Tuesday, April 25, 2017

25/4/17: Couple of Things We Glimpsed from KW Europe 'Deal'


Yesterday, an interesting bit of newsflow came in from Irish markets-related Kennedy Wilson Europe operations: http://www.independent.ie/business/commercial-property/1bn-worth-of-irish-property-assets-in-kennedy-wilson-discounted-takeover-deal-35650134.html. Setting aside the details of the merger between Kennedy Wilson Inc (U.S. based parent) and Kennedy Wilson Europe (UK and Ireland-based subsidiary), the news have several important disclosures relating to the Irish property markets, Nama and the Irish economy.

Consider the following: 

"Kennedy Wilson Europe Real Estate, which is tax resident in Jersey, pays 25pc tax on taxable profits generated in its Spanish subsidiaries, and it pays income tax at 20pc on rental income derived from its UK investment properties. But the qualifying investor alternative investment funds (QIAIFs) it uses in Ireland to hold its assets were until this year entirely exempt from any Irish taxation on income and gains. The group's total tax bill last year was £7.3m (€8.6m) on profits of £73.3m."

Which implies:
  • Kennedy Wilson's Europe operations are running an effective tax rate of 10 percent. Not 12.5 percent, nor higher. Which shows the extent to which Irish operations tax exempt status drives the overall European tax exposures.
  • Kennedy Wilson's merger across the borders is, it appears, at least in part motivated by changes in the QIAIF regime, imposing new "20pc withholding tax on distributions from Irish property funds to overseas investors".  Bringing the, now more heavily taxed, subsidiary under the KW wing most likely create more efficient tax structure, making Irish taxes paid offsettable against global (U.S. parent) income, without the need to formally remit profits from Europe. Beyond that, the merger will facilitate avoidance of dual taxation (of dividends). Finally, running within a single company entity, KW operations in Europe will also be likely to avail of more tax efficient arrangements relating to transfer pricing.
Another bit worth focusing on: "Kennedy Wilson Europe pointed out in its recently-published annual report that in 2014 it acquired a €202.3m Irish loan book for €75.5m". Yes, that's right, the discount on Irish properties purchased by the KWE was in the range of 62.7 percent, almost double the 33.5 percent average haircut on loans purchased by Nama. Assuming EUR 202.3 million number refers to par value of the assets, this implies that Nama has foregone around EUR59 million, if average discount/haircut was used by Nama in buying these assets in the first place. Look no further than the KW own statement: ""The enterprise will benefit from greater scale and improved liquidity, which will enhance our ability to generate attractive risk-adjusted returns for our shareholders. The merger significantly improves our recurring cash flow profile". The improved cash flow profile is, most likely, at least in part will be attributable tot ax structure changes for the merged entity.

Which is exactly how vulture funds' arithmetic works: pay EUR1.00 to buy an asset that Nama purchased for EUR2.68, which was on the banks' books at EUR 3.58. The asset devalued (on average) to EUR1.43-1.79 in the market at the crisis peak, and the fund is in-the-money on this investment from day one to the tune of at least 43 percent. Without a single brick moved or a single can of paint spent...

Of course, there are other reasons for the deal, including steep discounts on asset valuations in the REITs markets for UK properties, but the potential tax gains are hard to ignore too. Whatever the nature of the deal synergies, one thing is clear - vulture-styled investments work magic for deep pockets investment funds, while traditional small scale investors are forced to absorb losses.



Saturday, April 22, 2017

22/4/17: Two Regimes of Whistle-Blower Protection


“Corporate fraud is a major challenge in both developing and advanced economies, and employee whistle-blowers play an important role in uncovering it.” A truism that is, despite being quite obvious, has been a subject of too little research to-date. One recent study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (2014), found that the average loss to organisations experiencing fraud that occurs due to financial statement fraud, asset misappropriation, and corruption is estimated losses from impact of corporate fraud globally at around $3.7 trillion. Such estimates are, of course, only remotely accurate. The Global Fraud Report" (2016) showed that 75% of surveyed senior executives stated that their company was a fraud victim in the previous year and in 81% of those cases, at least one company insider was involved, with a large share of such perpetrators (36%) coming from the ranks of company senior or middle management.

Beyond aggregate losses, whistleblowers are significantly important to detection of fraud cases. A 2010 study showed that whistleblowers have been responsible for some 17 percent of fraud discoveries over the period of 1996-2004 for fraud occurrences amongst the large U.S. corporations. And, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (2014), “employees were the source in 49% of tips leading to the detection of fraud”.


In line with this and other evidence on the impact of fraud-induced economic and social costs, whistleblower protection has been promoted and advanced across a range of countries and institutional frameworks in recent years. An even more glaring gap in our empirical knowledge arises when we attempt to analyse the extent to which such protection has been effective in creating the right legal and operational conditions for whistleblowers to be able to provide our societies with improved information disclosure and corporate governance and regulatory enforcement.

Somewhat filling the latter research gap, a recent working paper, titled “Whistle-Blower Protection: Theory and Experimental Evidence” by Lydia Mechtenberg, Gerd Muehlheusser, and Andreas Roider (CESIFO WORKING PAPER NO. 6394, March 2017) performed “a theory-guided lab experiment in which we analyze the impact of introducing whistle-blower protection. In particular, we compare different legal regimes (“belief-based" versus “fact-based") with respect to their effects on employers' misbehavior, employees' truthful and fraudulent reports, prosecutors' investigations, and employers' retaliation.”

In basic terms, there are two key approaches to structuring whistleblowers protection: belief-based regime (with “less stringent requirements for granting protection to whistle-blowers”) and fact-based regime (with greater hurdles of proof required from whistleblowers in order to avail of the legal protection). The authors’ “results suggest that the latter lead to better outcomes in terms of reporting behavior and deterrence.” The reason is that “when protection is relatively easy to (obtain as under belief-based regimes), fraudulent claims [by whistleblowers] indeed become a prevalent issue. This reduces the informativeness of reports to which prosecutors respond with a lower propensity to investigate. As a consequence, the introduction of such whistle-blower protection schemes might not lead to the intended reduction of misbehavior. In contrast, these effects are mitigated under a fact-based regime where the requirements for protection are more stringent.”

In a sense, the model and the argument behind it is pretty straight forward and intuitive. However, the conclusions are far reaching, given that recent U.S. and UK direction in advancing whistleblowers protection has been in favour of belief-based systems, while european ‘continental’ tradition has been to support fact-based thresholds. As authors do note, we need more rigorous empirical analysis of the effectiveness of two regimes in delivering meaningful discoveries of fraud, while accounting for false cases of disclosures; analysis that captures financial, economic, institutional and social benefits of the former, and costs of the latter.

Friday, April 21, 2017

21/4/17: Any evidence that immigrants are undermining welfare of the natives?


Given current debates surrounding the impact of migrant labour on native (and previously arriving migrants) wages, jobs security, career prospects and other major motivations behind a wide range of migration regimes reforms proposed across a number of countries, including the U.S., it is worth revisiting research done by Giovanni Peri of University of California, Davis, USA, and IZA, Germany back in 2014.

Titled “Do immigrant workers depress the wages of native workers?” and published by IZA World of Labor 2014: 42 in May 2014, https://wol.iza.org/articles/do-immigrant-workers-depress-the-wages-of-native-workers/long, the paper reviews 27 original studies published between 1982 and 2013, covering the topic of immigration impact on wages of the natives. Chart below summarises:


In the above, the “values report the effects of a 1 percentage point increase in the share of immigrants in a labor market (whether a city, state, country, or a skill group within one of these areas) on the average wage of native workers in the same market.

For example, an estimated effect of 0.1 means that a 1 percentage point increase in immigrants in a labor market raises the average wage paid to native workers in that labor market by 0.1 percentage point. These studies used a variety of reduced-form estimation and structural estimation methods; all the estimates were converted into the elasticity described here.”

Here’s the summary of Peri’s findings and conclusions:



21/4/17: Millennials, Property ‘Ladders’ and Defaults


In a recent report, titled “Beyond the Bricks: The meaning of home”, HSBC lauded the virtues of the millennials in actively pursuing purchases of homes. Mind you - keep in mind the official definition of the millennials as someone born  1981 and 1998, or 28-36 years of age (the age when one is normally quite likely to acquire a mortgage and their first property).

So here are the HSBC stats:


As the above clearly shows, there is quite a range of variation across the geographies in terms of millennials propensity to purchase a house. However, two things jump out:

  1. Current generation is well behind the baby boomers (when the same age groups are taken for comparatives) in terms of home ownership in all advanced economies; and
  2. Millennials are finding it harder to purchase homes in the countries where homeownership is seen as the basic first step on the investment and savings ladder to the upper middle class (USA, Canada, UK and Australia).


All of which suggests that the millennials are severely lagging previous generations in terms of both savings and investment. This is especially true as the issues relating to preferences (as opposed to affordability) are clearly not at play here (see the gap between ‘ownership’ and intent to own).

That point - made above - concerning the lack of evidence that millennials are not purchasing homes because their preferences might have shifted in favour of renting and way from owning is also supported by a sky-high proportions of millennials who go to such lengths as borrow from parents and live with parents to save for the deposit on the house:


Now, normally, I would not spend so much time talking about property-related surveys by the banks. But here’s what is of added interest here. Recent evidence suggests that millennials are quite different to previous generations in terms of their willingness to default on loans. Watch U.S. car loans (https://www.ft.com/content/0f17d002-f3c1-11e6-8758-6876151821a6 and https://www.experian.com/blogs/insights/2017/02/auto-loan-delinquencies-extending-beyond-subprime-consumers/) going South and the millennials are behind the trend (http://newsroom.transunion.com/transunion-auto-loan-growth-driven-by-millennial-originations-auto-delinquencies-remain-stable) on the origination side and now on the default side too (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-04-13/ubs-explains-whos-behind-surging-subprime-delinquencies-hint-rhymes-perennials).

Which, paired with the HSBC analysis that shows significant financial strains the millennials took on in an attempt to jump onto the homeownership ‘ladder’, suggests that we might be heading not only into another wave of high risk borrowing for property purchases, but that this time around, such borrowings are befalling and increasingly older cohort of first-time buyers (leaving them less time to recover from any adverse shock) and an increasingly willing to default cohort of first-time buyers (meaning they will shit some of the burden of default onto the banks, faster and more resolutely than the baby boomers before them). Of course, never pay any attention to the reality is the motto for the financial sector, where FHA mortgages drawdowns by the car loans and student loans defaulting millennials (https://debtorprotectors.com/lawyer/2017/04/06/Student-Loan-Debt/Student-Loan-Defaults-Rising,-Millions-Not-Making-Payments_bl29267.htm) are hitting all time highs (http://www.heraldtribune.com/news/20170326/kenneth-r-harney-why-millennials-are-flocking-to-fha-mortgages)

Good luck having a sturdy enough umbrella for that moment when that proverbial hits the fan… Or you can always hedge that risk by shorting the millennials' favourite Snapchat... no, wait...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

18/4/17: S&P500 Concentration Risk Impact


Recently I posted on FactSet data relating earnings within S&P500 across U.S. vs global markets, commenting on the inherent risk of low degree sales/revenues base diversification present across a range of S&P500 companies and industries. The original post is provided here.

Now, FactSet have provided another illustration of the 'concentration risk' within the S&P500 by mapping earnings and revenues growth across two sets of S&P500 companies: those with more than 50% of earnings coming from outside the U.S. and those with less than 50% of earnings coming from the global markets.


The chart is pretty striking. More globally diversified S&P constituents (green bars) are posting vastly faster rates of growth in earnings and a notably faster growth in revenues than S&P500 constituents with less than 50% share of revenues from outside the U.S (light blue bars).

Impact of the concentration risk illustrated. Now, can we have an ETF for that?..

Sunday, April 16, 2017

15/4/17: Swift & Digital Money: Cybersecurity Questions


Swift, the interbank clearance system, has been the Constantinople of the financial world's fortresses for some time now. Last year, writing in the International Banker (see link here), I referenced one cybersecurity incident that involved Swift-linked banks, and came close to Swift itself, although it did not breach Swift own systems. The response from Swift was prompt, pointing out that there has never been a cybersecurity breach at Swift.

Well, it appears that the fortress is no more. Latest reports suggest that NSA (a state actor in cybersecurity world) has successfully breached Swift firewalls. Details are here:
http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-cyber-swift-idUSKBN17H0NX.

From financial services and economy perspective, this is huge. Take a macro view: for years we have been told that cash and physical gold and silver are not safe. And for years this argument has been juxtaposed by the alleged 'safety' of digital money (not the Bitcoin and other cryptos, which the Governments loath and are keen on declaring 'unsafe', but state-run Central-Banks-operated digital money). The very notion of e-finance or digital finance rests on the basic tenet of infallibility of Swift. That infallibility is now gone. Welcome to the brave new world where the Governments promise you safe digital money in exchange for privacy and liquidity, while delivering a holes-ridden dingy of a system that can and will be fully compromised by the various states' actors and private hackers.

Come here, doggie, doggie! Have a treat...

Saturday, April 15, 2017

15/4/17: Naughty and Not Very Nice: French Presidential Hopefuls


A neat summary (ignore polls numbers at the top - these are dated) of political platforms behind the key Presidential election candidates in France:




15/4/17: Unconventional monetary policies: a warning


Just as the Fed (and now with some grumbling on the horizon, possibly soon, ECB) tightens the rates, the legacy of the monetary adventurism that swept across both advanced and developing economies since 2007-2008 remains a towering rock, hard to climb, impossible to shift.

Back in July last year, Claudio Borio, of the BIS, with a co-author Anna Zabai authored a paper titled “Unconventional monetary policies: a re-appraisal” that attempts to gauge at least one slope of the monetarist mountain.

In it, the authors “explore the effectiveness and balance of benefits and costs of so-called “unconventional” monetary policy measures extensively implemented in the wake of the financial crisis: balance sheet policies (commonly termed “quantitative easing”), forward guidance and negative policy rates”.

The authors reach three main conclusions:

  1. “there is ample evidence that, to varying degrees, these measures have succeeded in influencing financial conditions even though their ultimate impact on output and inflation is harder to pin down”. Which is sort of like telling a patient that instead of a cataract surgery he got a lobotomy, but now that he is awake and out of the coma, everything is fine. Why? Because the monetary policy was not supposed to trigger financial conditions improvements. It was supposed to deploy such improvements in order to secure real economic gains.
  2. “the balance of the benefits and costs is likely to deteriorate over time”. Which means that the full cost of the monetary adventurism will be greater that the currently visible distortions suggest. And it will be long run.
  3. “the measures are generally best regarded as exceptional, for use in very specific circumstances. Whether this will turn out to be the case, however, is doubtful at best and depends on more fundamental features of monetary policy frameworks”. Wait, what? Ah, here it is explained somewhat better: “They were supposed to be exceptional and temporary – hence the term “unconventional”. They risk becoming standard and permanent, as the boundaries of the unconventional are stretched day after day.”


You can see the permanence emerging in the trends (either continuously expanding or flat) when it comes to simply looking at the Central Banks’ balance sheets:


And the trend in terms of instrumentation:

The above two charts and the rest of Borio-Zabai analysis simply paints a picture of a sugar addicted kid who locked himself in a candy store. Good luck depriving him of that ‘just the last one, honest, ma!’ candy…

15/4/17: Thick Mud of Inflationary Expectations


The fortunes of U.S. and euro area inflation expectations are changing and changing fast. I recently wrote about the need for taking a more defensive stance in structuring investors' portfolios when it comes to dealing with potential inflation risk (see the post linked here), and I also noted the continued build up in inflationary momentum in the case of euro area (see the post linked here).

Of course, the current momentum comes off the weak levels of inflation, so the monetary policy remains largely cautious for the U.S. Fed and accommodative for the ECB:

More to the point, long term expectations with respect to inflation remain still below 1.7-1.8 percent for the euro area, despite rising above 2 percent for the U.S. And the dynamics of expectations are trending down:

In fact, last week, the Fed's consumer survey showed U.S. consumers expecting 2.7% inflation compared to 3% in last month's survey, for both one-year-ahead and three-years-ahead expectations. But to complicate the matters:

  • Euro area counterpart survey, released at the end of March, showed european households' inflationary expectations surging to a four-year high and actual inflation exceeding the ECB's 2 percent target for the first time (February reading came in at 2.1 percent, although the number was primarily driven by a jump in energy prices), and
  • In the U.S. survey, median inflation uncertainty (a reflection of the uncertainty regarding future inflation outcomes) declined at the one-year but increased at the three-year ahead horizon.
Confused? When it comes to inflationary pressures forward, things appear to be relatively subdued in the shorter term in the U.S. and much more subdued in the euro area. Except for one small matter at hand: as the chart above illustrates, a swing from 1.72 percent to above 2.35 percent for the U.S. inflation forward expectations by markets participants can take just a month in the uncertain and volatile markets when ambiguity around the underlying economic and policy fundamentals increases. Inflation expectations dynamics are almost as volatile in the euro area.

Which, in simple terms, means three things:

  1. From 'academic' point of view, we are in the world of uncertainty when it comes to inflationary pressures, not in the world of risk, which suggests that 'business as usual' for investors in terms of expecting moderate inflation and monetary accommodation to continue should be avoided;
  2. From immediate investor perspective: don't panic, yet; and 
  3. From more passive investor point of view: be prepared not to panic when everyone else starts panicking at last.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

12/4/17: European Economic Uncertainty Moderated in 1Q 2017


European Policy Uncertainty Index, an indicator of economic policy risks perception based on media references, has posted a significant moderation in the risk environment in the first quarter of 2017, falling from the 4Q 2016 average of 307.75 to 1Q 2017 average of 265.42, with the decline driven primarily by moderating uncertainty in the UK and Italy, against rising uncertainty in France and Spain. Germany's economic policy risks remained largely in line with 4Q 2016 readings. Despite the moderation, overall European policy uncertainty index in 1Q 2017 was still ahead of the levels recorded in 1Q 2016 (221.76).

  • German economic policy uncertainty index averaged 247.19 in 1Q 2017, up on 239.57 in 4Q 2016, but down on the 12-months peak of 331.78 in 3Q 2016. However, German economic uncertainty remained above 1Q 2016 level of 192.15.
  • Italian economic policy uncertainty index was running at 108.52 in 1Q 2017, down significantly from 157.31 reading in 4Q 2016 which also marked the peak for 12 months trailing period. Italian uncertainty index finished 1Q 2017 at virtually identical levels as in 1Q 2016 (106.92).
  • UK economic policy uncertainty index was down sharply at 411.04 in 1Q 2017 from 609.78 in 4Q 2016, with 3Q 2016 marking the local (12 months trailing) peak at 800.14. Nonetheless, in 1Q 2017, the UK index remained well above 1Q 2016 reading of 347.11.
  • French economic policy uncertainty rose sharply in 1Q 2017 to 454.65 from 371.16 in 4Q 2016. Latest quarterly average is the highest in the 12 months trailing period and is well above 273.05 reading for 1Q 2016.
  • Spain's economic policy uncertainty index moderated from 179.80 in 4Q 2016 to 137.78 in 1Q 2017, with the latest reading being the lowest over the five recent quarters. A year ago, the index stood at 209.12.

Despite some encouraging changes and some moderation, economic policy uncertainty remains highly elevated across the European economy as shown in the chart and highlighted in the chart below:
Of the Big 4 European economies, only Italy shows more recent trends consistent with decline in uncertainty relative to 2012-2015 period and this moderation is rather fragile. In every other big European economy, economic uncertainty is higher during 2016-present period than in any other period on record. 

12/4/17: German Economy Forecasts 2017-2018


The latest joint economic forecast for German economy is out and, in line with what Eurocoin has been signalling recently (see post here), the forecast upgrades outlook for Euro area's largest economy.

Here's the release, with some commentary added: Germany's "aggregate production capacities are now likely to have slightly exceeded their normal utilisation levels. However, cyclical dynamics remain low compared to earlier periods of recoveries, as consumption expenditures, which do not exhibit strong fluctuations, have been the main driving force so far. In addition, net migration increases potential output, counteracting a stronger capacity tightening."

  • German GDP) is expected to expand by 1.5% (1.8% adjusted for calendar effects) in 2017 and 1.8% in 2018
  • Unemployment is expected to fall to 6.1% in 2016, to 5.7% in 2017 and 5.4% in 2018 
  • "Inflation is expected to increase markedly over the forecast horizon. After an increase in consumer prices of only 0.5% in 2016, the inflation rate is expected to rise to 1.8% in 2017 and 1.7% in 2018". This would be consistent with the ECB starting to raise rates in late 2017 and continuing to hike into 2018. The forecast does not cover interest rates policy timing, but does state that "In the euro area, the institutes do not expect interest rates to rise during the forecast period. However, bond purchases are likely to be phased out next year." In my view, this position is not consistent with forecast inflation and growth dynamics.
  • "The public budget surplus will reduce only modestly. Public finances are slightly stimulating economic activity in the current year and are cyclically neutral in the year ahead." In simple terms, Germany will run budget surpluses in both 2017 and 2018, with cumulative surpluses around EUR36.6 billion over these two years, against a cumulative surplus of EUR44.6 billion in 2015 and 2016.
  • Current account surpluses are expected to remain above EUR250 billion per annum in 2017 and 2018, with cumulative current account surpluses for these two years forecast at EUR508 billion against EUR521 billion surpluses in 2015-2016.

Slight re-acceleration in both budgetary surplus and current account surplus over 2017-2018 will provide a very small amount of room for growth in imports and capital investment out of Germany to the rest of the euro area. 

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

11/4/17: S&P 500 Concentration Risk


Concentration risk is a concept that comes from banking. In simple terms, concentration risk reflects the extent to which bank's assets (loans) are distributed across the borrowers. Take an example of a bank which has 10 large borrowers with equivalent size loans extended to them. In this case, each borrower accounts for 10 percent of the bank total assets and bank's concentration ratio is 10% or 0.1. Now, suppose that another bank has 5 borrowers with equivalent loans. For the second bank, the concentration ratio is 0.2 or 20%. Concentration risk (exposure to a limited number of borrowers) is obviously higher in the latter bank than in the former.

Despite coming from banking, the concept of concentration risk applies to other organisations and sectors. For example, take suppliers of components to large companies, like Apple. For many of these suppliers, Apple represents the source of much of their revenues and, thus, they are exposed to the concentration risk. See this recent article for examples.

For sectors, as opposed to individual organisations, concentration risk relates to the distribution of sector earnings. And the latest FactSet report from April 7, 2017 shows just how concentrated the geographical distributions of earnings for S&P 500 are:


In summary:

  • With exception of Information Technology, not a single sector in the S&P 500 has aggregate revenues exposure to the U.S. market that is below 50%;
  • Seven out of 11 sectors covered within S&P 500 have exposure concentration to the U.S. market in excess of 70%; and
  • On the aggregate, 70% of revenues for the entire S&P 500 arise from within the U.S. markets.
In simple terms, S&P 500 is extremely vulnerable to the fortunes of the U.S. economy. Or put differently, there is a woeful lack of economic / revenue sources diversification in the S&P 500 companies.

11/4/17: Euro Area Growth Conditions Remain Robust in 1Q 17


Eurocoin, Banca d'Italia and CEPR's leading indicator of economic growth in the euro area has slipped in March to 0.72 from 0.75 in February, with indicator remaining at its second highest reading since 2Q 2010.


Combined 1Q 2017 growth indictor is now signalling approximately 0.7% quarterly GDP growth rates, carrying the breakout momentum from previous quarters (see chart above). This brings most recent growth forecast over the 2001-2007 average.

From growth dynamics perspective, the pressure is now on ECB to start tightening monetary policy:


Inflationary pressures are still relatively moderate, but rising:


10/4/17: BRIC Composite PMIs 1Q 17: Not Keeping Up With Global Growth


In two previous posts, I have covered the 1Q 2017 data for Manufacturing PMIs and Services PMIs for BRIC economies. Both indicators provided little hope that world's largest emerging economies are generating a positive growth momentum consistent with stronger global economic growth.

The same is confirmed by the Composite PMIs:

Brazil's 1Q 2017 Composite PMI came in at 46.7, up on 46.1 in 4Q 2016, but still below the stagnation line. In simple terms, Brazil's Composite PMIs have now signalled negative growth for 12 consecutive quarters. Improved 1Q 2017 reading is consistent with continued and strong contraction in the economy, albeit a contraction that is less pronounced than in previous quarters.

Russia's Composite PMI posted a reading of 56.7, marking the strongest growth performance for the economy since 4Q 2006. Predictably, given both Manufacturing and Services PMIs as discussed in above-linked posts, Russian economy has outperformed in 1Q 2017 global economic growth momentum and is currently the strongest BRIC economy for the fourth consecutive quarter.

India's Composite PMI came in at 50.8, up marginally on 50.7 in 4Q 2016. This marks the second consecutive quarter of Composite PMI readings for India that are statistically indistinguishable from the stagnation line of 50.0. There is little good news in the data from India, where the fallout from the disastrous de-monetisation campaign by the government has been taking its toll.

Chinese Composite PMI stood at 52.3 in 1Q 2017, down from 53.1, but still the second highest since 1Q 2013. In simple terms, this means that the Chinese economic growth is not accelerating off 4Q 2016 dynamics, suggesting that the economy has now exhausted any momentum gained on foot of a massive credit bubble expansion in modern history.

Chart below illustrates the dynamics:


As shown above, Russia is the only BRIC economy currently generating upward supports for global growth.

When we consider individual sectoral indices, as shown in the chart below, BRIC Manufacturing sector is now pushing global growth momentum down, while BRIC Services sector is co-moving with the global growth, but provides no positive momentum to global economic expansion:

Finally, using monthly data (100=zero growth) for the BRIC economies index of economic activity (computed by me based on Markit and IMF data), the chart below shows just to what extent does Russian growth momentum dominates rest of the BRIC economies dynamics:


In summary, BRIC economies remain negative contributors to the global economic growth, with BRIC economies posting overall positive, but weak growth across the two key sectors.

10/4/17: BRIC Services PMI 1Q 2017: Another Weak Quarter


Yesterday, in my analysis of BRIC Manufacturing PMIs for 1Q 2017, I showed that 51.1 for 1Q 2017, BRIC Manufacturing PMI average came down marginally on 51.2 in 4Q 2016, although up on 49.2 reading for 1Q 2016. Russia was the only economy posting Q1 2017 Manufacturing activity in line with Global Manufacturing dynamics and BRIC as a group were exerting downward pressure on global manufacturing sector.

The news, therefore, were not great for the global manufacturing economy (stalled growth momentum in 1Q 2017), and for the BRIC economies.

Looking at Services PMIs next:

Brazil's Services PMI for 1Q 2017 averaged at 46.4, which is somewhat better than 44.5 average for 3Q 2016 and 4Q 2016 and stronger than 40.0 average for 1Q 2016. In simple terms, Brazil's Services activity continued to shrink and shrink rapidly in 1Q 2017, although the rate of contraction moderated. All in, Brazil's Services PMIs have now been in sub-50 territory for 10 consecutive quarters, two quarters shorter than Brazil's Manufacturing sector. The long-running and deep recession in Latin America's largest economy is continuing, although there are some very fragile signs that it might come to an end in the foreseeable future, as both Manufacturing PMI (at 49.6 in March) and Services PMI (at 47.7 in March) are showing signs of recovery.

Russia Services PMI for 1Q 2017 came in at a blistering pace of 56.8, up on already significant growth in 4Q 2016 at 54.6 and significantly above 1Q 2016 reading of 50.0. All in, this is the fourth consecutive quarter of Services PMIs above 50.0, with all four quarters reading statistically significant for positive growth. Russia is leading BRIC contribution to global growth in both Manufacturing and Services sectors, judging by PMIs.

Indian Services PMI was at 50.2 in 1Q 2017, which not statistically distinct from zero growth marker of 50.0, but up on 49.3 in 4Q 2016. In 1Q 2016 the Services PMI averaged 53.6 which was positive for growth. Indian economy has been hitting some trouble waters for the last two quarters, something I remarked upon in the post covering Manufacturing PMIs linked above. While Services are showing signs of stabilisation, the recovery is not yet evident in the data and is lagging Manufacturing sector performance.

China's Services PMI reading in 1Q 2017 disappointed those who hoped that 2016 credit explosion would set stage for a robust economic growth recovery. With Manufacturing PMI growth signal stuck at the same level in 1Q 2017 as in 4Q 2016, Services PMI reading for 1Q 2017 was actually below the 4Q 2016 reading (52.6 vs 53.0). Given that the index never once slipped below 50 in the history of the series, as well as given the moments of the underlying distribution, 52.6 reading is statistically indistinguishable from zero growth conditions. Thus, although posting the second strongest, amongst the BRIC economies, PMI reading for 1Q 2017 after Russia, Chinese Services sector was a relative negative for global growth momentum.

Chart and table below summarise some of the dynamics discussed earlier:



In summary, as shown above, global PMIs are supported to the upside only by Russian Services PMI dynamics, with Chinese Services PMIs providing virtually no momentum to global Growth, and both India and Brazil contributing negatively. Overall, thus, BRIC economies remain weak and under-perform global growth.

Monday, April 10, 2017

9/4/17: JTCI Article on Cybercrime & Financial Markets Contagion


Our paper on cybersecurity risks spillovers across financial markets was published in the JTCI: http://www.terrorismcyberinsurance.com/. You can access full paper here: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2892842.


9/4/17: BRIC Manufacturing PMIs 1Q 2017: Stalling Momentum


1Q 2017 PMIs for Manufacturing are painting a mixed picture for the world's largest emerging economies, the BRIC group.

Brazil's Manufacturing PMIs averaged 46.8 in 1Q 2017, compared to 45.9 in 4Q 2016 and 46.0 in 1Q 2016. All in, 1Q 2017 marked 12th consecutive quarter of Manufacturing PMIs signalling contraction in activity. Although 1Q 2017 reading was the highest since 1Q 2015, current indicator simply implies that the rate of Brazilian manufacturing sector contraction has abated somewhat, even though the downward momentum remains in place. This means that Brazil remains the worst performing BRIC Manufacturing sector for the eighth consecutive quarter. One relatively brighter spot is that March Manufacturing PMI for Brazil came in at 49.6 - the highest monthly reading since February 2015 and relatively close to zero growth line of 50.0. It is worth watching in months to come if there is a sustained momentum in Manufacturing activity up, and if Brazil finally starts showing signs of an economic recovery from what has proven to be a horrific recession so far.

Russian Manufacturing PMIs averaged 53.2 in 1Q 2017, unchanged in 4Q 2016 and up on 49.1 average for 1Q 2016. This marks the third consecutive quarterly PMI reading for Manufacturing that sits above 50.0 marker. As Russian economy gained significant recovery momentum in 4Q 2016 and into 1Q 2017, Russia now leads BRIC Manufacturing PMIs for the second consecutive quarter, providing solid upward support for global manufacturing growth. Still, despite robust numbers and despite three consecutive quarters of growth, Russian manufacturing sector and the economy at larger remain relatively exposed to the downside risks, including risks relating to energy and commodities prices, as well as to the lack of structural reforms within Russia. We have been awaiting for some time now for the long promised Government plans for achieving sustainable growth in the economy into the early 2020s, and the plan is still lacking.

Indian Manufacturing PMIs averaged 51.2 in 1Q 2017, down from 52.1 in 4Q 2016 and worse than 51.5 reading for 1Q 2016. 1Q 2017 was the weakest of three consecutive quarters, suggesting that the economy is having difficulty recovering from the botched de-monetization experiment by the Indian Government. Few outside India are willing to call the experiment botched, primarily because it involved advice and partial funding from the U.S. agencies, but the process was a disaster for the Indian economy.

Chinese Manufacturing PMIs also came with a disappointing whimper. PMIs averaged 51.3 in 1Q 2017 on par with 4Q 2016, quashing the hopes that the credit stimulus of the 2H 2016 will translate into domestic demand uplift. Current index reading for China is not statistically significantly different from 50.0, implying a general lack of growth momentum in the Chinese manufacturing. So far, Manufacturing PMIs managed to stay above 50.0 marker (nominally, not statistically) for three consecutive quarters, but the total average for these quarters is coming in at only 51.0.

Table and charts below summarise BRIC Manufacturing PMIs dynamics through 1Q 2017:



Overall, BRIC Manufacturing PMI Average (a metric computed by me using Markit data) came in at 51.1 in 1Q 2017, down marginally on 51.2 in 4Q 2016, although up on 49.2 reading for 1Q 2016. As the chart above clearly shows, of all BRIC economies, only Russia is posting Q1 2017 Manufacturing activity in line with Global Manufacturing growth and dynamically, BRIC as a group is exerting downward pressure on global manufacturing sector.

The news, therefore, are not great for the global manufacturing economy (stalled growth momentum in 1Q 2017), and for the BRIC economies.

Stay tuned for analysis of Services and Composite figures.

9/4/17: Nama's Missed Opportunities


My Sunday Business Post article on Nama and the 'value-destruction' : https://www.businesspost.ie/opinion/nama-missed-opportunity-profits-paying-price-384584.


9/4/17: Oil's Bucking Bull


My recent article for Sunday Business Post covering oil price dynamics and forecasts: https://www.businesspost.ie/business/oils-bucking-bull-382323.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

13/3/17: Bitcoin v Gold: Volatilities and Correlation


On foot of the previous post, a reader asked me for some analysis of comparatives between Bitcoin volatility and Gold price volatility. It took some time to get to the answer. One of the reasons is that Bitcoin is traded continuously, while gold prices are listed for specific markets trading dates. So it takes some time to reconcile two data sets.

Here is the analysis. Starting with daily returns volatilities for log-log returns:


Several things are obvious from the above chart:

  1. Overall Bitcoin price volatility is magnitudes greater than volatility of gold prices almost always. Historical standard deviation in daily returns is 2.663% and Gold price (log daily returns) volatility is 0.466%, which means that historically, gold daily returns are less volatile than Bitcoin daily returns by a more than a factor of 5. 
  2. There are, broadly speaking three key periods of Bitcoin volatility: the period from September 2011 through December 2012, when volatility was extreme and declining, the period from January 2013 through February 2015, when volatility in Bitcoin was characterised by severe spikes and elevated base, and the period from March 2015 on, when both the spikes in volatility and the base of volatility abated. These three periods are associated with the following comparatives between gold volatility and Bitcoin volatility: period through December 2012: gold daily returns volatility 0.520% against Bitcoin daily returns volatility of almost 6 times that at 3.00%; period from January 2013 through February 2015, when Bitcoin returns volatility (3.27%) was almost 7.5 times gold returns volatility (0.479%), and the current period from March 2015, where Bitcoin daily returns volatility (1.421%) was over 3 times daily returns volatility for gold (0.412%). Note: these are log-log returns, so much of extreme volatility is smoothed out and this benefits the Bitcoin.
  3. There is a long-term trend difference between gold returns volatility and Bitcoin returns volatility, as shown by polynomial (power 6) trend lines for both. In fact, even in terms of trend, Bitcoin is much more volatile than gold and Bitcoin's volatility is less stable than volatility of gold. 
In very simple terms, Bitcoin volatility is vastly in excess of Gold's volatility, albeit the former is starting to moderate in more recent years.

Now, for the last bit of observations. I also mentioned that Bitcoin is distinct from Gold in terms of its financial properties. And guess what, I did not provide any evidence. Well, here it is. Bitcoin returns and Gold returns are not correlated, or in other words, they neither co-move with each other nor countermove against each other. Here's a chart to prove this:


Average 30-days running correlation for Bitcoin and gold in terms of daily log-log returns is 0.03025 historically, which is statistically indifferent from zero. Across the three periods of Bitcoin volatility structure (defined above), average correlation between Bitcoin and gold log-log returns was 0.0147, 0.0182 and 0.0529 respectively. All of these are statistically indifferent from zero. In history of the Bitcoin, there were only 7 occasions on which daily returns were correlated positively with gold price with correlation in excess of 0.5. and 5 with negative correlation in excess of -0.5 in absolute value None with correlation in excess of 0.65 in absolute value for either positive or negative correlations. 

Bitcoin comparatives to gold hold about as much water as a colander hit by a shrapnel shot.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

12/3/17: Bitcoin Pop: Nothing too Dramatic by Historical Comparatives


Few days back, I posted a quick note about the erroneous nature of Bitcoin-Gold comparatives. And yesterday, we had one of those events that highlights the same.

In summary of the event, SEC rejected an application for a Bitcoin ETF.  And Bitcoin crashed. Inter-day volatility shot up through the roof. Which would have been bad enough, except it is the norm for Bitcoin


You can see just how unsurprising the current volatility is for the BTC, consider the following charts:





Pretty much by every metric of volatility, Bitcoin's latests wobble is minor, despite it being dramatic enough to set @Reuters and @Bloomberg folks all hopping with excitement. Thing is, folks, Bitcoin's volatility is in the league of financial widow-makers.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

3/3/17: BRIC Manufacturing PMI: Weaker Support for Global Growth in 1Q


The latest BRIC Manufacturing sector PMIs for February are continuing to signal support for global growth albeit at weaker rates than in 4Q 2016.

Brazil Manufacturing PMI for February came in at 46.9, slightly less sharp of a rate of contraction than 44.0 in January 2017. This marks 25th consecutive month of Brazil’s Manufacturing PMIs at below 50.0 - the point of zero growth. The rate of decline in Brazil’s case is shallowest since January 2016, but the series are quite volatile and at 46.9, the index is statistically significantly below 50.

Russian Manufacturing PMI moderated from 54.7 in January to 52.5 in February, but the index remained statistically above 50.0, signalling robust growth. This marks 7th consecutive month above with PMI above 50 and the 5th consecutive month that Manufacturing PMI exceeded 50.0 by a statistically significant margin, as the Russian economy continued on its expansion trend.

Chinese Manufacturing PMI cam in at 51.7, still below statistically significant growth line, but above 50.0 nominally, marking 8th consecutive month of above 50 readings (none of these readings were statistically significant, however). 51.7 marks a slight improvement on January’s 51.0.

India’s Manufacturing PMI rose to 50.7 in February from 50.4 in January. This marks the second consecutive month with above 50.0 nominal readings, but the index remains statistically indistinguishable from 50.0 zero growth mark.

Table below uses January-February average PMI for 1Q 2017 reading and compares it against full quarter averages for Manufacturing PMIs for previous quarters.




Chart below illustrates quarterly averages trends:


As shown in the chart above, 1Q 2017 results to-date indicate slightly weaker growth support from the BRIC economies overall, based on Manufacturing sector activity alone. Global growth in manufacturing continued to accelerate in the first two months of 2017, while BRIC Manufacturing posted slightly weaker growth in 1Q so far. The downward momentum in BRIC Manufacturing growth was driven by 
  • Brazil (experiencing accelerated contraction in 1Q to-date compared to 4Q 2016)
  • India (experiencing sharply slower growth in 1Q 2017 to-date compared to 4Q 2016)
Offsetting these trends,
  • Russian growth in manufacturing sector accelerated in the first two months of 2017 compared to 4Q 2016; and
  • Chinese growth in the sector remained roughly unchanged in January-February 2017 compared to 4Q 2016.



I will be posting on Services sector PMIs and Composite PMIs once we have data for Brazil.

Friday, March 3, 2017

3/3/17: Sovereign & Corporate Credit Ratings: Slow Motion Disaster Spectacle


Recently, I wrote about the latest Fitch Ratings data showing a dramatic decline in the number of AAA-rated sovereigns over 2016 (see: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/02/10217-sovereign-debt-bubble-methane.html). Now, take a look at the Fitch's latest analysis of the trends in A and better rated sovereigns:


Per Fitch: "The proportion of 'A-' and higher ratings in Fitch's global portfolio of sovereigns, corporates and banks remains well below the pre financial-crisis level and could fall further over the next couple of years as the balance of ratings outlooks has deteriorated."

Some numbers:

  • In sovereign ratings, the proportion of 'AAA' sovereigns was down to below 10% at the end of 2016, marking its lowest-ever level. "Around 36% of the portfolio is rated in the 'A' to 'AAA' categories, down from 48% at the end of 2006 while 27% is rated 'B+' or below, compared to 20% in 2006."
  • Fitch's sovereign ratings also "have the greatest share of negative outlooks on a net basis, at 21%. This suggests downgrades could outnumber upgrades by a wide margin" going forward.
  • In corporate ratings, "the proportion of corporate ratings in the 'A' to 'AAA' categories has dropped to 20% from 30% over the last decade, but unlike sovereigns the proportion rated 'B+' and below has only ticked up by 1 percentage point. Instead ratings have become increasingly compressed in the 'BB' and 'BBB' categories."
  • "Financial institutions, which have historically had a bigger share of high investment grade ratings, have seen the proportion of 'A' to 'AAA' category ratings slip to 39% from 53%."
  • "The trend seems set to worsen, as a net 11% of financial institution ratings outlooks were negative at end-2016, driven largely by outlooks on emerging-market banks, which themselves often reflect the outlooks of their sovereign."


3/3/17: Gold vs Bitcoin: Prices vs Values


Marketwatch reported earlier that Bitcoin is currently being priced at above the price of gold in USD terms: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/bitcoin-is-now-worth-more-than-an-ounce-of-gold-for-the-first-time-ever-2017-03-02?siteid=bnbh

The comparative is somewhat silly, because, as Marketwatch article notes, Bitcoin market cap is much much smaller than that for gold, which implies that any valuation of Bitcoin to-date incorporates a hefty liquidity risk premium compared to gold. In addition - unmentioned by the Marketwatch - Bitcoin lacks key financial properties of gold, including:

  1. Established safe haven properties: gold acts as a safe haven instrument against large scale or systemic risks. Bitcoin is yet to establish such property with any conviction. There are some indications that Bitcoin may be seen in the markets as a hedge against some systemic risks, e.g. capital controls in China, but this property is yet to be fully confirmed in data. Beyond such confirmation, there is no evidence to-date that Bitcoin acts as a safe haven for other systemic risks (e.g. sovereign debt crisis risks in the Euro area, or political risks in the EU, etc).
  2. Hedging properties: Bitcoin shows no hedging relationship to key asset classes, in contrast to gold.
The above points mean that in addition to liquidity risks, Bitcoin price is also factoring in premium for lacking the broader safe haven and hedging properties.

While the continued evolution of Bitcoin is a great thing to watch and take part in, immediate valuations of Bitcoin are subject to severely concentrated risks, including the currently extremely elevated risk of Bitcoin demand being severely skewed to China (http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/01/18117-bitcoin-demand-its-chinese-tale.html) and the supply and legal rights issues with Bitcoin. Hence, as it says on the tin: the comparative to gold is silly, even if entertaining.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

28/2/17: Sentix Euro Breakup Contagion Risk Index Explodes


Sentix Euro Break-up Contagion Index - a market measure of the contagion risk from one or more countries leaving the euro area within the next 12 months period - has hit its post-2012 record recently, reaching 47.6 marker, up on 25 trough in 2Q 2016:


Key drivers: Greece, Italy and France.

Details here: https://www.sentix.de/index.php/sentix-Euro-Break-up-Index-News/euro-break-up-index-die-gefaehrlichen-drei.html.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

25/2/17: Eurocoin February 2017: Another Acceleration in Growth


A quick update on Eurocoin, the lead indicator for economic growth in the Euro area. In February, Eurocoin rose from 0.68 in January to 0.75 - hitting the highest level in 83 months and marking 10th consecutive monthly rise. The index has been now in a statistically positive growth territory every month since March 2015.

Implied 1Q 2017 GDP growth, as signalled by Eurocoin indicator is now at around 0.7 percent, which, if confirmed, will be the fastest pace of economic expansion since 1Q 2011.


The above chart shows that there is now a mounting pressure on the ECB to taper off its QE programme.

24/2/17: Cybersecurity Threats: Business Survey


An interesting insight via https://www.bloomberg.com/politics/articles/2017-02-21/threat-of-cyber-attack-is-biggest-fear-for-businesses-survey on the rising importance of the cyber-security risks and changing business perceptions of the risk. Goes handily with our findings here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2017/01/23117-regulating-for-cybercrime-hacking.html.


Friday, February 24, 2017

24/2/2017: Baltic Dry Index is Still in a Disaster Territory


All of the discussions about the Baltic Dry Index - a proxy for global trade flows - in recent weeks was centred on the alleged recovery in the index valuations from the historical lows of 1Q 2016. Much of this recovery was predicated on the cost of fuel that went to inflate the cost of shipping, rather than the genuine uptick in global trade.

In fact, as the most recent data suggests, uptick in global trade volumes is nowhere to be seen:



Source: https://www.fxstreet.com/analysis/global-trade-disaster-nearly-certain-201702220646

But here is a look at the trends in the Baltic Dry Index confirming the simple fact that whatever recovery there has been, the index readings remain deeply in a trade-recession territory:



Worse, Suez Canal traffic is still trending down: http://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/suez-canal-revenues-decline-in-wake-of-sluggish-global-trade/, although Panama Canal volumes are hitting new records http://www.tradewindsnews.com/andalso/1213246/panama-canal-volumes-hit-new-record (the data is not adjusted for the capacity expansion since June 2016). Even with that expansion, Trans-pacific trade is up only 4.3% y/y in 2016, an improvement on 3.7% growth in 2015, but much worse than 5.9% growth in 2014 (see http://www.hellenicshippingnews.com/volume-recovery-in-far-east-europe-and-transpacific-trade/).

Overall, even the improved Baltic Dry Index current average for 2017-to-date is at around 831.6, which is below all 2009-2014 annual averages. Not exactly a sign of booming global economy.

24/2/17: Distributed ledger technology in payments, clearing, & settlement


A new research paper from the U.S. Federal Reserve System, titled “Distributed ledger technology in payments, clearing, and settlement” (see citation below) looks at the rapidly evolving landscape of blockchain (distributed ledger technologies, or DLTs) in the financial services.

The authors note that DLT “is a term that [as of yet]… does not have a single definition”. Thus, the authors “refer to the technology as some combination of components including peer-to-peer networking, distributed data storage, and cryptography that, among other things, can potentially change the way in which the storage, record-keeping, and transfer of a digital asset is done.” While this definition is broader than blockchain definition alone, it is dominated by blockchain (private and public) typologies.


Impetus for research

Per authors, the impetus for this research is that DLT is one core form of financial sector innovation “that has been cited as a means of transforming payment, clearing, and settlement (PCS) processes, including how funds are transferred and how securities, commodities, and derivatives are cleared and settled.” Furthermore, “the driving force behind efforts to develop and deploy DLT in payments, clearing, and settlement is an expectation that the technology could reduce or even eliminate operational and financial inefficiencies, or other frictions, that exist for current methods of storing, recording, and transferring digital assets throughout financial markets.” This, indeed, is the main positive proposition arising from blockchain solutions, but it is not a unique one. Blockchain systems offer provision of greater security of access and records storage, higher degree of integration of various data sources for the purpose of analytics, greater portability of data. These advantages reach beyond pure efficiency (cost savings) arguments and go to the heart of the idea of financial inclusion - opening up access to financial services for those who are currently unbanked, unserved and undocumented.

In line with this, the Fed study points that the proponents “of the technology have claimed that DLT could help foster a more efficient and safe payments system, and may even have the potential to fundamentally change the way in which PCS [payments, clearance and settlement] activities are conducted and the roles that financial institutions and infrastructures currently play.” The Fed is cautious on the latter promises, stating that “although there is much optimism regarding the promise of DLT, the development of such applications for PCS activities is in very early stages, with many industry participants suggesting that real-world applications are years away from full implementation.”


Per Fed research, “U.S. PCS systems process approximately 600 million transactions per day, valued at over $12.6 trillion.” In simple terms, given average transaction cost of ca 2-2.5 percent, the market for PCS support systems is around USD250-310 billion annually in the U.S. alone, implying global markets size of well in excess of USD750 billion.

DLT Potential 

Fed researchers summarise key (but not all) potential (currently emerging) benefits of DLT systems in PCS services markets:

  • Reduced complexity (especially in multiparty, cross-border transactions)
  • Improved end-to-end processing speed and availability of assets and funds
  • Decreased need for reconciliation across multiple record-keeping infrastructures
  • Increased transparency and immutability in transaction record-keeping
  • Improved network resiliency through distributed data management
  • Reduced operational and financial risks


One of the more challenging, from the general financial services practitioners’ point of view, benefits of DLT is that it is “essentially asset-agnostic, meaning the technology is potentially capable of providing the storage, record-keeping, and transfer of any type of asset. This asset-agnostic nature of DLT has resulted in a range of possible applications currently being explored for uses in post-trade processes.”

The key to the above is that blockchains ledgers are neutral to the assets that are recorded on them, unlike traditional electronic and physical ledgers that commonly require specific structures for individual types of assets. The advantage of the blockchain is not simply in the fact that you can use the ledger to account for transactions involving multiple and diverse assets, but that you can also more seamlessly integrate data relating to different assets into analytics engines.

Due to higher efficiencies (cost, latency and security), blockchain offers huge potential in one core area of financial services: financial inclusion. As noted by the Fed researchers, “financial inclusion is another challenge both domestically and abroad that some are attempting to address with DLT. Some of the potential benefits of DLT for cross-border payments described above might also be able to help address issues involving cross-border remittances as well as challenges in providing end-users with universal access to a wide range of financial services. Access to financial services can be difficult, particularly for low-income households, because of high account fees, prohibitive costs associated with traveling to a bank. Developers contend DLT may assist financial inclusion by potentially allowing technology firms such as mobile phone providers to provide DLT-based financial services directly to end users at a lower cost than can (or would) traditional financial intermediaries; expanding access to customer groups not served by ordinary banks, and ultimately
reducing costs for retail consumers.”

Lower costs are key to achieving financial inclusion because serving lower income (currently unbanked and unserved) customers in diverse geographical, regulatory and institutional settings requires trading on much lower margins than in traditional financial services, usually delivered to higher income clients. Reducing costs is the key to improving margins, making them sustainable enough for financial services providers to enter lower income segments of the markets.

Incidentally, in addition to lower costs, improving financial inclusion also requires higher security and improved identification of customers. These are necessary to achieve significant gains in efficiencies in collection and distribution of payments (e.g. in micro-insurance or micro-finance). Once again, DLT systems hold huge promise here, including in the areas of creating Digital IDs for lower income clients and for undocumented customers, and in creating verifiable and portable financial fingerprints for such clients.

The Fed paper partially touches this when addressing the gains in information sharing arising from DLT platforms. “According to interviews, the ability of DLT to maintain tamper-resistant records can provide new ways to share information across entities such as independent auditors and supervisors.” Note: this reaches well beyond the scope of supervision and audits, and goes directly to the heart of the existent bottlenecks in information sharing and transmission present in the legacy financial systems, although the Fed study omits this consideration.

“As an example, DLT arrangements could be designed to allow auditors or supervisors “read-only access” to certain parts of the common ledger. This could help service providers in a DLT arrangement and end users meet regulatory reporting requirements more efficiently. Developers contend that being given visibility to a unified, shared ledger could give supervisors confidence in knowing the origins of the asset and the history of transactions across participants. Having a connection as a node in the network, a supervisor would receive transaction data as soon as it is broadcast to the network, which could help streamline regulatory compliance procedures and reduce costs…”

Once again, the Fed research does not see beyond the immediate issues of auditing and supervision. In reality, “read-only” access or “targeted access” can facilitate much easier and less costly underwriting of risks and structuring of contracts, aiding financial inclusion.


Key takeaways

Overall, the Fed paper “has examined how DLT can be used in the area of payments, clearing and settlement and identifies both the opportunities and challenges facing its long-term implementation and adoption.” This clearly specifies a relatively narrow reach of the study that excludes more business-focused aspects of DLTs potential in facilitating product structuring, asset management, data analytics, product underwriting, contracts structuring and other functionalities of huge importance to the financial services.

Per Fed, “in the [narrower] context of payments, DLT has the potential to provide new ways to transfer and record the ownership of digital assets; immutably and securely store information; provide for identity management; and other evolving operations through peer-to-peer networking, access to a distributed but common ledger among participants, and cryptography. Potential use cases in payments, clearing, and settlement include cross-border payments and the post-trade clearing and settlement of securities. These use cases could address operational and financial frictions around existing services.”

As the study notes, “…the industry’s understanding and application of this technology is still in its infancy, and stakeholders are taking a variety of approaches toward its development.” Thus, “…a number of challenges to development and adoption remain, including in how issues around business cases, technological hurdles, legal considerations, and risk management considerations are addressed.” All of which shows two things:

  • Firstly, the true potential of DLTs in transforming the financial services is currently impossible to map out due to both the early stages of technological development and the broad range of potential applications. The Fed research mostly focuses on the set of back office applications of DLT, without touching upon the front office applications, and without considering the potentially greater gains from integration of back and front office applications through DLT platforms; and
  • Secondly, the key obstacles to the DLT deployment are the legacy services providers and systems - an issue that also worth exploring in more details.


In both, the former and the latter terms, it is heartening to see U.S. regulatory bodies shifting their supervisory and regulatory approaches toward greater openness toward DLT platforms, when contrasted against the legacy financial services platforms.


Mills, David, Kathy Wang, Brendan Malone, Anjana Ravi, Jeff Marquardt, Clinton Chen, Anton Badev, Timothy Brezinski, Linda Fahy, Kimberley Liao, Vanessa Kargenian, Max Ellithorpe, Wendy Ng, and Maria Baird (2016). “Distributed ledger technology in payments, clearing, and settlement,” Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2016-095. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, https://doi.org/10.17016/FEDS.2016.095.