Global Investing

Olympic medal winners — and economies — dissected

The Olympic medals have all been handed out and the athletes are on their way home.  Which countries surpassed expectations and which ones did worse than expected? And did this have anything to do with the state of their economies?

An extensive Goldman Sachs report entitled Olympics and Economics  (a regular feature before each Olympic Games) predicted before the Games kicked off that the United States would top the tally with 36 gold medals. It also said the top 10 would include five G7 countries (the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy), two BRICs (China and Russia), one of the developing countries it dubs Next-11  (South Korea), and one additional developed and emerging market. These would be Australia and Ukraine, it said.

Close enough, except that Hungary took the place of Ukraine as the emerging economy in the Top 10 and the United States actually took 46 gold medals — more than Goldman had predicted.

Goldman Sachs quite rightly pointed out in its report that progress and improvement in economic growth have historically equaled progress in sport  –check out South Korea’s 13 golds in London compared with none in Munich 40 years ago; its per capita income is now $23,000 compared with $2,300  back then.  Clearly wealth is key: hence 9 of the top 20 medal winning nations also have among the highest per capita incomes.

Second, countries with a socialist past (or present) also usually put up a strong showing even if the people are poorer — 8 of the top 20 from London are either communist (China, Cuba and North Korea)  or ex-Soviet bloc (Russia, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the Czech Republic).

Austrian subprime woes turn into political hot potato

The Austrian government debt agency’s two-year old foray into subprime investments has turned into a political hot potato and sparked an increasingly heated debate between the Social Democrats and conservatives, caught in an uneasy but coalition government without viable alternative.

Austria’s audit court last week revealed that the agency, which in its staid day job issues government bonds and makes sure state coffers are full when they need to be, started to moonlight on money markets in 2002 to earn a little extra money on the side.

Its cash position ballooned from an average 4.5 billion euros in 2002 to a peak of 26.8 billion euros in October 2007. This level “was not only determined by economic necessities, but was also meant to generate additional revenues,” the audit court said in its report.

What next for OMV, and for MOL?

omv-ceo.jpgFollowing an acrimonious and drawn-out takeover battle for Hungary’s MOL, Austrian oil and gas group OMV finally did as expected: it threw in the towel.

Yet according to OMV Chief Executive Wolfgang Ruttenstorfer, the consolidation pressures in central Europe — the strategic rationale which prompted him to launch the unsolicited offer in the first place — remain in place.

Analysts and investors have often pointed out that OMV could do better with the cash then parking it in a MOL stake. And while OMV sat tight and awaited the outcome of its unwanted approach, MOL busied itself stringing together a network of strategic allies, entering into ventures with Cez from the Czech Republic and Oman’s OOC.