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ECONOMICS – FINANCE – WORLD NEWS – GREEK DEBT

A new benchmark fixing scandal!!

Yesterday…

former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher died of a stroke at the age of 87. Despite her polarizing character, there seems to be a consensus of her importance to the role of the UK on the global stage, both economically and politically. Finally, she also remains Britain’s only female PM. Most used terms: ‘liberalization’, ‘relentless’, ‘unforgiving’, ‘open markets’. read article

In the US, we see the beginning of a new benchmark fixing scandal: interdealer broker ICAP and some unnamed banks have been subpoenaed by the CFTC yesterday for potentially fixing the interest rate swap benchmark ISDAFIX. read article

Asset manager BlackRock has hit back at the Fed’s QE program, saying it distorted the markets. This is quite a change in BlackRock’s stance, as the company was all over government debt before until it started to nudge investors into less interest rate-sensitive products. read article

Following the court ruling that restricted Portugal‘s austerity measures last week, the country could see delays for future funds and no revision of the repayment schedule. According to the FT:

The court ruling means Lisbon will not receive the next €2bn installment of its €78bn bailout until it has convinced international lenders that fresh cuts in spending on health, education and social security will be sufficient to compensate for the rejected measures.

This morning…

we got CPI data from China, showing lower inflation at 2.1%, with food price inflation down from 6% in February (i.e. the Lunar New Year is a ripoff) to 2.7%.

In the UK factory output rose by 0.8% in February, more than the median estimate of 0.4% as according to Bloomberg, while German exports slumped in February, just to see imports decline by more than double the rate at -3.8%. read article

So long.

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Fed stress test: why the world is better now than in 2008

Today’s headline story is the results of the Fed’s annual bank stress test – and how Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley would be torn to pieces in the unlikely event of a loss of cabin pressure. If unemployment was to soar to 12.1%, while both housing prices and the stock market collapsed by 20+% and 50+% respectively, Goldman alone would suffer a loss of up $20bn (which is by far not the biggest in the report…), while Morgan Stanley’s tier one capital ratio would be slashed to 5.7% (from 13.9%). That’s the story you’re fed on the front pages. Both these banks have passed the Fed’s stress test however. The official source itself seems much happier with the results:

Despite the large hypothetical declines, the aggregate post-stress capital ratio exceeds the actual aggregate tier 1 common ratio for the 18 firms of approximately 5.6 percent at the end of 2008, prior to government stress tests conducted in the midst of the financial crisis in early 2009.

Aha! Nothing to see here, move along. read full unbiased report 

In the US, it’s jobs Friday, with a projected 160,000 jobs added, up 3,000 from January’s rate. From WSJ:

The trend isn’t important necessarily to see where we’ve been, but to project where we might go – and especially for the markets, when the unemployment rate might fall to a level at which the Federal Reserve feels comfortable to start winding down its massive bond-buying programs.

In China, February exports increased almost 14% more than the median estimate by 21.8%, indicating stronger global demand. At the same time, imports fell to their lowest rate in 13 months, suggesting that no, China is indeed not done recovering.

Otherwise, there is a lot of analysis of yesterday’s central banking action, which left rates unchanged across the board. The consensus seems to be that it is not a question of economic recovery, but rather a question on waiting to see what happens without a new round of easing. Stay tuned for the summer.

Weekend reading
– meet Mr Jones, Dow Jones, of Alma, Arkansasread article

– European horse meat sales are upread article

– just as we thought we were past this: is financial risk rising again? read article

– management consulting for the Poperead article

Have a good one.

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Fixing Japan – a bucket list

Japan is all over the news today, trying to weaken its currency (or not), stimulate growth and create jobs. It’s ambitious, to say the least. But it’s also good news for Europe. After all, new PM Shinzo Abe is planning to weaken the Japanese yen by buying euro-denominated bonds from the ESM: to save Europe, the world and its currency. Unfortunately  the world moves faster than politics and while business executives had begged for a weaker currency, they now fret that the yen could fall too far. Abe also set a 2% inflation target alongside stability and prosperity for everyone, causing Japan’s pension funds, which hold the second largest pool of retirement assets in the world after the United States, to increase their gold holdings from JPY45bn to JPY100bn. And then there is this hint of an idea to eliminate the interest-rate floor for deposits at the Bank of Japan, something the ECB has done as well to try and incentivize lending. The final policy decisions will be announced at the Bank of Japan’s meeting on 21-22 January.

In the background, Eurozone unemployment has once again broken all records, while German and Finnish exports declined. Meanwhile, Spain announced that it would have to issue €215-230bn gross debt throughout the year, which is 7.5% more than accounted for in the November budget.

Norway’s Foreign Minister Mats Persson has called on the UK to reconsider its currently rather hostile relationship with the EU to save the City of London and influence European legislation. During a trip to Ireland, Persson pointed out that Norway, while swimming in oil money, only had very marginal influence in its status as a member of the EEA (European Economic Area). read article

Follwing yesterday’s mortgage crisis-related settlement charges, Bank of America has agreed to pay $11.6bn to state-backed Fannie Mae, the Federal National Mortgage Association, which was bailed out during the crisis. The settlement regards mortgage putbacks, those loans Fannie Mae wants BoA to buy back due to their questionable nature. read article

After the American SEC took the first step in fighting services providers in December, when it opened the investigation into potentially fraudulent behavior of the big auditing companies in China, Ernst&Young is now subject of an Washington-based inquiryAllegation say E&Y lobbied on behalf of its clientscompromising its independence in auditing said corporates. In 2004, E&Y was suspended from entertaining new client businesses with publicly traded companies for six months in response to violating independence rules. read article

So long.

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All talk, no results, but at least Glencore is happy.

If things continue like this, I’m going to start making news up. I hear it works for The Sun.

Japan’s exports to China fell by 12% in October, amounting to JPY948bn ($12bn) or the largest monthly trade deficit ever, in the hangover since the dispute about the East China Sea has re-arisen. read article

Meanwhile in the US, Ben Bernanke held a press conference reiterating every apocalyptic comment about the fiscal cliff and threatening recession in case of insufficient government action. Talks between the White House and Congress have kicked off this week, but it’s not going well so far.  read article

In Greek news, the Eurogroup of finance ministers failed to strike a deal on how to reduce Greece’ debt. After 11 hours of back and forth, the meeting was broken up, to be continued on Monday of next week. Allegedlya document was circulated at the meeting, now in the hands of Reuters, which proposed a haircut for official bondholders or a two-year extension for the 120% debt-to-GDP ratio. The former goes against Germany’s wishes, the latter against those of the IMF. Nothing is solved and tomorrow’s summit will be a disaster. read article

Twinkies and Wonder Bread parent company Hostess, which had struggled over the past couple of months,

will continue with the company’s liquidation, after it failed to find an agreement with the bakery workers union. Hostess had filed for bankruptcy in January, when the company had around $860m debt, and announced to close down operations on Tuesday. The private equity vultures are circling… (Hello, Sun Capital Partners.) read article

In other company’s news, the merger of Glencore and Xstrata has now been passed on to European antitrust authorities who are expected to approve the deal tomorrow, almost nine months after merger negotiations started. Besides the EU, China and South Africa also have to approve the proposed transaction, which would create the largest natural resource conglomerate in the world. read article

So long.

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US to be world’s #1 oil producer; Japan back in recession

The International Energy Agency, IEA, has announced that the US will overtake Saudi Arabia in terms of annual oil production as early as 2017. Older reports had seen Saudi Arabia up on top until at least 2035. According to the report, US daily output will amount to 11.1 million barrels, while Saudi Arabia will only achieve 10.6 million barrels. On the same terms, the US will surpass Russia by 2015. By 2035, when the report estimates the US production to fall and the Saudi production to rise again, 90% of Middle Eastern energy exports will go to Asiaread article read report

It is one thing if a natural disaster destroys a country’s growth prospects, it is another if it just happens. Japan’s Q3 GDP fell more than expectedslumping 3.5% instead of the expected 3.4% on an annualized basis. Back in recession, this is the worst performance of Japanese GDP since the 2011 earthquake and mostly attributed to poor export performance and declining consumer spending. The former, of course, is related to the crisis between Japan and ChinaChina’s exports, on the other hand, rose in October, adding to the positive trade balance. This could be Japan’s fifth recession over the past 15 years. read article

In post-election America, where corporate profits have hit lowest levels since 2009, and the politicized fiscal cliff issue is looming [and wasn’t there going to be a food crisis coming as well?], banks have been victorious. After a lot of back and forth, Wall Street’s lobbyists in Washington succeeded in postponing the implementation date of Basel III – indefinitely. The regulation that prescribes higher capital requirements was meant to come into action on January 1, 2013, but now the timeframe was deemed inappropriateJamie Dimon is dancing. To him, Basel III was “un-American” to begin with. In Germany, Basel III will indeed come into effect on New Year’s Day. The German Finance Ministry expects the US to phase Basel III into law over the course of 2013.

Greece beat budget targets for the first ten months of 2012! Now, that’s quite some news. The State Budget deficit totalled €12.3bn, instead of €13.6bn as targeted. Except.. well… this doesn’t include money spent (or lost) by government-owned enterprises. The full report the troika demands prior to the payment of the next bailout tranche, is also still in the making, while the €5bn debt repayment due date comes closer. Officials in Brussels have already announced that we shouldn’t hold our breath for a solution in today’s Eurogroup meetingIn sum:

…the endless Greek “will it be bailed out, won’t it” saga, which today enters yet another irrelevant phase with the latest Eurogroup summit where nothing is expected to be resolved (everyone is still waiting for the Troika report). The final outcome will likely be the much delayed funding of the €31.5bn tranche, but only after Germany pretends to kick and scream loudly and obstinantely, only to comply behind the scenes. After all remember: the Greek “bailout” is really just a bailout of Deutsche Bank.

I guess it is fair to say that some have finally and ultimately become disenchanted with the Greek crisis and will only use it to channel frustration over the rest of the ailing world economy. Fair enough, I’ve been doing that for months.

So long.

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Globalization, vertical integration and buying commodity firms

Japan is edging towards more QE, as the country’s exports fell most since the earthquake in March 2011. Most of it is attributed to the general performance of the global economy, but also the dispute with China, causing Chinese demand for Japanese goods to fall and factories to close. According to JP Morgan, the dispute will shrink Japan’s Q4 GDP by 0.8%. Besides, the strong yen, makes Japanese goods unattractive for importers. read article

Angela Merkel is getting a taste of her own medicine. She’s having an argument about austerity measures with David Cameron. After Cameron stated that the UK will veto any EU budget proposal that sees spending increases in any shape or form, Merkel, being efficient, sees no point in holding the November budget meetings. The German take on the EU budget is to cap spending at 1% of GDP, around €900bn, for the years to come. read article

In other EU news, tomorrow, the proposal that would impose a 40% female quota in boards of European companies will fail. A number of predominantly liberal politicians have stated to vote against the regulation, 11 out of 27, enough to make it fall through. In the background, the European Parliament is trying to fill a position on the board of the ECB. Prime candidate Yves Mersch seems to bring one major disadvantage: being maleread article

But there really seems to be just one theme today, and that is buying commodities businesses.

In the UK, four of the largest private equity houses in the world, KKR, CVC Capital Partners, Apax and Carlyle are allegedly looking into buying Urenco, a British government-backed provider of nuclear fuel solutions. Urenco was founded by the British, Dutch and German government in the 70s; today, it’s largest shareholders are the British state and two German utility companies.

In AustraliaArcher Daniels Midland, one of the largest processors and traders of agricultural products, has bought 14.5% of GrainCorp, a logistics and storage company that deals with a third of Australia’s wheat grain production, for $2.8bn. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, global agricultural output could grow by 50% until 2050.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is set to block the acquisition of Progress Energy Resources, Calgary-based owner of gas fields in British Columbia and Alberta, by Petronas of Malasia. The acquisition would be valued at $5.3bn.

And finally, BP sold 12.84% of TNK-BP for $27bn to Rosneft, i.e. the Russian government.

It’s a trend. Clearly.

So long.

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