MacroScope

Judgment day for Slovenia

The Slovenian government is poised to publish the results of an external audit of its banks, which will say how much cash the government must inject to keep them afloat. We’ve heard from sources that the euro zone member needs as much as 5 billion euros to recapitalize largely state-owned banks.

The central bank said on Tuesday that sufficient funds were available to an international bailout but, while the euro zone might breathe a sigh of relief, Ljubljana’s problems are far from over. A fire sale of state assets will be triggered and the banks are so embedded into the Slovene economy that deleveraging will cause great damage.

The government may raid its own cash reserves of 3.6 billion euros, hit junior bank bondholders to the tune of 500 million euros and, if necessary, tap financial markets. But all this may just be delaying the inevitable for a country that is expected to wallow in recession until 2015. Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek has called a cabinet meeting and a news conference is tentatively scheduled for 1000 GMT.

European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi testifies at the European Parliament at some length today. With inflation forecast to remain well below target for the next two years, pressure is growing to act and Draghi has said a number of options were possible, and ready to be deployed.

Most – particularly full-on QE – are unlikely. The most likely – a repeat of the splurge of cheap, long-term money thrown at banks last year – has now been saddled with a new caveat.

UK recovery, can you feel it?

Third quarter UK GDP data are likely to show robust growth – 0.8 percent or more, following 0.7 percent in Q2 – more kudos to a resurgent finance minister George Osborne who only a year ago was buried in brickbats.

We can argue about the austerity versus growth debate ‘til the cows come home – there is still a strong case that if the government hadn’t cut so sharply, growth would have returned earlier and debt would have fallen faster. But the fact that the economy is ticking along nicely 18 months before the next election means Osborne has won the argument politically.

And yet, and yet. The opposition Labour party has been nimble in switching its criticism from the government’s debt-cutting strategy to the fact that the economy might be recovering but the vast majority of Britons aren’t feeling it.

One small step…

EU finance ministers succeeded last night where they failed last Friday and reached agreement on how to share the costs of future bank failures, with shareholders, bondholders and depositors holding more than 100,000 euros all in the firing line in a bid to keep taxpayers off the hook.

Germany and France had been at odds over how much leeway national governments would have to impose losses on those differing constituencies and, as with many EU deals, a compromise was reached whereby some flexibility is allowed.

This is not to be sniffed at. For the first time it sets a common set of rules (albeit with wiggle room built in) to deal with bank collapses but, as we’ve explained ad nauseam in recent weeks, it is only one building block en route to a comprehensive banking union which was promised last year and would amount to the last vital plank in the defences being built around the currency bloc to banish future existential threats.

Market/economy disconnect?

Italy comes to the market with a five- and 10-year bond auction today and, continuing the early year theme, yields are expected to fall with demand healthy. It could raise up to 6.5 billion euros. A sale of six-month paper on Tuesday was snapped up at a yield of just 0.73 percent. Not only is the bond market unfazed by next month’s Italian elections, which could yet produce a chaotic aftermath, neither is it bothered by the scandal enveloping the world’s oldest bank, Monte dei Paschi, which is deepening by the day.

Even before this week (it also sold nearly 7 billion euros of debt on Monday), Italy had already shifted 10 percent of its annual funding needs. Clearly it, and Spain, is off to a flying start which removes a lot of potential market pressure.

But the disconnect with the miserable state of the two countries’ economies should still give pause for thought. Flash Q4 Spanish GDP figures, out later, are forecast to show its economy contracted by a further 0.6 percent in the last three months of the year, with absolutely no end to recession in sight. That looks like a good opportunity to detail the state of the Spanish economy and how it could yet push Madrid towards seeking outside help. Italian business confidence data are also due.

Will bank lending finally start to rise?

Big news over the weekend was the world’s banks being given an extra four years to build up their cash piles, and given more flexibility about what assets they can throw into the pot. This is a serious loosening of the previously planned regime and could have a significant effect on banks’ willingness to lend and therefore the wider economy.

For over two years, banks have complained that they can’t oil the wheels of business investment and consumer spending while being forced to build up much larger capital reserves to ward off future financial crises. That contradiction has now been broken (a big win for the bank lobbyists) and the impact on economic recovery could be profound.

However, there are no guarantees. Banks, in Europe at least, have also insisted that lending has remained low because there isn’t the demand for credit from business and households. If that’s true, increased willingness to lend might not be snapped up.

Spanish banks 1, Spanish mortgages 0

The trillion euros lent out by the European Central Bank for three years at a rock bottom interest rates were supposed to do two things –  throw a comfort blanket around Europe’s wobbly banks and pump money into  moribund economies. Some new data from struggling Spain confirms that while there may be a bit of a case for the former, the latter is still falling short.

Mortgage lending by Spanish banks  had their largest annual drop in more than six years in February – coming in at essentially half of what they were a year earlier. There are all kinds of reasons for this, not the least being that large numbers of Spaniards are out of work and house prices are still tumbling with at least one estimate being that they remain as much as 30 percent overvalued.

But given that Spanish lenders were among the biggest taker of the ECB’s largesse  (officially known as  LTROs, a name only a central banker’s mother could love) the lack of trickle down  is less than bracing.  The suspicion is that Spain’s banks are holding back on lending because of their wonky balance sheets, which is of course a good thing in itself it it keeps the financial system on its feet.

“Normal” bank lending is no longer realistic

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger James Carrick.  Carrick is economist at UK fund firm Legal & General Investment Management. He says here old patterns of lending are unlikely to return and that this means slow growth in developed countries.

“Despite £175 billion of quantitative easing, bank lending in the UK remains weak, threatening to restrain the economic recovery and equity market rally. 

Policy makers in the developed world have been working overtime to encourage banks to lend at the ‘normal’ levels experienced during the past decade. However, these “normal” levels are no longer realistic. The factors which contributed to the secular rise in debt over the past decade are now reversing. Populations are ageing, interest rates can’t go any lower and sub-prime lending is over.

from Nick Vinocur:

Negative rates: why not?

Here’s a tip for anyone curious to know where the next generation of monetary policy tools is being dreamt up: Look north.

Sweden’s central bank – which brought us the world’s first official negative rate in July – took another swipe at economic groupthink this week in a paper that argued against a core principle of interest rate theory.

To wit: that savers would rather stuff cash under the mattress than place it in a loss-making bank account.

Vision of the future? See Japan’s past

MacroScope is pleased to post the following from guest blogger Ian Bright. Bright is senior economist at ING and winner of the 2008 Rybczynski Prize from the UK Society of Business Economists. He says here that bank lending’s future can be seen in Japan’s past — and it is not good for the would-be borrower. 

“There is anger in many countries that banks are not lending money. Or more correctly, they are lending less than people want.

There is nothing new in this. Even before the failure of Lehman Brothers and the collapse of the global financial system, banks were tightening lending criteria. We even saw people who paid off their credit cards each month have them withdrawn. Small companies found that the criteria used to value the assets backing loans were made more onerous.

Show us the money

It says something about the current world that a new economic indicator is about to be unleashed by the Bank of England and it basically tells you whether banks have been doing what they are supposed to do — lend.

The first Trends in Lending report is due out on April 21 at 0830 GMT. Always nice to have a new indicator, but this one may get a bit more attention than would have been the case a few years ago. It is designed to provide up-to-date information about bank lending to households and businesses.

Consumer groups, regulators trade bodies, the BoE, the UK government and lenders themselves will draw up the report under the rubric of something called The Lending Panel – which a cruel cycnic might say sounds a bit like a high-interest loan shop.