Friday, April 24, 2015
The Ifo Business Climate Index for German trade and industry rose to 108.6 points in April from 107.9 points last month based on the latest data. Using historical time series, current reading signals growth in excess of 2%.
However, Q1 2015 was relatively weak for German indicators.
Present situation index for Germany in Q1 2015 was 112.0 against 115.2 a year ago. Expectations for the next 6 months index was 103.9 in Q1 2015 against 106.3 a year ago. Economic Climate index - overall index of activity - in Q1 2015 stood at 107.9 down on 110.6 in Q1 2014.
German performance in Q1 2015 was reflective of a similar trend in the euro area. Euro area present situation index in Q1 2015 was at 117.5 - well below 120.3 recorded in Q1 2014, while 6months forward expectations index was at 109.8 against 119.7 a year ago. Overall, euro area economic climate index finished Q1 2015 at 112.7, which was below 119.9 recorded at the end of Q1 2014.
Unless April reading signals sustained uplift for Q2 2015, things are not exactly exciting.
My column for the Cayman Financial Review this quarter covers the issues of economic development and migration: http://caymanianfinancialreview.cay.newsmemory.com/ go to page B20-21.
Alternative link, here: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/04/22/Migration-trends-and-economic-development/
Thursday, April 23, 2015
Despite all the QE and accommodative monetary policies, despite all the state funding directed toward new lending supports, and despite unorthodox measures aimed at inducing the banks to lend into the economy, the following took place in the advanced economies over the course of the Great Recession:
1) financing conditions globally have first tightened (during the Global Financial Crisis) and then eased, in majority of the advanced economies reaching the levels of stringency comparable to pr-crisis peak;
2) cost of borrowing fell on pre-crisis levels across all advanced economies with exception of a handful of countries; and
3) investment remains weak.
Want to see the problem illustrated?
Banerjee, Ryan and Kearns, Jonathan and Lombardi, Marco J., (Why) is Investment Weak? (March 2015, BIS Quarterly Review March 2015: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2580278) ask: What explains this apparent disconnect?
Per authors, "The evidence suggests that, historically, uncertainty about the future state of the economy and expected profits play a key role in driving investment, and financing conditions less so. As a result,
investment after the Great Recession appears to have been broadly in line with what could have been expected based on past relationships. A stronger recovery of investment would seem to depend on a reduction in economic uncertainty and expectations of stronger future growth."
As I argued in the paper on the European Capital Markets Union (CMU) proposal here: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2592918 - you might think that lack of investment is because markets for credit supply are dysfunctional. But you can also think of the demand side: if there is no growth prospect ahead, why invest in new capacity? And taking the second view, the prescription for solving the problem is: growth. Which requires improved prospects for investors, entrepreneurs, SMEs and, above all else - households.
In the world of 'Crazy Jumping' stats, Ireland is in the league of its own. Reach no further than out to the Irish Producer Prices. In annual terms, factory prices are up 9.5% in March 2015 y/y, almost double the 5.2% rise in the year to February 2015.
What is going on? Oh, currency valuations (prices are up in euros while exports markets are priced in all sorts of stuff) plus MNCs that can freely adjust prices they charge to Irish operations. Thus, "In the year there was an increase of 11.9% in the price index for export sales …and a decrease of 3.3% in respect of the price index for home sales." Basic pharmaceuticals prices (largest contributor to y/y price change) are up 14.5% y/y, Printing and Reproduction of Recorded Media - aka ICT software etc - jumped up 19.5%, Computer, electronic and optical products (second largest contributor to y/y price change) prices up 19%.
And in m/m terms, "the most significant changes were increases in Computer, electronic and optical products (+5.2%), Basic pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical preparations (+4.6%) and Other food products including bread and confectionery (+2.9%), while there were decreases in Dairy products (-1.0%) and Other Manufacturing including Medical and Dental Instruments and Supplies (-0.2%)."
Now, resurgent Building and Construction industry. Based on factory gate prices things are not exactly surging yet. "All materials prices [for Building and Construction industry] increased by 1.4% in the year since March 2014. The most notable yearly changes were increases in Stone (+14.7%), Hardwood (+12.3%) and Glass (+6.4%), while there were decreases in Other Structural steel (-4.0%), Concrete blocks and bricks (-3.3%) and Ready mixed mortar and concrete (-2.6%)."
So things are booming up in MNCs - predominantly on foot of accounting… err… forex valuations side. And they are slogging up in Building & Construction, and in capital goods side (prices up 1.2% y/y). Domestic economy producers, overall, are deflating, still.
Meanwhile, "The price of Energy products decreased by 11.3% in the year since March 2014, while Petroleum fuels decreased by 10.7%." Did you notice any of these decreases in your electricity and gas bills? No, me neither.
But all looks rather pretty hyperbolic in growth terms when one uses 'one-closed-eye-on-reality' trick:
A very interesting study, titled "Labor Market Polarization Over the Business Cycle" by
Christopher L. Foote and Richard W. Ryan (http://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2014/wp1416.pdf) from the Boston Fed postulates that "Job losses during the Great Recession were concentrated among middle-skill workers, the same group that over the long run has suffered the most from automation and international trade." This is what is known as occupational polarisation - the disappearance of mid-range skills and low-end skills jobs and growth in higher skilled occupations.
The study finds "that middle-skill occupations have traditionally been more cyclical than
other occupations, in part because of the volatile industries that tend to employ middle-skill workers. Unemployed middle-skill workers also appear to have few attractive or feasible employment alternatives outside of their skill class, and the drop in male participation rates during the past several decades can be explained in part by an erosion of middle-skill job opportunities."
One hell of a chart illustrating the above across longer time horizon:
Shares of Employment for Four Occupational Groups:
You know the theory of the 'Bad of Deflation' - I wrote about it before... the story goes as follows: if prices fall, and consumers expect them to continue to fall, then rational consumers will withhold their demand, delaying their purchases in anticipation of lower price in the future. The result will be: reduced demand today, lower investment by the firms in future production, lower investment in innovation, stagnation, layoffs, recession... locust... fire balls falling from the skies and pestilence of the kind that only Central Bankers can save us from.
You also know my response to this, especially in the current macroeconomic conditions: falling prices support household real incomes and increase households' ability to finance debt and debt deleveraging, while sustaining at least some semblance of civilised demand.
But don't take my word for this. Here is a handy chart plotting... deflation in the price of hard drives:
Do let me know if you know of any evidence that demand for hard drives has been 'delayed' by consumers or that innovation has 'stopped' in fear of lower prices/returns by companies, or if you have seen locust swarming around...
Two articles worth reading today on Greece:
- Via @zerohedge : Grimbo or Greek Limbo http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-04-23/forget-grexit-grimbo-has-arrived relating to indeterminacy of the Greek short term path through the Summer and the option of 'printing' IOUs; and
- Related, (h/t to @WhelanKarl) via @dsquareddigest post: https://medium.com/bull-market/greece-the-next-steps-and-scenarios-576aedb408d4
Meanwhile, here is a reminder, via OpenEurope, of the mountains of debt and liabilities coming due:
Wednesday, April 22, 2015
Just about a month a go I wrote about the Euratom rejection of the Russo-Hungarian Paks nuclear reactor deal (http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/03/13315-south-stream-redux-rejecting.html). The latest news, however, appear to indicate that someone somewhere in the basement of some Brussels building woke up and smelled the roses.
It looks like Paks deal is back on, though no idea as of yet what is happening with its modalities: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/UF-Euratom-approves-Paks-II-fuel-supply-contract-21041501.html
Which means the next step is Finland's Fennovoima: http://www.eurasiareview.com/17042015-russias-rosatom-seeks-to-woo-eu-with-guaranteed-low-electricity-price/ where Russia already put aside USD1 billion for construction of the Hanhikivi NPP (stage 1): http://sputniknews.com/business/20150402/1020365295.html
Greek crisis is accelerating once again, predictably, given the deadlines and debt redemptions looming. So what's worth reading on the subject this am?
Start with @FT's Martin Wolf and his "Mythology that blocks progress in Greece". It is good… as a summary of key myths surrounding Grexit. But...
Myth 1: "A Greek exit would help the eurozone" and Wolf view is that it is not so because with Grexit "euro membership would cease to be irrevocable. Each crisis could trigger destabilising speculation." Now, sort of yes, Martin. But by the same token, is irrevocable - no matter what - euro a good thing? Is it stabilising to know that euro is purely political currency with membership irrespective of economic and financial realities? Is it better for a city to keep town walls shut for doctors in a plague?
Myth 2: "A Greek exit would help Greece". Here Wolf is on the money… again, sort of. "Stable money counts for something, particularly in a mismanaged country." Really? Stable money in a mismanaged economy? Is that possible? Ever heard of real effective exchange rates and internal devaluations? So much for 'stable', then. Would it not be more helpful to devalue both across real and nominal margins, rather than force all pain into internal devaluation channel?
Myth 3: "It is Greece’s fault. Nobody was forced to lend to Greece." Yeah, true… sort-ish… No one was forced, but many were incentivised to lend to Greece, including by idiotic EU (and international) risk-weighting rules on sovereign debt. Wolf is right that in 2010, "Rather than agree to the write-off that was needed, governments (and the International Monetary Fund) decided to bail out the private creditors by refinancing Greece. Thus, began the game of “extend and pretend”. Stupid lenders lose money. That has always been the case. It is still the case today." Which is an argument in favour of a default. Perhaps managed default or as I call it - assisted. But default alone won't do much to correct for internal mispricing of risk and real mispricing in the economy. That requires devaluation, so back to Myth 2 above.
Myth 4: "Greece has done nothing." Agree with Wolf here. Greece has done quite a bit. But I am a bit puzzled: "Indeed, one of the tragedies of the impasse over the conditions for support is that the adjustment has happened. Greece does not need additional resources." Really? Oh, ok, then - if Greece does not need additional resources, soldier on, what's the fuss?
Myth 5: "The Greeks will repay" - Agree with Wolf - this is a sunk cost fallacy. "What is open is whether the Greeks will devote the next few decades to repaying a mountain of loans that should never have been made." This is on the money.
Myth 6: "Default entails a Greek exit." Ok, agree again. But I must add here that if we do have default and no exit, then by Myth 1 analysis by Wolf, the euro will be a currency where "Each crisis could trigger destabilising speculation". You can't have a cake and eat it, Martin.
Now, EUObserver on the European salad dressing - sorry, the meetings schedule for resolving Greek crisis. First there was Friday 24th of April as the deadline, now its May 11th summit that is going to be decisive… Read and laugh - THIS is Europe. ""What are the 70 percent [of the programme] Greece said were acceptable and the 30 percent acceptable? When we have a firm picture of that, we’ll discuss that. But preconditions for having discussions are not there”." All sounding like a dysfunctional family attempting to deal with an unpayable credit card bill amassed by the live-at-home 'prodigal' son… One note, though - this is about meetings to shore up Greece until June. This is NOT about meetings to shore up Greece for 2016-on. In other words, the entire circus is for bridging things through 2015. Thereafter... ah, well, pass the Kool-aid jug, Roger...
Talking of dysfunctional families, one can't avoid the topic of dead-beat parents… And here rolls in the ECB. "ECB to fund Greek banks as long as they stay solvent - Coeure". Coeure is priceless. Apprently, "The European Central Bank will continue to provide liquidity to Greece's banks as long as they remain solvent and have sufficient collateral, ECB Executive Board Member Benoit Coeure" said. Wait, you mean as long as Greek banks continue to have that which they don't have enough of?
"imposing capital controls was "not a working assumption" for the ECB, while speculation about Greece leaving the euro was "out of the question."" But capital controls already ARE a "working" solution, not just an assumption and the ECB is already looking at cutting back Greek banks access to liquidity supports and Constancio did already say that capital controls can be introduced, which is sort of saying that look, Cyprus does exist.
The best bit of Coeure's statement is this: ""In recent days, there has been tangible progress in the quality of the discussions with the three institutions - the ECB, the European Commission and the IMF - which can be built upon," Coeure said." Tangible metrics of quality… only at ECB.
Meanwhile, more news about ECB considering doing what Coeure says they won't do.
May Greek Gods be with Greece today, for the whole Euro area beehive is buzzing with funny stuff… qualitatively and quantitatively "tangibly"...
Meanwhile, some factuals: Greek debt exposures by countries: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/04/19415-greece-in-or-out-ifo-aint-caring.html and across the official sector: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/04/15415-official-sector-exposures-to.html.
My latest post on Financial Regulations innovations courtesy of the European Union is now available on