The Novo Banco saga has been one of misrepresentation and woe

Yesterday saw an announcement from the Bank of Portugal on a saga which has run and run and run.

Banco de Portugal and the Resolution Fund concluded today the sale of Novo Banco to Lone Star, with an injection by the new shareholder of €750 million, which will be followed by a further injection of €250 million to be delivered by the end of 2017.

Indeed there is an element of triumphalism and back-slapping.

The conclusion of this operation brings to a close a complex negotiation process with the new shareholder, European institutions and other domestic institutions, in close cooperation with the Government.
The completion of the sale announced on 31 March brings about a very significant increase in the share capital of Novo Banco and terminates the bank’s bridge bank status that has applied since its setting up.

The opening issue is why this New Bank which is what Novo Banco, means that was supposed to be clean, needs an increase in capital? Let us look deeper.

As of this date, Novo Banco will be held by Lone Star and the Resolution Fund, which will hold 75% and 25% of the share capital respectively. It will be endowed with the necessary means for the implementation of a plan ensuring that the bank will continue to play its key role in the financing of the Portuguese economy.

The story gets a twist as we see that Lone Star will be walking away with 75% of Novo Banco and in return the Portuguese taxpayer does not get one single Euro. The implication is that the Resolution Fund is keen to get it off its books at almost any price.

Step Back In Time

If we follow the advice of Kylie Minogue we can go back to August 2014 when the Bank of Portugal was dealing with this.

The Board of Directors of Banco de Portugal has decided on 3 August 2014 to apply a resolution measure to Banco Espírito Santo, S.A.. The general activity and assets of Banco Espírito Santo, S.A. are transferred, immediately and definitively, to Novo Banco, which is duly capitalised and clean of problem assets. Deposits are fully preserved, as well as all unsubordinated bonds.

BES had collapsed and I note again that Novo Banco was supposed to be clean of problem assets. However it did not take long for what Taylor Swift would call “trouble, trouble, trouble” to emerge as a rather unpleasant Christmas present arrived a few months later for bondholders. From my article on the 4th of April.

The nominal amount of the bonds retransferred to Banco Espírito Santo, S.A. totals 1,941 million euros and corresponds to a balance-sheet amount of 1,985 million euros………This measure has a positive impact, in net terms, on the equity of Novo Banco of approximately 1,985 million euros.

So just under 2 billion Euros was required to steady the ship of our “clean” bank and you can see why no one was in a rush to buy it!

Money Money Money

If we go back to the origination of this there was a bold statement from the Bank of Portugal.

This means that this operation does not involve any costs for public funds.

However there was this.

The State will bear no costs related to this operation. The equity capital of Novo Banco, to the amount of €4.9 billion, is fully underwritten by the Resolution Fund.

Ah good so the banking sector was paying up.

The Resolution Fund’s sources of funding are the contributions paid by its member institutions and the proceeds from the levy over the banking sector, which, according to applicable regulations, are collected without jeopardising the solvency ratios.

Meanwhile if we rejoin the real world that is the same Portuguese banking sector that was in severe disarray so the money had to be found from elsewhere.

the Fund took out a loan from the Portuguese State. The loan granted by the State to the Resolution Fund will be temporary and replaceable by loans granted by credit institutions.

At this point it sounds rather like the Amigo loans advertised in the UK where you can borrow the money but somebody else has to guarantee it, in this case the Portuguese taxpayer. Also if this were an episode of Star Trek the USS Enterprise would be on yellow alert at the use of the word “temporary”. If we step forwards to just over a year ago the Resolution Fund told us this.

the conditions of the
loan of €3 900 million extended to the Fund in August 2014

which are?

Currently, the maturity date of said loan is 31 December 2017. The review that has now been
agreed upon will allow the extension of that maturity date in a way that ensures the capacity of
the Resolution Fund to meet in full its obligations through its regular revenue, and regardless of
the positive or negative contingencies to which the Resolution Fund is exposed.

Ah so it is To Infinity! And Beyond?! Oh and the temerity of the idea that the banks might have to back the er banking sector resolution fund.

without the need to raise any special contributions.

Number Crunching

Here is Reuters from September 2015.

“Once more, I repeat, there is no direct impact (on taxpayers), since the Portuguese state did not nationalise the bank nor take a direct stake in Novo Banco’s capital,” minister and government spokesman Luis Marques Guedes said.

Okay that is clear so let us look at the view from Europe’s statistics agency Eurostat a mere one month later.

 The second most significant impact to the deficit in 2014 was in Portugal (3.0pp of GDP) and it was also mainly due to a bank recapitalisation……. The recapitalization of Novo Banco. In the third quarter of 2014, the Portuguese Resolution Fund injected 4.9 bn euro (2.8% of GDP) into Novo Banco. As the sale of Novo Banco did not occur within one year after the capitalisation, the capital injection has impacted the deficit of Portugal in 2014 for its full amount.

Comment

Let us consider this in terms of the two main variables which are time and money. The time element is that the new clean bank was supposed be sold quickly whereas it took more than three years. The money element is that the Resolution Fund underwrote the bank capital to the tune of 4.9 billion Euros. There was then a swerve to get just under 2 billion Euros off some bondholders as the word clean somehow meant dirty, Now we see that where 100%= 4.9 billion back then now 75% = 1 billion as we note the value destruction leaving the Resolution Fund with its 25% apparently worth 0.333 billion Euros but backed by a loan of 3.9 billion Euros.

So quite a large gamble has been taken by the Portuguese authorities with taxpayers money whereas if things go well Lone Star has been able to get assets very cheaply. It has 75% of the capital after only paying around 20% of the total Of course should it go wrong then we can refer back to my timeline for a banking collapse. We had this back in autumn 2014.

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.

And at some date in the future ( like when Eurostat rules on this for example) we are likely to see 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.

Me on Core Finance TV

http://www.corelondon.tv/uk-inflation-understated/

 

Advertisements

When will the UK banks ever fully recover from the credit crunch?

We are now more than a decade away from the first real crisis of the credit crunch era in the UK. That came on the 14th of September 2007 when Northern Rock applied for and received a liquidity support facility from the Bank of England as customers queued at its various branches in an effort to withdraw their deposits. Let us have a brief smile at this from the statement back then.

The FSA judges that Northern Rock is solvent, exceeds its regulatory capital requirement and has a good quality loan book.

It was in fact so solvent that it was nationalised early in 2008! In fact we see another feature of the crisis highlighted by this from the BBC back then.

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

Hence the advent of more modern definitions of the word temporary as of course the bad part of Northern Rock still is in public hands.

Royal Bank of Scotland

In October 2008 RBS joined the bail out party. From the UK Government.

The Government is making capital investments to RBS, and upon successful merger, HBOS and Lloyds TSB, totaling £37 billion.

“Successful merger” eh?! I will look at Lloyds later but let us continue with RBS which in a clear example of failure was never actually nationalised as the UK establishment indulged its fantasy that enormous investments could be at arm’s-length. Indeed as the National Audit Office ( NAO ) tells us below the government in fact ended up have to have other goes at backing RBS,

To maintain financial stability at the height of the financial crisis, the government injected a total of £45.5 billion into the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) between October 2008 and December 2009.

Oh and….

The government intended to return RBS to the private sector as soon as possible

The NAO also calculated a cost for the investment.

The overall investment was equivalent to 502 pence per share.

Although if all the costs are factored in the cost gets even higher.

We have calculated that if the costs of financing the intervention are also taken into account, the government would have had to sell the shares at 625 pence each to break even.

Still with the UK economy having had 4 years of solid economic growth and stock markets around the world at or near all time highs then RBS must be benefiting surely? No as the price this morning is 272 pence per share. This makes even the 2015 sale of some shares look good.

On 4 August 2015, the government sold 630 million shares in RBS (5.4% of the bank) to institutional investors, reducing government’s holding to 72.9%.1 The shares sold for 330 pence each. This represented a 2.3% discount to the market price and raised £2.1 billion.

So a loss but less of a loss than we would see now. Except let us return to a fundamental problem which is that things are supposed to be better now! Or as the International Financing Review put it back in 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.

Still along the way some have at least managed to keep a sense of humour as I pointed out on the 30th of November last year.

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 ( @BlueBullet January 2014).

Yesterday we saw a change in the official response as Sky News reported this.

RBS Chairman has told Sky News taxpayers will not get all of their money back from Government’s bailout following the 2008 financial crisis.

I have a real problem with this which is that any form of honesty takes about a decade. This is far from a UK only problem as foreign bank bailouts have seen their share of misrepresentations and outright lies as well. The problem is the cost as let us start with the £12 billion Rights Issue of 2012 which was based on a prospectus that must have had more holes in it than a swiss cheese. We have seen many scandals which never seem to quite come to fruition as official reports remain a secret. Yet we are forever told that the bailouts were to raise trust in the banks.

Lloyds Bank

This had a more successful effort at selling the shares previously owned by the UK taxpayer. We even got our money back although care is needed as saying that assumes the money was pretty much free which back then it certainly was not. However over the weekend other problems have dogged Lloyds Bank and we are back to bailed out banks behaving badly. Here is the Financial Times on the financial scandal that unfolded at the Reading HBOS  ( Halifax Bank of Scotland) branch.

Yet Lloyds showed little interest in finding out what happened. Not only did the bank brush off Reade’s warnings at the time, but other victims who unearthed evidence of wrongdoing were treated equally dismissively. Far from calling in the police or regulatory authorities, Lloyds maintained right up until the trial’s conclusion that its own internal inquiries had revealed no sign of any criminality.

In other words the bank was able to behave for quite a long time as it was above the law and in fact even now seems able to be its own judge and jury in spite of the fact that it is plainly unfit to do so.

Nothing else can explain the fact that the task of examining Lloyds’ conduct has been given to . . . Lloyds. The bank has commissioned a former judge, Dame Linda Dobbs, to review its response to the Reading incident and whether it complied with all applicable rules and regulations. When complete, this will not be made public and will go only to the board, with a copy being dispatched to the Financial Conduct Authority.

Simply shameful.

Barclays

Barclays escaped an explicit bailout via an investment from the Qataris. That investment provoked all sorts of issues as it appeared some shareholders (them) were more equal than others. As Reuters put it in June.

The SFO charged Varley, Jenkins, the ex-chairman of its Middle East investment banking arm, Kalaris, a former CEO of the bank’s wealth division and Boath, a former European head of financial institutions, after investigating a two-part fundraising that included a $3 billion loan to Qatar.

What could go wrong with lending to someone who buys your shares? Oh and you pay some sweeteners as well. Let us move on noting that Barclays is also in court with Amanda Staveley who arranged another share deal with Abu Dhabi. Added to this is the fact that the current chief executive Jes Staley responded to a whistle-blower by attempting to unmask the person making the claim, thus breaking the most basic tenet of how to deal with such a situation.

The current state of play is summed up by this in the Financial Times.

Two years ago, Mr McFarlane set a target of doubling Barclays’ share price. But since then it has fallen by more than a quarter. The chairman has told colleagues he aims to stay at least until the shares regain their lost ground.

The words of Lawrence Oates seem both appropriate and inappropriate.

“I am just going outside and may be some time.”

As he faced troubles with courage and self-sacrifice we watch bankers facing trouble with denial and self-aggrandisement.

Comment

The bank bailouts were presented as saving the economy but as time has gone by we are increasingly faced with the issue that in many ways “the precious” has been prioritised over the rest of the economy. The claim of building trust in the system has had Fleetwood Mac on the sound system.

Tell me lies
Tell me sweet little lies
If I could turn the page
In time then I’d rearrange just a day or two
Close my, close my, close my eyes
But I couldn’t find a way
So I’ll settle for one day to believe in you
Tell me, tell me, tell me lies
Tell me lies

Now we find that there has been some progress ( Lloyds back in the private sector and some parts of Northern Rock and Bradford and Bingley sold) but also a long list of failures. How was nobody at the top responsible for some of the largest examples of fraud in human history? We are forever being told the world was “saved” but the reality was that it was what continue to look like zombie banks were saved at the cost of ossifying our economic system. To my mind it is one of the causes of our productivity problem.

It is clear to me that this industry has seen one of the clearest cases of regulatory capture that you could wish not to see.

 

 

 

 

Can Portugal trade its way out of its lost decade?

The weekend just gone has brought some good news for the Republic of Portugal. This came from the Standard and Poors ratings agency when it announced this after European markets had closed on Friday.

On Sept. 15, 2017, S&P Global Ratings raised its unsolicited foreign and local currency long- and short-term sovereign credit ratings on the Republic of  Portugal to ‘BBB-/A-3’ from ‘BB+/B’. The outlook is stable.

Bloomberg explains the particular significance of this move.

Portuguese Finance Minister Mario Centeno expects greater demand for his nation’s debt from a broader array of investors to spur lower borrowing costs both for the government and corporations, after the country’s credit rating was restored to investment grade status by S&P Global Ratings.

So the significance of their alphabetti spaghetti is that Portugal has been raised from junk status to investment grade. I will deal with the impact on bond markets later but first let us look at the economic situation.

Portugal’s economy

The key to this move is an upgrade to economic prospects.

We now project that Portuguese GDP will grow by more than 2% on average between 2017 and 2020 compared to our previous forecast of 1.5%.

This is significant because one of my themes on the Portuguese economy is that if we look back over time it has struggled to grow by more than 1% per annum on any sustained basis. This has led to other problems such as its elevated national debt to economic output level and makes it very similar to Italy in this regard. So should it be able to perform as S&P forecast it will be a step forwards for Portugal in terms of looking forwards.

If we look for grounds for optimism there is this bit.

We expect Portugal will maintain its strong export performance over the forecast horizon, reflecting solid growth in external demand and an uptick in exports.

Export- led growth is of course something highly prized by economists.

A solid external performance is likely to bring goods and services exports to around 44% of GDP in 2017, from below 29% just seven years ago.

Portugal has done well on the export front but S&P may have jointed the party after the music has stopped as this from Portugal Statistics earlier this month implies.

In July 2017, exports and imports of goods recorded year-on-year nominal growth rates of +4.6% and +12.8%
respectively (+6.7% and +6.6% in the same order, in June 2017)…….The deficit of trade balance amounted to EUR 1,057 million in July 2017, increasing by EUR 446 million when compared with July 2016.

Okay so worse than last year. I often observe that monthly trade figures are unreliable so let us move to the quarterly ones.

In the quarter ended in July 2017, exports and imports of goods grew by 9.0% and 13.4% respectively, vis-à-vis
the quarter ended in July 2016.

If we look back we see that if we calculate a number for the latest quarter then we now have had a year of monthly data showing a deterioration for the trade balance. Just to be clear exports have grown but imports have grown more quickly. So the monthly trade deficits have gone back above 1 billion Euros having for a while looked like going and maybe staying below it.

If we move to the other side of the trade balance sheet we see that imports have surged which will be rather familiar to students of Portuguese economic history ( as in a reason why they have so frequently had to call in the IMF). This year the rate of growth ( quarterly) has varied between 12.2% and 15.9% in the seven months of data seen.

There is a clear tendency for ratings agencies to be a fair bit behind the news and the export success story would have fitted better a year or two ago. Let us wish Portugal well as we note the recent growth has been in imports and also note that in general in 2017 so far the Euro has risen putting something of a squeeze on exports which compete in terms of price. The trade weighted exchange-rate rose from 93 in April to 99 now in round terms. So the gains of the “internal devaluation” which involved a lot of economic pain are being eroded by a higher exchange rate.

Debt

If you look at the economy of Portugal then the D or debt word arrives usually sooner rather than later. This is why an improved trade performance is more important than just its impact on GDP ( Gross Domestic Product). This is how it is put by S&P.

Estimated at about 236% in 2017, we view Portugal’s narrow net external debt to CARs (our preferred measure of the external position) as being one of the highest among the sovereigns we rate, albeit on a steady declining trend.

There has been deleveraging but of course this drags on growth before hopefully providing a benefit.

Data from the Portuguese central bank, Banco de
Portugal, indicate that resident private nonfinancial sector gross debt on a nonconsolidated basis was still at a high 217% of GDP in June 2017, down from 260% at end-2012.

So far I think I have done well in avoiding mentioning the ECB ( European Central Bank) but this is an area where it has really stepped up to the plate.

The ECB’s QE has helped to further bring down the government’s and corporate sector’s borrowing costs.

Although it does pose a challenge to this assertion from S&P.

While we view the high level of public and private sector indebtedness as a credit weakness, we observe that external financing risks have declined significantly reflected in a substantial improvement in the government’s borrowing conditions.

Maybe but you cannot ignore the fact that the ECB has purchased some 29 billion Euros of Portuguese government bonds as part of its ongoing QE programme. To this you can add purchases of the bonds of Portuguese corporates and of course the 91 billion Euro rump of the Securities Markets Programme which also had Greek and Irish bonds. If you read about lower purchases of Portuguese bonds it is mostly because the ECB already has so many of them. Last time I checked large purchases of something tend to raise the price and lower the yield.

According to the latest ECB data, the central bank acquired €0.4 billion of Portuguese government bonds in August 2017, hitting a new low since the beginning of the
PSPP. The peak was in May 2016, at €1.4 billion.

The banks

Even S&P is none to cheerful here pointing out that the sector remains on life support.

It remains reliant on ECB funding.

Indeed the prognosis remains rather grim.

Banks’  earnings generation capacity also remains under significant pressure given the ultra-low interest rates, muted volume growth, and still large stock of
problematic assets (about 19% of gross loans) and foreclosed real estate assets (including restructured loans not considered in the credit-at-risk definition) as of mid-2017.

Internal Devaluation

If you improve your position via an internal devaluation involving lower wages and higher unemployment then moves like this are simultaneously welcome and risky.

In our opinion, consecutive increases in the minimum wage, most recently by 5.1% in January 2017, accompanied by measures to offset some of the additional cost for employers, are unlikely to have weakened the cost competitiveness of Portuguese goods and services.

Comment

Portugal is a lovely country so let us look at something which is really welcome.

As such, the jobless rate has almost halved from its peak of 17.5% during 2013 and is currently at 9.1% (July 2017), in line with the eurozone average and lower than in France, Italy, and Spain.

Good. However this does not change the fact that Portugal has travelled back to between 2004 and 2005. What I mean by that is that annual GDP peaked at 181.5 billion Euros in 2008 and after the credit crunch hit there was a recovery but then a sharp downturn such that GDP in 2013 was 167.2 billion Euros. The more recent improvement raised GDP to 173.7 billion Euros in 2016 and of course things have improved a bit so far this year to say 2005 levels.

Why is there an ongoing problem? Tucked away in the S&P analysis there is this.

we consider that Portugal’s fragile demographics, weakened by substantial net emigration and a declining labor force, exacerbate these challenges. Low productivity growth would likely stifle the economy’s growth potential (though this is not unique to Portugal), without further improvements in the efficiency of the public administration,
judiciary, and the business environment, including with respect to barriers in services markets (for example, closed professions).

Let me end by pointing out the rally in Portuguese bonds today with the ten-year yield now 2.5% although having issued 3 billion Euros of such paper with a coupon of 4.125% in January it will take a while for the gains to feed in. Also let me wish those affected by the severe drought well.

 

 

 

It is always the banks isn’t it?

Perhaps the most regular theme of the credit crunch era is the problems of the banks and the finance sector. This is quite an (anti ) achievement as we note that if we count from problems at Bear Sterns the credit crunch is now into its second decade. In only a couple of months or so it will be ten years since Northern Rock began its collapse. We are regularly told by our establishment that there has been reform and repair along the lines of this from Alex Brazier of the Bank of England that I analysed only on Tuesday,

The financial system has been made safer, simpler and fairer.

Banks, in particular, are much stronger. British banks have a capital base – their own shareholders’ money – that is more than 3 times stronger than it was ten years ago.

They can absorb losses now that would have completely wiped them out ten years ago.

Lloyds Banking Group

I pointed out on Tuesday that it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry at the “simpler and fairer” claim and this morning there is this announcement to consider.

This was after taking additional provisions for PPI and other conduct related issues which was disappointing. The Group is also currently undertaking a review of the HBOS Reading fraud and is in the process of paying compensation to the victims of the fraud for economic losses, ex-gratia payments and awards for distress and inconvenience.

Later we got some details on the monetary amounts involved.

The £1,050 million charge for PPI includes an additional £700 million provision taken in the second quarter reflecting current claim levels, which remain above the Group’s previous provision assumption. The additional provision will now cover reactive claims of around 9,000 per week through to the end of August 2019,

The good news from this is that the UK economy will get another £700 million of PPI style Quantitative Easing which seems to be much more effective than the Bank of England version.  The bad news is that the saga goes on and on and on in spite of us being told so many times that it is now over. Indeed the rate of provision has doubled from last time around. This means that in total Lloyds either has or is about to provide this in terms of PPI style QE. From Stephen Morris of Bloomberg News.

Lloyds Bank takes ANOTHER £700m in charges today, taking their total since 2011 to 18.1 BILLION POUNDS………This is the 17th time the bank has increased its provisions for the scandal.

This is a feature of the ongoing banking scandal where we are drip fed the news as a type of expectations management as another bit is announced and we are told it is the last time again and again. The issues are legacy ones from the past but the management and response cycle has not changed. Actually if we look at the total numbers for misconduct New City Agenda has some chilling ones.

has now set aside £22.5 bn for misconduct since 2010

If we go wider to the whole industry it calculates this.

Total amounts set aside for PPI redress now stand at £42.1 billion – around 4.5 times the cost of the London 2012 Olympics. Banks have proved hopeless at estimating the total cost of their misconduct – with some increasing their PPI redress provisions 10 times over the past 3 years. Legitimate complaints have been rejected and banks have delayed writing to customers, meaning that the scandal has taken years to be resolved and cost billions in administrative costs.

If we return to the QE style impact it does make me wonder how much of the UK economic recovery has been due to this as we note for example its possible contribution to car sales. If we throw in every type of miss selling the total comes to £58.1 billion.

Before we move on there was also this. From the Financial Times.

The bank has also set up a £300m compensation scheme to repay 600,000 mortgage customers as a result of failings in its arrears policies between 2009 and 2016,

How can there be recent failings when everything is supposed to have been reformed?

Lending

On Tuesday Alex Brazier warned about looser lending standards. But according to Lloyds Bank in the Financial Times it is everybody else.

 

Mr Horta-Osório said the bank has been increasing its consumer lending — comprising credit cards, personal loans and car finance — at less than 4 per cent a year over the past six years, and remains under-represented in the sector versus its size.

I am very cautious about anyone who uses this sort of swerve “over the past 6 years” as no doubt 2011 and 12 are included ( remember the triple dip fears?) to get the number down. Still the Alex Brazier should be alert to that as it is exactly the sort of swerve the Bank of England uses itself.

Royal Bank of Scotland

We cannot look at UK banks and miss out RBS can we?! It did make BBC News earlier this month.

Royal Bank of Scotland has agreed a £3.65bn ($4.75bn) settlement for its role in the sale of risky mortgage products in the US before the financial crisis.

Also there is the on-going saga about the on and now off sale of Williams and Glyns. If I recall correctly around £1.8 billion was spent on this and the bill is rising yet again.From the BBC.

The European Commission has accepted a UK government plan to free Royal Bank of Scotland from an obligation to sell its Williams & Glyn division……..Under the new deal, which the EU has accepted “in principle”, RBS would spend £835m to help boost competition.

Deutsche Bank

My old employer has seen plenty of scares in the credit crunch era. For the moment it seems to mostly be in the news via its likes to both the Donald and his circle. From the New York Times.

During the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump pointed to his relationship with Deutsche Bank to counter reports that big banks were skeptical of doing business with him.

After a string of bankruptcies in his casino and hotel businesses in the 1990s, Mr. Trump became somewhat of an outsider on Wall Street, leaving the giant German bank among the few major financial institutions willing to lend him money.

Well as this from the Wall Street Journal points out today’s results have brought both good and bad news.

The German lender said Thursday net income was €466 million ($548 million), compared with €20 million for the same period a year earlier. Deutsche Bank’s companywide revenues declined 10% from the year-ago period, to €6.6 billion.

Comment

There is much here that seems familiar as the claimed new dawn looks yet again rather like the old one. There has been a reminder of this from another route today as the establishment reform agenda has led to this.

FCA say Li(e)bor is to end in 2021 citing that the bank benchmark is untenable  ( @Ransquawk)

Good job there is no rush to do this like a big scandal destroying any credibility it had or something like that.  We need a modern benchmark for new trades starting now whilst a sort of legacy Libor is kept for the existing contracts that cannot be changed.

Still there is always an alternative perspective on it all as this headline from Reuters indicates.

Lloyds bank posts biggest half-year profit since 2009

 

 

 

How can the UK adjust to a world of lower interest-rates and yields?

One of the features of the credit crunch era has been the fall and if you like plunge in both interest-rates and bond yields. This first started as central banks cut official interest-rates sharply as the crisis hit. When that did not seem to be working ( the modern word covering that is counterfactual) they then moved to policies such as Quantitative Easing to reduce longer-term interest-rates and yields. Next came more interest-rate cuts and the advent of Qualitative Easing which for a while was called credit easing in the UK. This now comes under the banner of the Term Funding Scheme in the UK, or actual support for loans at the Bank of Japan or the TLTROs and securities purchases by the ECB ( European Central Bank).

So we saw official rates fall and then central banks realised the consequence of controlling rates which run from overnight to one month money. This is that there are plenty of other interest-rates such as bond yields and mortgage rates so our control freaks moved to lower them as well. After all their Ivory Tower economic models predicted economic triumph if they did. To ram all this home some places also went into negative territory for interest-rates from which no-one has yet returned with Denmark briefly giving it a go before preferring another ice bath. For the UK we were reassured that we were at the bottom of the cycle as Bank of England Carney told us that a Bank Rate of 0.5% was the lower bound. Of course he later cut to 0.25% and then told us that the lower bound was near to but just above 0%. This of course was silly on two fronts. Most obviously it ignored the fact that much of Europe and of course Japan already have negative interest-rates and it also led to the really silly expectation of a cut to 0.1%.

The rise of the zombies

It was only a few days ago that I pointed out that in my opinion the rise of zombie companies and businesses was strangling productivity growth. That reminded me of my description of Unicredit in Italy as a zombie bank around 5 years ago and of course it still is. But in the meantime thank you to @LadyFOHF for pointing out this from FT Alphaville.

It quotes the Bank for International Settlements or BIS on this subject.

One potential factor behind this decline is a persistent misallocation of capital and labour, as reflected by the growing share of unprofitable firms. Indeed, the share of zombie firms – whose interest expenses exceed earnings before interest and taxes – has increased significantly despite unusually low levels of interest rates (right-hand panel).

That bit could not have been written by me clearly as if it had “despite” would have been replaced by “because of”. This bit might have though.

Weaker investment in recent years has coincided with a slowdown in productivity growth. Since 2007, productivity growth has slowed in both advanced economies and EMEs

There are dangers in assuming that correlation does prove causation but look at the right zombie company chart. Just as growth was fading the central banks gave it another push and rather than the reforms we keep being promised we in fact got “more, more, more”. More worryingly the line continues to head upwards.

In case you are wondering here is their definition of a zombie company.

The BIS dubs a zombie company any firm which is more than 10 years old, listed and has a ratio of EBIT to interest expenses below one.

If you are wondering ( like me) that others could be on the list then so was Izzy at the FT.

This means Uber, which is now eight years old, only has two years and a public listing ahead of it, before it too can be classified a zombie.

That I find fascinating as Uber and similar companies are a modern era triumph supposedly.In my part of London I regularly pass people holding up their mobile phone as they track down their Uber taxi. To be fair it has usually arrived in the time it takes me to walk past and in fact if it takes longer than that some seem to get upset. So here we really have a quandary which is a zombie which is apparently extremely efficient!

The FT poses an issue here.

why does profitability not matter anymore? And where does the extended patience with unprofitable companies lead us in the long run? Surely, nowhere good?

I will go further as on this road we see strong hints as to why productivity growth has been so low ( in fact more or less zero in the UK) which will hold back wage and real wage growth. All of them together mean that economic growth will be restricted as we are reminded of 2% being the new normal on any sustained basis. If we throw in the official under measurement of inflation we then find we have little if any economic growth at all. Is that enough as a consequence of low interest-rates where the “cure” has in fact become part of the disease? Perhaps Tina Arena was right.

I pretend I can always leave
Free to go whenever I please
But then the sound of my desperate calls
Echo off these dungeon walls
I’ve crossed the line from mad to sane
A thousand times and back again
I love you baby, I’m in chains
I’m in chains
I’m in chains
I’m in chains

The banks

The official story is that low interest-rates are bad for the banks. But if this from @grodeau about Swedish banks is true in the UK which I believe to be so we may have been sold a pup.

In terms of margin they are doing better than before the credit crunch as we find we are feeding a whole field of zombies like this is some form of new Hammer House of Horror series. Or to answer the question posed by Obruni in the FT. Yes.

The ROEs of most major banks have been below their costs of capital since 2008. Are these zombies too?

The UK should not issue more index-linked Gilts

There are suggestions that we should do this and as ever I will avoid the politics and just look at the economics and finance. I spotted this yesterday from Jonathan Portes.

Failing to borrow long-term at negative real rates to fix roofs (& other things) over last 7 years an act of deliberate economic self-harm

This reminds me of the online debate he and I had a few years back. The issue he  is apparently glossing over can be summed up in the use of the word “real”. In a theoretical Ivory Tower world it is clear but beneath the clouds where the rest of us live it has changed a lot in modern times. Let me summarise some issues.

  1. Imagine inflation were to stay at around 4% ( these are based on RPI inflation) for a while. Our negative real rate would in fact be very expensive as we paid it.
  2. We do not know what we will pay as our commitment is in fact open-ended depending on inflation. As it is so I am dubious about negative real rate calculations.
  3. If we switch to wages growth we see that something has changed. If that persists then the real rate versus wages may turn out to be very different.

If I was borrowing I would borrow in terms of conventional Gilts where the 30 year cost at 1.9% is extraordinarily cheap and a known cost as in we know what we will be paying from the beginning. Putting it another way index-linked Gilts are tactically cheap but I fear they will be strategically expensive.

Comment

As we look at the new economic world we see that some are trying to escape but that progress for them has been slow. After all the US has merely nudged its rates to a bit above 1% and Canada has only moved to 0.75% this week. So it seems that we will have to get used to low interest-rates for a while yet as we note that they have come with lower productivity, wage growth and economic growth. Not quite what we were promised is it?

Can Portugal escape its economic history?

It is time for us to take a trip again to the Iberian peninsular and indeed to the delightful country of Portugal. Back on January 16th I highlighted the economic issues facing it thus.

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 mentions of Italy come about because there are quite a few similarities between the two twins. Both had similar weak economic growth in the better times, both have seen banking crisis which were ignored for as long as possible, and both have elevated national debts currently being alleviated by the bond buying of the ECB. Actually bond markets seem to have caught onto this since we last took a look as Portugal has seen an improvement with its ten-year yield at 3.03% only some 0.86% over that of Italy. This has been happening in spite of the fact that the ECB has in relative terms been buying more Italian than Portuguese bonds. Although sadly for Portugal’s taxpayers the gain from this has been missed to some extent as it issued 3 billion Euros of ten-year debt with a coupon of 4.125% back in January.

What about economic growth?

Back in January the Bank of Portugal was expecting this.

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.

Actually Portugal managed to nearly meet the 2017 expectations in the first quarter of this year.

In comparison with the fourth quarter of 2016, GDP increased 1.0% in real terms (quarter-on-quarter change rate of 0.7% in the previous quarter). The contribution of net external demand changed from negative to positive, driven by a strong increase in Exports of Goods and Services………Portuguese Gross Domestic Product (GDP) increased by 2.8% in volume in the first quarter 2017, compared with the same period of 2016 (2.0% in the fourth quarter 2016).

As you can see there was strong export-led economic growth to be seen. This had a very welcome consequence.

In the first quarter 2017, seasonally adjusted employment registered a year-on-year change rate of 3.2%,

This makes Portugal look like its neighbour Spain although care is needed as a couple of strong quarters are not the same as 2/3 better years. Also the Portuguese economy is still just over 3% smaller than it was at its pre credit crunch peak. A fair proportion of this is the fall in investment because whilst it has grown by 5.5% over the past year the level in the latest quarter of 7.7 billion Euros was still a long way below the 10.9 billion Euros of the second quarter of 2008.

The National Debt

A consequence of the lost decade or so for Portugal in terms of economic growth has been upwards pressure on the relative size of the national debt which of course has been made worse by the bank bailouts.

This means that Portugal has a national debt to GDP ratio of 133%. Whilst this is not currently a large issue in terms of funding due to low bond yields it does pose a question going forwards. There are two awkward scenarios here. The first is that the ECB continues to reduce or taper its purchases and the second is that it runs up to its self-imposed limit on Portuguese bonds. Actually the latter was supposed to have already happened but the ECB has shown what it calls flexibility as we have a wry smile at all the previous proclamations of it being a “rules based organisation”.

The banks

The various bailouts have added to the debt issue in spite of the various machinations and manipulations to try to keep them out if the numbers. There is also a sort of never-ending story about all of this as we mull that Novo Banco was supposed to be a clean good bank  Let us step back in time to what the Bank of Portugal told us just under 3 years ago,

The general activity and assets of Banco Espírito Santo, S.A. are transferred, immediately and definitively, to Novo Banco, which is duly capitalised and clean of problem assets

Sorted? Er not quite as I note this news from Reuters yesterday,

The sale of Portugal’s state-rescued Novo Banco to U.S. private equity firm Lone Star should be concluded by November following a 500 million euro ($566 million) debt swap that will be launched soon, deputy finance minister said on Wednesday.

That was yet another kicking of the can into the future as we discovered that November is the new August. Meanwhile somethings have taken place such as a 25% cut in the workforce and a 20% cut in branch numbers.

Bank Lending

The recent economic improvement does not seem to have been driven by any surge of bank lending as we peruse the latest data from the Bank of Portugal.

In May 2017 the annual rate of change (a.r.) in loans granted to non-financial corporations stood at -3.3%, ……In May 2017 the a.r. in loans granted to households stood at -1.0%, reflecting a positive change of 0.1 p.p. compared with April

So we see that neither all the easing from the ECB nor the improved economic growth situation have got lending into the positive zone. Mind you the numbers below suggest that the banks have their own problems still.

The share of borrowers with overdue loans decreased by 0.1 p.p., to 27.1% ( companies)……… The share of borrowers with overdue loans in the household sector declined by 0.1 p.p. from April, to stand at 13.2%.

Mind you the Portuguese banks do seem to have learned something from British visitors.

The consumption and other purposes segment also posted a positive change of 0.2 p.p., standing at 4.6%

House prices

Is there a boom here responding to the easy monetary policy?

In the first quarter of 2017, the House Price Index (HPI) increased 7.9 % when compared to the same quarter of the previous year, 0.3 percentage points (p.p.) more than in the last quarter of 2016…….When compared with the last quarter of 2016, the HPI increased 2.1%, 0.9 p.p. higher than in the previous period.

Turning British? Maybe in a way as there is something familiar in the way that house prices began to rise again in late 2013.

Comment

One very welcome feature of the improved economic situation in Portugal has been the much improved situation regarding unemployment.

The April 2017 unemployment rate stood at 9.5%, down by 0.3 percentage points (p.p.) from the previous month’s level and by 0.6 p.p. from three months before….. and is the lowest observed estimate since December 2008 (9.3%).

If it can keep this up it may move into the success column but there are also issues. Portugal has briefly done this before only to then fade away. The banking sector still has problems and we now know ( post 2007) that readings like this can swish away like the sting of a scorpion’s tale.

The Consumer confidence indicator increased in June, resuming the positive path observed since the beginning of 2013 and reaching a new maximum level of the series started in November 1997.

Let us wish Portugal well as it needs to get ahead of the game as we note another issue hovering on the horizon.

Since 2010 Portugal lost 264,000 Inhabitants……..In 2016, the mean age of the resident population in Portugal was 43.9 years, an increase of about 3 years in the last decade.

Let us not be too mean spirited though as some of the latter is a welcome rise in life expectancy.

Me on FXStreet

The economic problems of Italy continue

We have become familiar with the economic problems which have beset Italy this century. First membership of the Euro was not the economic nirvana promised by some as the economy ony grew by around 1% per annum in what were good years for others. Then not only did the credit crunch  hit but it was quickly followed by the Euro area crisis which hit Italy hard in spite of the fact that it did not have the housing boom and bust that affected some of its Euro area colleagues. It did however not miss out on a banking crisis which the Italian establishment ignored for as long as it could and is still doing its best to look away from even now. This all means that the economic output or GDP ( Gross Domestic Product) of Italy is now pretty much the same as it was when Italy joined the Euro. If we move to a measure which looks at the individual experience which is GDP per capita we see that it has fallen by around 5% over that time frame as the same output is divided by a population which has grown.

There is an irony in this as looking forwards Italy has a demographic problem via its ageing population but so far importing a solution to this has led to few if any economic benefits. That may well be why the issue has hit the headlines recently as Italy struggles to deal with the consequences of the humanitarian crisis unfolding in and around the Mediterranean Sea. But we have found oursleves so often looking at an Italian economy which in many ways has lived up or if you prefer down to the description of “Girlfriend in a Coma”.

Good Times

One thing which has changed in Italy’s favour is the economic outlook for the Euro area itself. It was only last week that the President of the ECB Mario Draghi reminded us of this.

If one looks at the percentage of all sectors in all euro area countries that currently have positive growth, the figure stood at 84% in the first quarter of 2017, well above its historical average of 74%. Around 6.4 million jobs have been created in the euro area since the recovery began…… since January 2015 – that is, following the announcement of the expanded asset purchase programme (APP) – GDP has grown by 3.6% in the euro area.

This was backed up yesterday by the private sector business surveys conducted by Markit.

The rate of expansion in the eurozone manufacturing
sector accelerated to its fastest in over six years in
June, reflecting improved performances across
Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland,
Greece and Austria.

Later they went even further.

At current levels, the PMI is indicative of factory output growing at an annual rate of some 5%, which in turn indicates the goods producing sector will have made a strong positive contribution to second quarter economic growth.

Good news indeed and if we look in more detail at the manufacturing detail for Italy it looks to be sharing some of this.

Italian manufacturers recorded a strong end to the
second quarter, with output growth picking up on
the back of robust export orders……Survey evidence indicated that higher demand from
abroad was a principal driving factor, with new
export orders rising at the fastest pace for over two
years in June.

Ah export-led growth? Economists have had that as a nirvana for years and indeed decades albeit that of course not everyone can have it. But the situation described set a hopeful theme for economic growth in the quarter just past.

The Italian manufacturing sector continued its
recent solid performance into June. At 55.2, the
PMI remained below April’s recent peak (56.2), but
its average over the second quarter as a whole was
the best seen in more than six years.

There were even signs of hope for what has become a perennial Italian problem.

New staff were taken on during the month to help
deal with the additional production requirements
that resulted from new orders. The rate of job
creation remained strong by historical standards
despite easing to the weakest seen since January.

The Unemployment Conundrum

Here we found disappointment as yesterday’s release struck a different beat to the good times message elsewhere.

Unemployed were 2.927 million, +1.5% over the previous month…….. unemployment rate was 11.3%, +0.2
percentage points over the previous month, and inactivity rate was 34.8%, unchanged over April 2017.
Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 37.0%, +1.8 percentage points over the previous month and
youth unemployment ratio in the same age group was 9.4%, +0.4 percentage points in a month.

The data for May saw a disappointing rise in unemployment and an especially disappointing one in youth unemployment. If these are better times then a grim message is being sent to the youth of Italy with more than one in three out of work and even worse the number rising. With inactivity unchanged this meant that employment also disappointed.

In May 2017, 22.923 million persons were employed, -0.2% over April 2017…….Employment rate was 57.7%, -0.1 percentage points over April 2017, unemployment rate was 11.3%.

The annual data does show a fall of 0.3% in the unemployment rate over the past year but that compares poorly with the 0.9% decline in the Euro area in total. Of the European Union states Italy now has the third worst unemployment rate as Croatia has seen quite an improvement and in fact has one even higher than that in Cyprus. If we move to youth unemployment then frankly it is hard to see how a country with 37% youth unemployment can share the same currency as one with 6.7%, Germany?

The banks

There are continuing issues here as I note that there are rumours of some of the problem loans of Monte Paschi being sold. The problem with that is we have been told this so many times before! Then last night we were told this.

italian regional lender banca carige approved a capital increase of 500 million euros and asset sales of 200 million euros ( h/t @lemasebachthani)

This added to this from the end of last month.

DBRS Ratings Limited (DBRS) has today placed the BBB ratings on the obbligazioni bancarie garantite (OBG; the Italian legislative covered bonds) issued under the EUR 5,000,000,000 Banca Carige S.p.A. Covered Bonds Programme (Carige OBG1 or the Programme), guaranteed by Carige Covered Bond S.r.l., Under Review with Negative Implications. There are currently 20 series of Carige OBG1 outstanding under the Programme with a nominal amount of EUR 3.08 billion.

Today has seen an example of never believe anything until it is officially denied in the Financial Times.

One of the eurozone’s senior banking supervisors has defended her institution’s role in handling the failure of two Italian lenders but said her watchdog needed new tools to protect taxpayers better from bank failures.

Comment

Let us hope that these are indeed better times for the Italian economy and its people. However whilst the background gives us hope that it will be running with the engine of a Ferrari fears remain if we look at the banks and the employment data that it may instead be using the engine of a Fiat. It is hard not be a little shocked by this from the Telegraph.

Italy’s chronic unemployment problem has been thrown into sharp relief after 85,000 people applied for 30 jobs at a bank – nearly 3,000 candidates for each post.

The 30 junior jobs come with an annual salary of euros 28,000 ($41,000). The work is not glamorous – one duty is feeding cash into machines that can distinguish bank notes that are counterfeit or so worn out they should no longer be in circulation.

The Bank of Italy whittled down the applicants to a short-list of 8,000, all of them first-class graduates with a solid academic record behind them.