Monday, August 3, 2015

3/8/15: Europe as a Demographic Disaster

Here are the latest UN projections for population growth though 2100 (best viewed by clicking on the image to enlarge):


Of all major regions around the world: only three are likely to post negative population growth. These are:

  • Europe - posting the most disastrous, by a mile, demographic prospect of all regions;
  • Followed by Asia, where cumulated population decline will be less severe (through 2100) than in Europe; and
  • Finally, by Latin America.
Here is a table calculated by me based on the UN projections showing 30 countries with largest declines in population over 2 periods: 2015-2030 and 2015-2050:

I group these countries by a historical sub-regions as follows:
  • EU 
  • Former USSR excluding currently in the EU
Several striking observations emerge:
  • One hears quite frequently media comments about the disastrous situation with Russian demographics. Except: Russian Federation is not in 30 countries with worst population growth performance over 1950-2015 period, while its counterparts in the USSR - Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus are. Russia will be ranked 19th worst performing (demographically) country in 2015-2030 and 2015-2050 period. But compare this to Ukraine (to be ranked 4th in 2015-2030 period and 3rd in 2015-2050 period); Republic of Moldova (expected to rank 11th in 2015-2030 period and 4th in 2015-2050 period); Belarus (forecast to rank 12th in both periods); Georgia (ranked 20th in 2015-2030 period forecasts - better than Russia, but 15th in 2015-2050 forecast - worse than Russia). I have not heard much of 'disastrous policies' assessments in the media concerning their demographic collapse predictions.
  • Another interesting aspect of the table is the exceptionally poor forecasted performance in demographics for the Eastern European states members of the EU.
You can see the above point 2 from the table below that selects EU member states:

Just for comparative reminder: Russian population (the benchmark case for media-covered demographic disaster) is forecast to shrink by 10.4% between 2015 and 2050. Which is bad, but better than 10 out of 29 EU member states (not benchmarks, according to the media, of a demographic disaster).

3/8/15: IMF on Russian Economy: Private Sector Debt

Continuing with IMF analysis of the Russian economy, recall that
- The first post here covered GDP growth projections (upgraded)
- External Debt and Fiscal positions (a mixed bag with broadly positive supports but weaker longer-term sustainability issues relating to deficits).

This time around, let's take a look at IMF analysis of Private Sector Debt.

As IMF notes, economic crisis is weighing pretty heavily on banks' Non-performing Loans:

In part, the above is down to hefty write downs taken by the banks on Ukrainian assets (Russian banks were some of the largest lenders to Ukraine in the past) both in corporate and household sectors.

However, thanks to deleveraging (primarily in the corporate sector, due to sanctions, and some in household sector, due to economic conditions), Loan to Deposits ratio is on the declining trajectory:
Note: Here is a chart on deleveraging of the corporate sector and for Russian banks:

In line with changes in demand for debt redemptions, FX rates, as well as due to some supports from the Federal Government, banks' exposure to Central Bank funding lines has moderated from the crisis peak, though it remains highly elevated:

Illustrating the severity of sanctions, corporate funding from external lenders and markets has been nil:

And Gross External Debt is falling (deleveraging) on foot of cut-off markets and increased borrowing costs:

So companies are heading into domestic markets to borrow (banks - first chart below, bonds - second chart below):


1) Corporate external debt is falling:

2) Household debt is already low:

3) But the problem is that deleveraging under sanctions is coinciding with economic contraction (primarily driven by lower oil prices), which means that Government reserve funds (while still sufficient) are not being replenished. IMF correctly sees this as a long term problem:

So top of the line conclusion here is that banking sector remains highly pressured by sanctions and falling profitability, as well as rising NPLs. Credit issuance is supported not by new capital formation (investment) but by corporates switching away from foreign debt toward domestic debt. Deleveraging, while long-term positive, is painful for the economy. While the system buffers remain sufficient for now, long term, Russia will require serious changes to fiscal rules to strengthen its reserves buffers over time.

3/8/15: IMF on Russian Economy: Debt Sustainability

In the previous post, I covered IMF latest analysis of Russian GDP growth. Here, another key theme from the IMF Article IV report on Russia: fiscal policy sustainability.

In its latest assessment of the Russian economy, IMF has reduced its forecast for General Government deficit for 2015, from -3.69% of GDP back in April 2015 to -3.3% of GDP in the latest report. However, in line with new Budgetary framework, the IMF revised its forecasts for 2016-2020 deficits to show poorer fiscal performance:

In line with worsening deficits from 2016 on, IMF is also projecting higher government debt (gross debt, inclusive of state guarantees):

Still, the IMF appears to be quite happy with the overall debt and fiscal sustainability over the short run and is taking a view that over the next 2-3 years, fiscal policy must provide some upside supports to investment.

One of the reasons for this is that IMF sees continued strong buffers on fiscal reserves side into 2020, with Gross international reserves of USD362.4 billion and 374.8 billion in 2015-2016 amounting to 13.6 months of imports and providing cover for 496% and 281% of short term debt, respectively.

Furthermore, IMF expects debt levels to remain benign, both in terms of Government debt and Private sector debt as the chart above shows.

Note: I will cover Private Sector Debt developments in a separate post, so stay tuned.


1) External debt situation remains positive and is improving in the sector with weaker performance (corporate sector):
Note: above figures do not net out debt written to Russian banks and corporates by their parent and subsidiary entities located outside Russia, as well as direct investment / equity -linked debt.

2) " sector shows maturity risk with short-term assets exceeding short-term debt in aggregate"

3) Fiscal stance appears to be expansionary, but moderate, with deficits below 4% of GDP forecast for the worst performance year of 2016.

4) "Exchange rate and liquidity risks are mitigated by the CBR's large reserve level"

Stay tuned for more analysis, including debt positions across various sectors.

3/8/15: IMF on Russian Economy: GDP Growth Upgrade for 2015-2016

IMF has just realised its assessment of the Russian economy. Several interesting aspects of this report are worth highlighting.

First up: economic growth projections. IMF actually upgraded, marginally, Russian forecasts for 2015-2016 across the key macroeconomic parameters. Here are three charts comparing GDP growth, Inflation and Current Account balance projections from the Fund across two separate reports: April 2015 WEO and today's Article IV.

And a summary of latest forecasts

Overall, small upgrade on GDP side compared to April release, for both 2015 and 2016. Expected return to positive growth in 2016 remains extremely weak and subject to huge uncertainty. Worse, when one looks into components of GDP, the picture that emerges is less 'positive'.

Domestic demand will likely remain a negative drag on growth though 2016, with expected improvement - albeit marginal - on investment side in 2017. Consumption, however, will remain a small contributor to the overall growth in 2018-2019. Investment is also to remain weak.

Structural nature of the slowdown is reflected in exceptionally weak productivity performance. This traces back to post-crisis period in its entirety. Russian economy did not experience a significant recovery on productivity growth rates post-2009 crisis and since 2010 there has ben a pronounced downward trend in productivity growth:

While relatively low unemployment is supported by decline in labour force participation rate (accelerating due to twin demographic problem of rising older and younger population shares, plus poor health performance amongst older adults):

Overall, however, declining labour force trend should have translated into increased productivity of the labour force. In Russian case, this is not happening.

Slight uptick in unemployment recently is likely to continue through 2015, but will not be enough to induce labour productivity growth acceleration:

The IMF forecasts come on foot of ruble posting woefully poor performance, falling to a 5-months low ( and with Manufacturing PMI showing acceleration in economic decline in July (

All of this is hardly a pleasant reading. However, not all is as gloomy as the above headline figures imply. In particular, in several key areas, macroeconomic position is relatively strong. I will blog on these in subsequent posts.

3/8/15: Secular Stagnation: Some [Still] Ask if It is Monetary or Technological...

So, is "Secular Stagnation" a Monetary-Financial Problem or a Fundamental-Technological Problem? asks Brad DeLong in his post for Washington Center for Equitable Growth @equitablegrowth.

Of course, I already tried to answer that question and it is... both. Read here:

The reason why this makes things uncomfortable for normal economists is that admitting that the problem is two-sided makes it impossible to suggest a solution for dealing with it, except a default one of "let the time heal". And the problem with that is the pesky, nagging suspicion that time can both heal and hurt: if (or when) the next recession, however mild, strikes, in the dual demand- and supply-side secular stagnation scenario, there won't be any bullets left in the Central Banks and fiscal authorities policy 'guns' to fire at the approaching bear. The perceived omnipotence of either 'borrow to spend', 'borrow to invest' and 'print to stimulate' schools of economic thought will be going nowhere.

3/8/15: Russia Manufacturing PMI: July 2015

Russia Manufacturing PMI posted slight acceleration in downward momentum in July compared to June.

Per Markit release:

  • Operating conditions deterioration was "reflective of soft demand which undermined production and new order intakes. Jobs continued to be lost, while firms reduced their inventories at a marked and accelerated pace."
  • Profit margins were continuing to fall under pressure: "On the price front, competitive pressures and lower demand encouraged firms to cut their charges marginally during July. That was in spite of a marked and accelerated increase in input costs."
  • July data, however, shows that "the rate of decline was fractional and remained centred on the investment goods sector as consumer and intermediate goods both recorded growth of production compared to the previous survey period."
  • Forward looking indicators: "Similar trends were seen for new orders, with a fall in orders for investment goods leading to a decline at the aggregate level. …Levels of new business from abroad also continued to decline during July, with the rate of contraction accelerating since the previous survey period to the sharpest recorded since April."

In numbers terms:

  • Manufacturing PMI is now down at 48.3 compared to 48.7 in June 2015 and 51.0 in July 2014. 
  • 3mo average through July is at low 48.2 against 3mo average through April at 48.9 and against 49.7 3mo average through July 2014.
  • Russian Manufacturing PMIs have been below 50.0 mark for 8 consecutive months now.

Overall, the picture is consistent with two key trends that have developed over recent months:

  1. Manufacturing sector is not showing signs of stabilisation that are present elsewhere in the economy; and
  2. Within the broad sector, imports substitution is presenting some upside opportunities in consumer goods and intermediate goods, while investment-driven capital goods are showing sharp contractions.

3/8/15: Greek Manufacturing PMI: In the Land of Imaginary Numbers

Markit Manufacturing PMI for Greece is outright disastrous.

Euro area Manufacturing PMI for July came out with a slight decrease on June 2015 reading, still beating (marginally) flash estimate:

Looking at countries ranked by PMI reading, Italy showed a surprise rise, while Austria posted a surprise fall:

But the real story is Greece:

One wonders, just how much more the Greek economy is going to contract before the Bailout 3.0 is finalised and just what new wondrously well-working structural reforms will be needed to get it out of the new hole?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

2/8/15: Five Years In: Judging Dodd-Frank Reforms

My blog post for @LearnSignal assessing the first 5 years of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act: Part 1

2/8/15: Credit and Growth: A Marriage Not Made in Haven

My recent post for @LearnSignal on the OECD report on the role of banks-intermediated credit in economic growth:

2/8/15: Global Trade: Welcome to the Economic ICU

An interesting, if short, note on woeful state of global trade flows from Fitch (link here).

The key point is that:

  1. Subject to all the talk about the Global recovery gaining momentum; and
  2. Under the conditions of unprecedented past (and ongoing) monetary policy accommodation around the world'

global trade remains severely compressed from mid-2011 forward.

Most importantly, the rot is extremely broad - across all major regions, with no base support for trade flows.

One of the drivers - EMs lack of internal demand:

However, the EMs are just one part of the picture. Per Fitch, "Since 2012, global export volumes have consistently grown by less than 5%. Performance by value has been even worse due to the fall in global trade prices, again led lower by commodities. In April 2015, global export prices were down 16% year on year."

"There are several structural explanations for the continued weakness in global trade in addition to the GFC’s cyclical effects":

  • Shift toward domestic growth in China - previously thought to be a catalyst for growth in trade via stimulating demand for imports - has had an opposite effect: Chinese producers and consumers are now increasingly sourcing goods and services internally. This was not predicted by the analysts, though I have been warning that this will be a natural outcome of the continued maturing of the Chinese economy away from producing low value added goods toward producing higher value added output. Thus, reliance of Chinese economy on capital and investment goods and services imports from Advanced Economies has declined. And we are witnessing an ongoing emergence of higher value added consumer goods manufacturing in China, which will further compress imports demands by Chinese markets. More significantly, over time, this will lead to even more complex regionalisation of trade, with trade flows becoming increasingly locked within the Asia-Pacific region, leaving more and more producers in the Advanced Economies facing an uncomfortable choice: shift production to the region or witness decline in imports demand. In line with this, there will be losses of jobs in the Advanced Economies and gains of activity in Asia-Pacific. 
  • Fitch points to a policy driver for global trade slowdown: "According to the World Trade Organisation, the use of trade restrictions has been rising since the crisis and trade liberalisation initiatives have slowed relative to the 1990s. Together, these developments may be contributing at the margin to the reduction in elasticity of trade with respect to GDP." Nothing new here, as well. The world is amidst continued debt deflation cycle, with debt-linked protectionism on the rise. This is not just about currency wars, but also about financial repression and structural decline in overall growth.
  • Fitch notes a third driver for trade decline: "There has been a change in the relative weights of domestic demand components, with investment falling compared with consumption and government spending… As investment spending is the most pro-cyclical and import-intensive component of domestic demand, a decline in investment tends to have a larger effect on trade." Again, I wrote before extensively on investment collapse in the Advanced Economies, and the fact that the main drivers for this are not a business cycle nor the Global Financial Crisis, but rather a structural decline in long-term growth (secular stagnation). You can read on this more here:

Fitch note, while highlighting a really big theme continuing to unfold across the global economy, misses the real long-term drivers for the collapse of trade: the world is undergoing deleveraging cycle in terms of Government and private debt, reinforced by the structurally weaker growth environment on both demand and supply sides of the growth equation. The result is going to be much more painful that Fitch (and majority of analysts around) can foresee.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

1/8/15: Ireland: No Country for Entrepreneurs?

Ah, the heady days of campaigning and promising are about to befall Ireland once again… soon… In the mean time, let us recall our Dear Leader's Enda "Business Dynamo" Kenny promise of the recent past:

On January 27, 2011, our pro-business Leader uttered the following: “I will seek the trust of the Irish people to implement Fine Gael’s plan to get Ireland working again… I firmly believe that by 2016, Ireland can become the best small country in the world in which to do business, the best country in which to raise a family and the best country in which to grow old with dignity and respect.”

Let's leave the family and old dignity bits to the softer side of the Coalition and focus on the first promise, squarely relating to economics.

On October 8, 2011, Mr Kenny repeated the said promise: "Since coming into office 7 months ago I have told nearly all audiences that by 2016 I intend to make Ireland the best small country in the world in which to do business…"

And then again, on February 28, 2013 the "Dynamo" spun again: "Those of you from Ireland will have heard me say many times that my ambition is for Ireland to become the best small country in the world for business by 2016. It is an ambition I believe we will achieve. The scale of reform and action across Government to improve our competitiveness is unyielding until we reach our goals."

There are many things going on here, perhaps unbeknownst to Mr. Kenny. But one thing is pretty darn clear - Ireland is nowhere near being a half-decent place to become an entrepreneur. Why? Read this: "The reality is that there is no incentive tax-wise for Irish entrepreneurs" Authored by an entrepreneur and an investor.

Those of you who follow my work have known for ages that I advocate complete reform of our tax codes in relation to:

  1. Employee share ownership plans and options; 
  2. Capital gains taxation, especially linked to subsequent reinvestment of business sale proceeds; 
  3. Self-employment taxation system; and
  4. Employees, directors and owners system of reimbursement, with a direct link to their investments in business.

Those of you who are entrepreneurs in Ireland known that none (in contrast to Mr Kenny's assertions) of these (and other) key areas of Ireland's competitiveness have been reformed or improved by the current Government. I repeat: none.

Instead of creating a culture of real enterprise and entrepreneurship, Mr. Kenny is confusing pro-business (incumbent MNCs) agenda for real enterprise agenda. Thus, he continues to pile mile high various investment schemes, grants, incentives that create political subsidies to favoured entrepreneurs and companies at the expense of normal entrepreneurs and companies, that distort rates of return on investment, and incentivise rent seeking. Meanwhile, real entrepreneurs are faced with huge tax demands, tax uncertainty and legal bills to plan for these.

1/8/15: Irish 1Q 2015 Growth: Recovery on Pre-Crisis Peak

In previous posts, I have looked at:

So now, let's try to answer that persistent question: has Irish Economy regained pre-crisis peaks of economic activity?

To do so, we need two things:

  1. We need 12-months running sum of total activity measured by GDP (mythical metric for Ireland), GNP (increasingly also mythical metric, but slightly better than GDP); and Final Domestic Demand (basically an approximation for the real, domestic economy); and
  2. We need population figures to get the per-capita basis for the above metrics.

We can compute all metrics in (1) based on actual CSO data. But we cannot know exactly our population size (CSO only provides estimates from 2011 through 2014 and no estimates for 2015). So I did a slightly cheeky approximation: I assumed that 2015 will see increase in Irish population of similar percentage as 2014. This is cheeky for two reasons: (1) population change can be slightly more or less than in 2014 due to natural reasons; and (2) emigration might be different in 2015 compared to 2014. Specifically, on the second matter, there has been some evidence of slower emigration out of Ireland and there have been some migrants coming into Ireland on foot of MNCs hiring.

Still, this is as good as things get, so here are the numbers, all referencing inflation-adjusted (real) variables:

Irish Personal Consumption per capita (not shown in the chart above) on 12 months total through 1Q 2015 stood at around EUR19,074.79 or 8.4% lower than pre-crisis peak in 4Q 2007. Meanwhile, Final Domestic Demand per capita was some 15.43% below pre-crisis average. Irish GDP per capita was around 2.4% lower than at pre-crisis peak. However, Irish GNP per capita in 1Q 2015 based on 12 months total was 0.2% above pre-crisis peak.

So in simple terms, by one metric of three, we are back at pre-crisis peak levels in per capita, inflation-adjusted terms. This metric is somewhat better than GDP per capita, but not perfect by any means and is getting worse, not better, in terms of measuring the real activity on the ground. Still, after 8 years, the recession cycle is complete in terms of GNP. It is still ongoing in terms of Domestic Demand.