Wednesday, September 28, 2011

28/09/2011: Retail Sales for August - a nasty surprise.

After showing the signs of some stabilization in quarterly data (Q2 2011 index of retail sales by value was up to 88.3 from 88.0 in Q1 2011 and volume of sales index went up from 91.8 in Q1 to 92.9 in Q2), the latest data has thrown a nasty surprise to the downside in retail sales activity in August.

Here are the core highlights:
  • Value of retail sales has fallen 0.8% mom in August to 87.1, down from 87.8 in July. In two months since the end of Q2 2011, the value of retail sales (seasonally adjusted) has declined from 88.7 to 87.1, more than erasing the gains recorded in May and June this year. Annual rate of decline in August was 3.1%, compared to the annual rate of decline of -1% in July.
  • August value index posted the sharpest monthly contraction in 4 months, ditto for annual rate of decline. Comparable monthly peak took place in August 2007 and we are now 25.04% down on that in terms of value index. 3mo-MA is now at 87.9, down from the 6mo-MA of 88.0. 2010 annual average for the index was 88.8 and 2011 average to-date 88.0, which means that 3mo- and 6mo- and year-to-date performance through august is worse than 2010 annual average.
  • Volume index (seasonally adjusted) also fell, declining from 92.4 in July to 92 in August, the rate of decline of 0.4% mom and 3.6% yoy. This is sharpest rate of contraction (yoy terms) since April 2011.
  • 3m0-MA is now at 92.7 against 6mo MA of 92.6 and these are both below 93.3 annual average for 2010. Annual average for 2011 to-date is 92.3.
In summary, folks - the battered sector is taking even more water!

Relative to peak things are even bleaker:

  • Value index is now at 73.0% relative to peak down from 73.6% in July. August reading is the lowest since January 2010.
  • Volume index is at 79.1% of the peak and this is down from 79.45% in July. August reading is the lowest since April 2011.

Ex-motors sales:

  • Value of retail sales ex-motors in August stood at 94.4, down from 95.2 in July, a decline of 0.9% mom reversing 0.4% mom increase in July, the sales are now down 2.8% yoy against 1.5% decline yoy in July. 3mo-MA at 94.8 and 6mo-MA at 95.5, as well as 2011 average to-date of 95.9 are all below 2010 annual average of 97.6.
  • Volume of retail sales ex-motors is down to 98.7 in August, 0.5% below the 99.2 reading in July. 3mo-MA of 99.1, 6mo-MA at 99.5 and 2011 average to-date at 100.0 are all below 2010 average of 102.3.
Relative to peak:

  • Value of core sales is now at 79.6% of the historical peak having risen to 80.3% of the peak back in July. August reading marks the lowest point in the series relative to peak.
  • Volume of core sales is at 84.4 relative to historical peak, also the lowest point in the series.

According to CSO:
  • Electrical Goods (+2.1%) was the only category that showed year-on-year increases in the volume of retail sales this month. Sales fell in value 5.0% yoy as deflation continued in the sub-sector.
  • Books, Newspapers and Stationery (-13.3% both in volume and in value), Pharmaceuticals Medical & Cosmetic Articles (-10.4% in volume and -9.8% in value) and Furniture & Lighting (-9.5% in volume and- 13.1% in value) were amongst the categories that showed year-on-year decreases this month.
  • Fuel sales have declined 8.2% yoy in volume, but rose 3.1% in value as inflation bit harder into the pockets of consumers cutting back on fuel purchases.
  • Hardware, Pains & Glass sales are down -6.3% in volume and -6.8% in value
  • Motor trades are down 5.7% yoy in August in value and 2.6% in volume
  • Bars sales are down 7.1% in volume and 7.3% in value.
Irish retail sales decline in volume terms was the seventh largest in EU27. Euro area as a whole experienced a decline of 0.2% in the volume of retail sales. More on this in upcoming separate post.

Monday, September 26, 2011

26/09/2011: Greek crisis and exit strategy

At last - an excellent summary of the Greek crisis possible outcomes and exit strategies, courtesy of BBC (link here).

The bottom line is that no matter what Greece and Troika do or fail to do, the crisis will either move onto a full-blow economic implosion of Greece or global meltdown. This puts Greek dilemma, from euro area's perspective, squarely into the category of the choices faced by a patient with gangrened leg: to cut or to die. In other words, unless someone can find a node to hang a decent outcome on in the above - and I can't find one - the optimal policy mix from the point of view of both Greece and the euro area would be:
  • Swap tranche release in October for commitment from Greece to exit the euro area under oversight from the IMF (staged exit with monetary support provided by the IMF and ECB). Future tranches should be tied to Greek Government progress on the bullet points below.
  • Greece should default on sovereign and banks debts (60-70% writedown on sovereign and 50% writedown on banks), in part financed out of the current bailout package, in part netted through ECB (with ECB providing support for non-Greek banks and financial institutions writing down Greek assets on their balance sheets).
  • Post-default, Greece should remain within the EU but outside the euro to avail of the benefits of free trade, labour and capital mobility.
  • EU assistance to support growth via infrastructure investment should be extended to Greece in 2012-2017, in part to provide stronger foundations for growth and in part to provide an incentive to see through structural reforms in public sector and overall economy.
In effect, Greece will be incentivised via emergency supports and future investment assistance to exit the euro area voluntarily. There are no guarantees that post such exit Greek new currency and indeed its economy can gain a footing in the markets. However, retaining Greece within the euro zone does not appear to be a feasible option at this stage.

Note: The argument that Greece should default and exit euro is hardly a novel one. Nouriel Roubini recently made a very strong case for this here. Roubini also, in my view correctly, recognizes that transition from euro to domestic currency will require some financial supports from the EU.

26/09/2011: French and German indices signal continued slowdown in September

This week's early trickle of data is continuing to signal ongoing process of deteriorating macroeconomic conditions in core euro area economies.

According to the latest reports, Portugal's economy is likely to post 2.3% decline in GDP in 2012 (revised from 1.8% decline forecast earlier) and shrink 1.8% in 2011 - an improved estimate on 2.2% contraction predicted in Q1 2011 (the swing in 2011 is due to strong H1 2011, while the swing in 2012 forecast is due to weak expectations for H2 2011 and after).

France's MNI survey of economic forecasts (here) are coming in weaker by the week. For previous week, median forecasts were for
  • Manufacturing PMI at 48.2 down from 49.1 a week before, both below growth line of 50;
  • Services PMI at 54.4 down from 56.8, above the growth line, but slowing
Confirming these, Insee Index of Business Climate posted the first below 100 reading since June 2010, coming in at 97 in September, down from 101 in August. 3mo average through September is now at 101 against the previous 3mo period average of 108. Year on year, index is down 5 points. Just as with German data below, the latest result marks the third month of continued declines.

And today, German Ifo index came with further downgrades to business expectations and conditions. Here's the chart:

  • Business climate assessment came in at 107.5, above expansion line, but down for the third month in a row. 3mo average through September is now at 109.7 down from previous 3mo average (through June) at 114.3. Year on year the index is down 3.7 points.
  • Business situation sub-index came in at 117.9, down from 118.1 in August, marking 3rd month of continued declines. Q2 average is 121.9 and Q3 2011 average is now at 119.1.
  • Business expectations sub-index has hit contraction territory at 98.0 against August reading of 100.1. Q2 2011 expectations average was 107.1, while Q3 2011 average is 101.0. Year on year September 2011 reading is down 9.9 points.

26/09/2011: Youth unemployment problem

The latest QNHS data for unemployment in Ireland - discussed in detail here - was not a pretty picture by any means. But the ugliness of age-breakdown in unemployment is something else altogether.

Now, recall that Ireland is a young country. Per CSO, 1.5% of our workforce is age 15-19, 6.7% age 20-24, 28.9% age 24-35 and a full 37.1% of the workforce is aged less than 35. This has many good implications for the economy and the prospect for future growth, but it also places some tough demands on the economy. You see, young people are quite pesky subjects. They (unreasonably - from our, older folks point of view) want in life:
  • Improved prospects for the future as far as their careers, earnings, quality of life etc go,
  • Good chances for beating their parents performance in terms of gaining jobs and progressing up the career ladders,
  • Ability to enjoy some of younger years' offers of decent consumption, comforts of some certainty in life, while earning returns to their efforts and education.
Not exactly an easy bunch to satisfy, younger people tend to be more mobile. And the greater their skills set / potential, the more they invested in education or training, the more mobile they are. This is why, in my view, the idea of the 'demographic dividend' is a bit of a silly old hat - the dividend is there (or rather here, in Ireland) if and only if the asset is here.

But the QNHS data does not lie (well, kinda - it does lie in so far as it underestimates true extent of unemployment by omitting those over-extending their education and training in the absence of jobs). The assets we have in the form of our younger people are... err... extremely highly jobless, pretty much deprived of hope of gaining any of the above points.

Here are some stats, all from QNHS for Q2 2011.
  • 38,400 males of age 15-24 and 116.2 males of age 25-44 were unemployed in Q2 2011
  • 25,100 females aged 15-24 and 53,900 females of age 25-44 were also unemployed in Q2 2011
However, these absolute numbers do not tell the entire story as the size of the labour force itself has been changing over time (shrinking). In terms of unemployment rates:
  • Overall unemployment rate for those under the age of 20 is now at 40.1%, implying that a person aged 15-19 who wants to be employed is facing 2.8 times higher probability of not having a job than an average person in the workforce. For the age group of 20-24 years of age, these numbers, respectively are 27.7% and 1.94 times. For those in their prime employment years - 25-34 year olds - the numbers are 16.5% and 1.16 times.
  • A woman of age 15-19 is facing unemployment rate of 33.7%, while her slightly older counterpart of age 20-24 is facing probability of unemployment of 21.8%.
Dramatic as the above figures are, the picture is much worse for males:
  • A young male of age 15-19 seeking employment is facing unemployment rate of 46.1%, while a male of age 20-24 is facing the prospect of 33.7% unemployment. Unemployment amongst males age 25-34 is 21.5%.
This is desperate, folks. But it gets worse. per Table S9b in QNHS, in Q2 2011, of all persons aged 18-24:
  • 79% of all early school leavers were either unemployed or not economically active a number that rose from 77% in Q1 2011
  • 59% of all other persons in this age category were either unemployed or not economically active, same as in Q1 2011
For comparison, for all persons 25-64 years of age, the above numbers were:
  • 55% of all early school leavers either unemployed or not economically active, up from 54% in Q1 2011
  • 27% of all other persons either unemployed or not economically active, down from 28% in Q1 2011.
This is a dire prospect for our 'demographic capital', folks, as it shows that the gap by age for even educated unemployed is a vast 22 percentage points - statistically most likely indifferent from the same gap for those with little or no education.

26/09/2011: Irish property prices hit Early Paleozoic layer

Another month, another "Splat, Zap, Squish!" from the Amazing Property Bust Land, Ireland. CSO's RPPI data out for August today is showing continued falls in property markets and accelerating on the July 'performance'. Here are the updated charts and numbers.

Headlines are not pretty, folks:
  • RPPI down 13.87% annually in August against a fall of 12.47% in July index now stands at 73.9 down from 85.8 in August last year.
  • In 12mo through August the decline was 10.8%.
  • Mom prices are down 1.6% in August. 3mo MA is at 74.9 down from 76.0 in July.
  • Relative to peak, prices are now down 43.4%
  • Relative to Nama valuations cut-off date of Nov 30, 2009, prices are down 21.3%. Adding LTEV uplift applied by Nama to purchased loans, state-held residential portoflio is now down in values some 28.5%.
Headlines on property prices by type are even less pretty:
  • RPPI for houses is at 77.0 in August, down 1.41% on 78.1 reading in July. 3moMA is now 77.9, down from 79.0 in July. Year on year prices are down 13.58% from index reading of 89.1 in August 2010. Relative to peak prices are down 41.7% (September 2007). This is the steepest rate of decline since March 2011.
  • RPPI for apartments is at 54.9, down 4.7% on July reading of 57.6. August 2010 reading was 67.2, so we are now 18.3% down yoy. 3moMA is now at 57.3, down from 59.0 in July. Monthly rate of declines is now accelerating for the 3rd month in a row. August rate of decline is the steepest monthly decline in the history of the series. Relative to peak (February 2007), apartments prices are now down 55.69%.
Geographical distribution of price changes:
  • Dublin residential property prices fell by 3.76% in August and were 14.85% lower than a year ago. Dublin house prices decreased by 3.4% in the month and were 14.7% lower compared to a year earlier. Dublin apartment prices fell by 6% in the month of August and were 17.4% lower when compared with the same month of 2010. 3mo MA for Dublin properties is now at 68.23, down from 69.7 in July. Relative to peak (February 2007) Dublin prices are down 50.56%. House prices in Dublin are 48% lower than at their highest level in early 2007. Apartments in Dublin are now 57% lower than they were in February 2007.
  • The price of residential properties in the Rest of Ireland (ex-Dublin) fell 0.3% in August compared with an increase of 0.2% recorded in August 2010. Prices were 13.2% lower than in August 2010. The fall in the price of residential properties in the Rest of Ireland relative to peak is at 40%.

My forecast for the annual results is below. In summary - we've gone from the penthouse to the ground floor, through the parking levels and still going - services levels, sewer, imaginary metro tunnel.... next "Splat" is due at around middle Paleozoic layer... see you in October's Early Mammals exhibit...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

26/09/2011: Ireland's Debt Overhang - unprecedented, unmanageable & unsustainable

A recent paper, titled "The real effects of debt" by Stephen G Cecchetti, M S Mohanty and Fabrizio Zampolli (05 August 2011) presented at the "Achieving Maximum Long-Run Growth" symposium sponsored by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Jackson Hole, Wyoming, 25-27 August 2011 put forward evidence on the overall effects of debt overhang - across public, private corporate and household debts - on the real economy.

Here is the summary of their findings, followed by a closer look at the implications of these for Ireland. I have to warn you - the latter are highly disturbing.

The authors argue that although debt can be used to drive growth and development, "...history teaches us that borrowing can create vulnerabilities. When debt ratios rise beyond a certain level, financial crises become both more likely and more severe (Reinhart and Rogoff (2009)). This strongly suggests that there is a sense in which debt can become excessive."

The authors set out to answer a simple question: When does the level of debt go from good to bad? 'Bad' as in producing the effect of lowering long term economic growth in the economy.

To do so, the authors used a new dataset that includes the level of government, non-financial corporate and household debt in 18 OECD countries from 1980 to 2010.

The core results "support the view that, beyond a certain level, debt is bad for growth":
  • "For government debt, the threshold is in the range of 80 to 100% of GDP... Our result for public debt has the immediate implication that highly indebted governments should aim not only at stabilising their debt but also at reducing it to sufficiently low levels that do not retard growth. Prudence dictates that governments should also aim to keep their debt well below the estimated thresholds so that even extraordinary events are unlikely to push their debt to levels that become damaging to growth." Furthermore, "when government debt rises to [threshold] level, an additional 10 percentage points of GDP drives trend growth down by some 10-15 basis points."
  • "Up to a point, corporate and household debt can be good for growth. But when corporate debt goes beyond 90% of GDP, our results suggest that it becomes a drag on growth."
  • "And for household debt, we report a threshold around 85% of GDP, although the impact is very imprecisely estimated."
The table below shows the core results from the paper and adds the comparable data for Ireland (Ireland was not included in the analysis). Make sure you are seating before reading it:
As shown in the table above, using the study estimates, the potential reduction in Irish GDP growth over the long term horizon arising from the combined debt overhangs is 2.1%.

The table also shows that the largest impact from debt overhang for Ireland arises from corporate debt, followed by household debt. Despite this, our Government's core objective to-date has been to deleverage banks and to contain Government debt explosion. In fact, the Government is consciously opting for loading more debt onto households - by reducing disposable after-tax incomes and refusing to implement significant savings in the public sector expenditure.

Yet, folks, our debt levels are extreme. They are more than extreme - the table below shows comparable combined public and private (non-financial) debt for the countries in the study sample, plus Ireland.
And the reates of our debt increase during the crisis are also extreme:

In fact, we have both - the highest level of debt to GNP ratio, the second highest debt to GDP ratio and the fastest increases in 2000-2010 in both ratios in the developed world. In the nutshell, this means we are more bust than the most bust economy in the world - Japan. Unlike Japan, however, we are faced with:
  • No prospect of devaluation
  • No prospect of controlling our interest rates
  • Young population that requires growth and jobs creation, and
  • Much heavier levels of private and corporate debt - i.e. debt that has more significant adverse economic effects than sovereign debt.
Yet, even exporting powerhouse of Japan is not delirious enough to believe their debt overhang can be brought under control via 'exports-led' growth.

Now, much of the issues and data discussed in this post relate to the question raised in the Dail by Peter Mathews, TD, who relentlessly pursues, in my view, public interest in raising such questions. The record of his question and Minister Noonan's answer is provided below:

25/09/2011: Returns to Education in Europe

CEPR working paper No. 8568 (link) "RETURNS TO EDUCATION ACROSS EUROPE" by Daniela Glocker and Viktor Steiner, published last week, provides some interesting (and intuitively consistent) evidence on the overall structure of the market returns to education.

Education is generally considered to be a key driver for economic growth and as such forms a specific target in many policy programmes for growth and development, such as the Europe 2020 strategy.

Since the seminal work of Gary S. Becker (starting from his 1960s papers) from an economic perspective, "the optimal level of education depends on the returns to education". Individuals invest in education if the life-time returns to education exceed the cost. These returns drive at least some of the differentials in education outcomes found across the countries. The CEPR study compares "the private returns to education across selected EU countries to explain cross-country differences in educational attainment."

The analysis is based on the 2008 panel data from the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC) which provides comparable micro data for the member states of the European Union. The authors "estimate separate augmented Mincer-type wage equations for Austria, Germany, Italy, Sweden and UK, countries which differ significantly regarding both their education system and labour market structure."

"While the Austrian and German educational system are broadly similar and differ significantly in terms of enrollment rates in higher education from the other countries considered here, labour market outcomes in the two countries are quite distinct. Whereas Austria's unemployment rate is persistently one of the lowest in the European Union, Germany has one of the highest rates. Italy also features a relatively low enrollment rate in tertiary education, but does not have the system of vocational training prevailing in Austria and Germany which is said to be an important factor contributing to the relatively low levels of youth unemployment in these two countries. While Sweden and the United Kingdom both have relatively high enrollment rates in higher education, its financing differs significantly between these two countries and they also differ markedly in terms of labour market outcomes."

Table below - reproduced from the paper - summarizes some of the difference in outcomes across various countries.

The study estimates returns to education by country and by gender. Across countries the study finds that:
  • The direct effect of education on wages is positive and significant for all countries.
  • Education has a negative effect on unemployment duration, with effect being the strongest in Germany, and lowest for Swedish men where it is not statistically significant.
  • The probability of an unemployment spell is lower by up to 23 percentages points, for those with 16 years of education (university level) relative to those with nine years of education (basic education). The highest decrease in probability of unemployment spell is observable for German and Austrian men, and the lowest for Swedish men and women.
  • Similarly, the unconditional expected length of the cumulated unemployment declines with education. "For German men the decrease in the expected unemployment duration is the highest with six months, and the lowest for Swedish women"
  • Wage decreases due to time spend in unemployment reduce hourly wages in Germany, Austria and Italy, so that "education has an indirect effect on wages in these countries."
  • "The returns to education are positive and significant for men. Comparing the gross returns to education across countries, the UK has on average the highest returns to education with an increase in the hourly wages by 9 percent with an additional year of education. Sweden has the lowest gross returns to education with 4 percent."
  • "The effect of the expected cumulated unemployment duration is negative, but not statistically significant for Sweden and the UK. Although the level of schooling has a significant effect on the cumulated unemployment duration in the UK, the expected cumulated unemployment duration itself has not a significant effect on wages. The indirect effect of education on wages through the channel of the cumulated unemployment duration is the highest for Germany."
  • Focusing on the net returns broadly confirms the above results for gross (pre-tax) returns. "A slight change occurs when comparing Austria and Germany. While Austria has slightly higher gross returns (7.2 percent compared to 7 percent), Germany has with 6 percent 0.2 percentage points higher net returns. Looking how the returns to education change when comparing gross and net hourly wages, the UK has, on average, the highest reduction, i.e. by roughly 2 percentage points. In Austria, Italy and Germany, the respective net returns are approx. one percentage point lower than the gross returns. Sweden shows the smallest change with 0.7 percentage points. Interpreting this difference between gross and net returns as the "social return to education", the UK benefits the most from a high level of education in the population."
  • "For women [data shows] significant positive returns to education as well. As for men, the cumulated unemployment duration is significant for Austria, Germany and Italy. The combined gross as well as the net returns to education is highest for UK and Austrian women with 9 percent (and 7 percent when considering the net returns). As for men, Swedish women are estimated to have the lowest returns with respect to education."
  • "Comparing the returns of education by gender across countries, [the study] finds that there are no significant gender differences in the UK. While the returns are slightly lower for women in Germany and Sweden than for their male, the opposite is true for Austria and Italy."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

24/09/2011: Anglo Bonds and National Accounts

Note: corrected figures below (hat tip to @ReynoldsJulia via twitter).

Per Nama Wine Lake blog - an unparalleled true public service site on Irish debacle called Nama and many matters economic and financial, Irish Government (err... aka ex-Anglo Irish Bank, aka Irish Bank Resolution Corporation*) is on track to repay USD $1bn (€725m) unsecured unguaranteed senior Anglo bond on 2nd November 2011.

The gutless, completely irrational absurdity of this action being apparent to pretty much anyone around the world obviously needs no backing by numbers, but in the spirit of our times, let's provide some illustrations.

According to the latest QNA, in current market prices terms, Irish GNP grew in H1 2011 by a whooping grand total 0f €307 mln from €64,337 mln in H1 2010 to €65,012 mln in H1 2011, when measured in real terms. This means that Anglo bondholders payout forthcoming in November will be equivalent of erasing 28 months and 10 days worth of our economic growth.

According to the CSO data on national earnings, released on September 8, 2011, Ireland's current average earnings across the economy stand at €687.24 per week, implying annualized average earnings of €35,736.48. Irish tax calculator from Delloite provides net after-tax (& USC) income on such earnings of €28,287.39 per annum. This means that Anglo bond payout in November is equivalent to employment cost of 25,630 individuals.

According to CSO's latest QNHS data, in April-June 2011 there were 304,500 unemployed individuals in Ireland. This means the jobs that Anglo bond payout could cover are equivalent to 8.42% of the current unemployment pool.

I am not suggesting for a minute that we should simply use the money to 'create' government jobs - anyone who reads this blog or my articles in the press etc would know I have no time for Government-sponsored jobs 'creation'. But, folks, the above numbers are startling. We are about to p***ss into the proverbial wind the amount of money that is enough to cover our entire economy's growth over 2 years, 4 months and 10 days! For what? To underwrite 'credibility' of the institution that is a so completely and comprehensively insolvent?

* Note 1 that Anglo still calls itself Anglo (until October 14th) and still insists it is a bank as the web page states clearly [emphasis mine] that: "As a Nationalised Bank since January 2009, the key objective of Anglo Irish Bank’s Board and new senior management team is to run the Bank in the public interest... The Bank continues to provide business lending, treasury and private banking services to our range of customers across all our locations."

Note 2:
The above, of course, assumes that €725mln exposure is hedged against currency fluctuations. If not, as Nama Wine Lake points out, the exposure rises to ca €740mln. The above figures therefore change to:
  • GNP growth equivalent of 2 years, 4 months and 28 days
  • Number of average earnings jobs of 26,160, plus one part-time job
  • 8.59% of currently unemployed

Friday, September 23, 2011

24/09/2011: Projected trends in economic growth for 2011

In the previous post I covered the current results for Q2 2011 QNA for Ireland. As promised, here, I will focus on forward-looking signals emerging from H1 2011 data.

Please note, though I do use the term 'forecast' below, the results shown here are really more projections than formal forecasts. The difference is very important. I use data through Q2 2011 to estimate what the economy performance is likely to be, assuming no change on the trends established in H1 2011. Of course, this is subject to significant risks (identified below).

Based on Q2 2011 (preliminary - and I stress this) data, chart below shows my forecast for 2011 growth:
Using simple forward forecast based on Q1 20003 - Q2 2011 data, we can now expect:
  • Agriculture, Forestry and Fishing sector real output to grow by ca 5.5-5.6% this year, well in excess of 2010 growth of 0.7%, lifting sector output closer to €3.2bn in 2011 or 3.2% ahead of 2007 (the peak year for GDP and GNP).
  • Industry, including construction, is expected to expand by 5.0-5.1% this year, slightly below 5.2% growth rate achieved in 2009. This will put sector output in real terms 2,9% ahead of the pre-crisis peak of 2007.
  • However, industry performance will come against continued double digit contraction in Building & Construction sub-sector, which is expected to shrink 17-18.5% in 2011, compounding an astonishing 30.1% decline in 2010. Bu the end of this year, the sub-sector output can be 61.3% below the level of pre-crisis peak year of 2007. Note, the peak for the sub-sector was back in 2004 and if things continue on trend, 2011 output will be a whooping 74% below that.
  • Distribution, transport & communications sector is likely to post another decline this year - shrinking by some 1.1-1.2% against a decline of 2% in 2010. Relative to economy's pre-crisis peak the sector is likely to be down 16.3% in 2011.
  • Public administration & defence sector will contract 2.4-2.5% in 2011, based on data through Q2 2011, compounding a 2.7% decline in 2010. The sector is likely to fall compounded 4.9% on 2007 and 9% on peak sector contribution in 2008.
  • Other services (including rents) - the sector accounting for 51% of our overall economic acitivity (GNP) is likely to post another contraction of -0.6-0.8% this year, compounding a 2.3% fall in 2010 and down 6.6% on 2007 peak.

Hence, GDP is expected to expand by 1.5-1.6% this year on the constant factor basis if we are to use the data from H1 2011, following 0.1% contraction in 2010. This will put our GDP somewhere around 5.6-5.7% below 2007 peak levels.

Taxes, net of subsidies are continuing to fall with 3.5-3.7% decline in 2010 now expected to be followed by 1.8% contraction in 2011. The end of 2011 taxes net of subsidies will likely come in at 32-33% below 2007 levels. This, of course, is driven by the twin forces of rising social welfare costs and continued presence of other substantial transfers, plus a reduced tax take.

With this, overall GDP (in constant market prices) can be expected to rise ca 1.1-1.3% in 2011, based on preliminary data through Q2 2011 (subject to revisions and also reflective of much more robust global economic conditions pre-July 2011 amplification of the crises). This will follow on a 0.4% decrease in 2010, leaving the gross real income 9% below 2007 levels.

Net factor income outflows to the rest of the world are likely to continue rising in 2011, growing 2.4-2.6% in 2011 (assuming amplified crisis conditions do not trigger signifcant withdrawals of retained profits), leaving factor outflows up 4.3% on 2007 levels.

With that, we can expect GNP to rise 0.8-1.0% in 2011, following on 0.3% growth in 2010 and national income will be 11.2% below 2007 peak levels.

Sectoral decomposition of national income by source, so far, stands at:
  • Agriculture, forestry and fishing - the flagship sector by subsidies received and attention paid to it (remember, RTE and Irish Times are so keen covering ploughing championships) - contribution to GNP will be a whooping 2.4% in 2011 a 'massive' jump on 2.3% in 2008 and 2009, but still below 2.8% average annual contribution in 2003-2005.
  • Industry (including Building & Construction) will be contributing 34.9% on GNP, up on 33.5% in 2010. If this materialises, 2011 will be the best year for Industry since 2003, which, incidentally, shows just how significant the growth in MNCs-led exports-oriented manufacturing was over recent years. As Building & Construction subsector contribution shrank from 9.9% at the peak in 2004 to 2.6% in 2011, manufacturing picked up the slack, pushing Industry overall contribution from 34.1% in 2004 to 34.9% - a swing of 8.1 percentage points.
  • Distribution, transport & communications sector contribution is currently running at 15.7%, behind 16.0% in 2010, and at the lowest levels since 2005.
  • Public administration and defence contribution to GNP is running at 4.2%, down from 4.4% in 2010, but still ahead of 3.9% in 2006 and 2007 and ahead of 4.0% annual average for 2003-2005. In 2003-2007 sector contribution average was also 4.0%, so our austerity so far is, in relative terms, seeing an increase in spending on public administration and defence as the share of the total economic pie. Now, these two functions are not front-line vital services, last time I checked, so you would expect a rational policy would be to shrink these sub-sectors at least at the speed of reduction in GNP. So far, this is not happening. Another alternative would be to reduce them at least at the rate of decline in taxes importance in the economy. This too is not happening, as shown below.
  • Other services are likely to contract in their importance in the economy in 2011 (to ca 51.1% of GNP) following a contraction from 53.5% in 2009 to 52.1% in 2010. Large share of these services are exportables, which highlights the fact that not all of our exporting activities are booming.
  • Taxes net of subsidies are likely to come in at 11.3% of GNP in 2011, down from 11.6% in 2010 and reaching the lowest level on the record since 2003. 2003-2007 average here is 14.5%, 2008-2010 average is 12.4%, so current state of taxes net of subsidies is worse than any recorded sub-period.
Again, to stress, one metric for sustainability of public spending would be to have public administration and defence spending contracting faster than the rate of contraction in taxes. And again, this is simply not happening. Since 2007 taxes have fallen from 15.0% of domestic economy to 11.3%. In the same period, public administration & defence contributions have increased from 3.9% to 4.2%.

Again, to stress, these 'forecasts' or rather 'projections' are based solely on preliminary figures for H1 2011. They are not strictly speaking forecasts, but rather annualized reflections of performance between January 2011 and June 2011. The risks to these are to the downside:
  • Decreasing rate of growth in the US and the euro area materialising since May-June 2011 is not reflected in the projections above
  • Signs of significant slowdown in broad leading economic indicators (PMIs, investment etc) are not reflected in the projections above, and
  • Preliminary data can see significant revisions in time - in Q1 2011, preliminary estimate for GNP decline was estimated at 4.3% and it was revised to 3.0% decline in the current release, so the swings can be quite significant.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

23/09/2011: QNA for Q2 2011: decent growth=welcome news

Second quarter national accounts were published today and came in with a surprise (in my case) on the upside across both GDP and GNP. Here are the details:

In terms of constant prices (real variables):
  • Irish Q2 GDP came in at €41,080mln - a rise of €829mln qoq or 2.1% - strong showing. Last time GDP stood at above €41bn was in Q4 2008. YOY real GDP is up €936mln or 2.3% - another strong figure. However, we are still €3.158bn below Q2 2007 levels (-7.1%). This is a benchmark to reach since it represents the pre-crisis peak.
  • GNP came in at €32.683bn in Q2 2011, up €354mln (+1.1%) qoq - growth, but anemic given previous quarter sharp fall-off. YOY GNP is also up 1.1% (+€368mln), but relative to Q2 2007 we are still down 11.7%.
Due to slower growth in GNP, the GNP/GDP gap has widened in Q2 2011 from 19.7% in Q1 to 20.4% in Q2. We are now at the largest gap point since Q1 2003. Importantly, the gap widening - due to higher outflows of profits expatriated by the MNCs - did not push GNP into negative growth this quarter. This reflects positive activity in non-exporting sectors. Income from the ROW - the category that captures profits expatriation - went from -€7.922bn in Q1 2011 to -€8.397bn in Q2 2011, reaching the highest level since Q1 2003.

Index of sectoral activity shows that:
  • Consumption activity declined from 98.5 in Q1 2011 to 97.8 in Q2 2011. Index of consumption activity stood at 100.2 in Q2 2010. Q2 2011 marks the second quarter of index falling below 100 (which marks Q1 2005 level of activity). Prior to the last two quarters, index never dipped below 100 in the series since Q1 2005. In constant prices, Consumption has dropped from Q1 2011 reading of €20.336bn to €20.19bn in Q2 2011. This reflects an 0.7% decline qoq and 2.4% drop yoy. Compared to Q2 2007 we are now spending €4.199bn less on Consumption (-10.7%).
  • Net Government Expenditure has dropped from €6.708bn in Q1 to €6.484bn in Q2 2011 (-3.3% qoq). Government spending is now 3.3% behind Q2 2010 and 10.7% below Q2 2007 levels. Notice that Government consumption decreases are now catching up with those in private consumption. To see this, consider index movements. Recall that in Q1 2005 the index stood at 100. Current index for Government expenditure reading is 104.3, down from 107.9 in Q1, but still above Q1 2005 levels.
  • Fixed capital formation improved slightly, in terms of index, rising from 46.5 in Q1 2011 to 46.7 in Q2 2011. However this is the fourth consecutive month that the index is below 50. In absolute terms, Gross fixed capital formation was €4.665bn in Q2 2011, up 0.4% on Q1 2011. Capital investment is, however, still 14.3% below the levels in Q2 2010 and a massive 51% below Q2 2007 levels. My recent research, presented last week at a conference in UCC shows that we are now close to failing to cover amortization and depreciation on existent stock of both private and public capital.
  • One of the largest positive contributions to growth in Q2 2011 came from the increases in the value of physical changes in stocks, which rose €760mln qoq and €782mln yoy.
  • Exports are booming - as we know, and imports rose much less dramatically than exports Q2 2011, so net trade grew, yielding a net positive contribution to GDP. Exports are now up 5.8% qoq against imports rising 3.4%, while yoy exports are up 4.9% against imports rising just 0.1%. This clearly suggests that we are not running 8%+ growth in exports and also shows that transfer pricing is one of the core drivers of our exports as inputs imports are not exactly dramatic. The 8% growth in exports is what underlies much of the DofF rosy projections for 2011 made back in the Budget 2011 (of course, since then DofF has revised its growth projections down to 0.8% annual rate for 2011 GDP).

I will post on detailed breakdown by sectors and annual forecasts for QNA series in my next post.

So to conclude & summarise: we have some good news here - both GDP and GNP expanded, against the backdrop of continued growth in MNCs profits outflows, implying that despite sluggish GNP growth, domestic activity (if only carried out by exporting sectors) is growing. These numbers are, of course, subject to significant uncertainty as preliminary data tends to be revised and sometimes substantially, while overall quarterly series tend to show high volatility. Lastly, there is an ongoing slowdown in all leading indicators for Q3 growth both domestically and internationally. And longer-term view is still bleak - with continued domestic and international crises, dead banking sector, prospect of state-sponsored duopoly in the banking sector in the foreseeable future, forthcoming increases in taxation and further cuts in investment, and importantly, the prospect of rising pressures post-crisis on the interest rates expectations.

Nonetheless, for our battered economy of the last 3 years, we can have a light smile tonight.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

21/09/2011: ESRB warns of contagion across euro area financial systems

The General Board of the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB) held its third regular meeting today on September 21st, and here are the highlights.

In terms of assessing the current situation, the ESRB stated that "since the previous ESRB General Board meeting on 22 June 2011, risks to the stability of the EU financial system have increased considerably. Key risks stem from potential further adverse feedback effects between sovereign risks, funding vulnerabilities within the EU banking sector, and a weakening of growth outlooks both at global and EU levels."

So what ESRB is saying here is that the crisis has completed full circle: if in 2008-2009 transmission of risks worked from insolvent banking sector to insolvent sovereigns and (technically always solvent) monetary authorities via liquidity supports & recapitalization schemes, since 2010 through today the risks have flown the other way - from insolvent sovereigns to insolvent banks via bust bond valuations. The only question that remains now, is where the vicious spiral swing next. In my view - at least in anti-taxpayer, anti-competition Europe it will force taxpayers to directly recapitalize the banks (see IMF's latest calls and the rumor that France is about to go this way) to protect incumbent banking license holders from bankruptcy, receiverships and competition from healthier and new banks.

"Over the last months, sovereign stress has moved from smaller economies to some of the larger EU countries. Signs of stress are evident in many European government bond markets, while the high volatility in equity markets indicates that tensions have spread across capital markets around the world. The situation has been aggravated by the progressive drying-up of bank term funding markets, and availability of US dollar funding to EU banks had also decreased significantly. In that context, central banks have decided on coordinated US dollar liquidity-providing operations with longer maturities."

Nothing new in the above, but it is nice to see an honest admission of the ongoing liquidity crisis. Now, recall that I have said on numerous occasions that bank runs start with a run on the bank by its funders. This is what we term a liquidity crunch - interbank markets freeze, banks bonds funding streams dry out. Only after that can the depositor run develop, usually starting with corporate depositors. Funny enough - the ESRB wouldn't say it out-loud, but in effect it already called in the above statement a bank run in funding markets. Worse, we also know - from the likes of Siemens transaction reported here ( ) - that to some extent (unknown) corporate deposits run might be taking place as well. Next?

"The high interconnectedness in the EU financial system has led to a rapidly rising risk of significant contagion. This threatens financial stability in the EU as a whole and adversely impacts the real economy in Europe and beyond."

So, per ESRB:
"Decisive and swift action is required from all authorities. In the immediate future this includes:
* implementing, fully and rapidly, the measures agreed upon at the 21 July meeting of the Heads of State or Government of the euro area;
* adopting sustainable fiscal policies and growth-enhancing structural measures so as to achieve or maintain credibility of sovereign signatures in global markets; and
* enhancing the coordination and consistency of communication.
Now, I am not a fan of July 21 decisions, primarily because they do not address the core issue of the crisis - too much debt in the system and too little growth. EFSF purchasing sovereign bonds and lending to insolvent states is not going to reduce the debt pile accumulated by European Governments. Nor will extending maturity and lowering interest rates on its loans help improve economic situation in PIIGS and beyond. So I would disagree with ESRB on the first bullet point.

Calling for adoption of sustainable fiscal policies and growth enhancing measures is like telling a person sinking in a bog to pull harder on his hair. Fiscal sustainability is not being delivered in any of the PIIGS so far, and there is absolutely no appetite for any Government in Europe to take properly drastic measures required to get their finances on sustainable path. Even the very definition of sustainability used by EU is a mad one (let alone not a single state actually adhered to it so far with exception of Finland). A deficit of 3% pa means that you get to 100% debt/GDP ratio in longer time than with a deficit of 5% pa. But you will still get there, folks. Debt to GDP ratio of 60% is only sustainable if, in the environment of 3% 10-year yields your economy expands by more than 1.8% pa (assuming no population growth and no amortization and depreciation under balanced budget). That has not happened in the euro zone in any single 10 year period since we have full data for its members.

Growth-enhancing measures adoption is another case of pure 'wishful' thinking. In most of the Euro area and indeed in the EU Commission, this usually means more subsidies and more state spending. In parts of Central and Eastern Europe it usually means promoting real private sector competition and investment. Of course, we know who weathered the storm best in the last two recessions. But, hey, ESRB wouldn't make a call as to what it means by this "adopting... growth-enhancing measures" despite the fact that much of "growth enhancements" unleashed on euro area economies in recent past is precisely what got us into the current sovereign debt mess in the first place.

As per its last bullet point, one starts to wonder if ESRB is going down the slippery line of 'rhetoric ahead of action'. What does "enhancing the coordination and consistency of communication" mean? All of the EU policymakers 'speaking with one voice'? Curtailing or otherwise minimizing dissent? Controlling information flows? What the hell, pardon my French here, does it really mean, folks?

On a beefy ending, ESRB prescribes that: "Supervisors should coordinate efforts to strengthen bank capital, including having recourse to backstop facilities, taking also into account the need for transparent and consistent valuation of sovereign exposures. If necessary, this could benefit from the possibility for the European Financial Stability Facility to lend to governments in order to recapitalise banks, including in non-programme countries."

I am sorry to say this, but if anyone reading this is going to vote in the Dail on the European Financial Stability Facility and Euro Area Loan Facility (Amendment) Bill 2011 you really have to understand this statement. In effect, ESRB here welcomes loading of the risks of insolvent banking systems - including in non-programme countries - into one single facility, the EFSF, which will have preventative powers to intervene in the markets to buy distressed debts of banks and sovereigns. In a sense, EFSF will become a super-dump - a motherload of super toxic financial refuse from both radioactively insolvent sovereigns and biochemically toxic banks. You wouldn't want THIS anywhere near your local constituency.

21/09/2011: Risk focus swings?

What gives, folks:

Tables below show the swing in risk assessments away from PIIGS to net contributors to the EFSF/EFSM/ESM alphabet soup concocted by the EU to powder over the gaping wounds left by the earlier stages of sovereign debt crisis. Why?

Absent long-term trend we can only speculate, but can it be the ever-widening liability being loaded on Finland, Austria and Netherlands under the current euro area 'burden-sharing' arrangements? Or are the markets re-assessing the prospects for the euro bonds?

21/09/2011: Ireland's External Trade for July 2011

Trade stats for Ireland for July are out today and as predicted, trade balance has shrunk somewhat off its historic high attained in June. Here are the details:
  • Seasonally adjusted exports fell 11.74% to €7,027.2mln in July down from €7,961.9mln in June. Year on year exports are down €763.4mln or 9.80%. Relative to July 2009 levels, exports are down €32.3mln or 0.46%.
  • To remind you, H1 2011 exports stood at robust €46,450.4mln well ahead (+6%) on €43,821.9mln in H1 2010 - a difference of €2,628.5mln.
  • Imports, seasonally-adjusted, increased in July to €3,876.6mln - a rise of 2.57% mom and 2.40% yoy. Compared to same month in 2009, imports are up 4.14%.
  • H1 2011 imports stood at €24,929.2mln up 8.44% on same period of 2010.
As the result, trade balance fell 24.67% mom to €3,150.5mln, with annual rate of decline standing at 21.34% and relative to same period in 2009, trade balance is down 5.59%. Much of this seems to be accounted for by a combination of an increase in imports from the Chemicals & Related Products and decreases in the same sector exports, although current release does not provide sectoral data breakdown for July (data is supplied with 1 month lag).
Terms of trade remained subdued at the lower end of export prices
Terms of trade in June were up to 78.2 (higher ratio of export prices to import prices) from 76.9 in May 2011, but year on year terms of trade are still down by 11.5% and relative to June 2009 terms of trade are now also lower by some 10.73%. as highlighted below:
Imports intensity of exports also fell - perhaps in part due to rebuilding of supply stocks (higher imports) in core exporting sectors, such as Chemicals:
Imports intensity of Irish exports (ratio of exports value to imports) now stands at 181.3% in July 2011, down from a record-breaking 210.7%. This reflects a normal pattern of supplies inventories exhaustion followed by subsequent rebuilding. Two interesting trend, however emerge from the above chart:
  • Overall imports intensity of Irish exports rose during the period of the current crisis due to two factors - the catastrophic collapse of consumer good imports and increased incentive to engage in transfer pricing for the MNCs
  • Imports intensity of our exports also became much more volatile in the current crisis, again due to removal of the stabilizing factor of domestic consumption imports and due to possible reduction in the willingness of the MNCs to hold longer stocks of inputs (possibly reflecting generally elevated uncertainty of global demand).

Again, as a reminder of previous robust performance, and to correct for embedded monthly volatility in the trade data, the figures for H1 2011 compared with H1 2010 show that:
  • Exports increased by 7% to €47,114mln
  • Exports of Medical and pharmaceutical products increased by 14% or €1,754mln
  • Exports of Organic chemicals rose by 13% or €1,194mln
  • Exports of Computer equipment fell by 7% or €142mln
  • Exports of Telecommunications and sound equipment decreased by 25% or €107mln
  • Exports to the USA increased by 14% or €1,337m while exports to Spain fell by 16% or €276mln
  • In the H1 2011, 23% of Ireland’s exports went to the USA, with Belgium (16% - as an enter-port) and Great Britain (13%) being the other dominant markets
  • Imports increased by 9% to €24,992mln
  • Imports of Petroleum increased by 24% or €496mln
  • Imports of Medical and pharmaceutical products rose 24% or €419mln
  • Exports of Organic chemicals increased by 26% or €279mln
  • Imports from Great Britain rose by 19% or €1,191mln and from Germany by 16% or €256mln
  • Over half (53%) of Ireland’s imports came from Great Britain, the USA and Germany in the first half of 2011
On the net, July figures can prove to be a temporary correction and should be taken less as a signal of real weakness, and more as a temporary downshift along the continuously rising trend line.

However, so far, January-July 2011 data suggests the annual rate of growth in imports of just under 8%, in exports of just over 3.6% and the trade surplus decline of just under 1%. P{ut differently, January-July cumulated imports now stand at €28.8bn against €26.77bn in the same period of 2010. Meanwhile, exports are at €53.48bn against €51.61bn. This means January-July 2011 trade surplus is running at a cumulative €24.67bn against same period 2010 trade surplus of €24.84bn. Sorry to say it, I am not seeing 6-8% trade expansion here, at least not for the first seven months of the year.

21/09/2011: Fed's QE3 and why it will fail

Markets catalysts for today (barring unexpected news from the euro area) will be the US Fed statement expected at 19.15. Following the FOMC two-day meeting consensus expectation is for the FED to announce new, but relatively modest - compared against QE1-2, easing measures labeled in the media Operation Twist.

These will attempt to boost consumer and corporate borrowing and spending, as well as ease longer-term debt constraint for the Feds and local authorities (states and municipalities). The Fed is likely to attempt flattening the longer-term yield curve in a hope that restarting borrowing will cut US elevated 9.1% unemployment rate.

To do this, the Fed will probably sell short-term debt (Treasuries) to buy out longer term debt - in effect the cost of borrowing will rise in the short run, while longer term financing costs will decline. Short-term consumer credit will take a hit, as will less liquid financial services providers. Operating capital for businesses is also likely to become more expensive. Just how exactly this is going to help US economy - anyone's guess, but it will provide some breathing space for the US Government, put pressure on the Republican opposition to debt ceiling hikes (pressing the argument forward that short-term financing is getting relatively more expensive) and will encourage banks to load up on maturity mismatch risk via incentivising shorter bonds loading).

Simultaneous selling of short term maturities and buying of longer term debt will in effect sterilize Fed intervention when it comes to its balance sheet, but it will also encourage cutting back the entire maturity profile of banks asset books.

The core problem, of course, is that these measures are likely to fail to deliver anything meaningful to the economy. The cause of stalled consumer and producer demand for credit is not the cost of financing - especially in the short run, since mortgage rates are currently at historically low levels. The real cause is the fact that the US is suffering from debt overhang.

Back in 1980, US Household, Corporate and Government debt as percentage of nominal GDP amounted to 151% - 3rd lowest in G7. By 1990 this rose to 200% - 4th lowest. With Bill Clinton's (or rather Republican Congress) heroic efforts to cut that, 2000 level of debt was 198% - the lowest in G7. In 2010, the US combined public and private non-financial debt was 268% - the second lowest in G7.

Meanwhile, household debt rose from 52% of GDP in 1980 to 95% of GDP in 2010. Thus US households have gone from being 4th most indebted in G7 back in 1980 to being second most indebted in 2010. In the mean time, corporate debt remained relatively low, compared to G7 states - rising from 53% in 1980 (3rd lowest) to 76% of GDP in 2010 (lowest in G7).

Public sector debt rose from 46% of GDP (3rd lowest in G7) in 1980 to 71% of GDP in 1990 (3rd highest in G7), declined to 58% of GDP in 2000 (second lowest) and rose to 97% of GDP in 2010 (3rd lowest in G7).

In a recent paper, presented at Jackson Hole, WY meeting this year, S. G. Cecchetti, M. S. Mohanty and F. Zampolli (paper titled "The real effects of debt") reported that thresholds for debt levels that are damaging to economic growth (under the baseline case that covers presence of the financial crisis) are:
  • 96% for Government debt to GDP ratio (US was already at 97% in 2010)
  • 73% for Corporate debt to GDP ratio (US was at 76% in 2010) and
  • 84% for Household debt to GDP ratio (US was at 95% in 2010)
Spot the problem, folks, for Ben clearly can't see it. (Hint: of all three debt heads, household debt is further out of trigger range).

Thus, the only meaningful stimulus the US Government can put forward is the set of measures to deliver meaningful reductions in household debt. About the only tool for that is a broad-based middle and upper-middle classes income tax cut.

Everything else, including Ben's financial re-engineering of the yield curve, is not much different from what the EU is doing with Greece. Kicking the can down the road is not the proverbial elephant the Fed is ignoring. The can itself - household debt - is.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

20/09/2011: EU banks losing corporate deposits & 'stress tests' scam

In a testament that the world continues to lose confidence in Euro area banking system, Europe's largest engineering firm, Siemens reportedly withdrew large amounts of deposits from the commercial banking system and deposited them with the ECB. The details of this transaction were reported in today's FT (link here) and other media outlets.

In the mean time, WSJ reported that documents distributed at the meeting of the euro area finance ministers in Wroclaw last weekend out to question the validity of the European banking stress tests carried out this summer.

Siemens withdrawal amounted, reportedly to €500 million and impacted "a large French bank", motivated by "concerns about the future financial health of the bank and partly to benefit from higher interest rates paid by the ECB". Again, per reports, Siemens now holds €4-6bn at the ECB, mostly in one-week deposits.

Siemens set up a banking arm almost a year ago to insure itself against adverse risks to liquidity flows in the context of the global financial crisis, enabling it "to tap the central bank for liquidity and deposit cash at the ECB"Siemens does not only use the ECB as a haven; it also gets paid a slightly higher interest rate than it would get from a commercial bank.

ECB, currently amidst sterilized bonds purchasing programme, uses deposit facilities to cut down on money supply increases created by it buying PIIGS bonds. To do this, ECB attracts deposits from commercial banks by offering 15bps margin on its deposits over 0.95% average interest rate for overnight deposits with euro are banks.

In effect, Siemens move kills two birds with one stone - the company achieves greater security of deposits (eliminating counter-party risks) and benefits from 0.15% spread on deposits - a nice sum amounting to €6-9mln per annum, which most likely covers its 'banking' operations costs.

In the severely distorted world of euro area banking, thus, smart corporates can have a decent free lunch, courtesy of ECB's continued insistence on protecting failed sovereigns and banks.

Per WSJ report (link here) EU banks stress tests carried out in July 2011 were based on archaic macroeconomic scenarios that did not cover the latest developments in sovereign credit markets. "The tests did not manage to restore market confidence,"reports WSJ based on the document discussed by finance ministers.

One specific macroeconomic assumption criticised relates to the scenario under which stress is applied to sovereign bond holdings of the banks - the core point of the entire exercise - "a scenario which was clearly taken over by events as months passed by."

So here we have it, folks, our ministers have now admitted what most of us knew all along - the stress tests in 2011 were as shambolic as those in 2010 despite being carried out under the watchful eye of EBA - the 'new' authority that is supposed to make the banks more transparent and better managed post-crisis.

I bet folks at Siemens Bank are glad they didn;t put much faith with euro area banks regulators...

20/09/2011: Wholesale Prices - more margins pressure

Wholesale Price Index for Ireland is out today - monthly series (note - these are highly volatile series in general) and the results are not too good for profit margins in Irish manufacturing.

Monthly factory gate prices declined 0.4% in August 2011 against an increase of 0.2% in August 2010, implying annual rate of contraction of 1.0%. In July 2011, annual rate of decrease stood at 0.4%.

Overall price index for manufacturing industries (NACE 10-33) stands at 97.2 in August 2011, down from 97.6 in July and 98.2 in August 2010. We are now in the third monthly decline in a row.

Stripping out effects of food, beverages & tobacco sector, manufacturing price index fell to 92.2 in August 2011, down from 92.5 in July and 94.2 in August 2010. Year on year index is now down 2.1% against annual decline of 1.5% in July.

In the month, the price index for export sales was down 0.5% while the index for
home sales (domestic sales) increased by 0.1%. In the year there was a decrease of 2.2% in the price index for export sales (this can be influenced by currency fluctuations, as CSO correctly points out). In July 2011 annual rate of decline was 1.6%. However, CSO fails to point out that deflation has been affecting severely our largest exporting sectors - pharma and ICT (see below on this). In August 2010, annualized rate of change in export prices was +0.2%.

There was an increase of 4.7% in respect of the price index for home sales (this can be influenced by state-controlled producers ripping-off domestic consumers, but hey, no mention of that in CSO release). In July 2011 there was a 4.9% increase yoy in same prices. And in fact, domestic sales prices have been rising every month since December 2009, implying increasing pressures on retail sector here and domestic consumers.

So the two-tier economy is well supported by price changes as well as production volumes: our exports are getting cheaper (last increases in exports prices yoy were recorded in January 2011), while our domestic sales are getting more expensive and fast. The last time changes in prices in domestic sector fell behind changes in prices (in same direction) in exports sectors was July 2010. And not a peep from either our policymakers or the CSO about these facts.

What CSO does highlight is that: "Contributing to the annual change were increases in Dairy products (+10.1%), Meat and meat products (+8.1%) and Other Manufacturing including Medical and Dental Instruments and Supplies (+3.2%), while there were decreases in Computer, electronic and optical products (-6.4%), Basic pharmaceutical products and pharmaceutical preparations (-3.6%) and Other food products including bread and confectionary (-1.1%)."
Now, recall that pharma accounts for 90% of our trade surplus. Basic pharma sector wholesale prices have now fallen to 87.4 in August 2011, down from 90.7 in August 2010 and from the local peak of 106 attained in November 2008.

CSO does report that "The price of Energy products increased by 3.3% in the year since August
2010, while Petroleum fuels increased by 9.1%. In August 2011, the monthly price index for Energy products decreased by 1.4%, while Petroleum fuels decreased by 3.7%." I would add that electricity remained unchanged at 115.2 year on year and most of price increases in this sector are due to Petrol and Autodiesel (both +9% yoy), Gas oil (+10.3%) and Fuel oil (+8.8%).

Year on year, the price of Capital Goods decreased by 5% in August, to 82.5 and it was down 4.3% in July. The index now stands at 82.5, down from 83 in July 2011 and 86.8 a year ago. Intermediate goods ex-energy price index rose 2% in August (yoy) against yoy rise of 2.7% in July. This index remain in the positive territory since November 2011.

Monday, September 19, 2011

19/09/2011: Highly Leveraged Banks' real impact on economy

An interesting paper from CEPR sheds some (largely theoretical) light on the real side of the current global financial crisis.

CEPR DP8576 titled "Financial-Friction Macroeconomics with Highly Leveraged Financial Institutions" by Sheung Kan Luk and David Vines (September 2011: available here) models the current crisis by adding "a highly-leveraged financial sector to the Ramsey model of economic growth". The paper shows that the presence of high leverage in financial sector "causes the economy to behave in a highly volatile manner" and thus exacerbate the macroeconomic effects of aggregate productivity shocks.

The model is based on the mainstream financial accelerator approach of Bernanke, Gertler and Gilchrist (BGG). The core BGG model assumes leveraged goods-producers are subjected to idiosyncratic productivity shocks, inducing them to borrow from a competitive financial sector.

Luk and Vines, by contrast, assume that "it is the financial institutions which are leveraged and subject to idiosyncratic productivity shocks." As the result of this, leveraged financial institutions "can only obtain their funds by paying an interest rate above the risk-free rate, and this risk premium is anti-cyclical [ in other words the premium is higher at the time of adverse productivity shock, i.e. during the recession], and so augments the effects of shocks."

Luk and Vines parameterise the model to US data under the assumption that "the leverage of the financial sector is two and a half times that of the goods-producers in the BGG model". The assumption is relatively robust for the current environment in the US. It is probably less robust in the case of the EU where financial sector leverage is likely to be higher in a number of countries due to:
  1. Traditional over-reliance on debt financing of the banking sector
  2. Lower rates of deleveraging in the banking sector than in the US, and
  3. Greater deposits attrition during the crisis.

The study finds that the presence of leveraged financial institutions "causes a much more significant augmentation of aggregate productivity shocks than that which is found in the [traditional] BGG model."

In the nutshell, this provides a plausible explanation as to the channels through which financial sector funding and operational strategy risks (leading to higher leverage) transmit through to real economy. It also links more directly monetary policy to the real economy as well. Ben, keep that printing press running... nothing can possibly go wrong with negative interest rates, mate.