Friday, June 29, 2012

29/6/2012: McKinsey Predicts What Everyone Already Knows


Proposition (1) Growth Will be Happening Outside Advanced Economies (nothing new - just check IMF WEO database to see what everyone already knows),

Proposition (2) Cities traditionally power growth (nothing new - just check your history book covering any period since, oh... Mesopotamia).

Take Proposition (1) and Proposition (2), mix up with big brains from McKinsey Institute and you have: (1)+(2)= (3) A Breakthrough Report that Cities of Future Growth will be in... yep, you guessed it right, where that growth will be - NOT in the Advanced Economies.

Who eats this banality? Why, media, of course, who can't put together (1)+(2) to get (3) on their own and thus need McKinsey to do the job for them. I know... it's argument from authority, isn't it?

29/6/2012: Eurocoin June 2012: Rotten Readings

Eurozone's latest lead growth indicator Eurocoin (CEPR and Banca d'Italia) has hit a new low for the year in June.

In June the €- coin index declined from -0.03% to -0,17%, indicating a further worsening of cyclical economic difficulties. The decline is due principally to the markedly worse results of opinion surveys of firms and households and, to a lesser extent, to trends in share prices.

Charts below:

My forecast, consistent with eurocoin data is for growth in Q2 of -0.25-0.37% in GDP, as per below:

The monetary policy remains stuck in 'ineffective' mode:

Rotten to the core!

29/6/2012: Irish Planning Permissions: Q1 2012

After 5 years of continued destruction in the construction sector in Ireland, one simply has to re-test the accepted paradigms that things can continue falling indefinitely. I mean, yes, there's a bound to how far down new construction permits for new dwellings can go, but... who would have thought it might be a zero?

Here are the latest stats on approved Planning Permissions in Ireland for Q1 2012. Not a pretty sight - be warned.

In Q1 2012, number of new planning permissions for new dwellings stood at 957 - a new all-time low for Q1 figures, up 0.2% on Q4 2011, but down 25.1% year on year. Compared to peak, the number of new dwellings being planned in Ireland is now down 87.3%.

Other New Construction permits rose to 695 in Q1 compared to 681 in Q4 2011, but Q1 figure this year is the lowest of all Q1 readings in history. Y/y permits are down 0.7% and compared to the peak, they are down 88.8%.

Extensions approvals rose from 1,312 in Q4 2011 to 1,339 in Q1 2012, marking another historical low for Q1 figures, down 18.2% y/y and now 74.3% below their peak.

Alterations and Conversions permits rose to 377 from 335 in Q4 2011 and are now at a new historical low for Q1 readings. Y/y permits dropped 6.9% and relative to peak they are down 55.0%.

Thus, total construction permits awarded are now at 3,368 in Q1 2012, new historical low for Q1 readings, but up on 3,283 in Q4 2011. Y/y all construction permits are down 16.2% and reltive to peak they are off 80.6%.

These are ugly numbers, folks.

Charts to illustrate:

29/6/2012: The 'deal' - preliminary reaction

Overnight statement from the EA [emphasis mine]:

"We affirm that it is imperative to break the vicious circle between banks and sovereigns. The Commission will present Proposals on the basis of Article 127(6) for a single supervisory mechanism shortly. We ask the Council to consider these Proposals as a matter of urgency by the end of 2012. When an effective single supervisory mechanism is established, involving the ECB, for banks in the euro area the ESM could, following a regular decision, have the possibility to recapitalize banks directly. This would rely on appropriate conditionality, including compliance with state aid rules, which should be institution- specific, sector-specific or economy-wide and would be formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding. 

The Eurogroup will examine the situation of the Irish financial sector with the view of further improving the sustainability of the well-performing adjustment programme. Similar cases will be treated equally.

We urge the rapid conclusion of the Memorandum of Understanding attached to the financial support to Spain for recapitalisation of its banking sector. We reaffirm that the financial assistance will be provided by the EFSF until the ESM becomes available, and that it will then be transferred to the ESM, without gaining seniority status.

We affirm our strong commitment to do what is necessary to ensure the financial stability of the euro area, in particular by using the existing EFSF/ESM instruments in a flexible and efficient manner in order to stabilise markets for Member States respecting their Country Specific Recommendations and their other commitments including their respective timelines, under the European Semester, the Stability and Growth Pact and the Macroeconomic Imbalances Procedure. These conditions should be reflected in a Memorandum of Understanding. We welcome that the ECB has agreed to serve as an agent to EFSF/ESM in conducting market operations in an effective and efficient manner.
We task the Eurogroup to implement these decisions by 9 July 2012."

I note that there is NO retrospection in the above - a negative for Ireland. So far we have a statement from some Irish Government members not present at the summit who claim there is retrospective applicability, but as far as I am aware, this is NOT confirmed in any documentary evidence.

I also note that transfers to ESM from EFSF will be carried out "without gaining seniority status" de jure, although it will most likely still be de facto super-senior debt - a positive for Ireland.

It is worth noting furthermore that countries entering ESM without first obtaining funding via EFSF might be able to avoid facing a Troika-imposed set of conditionalities, but will be required to comply only with the internal EU rules (see here). This, however, does not seem to apply to countries like Ireland who will enter ESM from EFSF and, potentially (based on reading of the official statement) to countries that have obtained funding not solely for the purpose of recapitalizing their banks 9again, precluding Ireland from softening of conditionalities).

Per Enda Kenny (via RTE):

  • Ireland's government debt (not only banks-related) will be 're-engineered' in other words - it will be restructured (effectively a soft default). "Mr Kenny said the new deal means Ireland's overall debt burden, including the bank debt, can be re-engineered in a way which will give Ireland equal treatment to Spain and any other countries which avail of the new system."
  • "where funding is made available through the EFSF it will later be transferred to the ESM" so it is now the Government position that we will have a second bailout. 

So the Irish Government is de facto 'defaulting' and welcomes this. And it is going into the second bailout despite repeated claims that it will be funding itself via markets post 2013. And it welcomes this too. Reverse gear has not been used as much for some time on Merrion St.

I have consistently called both events as inevitable for Ireland. Hence, in my view, the 'deal' is a net positive. However, we cannot tell how positive it is yet.

One area of concern will be the treatment of the banks debt under ESM - with respect to seniority and any attached Government guarantees. In particular, in my view, if ESM were to assume directly unsecured banks debt, even with an attached explicit sovereign guarantee, such debt will have to adversely impact ESM cost of funding.

The biggest issue with the above statement is that it will NOT reduce overall economic debt carried by the EU states, including Ireland. The potential reduction in the cost of financing this debt is good news. The fact that this economy (not banks or some rich uncle in America) - aka us - are still on the hook for debts of insolvent banks remains.

Ditto for Euro area as a whole. You might call it 'Government Debt related to the banks', you might call it 'quasi-Government Debt related to the banks' or 'Non-Government Debt guaranteed by the Government to the super-senior lender related to the banks' or indeed a 'Pink Teddy Bear that stinks up the room' - the debt is... err... still there and there will be more of it post this 'deal'.

Update 1: some interesting thoughts - it appears from the EU statement that any euro area member state in compliance with fiscal constraints can apply for ESM funding of the banking sector measures. Now, if - as the Irish Government are claiming - such funding can be applicable to restructuring past sovereign exposures to banking sector, then:

  • As Belgium is already starting to signal, it can be applied  to €4 billion spent on Dexia Banque Belgique plus €54 in guarantees extended to the bank (link covering more current exposures potential), plus €6 billion in Franco-Belgian assistance the bank received back in 2008 (link).
  • Germany's €150 billion 'rescues' of Hypo and other banks via FMS (link here)
  • Austria - same Hypo (link here) but peanuts so far
  • Dutch Government pumped some €32 billion into its banks (link)
  • and so on...
Now, give it a thought - ESM is supposed to run at €500 billion absorbing existent EFSF up to €700 billion. So even if Spain just caps EFSF and it transfers to ESM, we have - before Italy comes waltzing in - ESM full capacity potential left after the banks bailouts are retrospected into it - of what? Some €200 billion max?.. or absent EFSF - at the announced running volume - nil.

This sort of suggests there is serious problem with an idea of allowing retrospective roll-backs of banks-related debt and measures to ESM...

Update 2: It appears that Enda Kenny's alleged contribution to the summit ('winning the deal for Ireland') is not a part of the record of the summit, at least as far as I can see (one example - here).

Update 3: H/T to Brian Lucey: this is just in - Germany apparently/allegedly wants ESM bank aid to be tied to acceptance of the Financial Transactions Tax. I suppose compliance with a harmonized corporate tax will be the condition too. In the end, the 'Enda deal' might just become a seismic event... So the logic of FTT link is therefore, in Irish context will be:
Step 1: EA leaders use Irish taxpayers to rescue own speculators and banks from Anglo/INBS etc default on bonds.
Step 2: EA leaders use FTT to demolish jobs in Dublin IFSC, so they can finance their 'growth package'?
The sort of the 'deal' we've been waiting for from our 'European partners'?

Update 4:  Citing Spiegel source, Global Macro Monitor blog states [emphasis is mine]: "What happens to the countries that have already received money from the temporary rescue fund, the EFSF? Officials in Brussels said that the new decision did not change anything about the programs for Greece, Portugal and Ireland. All the agreed goals will continue to apply and be monitored by the troika. But those countries might also start clamoring for the terms of their deals to be relaxed. The summit’s decision gives the Greek government in particular more ammunition for renegotiating the terms of its bailout, a step that new Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has already said he wants to take."

Thursday, June 28, 2012

28/6/2012: Retail Sector Activity Index for May 2012

Updating my own Retail Sector Activity Index for May 2012 on the foot of the latest CSO data:

Courtesy of the ESRI Consumer Confidence Index staying above 60 in May (the index dipped from 62.5 in April to 61 in May, marking the third consecutive month of readings above 60 despite continued gloom in actual retail sales), my overall Retail Sector Activity Index - a forward-looking indicator for the sector - remained relatively flat at 108.2 against 108.4 in May despite rises, m/m in core retail sales in volume (98.4 in April to 99.2 in May) and value (95.5 in April to 96.2 in May) terms.

It is perhaps interesting to note in the data in the first chart above that according to the ESRI surveys, Irish consumers do not lack any confidence. In fact, they appear to be lacking realism. Current 6mo average of the ESRI index reads 57.8 which is actually above the previous 6mo average of 57.5. One has to assume things had improved in the latest six months period on previous six months, alas both retail sales volumes (remained flat) and values (declined) do not confirm this. Year on year, Consumer Confidence is up 2.7% while core sales are up only 1.6% in value and just 0.8% in volume.

28/6/2012: Retail Sales for May 2012

The retail sales figures for May are out and are, as expected, not pretty.

The volume of retail sales (i.e. ex-price effects) decreased by 0.1% in May 2012 m/m and there was an annual decrease of 2.1%. The value of retail sales decreased by 0.4% in May 2012 when compared with April 2012 and there was an annual change of –1.5%. 

Relative to annual peak, sales are now down to 72.9% in value terms and 77.9% in volume terms. Relative to monthly peak, they are down 25.6% in value and 19.8% in volume.

We have now gone two consecutive months of m/m declines in value and volume and five consecutive months of y/y declines. Both 3mo and 6mo MA for value and volume indices are ahead of May reading. For value index, 2012 average to-date is 87.28, which is below 2010 average of 88.83 and 2011 average of 88.15. For volume, current 2012 average to-date is 91.02, which is worse than 2011 average of 92.69 and 2010 average of 93.51.

Quarterly movements are shown below:

On core retail sales side (ex-motors), the volume of retail sales increased by 0.8% in May 2012 when compared with April 2012, while there was also an annual increase of 0.8%. There was a monthly increase of 0.7% in the value of retail sales and an annual increase of 1.5%. Value increase is less significant than volume increase, so we are still witnessing margins pressures. Survival of the fittest in the sector is not yet completed.

May marked the first month of core retail sales increase in annual terms since December 2011 in value and volume. Currently, value index is running at 81.11% of the annual peak and volume index is at 84.79% of the series annual peak. However, in value terms the 2012 average to-date (95.7) is slightly ahead of 2011 average of 95.6 and is below 2010 average of 97.6. In volume terms, 2012 average to-date is 98.8, which is lower than 2011 average of 99.8 and 2010 average of 102.7.

Per CSO: The sectors with the largest month on month volume decreases are Bars (-4.2%), Books, Newspapers and Stationery (-2.8%), Electrical Goods (-2.5%) and Motor Trade (-1.9%). A monthly increase was seen in Food, Beverages & Tobacco (6.5%), Hardware, Paints & Glass (6.3%) and Pharmaceuticals Medical & Cosmetic Articles (3.8%). Pills, booze, smokes... hopefully not paint for inhalation purposes.

International comparatives through April are shown above. Not a pretty sights across the board.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

26/6/2012: A Tragic, Historical Mistake... by the Germans

As you read this interview with George Soros on Euro Crisis, maybe, like me, you might wonder will there be a single century since 1862 that Europe will free itself from being a victim to some or other ' tragic, historical mistake by the Germans'? We know that neither the 19th nor the 20th centuries qualify. It looks increasingly that the current century is an unlikely candidate for such a distinction either.

Monday, June 25, 2012

25/6/2012: RPPI May 2012: Residential property prices in Ireland

CSO's residential property price index (RPPI) is out for May. Headlines are:

  • Overall Index moved from 65.4 in April to 65.5 in May, marking the first (+0.15%) m/m rise since September 2007 (previous best performance months saw zero falls in the index).
  • However, statistically (based on data from January 2008), we need to see a raise of 0.32% (1/2 stdev) at least to make a reasonable judgement on upward gain.
  • Overall RPPI is now at 3moMA of 65.67, down on 3mo MA of 65.87 in April and 67.5 in previous 3mos period through February.
  • Year on year, RPPI slipped -15.27% compared to May 2011 and 3mo MA through May 2012 of 65.67 was significantly below 3mo MA through May 2011 (78.17).
  • Relative to peak, RPPI is now down 49.81% in May 2012 - an improvement on -49.89% for April 2012, but, again, not statistically significant improvement.

Improvements in RPPI were driven by houses and Dublin houses in particular, with Dublin Apartments prices continuing to tank.

Looking at Houses and Apartments:

  • Houses index rose from 68.1 in April to 68.2 in May, marking the first monthly rise (+0.15%) since August 2010 and the largest m/m rise since November 2007. Monthly rise also failed to be statistically significant (stdev=0.643) for the crisis period (since January 2008)
  • 3moMA for houses index is now at 68.4, down on 68.67 in April 2012 and 81.3 in May 2011.
  • House prices index is down 15.17% y/y compared to -16.24% in April 2012 and house prices nationwide are now down 48.3% relative to their peak.
  • Apartments price index is now at 48.6 in May 2012 down 2.02% on 49.6 reading in April 2012 and down 19% year on year.
  • Apartments prices m/m decline in May broke 2 previous months consecutive increases.
  • Apartments prices are now down 60.77% to peak.
  • Monthly decline in apartments prices was statistically significant (stdev=1.56).

Dublin prices drove the overall index this month:

  • RPPI for Dublin stood at 58.4 in May, up on 58.3 in April 2012 (+0.17% m/m) marking the third consecutive m/m increase in the series. However, current rise was not statistically significant (stdev=1.18) and cumulative increases during the last 3 months (total of 1.39%) also fail to be statistically significant.
  • Annually, prices are down 17.51% in May, which is worse than 17.3% y/y decline in April.
  • Relative to peak, Dublin property prices are now down 56.58%.

So nothing new, folks - the market is looking for a catalyst - which is a fancy way of saying that it might go down or up, or stay flat.

25/6/2012: Thinking outloud: Euro Area Banks Levy

Latest reports suggest the EU leaders are pushing for a 'banking levy' to finance common deposit insurance scheme, a banks resolution fund and joint supervision authority.

It has been my view all along that the former two are required for the financial sector future health and to break the onerous link between the banks and the sovereigns. Alas, I must point out the reality of what such a proposals will mean.

To start with, let's us ask a question: What happens when economy enters a recovery stage from even a cyclical downturn?

Answer: surplus savings built during normal downturn alongside accommodative monetary policies result in an increased supply of capital to finance capex expansion in the private sector. This leads to rising cost of capital on demand side (as demand for capex quickly outstrips supply) and on supply side (as monetary authorities tighten rates into upswing cycle).

But here's a problem, Roger, and it's Europe: suppose the economy is about to take off onto capex growth path:

  • Savings nowhere to be seen as deleveraging of households will be still ongoing
  • Deleveraging of banks, including in anticipation of LTROs expiration means no supply of new credit
  • Policy rates might stay low, but retail rates will remain higher than normal as banks balancesheets remain weak and state or EU-held (via 'resolution' vehicle) equity remains high
  • In the mean time, five years of the crisis have created a massive penned up demand for capital, so market rates will be even higher
  • Equity capital will be scarce, as global recovery will most likely be ongoing, sapping capital into more growth-generative regions, and
  • There's that EU levy as an icing on the cake to add to costs and shrink the margins.
Now, posit the above against the following environment scenario:
  • Households debts are still high, but incomes are now undermined by five years (plus) of a recession and stagnation
  • SMEs and many corproates balancesheets are weak (due to stagnation in exports and internal demand, plus deleveraging costs)
What do you get? Oh, rapid increase in credit costs, leading to more households and business insolvencies. So, go ahead, as Clint The Market would have said, make my day, punk. Raise some more levies...

25/6/2012: Q1 2012 Exports to Russia by Category

Per your requests, here is the breakdown of our exports to Russia by category - these are expressed as percentages of total exports to Russia. Data covers Q1 2012 - the latest we have available.

Update: per further requests: here is comparative table for our bilateral trade with Russia (exports of goods) in terms of each category of goods weight in total exports to Russia, compared against each category of same goods share of our total exports. Cells in bold mark goods which are more significant in our exports to Russia compared to our overall exports.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

24/6/2012: Sunday Times June 17, 2012

This is an unedited version of my Sunday Times column from June 17, 2012.

The current Government policy, and indeed the entire euro area crisis ‘management’ is an example of ‘the lesser of two evils’ con game. The basic set up involves presenting the crisis faced by the euro area or the Irish economy as a psychological construct, e.g. ‘We have nothing to fear, but fear itself’. Then present two options for the crisis resolution, similar to the choice given to Neo by Morpheus in the Matrix. You can take the blue pill, the surreal world you currently inhabit will continue unabated (the ATMs will keep working, the banks will be repaired, the economy will turn the corner, etc) but a cost of complying with the demands of the system (the banks bondholders and other lenders must be repaid, the EU systemic solutions must be embraced, confidence in the overall system must continue). Take the red pill, you go to the Wonderland and see how deep the rabbit-hole (of collapsed banks, wiped-out savings, destroyed front-line services, vulture-funds circling their prey, etc) goes.

Unlike in the Matrix, it’s not a strong, cool, confident Morpheus who’s offering the option, but Agent Smith, aka the Government and its experts. And, unlike in the Matrix, we are not heroic Neo, but scared humans, longing for stability and certainty in life. This disproportionality of the power of the State as the offerer of the false choice, and the powerlessness of the society assures the outcome – we take the blue pill and go on feeding the Matrix of European integration, harmonization, and self-validation. The very fact that the blue pill choice leads to the ever-accelerating crisis and ultimate demise of the entire system is irrelevant to our judgement. We are in a con-game.

How I know? I was told this by the Government own statistics.

We all agree that our real economic performance is abysmal. Take unemployment – officially, it rose to 14.8% in Q1 2012, unofficially, broader measure of unemployment – that including those recognized as being under-employed – is hovering over 22%.

But to-date, our fiscal performance has been so stellar, we are ‘exceeding Troika targets’. Right?

Ireland’s Exchequer deficit for the period from January 2012 through May was €6.5 billion or €3.7 billion below the same period last year. This ‘improvement’ in our deficit is due to €1 billion transfer from the banks customers and taxpayers (via banks holdings of Government bonds) to the Central Bank of Ireland that was paid out by the Central Bank to the Exchequer. Further ‘improvement’ was gained by the ‘non-payment’ of the €3.1 billion due on the promissory note, swapping one government debt for another.

Underlying day-to-day Government spending (ex-banks and interest payments on debt), meanwhile, is up year on year. Tax receipts are rising, up €1.6 billion, but if we take out the USC charge which represents reclassified non-tax receipts in the past currently being labelled as tax revenues, the increase shrinks to €726 million. In the mean time, interest costs on Irish national debt rose €1.3 billion on same period of 2011, wiping out all gains in tax revenues the Government has delivered on.

Take that blue pill, now and have a 15% increase on the 2007 levels of budgeted Government spending (protecting ‘frontline services’, like HSE senior executives payouts in restructuring and advisers salaries), or a red pill and face Armageddon. Yet, the red pill in this case would lead us to the realization that the entire charade of our reforms and austerity measures is nothing more than a false solution that risks making the crisis only worse.

This week, Professor Karmen Reinhart of the Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University was dispensing red pills of reality at the Infiniti 2012 conference over in Trinity College, Dublin. Her keynote address focused on the area she knows better than anyone else in this world – debt overhangs and the pain of deleveraging in resolving debt crises. The audience included many central bankers and monetary and fiscal policy experts from around the world, including even ECB. No one from the Irish Department of Finance, the NTMA or any branch of the Irish Government, save the Central Bank, showed up. Blue pills crowd don’t do red pills dispensations.

Professor Reinhart spoke extensively about Europe and, briefly, about Ireland. In our conversation after the speech, having met senior Irish Government decision makers, she reiterated that, like the rest of the euro area, Ireland will have to face up to the massive debt overhang in its fiscal, corporate and household sectors and restructure its debts or face a default. In 26 episodes of severe debt crises in the history of the world since the early-1800s she studied, only three were corrected without some sort of debt restructuring, and in all three, “the conditions that allowed these countries to resolve debt overhang problems absent debt restructuring are no longer present in today’s world”.

Worse than that, Professor Reinhart explicitly recognized that “Ireland has taken debt overhang to an entirely new, historically unparalleled, level”. She also pointed out, consistent with this column’s previously expressed view, that in the Irish case, it is the household debt that “represents the gravest threat to both short-term stability and long-term sustainability of the entire economic system”.

Per claims frequently made by the Government that debt deleveraging is on-going and progressing according to the policymakers’ expectations, Professor Reinhart stated that “in the US, deleveraging process had only just begun. Despite the fact that house foreclosures and corporate defaults have been on-going since 2008, the amount of deleveraging currently completed is not sufficient to erase the build up of debt that took place over preceding decades. With that, the US is well ahead of Europe and Ireland in terms of what will have to be achieved in terms of debt reductions.” Furthermore, “structural differences in personal and corporate insolvency laws between the US and Europe imply the need for even deeper debt restructuring, including direct debt forgiveness and writedowns in Europe. And, once again, Ireland is in the league of its own, compared to the European counterparts on personal bankruptcy regime.”

But don’t take Professor Reinhart’s and my points of view on this. Take a look at the forthcoming sixth EU Commission staff report on Ireland, leaked this week by the German Bundestag. The Troika is about to start dispensing its own red pills of reality to the Irish Government.

According to leaked report, the IMF and its European counterparts are becoming seriously concerned with two key failings of our reforms. The first one is the delay in putting in place measures to address – on a systemic basis, not in a case-by-case fashion as the Government insists on doing – the problem of households’ debts. Incidentally, this column has warned about this failure repeatedly since mid-2011. The second one is the rising risk that accelerating mortgages defaults pose to banks balancesheets. Again, this column covered this risk in April this year when we discussed the overall banks performance for 2011.

From independent analysts, to world-class researchers like Professor Reinhart, to Troika, red pills of reality are now vastly outnumbering the blue pills of denial that our Government-aligned experts are keen at dispensing. The problem is – no one seems to be capable of waking up inside the Matrix of our doomed policymaking.

To put it to the policymakers face, let me quote Professor Reinhart one more time: “Europe’s solution to the crisis, focusing on austerity instead of restructuring household and sovereign debts will only make the crisis worse. The pain of deleveraging is only starting. …Europe’s hope that growth can help in addressing the debt crisis is misplaced, both in terms of historical experiences and in terms of European economic realities.” And for our home-grown Mr Smiths: “Ireland’s current account surpluses [or exports growth] are welcomed and will be helpful [in deleveraging] but are not sufficient to avoid restructuring economy’s debts.” So fasten your seatbelt, Dorothy, cause Kansas is going bye-bye…


Sources listed in the charts


Few months ago I highlighted in this very space the risks poised to the Irish banks and Nama from the excessive over-reliance, in the pre-crisis period on covered bonds and securitization-based funding. The core issue, relating to these two sources of funding, is the on-going deterioration of the quality of the collateral pools that have to be maintained to sustain the bonds covenants. Things are now going from bad to worse, and not only in Ireland. Per latest Moody’s Investors Service report, across Europe, 79 percent of all loans packaged into commercial mortgage-backed securities rated by the agency that came due in Q1 2012 were not repaid on time. Three years ago, the non-repayment rate was only 35 percent. Per Moody’s, “real estate with mortgages that match or exceed the value of the property… suffered defaults in nearly all cases in the first quarter. About a third of borrowers with LTV ratios of up to 80 percent didn’t pay on time.” If this is the dynamic across Europe as a whole, what are the comparable numbers for Ireland, one wonders? And what do these trends imply for the Irish banks and Nama?

24/6/2012: Irish Services: April 2012

For a shocker, folks - a positive set of news.

The experimental time series from the CSO on services sectors performance shows some relatively robust activity in the services sectors.

Here's the headline chart:

Now, to some figures:

  • Overall index of activity (value) in Irish Services sectors stood at 101.0 in April 2012, down slightly on 101.2 in March 2012, but up 4.0% on same period last year. 
  • This confirms a robust growth trend in the series.
  • 3mo MA in April was at 101.2 against 100.9 in March and at the highest level reading since data series began in October 2010.
  • Activity is now 1% ahead of 2009 average levels - sounds like not much, but when one considers that it was at 97.3 back in Q4 2010, there is some progress.
  • Notice - these are value indices, so not free from price changes variations and inflation in services does increase index performance.

Sub-indices are shown below:

  • 3moMA through April 2012 for Wholesale & Retail trade sub-sector stood at 107.7 down on 108.6 in 3mo through January 2012. The sub-index fell 1.4% m/m in April but was up 2.7% up y/y.
  • 3moMA through April 2012 for Information & Communication sub-sector stood at 108.4 up on 105.0 in 3mo through January 2012. The sub-index fell 1.6% m/m in April but was up 9.1% up y/y.
  • 3moMA through April 2012 for Business Services sub-sector stood at 97.2 down on 98.9 in 3mo through January 2012. The sub-index rose 0.7% m/m in April but was down -0.5% up y/y.
  • 3moMA through April 2012 for Transport & Storage sub-sector stood at 105.0 up strongly on 96.7% in 3mo through January 2012. The sub-index rose 3.2% m/m in April and was up 14.4% up y/y.
  • 3moMA through April 2012 for Accommodation & Food Services sub-sector stood at 86.9 down on 87.1% in 3mo through January 2012. The sub-index fell -0.1% m/m in April and was down -2.9% up y/y.
  • 3moMA through April 2012 for Other Services sub-sector stood at 71.9 up on 69.1% in 3mo through January 2012. The sub-index rose 4.2% m/m in April but was down -0.5% up y/y.

Although a mixed bag overall, the index continues to show expansion in the sector accounting for a large share of our overall economic activity.

24/6/2012: IBRC 'repayment' of €1.14 billion

New wave of outrage: IBRC is about to repay €1,142 million worth of unguaranteed senior bonds this coming week.

Here's a link to the note by Brian Lucey (TCD) and a link to namawinelake post on same.

My view is simple: The repayment is madness - the country is bust & is being propped up by IMF, EU, bilateral and ECB loans. IBRC is a bust non-bank (it retains banking license, but has no meaningful banking activities and is not likely to acquire any of these at any time in the future). IBRC has 'assets' and liabilities (ex-deposits). Hence, IBRC should default on all debts, transfer underlying assets to creditors based on their seniority and close the shop. The bondholders should get no more and no less than the assets of the company. As ELA is super-senior lending secured against specific asset (Promo Notes), quasi-governmental debt (Promos) should remain within CBofI and no private bondholder should have a claim against them.

Of course, the above process would not involve the €1.14 billion worth of bonds to be repaid this week, as these are unsecured (no claim vis-a-vis assets) unguaranteed (not even a theoretical claim against the State) liabilities. And no moral / ethical impact (these are bonds held primarily by speculative  institutional investors). These should just burn to some cheer from the crowds to boot!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

23/6/2012: Sunday Times 10/6/2012

This is an unedited version of my Sunday Times article from June 10, 2012.

Last week, the Irish voters approved the new Euro area Fiscal Compact in a referendum. This week, the Exchequer results coupled with Manufacturing and Services sectors Purchasing Manager Indices have largely confirmed that the ongoing fiscal consolidation has forced the economy into to stall. Irish economy’s gross national product shrunk by over 24% on the pre-crisis levels and unemployment now at 14.8%. The most recent data on manufacturing activity shows a small uptick in volumes of production offset by significant declines in values, with profit margins continuing to shrink. Deflation at the factory gates is continuing to coincide with elevated inflation in input prices. In Services – accounting for 48 percent of our private sector activity – both activity and profitability have tanked in May. The Exchequer performance tracking budgetary targets is fully attributable to declines in capital investment and massive taxation hikes, with current cumulative net voted expenditure up 3.3% year on year in May.

On the domestic front, the hope for any deal on bank debts assumed by the Irish taxpayers, one of the core reasons to vote Yes advocated by the Government in the Referendum, has been dented both by the German officials and by the ECB. Furthermore, on the domestic front, the newsflow has firmly shifted onto highlighting the gargantuan task relating to cutting our deficits in 2013-2015 and the problem of future funding for Ireland.

Per April 2012 Stability Programme Update, Ireland’s fiscal consolidation path will require additional cuts of €5.55 billion over the next three years and tax increases of at least €3.05 billion. Combined, this implies an annual loss of €4,757 per each currently employed worker, equivalent to almost seven weeks of average earnings. This comes on top of €24.5 billion of consolidations delivered from the beginning of the crisis through this year. The total bill for fiscal and banking mess, excluding accumulated debt, to be footed by the working Ireland will be somewhere in the region of €18,309 per annum in lost income.

This has more than a tangential relation to the Government’s main headache – weaselling out of the rhetorical corner they put themselves into when they solemnly promised Ireland’s ‘return to the markets’ in 2013 as the sole indicator for our ‘regained economic sovereignty’.

Even assuming the Exchequer performance remains on-target (a tall assumption, given the headwinds of economic slowdown and lack of real internal reforms), Ireland will need to raise some €36 billion over 2013 and 2014 to finance its 2014-2015 bonds rollovers and day-to-day spending. In January 2014 alone, the state will have to write a cheque for €8.3 billion worth of maturing bonds. The rest of 2014 will require another €7.2 billion of financing. Of €36.5 billion total, €19.3 billion will go to fund re-financing of maturing government bonds and notes, plus €6.9 billion redemptions to Troika. Rest will go to fund government deficits.

At this stage, there is not a snowball’s chance in hell this level of funding can be secured from the markets, given the losses in economy’s capacity to pay for the Government debts. Which means Ireland will require a second bailout. And herein lies the second dilemma for the Government. Having secured the Yes vote in the Referendum of the back of scaring the electorate with a prospect of Ireland being left out in the cold without access to the ESM, the Government is now facing a rather real risk that the ESM might not be there to draw upon. In fact, the entire Euro project is now facing the end game, which will either end in a complete surrender of Ireland’s economic and political sovereignty, or in an unhappy collapse of the common currency.

The average cumulative probability of default for the euro area, ex-Greece, has moved from 24% in April to 27.5% by the end of this week. For the peripheral states, again ex-Greece, average cumulative probability of default has risen from 45% to 52%.

Euro peripherals, ex-Greece: 5-year Credit Default Swaps (CDS) and cumulative probability of default (CPD), April 1-June 1

Source: CMA and author own calculations

These realities are now playing out not only in Ireland and Portugal, but also in Spain and Cyprus.

Spain has been at the doorsteps of the Intensive Care Unit of the euro area for some years now. Yet, nothing is being done to foster either the resolution of its banking crisis, nor to alleviate the immense pressures of it jaw-dropping 24.3% official unemployment rate. Deleveraging of the banks overloaded with bad loans has been repeatedly pushed into the indefinite future, while losses continue to accumulate due to on-going collapse of its property markets. At this stage, it is apparent to everyone save the Eurocrats and the ECB, that Spain, just as Greece, Ireland and Portugal, needs not loans from the EFSF/ESM funds, but a direct write-off of some of its debts.

Spain’s problems are immense. On the upper side of estimated demand for European funds, UBS forecasts the need for €370-450 billion to sustain Spanish banking sector and underwrite sovereign financing and bonds roll-overs. Mid-point of the various estimates is within the range of my own forecast that Spanish bailout will require €200-250 billion in funds, a move that would increase country debt/GDP ratio to 109.9% in 2014 from current forecast of 87.4%, were it to be financed out of public debt, as was done in Ireland or via ESM.

Overall, based on CDS-implied cumulative probabilities of default, expected losses on sovereign bonds of the entire EA17 ex-Greece amount to over €800 billion, or well in excess of 160% of the ESM initial lending capacity.

Europe is facing three coincident crises that are identical to those faced by Ireland and reinforce each other: fiscal imbalances, growth collapse, and a banking sector crisis.

Logic demands that Europe first breaks the contagion cycle that is seeing banking sector deleveraging exerting severe pressures and costs onto the real economy. Such a break can be created only by establishing a fully funded and credible EU-wide deposits insurance scheme, plus imposing an EU-wide system of banks debts drawdowns and debt-for-equity swaps, including resolution of liabilities held against national central banks and the ECB.

Alongside the above two measures, the EU must put forward a credible Marshall Plan Fund, to the tune of €1.75-2 trillion capacity spread over 7-10 years, with 2013 allocation of at least €500 billion. This can only be funded by the newly created money, not loans. The Fund should disburse direct monetary aid to finance private sector deleveraging in Spain, Ireland and to a smaller extent, Portugal. It should also provide structural investment funds to Greece, Italy and Spain, as well as to a much lesser extent Ireland and Portugal.

The funds cannot be allocated on the basis of debt issuance – neither in the form of national debts, nor in the form of euro bonds or ESM borrowings. Using debt financing to deal with the current crises is likely to push euro area’s expected 2013 debt to GDP ratio from 91% as projected by the IMF currently, to 115% - well above the sustainability threshold.

The euro area Marshall Plan funding will require severe conditionalities linked to long-term structural reforms. Such reforms should not be focused on delivering policies harmonization, but on addressing countries-specific bottlenecks. In the case of Ireland, the conditionalities should relate to reforming fiscal policy formation and public sector operational and strategic capabilities. Instead of quick-fix cuts and tax increases, the economy must be rebalanced to provide more growth in the private sectors, improved competitiveness in provision of core public services and systemic rebalancing of the overall economy away from dependency on MNCs for investment and exports.

Chart: Euro Area: debt crisis still raging

Source: IMF WEO, April 2012 and author own calculations

The core problem with Europe today is structural policies psychosis that offers no framework to resolving any of the three crises faced by the common currency area. Breaking this requires neither harmonization nor more debt issuance, but conditional aid to growth coupled with robust resolution mechanism for banking sector restructuring.


This week’s decision by the ECB to retain key rate at 1% - the level that represents historical low for Frankfurt.  However, two significant developments in recent weeks suggest that the ECB is likely to move toward a much lower rate of 0.5% in the near future. Firstly, as signalled by the euro area PMIs, the Eurozone is now facing a strong possibility of posting a recession in the first half of 2012 and for the year as a whole. Secondly, within the ECB governing council there have been clear signs of divergence in voting, with Mario Draghi clearly indicating that whilst previous rates decisions were based on a unanimous vote, this time, decision to stay put on rate reductions was a majority vote. A number of national central banks heads have dissented from previous unanimity and called for aggressive intervention with rate cuts. In addition, monetary dynamics continue to show continued declines in M3 multiplier (which has fallen by approximately 40 percent year on year in May) and the velocity of money (down to just under 1.2 as opposed to the US 1.6). All in, the ECB should engage in a drastic loosening of the monetary policy via unsterilized purchases of sovereign debt and cutting the rates to 0.25-0.5%, with a similar reduction in deposit rate to 0.25% to ease the liquidity trap currently created by the banks’ deposits with Frankfurt. The ECB concerns that lower rates will have adverse impact on tracker mortgages and other central bank rate-linked lending products held by the commercial lenders is misguided. Lower rate will increase banks’ carry trade returns on LTROs funds, compensating, partially, for deeper losses on their household loans.