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China slows, Greece set to grow again

Over the weekend…
Venezuela has elected a new President, after re-elected Hugo Chavez died in early March after long illness. Nicolas Maduro is the man Chavez singled out as a worthy candidate himself, and the election result may have been driven my emotions more so than politics. read article

This morning…
China reported Q1 GDP growth, which came in lower than expected. Year-on-year, the country’s economy grew at a rate of 7.7% in the first three months of 2013. Prior estimates had suggested 8%; Q4 2012 came in at 7.9%. Again, we are facing a week of panic over the Chinese slowdown. read article

Otherwise, troika officials are arriving in Portugal today to assess the country’s austerity plans and post-bailout progress. Simultaneously, the body, composed of the EU, the ECB and the IMF, released a report claiming that Greece could return to growth next year. read article

The week ahead…
will bring us the first batch of earnings from New York-listed corporates, including a bunch of banks like Citigroup, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, and tech companies Google, Microsoft and IBM.

The Italian parliament will try to elect a new President in the coming days. Officially, the process to find Giorgio Napolitano’s successor begins on Thursday, but it is expected to last a couple of days.

So long.

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Across the board disappointing results: Japan’s deficit, Apple’s earnings, S Korea’s GDP

Over the past weeks, Japan has done a lot to try and convince the rest of the world of its [return to] well-being, but no distraction really did the job. And now this: Japan’s 2012 trade deficit hit JPY6.93tn ($78.27bn), the highest ever reported. Reasons are poor performance of its largest companies, rising fuel costs, the strength of its currency and the whole argument with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. read article

South Korea’s 2012 GDP underperformed, recording the weakest growth figures since 2009. The country’s very own central bank had forecast the economy to grow 3% over the whole year – the actual number game in at 2%. To blame is the eurozone crisis, among other things, weakening demand for export products, which account for 50% of the South Korean economy. read article

The US House of Representatives approved a short-term extension on America’s borrowing spree, answering the question of whether the US will be able to pay its bills in the near future. This has bought some time to come up with a budget proposal to solve all problems – and without raising taxes, if you believe Paul Ryan, Chairman of the House Budget Committee. read article

The timing of the extension means the debt limit will be revisited after two other fiscal deadlines. Many members of both parties have said they want to revise of replace across-the-board spending cuts set for March 1, and they will need to renew funding by March 27 if they want to prevent a partial government shutdown. They are far apart on how to achieve both goals.

According to Reuters, the US Treasury will need the remaining $16.4tn the country is legally allowed to borrow until early March.

In Davos, Angela Merkel shows patience, saying that she was going to listen to David Cameron‘s complaints to work out the best possible solutions under which the UK would stay in the European Union. Wise words, after all, the UK’s vote would be helpful on her European budget proposal. Barack Obama also urged Britain to stop messing around and stay in the union. In the background economists polled by Reuters say that there is a 60% chance the UK will lose its AAA rating, which it has held since 1978, in the coming 12 months.

In other news, Apple announced earnings last night, showing the weakest increase in sales in 3.5 years, and the most disappointing profit growth since 2003. Since the shares of the world’s largest public company hit $700 in September, the price has fallen by 27%. Other technology companies like IBM, Google and Netflix did well and beat expectations in Q4 of the last year. Microsoft will report earnings tonight. read article

So long.

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Eurozone crisis: Just grow out of it, stupid!

After yesterday’s news of the shrinking German economy, Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy called on all those country’s who aren’t Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Cyrpus, really also Italy and maybe not even France, to implement growth stimulating policies as long as they can, because Spain sure can’t. This is the same Spain that still hasn’t called the ECB for help. Should someone break the news that Europe might not just grow out of this crisis? Maybe. But it’s siesta now. Let’s wait. read article

In the meantime, the German central bank is working on the logistics of getting 700 pounds of gold back into German vaults. At this point most of it is stored at the New York Fed, with the rest of it locked up in Paris, a precaution that is still in place from the cold warread article

The Netherlands‘ fourth largest bank SNS Reaal announced that it would need a restructuring due to its toxic property loans in autumn 2012. Now, the bailout will have to be carried out by the government. According to a decision by the European Commission, Dutch banks ING and ABN Amro will not be allowed to be part of the restructuring, because they received bailouts during the financial crisis. One scenario would be the creation of a bad bank for said loans, with all other big Dutch banks as shareholders. Hello over there at the Basel committee! Does this sound systemically risk-free to you? Altogether, it is estimated that SNS Reaal will need about €1.2-1.8bn to keep its doors open. In 2008, the bank received €750m from the government. read article

Otherwise, there are a number for “Facebook searching for revenue” headlines out there, because the website just launched its own search function, which despite it’s lose limits on Facebook itself, is stepping onto Google’s turf. Has that ever been a good idea? read article

And speaking of corporate catfights. It seems obvious that EADS has won the “massive plane”-round against Boeing. The Dreamliner (787), competitor aircraft to the A380, doesn’t seem to fly so well. This morning All Nippon Airlines and Japan Air grounded their 787 fleets for review, after yet another Dreamliner had to perform an emergency landing due to technical difficulties. read article

A whole truckload of banks announce fourth quarter earnings today, including JP Morgan, which has just announced to cut CEO Jamie Dimon’s salary in response to his responsibility in the London Whale case.

So long.

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A new hope: lifting the debt ceiling a 76th time

It’s T-52 days until the United States may or may not bump its head on the debt ceiling, ‘may not’ being the more likely option. Since 1960, the US debt ceiling, the limit of how much it can borrow, has been lifted 75 times, last in August 2011. So why is this still front page news? Probably because of the drama it brings and the attention that it diverts from Spain and Italy. So let’s be appreciative and talk about it for a bit. Now more than ever, Republicans are opposed to any new tax increases. And now more than ever, Democrats think that not enough has been done. Hmm. Technically, the US hit the borrowing limit that’s currently at $16.4tn on 31 December, but some miracle accounting postponed the deadline to March. read article

Thanks to Gerard Depardieu, who is a Russian citizen now, Francois Hollande is apparently reconsidering his 75% tax. He’s busy arguing about gay marriage with the Catholic Church anyway. read article

And in Japan, businesses will profit from almost $5bn in various government stimuli, including lending schemes for technology R&D, low-interest loans for SMEs and support for acquisitions of foreign companies. read article

In a perfect example of lobbying, the banks have convinced the truly unbiased Basel Committee on Banking Supervision to lower their super strict post-global-blow-up liquidity requirements. Someone [Scott Talbott] has done their job right. Lower liquidity standards mean that the  requirements for what qualifies as a suitable high quality liquid asset has been loosened  When Basel III first came up, the assets allowed were cash, T-bills, medium to fantastic corporate debt. This list is a lot longer now. Additionally, the full implementation of the new rules has been delayed until 2019 (originally 2015), meaning that banks will only need to comply with 60% of the requirements by 2015. read article

News from the same category: in a last cleanup after the US mortgage crisis, 14 major banks agreed to a $10bn settlement deal for “flawed paperwork and botched loan modifications“. Money from the deal will be used as cash relief for Americans whose homes were subject to foreclosure during 2009 and 2010. read article

Meanwhile, Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt and Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, are in North Korea. Although Schmidt said this wasn’t a work trip, not even his co-traveller believes that his motives are that pure. After all, don’t be evil doesn’t mean don’t do business. read article

So long.

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Something is rotten in the state of the Vatican

So, God and the Bank of Italy are having a stand-off. The Vatican, which is not on the EU’s white list of financially compliant states, is out of cash. Italy’s central bank refused authorization of the Deutsche Bank-run ATMs:

Italy’s central bank has blocked all electronic payments through cash machines and by credit cards in Vatican City following the world’s smallest state’s failure to fully comply with international anti-money laundering rulesread article

And if you’re wondering why we’ve heard so little out of Spain recently, then it might be because the country was busy using its Social Security Reserve Fund where it would otherwise have had to ask for foreign help. The fund, which said in 2010 that it may invest in Spanish debt, has now become a lender of last resort for the government: around 90% of the fund has gone towards Spain’s unpaid bills, eliminating the guarantee of [any] future pension paymentsread article 

Swiss bank Wegelin & Co, Switzerland’s oldest financial institution, will close its doors after 271 years in business. The bank pleaded guilty in a case brought against it in the Manhattan District Court for helping American clients to evade taxes on $1.2bn. The bank had been indicted in January 2012 and will now pay almost $60m in legal costs, including restitution, civil forfeiture and fines. Credit Suisse and Julius Baer are also under investigation on the same matter. read article

It took the Federal Trade Commission more than 1.5 years to look through all of Google’s search business looking for wrong-doing and antitrust violations. Now it’s official, Google has a clean slate. The investigation kicked off after Google’s competitors, such as Microsoft, claimed that Google services would have a preferred ranking in search results. read article

Otherwise, America’s car industry registered its best year since 2007, while that of France is seeing a 15-year low (on that note: “Nothing says Happy New Year like a burning car“). China‘s automotive industry crept on the front pages by doing nothing.

In the background, Venezuela’s president-re-elect Hugo Chavez is suffering form a respiratory infection that keep him from recovering fully from the cancer surgery he had in Cuba. Even though Chavez has not spoken or appeared in public in three weeks, it’s planned that he will be (re-)sworn in as Venezuela’s president on 10 January. In case new elections were necessary, they would have to be held within a month. read article

Weekend reading

– The Economist on the big international topics in 2013watch video

– So middle class, this world we live in, read article

– A case study of Germany’s bipolar voting behaviorread article

– Corporate welfare and the fiscal cliff deal, read article

Have a good one.

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Joining the dark side of the force: Disney buys Lucasfilm

After two days of storm, an exploding power plant, the shut down of three nuclear plants, almost 19,000 canceled flights, closure of public transport systems, 10,000 911-calls every 30 minutes in New York City and 14ft of water, America’s east coast is getting back on its feetWall Street will re-open, as well as airports and the rest of normal life.

But it won’t surprise you that the story on my mind today is Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm. For $4.05bn the Walt Disney empire bought 100% of George Lucas’ production company, which owns the Star Wars franchise. The deal marks the second biggest acquisition in Disney’s history, only exceeded by the $7.6bn takeover of Pixar. And really, this is like a family reunion. Pixar used to be a division of Lucasfilm, which was launched in 1979, but spun out of the parent company in 1986. George Lucas, the godfather of Star Wars, will get about $2bn in cash from the proceeds of the sale, adding to his net worth of $3.2bn. Disney announced that three new Star Wars movies will follow, starting in 2015read article

Google is joining Starbucks in facing a parliamentary tax inquiry in the UK. Google is channelling most of its corporate sales through its headquarters in Dublin, thereby avoiding UK taxes on it. According to Margaret Hodge, chairman of the committee the corporation will face:

Apple, Google, Facebook, eBay and Starbucks [i.e. all the poster children of globalization] have avoided nearly £900m.

It is estimated that the UK loses approximately £5bn annually due to tax avoidance.

In an attempt to buy more time, Greek policy makers have agreed to push spending cuts worth €13.5bn and reforms through parliament. Greece is once again in danger of running out of money within the coming month. Today, the Greek parliament will vote on a bill scrapping the obligation for the government to own a minimum stak in formerly state-owned companies, which is expected to set the tone for developments in the near future. On November 12, there will be an EU summit officially dedicated to the management of Greek debt. It’s getting boring and all seems like a replay of last year. Count the days until someone suggests to devalue parts of the Euro again… read article

In the background, eurozone unemployment rose yet once more in September, gaining 0.1% from August and amounting to 11.6% overall. That means that 18.5 million people are currently out of work in the European Monetary Union (hello, Spain). Austria is maintaining the lowest unemployment rate of 4.4%read article

So long.

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Black Monday: 25 years later, the world hasn’t learned much

Half time at the EU summit, we don’t have much but a step forward on the banking union front. From 2013 on, “a single supervisor“, i.e. the European Central Bank, will monitor certain undecided actions of an undecided number of banks in Europe. For EU standards, that’s a pretty solid plan. Monsieur Hollande of la France commented most eloquently:

There was an agreement, a good agreement, on timing and about the banks as [a] whole.

Aha. Oblivious to the Spain issue (not to mention the Italy issue), which is likely to be on the agenda for today, Hollande continued:

Tonight, I have the confirmation that the worst is behind us […] We are on track to solve the problems that for too long have been paralyzing the euro zone and made it vulnerable.

Thank you, France, you’re dismissed.

On the little detail there is, we know that all of the around 6,000 banks within the European Union will fall under the ECB supervision until 2014, presumably starting with those that were bailed out by their respective governments. read article

Today‘s part of the summit is likely to focus on what they didn’t agree on yesterday: a time line, followed by another press conference geared at Germany-for-all-and-all-for-one sentiment.. At this point, nobody knows when exactly the ESM will be able or allowed to inject money into [Spain’s] banks. Any debate regarding the increased fiscal integration that will save the continent, has been pushed back until the end of the year.

Google accidentally released its earnings report during the trading day as opposed to after the closing bell last night. And the numbers weren’t great, with earnings per share and revenues coming in 15% and 4% below estimatesGoogle’s shares fell 10% on the news, were then suspended, but registered an overall drop of 8%. Contrary to all of that, CEO Larry Page made a statement regarding the strong performance of the company last night. read article

Today is the 25th anniversary of Black Monday, the day in 1987 when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 23%, erasing about $1tn between October 19 and October 22. Time to reflect on what we have learned and whether things are better now. Considering the above, the jury is still out. read article

Weekend reading

– “Would I have done Bear Stearns again knowing what I know today?”, why governments should be careful in suing banksread article

– another one bites the dust: Newsweek discontinues print edition, read article

– James Bond in numbers: Pierce Brosnan most badass (what!!), Daniel Craig on way to alcoholism, read article

– Sallie Krawcheck, former president of Merill Lynch on why she worked more hours than any man she knows, read article

Have a good one.

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Spain still doing its thing, US economy improving

We’re riding high on the Spanish bailout-request rumors that nobody seems to have grown tired of yet. Highest of all: Spain itself. The country sold a pile of debt as all average yields went downThe FT reports that the country is very very close, closer than ever before, to picking up the phone and calling Brussels to request a bailout. Again. Or still. You know what I mean.

Somewhat unexpectedly, RBS fell into the center of the Libor mess, as the bank suspended Jezri Mohedeen, head of European and Asia-Pacific rates trading. He is the first member of senior management that RBS is sending home to investigate the bank’s involvement in the rate fixing scandal. RBS suspended four traders last year for the same reason. After Barclays was fined £290m as part of the investigation, RBS’ fine is likely to go into the millions as well. This is following the collapse of a deal with Santander regarding the sale of 316 RBS branches.

In other legal news, the American Civil Liberties Union is set to sue Morgan Stanley over selling risky mortgaged to African-American homeowners. According to the NYTimes:

In the lawsuit, filed on Monday, the A.C.L.U. claims that Morgan Stanley is culpable for predatory loans made through the New Century Financial Corporation because the investment bank lent billions of dollars to New Century, a now-defunct subprime lender, and pressured it to make troublesome loans to African-American borrowers who could not afford them.

Ouch, ouch, ouch, so much bad PR…

Meanwhile in California, Marissa Mayer is doing what she was hired for. Over all the discussion as to whether or not she is going to be a horrible mother or CEO or both, Mayer lured Google’s Vice President of Partner Business Solutions into signing a $60m contract with Yahoo. He will start his job as Yahoo’s COO before January 22, 2013. read article

But that’s not the only slap in the face for Google. The FTC, the US Federal Trade Commission, is orchestrating a case against the internet giant, which is edging towards completion as it seems. Allegations regard antitrust violations and complaints about unfair practice towards competitors are piling up in the FTC’s mail room. Google’s latest run-in with the law was a $22.5m settlement payment for bypassing the privacy setting of Safari-using customers. EU regulators aren’t too far off either, pressuring Google over its data protection and privacy policies. read article

Yesterday’s release of US retail figures suggested an upswing in consumer confidence, as the index grew faster than expected. In addition, Citigroup reported better earnings than expected ($1.06 per share, as opposed to $0.99), despite a 88% fall in income, as well as Goldman Sachs, topping estimated earnings per share by $0.57 on an $8.35bn (estimated $7.18bn) overall revenue. All this is supporting the recovery of US stocks, after last weeks abysmal performance. read article

In terms of European dataeurozone inflation was steady at 2.6% between August and September, undercutting the findings of a Reuters economist poll.

Tonight, Mitt Romney and Barack Obama meet again, this time, hopefully, for a better [read actual] debate.

So long.

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EU getting ready to pay, China-Japan conflict boosts German car production

There won’t be a news brief tomorrow and Wednesday, 09/10 October 2012.

Hugo Chavez won another six-year term in Venezuela’s national elections held on Sunday. By the end of the new term, he will have been in office for 20 years. Chavez is planning to step up effort to nationalize companies in areas like finance, nutrition and healthcare. Prior to Sunday’s elections, Chavez underwent cancer treatments in Cuba; his illness may pose a threat to his upcoming term as president, commencing on January 10. read article

The Eurogroup of Finance Ministers is meeting today to officially launch the ESM, concluding the day with a press conference in the evening. The second bailout fund will hold €80bn paid-in capital (mostly by Germany, as we know), with €620bn of callable capital, which will be used as a base to borrow money in the public markets, reaching full capacity in 2014. The focus of the meeting will be next steps for Spain and possible the progress of Greece, where Angela Merkel and an army of 7,000 policemen will observe the situation tomorrow. read article

Following last month’s conflict between China and JapanToyota, Honda and Nissan are cutting their production targets for Chinese plants by about half until further notice, due to a slump in Chinese demand. In direct response, sales for South Korea’s Hyundai rose 15%, while German brands Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz rose 20%, 55% and 10% respectively last month. read article

Also in ChinaHan Hoi Precision Industry, a subsidiary of Foxconn that assembles iPhones, iPads and other Apple products, is the bullseye in a labor rights dispute that is igniting in China. Foxconn employs 1.2 million people in China, some of which were involved in a strike last week Friday. The strike regarded increasing working hours and quality assurance, was supported by China Labor Watch and involved employees working on the new iPhone 5. According to WSJ:

Labor groups have criticized Hon Hai for its work practices after several workers at the company’s massive manufacturing base in China jumped to their deaths in separate incidents in 2010. Hon Hai has since increased salaries and outfitted worker dormitories with safety nets in an effort to prevent such incidents.

In the US, earnings season is starting tomorrow evening with Aluminum producer Alcoa. Expectations are depressing and will underline the poor performance of the Western economies despite government efforts to boost growth. But a quarter doesn’t make a year, according to the FT, “S&P 500 companies are on course for record cash profits in 2012.”

Also in the news, Google is tapping into its massive cash reserves and will launch its own credit card. The card will be exclusively linked to its AdWords business and make it easier for clients to purchase advertising space. This is following Amazon’s announcement to make loans to their vendorsread article

Otherwise, applications for the position as Governor of the Bank of England have closed. Alphaville considers the contestants Paul Tucker and Lord Turner.

So long.

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Greece contracts in a good way, Japan grows in a bad way

GDP digest:

The advanced reading of Greek Q2 GDP shows a 6.2% year-on-year contraction – and that’s the good news. The general consensus had been around -7%, so this is not only beating expectations but also the Q1 reading. Go Greece. Hm.

The other GDP announcement came from Japan, where economic growth slowed down to 1.4%. That is 4.1% less than the revised GDP growth of Q1 and around 1% below various forecast. Collectively, Asian indices went tumblingread article

Meanwhile, Spanish 10-year yields hit 6.91% and Mariano Rajoy is presumably busy preparing for that bailout request phone call. Also, the Philadelphia Fed has lowered its prediction of Q3 US GDP from 2.5% to 1.6%.

Otherwise, Francois Hollande is celebrating 100 days in office, though the celebration is somewhat tainted by all the sentiment polls showing that he’s doing pretty mauvaisread article

Google-owned Motorola Mobility is looking to cut 20% of its workforce, which amounts to about 4,000 employees, including 40% of its vice presidents.

Earlier the New York Times reported Google’s plan and said it was looking to shrink operations in Asia and India, by not just exiting unprofitable markets but also stopping asking low-end devices and focusing on a few cellphones instead of dozens. read article

Mitt Romney announced Ayn Rand-fanatic Paul Ryan as his choice of vice president on Sunday morning; Jerry Seib, bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal in DC, looks into his economic beliefsread article

So long.

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