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.

 

The problems of the banks of Italy part 101

It is time to look again at a topic which is a saga of rinse and repeat. Okay I am not sure it is part 101 but it certainly feels like a never-ending story. Let us remind ourselves that the hands of the current President of the ECB ( European Central Bank) Mario Draghi are all over this situation. Why? Well let me hand you over to the ECB itself on his career so far.

1997-1998: Chair of the Committee set up to revise Italy’s corporate and financial legislation and to draft the law that governs Italian financial markets (also known as the “Draghi Law”)

It is a bit awkward to deny responsibility for the set of laws which bear you name! This happened during the period ( 1991-2001) that Mario was Director General of the Italian Treasury. After a period at the Vampire Squid ( Goldman Sachs) there was further career progression.

2006-October 2011Governor, Banca d’Italia

There were also questions about the close relationship and dealings between the Italian Treasury and the Vampire Squid over currency swaps.

https://ftalphaville.ft.com/2010/02/09/145201/goldmans-trojan-greek-currency-swap/?mhq5j=e2

But with Mario linking the Bank of Italy and the ECB via his various roles the latest spat in the banking crisis saga must be more than an embarrassment.

The inspection at Banca Popolare di Vicenza that began in 2015 was launched at the request of the Bank of Italy and was conducted by Bank of Italy personnel. Any subsequent decisions were not the responsibility of the Bank of Italy but of the European Central Bank, because in November 2014 Banca Popolare di Vicenza had become a ‘significant’ institution and was subject to the European Single Supervisory Mechanism (SSM). ( h/t @FerdiGiugliano )

So we can see that the Bank of Italy is trying to shift at least some of the blame for one of the troubled Veneto banks to the ECB. At this point Shaggy should be playing on its intercom system.

It wasn’t me…….It wasn’t me

An official denial

At the end of last month the Governor of the Bank of Italy gave us its Annual Report.

At the end of 2016 Italian banks’ non-performing loans, recorded in balance sheets net of write-downs, came to €173 billion or 9.4 per cent of total loans. The €350 billion figure often cited in the press refers to the nominal value of the exposures and does not take account of the losses already entered in balance sheets and is therefore not indicative of banks’ actual credit risk.

Indeed he went further.

Those held by intermediaries experiencing difficulties, which could find themselves obliged to offload them rapidly, amount to around €20 billion.

I suppose your view on this depends on whether you think that 20 billion Euros is a lot or a mere bagatelle. It makes you wonder why the problems at the Veneto banks and Monte Paschi seem to be taking so long to solve does it not?

Meanwhile he did indicate a route to what Taylor Swift might call “Trouble, trouble,trouble”.

At the current rate of growth, GDP would return to its 2007 level in the first half of the 2020s.

An economy performing as insipidly as that is bound to cause difficulties for its banks, but not so for the finances of its central bank.

The 2016 financial year closed with a net profit of €2.7 billion; after allocations to the ordinary reserve and dividends paid to the shareholders, €2.2 billion were allocated to the State, in addition to the €1.3 billion paid in taxes.

The QE era has seen a boom in the claimed profits for central banks and as you can see they will be very popular with politician’s as they hand them over cash to spend.

The ECB is pouring money in

The obvious problem with telling us everything is okay is that Governor Visco is part of the ECB which is pouring money into the Italian banks. From the Financial Times.

According to ECB data as of the end of April, Italian banks hold just over €250bn of the total long-term loans — almost a third of the total.

There is a counter argument that the situation where the Italian banks rely so much on the ECB has in fact simply kicked that poor battered can down the road.

“Some of them [Italian banks] are unprofitable even with the ECB’s cheap funding,” adds Christian Scarafia, co-head of Western European Banks at Fitch.

Fitch also observes that the TLTRO funding is tied up with Italy’s management of the non-performing loans that beset its banks. “The weak asset quality in Italy is certainly the big issue in the country and access to cheap ECB funding has meant that banks could continue to operate without having to address the asset quality problem in a more decisive manner,” says Mr Scarafia. (FT)

It was intriguing to note that the Spanish bank BBVA declared 36 million Euros of profits in April from the -0.2% interest-rate on its loans from the ECB. A good use of taxpayer backed money?

The Veneto Banks

For something that is apparently no big deal and according to Finance Minister Padoan has been “exaggerated” this keeps returning to the news as this from Reuters today shows.

Italian banks are considering assisting in a rescue of troubled lenders Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca by pumping 1.2 billion euros (1.1 billion pounds) of private capital into the two regional banks, sources familiar with the matter said.

Good money after bad?

Italian banks, which have already pumped 3.4 billion euros into the two ailing rivals, had said until now that they would not stump up more money.

As you can see the ball keeps being batted between the banks, the state , and the Atlante fund which is a mostly private hybrid of bank money with some state support. Such confusion and obfuscation is usually for a good reason. A bail in has the problem of the retail depositors who were persuaded to invest in bank bonds.

Monte Paschi

On the 2nd of this month we were told that the problem had been solved and yet the saga like so many others continues on.

HEDGE FUND SAID IN TALKS TO BUY $270 MILLION MONTEPASCHI LOANS ( h/t @lemasabachthani )

Seems odd if it has been solved don’t you think? Mind you according to the FT the European Banking Authourity may have found a way of keeping it out of the news.

The EBA said it would be up to supervisors to decide whether to include any bank in restructuring within the stress tests, and European Central Bank supervisors have decided not to include Monte dei Paschi, people briefed on the matter said.

So bottom place is available again.

Comment

This has certainly been more of a marathon than a sprint and in fact maybe like a 100 or 200 mile race. The Italian establishment used to boast that only 0.2% of GDP was used to bailout Italian banks but of course it is now absolutely clear that this effort to stop its national debt rising even higher allowed the banking sector to carry on in the same not very merry way. This week the environment has changed somewhat with Santander buying Banco Popular for one Euro. Although of course the capital raising of 7 billion Euros needs to be factored into the equation. I guess Unicredit has troubles enough of its own and could not reasonably go for yet another rights issue!

Me on TipTV Finance

http://tiptv.co.uk/living-extraordinary-times-not-yes-man-economics/

 

The British and Irish Lions

I have been somewhat remiss in not wishing our players well on what is the hardest rugby tour of all which is a trip into the heart of the All Blacks. I am thoroughly enjoying it although of course we need to raise our game after a narrow win and a loss. Here’s hoping!

 

 

 

How are the bank and Alitalia bailouts going in Italy?

It is time again to dip into the delightful country that is Italy as one of the features of life there makes the news. The saga of the national airline Alitalia has been going on for the best part of a couple of decades but has now reached something of a climax. Here is Sky News on the subject.

Shareholders in Alitalia have voted unanimously for the airline to enter administration, in a deal with the Italian government that would allow it to keep flying.

The move was approved by investors days after the airline’s staff rejected a proposed restructuring that would have seen 1,700 of them lose their jobs – with the rest subject to salary cuts of around 8%.

The business model was not viable and Etihad Airlines who own 49% of the airline were unwilling to put in any more cash without reforms. I guess the same sort of reforms which ECB ( European Central Bank) President Mario Draghi asks for at each monetary policy press conference in the one certainty in it. So the Italian state had to step up as Reuters explains.

The government appointed three commissioners to assess whether Alitalia can be restructured, either as a standalone company or through a partial or total sale, or else liquidated.

Rome also threw the airline a short-term lifeline by guaranteeing a bridge loan of 600 million euros ($655 million) for six months to see it through the bankruptcy process.

So another 600 million Euros is being added to the Italian national debt I guess as we wonder if 6 months will be long enough to get us to the other side of the upcoming election. Also there is an element to this saga that makes Alitalia sound rather like a bank.

Outraged at repeated bailouts that have cost taxpayers more than 7 billion euros over a decade, many Italians are urging the government to resist the political temptation to rush to its rescue again.

Speaking of banks

If we think of Italian banks it is hard not to wonder what is happening about the nationalisation about Monte dei Paschi di Siena? After all it was supposed to start at the beginning of the year although there were many problems as I pointed out back then as will in be a bailout or a bail in? According to Il Sole there are ch-ch-changes afoot.

According to certain estimates reviewed by Il Sole, raising the number of job cuts to 5,000 would have a €654 million effect on costs (around half a billion more than the October plan,) the equivalent of 18% of 2016’s costs. This would significantly improve the 54.5% cost/income ratio that the bank had established as a goal for 2019; now, it seems that this could be achieved by 2021.

So the number of job cuts is pretty much doubled which is being sugared by extending the plan a couple of years, or the sort of thing applied to Greece when the numbers do not add up. Also the non performing loans ( let us hope that they do not include Alitalia now ) have not been sorted as putting them in the rescue fund Atlante is so 2016.

Another decisive element, obviously, is the management of the €29 billion in gross non performing loans that still weigh on the bank: many options are being considered, but at the moment the most realistic one calls for Atlante to acquire around €500 million of a junior tranche.

Times must be hard if Atlante is the best option as views like this from Nicholas Zennaro on The Market Mogul have been replaced by write-offs and losses.

The investment in Atlante could not only generate significant profits but also create positive side effects and support a more positive perception of big banks in Italy.

Actually only yesterday Il Sole was looking at another job for Atlante.

 the three banks will be recapitalized (from the Resolution Fund, then by “healthy” banks) for 450 million. The other condition was the sale of approximately 2.2 billion euros of impaired loans, to which the Atlas Fund will be charged.

They are referring to what now seems to be called Ubi Banca.

Meanwhile in something of a dizzying whirl as some banks are moved into Atlante from the state others are heading in the opposite direction. This is Il Sole via Google Translate last month on Banco Popalare and Veneto Banca.

the share in public hands will probably exceed 70% , While – as confirmed by three different sources at Il Sole 24 Ore – Quaestio’s fund ( Atlante) should be at 20-25%, leaving crumbs of crumbs on small members, already marginalized by the increases of a year ago.

Apologies for the clunky translation but I think you can all figure what happened to existing shareholders. But this looks like a game of pass the parcel with everybody hoping that the music never stops. Indeed I wonder if any real progress has been made.

The situation is fluid because regulators have not yet agreed with prices and how NPL will be disposed of and what will be the consequent erosion of the 3.9 billion of net assets currently available to banks,

This is all quite a mess as we wonder if this will be a bailout or a bail-in and what will happen to the bondholders? These are supposed to take the strain now but the fact that ordinary Italian savers were miss sold some of these bonds means that the government is twisting and turning to try to avoid that. It has created a type of paralysis which seems to be speading. What can happen to bonds well Alitalia did give us a clue?

I wonder who the holders are/were? No doubt someone is already suggesting that the ECB should buy them all……

The unemployment problem

The paralysis described above seems to lead into this as we saw yet another disappointment yesterday as follows.

In March 2017, 22.870 million persons were employed, unchanged over February 2017. Unemployed were 3.022 million, +1.4% over the previous month….. unemployment rate was 11.7%, +0.1 percentage points over the previous month,

This is supposed to be an economic recovery driven by negative interest-rates and some 1.8 trillion Euros of bond purchases and yet unemployment rises and not falls. There was better news on youth unemployment but look at the level of it.

Youth unemployment rate (aged 15-24) was 34.1%, -0.4 percentage points over February 2017

Comment

The Italian system seems ossified creating something of a zombified banking sector and indeed national airline. This means that even in a much better phase for the Euro area with economic growth just reported of 0.5% in the first quarter of this year that unemployment in Italy rises instead of falls. It represents quite a failure in the circumstances for the level of unemployment to be 29,000 higher than last year.

Yet there are areas where Italy shows excellent management skills. Allegri has taken Juventus to the Champions League semi-finals and Claudio Ranieri took little Leicester to English Premier League triumph last year. As we stand Antonio Conte’s Chelsea  lead this year with 4 games to go. What of course is lacking in the banking story is the sort of decisive action that he took when switching to three at the back. The exact opposite of paralysis. If men like these were in charge then it is hard to avoid the feeling that we would see more news like that below rather than more “girlfriend in a coma” worries.

The rate of growth in manufacturing output reached the highest for six years in April, having accelerated for the third month in a row

Can the economy of Italy throw off its past shackles?

It is time to take another look at how the economy of Italy is performing and first let me point out that the backdrop is good. What I mean by that is that the outlook for the Euro area is currently rather good with this being reported by Markit at the end of last week.

Eurozone economic growth gathered further momentum in March, according to PMI® survey data, reaching a near six-year high…….The March flash PMI rounds off the best quarter for six years and signals GDP growth of 0.6% in the first quarter

That has been followed this morning by better news on the inflation front for March as lower petrol and diesel prices have pulled back both Spanish and some German regional inflation from the February highs this morning. Actually Spanish inflation seems very volatile and therefore difficult to read but this month’s picture seems lower than last even allowing for that. But overall there seem to be some economic silver linings around albeit that there was a cloud or two as the credit data lost some momentum.

What about Italy?

The sentiment numbers here released yesterday were positive as well.

With regard to the consumer survey, the confidence climate index grew in March 2017 from 106.6 to 107.6……With reference to the business surveys, the composite business confidence climate index (IESI, Istat Economic Sentiment Indicator) increased from 104.3 to 105.1.

However there was something rather Italian in all of this good news as I note this.

while the personal and current components worsened from 102.1 to 101.0 and from 104.7 to 104.5

Whilst the outlook is favourable it does not seem to have impacted so far on Italians themselves.

What about industry?

On Tuesday the Italian statistics office served up a swerving serve that Roger Federer would be proud of as its headline showed both industrial turnover (1.9%) and new orders (8.6%) rising. But if we look deeper as there were 21 days this year as opposed to 19 last we see this.

In January 2017 the seasonally adjusted turnover index decreased by -3.5% compared to the previous month (-2.3% in domestic market and -5.4% in non-domestic market)……..In January 2017 the seasonally adjusted industrial new orders index decreased by -2.9% compared with December 2016 (-6.6% in domestic market and +2.6% in non-domestic market).

So it was a bad January meaning that quarterly growth fell to 1.7% for turnover and 0.8% for new orders.

If we look for context of the Italian problem we see some of it in the underlying index which was set at 100 in 2010 and has now risen to 100.3. If we look further we see another sign as the growth has been export-led (121.7) whereas the domestic market has fallen to 91.5. Thus the domestic numbers are more depressionary than recessionary.

If we move to production we see that it fell by 0.5% in January leaving it at 93.8% of the level seen in 2010.

Retail Sales

If we look at the latest data we see that the better sentiment has yet to impact here.

In January 2017 the seasonally adjusted retail trade index increased by 1.4% with respect to December 2016 (+2.3% for food goods and +0.8% for non-food goods). The average of the last three months compared to the previous three months was unvaried. The unadjusted index decreased by 0.1% with respect to January 2016.

The underlying index returns us to thoughts of an economic depression as this time an index set at 100 in 2010 compares to 95.7 in January.

Employment and Unemployment

This continues a rather troubled pattern so let us start with the good bit.

The labour input used in the economic system (expressed by the hours worked in the national accounts) increased by 0.4% quarter-on-quarter and by 1.6% year-over-year.

So there is more work around but because of the past pattern it is hard to look past this.

The unemployment rate confirmed at 11.9%, up by 0.2 percentage points after the substantial stability over the four previous quarters.

Some of that is technical as the particpation rate rose reversing for example some of the arguments over the US labour market but it is also true that the previous year saw unemployment rise by 108,000. So we see that this problem is persisting when if we look at other metrics it should not be.

Also we get a clue perhaps as to the current issues with retail sales as we note that real wages are under pressure.

as a result of a 0.2% increase in wages ( in 2016).

 

Population

The numbers for 2016 are out and they tell us this.

The population at 1st January 2017 was estimated to be 60,579,000; the decrease on the previous year was 86,000 units (-1.4 per thousand).

This happened in spite of the growth from migration.

The net international migration in 2016 amounted to +135 thousand, a similar level to that seen in 2015. Compared to the latter it was determined by a higher number of inflows, 293 thousand, and a new record of outflows, for the recent time, equal to 157 thousand.

As we see people are leaving but are being replaced and some presumably mostly by those crossing the Mediterranean.

Also the demographics clock continued to tick. However let me also welcome this as people are living longer.

The mean age of the population at 1st January 2017 was 44.9 years, two tenths more than in 2016.

The banks

This has become a little like the never-ending story. After all what news is there some 3 months down the road after the announcement of a bailout for Monte Paschi. Well according to Bloomberg there are ongoing arguments.

In the view of some ECB Supervisory Board members, while Monte Paschi cleared the hurdles for aid, its viability was bolstered by unrealistic valuations of its bad loan portfolio, the people said. The board gave the all-clear even though the possibility that Monte Paschi sold junior bonds inappropriately to retail investors wasn’t fully reflected in the solvency assessment, they said.

There is also the issue of what will happen to Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca. The official view is that this will be solved “soon” which is a line they also use for Greece.

Also remember the Atlante bailout fund which was supposed to rescue things which rather embarrassingly was followed by Atlante 11 as it needed more funds, how is it going? From Teleborsa.

Intesa Sanpaolo is not prepared to add other loans in the Fund Atlas. It does not leave space for imagination Carlo Messina, CEO of the banking group……..”There is no doubt that today the one to which we must aim is to safeguard the investment made in Atlas “

Perhaps he is worried by this in 24 ORE.

Altogether, as reconstructed by Radiocor Plus, the adjustments made by the top 12 Italian banks that have joined Atlas amounted to 1.01 billion, compared with 1.98 billion actually paid into the fund on December 31 last year (about l ‘ 80% of the 2.45 billion total commitment declared by the main institutions). Less than a year after the birth of the fund, the average write-down was then 51.2% of actual amounts paid.

Comment

As ever there is much to consider and if we look at the forecast of the Bank of Italy against what is for once a favourable backdrop I am reminded of the “Girlfriend in a Coma” theme of Bill Emmott.

We expect GDP to expand, on an annual basis, by 0.9 per cent this year and the next and by 1.1 per cent in 2018 and 2019.

This reinforces my theme that even in the good years Italy manages around 1% economic growth which means that by the time we allow for downturns it is on a road to nowhere. Actually that explains its experience in the Euro area and as the population has grown it has seen GDP per capita fall by around 6%.

If we move to the banking sector we see something very sclerotic which is plainly holding the economy back as we not even the official data shows Non-Performing Loans at 16.24% of the total. If it is true that the Monte Paschi numbers have been “massaged” (again…) then I fear for what the real number is. Yet real reform never seems to actually turn up as we mull another apparently never-ending story.

 

 

It is always about the banks or in central banker speak “The Precious”

If we look back over the credit crunch era we were told that bailing out the banks would lead us into a better future. The truth nearly a decade later in some cases ( Northern Rock in the UK) is that we see a situation where central banks have enormous balance sheets and low interest-rates dominate with the Euro area and Japan in particular having negative interest-rates. That is most odd in the Euro area as of course we have been told only this morning by the Purchasing Managers indices that growth in France and Germany is strong. So something has changed and is not quite right and if we look we see signs of trouble in the banking industry even after all the bailouts and accommodative monetary policy.

Royal Bank of Scotland

This has turned out to be the doppelgänger of the concept of the gift which keeps on giving. Each year we have had promises of recovery at RBS from whoever is in charge and each year that fades to then be replaced by the same in a so far endless cycle.  Rather like Greece actually. Also the original promise of the UK taxpayer getting their money back seems further away than ever as the price of £2.40 is less than half of what was paid back then. Quite an achievement when we see so many stock markets close to all time highs.

As to the economic effect well claims of benefits have had to face a stream of bad news of which there was more yesterday. From the BBC.

Hundreds of jobs will be lost following a decision to close almost 160 RBS and NatWest branches.

RBS blamed a “dramatic shift” in banking, with branch transactions falling 43% since 2010.

In the same period, online and mobile transactions have increased by more than 400%.

Whilst online and mobile transactions have plainly surged it is also true that all bad news is claimed as somebody else’s fault. If you have a zombie bank wallowing on then you will of course be affected by change especially in this sort of timeframe.

RBS remains still majority-owned by taxpayers following its multi-billion government bailout almost a decade ago.

If we look back to the UK motor industry bailouts were stopped because the business model no longer applied yet that critique seems to have been forgotten. I note that after of course a fair bit of economic pain the motor industry is producing record figures.

Co-op Bank

I wrote about the latest problems of this bank on the 13th of February and this morning I note we have a sort of official denial of trouble in the Financial Times.

Co-Operative Bank says “a number” of suitors have come forward since it announced plans to fin a buyer in February.

This gives rather a different picture to this from Sky News on Tuesday.

Co-op Bank bonds have been trading at little more than 80p in the pound this week, underlining investors’ pessimism that a £400m repayment due in September will be made.

Talk is cheap but apparently those bonds are not cheap enough?! Easy money if you believe the hype especially at a time of low interest-rates and yields.

But you see I warned about this back in February.

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.

And note this from Sky News.

One insider said the Bank of England had hosted a meeting last week at which the Co-op Bank’s problematic pension schemes had been discussed.

The losses of £477 million last year and the announced need for £750 million should there not be a sale are hardly good portents. Back in February I feared the Bank of England might find itself stepping in and that danger has increased in the meantime.

Portugal

My eyes were drawn to this yesterday from Patricia Kowsman of the Wall Street Journal.

Portugal state-owned bank raises EUR500M carrying hefty 10.75% interest. Says 49% of buyers asset managers, 41% hedge funds. Majority in UK.

In these times an interest-rate of 10.75% is extraordinary for a state-owned bank and compares to a ten-year bond yield for Portugal that has been around 4% for a while. Why might this be so?

Also on Wednesday, a group of major international investors that suffered losses on Novo Banco’s senior bonds issued a warning to the Portuguese authorities and indicated that an agreement to minimize those losses would be beneficial to the country. The group, led by BlackRock and PIMCO, said Portugal and Portuguese banks continue to pay the Bank of Portugal’s decision to transfer obligations from the New Bank to BES ‘bad’ at the end of 2015.( Economia)

So a past bailout has caused what Taylor Swift would call “trouble,trouble, trouble” and if we return to Patricia the record of Caixa Geral de Depósitos has been very poor.

Well, it’s a state-owned bank that had a EUR1.86B loss last year, big NPLs, in a country with a v weak banking system ( NPLs are Non Performing Loans)

We find ourselves in a situation where a past bailout ( BES) have made life more difficult for a current one and the Portuguese taxpayer ends up being held over a barrel especially after the European Commission declared this.

CGD will also take actions to further strengthen its capital position from private sources

This bit raised a wry smile.

the Commission analysed the injection of €2.5 billion of new equity into CGD by Portugal and found that it generates a sufficient return that a private investor would have accepted as well.

Can they see the future now? Shall we call it forward guidance…..

Italy

Speaking of forward guidance around this time last year Finance Minister Padoan was telling us that bailouts were not going to be required for Italy’s banks and Prime Minister Renzi was telling us what a good investment the shares of Monte Paschi were. Anyway if we move to this Wednesday Reuters were reporting this.

Italy’s plans to bail out two regional banks pose a tough dilemma to European regulators, who are still considering whether Monte dei Paschi qualifies for state aid, three months after giving a preliminary green light.

Banca Popolare di Vicenza and Veneto Banca said

If they hang on long enough with Monte dei Paschi maybe something will turn up. Oh and there is Unicredit the largest bank which I called a zombie on Sky News about five years ago. It is issuing another 13 billion Euros of shares which further dilutes shareholders who of course have had to dig deep into their pockets before. Also there were plenty of rumours that it was a big recipient from the ECB TLTRO ( cheap money for banks) this week. Looking more generally Frederik Ducrozet of  Bank Pictet thought this.

Extrapolating from the share of each country in previous operations, Italy and Spain would account for at least 60% of total TLTROs holdings.

Greece

The official mantra has been along the lines of D-Ream’s “Things can only get better” and yet this happened this week. From the Bank of Greece.

On 22 March 2017 the Governing Council of the ECB did not object to an ELA-ceiling for Greek banks of €46.6 billion, up to and including Wednesday, 5 April 2017, following a request by the Bank of Greece.

The increase of €0.4 billion in the ceiling reflects developments in the liquidity situation of Greek banks, taking into account private sector deposits flows.

In a situation where we keep being told the Greek economy is improving?

Comment

This is like an economic version of the never-ending story. Proclamations of success and triumph are followed by “move along please, nothing to see here” and then well you know! In addition to the bailouts there are other schemes to help the banks. For example the cheap loans offered by the Bank of England under its Term Funding Scheme have now reached some £47.25 billion. If we move to Europe I note that Bank Pictet think this.

In aggregate, the maximum subsidy from those long-term loans at a negative rate is EUR3bn on an annual basis, compared with a total cost of the ECB’s negative deposit rate of around EUR5.5bn (a number that will grow to over EUR8bn as QE continues).

As you can see some of it is hidden or to be more precise not generally known. The biggest critique is simply the “lost decade” for the banking sector we seem trapped in and we learnt explicitly from the chief economist of the Bank of England earlier this week that different rules apply to his “Precious”. From Chris Giles of the Financial Times.

why does the chief econ of BoE think banks accounting for a third of the productivity puzzle is peanuts?

When people look away though banks seem to return to type.

Credit Suisse Group AG increased its bonus pool 6 percent…….The bank is increasing its bonus pool for the first time since 2013 in spite of a second consecutive annual loss.

 

Reuters

After posting this I note that a long post from Reuters has a different perspective to mine.

Banks used to have a cosy relationship with Britain’s government. Now they say they are struggling to be heard as the country prepares to leave the EU…….

 

Or perhaps not albeit from a different corner.

Senior bankers expected special treatment from the government after Britain voted to leave the EU. They expected ministers to champion their cause, above other industries,

 

 

The growing debt problem faced by Italy

Yesterday saw one of the themes of this website raised by a rather unusual source. The European Commission released this document yesterday.

Today’s 27 Country Reports (for all Member States except Greece, which is under a dedicated stability support programme) provide the annual analysis of Commission staff of the situation in the Member States’ economies, including where relevant an assessment of macroeconomic imbalances.

Greece is omitted presumably because it is all to painful and embarrassing although of course one of those presenting this report Commissioner Pierre Moscovici keeps telling us it is a triumph. Reality tells us a different story as this from Macropolis illustrates.

The employment balance stayed negative in January 2017, with net departures climbing to 29,817 from 9,954 a year ago, data from the Labour Ministry’s Ergani information system revealed on Tuesday.

But as we note that 13 countries in the European Union were investigated for imbalances or just under half with 12 found to have them ( oddly the troubled Finland was excluded) the Commission found itself in an awkward spot with regards to Italy. Here is the label it gave it.

excessive economic imbalances.

Which led to this.

a report analysing the debt situation in Italy

So let us investigate.

Italy’s National Debt

Firstly we get a confession of something regularly pointed out on here.

in particular low inflation, which made the respect of the debt rule particularly demanding;

No wonder the ECB is pressing on with its QE (Quantitative Easing) program and as I pointed out only yesterday seems set to push consumer inflation above target which will help the debtors. Also in that section was something awkward as you see it is a statement of Italy’s whole period of Euro membership.

the unfavourable economic conditions,

We have an old friend returning although of course pretty much everyone has ignored it even Germany.

namely: (a) whether the ratio of the planned or actual government deficit to gross domestic product (GDP) exceeds the reference value of 3%; and (b) whether the ratio of government debt to GDP exceeds the reference value of 60%, unless it is sufficiently diminishing and approaching the reference value at a satisfactory pace.

Yep the Stability and Growth Pact is back although these days in the same way as the leaky Windscale became the leak-free Sellafield it is mostly referred to as the Fiscal Compact. The real issue here for Italy though is the debt numbers are from a universe far,far away.

Italy’s general government deficit declined to 2.6 % of GDP in 2015 (from 3% in 2014), while the debt continued to rise to 132.3% of GDP (from 131.9 % in 2014), i.e. above the 60% of GDP reference value. For 2016, Italy’s 2017 Draft Budgetary Plan7 projects the debt-to-GDP ratio to peak at 132.8%, up by 0.5 percentage points from the 2015 level. In 2017, the Draft Budgetary Plan projects a small decline (of 0.2 percentage points) in the debt-to-GDP ratio to 132.6%.

We get pages of detail which skirt many of the salient points. So let me remind them. firstly a debt-to-GDP target of 120% was established back in 2010 for Greece to avoid embarrassing Italy (and Portugal). Since then both have cruised through it which poses a question to say the least for this.

Italy conducted a sizeable fiscal adjustment between 2010 and 2013, which allowed the country to exit the excessive deficit procedure in 2013

So as soon as it could Italy returned to what we might call normal although whilst it runs fiscal deficits they are lower than the UK for example. Whilst the EU peers at them they are not really the causal vehicle here. Regular readers of my work will not be surprised to see my eyes alight on this bit.

the expected slow recovery in real GDP growth

This is the driving factor here as we note that even in better times the Italian economy only grows by around 1% a year ( 1.1% last year for example) yet in the bad times it does shrink faster than that as the -3.2% annual growth rate of the middle of 2012 illustrates. The Commission describes it like this.

Italy’s GDP has not grown compared to 15 years ago, as against average annual growth of 1.2% in the rest of the euro area.

Putting it another way the economy seems set to get back to where it was at the opening of 2012 maybe this spring but more likely this summer. In such an environment any level of borrowing will raise not only the debt level but also its ratio to GDP. Thus the pages and pages of detail on expenditure would be much better spent on looking at and then implementing economic reform.

A fiscal boost

This has come form the policies of Mario Draghi and the ECB.

taking advantage of the fiscal space created by lower interest expenditure, which declined steadily from the peak of 5.2% of GDP in 2012 to 3.9% in 2016.

Of course debt costs have lowered across the world but the ECB has contributed a fair bit to this gain of over 1% per annum in economic output. I doubt Italy’s politicians admit this as they rush to spend it and bathe themselves in the good will.

Monte dei Paschi

Another old friend so to speak but it does illustrate issues building for Italy as the Commission admits. Firstly to the debt numbers explicitly.

For instance, in 2017, both the deficit and debt figures could be revised upwards following the EUR 20 billion (or 1.2 % of GDP) banking support package earmarked by the
government in December 2016.

But also implicitly as we mull current and future economic performance.

At the current juncture, following the protracted crisis, banks are burdened by a large stock of non-performing loans and may not be able to fully support the
recovery.

We left MPS itself on the 30th of December as it was socialised and in state ownership. You might reasonably think it would have been solved over the New Year break. Er no as this from the Financial Times today highlights.

Rome’s proposal to recapitalise MPS has been in limbo since December because the ECB, the bank’s supervisor, and the European Commission, which polices state aid, have different views on their responsibilities and the merits of taxpayer bailouts.

There was always going to be trouble over whether this turned out to be a bailout, a bailin or a hybrid of the two. Has any progress at all been made?

The two-month stand-off leaves fundamental questions over the rescue proposals, including the level of state support allowed, the amount of losses that creditors will suffer and the depth of restructuring needed to make the bank viable.

The creditor issue is one that resonates because ordinary Italian depositors were persuaded to buy the banks bonds in a about as clear a case of miss selling as there has been. The trouble is that the guilty party the bank’s management cannot pay on the scale required and nor can the bank inspite of it being in “optimal condition” according to Finance Minister Padoan.

Indeed some may be having nightmares about the return of a phrase that described so much economic destruction in Greece.

An Italian official said talks were on track.

Comment

This is a situation which continues to go round in circles. Europe concentrates on fiscal deficits and now apparently the national debt but ignores the main cause which is the long-term lack of economic growth. There is a particular irony that at every ECB policy press conference the Italian Mario Draghi reads out a paragraph asking for more economic reform and the place where it happens so little is his home country.

The implementation of structural reforms needs to be substantially stepped up to increase resilience, reduce structural unemployment and boost investment, productivity and potential output growth in the euro area.

Yet when the European authorities get involved we see as in the MPS saga that they “dilly and dally” as Claudio Ranieri might say. Exactly the reverse of what they expect from the Italian government and people. The next issue for the banking sector is that for all its faults the UK for example began dealing with them in 2008 whereas Italy has looked the other way and let it drag on. That poor battered can is having to be picked up.

My suggestion would be an investigation into what is now called the unregulated economy to see how much has escaped the net. Maybe people do not want to do so because they fear that it has increased but what is there to be afraid of in the truth?

Tip TV Finance

http://tiptv.co.uk/boes-deflection-strategy-not-yes-man-economics/

Will rising bond yields mean ECB QE is To Infinity! And Beyond!?

Yesterday the ECB ( European Central Bank ) President Mario Draghi spoke at the European Parliament and in his speech were some curious and intriguing phrases.

Our current monetary policy stance foresees that, if the inflation outlook becomes less favourable, or if financial conditions become inconsistent with further progress towards a sustained adjustment in the path of inflation, the Governing Council is prepared to increase the asset purchase programme in terms of size and/or duration.

I say that bit was curious because it contrasted with the other rhetoric in the speech as we were told how well things are going.

Over the last two years GDP per capita has increased by 3% in the euro area, which compares well with other major advanced economies. Economic sentiment is at its highest level in five years. Unemployment has fallen to 9.6%, its lowest level since May 2009. And the ratio of public debt to GDP is declining for the second consecutive year.

The talk of what I would call “More,More,More” is also a contrast to the December policy decision which went down the road of less or more specifically slower.

We will continue to purchase assets at a monthly pace of €80 billion until March. Starting from April, our net asset purchases will run at a monthly pace of €60 billion, and we will reinvest the securities purchased earlier under our programme, as they mature. This will add to our monthly net purchases.

There was another swerve from Mario Draghi who had written to a couple of MEPs telling them that a country leaving the Euro would have to settle their Target 2 balances ( I analysed this on the  23rd of January ) whereas now we were told this.

L’euro e’ irrevocabile, the euro is irrevocable

Of course Italian is his natural language bur perhaps also there was a message to his home country which has seen the rise of political parties who are against Euro membership.

Such words do have impacts on bond markets and yields but I was particularly interested in this bit. From @macrocredit.

DRAGHI SAYS ECB POLICY DOESN’T TARGET BOND SPREADS

A rather curious observation from someone who is effectively doing just that and of course for an establishment which trumpeted the convergence of bond yield spreads back before the Euro area crisis. Just to be clear which is meant here is the gap between the bond yield of Germany and other nations such as Spain or Italy. These days Mario Draghi seems to be displaying all the consistency of Arsene Wenger.

Oh and rather like the Bank of England he seems to be preparing himself for a rise in inflation.

As I have argued before, our monetary policy strategy prescribes that we should not react to individual data points and short-lived increases in inflation.

Spanish energy consumers may not be so sanguine!

Growing divergence in bond yields

The reality has been that recently we have seen a growing divergence in Euro area bond yields. This has happened in spite of the fact that the ECB QE ( Quantitative Easing) bond buying program has continued. As of the latest update it has purchased some 1.34 trillion Euros of sovereign bonds as well as of course other types of bonds. Perhaps markets are already adjusting to the reduction in the rate of purchases planned to begin on April 1st.

France

Ch-ch-changes here are right at the core of the Euro project which is the Franco-German axis. If we look back to last autumn we see a ten-year yield which fell below 0.1% and now we see one of 1.12%. This has left it some 0.76% higher than its German equivalent.

Care is needed as these are still low levels but politicians get used to an annual windfall from ,lower bond yields and so any rise will be unwelcome. It is still true that up to the five-year maturity France can borrow at negative bond yields but it is also true that a chill wind of change seems to be blowing at the moment. The next funding auction will be much more painful than its predecessor and the number below suggests we may not have to wait too long for it.

The government borrowing requirement for 2017 is therefore forecast to reach €185.4bn.

Italy

Here in Mario’s home country the situation is more material as the ten-year yield has risen to 2.36% or 2% over that of Germany. This will be expensive for politicians in the same manner as for France except of course the yield is more expensive and as the Italian Treasury confirms below the larger national debt poses its own demands.

The redemptions over the coming year are just under 216 billion euros (excluding BOTs), or some 30 billion euros more than in 2016, including approximately 3.3 billion euros in relation to the international programme. At the same time, the redemptions of currently outstanding BOTs amount to just over 107 billion euros, which is below the comparable amount in 2016 (115 billion euros) as a result of the policy initiated some years ago to reduce the borrowing in this segment.

The Italian Treasury has also noted the trends we are discussing today.

As a result of these developments, the yield differentials between Italian government securities and similar securities from other core European countries (in particular, Germany) started to increase in September 2016……. the final two months of 2016 have been marked by a significant increase in interest rates in the bond market in the United States,

Although we are also told this

In Europe, the picture is very different.

Anyway those who have followed the many debacles in this particular area which have mostly involved Mario Draghi’s past employer Goldman Sachs will note this next bit with concern.

Again in 2017, the transactions in derivatives instruments will support active portfolio management, and they will be aimed at improving the portfolio performance in the current market environment.

Should problems emerge then let me place a marker down which is that the average maturity of 6.76 years is not the longest.

Portugal

Here the numbers are more severe as Portugal has a ten-year yield of 4.24% and of course it has a similar national debt to economic output ratio to Italy so it is an outlier on two fronts. It need to raise this in 2017.

The Republic has a gross issuance target of EUR 14 billion to EUR 16 billion through both auctions and syndications.

To be fair it started last month but do you see the catch?

The size was set at EUR 3 billion and the new OT 10-year benchmark was finally priced at 16:15 CET with a coupon of 4.125% and a re-offer yield of 4.227%.

That is expensive in these times of a bond market super boom. Portugal has now paid off some 44% of its borrowings from the IMF but it is coming with an increasingly expensive kicker. Maybe that is why the European establishment wanted the IMF involved in its next review of Portugal’s circumstances.

Also at just over five years the average maturity is relatively short which would mean any return of the bond vigilantes would soon have Portugal looking for outside help again.

As of December 31, 2016 the Portuguese State direct debt amounted to EUR 236,283 million, decreasing 0.5% vis-à-vis the end of the previous month ( 133.4% of GDP).

Comment

Bond markets will of course ebb and flow but recently we have seen an overall trend and this does pose questions for several countries in the Euro area in particular. The clear examples are Italy and Portugal but there are also concerns elsewhere such as in France. These forces take time but a brake will be applied to national budgets as debt costs rise after several years when politicians will have been quietly cheering ECB policies which have driven falls. Of course higher inflation will raise debt costs for nations such as Italy which have index-linked stocks as well.

If we step back we see how difficult it will be for the ECB to end its QE sovereign bond buying program and even harder to ever reverse the stock or portfolio of bonds it has bought so far. This returns me to the issues I raised on January 19th.

If we look at the overall picture we see that 2017 poses quite a few issues for central banks as they approach the stage which the brightest always feared. If you come off it will the economy go “cold turkey” or merely have some withdrawal systems? What if the future they have borrowed from emerges and is worse than otherwise?

Meanwhile with the ECB being under fire for currency manipulation ( in favour of Germany in particular) it is not clear to me that this from Benoit Coeure will help.

The ECB has no specific exchange rate target, but the single currency has adjusted as a consequence. Since its last peak in 2011, the euro has depreciated by almost 30% against the dollar. The euro is now at a level that is appropriate for the economic situation in Europe.