Global Investing

A Hungarian default?

More on Hungary. It’s not hard to find a Hungary bear but few are more bearish than William Jackson at Capital Economics.

Jackson argues in a note today that Hungary will ultimately opt to default on its  debt mountain as it has effectively exhausted all other mechanisms. Its economy has little prospect of  strong growth and most of its debt is in foreign currencies so cannot be inflated away. Austerity is the other way out but Hungary’s population has been reeling from spending cuts since 2007, he says, and is unlikely to put up with more.

How did other highly indebted countries cope? (lets leave out Greece for now). Jackson takes the example of  Indonesia and Thailand. Both countries opted for strict austerity after the 1997 Asian crisis and resolved the debt problem by running large current account surpluses. This worked because the Asian crisis was followed by a period of buoyant world growth, allowing these countries to boost exports. But Hungary’s key export markets are in the euro zone and are unlikely to recover anytime soon.

The other example  is Argentina.  It too recovered strongly from its 2001 crisis but its way out was default.  Capital Economics writes:

There are arguments for why, in Hungary’s case, default might appear to be an attractive option. The economy runs both a current account surplus and a primary surplus (i.e. government spending is lower than receipts before interest payments are taken into account). This means that if the Hungarian government were to default and were to be barred from borrowing from abroad, it would still not be forced into drastic fiscal austerity or a painful current account adjustment via reduced domestic demand.

from MacroScope:

Greek debt – remember the goats

Greece's creditors have essentially let it off the hook by overwhelmingly agreeing to take a 74 percent loss.  So what better time to  remember  one of the first times Athens got in trouble with paying its debts.

In 490 BC, the bucolic plains before the town of Marathon were the site of a bloodbath. Invading Persians  lost a key battle against Greeks, who were led by the great Athenian warrior Kallimachos, aka Callimachus.

The trouble is, Kallimachos shares some of the difficulty with numbers that  modern Greek leaders appear to have.  Before launching himself upon the  Persians,  he  pledged to sacrifice a young goat to the Gods for every enemy that was killed.

from MacroScope:

Vultures swoop on Argentina

Holdouts against a settlement of Argentina’s defaulted debt are opening a new front in their campaign for a juicy payout more than a decade after the biggest sovereign default on record.

Lobbyists for some of the investors who hold about $6 billion in Argentine debt are in London to persuade Britain to follow the lead of the United States, which last September decided to vote against new Inter American Development Bank and World Bank loans for Buenos Aires.

Washington believes Argentina, a member of the Group of 20, is not meeting its international obligations on a number of fronts. Apart from the dispute with private bond holders, Argentina has yet to agree with the Paris Club of official creditors on a rescheduling of about $9 billion of debt. It has refused to let the International Monetary Fund conduct a routine health check of the economy. And it has failed to comply with the judgments of a World Bank arbitration panel.

Beneath the Greek bailout hopes…

Who’s tired of the ”Markets up on Greece, markets down on Greece” headlines of the past few weeks? (I am.)

Today it’s an up day, with world stocks hitting a six-month peak on hopes that Greece will secure a second bailout package next week (finally, really).

But beneath the optimism lies a dire Greek economic and fiscal situation.

The Greek economy slumped 7 percent in the last quarter of 2011, with the rate of contraction since Q4 2008 reaching a whopping 16 percent in cumulative, real GDP terms.

What to do with Belize’s superbond

This year’s renewed euphoria over emerging markets has bypassed some places. One such corner is Belize, a country sandwiched between Mexico and Guatemala, which many fear is gearing up for a debt default. There is a chance this will happen as early as next week

Belize is a small country with just 330,000 people but back in 2007,  it issued a $550 million bond on international markets. Known locally as a superbond for its large size (relative to the country’s economy), the issue earned Belize a spot on JP Morgan’s EMBI Global index of emerging market bonds.

As this index is used by 80 percent of fund managers who invest in emerging debt, many of them will have allocated some cash to hold the Belize bond  in their portfolios. These folk will be waiting anxiously to see if Belize pays a $23 million coupon due on Feb. 20.

Euro periphery: Lehman-type shock still on cards

The passing of Greek austerity measures is fuelling a rally in peripheral debt today with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese yields falling across the curve.

However, one should not forget that peripheral economies are still under considerable risk of becoming the next Greece — rising debt and weak economic growth pushing the country to seek a bailout — as a result of tighter financial conditions.

Take this warning from JP Morgan:

Financial conditions have deteriorated far more in peripheral Europe than in the core. The drag from this on peripheral GDP is akin to that seen following the Lehman crisis.

Greece’s interest burden, post-PSI, will remain huge

It seems Greece has finally reached a deal on austerity measures needed for a bailout. But what about PSI?

(ECB President Mario Draghi just said he heard it was close to a deal. It’s been close for a few weeks though…)

JP Morgan says Greek PSI is hardly going to change the heavy interest burden on the country and the issue of default will inevitably come up.

Financial repression revisited

At a monetary policy event hosted by Fathom Consulting at the Reuters London office today, former Bank of England policymakers were discussing the pros and cons of “financial repression”.

Financial repression is a concept first introduced in the 1970s in the United States and is becoming a talking point again after the financial crisis, especially with a NBER paper last year written by economists Reinhart and Sbrancia reviving the debate.

In the paper, authors define financial repression as follows:

Historically, periods of high indebtedness have been associated with a rising incidence of default or restructuring of public and private debts. A subtle type of debt restructuring takes the form of “financial repression”.

from MacroScope:

Are CDS markets the euro zone’s iceberg?

icebergIn an unfortunate turn of phrase at the height of his country's current debt crisis, Greek Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou on Monday compared his government's Herculean task in slashing deficits and debts as akin to changing the course of the Titanic. Sadly, we all know where the great "unsinkable" ended up almost a century ago and I'm sure,  given the chance, Mr Papaconstantinou would have chosen another metaphor. But if the Greek economy (or perhaps the euro zone at large?) is to be cast as the Titanic, then what is its potential iceberg?

For some euro politicians, look no further than the sovereign Credit Default Swaps market. France's finance chief Christine Lagarde said as much last week when she questioned "the validity, solidity of CDSs on sovereign risk" and warned speculators to be careful as regulators took a "second look" at the market and European governments closed ranks. Lagarde, of course, is not alone.  You can be sure CDS are being examined long and hard by Spanish intelligence services investigating the "murky manoeuvres" in the debt markets.  But what is the exact charge against CDS?

CDS are ways to buy or sell insurance on the risk of debt defaults without needing to own the underlying bonds in the first place. It's a way of hedging your debts, if you like, without having to go through the often more complicated game of selling securities short (or selling borrowed paper). In essence, it allows you to take a bet on default without having to go to the trouble of owning the bonds you're insuring against.  Some critics, not unreasonably, would view this as the epitome of the casino capitalism that has elicited so much public outrage over the past three years . The fear is this market has become the tail wagging the dog.

Can the euro zone survive Greece?

Wolfgang Munchau, co-founder and president of Eurointelligence, has raised an uncomfortable prospect for investors in Greece. In a Financial Times column today, the long-time Europe commentator argues that Brussels may not be willing to bail Greece out if it were to default on its debt à la all-but sovereign Dubai World is about to.

The EU’s authorities, rightly or wrongly, are more afraid of the moral hazard of a bail-out than the possible spillover effect of a hypothetical Greek default to other eurozone countries. If faced with a choice between preserving the integrity of the stability pact and the integrity of Greece, they are currently minded to choose the former.

Munchau reckons that outright default is unlikely, but wonders whether the current spread between Greek and benchmark German bonds really reflects the risk that investors are taking.  It is currently around 178 basis points after recovering from a blow out on Dubai worries last week.