Thursday, January 29, 2015

29/1/15: Where the Models Are Wanting: Banking Sector & Modern Investment Theory


My new post for Learn Signal blog covering the shortcomings of some core equity valuation models when it comes to banking sector stocks analysis is now available here: http://blog.learnsignal.com/?p=152.

Tune in next week to read the second part, covering networks impact on core valuation models validity.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

27/1/2015: Greek Debt: Non-Crisis Porkies Flying Around


There is an interesting sense of dramatic contradictions emerging when one considers on the one hand the outcome of the Greek elections, and on the other hand the statements from some EU finance ministers (for example see this: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2015-01-27/schaeuble-says-greece-needs-no-debt-cut-due-to-no-interest-phase.html). The basic contradiction is that one set of agents - the new Greek government and the Greek electorate - seem to be insisting on the urgency of a debt writedowns, while the other set of agents - majority of the European finance heads - seem to be insisting on the non-urgency of even discussing such.

What's going on?

Here is a neat summary of official (Government) debt redemptions coming up, by the holder of debt (source: @Schuldensuehner):


This clearly, as in daylight clear, shows 2015 as being a massive peak year for redemptions.

Note to the above: GLF debt reference covers GDP-linked bonds - see https://www.diw.de/documents/publikationen/73/diw_01.c.488644.de/diw_econ_bull_2014-09-5.pdf.

Alternative way of looking at the burden of debt is to compare debt dynamics and debt funding costs dynamics. Here these are for Greece, based on IMF data:


Take a look at the above blue line: in effect, this measures the cost of carrying Government debt. This cost did improve, significantly in 2012 and 2013, but has been once again rising in 2014. It is projected to continue to rise into 2019. So Greece can run all the primary surpluses the Troika can demand, the cost of servicing legacy debts is on the upward trend once again and Herr. Schaueble and his ilk are talking tripe.

Now, consider the red line in the chart above: in absolute terms, there is no reduction in Greek debt to-date compared to 2012. But do note the third argument advanced by Herr. Schaueble in the link above, the one that states that Greek debt reductions have exceeded those forecast under the programme. Did they? Chart below shows the reality to be quite different from that claim:


What the chart above shows is that 2015 projections for debt/GDP ratio (the latest being published in october 2014) range quite a bit across different years when forecast was made. Back in October 2010, the IMF predicted 2015 level of debt/GDP ratio to be 133.9%, this rocketed to 165.1% in October 2011 forecast, rose again to 174.0% forecast published in October 2012, declined to 168.6% in forecast published in October 2013 and rose once again in forecast published in October last year to 171% of GDP.  In other words, debt outlook for Greece for 2015 did not improve relative to 3 forecast years and improved only relative to one forecast year. Rather similar case applies to 016 projections and 2017 projections and 2018 projections. So where is that dramatic improvement in debt profile? Ah, nowhere to be seen.

And then again we keep hearing about the fabled end of contagion, 'thank God', that Herr. Schaeuble likes referencing. I wrote about this before, especially about the fact that risk liabilities have not gone away, but were shifted over the years from the shoulders of German banks to the shoulders of German taxpayers. But you don't have to take my word on this, here's a German view: http://www.cesifo-group.de/de/ifoHome/policy/Haftungspegel/Eurozone-countries-exposure.html#losses.

27/1/2015: Bankruptcy & Capitalism Are Not the Same as Religion & Hell


I have recently seen some economists offer the following explanation of the role of bankruptcy in the market economy: "Capitalism without bankruptcy is like catholicism without a concept of hell".

That is a fallacious view at best, and a dangerous basis for policy formation to boot.

It is fallacious for a number of reasons, relating to both philosophy and economics.

Firstly: Capitalism, unlike religion is an ethical, but not a moralist (imperative) system. Hence, a concept of eternal damnation simply does not apply, nor should apply, to capitalism. Nothing eternal (imperative) is relevant to capitalism, including the principle of permanently enshrined law. In fact, capitalism is a system that is based on change, including change applying to its core principles. Example: transition in property rights definition as it evolved under capitalism. Change is something that is impossible in a moral imperative systems: the Hell is the Hell and it will always be the Hell. In contrast, even the most basic foundations of capitalism evolve over time. Humanity used to have markets for slaves. We no longer do, for a good of the system. Capitalism used to define capital as physical 'stuff', it now includes 'intangibles'. And so on. This ability of capitalism to change - both continuously (evolutionary) and discontinuously (revolutionary) - preempts any possibility of an 'eternal' value concept, such as 'Hell', applying to it.

Secondly: Capitalism is based on utilitarian ethics. It is ok to alter private property rights (even with partial only compensation) under certain circumstances. It is ok to restrict some markets and transactions, when Pareto efficiency allows us. And so on... There can be no Pareto efficiency justification for a fundamental sin. Hence, bankruptcy in capitalism is not a form of punishment (damnation) a priori, but a system for resolving dilemma of un-recoverable liabilities. It is instrumental - a resolution system and a restart system. Hell is a permanent state, inescapable once entered into. And Hell exists solely for the purpose of punishment. It is not instrumental - it is absolute.

Thirdly: Bankruptcy is a manifestation of the process of creative destruction. Which is a dynamic process and also value-additive process. Hell is a system of a final state of being. There is neither a desirability for finality, nor transformative imperative to alter a being through bankruptcy.

In short, a statement of "Bankruptcy ~ Hell", while sounding remotely plausible, commits a basic fallacy of moralism: over-extending an imperative moral consideration to something that requires none.

So why do I take this statement to task?

Precisely because our system of bankruptcy is erroneously designed to follow that fallacious principle. We use bankruptcy not to resolve the problem of un-repayable liabilities in the first action, but to punish the person / entity that caused the problem. We make bankruptcy painful beyond the reason of simply maximising the recovery of losses in order to 'teach others a lesson' in a way that the threat of Hell is supposed to do.

As long as we keep following such a moralist view of bankruptcy, we will continue to unncessarily penalise entrepreneurship and risk-taking; we will continue to force unnecessarily high costs of failure on enterprises and people that undertake enterprise. In other words, we will continue to subsidise returns and rewards to statism to a life of secured complacency.

Capitalism without bankruptcy is a prison without an exit. It imprisons, wrongly, the innocents to rescue bankrupt enterprises (as in the case of banks rescues), or it imprisons too harshly those who take a risk and experience a failure (as in the case of some entrepreneurs trapped in, say, Nama). In both cases, absence of a utilitarian (not absolutist or moralist) bankruptcy destroys value - economic, social and personal.

Hell is the concept of an ultimate judgement and eternal punishment for moral sins, best left to God to apply, than economists.

Monday, January 26, 2015

26/1/2015: Markets v Greece: Too Cool for School... for now


There is much talk about the impact (or rather lack thereof) of Greek elections on the markets.

In fact, the euro continued to price in the effects of a much larger factor - the QE announcement by the ECB, the stock markets did the same. Only bonds and CDS markets reacted to the Greek elections, and even here the re-pricing of Greek risks was moderate so far (see chart below and the day summary for CDS - both courtesy of CMA).



The reason for this reaction is two-fold.

Firstly, Greece is a small blip on the overall radar map of Euro area's problems. Even in terms of Government debt. Here is the summary of the Government debt overhang levels (over and above 60% of debt/GDP benchmark) across the Euro area:


In simple terms, real problems for the euro, in terms of risk pricing, are in Italy, France and Spain.

Secondly, Greece is a political risk, not a financial risk to the Euro area. And it is a risk in so far, only, as yesterday's election increases the probability of a Grexit. But increasing probability of a Grexit does not mean that this increase is worth re-pricing. It is only worth worrying about if (1) increase in probability is significant enough, and (2) if elections changed the timing of the possible event, bringing it closer to today compared to previous markets expectations.

Now, here is the problem: neither (1) nor (2) have been materially changed by the Syriza victory last night. My comments to two publications yesterday and today, summarised below, explain.


Greek elections came as a watershed for both the markets analysts and the European elites, both of which expected a much weaker majority for the Syriza-led so-called 'extreme left' coalition. The final outcome of yesterday's vote, however, is far from certain, and this has been now fully realised by the markets participants.

The confrontation with the EU, ECB and the IMF, promised by Zyriza, is but one part of the dimension of the policy course that Greece will take from here on. Another part, less talked about today in the wake of the vote is accommodation.

Let me explain first why accommodation is a necessary condition for both sides in the conflict to proceed.

Greece is systemically important to the euro area, despite all claims by various European politicians to the contrary. Greece is carrying a huge burden of debt, accumulated, in part due to its own profligacy, in part due to the botched crisis resolution measures developed and deployed by the EU. It's debt is no longer held by the German, French and Italian banks, so much is true. German and French banks held some EUR27 billion worth of Greek Government debt at the end of 2010. This has now been reduced to less than EUR100 million. There is no direct contagion route from Greek official default to the euro area banking sector worth talking about. But Greek private sector debts still amount to roughly EUR10 billion in German and French banking systems (with more than EUR8 billion of this in German banks alone). Greek default will trigger defaults on these debts too, blowing pretty sizeable hole in the euro area banks.

However, lion's share of Greek public debt is now held in various European institutions. As the result, German taxpayers are on the hook for countless tens of billions in Greek liabilities via the likes of the EFSF and Eurosystem.

And then there is the reputational costs: letting Greece slip out into a default and out of the euro area will mark the beginning of an end for the euro, especially if, post-Grexit, Greece proves to be a success.

In short, one side of the equation - the Troika - has all the incentives to deal with Syriza.

One the other side, we can expect the fighting rhetoric of Syriza to be moderated as well. The reason for this is also simple: the EU-IMF-ECB Troika contains the Lender of Desperate Resort (the ECB) and the Lender of Last Resort (the IMF). Beyond these two, there is no funding available to Greece and Syriza elections promises make it painfully clear that it cannot entertain the possibility of a sharp exit from the euro, because such an exit would require the Government to run a full-blown budgetary surplus, not just a primary surplus. For anyone offering an end to austerity, this is a no-go territory.

So we can expect Syriza to present, in its first round of talks with the Troika, some proposals on dealing with the Greek debt overhang (currently this stands at around EUR 210 billion in excess debt over the 60% debt/GDP limit), backed by a list of reforms that the Syriza government can put forward in return for EU concessions on debt.

These reforms are the critical point to any future negotiations with the EU and the IMF. If Syriza can offer the EU deep institutional reforms, especially in the areas so far failed by the previous Government: improving the efficiency and accountability of the Greek public services, robust weeding out of political and financial corruption, and developing a functional system of tax collections, we are likely to see EU counter-offers on debt, including debt restructuring.

So far, Syriza has promised to respect the IMF loans and conditions. But its rhetoric about the end of Troika surveillance is not helping this cause of keeping the IMF calm - IMF too, like the ECB and the EU Commission, requires monitoring and surveillance of its programme countries. Syriza also promised to balance the budget, while simultaneously alleviating the negative effects of austerity. In simple, brutally financial terms, these sets of objectives are mutually exclusive.

With contradictory objectives in place, perhaps the only certainty coming on foot of the latest Greek elections is that political risks in Greece and the euro area have amplified once again and are unlikely to abate any time soon. Expect the Greek Crisis 4.0 to be rolling in any time in the next 6 months.

So in the nutshell, don't expect much of fireworks now - we all know two deadlines faced by Greece over the next month:

These are the markers for the markets to worry about and these are the timings that will start revealing to us more information about Syriza policy stance too. Until then, ride the wave of QE and sip that kool-aid lads... too cool to worry about that history lesson, for now...

26/1/2015: If not Liquidity, then Debt: ECB's QE competitive limping


I have written before, in the context of QE announcement by the ECB last week (see here: http://trueeconomics.blogspot.ie/2015/01/2312015-liquidity-fix-for-euro-what-for.html) that the real problem with the euro area monetary and economic aggregates has nothing to do with liquidity supply (the favourite excuse for doing all sorts of things that the ECB keeps throwing around), but rather with the debt overhang.

In plain, simple terms, there is too much debt on the books. Too much Government debt, too much private debt. The ECB cannot even begin directly addressing the unspoken crisis of the private debt. But it is certainly trying to 'extend-and-pretend' public and private debt away. This is what the fabled EUR1.14 trillion (or so) QE announcement is about: take debt surplus off the markets so more debt can be issued. More debt to add to already too much debt, therefore, is the only solution the ECB can devise.

While EUR1.14 trillion might sound impressive, in reality, once we abstract away from the fake problem of liquidity, is nothing to brag about. Take a look at the following chart:


Forget the question in red, for the moment, and take in the numbers. Remember that 60% debt/GDP ratio is the long-term 'sustainability' target set by the Fiscal Compact - in other words, the long-term debt overhang, in EU-own terminology, is the bit of debt above that bound. By latest IMF stats, there is, roughly EUR3.5 trillion of debt overhang across the euro area 18, just for Government debt alone. You can safely raise that figure by a factor of 3 to take into the account private sector debts.

Which puts the ECB QE into perspective: at the very best, when fully deployed, it will cover just 1/3rd of the public debt overhang alone (actually it won't do anything of the sorts, as it includes private and public debt purchases). Across the entire euro area economy (public and private debt combined) we are talking about the 'big bazooka' that aims to repackage and extend-and-pretend about 10-11% of the total debt overhang. Not write this off, not cancel, not burn... but shove into different holding cell and pretend it's gone, eased, resolved.

This realisation should thus bring us around to that red triangle and the existential question: What for? Between end of 2007 and start of 2015, the euro area has managed to hike its debt pile by some EUR3 trillion, after we control for GDP effects. Given that this debt expansion did not produce any real growth anywhere, one might ask a simple question: why would ECB QE produce the effect that is any different?

The answer, on a post card, to the EU Commission, please.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

25/1/2015: Russian Current Account Improved in 2014

I have remarked on a number of occasions just how rapidly Russian current account can adjust to an external shock. This time around, the adjustment is via decreasing imports to compensate for both - the ruble devaluation effects and the sanctions/counter-sanctions effects, as well as the traditional economic recession pressures.


Based on the preliminary data from the Central Bank of Russia, Russian exports of goods and services fell 19% in dollar terms in Q4 2014 and were down 12% in euros. Russian imports of goods and services fell at the same rate.

Full year 2014 preliminary estimates show exports down 6% and imports down 9% in both dollar and euro terms. In 2013, exports of goods and services run USD593 billion or 28.3% of GDP. In 2014 exports of goods and services slipped to USD560 billion, but stood at 29.4% of GDP (these are dollar-denominated GDP figures). Trade balance in goods stood at USD182 billion (8.7% of GDP) in 2013 and this rose to USD186 billion (9.7% of GDP) in 2014. Trade balance in services also improved, from a deficit of USD55 billion in 2013 (-2.8% of GDP) to a deficit of USD55 billion (-2.9% of GDP) in 2014.

While goods imports contracted 10% over full year 2014, in Q4 2014, goods exports fell a whooping 19% in USD terms. Q4 2014 imports of tourism services (travel by Russian residents abroad) fell 20% compered to Q4 2013.


On the Financial Account side, State accounts excluding the Central Bank were in a healthy surplus of USD30 billion for the full year 2014, up on USD 5 billion in 2013.

Private sector accounts, however, were abysmal. Total Private Sector financial accounts finished 2014 with a deficit of USD150 billion (-7.9% of GDP) which is far worse than USD62 billion (-3.0% of GDP) in 2013. The USD150 billion figures is what we usually attribute to capital flight from Russia. This figure consisted of USD50 billion of financial deficit in the banking sector (against USD7 billion deficit in 2013) and USD 100 billion deficit on ex-banks private sector accounts (against USD55 billion in 2013).

Good news is: fictitious transactions (basically a shell-game with company money involving foreign offshore holding firms) shrunk dramatically in 2014: falling from the net outflow of capital via such transactions of USD27 billion in 2013 to net outflow USD 9 billion in 2014.

Another interesting note: as noted by me on numerous occasions, part of capital outflows was down to aggressive dollarisation of the economy at the end of 2014, which saw build up of private sector forex cash deposits held in Russia. Based on CBR data, in 2013 such deposits shrunk by USD0.3 billion, while in 2014 they rose by USD34 billion (USD18 billion of that increase took place in Q4 2014 alone).


Overall, Russian current account surplus improved significantly in 2014 despite all the cash outflows and decline in exports. In 2013, Russian current account surplus stood at USD34 billion (1.6% of GDP), and in 2014 this increased to USD57 billion (3.0% of GDP), with USD11 billion of that accruing in Q4 2014 alone.

We can expect more dramatic declines in both, oil and gas revenues on exports side and imports of goods and services in 2015. One key parameter to look at is exports and imports of services. The reasons for this are simple, albeit not easy to gauge or forecast.

Firstly, significant share of Russian exports of services (and also some associated imports) is down to effectively Russian companies producing services using (in accounting and also contracting sense) off-shore affiliates. We might see some of this activity being on-shored in Russia, with resulting decrease in imports and a rise in exports.

Secondly, Russian enterprises and investors are likely to cut back on imports of key financial, ICT and business consultancy services as the Russian economy suffers from downward pressures on investment and growth.

1/215/2015: Swiss Out, Danes In: Pegs and Euro Mess


My comment from earlier this week on SNB and Denmark's Nationalbank pegs decisions (link to press article to be updated later):

There are two truths about currency pegs.

The first one is that no Central Bank is an island. In other words, all pegs are temporary in their duration and costly in their nature, while held.

The second one is that exiting a peg with underlying conditions similar to those when the peg was set in the first place can never be a smooth and risk-free decision. Disruptive nature of such an exit is only highlighted by the necessity of the peg in the first place.


Swiss CHF to Euro peg is emblematic of the above two facts. The peg, de facto maintained from the summer 2011 (but officially launched on September 6, 2011) at the height of the euro area crisis, was designed to remove pressures on the Swiss Franc arising from the rapid acceleration of capital inflows from the euro area to Switzerland. The resulting inflows pushed values of CHF well beyond the sustainable bounds, threatening to derail the Swiss economy, heavily dependent (especially in 2011) on exports.

The cost of the SNB peg to the Swiss economy was manageable, but accelerating in recent months. As part of the peg, SNB printed CHF to purchase surplus euros. Bought euros were accumulated on the SNB balance sheet. recent devaluation of the euro against the US dollar, and expected future devalutations of the euro (on foot of upcoming ECB QE measures) pushes down the real value of these forex reserves accumulated by the SNB. Exiting the peg simply realigned these values to actual currency fundamentals and crystallised the loss in one go, de facto partially sterilising the inflows.

Chart below illustrates accumulation of Forex reserves by SNB from the peg introduction on September 6, 2011.



The disruption caused by the SNB exiting the peg has been significant. Some 46 percent of all Polish mortgages have been issued in CHF. Hundreds of thousands of loans in other Eastern European countries were tied to CHF as well. The cost of funding these loans rose by between 15 and 20 percent overnight, causing some panicked reactions from some Eastern European Central Banks. Beyond this, home-felt impact of SNB move has been less pronounced in the short run. However. in the longer term, stronger Swiss Franc is going to put severe pressure on Swiss exports and will likely result in deterioration in the overall balance of payments. Swiss economy is still heavily reliant on Forex valuations to support its global trade. Current world trade conditions - with the likes of Baltic Dry Index at 753,000 close to crisis period lows, and IMF projections for ever lower rates of global trade growth in 2015-2016 - all signalling serious pressures on Swiss exporters.


Denmark's decision to introduce a Krone/Euro peg this week is likely to fare about as well as that of the Swiss decision in 2011. Just as the Swiss, Danish regulators also set negative deposit rates to further reduce pressure on Krone from Euro inflows. However, the pressure on the Krone is rising not due to the crisis-related capital flight (as was the case with Switzerland in 2011-2013), but due to currency hedging in anticipation of the ECB quantitative easing move expected to be announced this week.

Danish peg is critically different from the SNB previous attempt to peg CHF. The reason for this is that Krone has a long-term link to the Euro and in effect current peg is simply a form of repricing this link. And, unlike CHF (which accounts for roughly 5.2 percent of global currency trading volumes), Krone is a relative minnow in the forex markets (its share of the global currency trade is only 0.8 percent).

The two factors make Krone peg more credible and less costly to defend over the medium term. But none of these factors help to alleviate the problem of currency valuations for Danish exporters, who will see their markets for exports more contested now that the Krone is appreciating against the Euro.



The reserves dynamics preceding the Denmark's peg introduction and the SNB peg announcement in September 2011 are similar: both currencies have sustained heavy 'buy' pressures and both pressures were driven by the crises in the euro area. SNB introduced the peg at relatively benign levels of forex reserves accumulation back in 2011 which, at the time, were nonetheless consistent with crisis-period peak levels. Denmark's Nationalbank's peg introduction also takes place close to crisis period peak of reserves accumulation and the question to be asked is: how much pain on DKK can Denmark take in this environment. 

Saturday, January 24, 2015

24/1/2015: CB of Russia Recent Interventions


In 2014, Central Bank of Russia spent USD83 billion on currency interventions, against total draw down of USD124 billion in foreign reserves held. At the end of 2014, CBR’s foreign currency reserves, including gold, were USD386 billion, down from USD510 billion at the beginning of 2014. As of December figures, Russian foreign exchange reserves rank 6th largest in the world, providing a cover for more than 15 months of imports at current running rate.

In first half of January, CBR spend some USD2.2 billion on currency markets interventions, issued foreign exchange repos for the amount of USD8.3 billion, with most of this (USD5.4 billion) in 28- and 365-day maturities.

24/1/2015: ECB v Fed: Why Frankfurt's QE is a Damp Squib


A neat chart from Pictet showing balancesheet comparatives for ECB and the Fed.


Setting timing issues aside (which are non-trivial), the quantum of ECB balancesheet expansion planned is still too weak and it is too weak relative to previous peak. The Fed balancesheet expansion followed three stages:

  • Stage 1 in 2008-2009 was sharp and more significant than for ECB.
  • Stage 2 covered Q1 2009-Q2 2011
  • Stage 3 covered Q1 2013 through Q3 2014.
  • There were no major policy reversals, only moderation, over the entire QE period.
In contrast, ECB balancesheet expansions were weaker throughout the period, and were subject to a major reversal in Q1 2013 - Q3 2014 period.

In effect, even with this week's boisterous announcement, the ECB remains a major laggard in therms of monetary policy activism, compared to all other major Central Banks that faced comparable risks.

Now, to timing. ECB is a de facto your family doctor who routinely forgets to apply medicine in time and under-medicates the patient after the fact. Frankfurt slept through the Q1 2009-H1 2011 and went into a delirious denial stage in Q1 2013-H1 2014. The inaction during two key periods meant that nascent recovery of 2010 was killed off and 2013-2014 can be written off as lost years. The lags in policy reaction by the ECB are monumental: as the Fed ramped up monetary expansion in Q4 2012, the ECB will be presiding over a de facto monetary (balancesheet) stagnation, if not contraction, until March 2015. Which means that during the critical years of deleveraging - of banks and the real economy - debt reductions in the European economy were neither supported by the institutions (bankruptcy and insolvency resolution regimes), nor facilitated by the monetary policy. Instead, monetary policy simple delayed deleveraging by lowering the interest rates, without providing funding necessary for the writedowns. This is diametrically different to the US, where deleveraging was supported by both monetary policy and institutional set ups.

Meanwhile, Germans are now at loggerheads with the rest of Europe, whinging about the 'abandoned prudence' of the ECB. Best summary of why they are dead wrong is here: http://www.forexlive.com/blog/2015/01/23/eight-reasons-german-complaints-about-qe-and-the-eurozone-are-laughable/

The circus of the euro area pretence at economic (and other) policymaking rolls on. Next stop, as always, Greece...

Friday, January 23, 2015

23/1/2015: Davos 2*&%: I am not a fan... Why?


Narcissistic, self-obsessed, publicity equivalent of the Maybach Exelero and about as useful for its stated purposes too, Davos World Economic Forum is an media fest ritual that probably costs the world more trees (chopped for all the glossy publications it generates) than anything else on the global events calendar every year.

Corporates and their media love it. Journalists are awe struck by its trappings - from hotel rooms prices, to cost of basic meals, to who they bump into in the corridors. Big wigs of global business have to have it, because, apparently, they have trouble (with all their private jets and first class travel seats) meeting each other in real life in New York or London or Singapore, where they live. A handful of select, usually consensus-circling economists and pundits provide a backdrop of 'intellectualism' to the gathering. You can't tell sell-side from buy-side because it is all sell-side - sell your own image.

Yes, I am not a fan. And to explain why, let me give you this link via @CapX by @DanHannanMEP which explains the entire Davos event in its headline: http://www.capx.co/davos-is-a-corporatist-racket/.

H/T to @msgbi for highlighting the article.

23/1/2015: Russian Economy Growth Downgrades


On top of downgrades by the rating agencies, Russia also got downgraded by the host of international agencies - in terms of country growth prospects for 2015-2016. The IMF downgrade took 2015-2016 forecast for growth of 0.5% and 1.5% for 2015 and 2016 respectively published in October 2014 down to a contraction of -3.0% in 2015 and -1.0% in 2016. The Fund estimates 2014 GDP growth of 0.6% for the full year and Q4 2014 growth of zero percent compared to Q4 2013. Not bad for the economy going though a massive, multi-dimensional crisis. But a poor outlook for 2015-2016. IMF estimates are based on assumed oil price (full-year average weighted of 3 spot prices) at below USD60 but above USD55 (see http://blog-imfdirect.imf.org/2014/12/22/seven-questions-about-the-recent-oil-price-slump/), so closer to USD57.

The World Bank outlook, released on January 14th is a bit less gloomy when it comes to 2016. Per World Bank, "sustained low oil prices will weaken activity in exporting countries. For example, the Russian economy is projected to contract by 2.9 percent in 2015, getting barely back into positive territory in 2016 with growth expected at 0.1 percent." World Bank oil price assumption is USD66 per bbl.

EBRD notes that "Geopolitical risks from the Ukraine/Russia crisis remain significant, although they are contained for the time being." According to the bank, "Russia is projected to slip into recession, with GDP contracting by close to 5 per cent."  On more detailed assessment, EBRD says that: "In Russia, lower oil prices have compounded the effect of deep-seated structural problems, increased uncertainty and low investor confidence, along with the increasing impact of economic sanctions imposed since March 2014. In the first three quarters of 2014 investment continued to decline, consumption growth decelerated to below 1 per cent, and imports dropped by 6 per cent in real terms. Capital outflows more than doubled to an estimated US$ 151 billion in 2014. As a result, the rouble has lost almost half of its value in 2014 vis-à-vis the US dollar and Russia lost about a quarter of its international reserves, ending the year at around US$ 380 billion (including the less liquid National Welfare Fund). Markets were particularly shaken in late November/early December 2014, and the central bank had to raise its policy rate to 17 per cent to stem pressure on the currency. The government provided additional capital to a number of banks, temporarily relaxed certain prudential requirements for banks, and introduced measures to increase the supply on the foreign exchange markets by state-owned companies and put in place additional incentives for de-offshorisation."

An interesting footnote to the analysis is covering remittances from Russia. "Remittances from Russia to Central Asia and the EEC continued to decline (see Chart below). Partial data for the fourth quarter in 2014 suggest that the decline is likely to have accelerated in recent months, entering two-digit percentage rate territory, as the Russian economy weakened and the sharp drop in the value of the rouble reduced the US dollar (and also local currency) value of the remitted earnings. Lower remittances inflows will affect consumption adversely and likely add to downward pressures on a number of currencies in EEC and Central Asia, which also face reduced export demand and investment flows from Russia."


Crucially, EBRD forecasts also reflect downgrades on September 2014 outlook. EBRD now estimates 2014 growth to be at 0.4% (more gloomy than IMF estimate and down on 9.6% estimate at the end of Q3 2014), with a contraction of 4.8% in 2015, which represents a downgrade of 4.6 percentage points from September forecast. EBRD oil price assumption is around USD57-59 per bbl.

Chart below summarises unemployment trend 2013-2014:




23/1/2015: A Liquidity Fix for the Euro? What for?...


So Euro area needs liquidity... sovereign liquidity, right?

Take a look at the latest Eurostat data:


Even after all statistical 'methodology' re-jigging and re-juggling, Q1-Q3 2014 saw Government spending accounting for 49.5% of GDP and deficit averaged 2.43% of GDP. Meanwhile, debt/GDP ratio stood at 92.1% of GDP excluding inter-governmental loans (2.4% of GDP):


Yields on Government bonds are hitting all-time lows, including for 'rude health' exemplars such as Spain and Italy:

(credit @Schuldensuehner )

Clearly, liquidity is not  a problem for European sovereigns. But pumping in more liquidity into the euro system might just become a problem: the lower the yields go, the higher the debt climbs. With this, the lower will be the incentives for structural reforms, and the higher will be the debt overhang. All the while, without doing a ditch to repair the actual crisis causes: excessive legacy debts in the households' and corporates' systems.

Meanwhile, the press is lavishing praise on the ECB's Mario Draghi for... well I am not quite sure what is being praised: Mr Draghi is planning on doing in March 2015 what the Fed, BofE, and BoJ have been doing since (on average) 2009, albeit he is facing German (and others') opposition.

Being 6 years too-late into the game, Mr Draghi, therefore, is equivalent to a lazy and tardy student who finally showed up for the class after all other students have left, but bearing an elaborate excuse for not doing his homework.