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.

The economic problem that is Italy continues

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

Some better news

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Labour Market

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer Inflation

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

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

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

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

House Prices

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

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

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

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

The banks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

The Monte Paschi saga continues

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

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

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

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

*PADOAN: ITALIAN BANKS ARE NOT WEAK (January)

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

Oh and he was on CNBC in September.

Bailout for Italian banks has been ‘absolutely’ ruled out

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

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

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

The bailout or is it bail in?

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 20 billion Euro problem

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

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

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

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

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

Comment

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

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

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

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

The spectre of nationalisation haunts Monte dei Paschi

As we approach Christmas and the New Year we see that there is something of a crossover between popular culture and the banking sector. What I mean by this is the way the TV series The Walking Dead seems to apply to some Italian banks and to Monte dei Paschi di Siena or BMPS in particular. As 2016 has progressed BMPS has looked more dead and less walking and this examination of its value will show us. Back on the 21st of January I used these numbers from Macrocredit as an illustration.

MontePaschi: Total capital raised since 2008: €14bn Market value today: €1.5bn

What is happening this morning well @warburg100 updates us.

UNABLE TO FIX AN OPENING PRICE. – 9.82%…….. new low 14.71 in a short deal with 143k pcs dealt.

This means that Bloomberg tells us this about the value of BMPS this morning.

The shares have dropped 87 percent this year, trimming the bank’s value to 478 million euros.

Actually if we use that latest share price and look at what Bloomberg used the value is now 431 million Euros compared to capital raised of 14 billion Euros. So whilst we should take care using a marginal price for an average concept we see that there has been value destruction on a grand scale here which has hurt ordinary people and investors badly as I will come to in a minute. But as James Mackintosh reminds us we have seen an extraordinary example of what we have labelled Fallin’ Alicia Keys style.

Monte dei Paschi now down 99.84% from all time high. Still holding out for -99.99%, if the suspensions allow it to fall enough

It is getting ever nearer.

Its bonds

As well as having equity capital banks these days increasingly issue bonds to back their capital and some of these are a type of hybrid capital especially if we note that the Euro area has bail in rules for some of them. Put simply if things go wrong you can lose your dough. There are obvious fears in the chart from @fastFT from late yesterday.

https://twitter.com/fastFT/status/811613822628823040

That bounce may seem hopeful but I would like you to note that the previous days closing price was 50.088 and the post bounce price was 47. 813. So it was still heavily down on the day off a closing price where half its value had gone. This is at a time which in general terms could hardly be more favourable for bonds as whilst the ECB does not buy bank bonds (yet) its deposit rate of -0.4% and purchases of well over a trillion Euros of sovereign bonds and some 50.4 billion of corporate bonds mean that it has been quite a bull market overall.

The issue of lower bond prices is where depositors and savers or the ordinary person come particularly into view. Back on the 24th of November I looked at how ordinary savers had been persuaded to invest in the share of banks in the Veneto region well here we are discussing bonds which were aimed at ordinary savers and depositors. With the value of some of these bonds halving and maybe worse to come we see that we are seeing Italy’s own version of a miss selling scandal. These bonds were badged as safe by the salesmen and women whereas they have turned out to be anything but.

This is the crux of the matter. Euro area bail in rules say that the bonds have to be hit whereas in terms of the impact on retail bondholders the Italian government feels that it needs to avoid this. Both out of justice and humanity but also out of simple politics.

What happened to Atlante?

This is the private-sector rescue vehicle. I have pointed out many times that it simply does not have enough money as in spite of it having a second cash call the demands on it are ongoing as this from Reuters yesterday shows.

Veneto Banca said in a statement Quaestio Capital, the manager of the Atlante fund, had pledged to put up 628 million euros ($655 million) by January 5 as part of a future capital increase.

In a separate statement Banca Popolare di Vicenza said the fund would pay 310 million euros into its coffers by the same date, also as part of a future capital increase.

So something of a dash for its cash seems to have been going on. Thus it could put some money into BMPS but not a lot

A run on the bank

Banks rarely survive such a thing and we have seen signs of this. Back in November the Financial Times reported this.

Monte Paschi, the world’s oldest lender, has lost €14bn — or 11 per cent — of its deposits since January, with an acceleration in July and August

Yesterday BMPS reported that it only had 4 months of liquidity left which is the sort of statement likely to make it 4 weeks or even 4 days! Some care is needed amongst the scaremongering as there is deposit protection up to 100,000 Euros and the Bank of Italy will be watching this like a hawk but larger depositors if there are any left are likely to move on.

Nationalisation

Italy has had a parliamentary vote to raise “up to” 20 billion Euros which means that we will have to update the meaning of “up to” in my financial lexicon for these times. So the cash is ready and the deadline for the private-sector plans is 2 pm today. Christmas is a convenient time for such things as the public holidays can be used and it seems to be after Banif and Novo Banco a time that the Euro area prefers for such things. Or as @Swedes2Turnips1 put it.

Jingle bails.

The private rescue has failed to find anyone silly enough to back the 4 billion Euros of financial engineering with 1 billion Euros of equity. So the state is revving up although there are odd stories about the 4% stake of the state being raised to 70%. That is the sort of mistake the UK made with Royal Bank of Scotland when it is much better, if you have to invest, to also have the complete control that 100% provides. For example it is not a nice thing to happen but after a nationalisation the share price should be zero.

Spanish banks

The good day to bury bad news klaxon was in operation yesterday as this was announced.

Spanish banks, including Banco Popular Espanol SA and Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria SA, may have to give back billions of euros to mortgage customers after a final ruling by the European Union’s top court. Bank shares tumbled by as much as 10 percent. (Bloomberg)

How much?

The Bank of Spain estimates the maximum amount of mortgage floors affected by the ruling is slightly above 4 billion euros, an official said.

So we see new rules for tossing a coin where heads means the banks win and tails mean we lose. Meanwhile more disinformation is provided.

The ruling doesn’t affect Banco Popular’s solvency or strength, a spokeswoman for the lender said. The total impact of the ruling for the bank is 639 million euros and the bank has already provisioned to cover 305 million euros, she said.

Comment

This looks set to be the latest example of privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses from the banking sector otherwise known as the precious. Also the delay and dithering means that those responsible continue to collect their pay cheques and sometimes bonuses for as long as possible. The official time line has been provided for us by @Darlington_Dick

*PADOAN: ITALIAN BANKS ARE NOT WEAK (January)

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

Oh and he was on CNBC in September.

Bailout for Italian banks has been ‘absolutely’ ruled out

Meanwhile please never take investment advice from former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi as he was to be found stating back in January that BMPS was a good investment. Also let me remind you that the President of the ECB Mario Draghi has been intimately involved in all of this over time via his past roles as Governor of the Bank of Italy and more as I pointed out on January 21st.

If we look further back in time we see that the law covering Italian financial markets is often called the Draghi Law and we note that around the turn of the century he was Director General of the Italian Treasury. Then he went to Goldman Sachs which was busy designing derivatives for Italy and Monte Paschi as well as Greece before returning to head the Bank of Italy. So if there is a crime his fingerprints are all over it.

Meanwhile for Italy itself there is the issue of its national debt which is already 2.22 trillion Euros and seems set to rise which reminds me of point 11 of my time line for a bank collapse.

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