Good afternoon. No visible changes have occurred in the political picture of the world last week. Sarkozy wants to once again become the president of France – but he so far loses to the opposition (the election are on April 22). The Republican primaries in the US go on as usual: in Maine Romney bypassed Santorum with a ratio of 39% to 31%, Gingrich and Paul were left behind – but in general the favourite loses to the sum of ratings of members of the conservative (and even more to the conservative-liberal) opposition. In general, the ideas that are now growing in popularity were recently considered extreme – FBI takes action in response: it considers extremists those who do not accept federal taxes and environmental regulation, or is a supporter of the gold standard – and also suspected in terrorism are from now on those who pay cash in the Internet cafes, uses the services of Internet service providers AOL or Comcast, or proxy-anonymizers; reading all this, one realizes that in today's world the professional fighter with extremism is a diagnosis. Unprecedented generosity of oligarch Kerimov in the Anji football club suddenly found a response in Madrid – in the contract of Real’s Cristiano Ronaldo it is said that he always has to be the highest-paid player in the world: and since (as rumoured) Samuel Eto'o earns €20 million a year in Makhachkala (and Ronaldo only a pathetic €13 million), the Portuguese demands satisfaction – quite out of place for the Spaniards suffering from the crisis; now they think whether to sell the corrupt by reckless promises Cristiano – who knows what else to expect in the future from these crazy new rich from Russia!
Illustration: Artem Popov
Monetary markets. The Swedish Riksbank cut rates by 0.25% down to 1.50% per annum – and is going to keep it at that level until at least mid-year; the rationale for easing is the deterioration of the situation in the economy – GDP forecast for 2012 was reduced almost by half (from +1.3% to +0.7 %). Bank of Japan has nowhere to reduce the rate more – it is already at zero, but it expanded the asset purchase program by ¥10 trillion, bringing it up to ¥65 trillion; in addition, the central bank decided to go for inflation targeting – by introducing the target growth rate of consumer prices (at 1.0% y/y). The quarterly inflation report of the Bank of England was not as soft as expected – predicting price growth of 1.8% in two years the central bank in fact admits that this figure will exceed the target 2% y/y. Minutes of last meeting of the Fed, as expected, was “dovish”: the risk to the economy and employment is downward, for inflation – “balanced” rather than “upward”, new program of quantitative easing is quite possible – although its start is stipulated to be conditioned by “deteriorating economic situation”. President Obama sent draft budget for next fiscal year to the Congress – suggesting the abolition of tax breaks for the rich (people with annual income of more than $250 thousand) and refusal to cut spending; optimistic administration’s forecasts for the state treasury are based on unrealistic expectations of economic growth – so this document can be regarded as fiction; the Republicans enraged at once, vowing to hack Obama's initiatives at the root – to the President’s delight.
The Greek parliament passed another package of austerity measures (we wrote about its details in the previous review) – causing the expected fury of the population: they took to the streets and began to slash and burn everything - and the members of coalition government from the Orthodox Party left the Cabinet in protest against another concession to the EU. However, even the success of the government in parliament has not changed anything: Eurogroup held a teleconference on Greece – and made no decision. Moreover, anti-Greek mood is intensifying in the EU – Germany, the Netherlands and Finland propose to leave Greece to her fate and abandon all plans to help her; they say, it is more logical to use the Stabilization Fund to help the victims of Greece than Greece herself – knowing that the money (like all the previous ones) will mysteriously disappear in black holes of the Athenian treasury. On the moment many are still inclined to take no action until the parliamentary elections in Greece, scheduled for April – but a more precise position of the Euro-structures is going to be worked out at the next meeting on Monday. In the meantime, let us remind you that if the Athenian government does not receive aid it will be forced to default on its obligations on March 20, when treasuries worth around €14 billion must be submitted to repayment – there is no cash to buy those (the sum equals to 7-8% of annual GDP) so they’ll have to accept the inevitable. Because of this, a number of persons in the EU leadership offer to give Greeks the money for this – and the rest to be decided after the elections.
Spain is also involved in austerity – her parliament adopted a law on the reform of the labour market: it simplifies firings and makes the conditions of employment more flexible (mainly for the employers). As expected, the local unions went angry that the rights of workers are being cut, and people get nothing instead – this is, of course, not entirely true, but it is the logic of the trade unions; however, they had enough common sense to limit themselves to the threats of protests, but not to arrange any general strikes – but if the reform fails a strike will be the case. Auctions on bonds placement went well last week – except for, as always, Germany which again sold fewer securities than was going to: She pushes customers hard asking for such low yields that there is no sufficient demand. China has assured Europe of her further commitment to buy the European bonds – but made it clear that it would do that accurately, for the situation in the Old World is too vague. Agencies brutalized: Moody's lowered the ratings of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta, and gave a negative forecast for Britain, France and Austria; S&P smashed the ratings of 34 Italian and 15 Spanish banks (which was predictable after the decline in the sovereign ratings of these countries); finally, the same Moody's placed on the decline list 114 banks in Europe and a number of global lenders, including Bank of America, J.P.Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Royal Bank of Canada – new challenges for global banking system are coming up they say. Quiet possible!
Currency markets. The dollar strengthened – but as usual in recent times, slowly. Euro sank below 1.30 due to escalating Greek problems – and then returned to 1.31; the yen reached 79, the dollar-rouble rose above 30 – but all processes are very moderate.
Stock markets. At the leading exchanges a little sobering after the recent seizure of optimism hasn’t lived for long – and soon the Dow broke through the tops of 2011 again. In just two years after actual bankruptcy General Motors has received a record annual profit ($7.6 billion) – although complained that in Europe it has only losses. Should be noted the second largest bank in France Societe Generale, whose profits in the fourth quarter declined by 9 times, and the investing department lost half a billion euros – yeah, it is easy to “invest” when everything is growing: but as soon as markets start to oscillate the great “investment strategies” beginning to crumble – and they still loud and indignant about it. But Apple is happy with everything with its shares reaching the space on a wave of hype around the tablets – the price has passed $500, of which over a hundred have been made this year; we can only guess what will happen when the excitement wears off (and aggregate demand in the world again prostrates) – but has Apple already experienced the fall of stocks by almost 6 times during the crisis of 2000-2002, so it will be possible to repeat it.
In the meantime, the Chinese began to press Apple claiming violation of patent rights and intolerable working conditions created in their factories (even suicides are frequent): the most interesting thing is that this is the way it is – only the interest to such outrages for some reason rose only recently; the era of dispossession of firms particularly succeeded during the crisis is apparently coming. Such fate is unlikely to threaten PepsiCo – but it loses the competition to Coca-Cola in the market of natural juices: now the managers of PepsiCo came up with a remarkably new idea to dilute juices with water under the brand Tropicana (and 2 parts of the juice will go with 3 parts of water) – according to firms’ marketing department, this brilliant “arrangement” (coupled with the dismissal of 8,700 of employees) will help the company to regain its market position. The funny thing is that the head of PepsiCo said proudly: “Many people do not like very concentrated juice too much and dilute it with water – why should we not do it ourselves, the more that we do not take money for it?” It turns out that this is not only an innovation, but also a favour – just think about it, Pepsi does not take money for the dilution of the juice: and yet it could have!
Illustration: Artem Popov
Commodity markets. Iran has tested the market with contradictory statements: on one hand they were determined to stop oil exports to six EU countries – and then denied this intention; one way or another, the tension led Brent to break the level of $120 per barrel and WTI followed and stepped over mark of $100. However, natural gas in the United States continues to stand at the very bottom making no response to the abovementioned events; it is suspected that if the oil turns down again, the gas will be showing new lows – and in the meantime Gazprom had to lower prices for the Europeans by10% which will reduce the annual monopoly’s profit by $6 billion. Industrial metals sat down – and precious settled down. Wheat and corn fell slightly, while rice and oats became slightly more expensive; soybeans, feeder and vegetable oil are quiet strong – especially actively growing were prices for canola. Beef has shown a new high, pork and milk, too, have intensified. Fruits, coffee and timber weakened (coffee reached a new bottom), cotton had grown, and sugar and cocoa are stable.
Party, let me drive!
Asia and Oceania. OECDleading indicators cheered up a bit during winter – especially in the USA; relatively well are Russia, India and Japan; Brazil has stagnated, eurozone and China tumbled – the latter causing the greatest concern. Foreign direct investments in China in January were again lower than a year ago – but the decline did slow down. Singapore's GDP in October-December fell by 0.6% q/q, after declining by 1.2% in July-September – but the support of previous periods of growth is so great that even now the annual dynamics is very good (+3.6%). Japan's GDP also fell by 0.6% q/q - but there was also fall in the previous year (by 1.0%); the main cause was compression of exports against imports growth – excluding the foreign trade, GDP would remain unchanged; as a whole for 2011 the economy of Japan declined by 0.9%. Industrial production in Japan was revised slightly downwards in December, orders for production equipment shrank in January – the only think that gladdens is the livening up of service sector in recent months. Australia is cheerful: business and consumer confidence have improved, lending accelerated and car sales recouped half of the previous month’s fall, suddenly employment bounced strong. Case of the New Zealand is much worse: business activity is stagnating, realty prices have fallen, consumer confidence is deteriorating, jobs announcements are fewer – only the growth of retail sales pleased, but it was due to rugby World Cup attracting lots of tourists. The answer to these problems was the statement by the central bank that the country's GDP is underestimated by 10% due to “statistical errors” – new era of “better methodology” that will draw everyone optimistic pictures seems to come!
Europe. Eurozone countries have published GDP figures for the fourth quarter – only France grew (by 0.2% q/q, thanks to exports), but Germany (-0.2%), Italy (-0.7%) and Spain (-0.3%) have outweighed that – and as a whole eurozone slipped down by 0.3%; very bad are Greece and Portugal. The ECB expects the fall of GDP in 2012 at 0.1% - although only three months ago, it predicted an increase of 0.8%. In December, eurozone industrial production fell by 1.1% against November and by 2.0% against December 2010 (Germany and France fell, Italy and Spain rose); factory orders accelerated their decline in Spain. However, in February, according to ZEW, economic expectations improved markedly throughout Europe – especially in Germany, where they went into a plus for the first time since May. Italy's trade balance came from minus to plus in December – and a surplus balance of the eurozone as a whole generally peaked since May 2005. Wholesale prices in Germany jumped by 1.2% m/m in January; consumer prices are in the red across the continent – to blame the inevitable discounts after holidays. British consumers cheered up – but only in terms of abstract thoughts about future: propensity to actual spending has not changed remaining near record lows. Employment falls everywhere – in Portugal, Greece, France, Sweden and the UK: only the Germans have growth. And the registration of new cars already went into the negative in Germany – although she is still far from France (-20.7% y/y) and Italy (-16.9%); Spain suddenly came into positive plus – but demand in its service sector declines rapidly. Demand in general is bad everywhere – and only the British retail sales jumped unexpectedly in January: discounts this time were simply unprecedented and the buyers went for them.
America. The US figures are much more fun than in Europe. Industrial production, however, remained the same in January – but the December figure was revised up strongly; moreover, the manufacturing sector is growing quite actively – though mainly due to the car industry. The indices of business activity from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and Philadelphia also added a bit – though deterioration in the employment is alarming as well as cooling of the semi-annual assessments of the economy prospects. The influx of foreign money into US securities slowed down in December – but this is an expected seasonal phenomenon: before the end of the year the Chinese and the British “went into cash” – but they soon will return back. Producer prices continued to slow down due to fuel and food – but without them, on the contrary, there is acceleration: cleaned up of the statistical distortion, this figure rose by almost 5% y/y. Consumer prices rose by 0.2% m/m and 2.9% y/y (in fact by 0.5% and 6.2%); without fuel and food annual increase (2.3% officially, 5.5% real) repeats the peaks of the last decade. Canadian inflation accelerated and exceeded forecasts.
Applications for unemployment benefits fell to a 4-year low in the first half of February – but there is nothing to rejoice with here: people lose the right to benefits en masse – for they can’t find a job for too long and the money are paid only for a limited time. In Canada, sales of new cars fell in November-December – but in January, as it seems, they have soared; in general, demand for manufacturing goods remains decent – however the orders immediately started to decline. US retail sales disappointed somewhat – taking into account inflation, the real per capita sales in January fell by 0.2% m/m and 1.1% y/y; weekly trader’s data on purchases in stores looks bad lately. But the housing market has revived – index of the National Association of Home Builders reached a 6-year peak in February and the number of developments is growing, everything is logical: deflation on the real estate market makes houses more affordable – ratio of prices to household income has fallen by a quarter and reached levels of the beginning of the century; but in the long-term that is not enough – and the housing must still get cheaper to return to the normal figures of the 1960s or at least 1970s.
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
Russia. In January industrial production swelled by 3.8% y/y – in December it was +2.5%, so there should be acceleration: the thing in fact is that in January there was only 16 working days and a year ago it was 15, and such picture (with mismatches) will be a regular thing this year. Adjusted for calendar factor, production growth was only 2.2%; of the manufacturing sector – 3.3% as in December. Agriculture has slowed to +2.5% y/y, compared with +3.8% in December; logging continues to decline (-5.3% versus the same month last year). But the construction activity accelerated: in January the volume of work was 11.7% higher than last year – and introduction of housing jumped by 21.5%. Freight turnover was 4.1% higher than in January 2011 (December increase was 4.8%), including railways – by 11.5% (against 12.5%); pipes are in the red (by 0.3% y/y after -1.9 % in December). Retail slowed down too: the annual increase here is 6.8% - and this is a minimum since July; in this case it's good – because the bubble of consumer and mortgage lending (annual growth of rouble loans to individuals exceeded 40%) begins to alarm. Paid services were 4.9% more, real disposable income grew by 2.3% and real wages by 9.0%; unemployment rate rose from 6.1% to 6.6% - but this is a seasonal phenomenon.
Of course, frauds in the assessment of inflation have intensified before the elections, so the real picture is worse than that described by Rosstat – but to assess the scale of distortions is too difficult; we will just state that based on the above numbers the annual GDP growth should amount to 5.3-5.5%, and adjusted for calendar factor – 2.6-2.8%: looks good – but what is the reality is an unknown. The federal budget flew into a deficit in January for the first time in 10 years – previously the December’s hole was in part regained in January, but now the government rushed into generous promises before the elections: and here is the result – in general, it is going to be a very tough year for the budget. In addition to promises, the authorities also pay tribute to graphorrhea – Putin wrote another article, now about the demographics: series of measures is proposed to promote fertility, by which Russia's population should increase by 11 million people. Also it is said that by the middle of the century we should bring hard-working immigrants into the country in the amount of another... 11 million people – it is easy to see that this is the source of population growth, while all payments and other measures are mentioned only for the check; in short, Putin's advisors do null. By the way, these goals are already being achieved – as of 2011, the natural decrease (131.2 thousand) was more than offset by the influx of hard-working migrants: migration growth reached 320.1 thousand (this is the average rate desired by Putin), of which 172.1 thousand fell on Central Asia and Kazakhstan, while another 59.8 thousand on the Caucasus.
In the rest, the campaign goes on: opposition is outraged by Putin’s abundance on television – bosses reply that this is not propaganda, but the “analytical films” about the PM. Authorities disparage Navalny, change management of Echo of Moscow radio-station, expel Golos from the office – in short, “fair elections” are coming. A video clip about vote frauds being prepared has already gone viral – but the Central Election Commission, however, ignored it, because the video wasn’t shot by “Fellini or Tarkovsky” – not only Putin longs for Mahatma Gandhi! Football matches scheduled for March 5 are being re-scheduled, to prevent “undesirable accumulation” of fans on the day after the election – and the excuse the authorities found was the total employment of police officers at polling stations: but if so, why the games are being transferred from Moscow to other cities – are the local police forces not loaded on the very same day? Clubs are unhappy – but the Ministry of Interior responds (quote): “the sheriff doesn’t care about the problems of Indians” – who would have doubted! And for the subject of elections to become simply absurd, the president announced that he will still be running for his current position – in the future, of course: apparently, Medvedev calculated that in 2018 he will be almost the same age as Gorbachev in 1985 – the only problem is that Putin would then be the same age as Brezhnev in 1973, and not as Chernenko in 1985, so Medvedev would have to be patient. We advised him not to waste time in vain and to establish a twitter community “Party, let me drive!” – at least he is certainly able for this!
Have a nice week!
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