Commentaries

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from Rolfe Winkler:

Spanish canary in the European coal mine

The quote of the day comes from Marc Chandler, currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, who has graciously offered to let me reprint a note he sent today.

While Greece gets much of the news, Chandler argues that it's in Spain where the policy dilemma is "most stark."

Today Spain reported that its unemployment rate in Q4 rose to 18.8% from 17.9% in Q3.  The consensus was for a rise toward 18.5%.  The unemployment rate has doubled in the past two years.  As seems to be typical in  Europe, the unemployment [rate] is especially pronounced for young people. In Spain it's 40%...

Cyclical forces and the €8 billion public works program pushed Spain's deficit to around 11.2% of GDP last year according to the EC.  This is almost as large as Greece's.  One key difference between the two in this context is that Spain's debt to GDP is considerably lower than Greece, giving it perhaps greater chance to stabilize the debt/GDP ratios before they become ruinous.

Lower Opel costs to help government aid

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General Motors’ decision to scrap the sale of Opel rests on the carmaker’s calculation that the hole in its European unit’s finances is not as deep as previously feared.

Governments should welcome the lower demands on taxpayers with open arms. But there is still some horse trading to be done to get everyone on board. 

Germany will have to change Opel deal after election

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opelanerIt looks increasingly clear that Germany will have to change its deal to aid carmaker Opel once Sunday’s general election is out of the way.

The European Commission has signaled to Berlin that promising 4.5 billion euros in loan guarantees to only one of the two bidders for General Motors’ European arm to preserve all four German production sites and most Opel jobs in Germany may breach EU rules on state aid to industry. EU regulators want to know why Chancellor Angela Merkel and four German states offered the money to back car parts maker Magna’s bid but not for financial investor RHJ International’s, and on what conditions. 

Santander’s debt buy-back not necessarily a flop

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Santander’s attempt to buy back 16.5 billion euros of asset-backed debt looks, at first glance like a bit of a flop: in the end investors only sold about 600 million euros of bonds by face value to the bank.

However, the result is not that surprising, for several reasons.

First, 16.5 billion euros was always a long shot. We don’t really know how much of the debt Santander had previously acquired in one-off trades in the secondary market, making it hard to say how much it could have bought back this time.

Calling a bottom in Spain

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Is the worst over for Spanish mortgage defaults? That’s one way to interpret Santander’s offer to buy back up to 16.5 billion euros of its outstanding asset-backed debt.

The securities are trading below par – more than 40 percent in some cases before today’s announcement – allowing the bank to reduce debt by buying them back. Cash-rich banks such as HSBC have launched similar buybacks this year to profit from the ABS market dislocation, but it’s the first time a Spanish bank has launched such a large public buyback.

The rain in Spain…

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Scare yourself to death with this (HT Alphaville)

Pain in Spain hits cat bonds

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Defaults by catastrophe bonds, securities used by insurers to shift the risk of severe losses from natural disasters, have been few and far between.

When deals have run into trouble, it has often been due less hurricanes or earthquakes than some flaw in the way they were structured, such as the four bonds that imploded last year because of their links to Lehman Brothers and dodgy asset-backed debt.

GM dumps Chinese in Opel race, standoff looms

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Two things Opel junkies need to know in today’s news.

1) General Motors has dumped Chinese state-owned carmaker BAIC’s long-shot bid to take over GM’s main European arm. That leaves a two-horse race between Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna and Belgium-based financial investor RHJ, loosely associated with U.S. private equity firm Ripplewood.

2) The two trustees appointed by the German authorities to a board overseeing Opel in its transition to new ownership are refusing to toe Berlin’s line that Magna’s bid is the only game in town (according to an intriguing Reuters sources story).

Politics, economics collide over Opel

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Political and economic logic are set to collide in the byzantine decision-making over the future of German carmaker Opel, the main European arm of fallen U.S. auto giant General Motors.
If politics prevail, as seems likely, the cost to German taxpayers will be higher and the chances of commercial success lower.

The aim of the Berlin government and four federal states, which are sustaining Opel with bridging finance, is to save as many German jobs and production sites as possible. That makes political sense ahead of September’s general election. But the business logic is that only a greatly slimmed-down Opel can survive in an industry with chronic overcapacity.
In theory, it is up to GM’s board to choose among the three offers it expected to receive on Monday from Canadian-Austrian car parts maker Magna <MGa.TO>, Belgian financial investor RHJ <RJHI.BR>, and, less plausibly, Chinese state-owned auto maker BAIC. But there are several other powerful players with a say. They include the trustees responsible for the company since GM entered U.S. bankruptcy in June, the German federal and state governments, Opel’s works council and, last but not least, the European Commission, which must approve the restructuring plan as a condition for authorising the state aid.

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