Monday, 25 March 2013 07:54

Cyprus seals Bailout deal

Cyprus has clinched a last-ditch deal with international lenders to shut down its second largest bank and inflict heavy losses on uninsured depositors, including wealthy Russians, in return for a €10 billion ($12.4 billion) bailout.

The agreement came hours before a deadline to avert a collapse of the banking system in fraught negotiations between President Nicos Anastasiades and heads of the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

Swiftly endorsed by euro zone finance ministers, the plan will spare the east Mediterranean island a financial meltdown by winding down Popular Bank of Cyprus, also known as Laiki, and shifting deposits below €100,000 to the Bank of Cyprus to create a ”good bank”.

Deposits above €100,000 in both banks, which are not guaranteed under EU law, will be frozen and used to resolve Laiki’s debts and recapitalise Bank of Cyprus through a deposit/equity conversion.

The raid on uninsured Laiki depositors is expected to raise €4.2 billion, Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijssebloem said.

Laiki will effectively be shuttered, with thousands of job losses. Officials said senior bondholders in Laiki would be wiped out and those in Bank of Cyprus would have to make a contribution.

An EU spokesman said no across-the-board levy or tax would be imposed on deposits in Cypriot banks, although the hit on large account holders in the two biggest banks is likely to be far greater than initially planned. A first attempt at a deal last week collapsed when the Cypriot Parliament rejected a proposed levy on all deposits.

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said lawmakers would not need to vote on the new scheme, since they had already enacted a law setting procedures for bank resolution.

“It can’t be done without a bail-in in both banks . . . This is bitter for Cyprus but we now have the result that the [German] government always stood up for,” Mr Schaeuble told reporters, saying he was sure the German Parliament would approve.

Conservative leader Mr Anastasiades, barely a month in office and wrestling with Cyprus’s worst crisis since a 1974 invasion by Turkish forces split the island in two, was forced to back down on his efforts to shield big account holders.

Diplomats said the President had fought hard to preserve the country’s business model as an offshore financial centre drawing huge sums from wealthy Russians and Britons but had lost.

The EU and IMF required that Cyprus raise €5.8 billion from its banking sector towards its own financial rescue in return for €10 billion in international loans. The head of the EU rescue fund said Cyprus should receive the first emergency funds in May.

With banks closed for the last week, the Central Bank of Cyprus imposed a €100 per day limit on withdrawals from cash machines at the two biggest banks to avert a run.

French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici rejected charges that the EU had brought Cypriots to their knees, saying it was the island’s offshore business model that had failed.

“To all those who say that we are strangling an entire people . . . Cyprus is a casino economy that was on the brink of bankruptcy,” he said.

Analysts had said failure to clinch a deal could cause a financial market selloff, but some said the island’s small size – it accounts for just 0.2 per cent of the euro zone’s economic output – meant contagion would be limited.

The abandoned plan for a levy on bank deposits had unsettled investors since it represented an unprecedented step in Europe’s handling of a debt crisis that has spread from Greece, to Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Cyprus’s banking sector, with assets eight times the size of its economy, has been crippled by exposure to Greece, where private bondholders suffered a 75 per cent “haircut” last year.

Without a deal by the end of Monday, the ECB said it would have cut off emergency funds to the banks, spelling certain collapse and potentially pushing the country out of the euro.

Given that Cyprus's GDP is less than a quarter of the market capitalisation of the CBA, plus the fact that most of Cyprus's bank deposits were not widely held by foreign banks, it is difficult to see this situation contaminating global financial markets.

This material has been provided for general information purposes and must not be construed as investment advice. This material has been prepared without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any particular person. Investors should consider obtaining professional investment advice tailored to their specific circumstances prior to making any investment decisions and should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement.

Published in Debt Crisis
Wednesday, 19 September 2012 03:01

Positive Developments In The Euro Debt Crisis

There have been some very positive developments with respect to the Euro Debt Crisis over the past few months that many would argue is potentially the turning point of the crisis.

View 3 1/2 minute video by Mark Draper explaining some positive developments in Europe

Brandenburg Gate Berlin

In summary these developments are:

  1. The European Stability Mechanism, which has funds of EUR 500bn, will be available for operation in the second half of 2012.  This fund was the subject of a legal challenge to the German High court on constitutional grounds and this challenge was dismissed yesterday.  The purpose of this fund is for recapitalising European Banks as well as funds to purchase Government Bonds in countries such as Italy and Spain in order to keep borrowing rates affordable for those countries.
  1. The European Central Bank (ECB) has announced a program that will allow the ECB to purchase an unlimited amount of Government Bonds in the market for countries that seek assistance and accept strict conditions about aspects of their budgets.  The purpose of this is to guarantee access to funding for European Governments at affordable rates.  We have long argued that Spain and Italy are solvent countries, providing their borrowing costs do not become excessive.  This announcement is critical in keeping interest rates low and has seen borrowing costs for Italy and Spain come down significantly as can be seen below:
Spanish 3 Year Govt Bond Rate Spanish 10 Year Govt Bond Rate Italian 5 year Govt Bond Rate Italian 10 year Govt Bond Rate
Borrowing rate as at November 2011

6.25%

7.6%

(as of July 2012)

7.5%

7.2%

Borrowing rate now

4.4%

5.6%

3.7%

4.95%

  1. We continue to believe that there is very little risk of a financial meltdown resulting from the Euro Debt Crisis or Financial Armageddon.

The Head of the European Central Bank recently went on record as saying “We will do whatever it takes to keep the Euro together, and believe me this will be enough”.  He has backed up this rhetoric with the announcement to purchase an unlimited amount of European Government bonds for countries that request assistance.

Does this mean that this is the end of the crisis?  Unfortunately not, however, we see these developments as very important building blocks that should stabilise the Eurozone and allow the Governments to carry out the necessary reforms to put their economies on a sustainable path.  These reforms include tax, welfare, spending and labour market reforms.

In addition to these the other steps that the leadership of the European Union will need to take is to formulate plans for a Banking Union, and a closer Political union, which would result in individual countries surrendering some degree of control over their budgets in exchange for access to funding at cheaper rates and other economic benefits.

Currently the European Union is a currency union, arguably put together for political reasons, now they must bring together other aspects of their economies.  This is not something that can be done quickly given the political pressures.  The ECB however appear to have provided the necessary time for the politicians to get on with the job as the ECB alone can not resolve this crisis.  This is where we see the main risk – with politicians and potential for the balance of power to shift over time.

The other main source of risk would seem to be with the very high levels of unemployment in countries such as Spain where overall unemployment is around 25% and youth unemployment is around 50%.  This has potential to create social unrest which is difficult to predict.

Overall, we believe that the most recent steps are very positive moves forward that can provide the building blocks for the Euro Debt Crisis to be brought under control and financial markets have welcomed these moves in the form of lower borrowing costs for Italy and Spain.

There is an excellent video we produced earlier this year called “Fire Wall for the European Debt Crisis” that discusses the firewalls that have been created to ensure European Governments continue to have access to funding at affordable rates.  This can be found by clicking the YouTube icon on our website at http://www.gemcapital.com.au and is well worth viewing.  It runs for 6 minutes.

We trust you find this update useful and helps you put into context some of the information you are hearing in the media.

 

This material has been provided for general information purposes and must not be construed as investment advice. This material has been prepared without taking into account the investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs of any particular person. Investors should consider obtaining professional investment advice tailored to their specific circumstances prior to making any investment decisions and should read the relevant Product Disclosure Statement.

Published in Investment Advice
Thursday, 14 June 2012 01:26

Global Investment Update May/June 2012

Please click on the link below to view an informative video presentation from Hamish Douglass (Magellan Financial Group CEO) that discusses the uncertainties facing the global economy including Greece, Spain, Portugal, United States and China.

Spain Bailout

 Click here for Global Investment Update with Hamish Douglass

The key points from this update are as follows:

  • A spectacular Greek exit from the Euro is very unlikely irrespective of which party wins the June 17th 2012 election.  Greece deciding to leave the Euro now is best described as “suicide”.  If polls can be believed, 80% of Greeks wish to remain in the Euro.
  • Financial issues within Europe are well understood by the authorities including the European Central Bank (ECB) which has made substantial moves already to deal with liquidity in the European Banking system.  This sends a signal that the ECB will not idly sit and let the European financial system fail.
  • Spanish Banks require additional capital to restore their balance sheets following a property market bubble, possibly as high as EUR 100 billion.  The European Stability Mechanism (ESM) is to commence operating in July 2012 and has EUR 500 billion at its disposal and in Hamish’s view, if required could be used to recapitalise Spanish Banks.  The French are suggesting methods to increase the ESM financial firepower.
  • Low probability that the Spanish Banking system will cause a financial meltdown.
  • ECB is in a position to provide assistance to keep borrowing rates affordable for Spain to ensure that Spain does not become insolvent.
  • A gradual United States recovery is underway, and on a 3 year view, US housing will lead a sharp recovery in the US economy.
  • Chinese economy on track for a “soft landing” (meaning that Chinese economy unlikely to fall off a cliff) and is likely to slowdown gradually.
  • Volatility in financial markets is likely to be a feature of the landscape for months to come.
Published in Investment Advice
Wednesday, 30 May 2012 03:40

Update on Debt Crisis in Europe

There has been increasing sharemarket volatility in recent weeks following the inconclusive election results in Greece.

What will happen next?
We believe that policymakers in Europe will be keenly aware of the lessons learnt from the financial crisis of 2008. Because of this, we do not necessarily believe that a disorderly Greek exit is a foregone conclusion.

Elections in Europe demonstrate that budget cuts or austerity will only ever be plausible so long as they have the support of the public. Voters in France, Italy and Greece have all unequivocally rejected the austerity at all costs approach so far in managing the crisis.

The French election has shifted the pendulum towards the possibility of a more lasting solution to the crisis - one that balances long-term structural reform, pro-growth policies and balanced budgets.

Greek exit not a foregone conclusion
While the last election in Greece saw voters resoundingly reject austerity, they equally rejected an exit from the Euro. A disorderly exit may be prevented by political will and the need to contain adverse outcomes for Europe and the rest of the world.

And, make no mistake, policymakers in the US and Asia will be tapping the shoulders of their European counterparts for an immediate and lasting solution. This may see Europe agreeing to fund Greece or a preplanned, orderly exit from the Euro.

What is the impact of the European crisis to the rest of the world?
The relative importance of Europe to Australia is small and declining – less than 10% of our exports go to the region. Asia is much more important and this dominance will only grow on record amounts of investment in the energy and resource sector.

The impact on China is also expected to be manageable. While Europe is China’s biggest customer for its exports, the recent slowdown in China has been driven primarily by higher interest rates to curb uncomfortably high inflation.

The US recovery is also continuing, and for Europe, Greece represents less than 3% of the European economy, implying that the crisis can be managed.

Given the potential escalation to Italy and Spain there is a common interest amongst all to put brinksmanship aside and implement a workable and lasting solution.

Interest rates and the AUD - twin support measures for Australia
If the European situation were to deteriorate Australian policymakers can rely on lower interest rates and a depreciating currency.

The RBA recently cut rates by 50 basis points, which is expected to support the non-resource economy, including retail sales and housing.

The Australian dollar will also track European concerns but the pace of depreciation has so far been much less than during the financial crisis in 2008.

The Federal Government also has scope to provide stimulus to the economy should there be a need to do so.

Things to consider
In periods of uncertainty many turn to cash or other strategies perceived to be safe. It is during these periods that investors all too often make decisions that are contrary to their long-term objectives.

While equity markets may well fall if Greece were to exit the Euro, it is important to also recognise that the global economy is still growing and global companies are making profits, paying back their debt and providing dividends to investors.

At the same time, the return on cash investments will decline on interest rate cuts. Bond markets look fully valued with yields near, or at, record lows for many developed economies.

During uncertain times long-term opportunities are most likely to emerge while equity markets remain below long-term valuations and policymakers may surprise markets, which could lead to a sharp turnaround in the price of equities.

Remember that frequent and undisciplined changes to your portfolio may lead to poor results. History has shown that missing just a few of the best months in equity markets may substantially reduce your overall return.

Note: Advice contained in this article is general in nature and does not consider your personal situation or needs. Please do not act on this advice until its appropriateness has been determined by a qualified adviser.  While the taxation implications of this strategy have been considered, we are not, nor do we purport to be registered tax agents. We strongly recommend you seek detailed tax advice from an appropriately qualified tax agent before proceeding.  The information provided is current as at May 2012.

Published in Australian Economy
Friday, 27 January 2012 02:47

Global Economy - A Little Less Scary

Introduction

The past few weeks have been interesting. Sovereign rating downgrades in Europe have intensified. The World Bank and now the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have slashed their growth forecasts for this year and warned of the risk of a global downturn worse than that associated with the global financial crisis. Yet share markets and other  risk trades  have almost said “ho-hum”. So what’s going on? Our take is the markets are telling us that a lot of the bad news has already been factored in. The ratings downgrades were flagged back in early December and the World Bank/IMF growth forecasts downgrades have only just caught up to private sector economists.1

This is not to say we are out of the woods, or that volatility will disappear. But it does seem the risk of a global financial meltdown has receded  somewhat and that the global economic  recovery appears to be continuing.

Europe – reduced risk of a financial blow-up Europe is on track for a mild recession  but the risk of a financial blow-up resulting in a deep recession  seems  to have receded  a bit. The provision of cheap US dollar funding by the US Federal Reserve and very cheap euro funding for three years by the ECB under  its long-term refinancing operations appears to have substantially reduced the risk of a liquidity crisis causing banking  collapses. It has also reduced pressure  on European banks to sell bonds in troubled countries.

We would have preferred the ECB to have directly stepped up its buying of bonds in troubled countries, but its back door approach has nevertheless seen a sharp expansion in the ECB’s balance sheet. In other  words, it appears to have embarked on quantitative easing, albeit it wouldn’t admit  it.

Reflecting this, bond yields in Spain, Italy and France and spreads to Germany – which were surging towards the end last year – have settled down. Similarly, European  bank stock prices appear to have stabilised.

This is not to say Europe is no longer a source of risk. It still is – it’s doubtful that even with the proposed debt restructuring Greece’s public debt is on a sustainable path, fiscal austerity is still bearing  down on growth across Europe, more ratings downgrades are likely and monetary conditions are still too tight. But the risk of a meltdown appears to have receded. What’s more European business conditions indicators have picked up in the last two months.

In November, we referred to three scenarios  for Europe:

1.  Muddle through – i.e. a continuation of the last few years of occasional  crises temporarily settled by last minute bare minimum policy responses.

2.  Blow up – in which a financial crisis and deep recession  see a break-up of the euro.

3.  Aggressive ECB monetisation – with quantitative easing  heading off economic calamity, albeit not quickly enough to prevent a mild recession.

Recent action by the ECB appears to have reduced the chance of the ‘Blow up’ scenario (probably to around 25%). The costs of leaving the euro for countries like Greece (which would include a likely banking  crisis as Greek citizens rushed to secure their current bank deposits,  which are all in euros, and default on its public debt anyway) still exceed the likely benefits, so it still looks like the euro will hang together. Overall, the most likely scenario  appears to be some combination of ‘Muddle through’ but with more aggressive ECB action preventing it from spiralling into a ‘Blow up’.

 

The US – no double dip (again)

During the September quarter a big concern was that the US economy would ‘double dip’ back into recession. This, along with escalating worries about Europe and the loss of America’s AAA sovereign rating, combined to produce sharp falls in share markets.  Since then, US economic data has turned around and surprised on the upside:

>   Retail sales growth has hung in around 7% year-on-year despite a sharp fall in consumer confidence

>   Jobs growth has picked up

>   Housing-related indicators have stabilised and in some cases started to improve, and

>   Gross domestic product (GDP) growth has picked up pace again after a mid-year softening.

Earlier concerns about a 1.5% to 2% of GDP fiscal contraction in 2012 dragging growth down have faded as Congress has agreed to extend payroll tax cuts and expanded unemployment benefits for another two months, with a good chance they will be extended for the full year.

More fundamentally, the US appears to be starting to enjoy somewhat of a manufacturing renaissance (in stark contrast to Australia!).  there are numberous anecdotes of global companies moving manufacturning to the US including Electrolux, Siemens, Maserati and Honda (which chose to build a new ‘super car’ in Ohio rather than in Japan). Furthermore, General Motors is now the world’s top selling car maker again. Could a decade-long fall in the US dollar and very strong productivity growth be sowing the seeds of a long-term turnaround in America’s fortunes?

 

China – so far so good

Chinese economic growth has slowed to 8.9%, but there is no sign of a hard landing. Export growth has slowed sharply but so too has import growth and in any case net exports have not been a contributor to growth in recent years. Moreover, retail sales growth has held up well and fixed asset investment has slowed only slightly.

Furthermore, falling inflation (from 6.5% in July to 4.1% in December) and a cooling property market, evident by falling prices in 52 of 70 major cities in December, and falls in sales and dwelling starts  provide authorities with the ability to ease the economic policy brakes. And there is plenty of scope to ease.   Large banks are currently required to keep a record high 21% of their assets in reserve, the key one-year lending rate is at 6.6%, the budget deficit was just 1.1% of GDP last year and net public debt is around zero once foreign exchange reserves of US$3 trillion and other assets are allowed for.

After doubling between October 2008 and August 2009 on global financial crisis related stimulus and a growth recovery, Chinese shares fell 38% to the low early this month as investors feared tightening policy would result in a hard landing.  With Chinese price to earnings multiples having fallen back to bear market lows and policy starting to ease again, decent gains are in prospect over the next few years.

 

Global growth

The next chart highlights the improvement recently in global economic indicators. Manufacturing conditions in most  major countries were in decline into the September quarter, but in recent months have either stabilised or started to improve.

What does this mean for investors?

None of this is to say it will be smooth sailing going forward. Europe’s problems are a long way from being solved, uncertainty remains regarding fiscal policy in the US, Chinese authorities will need to ease soon to ensure a soft landing and the Reserve Bank in Australia also needs to cut more. On top of this, after a solid start to the year shares are getting a bit short-term overbought, some short- term sentiment measures are a bit elevated and the hot and cold pattern of US data releases warns we may soon see a cold patch. So shares are vulnerable to a short-term setback (with February often a soft month in contrast to the seasonal strength seen in January).

However the improved global economic outlook and reduced tail risks regarding Europe suggests 2012 should be a better year for shares and other risk assets.  This is also supported by the fact that shares are starting the year well below year ago levels.

Signposts investors should watch  include: the size of any share market  setback  in the seasonally weak month of February; bond yields in Italy, Spain and France; the US ISM manufacturing conditions index; and Chinese money supply growth.

Dr Shane Oliver, Head of Investment Strategy and Chief Economist

AMP Capital Investors

 

 

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT/QUESTION BELOW

 

1 Our global growth forecast for 2012 is 3%, which compares to the IMF’s new forecast of 3.25% and the World Bank’s new forecast of 3.4% (if purchasing power parity weights are used to combine  countries).

 

Note: Advice contained in this articler is general in nature and does not consider your personal situation or needs. Please do not act on this advice until its appropriateness has been determined by a qualified adviser.  While the taxation implications of this strategy have been considered, we are not, nor do we purport to be registered tax agents. We strongly recommend you seek detailed tax advice from an appropriately qualified tax agent before proceeding.  The information provided is current as at January 2012.

 

 

 

 

Published in Australian Economy
Thursday, 13 October 2011 07:22

Euro Debt Crisis - 13th October 2011

Published in Debt Crisis