the UK we have seen signs of yet another cover up at HBOS this week as Thames Valley Police reports.

Following a six year Thames Valley Police investigation into a complex multi-million pound fraud involving bank employees and private business advisors, six people have been convicted at Southwark Crown Court of fraud and money-laundering offences…….The fraud resulted in these offenders profiting from hundreds of millions of pounds at the expense of businesses, a high street bank and its customers.

When the Clash wrote these lines they were not thinking of the robbers working for the banks.

my daddy was a bankrobber
but he never hurt nobody
he just loved to live that way
and he loved to steal your money

These matters provide plenty of food for though as today 2 European banks take centre stage but it is like a carousel. Monte dei Paschi is now in state ownership and no doubt there will be more bad news from RBS. On and on and on it goes.

Me on TipTV Finance

http://tiptv.co.uk/inflation-quagmire-not-yes-man-economics/

Portugal is struggling to escape from its economic woes

Late on Friday (at least for those of us mere mortals who do not get the 24 hour warning) came the news that the ratings agency DBRS had reduced Italy to a BBB rating. These things do not cause the panic they once did for two reasons the first is that the ECB is providing a back stop for Euro area bonds with its QE purchases and the second is that the agencies themselves have been discredited. However there is an immediate impact on the banks of Italy as the Bank of Italy has already pointed out.

Italy’s DBRS downgrade: a manageable increase in funding costs…..Haircuts on collateral posted by Italian banks: the value of the government bonds collateral pool alone would increase by ~8bn. ( h/t @fwred )

However this also makes me think of another country which is terms of economics is something of a twin of Italy and that is Portugal.

When we do so we see that Portugal has also struggled to sustain economic growth and even in the good years it has rarely pushed above 1% per annum. There have also been problems with the banking system which has been exposed as not only wobbly but prone to corruption. Also there is a high level of the national debt which is being subsidised by the QE purchases of the ECB as otherwise there is a danger that it would quickly begin to look rather insolvent. In spite of the ECB purchases the Portuguese ten-year yield is at 3.93% or some 2% higher than that of Italy which suggests it is perceived to be a larger risk. Also more cynically perhaps investors think that little Portugal can be treated more harshly than its much larger Euro colleague.

The state of play

This has been highlighted by the December Economic Bulletin of the Bank of Portugal.

Over the projection horizon, the Portuguese economy is expected to maintain the moderate recovery trajectory that has characterised recent years . Thus, following 1.2 per cent growth in 2016, gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to accelerate to 1.4 per cent in 2017, stabilising its growth rate at 1.5 per cent for the following years.

So it is expecting growth but when you consider the -0.4% deposit rate of the ECB, its ongoing QE programme and the lower value of the Euro you might have hoped for better than this. Or to put it another way not far off normal service for Portugal. Also even such better news means that Portugal will have suffered from its own lost decade.

This implies that at the end of the projection horizon, GDP will reach a level identical to that recorded in 2008.

This is taken further as we are told this.

In the period 2017-19, GDP growth is expected to be close to, albeit lower than, that projected for the euro area, not reverting the negative differential accumulated between 2010 and 2013

You see after the recession and indeed depression that has hit Portugal you might reasonably have expected a strong growth spurt afterwards like its neighbour Spain. Instead of that sort of “V” shaped recovery we are seeing what is called an “L” shaped one and the official reasons for this are given below.

This lack of real convergence with the euro area reflects persisting structural constraints to the growth of the Portuguese economy, in which high levels of public and private sector indebtedness, unfavourable demographic developments and persisting inefficiencies in the employment and product markets play an important role, requiring the deepening of the structural reform process.

After an economic growth rate of 0.8% in the third quarter of 2016 you might have expected a little more official optimism as they in fact knew them but say their cut-off date was beforehand, but I guess they are also looking at numbers like this.

According to EUROSTAT, the Portuguese volume index of GDP per-capita (GDP-Pc), expressed in purchasing power parities represented 76.8% the EU average (EU28=100) in 2015, a value similar to the observed in 2014.

It is at the level of the Baltic Republics, oh and someone needs to take a look at the extraordinary numbers and variation in the measures of Luxembourg!

House Prices

Here we see some numbers to cheer any central banker’s heart.

In the third quarter of 2016, the House Price Index (HPI) increased by 7.6% when compared to the same period of 2015 (6.3% in the previous quarter). This was the highest price increase ever observed and the third consecutive quarter in which the HPI recorded an annual rate of change above the 6%. When compared to the second quarter, the HPI rose by 1.3% from July to September 2016, 1.8 percentage points (p.p.) lower than in the previous period.

What is interesting is the similarity to the position in the UK in some respects as we see that house price growth went positive in 2013 although until now it has been a fair bit lower than in the UK. Of course whilst central bankers may be happy the ordinary Portuguese buyer will not be so pleased as we see yet another country where house price rises are way above economic performance. Indeed a problem with “pump it up” economic theory in Portugal is the existing level of indebtedness.

the high level of indebtedness of the different economic sectors – households, non-financial corporations and public sector – ( Bank of Portugal )

The debt situation

In terms of numbers Portuguese households have been deleveraging but by the end of the third quarter of last year the total was 78.6% of GDP, whilst the corporate non banking sector owed some 110.8% of GDP. At the same time the situation for the public-sector using the Eurostat method was 133.2 % of GDP.

Going forwards Portugal needs new funding for businesses but seems more set to see property lending recover if what has happened elsewhere after house price rises is any guide. Also the state is supposed to be reducing its debt position but we keep being told that.

The banks

It always comes down to this sector doesn’t it? Portugal has had lots of banking woe summarised by The Portugal News here just before Christmas.

The Portuguese state provided €14.348 billion in support to the banking sector between 2008 and 2015, according to a written opinion submitted by the country’s audit commission, the Tribunal de Contas, last year and made public on Tuesday.

That’s a tidy sum in a relatively small country and we see that the banking sector shrunk in size by some 3.4% in asset terms in the year to the end of the third quarter of 2016. In terms of bad debts then we are told that “credit impairments” are some 8.2% of the total although the recent Italian experience has reminded us again that such numbers should be treated as a minimum.

Last week the Financial Times reminded us that the price of past troubles was still being paid.

Shares in Millennium BCP fell by more than 13 per cent in early trading on Tuesday after Portugal’s largest listed lender approved a capital increase of up to €1.33bn in which China’s Fosun will seek to lift its stake from 16.7 per cent to 30 per cent.

Oh and this bit is very revealing I think.

The rights issue, which is bigger than BCP’s market value,

Comment

Let us start with some better news which is from the labour market in Portugal.

The provisional unemployment rate estimate for November 2016 was 10.5%

This represents a solid improvement on the 12.3% of 2015 although as so often these days unemployment decreases comes with this.

These developments in productivity against a background of economic recovery fall well short of those seen in previous cycles……. Following a slight reduction in 2016, annual labour productivity growth is projected to be approximately 0.5 per cent over the projection horizon.

Also there is the issue of demographics and an ageing population which the Bank of Portugal puts like this.

the evolution of the resident population,
which has presented a downward trend,

I like Portugal and its people so let us hope that The Portugal News is right about this.

Portugal has been named as the cheapest holiday destination in the world for Britons this year. The country’s Algarve region came top in the Post Office’s annual Holiday Costs Barometer, which takes into account the average price of eight essential purchases, including an evening meal for two, a beer, a coffee and a bottle of suncream, in 44 popular holiday spot around the world.

That’s an interesting list of essential purchases isn’t it? But more tourism would help Portugal although the woes of the UK Pound seem set to limit it from the UK.

 

 

 

 

The economic problem that is Italy continues

Today brings the economic situation in Italy into focus as it readies itself for a ratings review. Friday the 13th may not be the most auspicious of days for that! However I should be more precise in my language as the Italian government will know as they get told 24 hours before. So as we live in a world where things leak, today will be a day where some traders will be more equal than others so take care. But there are plenty of worries around due to the fact that one of the central themes of this website which is Italy’s inability to maintain any solid rate of economic growth continues. To be more specific even in the good times it struggled to have GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth of more than 1% per annum. This it was particularly ill-equipped to deal with the credit crunch and was left with weak economic foundations such as its banks.

Some better news

This was to be found in yesterday’s production numbers.

In November 2016 the seasonally adjusted industrial production index increased by 0.7% compared with the previous month. The percentage change of the average of the last three months with respect to the previous three months was +0.9.

The calendar adjusted industrial production index increased by 3.2% compared with November 2015

As you can see these were good numbers although not so good for economists whose expectations so often misfire. As the Financial Times pointed out there was a positive change in response to this.

Economists at Barclays have doubled their projected fourth quarter growth forecast for the eurozone’s third largest economy to…0.2 per cent…….. GDP growth is now expected to clock in at 0.2 per cent from an earlier projection of 0.1 per cent in the three months to December,

If you really want to big this up then you can say that the expected growth rate has doubled! Of course the issue is that it is so low and that even this would be a reduction on the 0.3% achieved in the third quarter of 2016. For a little more perspective imagine the outcry if a post EU vote UK had grown like that, twitter would have been broken.

The Labour Market

The data here is far from positive however as on Monday we were told this.

In November 2016, 22.775 million persons were employed, +0.1% compared with October. Unemployed were 3.089 million, +1.9% over the previous month……..unemployment rate was 11.9%, +0.2 percentage points in a month and inactivity rate was 34.8%, -0.2 percentage points over the previous month.

This is the Italian equivalent of a Achilles Heel and separates it from the general Euro area performance where the unemployment rate has been falling and is now at 9.8%. In fact it was one of only four European Union states to see an annual rise in its unemployment rate and we should make a mental note that Cyprus was another as this does not coincide with the message that the bailout was a triumph. Returning to Italy there was more bad news in the detail of the numbers.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 39.4%, +1.8 percentage points over October and youth unemployment ratio in the same age group was 10.6%, +0.7 percentage points in a month.

I hope these sort of numbers do not lose their ability to shock us and also note that time matters here as Italy is in danger of seeing a lost generation as well as a lost decade. So many must have no experience of what it is like to work.

Consumer Inflation

The last week or so has seen quite a few nations recording a pick-up in inflation in December so we see yet another area where Italy is different.

In December 2016, according to preliminary estimates, the Italian harmonized index of consumer prices (HICP) increased by 0.4% with respect to the previous month and by 0.5% with respect to December 2015 (from +0.1% in November 2016).

Yes there was a rise but to a much lower level and in terms of Italy’s own CPI prices fell in 2016 overall albeit by only 0.1%. So as we observe low rates of economic growth we see that Italy is in fact quite near to deflation which for me would be signaled by falling output and prices.

Italian consumers are unlikely to be keen on the rising inflation level such as it is because it was mostly fuel and food driven.

House Prices

Here is another difference as you might think that an official interest-rate of -0.4% and 1.5 trillion Euros or so of bond purchases in the Euro area would lead to house price rises. That is of course true in quite a few places but not in Italy.

In the third quarter of 2016: – the House Price Index (see Italian IPAB) increased by 0.1% compared to the previous quarter and decreased by 0.9% in comparison to the same quarter of the previous year (slightly down from -0.8 registered in the second quarter of 2016);

So not much action at all and in fact Italy has been seeing house price disinflation. The official index has done this after being set at 100 in 2010. It has gone 102.4 (2013), 100.1 (2014), 98.6 (2015) and 97.4 in the third quarter of last year.

So good for first time buyers and in many ways I think more welcome than the UK situation but surely not what the Italian President of the ECB Mario Draghi had planned.

The banks

This is a regular theme as well and I covered the Monte Paschi bailout on the 30th of December and apart from a debate as to how bad the bad loans are there is little change here. Yes the same bad loans which we were told were such great value only a couple of months or so ago. Also Unicredit is continuing with its 13 billion Euro capital raise confirming the view I expressed on Sky Business News just over 5 years ago. Eeek! Where did the time go?

http://www.mindfulmoney.co.uk/mindful-news/unicredit-collapse-the-invasion-of-zombie-banks/

We do have some news on this subject and it does raise kind of a wry smile.

UBI Banca, Italy’s fifth-largest bank by assets, has been cleared to buy for €1 the rump of three lenders rescued by the state in the latest step in Italian bank consolidation. UBI made the offer for Marche, Etruria and Carichieti to the state bank resolution fund on the condition the so-called good banks are stripped of €2.2bn in bad loans. ( Financial Times).

Oh and 1 Euro may turn out to be very expensive if you read my 30th of December post and the relationship of Finance Minister Padoan with reality and honesty.

Pier Carlo Padoan, finance minister, told lawmakers in Rome he was “convinced” the deal was good for the bank in question and confidence in the Italian banking system.

The discussion these days turns a lot to those bad loan ratios and how much of them have been dealt with. As ever there appears to be some slip-sliding-away going on.

Comment

The simplest way of looking at Italian economic performance this century is to look at economic growth and then growth per head. Sadly we see that GDP of 1555.5 billion Euros in 2000 ( 2010 prices) was replaced by a lower 1553.9 billion in Euros in 2015. But the per head or per capita performance was much worse as the population rose from 57.46 million in 2000 to 60.66 million at the end of 2015.

It is that economic reality which has weakened the banks (albeit with not a little corruption thrown in) and also led to the problems with the national debt about which we have also learned more today.

Italian General Government Debt (EUR) Nov: 2229.4B (prev 2223.8B) ( h/t @LiveSquawk )

The bond vigilante wolf is being kept from the door by the amount of bond purchases being made by the ECB.

What hope is there? Perhaps that the unofficial or unregulated economy is larger than we think. Let us hope so as Italy is a lovely country. But in contrast to Germany which I analysed on Monday the level of the Euro looks too high for Italy.

 

 

 

The Monte Paschi saga continues

Firstly let me wish you all a very Happy New Year as we approach the month of January. As we switch to an ongoing theme which has occupied on here for some years it is linked to something else in the news or rather what is called fake news. From the Financial Times earlier this morning.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Pitruzzella, head of the Italian competition body since 2011, said EU countries should set up independent bodies — co-ordinated by Brussels and modelled on the system of antitrust agencies — which could quickly label fake news, remove it from circulation and impose fines if necessary.

“Post-truth in politics is one of the drivers of populism and it is one of the threats to our democracies,” Mr Pitruzzella said. “We have reached a fork in the road: we have to choose whether to leave the internet like it is, the wild west, or whether it needs rules that appreciate the way communication has changed. I think we need to set those rules and this is the role of the public sector.”

I am pleased about this as I gave some examples of past fake news only on the 22nd of this month.

*PADOAN: ITALIAN BANKS ARE NOT WEAK (January)

*PADOAN: PERCEPTION OF ITALIAN BANKING SYSTEM HEALTH `DISTORTED’ (July)

Oh and he was on CNBC in September.

Bailout for Italian banks has been ‘absolutely’ ruled out

So Mr.Pitruzzella can start with the past pronouncements of Italy’s Finance Minister! Once he has done that he can move onto the prime minister who has just departed. From Business Insider.

At the beginning of this year, Prime Minister Renzi said: “Today, the bank is healed, and investing in it is a bargain. [Monte dei Paschi] has been hit by speculation, but it is a good deal. It went through crazy vicissitudes, but today it is healed —it’s a good brand.

So both “healed” and “bargain” need to go into my financial lexicon for these times as we wonder how much of Matteo Renzi’s own money was invested?

The bailout or is it bail in?

Finance Minister Padoan ( who lest we forget was briefly  in the running to be the new prime minister) seems to be upset if someone points out his dissembling as this from Reuters highlights.

In unusually critical comments of the euro zone’s banking supervisor, Pier Carlo Padoan told a newspaper that the ECB’s new capital target was the result of a “very rigid stance” in its assessment of the bank’s risk profile.

 

“It would have been useful, if not kind, to have a bit more information from the ECB about the criteria that led to this assessment,” Padoan told the financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore.

You would think that by now Mr.Padoan would know pretty much everything about Monte Paschi and I note that “very rigid stance” is quite different to saying that the ECB is wrong. If we look at the numbers then using the word embarrassing simply does not tell half the story.

Monte dei Paschi, Italy’s third biggest lender and the world’s oldest, said on Monday the ECB had estimated its capital shortfall at 8.8 billion euros (7.5 billion pounds), compared with a 5 billion-euro gap previously indicated by the bank.

So the fake news that was most prevalent about Monte Paschi in 2016 was driven by the Ittalian government and the Bank of Italy telling us that a 5 billion Euro private rescue could work. In fact they would have lost their money just like the previous 3 rescues as it was not enough. In some ways it reminds me of the rights issue of around £12 billion that Royal Bank of Scotland undertook only a few months before collapsing which must have been based on a misrepresentation and should have resulted in prosecutions accordingly.

What no doubt is particularly irking Finance Minister Padoan is this from The Bank of Italy.

The difference between the amount of the capital injection for Banca Monte Dei Paschi di Siena calculated on the basis of the ‘market solution’ (€5 billion) and the amount required in the case of a ‘precautionary recapitalization’ by the Italian state (€8.8 billion) depends on the different hypotheses and objectives of the two measures, which also imply different methods of calculation and lead to different results.

We get a long explanation of the detail in an attempt to divert us from the fact that the Bank of Italy knows the Euro area recapitalisation rules and thus has deliberately overlooked them until now. As we progress we see not only the cost to the Italian state but the sum set aside for compensation to the retail bondholders.

the immediate cost to the State would therefore amount to about €4.6 billion (€2.1 billion to cover the first requirement and €2.5 billion to satisfy the second); to this must be added the subsequent compensation of retail subscribers (about €2 billion, to be verified on the basis of the status of the subscribers and their actual willingness to adhere to the State compensation scheme), for a total of about €6.6 billion.

This morning Italy’s new Prime Minster has joined the fray as shown below from Il Sole 24 Ore.

In his first end-of-year news conference, new Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni……….This content is now becoming “subject of a discussion with the supervisory board of the ECB, while the tranquillity, size and significance of our intervention is not in question.”

What has he left to discuss? Also given the lifespan of Italian Prime Ministers which is the same as UK Premiership football managers he first end of year news conference may also be his last.

The 20 billion Euro problem

Is this an official denial that “up to” now means more than? From Prime Minister Gentiloni again.

As affirmed by Padoan in recent days, the €20 billion from the bank rescue decree is still enough to help both MPS and other banks, such as the two Veneto lenders (Veneto Banca and Popolare Vicenza), run by the Atlante Fund, which could seek extraordinary public support.

The obvious truth is that like the two efforts at funding the Atlante private-sector bank rescue vehicle it is simply not enough. Some of the smaller sums might have worked if they had been applied early enough and been accompanied by genuine reform but in the meantime things have been allowed to rot and deteriorate.

Meanwhile Monte Paschi is going to issue some more debt according to Reuters. Please form an orderly queue.

Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which is being bailed out by the state, plans to issue 15 billion euros ($15.8 billion) of debt next year to restore liquidity and boost investor confidence, several newspapers said on Friday.

Comment

There are not many subjects in the financial sphere that have been subject to fake news more than Monte Paschi over the past few years. The really damning part of this is that so much of that has come from the government of Italy as well as the bank’s board. All the claims of business of usual have been replaced by a need of 8.8 billion Euros of equity capital and 15 billion Euros of bonds. Underlying this is a banking legal system called the “Draghi Laws” after the current president of the ECB after his time at the Italian Treasury and the Bank of Italy. Time for some Fleetwood Mac.

Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies
(Tell me lies, tell me, tell me lies)
Oh, no, no you can’t disguise
(You can’t disguise, no you can’t disguise)
Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies

Meanwhile Finance Minster Padoan is on the wires again. From Reuters.

“The bank is in optimal condition and will have great success,” he said.

It is always the banks isn’t it?

Firstly as we arrive at what is now called  Christmas Eve Eve let me wish all of you a very Merry Christmas. As I will be on the lunchtime show on Share Radio next Thursday I will  post at the end of next week but will take a short break before then. Meanwhile financial markets have raised themselves from annual end of year torpor to review quite a bit of activity in the banking sector. You see governments and regulators invariably wait until this time of year to hand out presents to the banking sector although many of them are not the sort of present we dreamed of as children. In past years we have seen both bailouts and bail ins in Portugal and Italy for example and this year I have been expecting the final chapter of the Monte Paschi story to arrive about now for some time.

The collapse of Monte Paschi

This sad sorry saga is now coming to some sort of climax. Yesterday evening as City-AM reports the board of directors met and decided it was over.

The country’s third-largest bank said it failed to secure investors and sell new shares, so it scrapped a debt-to-equity conversion offer that had raised €2bn. It is returning bonds tendered under the swap.

Monte dei Paschi said it would not pay fees to investment banks that had worked to place its shares or on its planned bad loan sale, including its advisers JPMorgan and Mediobanca.

Investment bankers not be paid is that allowed these days? Anyway that moved us to a situation this morning as described below.

Trading in Monte dei Paschi shares, derivatives and bonds has been suspended today after confirming it has requested state aid from the Italian government.

Paolo Gentiloni, the new Italian prime minister, announced in the early hours of this morning that the country will dip into a €20bn (£16bn) fund to help the world’s oldest bank

The timescale being provided is a little bizarre however as the Bank of Italy should now move in and complete this over the holidays so that people know where they stand.

Local press has said the bailout plan could take two to three months, starting with a government guarantee of Monte dei Paschi’s own borrowings to ensure it doesn’t run out of cash.

The problem of course is balancing Euro area bail in rules with the fact that ordinary Italians bought and in some cases were miss sold the bonds of Monte dei Paschi which will be bailed in and the fact that the Italian taxpayer has to take on yet more debt. So whilst we can say “It’s Gone” we do not know exactly where. However we may find out later as Livesquawk points out.

Italian Government To Meet At 12:00 CET To Discuss Economy & Finance Decree.

Fines Fines Fines

The next section is brought to you with the question what did the US taxpayer do for revenue before they discovered fining foreign banks?

Barclays

There was a little more surprise when this appeared on the news wires yesterday evening. From the BBC.

The US Department of Justice said: “From 2005 to 2007, Barclays personnel repeatedly misrepresented the characteristics of the loans backing securities they sold to investors throughout the world, who incurred billions of dollars in losses as a result of the fraudulent scheme.”……

Federal prosecutors said that as part of the alleged scheme Barclays sold $31bn in securities.

More than half of the mortgages backing the securities defaulted, the suit alleged.

According to Barclays this is all “disconnected with the facts” which looks like an official denial to me and we know what to do with them.  This is a by now familiar tale where denial turns into how much? As I describe below.

Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse

My old employer regularly features in the news and here it is as the US regulators hand it a grinch style Christmas present. From Sky News.

Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse have agreed to pay $7.2bn (£5.9bn) and $5.3bn (£4.3bn) respectively in penalties relating to the collapse of the US housing market before the financial crisis.

The Swiss lender announced it had reached a deal with the US Department of Justice hours after a similar move by Deutsche.

So happy days for the US taxpayer and unhappy days for the shareholders of the two companies? Actually the share price of Deutsche Bank is up around 3% this morning at 18.27 Euros meaning this from Sky News must have been a miss read of expectations.

While the German bank’s sum is half the $14bn originally sought by investigators, it is more than $2bn above the amount analysts expected Europe’s third-largest bank to shell out.

It seems that it is Credit Suisse where expectations may not have been met as after an early rally the share price has drifted lower today. For a deeper perspective a pre credit crunch share price just under 90 has been replaced by one of 15.2. As for my old employer a sort of Christmas ghost puts a chill in the air as we note just under 99 Euros being replaced by 18.27.

How many extra nukes for the United States will these fines pay for?

Of Number Crunching and GDP

Let me open with some seasonal cheer for the UK providing by the Office for National Statistics this morning.

UK GDP in volume terms was estimated to have increased by 0.6% in Quarter 3 2016, revised up 0.1 percentage points from the second estimate of GDP published on 26 November 2016, due to upward revisions from the output of the business services and finance industries.

We cannot keep the banks out of the news but at least this time it is for something positive! However annual growth fell to 2.2% due to downwards revisions earlier in the year meaning that the post EU vote number was better than the average of the pre EU vote number leaving ever more egg on ever more establishment faces. I did ask about this on Twitter.

Is Professor Sir Charles Bean available to explain how his -0.1% to -1% GDP forecast turned out to be +0.6% please?

It would seem that our professorial knight is ideally equipped to continue the first rule of OBR ( Office of Budget Responsibility) club. Also the more wrong he is will he collect even more impressive sounding titles?

But there is something to provide humility to those who analyse the detail of economic numbers. From Howard Archer.

Welcome news as balance of payments deficit in 2015 revised down markedly to £80.2bn from £100.2bn;

Even in banking terms £20 billion is a tidy sum and a revision from back then gives us some perspective on this.

The trade balance deficit widened from £11.0 billion in Quarter 2 2016 to £16.7 billion in Quarter 3 2016 (Figure 9). The trade position reflects exports minus imports. Following a 1.4% increase in Quarter 2 2016, exports decreased by 2.6% in the latest quarter, while imports increased by 1.4% in Quarter 3 2016 following a 0.4% increase in Quarter 2 2016.

It would be more accurate to say we think we did worse in the quarter in question rather than being absolutely sure of it.

Comment

As I look back over not only this year but the preceding years of the credit crunch era I note how much of this is really a story about the banks and the banking industry. As we compare it to the real economy I feel that our establishment have misunderstood which is the tail and which is the dog. Even when we move to other stories such as UK GDP we see the banks at play again although in a rare occurence the mention is favourable.

The saddest part is that all of this was supposed to have been reformed well before now. I guess it is reflected by this from bitcoin price.

The average price of Bitcoin across all exchanges is 910.16 USD